Beast of Bourbon’s Bringing it to Bed-Stuy (aka the “Damn Good Barbecue” Post)

Last night Bed-Stuy barbecue joint slash music venue Beast of Bourbon threw a little shindig in honor of their new pit master, Nestor Laracuente, who carved up hunks of brisket and pork belly for an endlessly regenerating queue of barbecue fans — or, at least, fans of free barbecue. A pair of salads accompanied the meaty tastes: a vinegary cucumber salad and a shredded carrot salad with macerated cherries, which was unexpected and totally delicious.

Hook, line and sinker: Those bites only stoked my appetite, so on my way out I ordered one of the “power trios” to go: 1/2 lb. brisket and two small sides, in this case, brisket beans and meat-studded collard greens, plus cornbread: $21.

The brisket power trio

Such a good move, and frankly, a bargain: Two of us shared (or rather, devoured) the meal, as pictured above, and were totally satisfied. The brisket has a gorgeous, peppery crust and is falling apart tender; the beans and collards were incredibly flavorful with smokey notes imbued from the meaty bits; the cornbread, outstanding.

For a 2014 article on brisket in the New York Times, Laracuente is quoted as saying, “Cooking is science, but barbecue is magic.” If ‘cue is magic, the man most definitely has the magic touch. Smart move by the Beast to bring him to Bed-Stuy — that brisket’s worthy of a G Train trip any day.

Williamsburg, Brooklyn Tour de Caffeine (aka “That Time That I Had 1 Espresso, 1 Turkish Coffee, 1 Piccolo, Plus Devoción in 1 Day” Post)

I drink much more tea than coffee — always and forever. I’d just rather not require coffee to jumpstart my day every morning, needing caffeine to coax my consciousness to return to reality. …Which also means I’m woefully behind the curve in exploring the neighborhood’s beans scene. And so, in the name of “research” for an upcoming article, I hit four hotspots in one afternoon.

Parlor Cafe

First up: Parlor Coffee, located in the back room of Persons of Interest barber shop, is a super tiny space that gets crowded quickly, which basically means one barista, one espresso machine, one cash box and anyone else. The barber shop; the gleaming steel of the Speedster espresso machine; the two guys hanging out in said tiny space talking music and records; Parlor Coffee couldn’t have been staged better. The barista’s methodical process was impeccable; the espresso grounds are weighed out on a digital scale — down to the precise gram. Serious business.

A tiny stamped cup was handed to me. I took a sip. Zoom! 0 to 60 in three seconds. That espresso was so strong, evening thinking about it now, it makes my arm hairs stand on point. I wonder: Is this what it’s like to have a proper straight razor shave?

Scene Two: As of December 2015, Williamsburg now has an outpost for all things Turkish:  Lions Milk, a charming storefront that’s equal parts Mediterranean marketplace (with a great selection of imported food sundries) and cafe, serving a selection of sandwiches, pastries, beverages and a proper Turkish coffee, naturally.

I’m going to preface my mini expose on Turkish coffee with statements that I now know to be true: One does not drink Turkish coffee in a hurry. To have a Turkish coffee is to have an experience — the polar opposite of a quick caffeine fix. To have a Turkish coffee is a calming, earthy, murky, contemplative experience, served in a tiny porcelain cup with matching saucer, accompanied by tiny treats: Turkish Delights, or gelatinous, sugar dusted cubes of which there are both sweet and savory varieties. And when you finally unearth the sediment on the bottom, that is when you take the final bite of your final Turkish Delight and momentarily close your eyes and give thanks.

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Scene three: First thought, “Where is this place?” Looking for the new kid on the block of a street that I claim to know so well, I felt a bit like a tourist in my own backyard. Set back from the street a down a few steps, Sweatshop is the kind of place I suspect one discovers rather than seeks out (and probably prefers it that way). A self-proclaimed “Melbourne style coffee and creative space built inside an active design studio and incubator,” the next destination on my caffeinated crawl is just feels different — if warmly indifferent, in that unstudied cool Brooklyn kind of way.

