The Vietnamese Bahn Mi (BBQ pork, a variety of pickled and fresh vegetables, Vietnamese pate. etc. on a baguette) has become a big winner among fanciers of sandwiches and Asian food. There are are many restaurants in New York specializing in this sandwich. Causes HG to sigh. With the demise of Jewish delicatessens the Banh Mi seems slated to replace the pastrami sandwich as the New York symbolic nosh. Sad. Best sandwich ever was the pastrami, chopped liver, cole slaw, Russian dressing sandwich on seeded rye served at the demised Gitlitz Deli on Broadway and 78th. This was closely followed by the Reuben (corned beef, sauerkraut, swiss cheese, Russian dressing, rye bread — grilled to molten perfection) at Reuben’s Delicatessen (long closed) on East 58th. Runner up was the rare room temperature sliced roast beef with thinly sliced raw onion and coarse salt on rye bread liberally coated with chicken fat. HG liked this at a delicatessen on Beach 116th Street, Rockaway Park. HG also fancied the muenster cheese and lettuce sandwich on an onion roll served at long shuttered cafeterias like The Belmore and Dubrow’s. HG is not just a parochial adherent of old style Jewish sandwiches. He has always fancied Cubanos, those pork and cheese sandwiches pressed upon a hot grill served at Cuban restaurants. HG often had one (accompanied by black beans and rice) at many Washington Heights hole-in-the-wall eateries. Good stuff. Those joints also served the best steaming cups of espresso.
The De Gustibus Report in The New York Times noted the growing popularity of the peanut butter and pickle sandwich. Many claim that this unlikely combination is superior to the traditional peanut butter and jelly sandwich, the staple of children’s lunchboxes. This is old hat for BSK. She grew up in Ohio munching on peanut butter, pickle, lettuce and mayo sandwiches. Now a purist, BSK insists upon Bubbie’s Bread and Butter Pickles as an ingredient in this sandwich. BSK manages to get down a lot of peanut butter. Spreads it on slices of apple and dips carrot spears in a jar of peanut butter. However, BSK does not indulge in an Elvis Presley favorite sandwich: bacon, sliced bananas and peanut butter. HG is not a big peanut butter fan. But, there is an exception. HG likes to mix peanut butter with dark soy sauce, vinegar, sesame oil, Szechuan preserved vegetables, pungent Chinese chile-garlic paste. Pours this over shredded cold chicken or room temperature linguine. Showers it with sliced and shredded scallions plus some crushed Szechuan peppercorns. Great summer dinner.
Very hungry midday so off to he HG standby in Pojoaque, El Parasol (there are six El Parasols–in Santa Fe, Espanola, Los Alamos–but the Pojoaque branch is the HG favorite). The Pojoaque branch is under the supervision of veteran restaurateur Jose Atencio (his family has run the renowned El Paragua in Espanola for generations). His wife, the lovely Alicia Atencio, is also frequently in attendance. Their personal touch insures that the welcome is warm, the service swift, the premises sparkling clean and the food consistently good with true down home Northern New Mexico flavor. Alicia was on duty today and HG inquired if it was too late for a breakfast burrito. Big smile from Alicia. “Of course not.” Soon a generously (to put it mildly!) sized breakfast burrito appeared. Perfectly scrambled eggs nestled inside a tortilla with loads of crispy bacon, green chiles, and roast potatoes. Smothered with mucho, mucho green chile — hot and spicy but not ridiculous. A green chile burrito for gourmands, not masochists.
When HG finished the last scrap of the burrito it was time for contemplation. How did this breakfast burrito rank with other winners in that category? HG had never tasted a breakfast burrito until HG and BSK’s move to Colorado some 27 years ago. Tenderfoot HG had his first BB at Pete’s Diner in Denver and was overwhelmed. Breakfast for the gods. New Mexico friends sneered. Wait until you taste a BB smothered in New Mexico green. Then you will know how a BB should taste. They were right. My first taste of a BB at Tune Up Cafe in Santa Fe knocked the Pete’s version out of the box. Enter the El Parasol BB. HG will end the suspense. This is the Numero Uno BB. Freshness, balance of ingredients, levels of flavor, perfection of the green chiles. Thank you, Jose. Thank you, Alicia. You rule.
