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Entries in Williamsburg (6)

Monday
Oct292012

Pizza Moto – At Smorgasburg

 

I returned to the scene of the crime: Smorgasburg. Last time I visited Smorg, I ate too much. I mean, let's just call a spade a spade here, people. But the place encourages it, does it not? However, much to my chagrin, I did NOT sample the pizza last time. This was obviously a horrendous oversight.

This time, I made sure to sample Pizza Moto's hot-out-of-the-traveling-pizza-oven's goods. To see just how good they were.

First, a few words on Pizza Moto: mobile pizza oven.

That's a few, right? I'll elaborate, just a touch. There is no store. There is no "truck". There is just a pizza oven on a wagon. A fairly large wagon, I'll concede. This is not a radio flyer. It's an industrial-sized war horse of a conveyance whose sole purpose is to pump out piping-hot Neapolitan pizzas. I love it when things have a focus.

Especially when that focus is on pizza. 

And I will say that Pizza Motto has focused and focused well.

I didn't order the usual Margherita pie, but went after their special – The Boys of Summer, a magical assemblage of pesto, chunks of roasted eggplant, and fresh mozzarella. Take a look:

The wells of mozzarella were nestled snuggly between rivers of of pesto. The chunky rounds of eggplants drifed on top like ducks on a pond...

Let's have a close up:

Look at the bubbles on that crust! And now that we're talking about the crust, Pizza Moto's was outstanding. Expertly cooked with dots of char popping up around the outer crust. The inside, however, remained soft and chewy. Pockets of air created crevices of bready flavor - a chewable surface of the moon.

I was tickled by my Pizza Moto experience. I would say, it was the stand-out food event of the day. And I sampled some mighty tasty things, including (but not limited to):

At least two of these:

One of these:

A bite of this:

A forkful or two of this:

And this...for dessert (later):

Anyway, the pizza won. Sing with me now:

Won't you ride in my little red (pizza) wagon...I'll bet all the kids will be jealous when they see my playmate so sweet.. 

I believe ol' Hank was talking about the pizza.

Check out Pizza Moto here, and hire them for your next event. Then invite me. I promise not to sing the wagon song.

Monday
Sep172012

Let's Talk About Bacon

With all due respect to Salt-n-Peppa, talking about bacon can be much like talking about sex. People have some strong opinions about both. And sometimes, when they talk about bacon, or even just smell it cooking, their eyes roll back into their heads, and they have...well, they have a moment.

What is it about bacon that gets people all hot and bothered?

Bacon comes from a pig. This should not be news to you.

Homer Simpson had somewhat of a revelation when he discovered that pork, ham and BACON all come from the same animal (from "Lisa the Vegetarian", 1995):

Homer: Wait a minute, wait a minute, wait a minute. Lisa, honey, are you saying you're never going to eat any animal again? What about bacon?
Lisa: No.
Homer: Ham?
Lisa: No.
Homer: Pork chops?
Lisa: Dad! Those all come from the same animal!
Homer: [Chuckles] Yeah, right Lisa. A wonderful, magical animal.

But bacon is special. Unlike pork and ham, it's cured with a lot of salt. The salty flavor combines with a lot of fat and that tangy, pink pork meat to make something truly, as Homer would say, magical.

Bacon has become somewhat of a foodie obsession. People chocolate cover it, maple glaze it and top cupcakes with it. I've seen bacon chocolate bars, ice cream flavors and bespoke bacon-infused bourbon drinks...and this bacon shot called "Breakfast in Bed" (thanks to Brittany for the photo):

I, myself, love bacon. Even here on this blog, I've added it to caramel popcorn, candied it, and thrown it into maple scones. And I truly do pause when I smell it cooking and get a warm fuzzy feeling of happiness. And regardless of where I am, I think, "Where DID I put those onions and eggs?" Because, even though I love bacon as an addition to entrees, I still enjoy a good PLATE, I mean a solid SIDE DISH of the stuff.

From the Art of Manliness

But where can you get a good dish of bacon these days? Many places, I'm sure. I particularly like Egg's side of sweet bacon that you can obtain in Williamsburg, Brooklyn and enjoy while you decorate their paper table cloths with crayon doodles.

Recently, I encountered an EPIC pile of bacon. I went to Peter Luger's Steakhouse for the first time. When I told people that I was going to Luger's, I was often met with the response, "Get the bacon," before I even asked for ordering advice.

This phrase was said to me much like Egan said to Peter Venkman in Ghostbusters, "Don't cross the streams." It wasn't a suggestion, or a plea. It was a statement. You must. End of story.

So I did. Order the bacon, that is.

And what arrived was the largest pile of the thickest cut, greasiest and pinkest bacon I had ever seen. The edges were both grissle-y and crispy and there were grill lines horizontally spaced along the length of each strip.