I thought that I had a rough idea of what I was getting into. Until I had no idea of what I was getting into: that disarming Aussie/minimal/neon signage/succulent plant/Brooklyn vibe, all fitted black t-shirts, casually unkempt facial hair, a menu of “espresso / filter / bevies / brekkie / waffles” (appropriately subtitled for Americans). Ahhhh… I’ll have the piccolo (“short strong latte” the subtitle read). And then the man in the black t-shirt with the not quite beard-ish facial hair proceeded to craft for me probably the best caffeinated beverage that I’ve ever had in my entire life — and I felt super fine.

Last stop, the epicenter of beans, from which so much of Williamsburg’s coffee scene emanates: Devoción (“devotion” en espanol). But don’t take it from me, let’s go to the source: “Our coffee beans are sourced from farms we hand-select deep in Colombia’s most inaccessible zones.” Harvested, air-shipped, roasted on site in Brooklyn, hand-packaged and hand-delivered to many of the neighborhood’s other coffee destinations — “Farm to Cup in 10 days” — that’s Devoción.

It’s an impressive feat, although perhaps the end result lost on this relative coffee novice, who still prefers hers with milk and sugar? And sure, while I can taste the difference in the flavor profiles of different beans, would I be able to tell the difference between beans freshly roasted, less than 15 days old, versus a month or two or 12? That’s next level coffee consumption.

Blue Bottle, Toby’s Estate Coffee, Black Tree, Konditori, Oslo Coffee Roasters, Gimme! Coffee, Vittoria Caffe — the list goes on and on. It would take a week or three to explore all of the caffeinated fixes in the neighborhood. So is this post comprehensive? Not by any means. A solid stamp of approval? Absolutely. Williamsburg’s beans scene definitely has some game.

The Brilliance of Good Menu Art (aka the “Always Delightful Brunching at Isa” post)

Nothing sets the tone of a meal like what’s placed on the table upon seating — the humble menu.

The table setting, the restaurant decor, the waitstaff, the restaurant’s general ambiance — they’re clues to the dining experience to which the menu is the key. Menu in hand, all of the pieces fall into place. Menus tell a restaurant’s story on paper, an introduction to the chapters that will be devoured on the plates that are yet to come.

There are menus — and then there is menu art. Which brings me to Isa, a laid back, rustic-chic restaurant appropriately located in the heart of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, serving up fresh, loosely “Mediterranean” fare for which the wood burning oven is the through line.

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November 2015 menus at Isa in Williamsburg, Brooklyn

Elegant, refined, classy — Isa’s menus are not. But they are by no means an afterthought (one of the worst things a restaurant can do is not give proper consideration to the design of their menu, IMHO). A riotous mashup of color, collage, equal parts whimsy and cheeky, Isa’s menus always elicit a smile (and perhaps an arched eyebrow). Their menus change often and live on for perpetuity on their Tumblr blog. Without a doubt, their current cocktail menu, pictured above right, is one of my all-time favorites. YES, I want whatever he’s having! Let’s hang out and then go catch a wave! Oh, right … it’s November in New York.

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Brunch at Isa, clockwise from top: Breakfast pizza, Clawhammer Farms bacon, wood-fired chicken, wood-oven baked eggs.

The undisputed star of Isa’s brunch menu is their breakfast pizza, which is topped with eggs, Fontina cheese, coppa and a caper herb vinaigrette. Someone at the table has to get it and inevitably shares with the table whatever portion they’re incapable of finishing. And while the brunch menu does feature variations of egg dishes, breakfast sandwiches and other brunch staples, the offerings are overall thoughtful, original, clever and delicious — four adjectives you could also use to describe Isa’s menus. Delicious? A paper menu?

I’m not advising you to eat the menu — only to devour with your eyes.