Lesley R., gifted daughter of HG and BSK, has spent much time living in Italy with her family. When HG has visited them (in Bologna, Venice, Siena) meals often started with a platter of Bresaola (thinly sliced, air dried beef). Lesley covered the beef with fresh, baby arugula, good olive oil and shards of Parmesan. Splendid dish. HG hasn’t encountered Bresaola in the USA and feared an Italian trip was the only way to access this delicacy. Well, happy news. Trader Joe’s is now carrying Citterio’s Bresaola and it’s mighty good. Had it last night with arugula fresh from the Farmers’ Market.
Some more nice taste news. When HG and BSK lived in their Vancouver loft, they often enjoyed Black Cod (also known as sable — when smoked it is that lush stuff found at Russ & Daughters, Zabar’s and other New York smoked fish specialists). Vancouver chefs sometimes prepared it with a maple syrup glaze or sauce. The sweetness complemented the richness of the fish. Well, don’t want to sound like a Trader Joe’s press agent, but TJ is now carrying frozen Black Cod filets. HG has sourced a nice recipe for Black Cod with “maple syrup gastrique” — a fancy way of saying maple syrup sauce. HG is not a fan of frozen fish but HG’s had a good experience with TJ frozen sole. So, the Black Cod may be a winner. Will keep you informed.
Chilly Sunday morning here in The Land of Enchantment. The big, fat Sunday New York Times is on the table. Mozart is on the Bose. Time for a true comfort breakfast. For HG, that means grits. Must be the memory of grits and gravy served to little HG by a motherly African-American woman when the five-year-old spent a year in Athens, Georgia. Today, HG used Quaker Instant Grits (grit purists, don’t sneer, they are pretty good). Made them like polenta. Added a thin stream of grits to boiling water and stirred, stirred, stirred for about five minutes. When the grits were just about done, HG added plenty of butter, grated cheddar, sea salt and ground pepper. This was topped by two of BSK’s perfect poached eggs. Did I die? Is it all over? Am I in Heaven?
The Nets are in Brooklyn. Jeremy Lin is in Houston. Steve Nash is in L.A. Jason Kidd is with the Knicks (he belongs in New York). Exciting NBA times are looming. HG is not just a pro basketball fan, he is an addict (as is SJ). The addiction reaches a crescendo during playoff time. Speaking of addiction, HG has only known one person who had kind words to say about drug addicts. This was the proprietor of the fruit and vegetable store (long closed) on Broadway near 81st Street. When HG and BSK resided on New York’s upper west side many, many decades ago, HG would often stop there to chat and pick up some tangerines or ripe pears. The proprietor was a Knicks fan and an astute scholar of basketball. He had grown up on the lower east side and learned the game in settlement houses and the outdoor courts at Seward Park High School. He felt, sadly, that the Knicks had no answer for Jerry West, the remarkable scorer of the Los Angeles Lakers. “He’s a machine. The guy’s a machine. Wuddiya gonna do?” The store had an overlarge stock of candy bars and sweet pastries (including Entenmann’s Chocolate Covered Donuts, an HG favorite). “Why all the sweet stuff?”, inquired HG. The reply: “The junkies, God bless them. They sent my son through college. They come in here late at night and eat an orange, maybe ten candy bars, a box of Twinkies. Those junkies like their sweets. It’s their meal of the day.” Well, mugging and burgling for the next fix is arduous. So a quick jolt of sugar and calories makes sense.