I would guess that each strip was almost 1/2 inch thick, bordered on each side by striated fatty tissue, glistening in its own juices.

I admit to being slightly put off by this most intense presentation of bacon. This was the Everest of bacon mounds, and in that vein, this pile of pork seemed more like a Wonder of the World than something I actually wanted to eat.

But eat it I did. I gingerly speared a strip with my fork and it flopped onto my cocktail plate like a newly caught fish onto the floor of a boat, wiggling a little bit and flapping its ends.

I regarded it. Its length. Its girth. And its smell, which was intense. It was a classic briny, almost pickle-y smell. 

I approached it with caution and my knife. Trying to find an area with the most meat, I carved out a bite and ate it. It was salty – intensely so – and sweet at the same time. The fatty areas (which far outnumbered the meaty ones) where chewy and dense. It almost felt wrong to eat them. Even though it had browned edges, this bacon was not crispy. This was the steak of bacons – not a finger food, thinly cut and crispy, but a slab of meat that required utensils. It was bacon as a main event.

I did not love this steak bacon. It overwhelmed me. While others at the table devoured their slices and came back for more, I couldn't bring myself to finish mine. I prefer my bacon thinly cut and crispy. I like it to complement my meal, not steal the spotlight like Miss Piggy karate-chopping her subordinates.

Now, I'm not a dainty eater. Have you met me? Some of you have. I can eat my meal and yours too. But this was too much for me. Too much in the way that diamond-studded, gold tooth caps are too much bling. It took over everything, including my stomach and had me retaining water for days so that I resembled the meat in its original state.

I still love bacon. But I don't love Luger's version.

Bacon is an overwhelming meat. It's meant to be so. But it can still play nice. It's meant to be the Beaker to the meal's Bunson, the Zuul to Venkman's Dana.

Luger's crossed the streams. And it was bad.

I did manage to visit the restrooms, for your entertainment and edification. They are a typical stall affair with recessed lighting, institutional cream paint and old-school Dial soap:

Thursday
Jul122012

Sweaty Smorgasburg

The day before I experienced the legendary pizza at Saraghina, I trekked on over to Smorgasburg for the very first time.

I know, I know...what the $%^& took me so long? I don't know. What I DO know is that I'm glad I waited. There was (and still is) tons of hoopla surrounding the Brooklyn food movement. New York Magazine dedicated an entire feature to the indie food producers of BK. And Smorgasburg is the Burning Man food equivalent, collecting many of the foodie greats into a Williamsburg lot.

When I entered the lot, and noted the aisles of vendors, my stomach squealed with delight. So many exciting items! So many things to eat! I was under prepared. Specifically, I didn't bring enough dollar bills. Halfway through I had to leave and locate an ATM so I could give these hipster foodies more of my cash money. And I did that gladly.

I first stopped at the Blue Bottle coffee stand so I could cool off (it was once again 2,320,957,2309,234 degrees) and hep myself up on their Iced New Orleans brew. It's my favorite, with a slight chickory edge, softened by a bit of sweetness. I like mine with soy milk or half and half, the lower-fat content milks do nothing for the flavor. 

Cool and caffeinated, I could now approach the food vendors.

The Greenpoint Trading Company was my first stop. I was intrigued by their line-up of spices with which they had seasoned popcorn with as samples. I selected the "El Capitan" BBQ rub. It's a complex mixture of salt, sugar, paprika, cayenne and chili peppers and celery salt with some brown sugar for a maple-y flavor. Even though it's a BBQ rub, I oven-roasted some sweet potato slices sprinkled with this stuff and some olive oil and was delighted with the results. Give it a try.

After that, I encountered Granola Lab. After sampling all of their various flavors, I selected the Strawberry Lemon Thyme. It was unique and delicious. Sweet strawberries, fresh lemon and just a touch of herbal thyme. 

Next up, Grady's Cold Brew. I love the idea of cold brew concentrates. Keep it in the fridge and doctor up your mixture. You can dilute it with either water or milk, or not.... The guys at Grady's allowed me to sample their mixture both with and without milk. To me, it was rich and sweet, like chocolate. I could drink it black, and I usually like some milk in my coffee. Since then, I've been pouring espresso-sized shots into my post-workout smoothies. Here's a recipe if you'd like to try:

What You Need:
8oz soy milk
1 shot glass of Grady's Cold Brew
1 Tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder (you can use a chocolate protein powder if you're looking for more protein)
1 small banana
1 heaping teaspoon of Chia seeds (optional, but I like them for added protein)

What To Do:
Throw it all in the blender (you can add ice if you like it granita-style) and sip with a straw!