Notes from a #NordicFeast (aka the “A touch of heritage” Post)

Edible Brooklyn is known for throwing fabulous food shindigs with an educational bent, but this one touched some heartstrings, given my Scandinavian roots.

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Quotable @brodkitchen: “A good friend once said, good cooking is getting to experiment with new products and ideas.”

We heard from Revolving Dansk, a passion-project-turned-food-movement to bring Copenhagen-style street dogs (pølse) to NYC; the founder of NYC microchain Bröd Kitchen, which is spreading the good word about seasonal, sustainable, Nordic-inspired open face sandwiches (smorrebrod, tastes pictured above); and Unna Bakery, a startup based out of Hot Bread Kitchen incubator in Harlem that’s all about Swedish cookies all the time. Naturally, the nights offerings paired delightfully with Rekorderlig Cider, a Swedish hard cider brand that’s the U.S. market.

Let’s get our Nordic on:

Arriving in NYC in 2011 from a culture where street dog vendors are a beloved and omnipresent food fixture, Danish expats Martin and Sera Høedholt were underwhelmed by NYC’s ubiquitous dirty water dogs. And so they set off to introduce the pølse — as well as a few Danish words — to New York’s food scene.

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“Spread the good news, cause of the meat, cause of the snap” —quotable @CPHStreetDog

Pølse are intentionally fit into a bun that looks a couple of sizes too small. The point being the first bite of a pølser is all about the snap of the casing and that first delicious impression: “Before the pureness is destroyed by all of the condiments.”

That being said, how a pølser is dressed with toppings and condiments is very precise and almost ritualistic:

Three sauces: Ketchup, which traditional Danish ketchup is mixed with apple sauce; mustard — a Danish grainy mustard w thickness and spice; and a remoulade of cauliflower, celery, carrots and curry, which adds a “sweet creaminess”

Toppings: Raw yellow onions, diced; fried onions (I would call frizzled onions, very crispy); and sweet Scandinavian pickles, traditionally made with vinegar and sugar (They’re only lightly pickled, still very fresh and crisp)

 The end result? Meaty, smoky, with a touch of sweet, a touch of heat, a lot of crunch and that beautiful snap of the pølser — in other words, beyond delicious. Hats off to Martin and Sera and the hard work that’s taken them from smoking pølse on their Brooklyn fire escape to full-scale production. But don’t take my word for it. Apparently, the Crown Princess from Denmark stopped by NORTH 2015 festival — “And she took two to go.”

Continue reading “Notes from a #NordicFeast (aka the “A touch of heritage” Post)”

What’s In an Egg? (aka the “Size Does Matter” Post)

There are few grocery staples as beguiling as the egg: color, size, grade, omega-3s …. seriously?

Prior to my Market Research column in amNewYork newspaper, my methodology for buying eggs may as well have been to cover my eyes and point randomly, giving preference to the more expensive, brown eggs over the most basic white eggs, eventually compromising on some middling dozen without really knowing why.

So when I was given the green light for this assignment, I just couldn’t wait to get in those little eggies’ faces.

Research

I skulked around the egg sections at more than a half-dozen major markets around the city like some crazy chicken lady — Whole Foods, Gristedes, Food Emporium, C-Town, Gourmet Garage, among them — before I settled on five packages that covered the spectrum of the egg kingdom.

They were:

Jack’s Egg Farm (Brooklyn), Grade AA, Medium, white ($1.99)
Eggland’s Best (various), Grade A, Large, white ($3.79)
Horizon Organic (Colorado), Grade A, Large, brown ($5.69)
Giving Nature (Newton, Pa.), Grade A, Extra Large, white ($3.79)
The Country Hen (Hubbardston, Mass.), Grade A, Jumbo, brown ($4.19/6)

Methodology

On the day of the tasting, the chef and I cracked one of each of the eggs open to compare size and color of yolk; stature of egg white; taste of egg (sunny side up, runny yolk) with just the slightest dash of kosher salt and fresh-ground pepper as our quality control.