Fresh fish has always been expensive but now that our ocean fisheries have been nearly decimated, prices are getting a bit nutty. Good, wild caught, fresh and unfrozen salmon, tuna, swordfish and halibut hover around $29 a pound. HG feels that paying that much for a simple piece of fish is a bit self indulgent. Therefore, HG is opting for moderately priced, farm raised fish like tilapia and catfish. Older fish farms were ecological disasters — pumping filth into the environment and shipping out muddy tasting, chemically processed product. Some modern farms have really cleaned up their act and become more environmentally sound with the result that the fish are healthier and quite palatable. Make sure to seek out fish from these type of farms (Whole Foods has very strict guidelines for their farmed fish purveyors — so buying through them is a good bet).
Here’s a very good way of cooking them. Coat the fish in a mixture of Hellman’s mayonnaise and Dijon mustard. Roll the fish in Louisiana Fish Fry or Zatarain’s Fish Fry or panko (crushed fine). Fry in a mixture of grapeseed oil and brown butter. After taking the fish out of the pan, melt a bit more butter with lemon juice, capers and a few drops of Tabasco. Pour this flavorful sauce over the crispy fish.
During HG’s college days at the City College West Harlem campus, HG enjoyed very cheap and very good fried catfish sandwiches. The breaded catfish was fried in lard (like cast iron pans, a staple of Harlem fry cooks), doused in a blazing hot pepper sauce and served between two slices of Wonder or Silvercup bread. It was accompanied by cole slaw or potato salad. HG’s version of fried fish is just a little bit fancier.
SJ here. My heart has been echoing with that bubbling, pitter-pat effervescence of joy that makes me want to run to the hilltops and shout out: I AM IN LOVE!!! Well, I am. Completely and totally smitten with the absolutely wonderful Court Street Grocers which opened in late 2010 and which I am just now discovering right here in my backyard of Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn (perhaps the best neighborhood in the entire universe).
Court Street Grocers is half a specialty grocer and half an über casual breakfast / sandwich spot (that also serves dinner once a week). Where much of Brooklyn’s new food culture prides itself, in both positive and negative ways, on a seriousness of intent — chefs in Abraham Lincoln beards and suspenders hand churning artisanal butter and restaurants so painstakingly dedicated to the locavore movement that they will only serve lettuce grown on the roof of their own spot — Court Street Grocers just seems to love food and have a profound joy in sharing it. Witness the grocery section: neat shelves lined with stuff that I, or my family or any of my friends would have chosen: weird mustards from West Virginia, regional hot sauces, Goldenberg’s peanut chews, jars of Brooklyn made Kim Chee, New Orleans Ice Coffee concentrates, Japanese Kewpie brand mayonnaise, Hatch Green Chili Sauce, top shelf Canned Tomatoes, great milk, NY state apples and seasonal veggies, and much much more; a high – low approach that completely won me over and had me going condiment mad like a porn maven in video shop going-out-of-business sale.
And then there are the sandwiches….It is as if the mad scientists of Court Street Grocers pinpointed the fertile imagination of the returning-home-late-at-night, semi drunken, famished chef who is only out to please his own belly. MAN!!! Let’s review the numbers I have tried: The “Little Shonda” — Dark, toasted pumpernickel bread, slathered with Durkee Famous Sandwich Sauce, softly scrambled eggs, top quality pastrami, melted swiss and pickled green tomatoes. The “Mother-in-Law” — A cibatta loaf stuffed with braised heritage beef short ribs, kim chee, roasted broccoli and lots of mayo. The “Media Noche” – Roasted Pork Shoulder, Heritage Foods Ham, Swiss Cheese, Mayo, Mustard, Gus’ Full Sour Pickles, on Brioche, which is. more or less, the greatest Cubano Sandwich I have ever tasted. And finally, a toasted cheese sandwich of Cabot Cheddar, Apple Butter on a superb 10 grain Pullman Loaf. Everything just wonderful and they have loads more sandwiches that I have not gotten around to tasting yet. And, just to rule a bit more, they also have great coffee. These sandwiches can be eaten in a plain, but perfectly comfortable, dining room or taken out. There is also a $35 prix fixe dinner that is served every Friday with 2 seatings that you have to reserve on-line. I have looked at the offerings and they seem to be as wonderful as the lunch and breakfast menus — simply put, food that you want to eat.
