SJ Here. For the last two months I have been on a quest to change the meaning of my “S” to skinny. This has meant avoiding sugars, pasta, bread, starches, etc., like a truly modern (and unhappy) man. For the most part the temptations have been negligable (although I have been dreaming of steaming bowls of Pasta laden with anchovies and garlic) except for one: the Pecan Bars (dubbed Crack Bars by those in the know) served up at my local coffee spot, Panade. Panade is one of the great neighborhood spots — a fixture of North Chinatown / LES — with an owner, Yvette, who not only serves up great coffee, “puffs,” and sandwiches but is also a true emissary of our hood: everyone knows her, she knows everyone and thus the disparate worlds of Chinatown are melded in her small storefront. Every morning when I get my coffee a display of these Pecan Bars mocks me — they are the perfect baked good — nutty with pecan goodness, rife with the flavors of butter and toffee, moist and slightly chewy. Sweet, but not cloying. Nothing beats them as a mid-day treat (or mid-morning or mid-night or mid-dusk or in the mid of really anything) and they raise a mighty alarm to my will power every day that I force myself to go without. So, generous soul that I am, if I cannot have them I would like to entreat all you loyal Hungry Gerald readers to make a trip south of Delancey and try the vaunted Panade Pecan Bar — truly the best cookie in New York City.
That’s the motto of Goya Foods and HG agrees with every word. Goya, based in New Jersey, is the largest Hispanic-owned business in the United States. The products that this family enterprise produces are absolute staples in the HG/BSK pantry. HG was pleased to see that Cook’s Illustrated, the very rigorous cooking publication, recently taste-tested canned cannellini beans and picked GOYA’s Cannellinis as the winner. Here are some quotes from the tasters: “creamy and firm,” “nice nutty flavor,” big and meaty,” and finally “very satisfying.” To all of this, HG says “Amen!!”. HG eats these beans with pork chops (well dusted before frying with GOYA Adobo). BSK mixes these beans into BSK’s incomparable escarole and pancetta soup. Guided by knowing Florentines, HG accompanies very rare steak with the beans (flavored with lots of garlic and olive oil). BSK mixes them with a can of tuna fish, chopped red onion, olive oil and Italian parsley. Department of full disclosure: Some decades ago, HG conducted a public relations campaign for Goya and flooded the country with recipes featuring Goya products. HG very much enjoyed working with Goya. A lovely family that took pride in their products. Another HG bean favorite is GOYA Black Beans. Very tasty. Heat a can. Top the bowl of goodness with chopped raw onion and a dollop of sour cream. Good eating. Try Goya’s hot sauces and salsas as well. Muy autentico.
Not everyone loves kimchi, the Korean fermented cabbage that is a staple of Korea’s cuisine. Some find the fragrance and the tingly taste a bit too challenging. Not HG, a dedicated lover of kimchi. Trader Joe’s sells a 10.6 ounce bag of Korean kimchi for $1.99, a true bargain. HG always has a few bags in the fridge. For a favorite lunch, HG adds kimchi to a steaming bowl of Korean Shim Ramyun (spicy and hot) or Jin Ramen (mild), both Korean instant ramens. HG sometimes follows the lead of Roy Choi, Food Truck entrepreneur, restauranteur, chef and author of L.A. Son, and adds some slices of of supermarket American cheese to the ramen. Choi grew up in a rough and tumble neighborhood of Los Angeles. That’s the way his Mom served him ramen. Try it. Surprisingly and oddly tasty.