Admittedly, I’m not sure I knew how varied egg size and yolk color could be until I poured out five eggs at one time.

In terms of taste, hand’s down, the winningest eggs were from Jack’s Egg Farm and The Country Hen — the cheapest and most expensive eggs in the survey, comparatively.

Huh. So you’re saying that I could pay less than $2.50 for a dozen eggs from a local manufacturer — which happen to be graded as AA — or I could pay $0.70 per egg (albeit, a guaranteed excellent egg that was conceived in living facilities with sunlit porches)?

Four words: Egg King for life! (That’s Jack’s Eggs Farm’s tag line.)

Sooo…. if you don’t spend the time to read my less-than-500-word article (read it!) here’s what you need to know about eggs:

(+) The only difference between brown eggs and white eggs is the bird from which they’re laid. Brown eggs are more expensive because the birds that lay brown eggs are larger and require more feed;

(+) Doesn’t matter how eggs are packaged. According to my source at the American Egg Board,  the only difference in type of packaging is cost. “In the production industry, if you put good eggs in the carton, the carton should protect the eggs,” she said.

(+) The grade of AA is higher than Grade A; however, due to manufacturing processes, by the time that many eggs labeled “Grade AA” reach the market, they’ve become Grade A eggs. The difference is slight to consumers.

(+) Eggs naturally have about 100 mg of omega-3, so when a company (such as Eggland’s Best) boasts that their eggs are a good source of omega-3, having 115mg omega-3 per egg … it’s purely a marketing ploy. (If omega-3s are your deal, look for eggs that have 200 mg to 300 mg omega-3s per egg, such as Giving Nature‘s eggs or The Country Hen.)

(+) Recipes generally call for large sized eggs.

Nom nom nom!

South 4th Street Just Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop, Blowing Up (aka the “Traif, Mazel Tov!” Post)

South 4th Street just can’t stop, won’t stop, blowing up.

First, Pies ‘n’ Thighs, and their glorious comfort food and even more glorious pies. Then, Dram, a cocktail geek’s cocktail bar that’s been almost two years in the making. I stopped by on Friday night and management said they’d “officially-officially” been open for a week at that point.

Now, the eminent arrival of Traif, with its passion for all things un-kosher organized into an eclectic menu of small, sharable plates of deliciousness — shrimp, scallops, bacon, chorizo, pork belly, pork cheeks, potstickers, foie gras, lobster, ribs several ways — separated from one of Brooklyn’s prominent Hasidic communities by a  mere eight lanes of traffic accessing the Williamsburg Bridge.

Foot-in-mouth move? No way.

The dynamic duo running the restaurant — co-owners Heather Heuser and chef Jason Marcus — were scouting locations in the East Village and LES for Traif long before settling on this South Williamsburg gem (check out the restaurant’s blog for photos of the sleek, casual interior and stunning backyard).

They’d also checked around a bit with the community, said Heuser, when the chef and I chatted with her on Friday night. If anything, the response they got back was: “Well, that makes it easy for us to know where not to go.” (“Traif” is a Hebrew word that refers to un-kosher foods.)

….Which just means more un-kosher goodness for the rest of us. High-five to that!

TIP: Absolutely do not skip one of Traif’s signature cocktails, the Red Pearl (chili-infused vodka muddled w/ kiwi, Thai basil and homemade sweet and sour mix), which is named in homage to the Cali restaurant where Heuser and Marcus first met. If the brightness and freshness of these flavors are any indication of the duo’s plans for the restaurant, I’ll toast to that.


Pies ‘n’ Thighs, 116 S. 4th St., at Driggs St., 347-529-6090. More info here.
Dram, 177 S. 4th St.,  btwn. Driggs St. and Roebling St., 718-486-dram. More info
here.
Traif, 229 S. 4th St., nr. Borinquen Pl., 347-844-9578. More info
here.