The owners (there are 3 of them, maybe 4?) of this wonderful establishment hang out by the cash register, seemingly the happiest group of people you can imagine. I saw one of them walking down Court Street once, simply floating with joy as every other person that walked by greeted him with words and smiles. These are people that are having fun at their jobs — they are thrilled to be part of their community, they are having a great time and they know everything about what they are selling and have definitely enjoyed it all. I am so happy that I am lucky enough to be within the sphere of Court Street Grocers and will continue to explore (and report!) on their food.
There is an impression that New Mexico is a parched, desert area — an American Sahara with chile peppers and sagebrush. Yes, there are lots of dry areas and beautiful mesas devoid of vegetation; mesas that have been carved into fanciful shapes by wind, snow and, yes, rain. New Mexico does get lots of sunshine. HG and BSK are surprised when they wake to anything but golden light. Infrequent rains and snowstorms are usually brief and intense followed by sun that dries the rain and vaporizes the snow. But, for all that, New Mexico is one of the oldest, continually cultivated agricultural regions in the US — There are lush valleys irrigated through ancient techniques that help to produce not just wonderful produce, but a thriving wine industry (Gruet makes spectacular sparkling wines) as well. The small farms that surround HG and BSK’s property are family operations (some of them have been in the same family for hundreds of years) that grow an astonishing variety of flavorful vegetables and fruit. HG has devoted previous posts to the excellence of the organic lettuces, peppers, potatoes, turnips, eggplants, etc. found at the Santa Fe Farmers’ Market. There’s also great lamb (comparable to Colorado lamb, which HG judges to be the world’s best) and free range chicken. One of the many nice features of HG and BSk’s property is their orchard — a dozen mature apple and pear trees. Fortunate HG and BSK have a bushel of apples ripening near their front door and often end dinner these days with a succulent pear plucked from their very own tree (accompanied, of course, by Parmigiano and red wine). Abondanza, indeed.
It’s eggplant season. There are tiny, round eggplants on display at the Santa Fe Farmers’ Market. Also, slim Japanese eggplants. BSK has been cutting up the little round ones into cubes and sauteeing them with chopped tomatoes, basil, olive oil and garlic. BSK adds chopped, fresh mozzarella for Pasta a la Norma, a favorite in Sicily. HG and BSK first tasted it on a sunny Sicilian terrace overlooking the beautiful ruins of a Greek temple. Unfortunately, Sicily is wholly associated in the American mind with the nefarious activities of mafiosi. Sure, that’s part of Sicily. What doesn’t get enough attention are the Greek ruins, the extraordinary architecture and street food of Palermo and Taormina, a city with some of the most spectacular sea views in the world. Okay, enough about Sicily, let’s get back to those eggplants: BSK also sautes slices of the round, seasonal eggplants for a nice accompaniment to grilled lamps chops. HG likes to roast the Japanese eggplants. Cuts them open and eats with a bit of Chinese hoisin sauce.Those big eggplants one finds in supermarkets throughout the year are full of water. Best use for them is HG’s Baba Ganoush. HG roasts these eggplants until they are soft. Scoops out the insides and mashes them with olive oil, loads of garlic, some finely chopped onion, Spanish smoked paprika, chopped parsley. Dusts them with Zaatar, that lovely middle eastern spice mixture. HG gets much much applause when the Baba Ganoush is served with a chunk of feta cheese, Kalamata olives and warm pita.
Pickled egglplant is a classic, Italian antipasti dish, the best example of which SJ discovered at G. Esposito & Son’s Jersey Pork Butchers. You can find a middle European version of chopped eggplant at Sammy’s Roumanian Steak House on New York’s lower east side. Very heavy on the garlic and best accompanied by shots of vodka from a bottle frozen in ice. HG’s all time favorite eggplant dish can be found at good Chinese restaurants that feature cooking from the Szechuan and Hunan areas. Sometimes combined with chopped pork, these eggplant dishes stoke the mouth flames with an abundance of hot chile and Szechuan peppercorns. Pass the cold beer…