That’s the title of a wonderful cookbook, a Christmas gift from thoughtful SJ. Franny’s, of course, is the Brooklyn restaurant owned and run by Francine Stephens and Andrew Feinberg. HG dined there a few years ago. Best cured meats, salumi and pizza HG ever tasted. Franny’s has become a mini-empire and success has been based upon Stephens’ and Feinberg’s watchwords: Simple. Seasonal. Italian. The original Franny’s on Flatbush Avenue has moved to a larger space. The original space is now occupied by the couple’s trattoria, Marco’s. (They also operate a food market, Bklyn Larder). The Franny’s cookbook is beautifully written and illustrated, filled with appetizing ideas. HG/BSK cooked Franny’s version of penne with zucchini and mint a few days ago. (Hadn’t previously known how mint enhances zucchini). A beautiful dish when topped with a goodly splash of extra virgin Sicilian olive oil. Tomorrow HG/BSK will cook Franny’s paccheri with swordfish, olives, capers and mint. Paccheri is a tubular pasta (literal translation from the Italian is “a slap in the mouth”). HG/BSK will use rigatoni (easier to find).
When HG was young, New York was a city of bookstores. There was the grand Scribner’s on Fifth Avenue and Brentano’s, also a Fifth Avenue book landmark. The 8th Street Bookstore in the Village was where HG’s late, lamented friend Peter Alan Meyerson, the Hollywood comedy writer, worked after college. The Village was filled with bookstores catering to a variety of tastes: political, erotic, artistic, perverse. Fourth Avenue (later renamed Park Avenue South by the same pretentious vulgarians who dubbed Sixth Avenue as Avenue of the Americas) was lined with used bookstores. HG, sometimes joined by a young SJ, browsed their shelves on many happy days and bought the books that were the foundation of the HG/BSK library. HG’s favorite bookstore was the Gotham Book Mart at 41W. 47th Street. Frances “Fanny” Steloff opened it in 1920. Imperious and irascible, Fanny loved books and writers. It was a hangout for almost every literary luminary of the 20th Century. Delmore Schwartz, Gore Vidal, Tennessee Williams, W.H. Auden, Woody Allen, Stephen Spender and scores of other novelists, poets, critics and playwrights made it their hangout. There were poetry readings and novelists would often preview their works in progress. Fanny held parties for visiting literary figures from overseas (such as Osbert and Edith Sitwell). Fanny sold the shop in 1967 but continued to live in an apartment on the 3rd floor of the shop. She died in 1989 ate the age of 101. The shop (in a new space on W. 46th) closed in 2007, one of the last glorious independent, individualistic, eccentric New York bookstores. HG’s other favorite haunt was a small shop on 23rd Street that specialized in publishers’ overstock and cut rate art and design books. The owner, an erudite left wing gentleman, played Mozart and Bach on the shop’s sound system and gave HG steeps discounts on HG’s purchases of Skira and Abrams art books. HG recalled all of this as he read in the New York Times that New York bookstores are disappearing. Yes, Hitler burnt books and New York’s rapacious landlords are emulating him by eviscerating bookstores (and other irreplaceable neighborhood treasures) with outrageous rent demands. A young woman, the Times reported, who wanted to open a small bookstore on the Upper West Side, could find no space for less than $40,000 a month. New York has already lost more than a third of its bookstores. Surely there must be some sort of municipal government action (subsidy, etc.) to prevent the loss becoming even more dire. How can a city that calls itself the cultural and creative center of the world do nothing as its bookstores are driven out of business?
A simple name: Joe’s Diner. Simple decor: 50’s diner. Cuisine: Simple–but great. Joe’s, a restaurant on the corner of Rodeo Road and Zia in Santa Fe, takes simplicity and makes it soar to culinary heights with carefully chosen local ingredients and superb cooking technique. What could be simpler than a hamburger? Well, Joe’s hamburger is cooked with locally raised, organic beef. It is cooked to perfection — pink and juicy in the center, charred, but not burnt on the outside. The bun (both soft and crisp) is toasted and buttered. Served with melted blue cheese, green chile and thinly sliced red onions. The accompaniments: Perfect cole slaw with just the right amount of mayonnaise and state-of-the-art French fries. An All-American dish that soars. HG is going to come back to Joe’s for rack of lamb, barbecued brisket, roast duck and prime rib (Fridays only). Well over 50% of Joe’s food budget is allocated to local producers. Eat local.Eat well. Eat at Joe’s.