Finding the South of France in the Most Unexpected of Places

J’adore, as in love, love, love, the South of France, and so often, all that love has nowhere to go.

No longer! I’m utterly smitten with Pates et Traditions, a quiet little restaurant on a pleasant block of Havemeyer Street just around the corner…

Its bright interior is so charming — a mix of sturdy country woods and wrought-iron table sets, walls adorned with bric-à-brac from the region — that if it weren’t for the large picture windows overlooking the brick walls of a local printing business, you very well may feel as if you’d clicked your heels three times, opened your eyes and found yourself nowhere near New York (or Williamsburg). (This is a good thing.)

In addition to keeping true French hours — Pates et Traditions may or may not be open for lunch on weekdays, depending on the weather — the menu is so quintessentially French:

Sweet crêpes, savory crêpes, how to choose!

House wine starts at $5 a glass (and it isn’t bad); a short list of fresh salads feature Provençal herbs and olives. There are a few pasta dishes and some regional specialties — such as la pissaladiere, a Niçoise pizza topped with onions, herbs, anchovies and olives from Provence ($12) — but on this first visit, I never got past the crêpes. From a list nearly 20 deep, I settled on the forestiere ($10): strips of ham, mushrooms, garlic, parsley, in a creamy bechamel sauce, tucked in a pocket-like fashion into a traditional buckwheat crêpe.

(Known in France as a “galette,” buckwheat crêpes have the added bonus of being gluten-free and loaded with good nutrition.)

On a quiet early evening in the middle of the week, the pleasant pattering of the conversation en français between the proprietor and the single server was a pleasant backdrop to a solo meal.

In a quiet state of contemplative happiness, my crêpe and wine before me, I imagined myself sitting in all the different seats in the house eating my way through the entire menu — from the pillow seats in large, picture windows, and once the weather’s just a touch nicer, saddling up on the high chairs out front and watching the world go by.

It appears that I will not be moving out of the neighborhood anytime soon.

Pates et Traditions, 52 Havemeyer St. at N. 6th St., Brooklyn, 646-409-4019. Cash only.

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Pies ‘n’ Thighs, Back in Biz in Williamsburg (aka the “But Was It Worth the Wait?” Post)

Decent fried chicken? Check.
Fairly priced? No doubt.
Charming decor? Utterly adorable.
And the pie? Outta this world.

And yet, I hate to say it, but as I scraped together the few last bites of now-tepid collard greens, I couldn’t push back that nagging question that’d been lurking near consciousness since my first bite: This is what all the hype was about?

The briefest background for those not super-saturated with New York hot-button food topics: Chatter about the imminent reopening of this beloved neighborhood spot by this city’s fried chicken obsessed legions had reached near-deafening levels since the New Year.

More than a little swept away by the crescendo of voices — writers, bloggers and Twitterers, you too — chanting for Pies ‘n’ Thighs return, I was prepared for it, (dare I say it?) … this could be the best fried chicken I’ve ever tasted in my life. And, of course with that expectation in mind — it wasn’t. Good? Yes. OMFG-mind-blowing-beyond-words? Not tonight.

The skin was thick and a bit saggy on the bird, and I find one of the great joys of eating fried chicken to be the skin that’s so crisp it’s to the point of translucence. But let’s get down to it: Was the meat inside moist? Certainly. The whole meal ($10.99) was generously portioned and I handily finished everything, even my giant bowl of mac n’ cheese and second giant bowl of pork-laced collard greens. (I was very hungry.)

Unexpectedly — as I’m always a savory-first, sweets-second sort of girl — my favorite part of the meal was dessert. I shared a slice of peanut butter pie (bottom) and coconut cream pie with the chef, and both of them were just sublime.

The peanut butter pie reminded me of nothing so much as one giant Reese’s filling, only better, and as dense but creamier. It’s the sort of slice that’s best enjoyed by one forkful at a time — savor the bite, let the flavors melt into your mouth, set down the plate and go back for another bite a few (or 15) minutes down the way. It’s the perfect slice of pie for watching a movie.

And the coconut creme pie was pillowy and tropical, a luxurious pudding that was best eaten in-hand (so as to keep the filling from sliding off the crust). A thin chocolate layer added to the decadence. I’ll be chasing after the memory of slices like these when I order pie again in the near future.

So will I be back? Most definitely, for more things that come with biscuits, more pie, to explore more of the menu, and yes, probably one day for more of the protein portion of the restaurant’s namesake — although it’s telling that the fried chicken is at the last in line. Maybe by that time the hype will have subsided and the chicken and I, we can have a proper introduction.

No wonder chefs, restaurateurs and almost anyone involved with the business of food have a love/hate relationship (more like, hate/lukewarm like/hate some more) with the food blogsphere — although, for what it’s worth, that chatter showed me the door.

Pies ‘n’ Thighs, 116 S. 4th St., at Driggs St., 347-529-6090. Open daily.

Friday: Ahh… Brooklyn. (aka the “Dick Chicken Popcorn/Exploratory Post”)

photo-6It’s probably never the best idea to embark on a Brooklyn (art) excursion when you (unintentionally) miss the first stop, which turns out to be food. …

In this case, I missed out on supposedly delicious, fifth year anniversary-priced ($5) Margherita Classica pizzas at Fornino’s in Williamsburg — a pizza geek’s pizza place, if I ever saw one. Just missed them by about 10 minutes.

So when I later came across rows of bags of popcorn (with seemingly normal popcorn inside), labeled as “Dick Chicken -flavored Popcorn” at an overly-hyped event at the art space known as the 3rd Ward … well, yeah, I grabbed one. (Granted, the boxes labeled “Dick Chicken Nuggets” were selling for serious double-digits a piece — but they didn’t have any nuggets inside.)

photo-7photo-8…I took one and stashed it in my satchel, unsure if  I was planning on eating the Dick Chicken Popcorn or … archiving it. I had my own (free!) Dick Chicken souvenir … that I was waffling about eating, well, until, I saw two grandmotherly-aged women eating Dick Chicken-flavored Popcorn in the exterior hallway.

“Excuse me, I really hope not, but is there anything “Dick Chicken special” about the popcorn?”

photo-10“Nope, seems fine to me,” one replied.

And then I took the plunge. My estimation, air-popped, could have used a little more salt.

(And yes, I saved the bag as a souvenir. And later fashioned this still life…)

End of message.