It was at this point that I noticed a Smorgas-goer carrying around a plate of teeny-tiny s'mores. I accosted him (hopefully not aggressively) and demanded to know where he procured them. Thankfully, the Mystery S'More Eater was used to this behavior (and in fact, I made similar demands of about 6 other people that day who also found it normal behavior). He pointed genially toward the S'more Bakery stand and I ambled (ran) over to partake in their marshmallow samples. I selected a to-go bag of two Black 'n' White s'mores: giant, puffy coconut marshmallows sandwiched between cake-like dark chocolate grahams, dusted with granulated sugar on one side and coated with dark chocolate ganache on the other. Toast them in up or heat in the microwave for maximum s'more-effect! Mine got a little mangled in my bag of Smorgas-goodies, but this did not effect their taste. 

Truth be told, I was not yet sampled-out. Although, I was starting to crave real food. Salt. Perhaps because it was the aforementioned 2,320,957,2309,234 degrees and my electrolytes were dwindling. To offset this problem, I visited the Stuart and Co. BBQ stand where the Bitchin' BBQ sauce samples were distributed in tiny wooden boats of pulled pork!

These guys obviously know a thing or two about presentation, being a catering company. They also know a thing or two about moist chunks of pork, surrounded in just the right amount of BBQ sauce. Their sauce is nicely balanced with a touch of peppery heat working with some sweet maple notes. I bought a jar and plan on giving it to The Box for his birthday. Along with...

Image from charlitoscocina.com ...some charcuterie! I mean, who doesn't want cured meats for their birthday? I selected the Campo Seco Dry Cured Country Sausage from Carlito's Cocina. Pasture raised pork, cured with a delicate fleur de sel. Simple, versatile and oh sooooo wonderful. I know it was hot and generally everything was melting, but this moist and salty pork did melt in my mouth. Make no mistake, I tried all their offerings, and I very much enjoyed the chorizo (hello, omlettes!) and the black truffle (I can see this as a great modification to a pasta Amatriciana).

Finally, it was time to eat. For realsies. I was hungry for lunch. But what to have. There were so many options, and mostly all of them looked good to me. As I was standing in the middle of an aisle looking lost, I saw a gent saunter by with two large pretzel bread sandwiches. YES! 

"What ARE those? And where did you get them?" I asked him. 

"They're from the Schnitz stand over there," he pointed me to my right, "I have not tried them, but I hear good things."

"Hearing good things" is generally enough for me when I'm hungry. So, I went with that and approached the booth. Schnitz offered two options, and I selected the Bamberg:

This sandwich was something special. Dark chicken meat, wonderfully juicy was thickly coated with crispy Panko breadcrumbs  seasoned with parsley. I do love a thick crumb on a piece of meat. The pickled cuke's threw in a tangy sweetness, while the caramelized onion dijon mustard was such a winner, I hardly know where to start. I do love a caramelized onion...but combined with a biting dijon flavor really makes them stand out. The whole affair is sandwiched in a Tom Cat Bakery Pretzel Roll that is buttery soft.

After my Schnitz break, I ambled the stalls for a while longer, sampling some Hibiscus Citrus Ginger Soda from Brooklyn Soda Works and some Dark Chocolate Chai "Ice Cream" (it's coconut based, so it's dairy free) from Alchemy Creamery.

Double-fisting these refreshing items, I departed Smorgasburg (regretfully, although I was out of cash for the second time) and made my way back to the L train, already planning my next trip back. This time, I'll need to take some reinforcements...any takers?

Tuesday
Oct112011

Pie by Pie – The Margherita Regina at Forcella in Williamsburg

Forcella is relatively new on the scene and in my opinion is adding even more credibility to the Brooklyn pizza scene in the Neapolitan category.

One reason I like pizza is that it is a simple food: bread, cheese, sauce (sometimes). But it can also be a complex food depending on your selected toppings.

It can also be an easy meal to make, it's limited ingredients perhaps also limit the potential for disaster. Yet, I find that in spite of this, it can also be easily botched.

Many times this is because of sub-par dough/crust. For a Neapolitan pie, it's essential to have a thin crust through the center with a puffy, chewy outer crust (cornicone). The crust should also exhibit "char" markings, or black spots that are characteristic of a traditional wood-fired oven cooking method, with temperature heating up to 900 degrees in some cases.

Because of this, my search for impressive pizza is heavily contingent (The Box would love that I used the word "contingent") on knock-you-off-your-bar-stool amazing crust. It just has to be that way.

 

In order to test appropriately, I ordered Forcella's Margherita Regina pizza: a Margherita pie accented with an extra pop of cherry tomato, smoothed over by creamy Buffalo mozzarella.

Let's get right into it with The Crust:
If you're looking for excellently crafted crust, seek out Forcella. They get the thin/puffy dichotomy just right with a perfect increase in elevation from the center outward. The outer shell of the crust is crispy and perfectly dotted with char like a Dalmatian puppy. That crispiness acts as a delicate shell for the flavorful chewy bread resting just beneath the surface.

Then, on to The Toppings:
I was initially surprised to see the combination of tomato sauce and cherry tomatoes. On a "Regina" style, I am usually accustomed to just the cherries, cheese and basil. However, I prefer this blend of ingredients as it maximizes the tangy, fresh tomato flavor across the pizza.

The Buffalo mozzarella was applied in delicate little blobs across the surface. Fresh and creamy, it had just a hint of that "sour" taste characteristic of Buffalo mozzarella.

And thankfully, the basil was both fresh and liberally sprinkled over the pizza.

A few other notables:

While we're on the topic of bread, Forcella makes their sliced bread from the extra pizza dough. Left to rise over night, it makes an excellent table bread: hearty and yeasty with a pliable golden brown crust.

The day I visited, Fried Zucchini Flowers were on the menu, and I alarmed my dinner companion and the waiter by squealing with glee and then excitedly demanding that I have some. I really do need to dial it down sometimes.

Anyway, Forcella's zukes were also stuffed with a little Buffalo mozzarella, so that after you crunched through the magically non-greasy fry, you reached a soft cheese truffle center delicately wrapped in a zucchini flower. my only complaint was that the flowers themselves were a little small in size. I usually see much larger ones, especially right now at the farmer's markets.

Finally, though I have no photo (sorry guys, we ate it too quickly), a special dessert called the Mille Foglie was deposited on our table. Similar to a Napoleon in construction (loosely translated as "a million sheets"), it was essentially a mound of cream and the thinnest pastry layers that the naked eye could detect. It was drizzled with a touch of melted chocolate and a sprinkle of chopped hazel nuts. It was heaven. Seriously, if you went to heaven and took a spoon to the clouds of Paradise, this is what they would taste like. Perfectly whipped cream with the interjection of delicate pastry....all crowned with a bit of depth and crunch from chocolate and nuts. Did I detect ambrosia? Maybe...

A quick check of the bathrooms provided the following multicolored photo array:

It's like stepping back in time to 1984! I wasn't too keen on the bathroom decor, but the restroom was very clean and provided the forceful and environmentally friendly Xlerator for hand-drying purposes.

Overall Pizza Eating Experience: The Shawshank Redemption

Forcella
485 Lorimer Street
Brooklyn, NY 11211

 

Wednesday
Sep212011

Highlights from the Bedford Cheese Shop

My friend Kaz was in town over the weekend from The City of Angels, and on our list of to-do's were the following items:

1. Find tasty food to eat.*

2. Wander in and out of places that sell tasty food.

3. Have 13 million concurrent conversations while wandering around eating/looking for tasty food.

* Some portion of said "tasty food" should be devoted to cheese.

As I dragged her from one borough of the city to another, we stepped lightly into Wiliamsburg, Brooklyn and busted through the door of the Bedford Cheese Shop.

Our plan was simple: it was nearing cocktail hour. We were getting peckish even though we had an enourmous brunch featuring at least 4 buttermilk biscuits. We decided on a "pick and mix" dinner which would include any number of random items as long as it heavily featured both WINE and CHEESE.

And so, Kaz is partial to the Aged Gouda above. It was quite snappy, with some caramel flavors that gave it a nice deep undertone. Plus, aged Goudas tend to have little white "crystals" which are actually calcium nuggets. They're crunchy! They provide texture! Like nuts in your ice cream.

Recently, I've become a fan of Sharfe Maxx. It's firm, but not like an aged Gouda, as it's still pliable. It's an aged cow's milk cheese. It's sharp and creamy all at the same time and has a hint of "barnyard-y" flavor that I really enjoy. It's almost like a light oakiness in wine.

I then picked up this Lemon and Vanilla Bean preserve from Maiden Preserves. You can actually see the real vanilla bean action in there – look at the spoon! After one spoonful, I started putting this on everything, finally forgoing the various vehicles (assorted crackers, both varieties of cheese) and just took a spoon to the jar. I can do that kind of thing with Kaz. And even if I couldn't, I would probably do it anyway.

For dessert, we picked up this Lemon Ricotta Poundcake from the Bedford Cheese Shop. Kaz spotted it on the counter and insisted we get a chunk. I was skeptical. Ricotta cheese cake? Do they know how to do that at the Bedford Cheese Shop? Pardon my wariness, but it IS an Italian dessert...and even though the BCS knows their cheese...do they know their cheese-oriented Italian desserts?

Oh yes. Yes they do. Alarmingly well. As you can see above, this was the only tiny piece that remained to photograph. And then I ate this final piece right after the beauty shot was taken. Dense, with a creaminess that felt almost ice cream sandwich like. The lemon flavor was refreshing and light...not  too much at all.

I am a HUGE fan of this cake. And of the Bedford Cheese Shop. Pop in and get cheesy.

Bedford Cheese Shop

229 Bedford Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11211