Archive | Brooklyn Restaurants RSS feed for this section

COURT STREET GROCERS

12 Dec

There is nothing greater than the sandwich.

It pretty much encapsulates how I got into food, and to this day is still the thing that gives me the most pleasure.

I am not sure how it happened but bread was my first food love. The natural progression was then to fill the bread and from the  humble yet disgusting combinations of tuna, hard-boiled egg and ketchup to slightly less revolting concoctions, my love affair with the sandwich began. I will often spend far too much time and money going from store to store picking up ingredients just for the joy of putting it together myself. However sometimes you need to concede that the professionals have an edge and allow them to do the work for you. Hence how I came to be at the Court Street Grocers.

Somewhat implausibly for a store that only opened in late 2010 they won the 2011 Best General Store in NY Magazine, but over the last 12 months they have really grown into it. The store sells a selection of hard to find foodstuffs, some of which harp back strongly to the owners youth, others just delicious but not readily available. They also sell cheeses, salamis, dairy, seasonal fruit and some sweet treats, most notably  delicious ‘rugelah’ crafted by the owners father,  which are not really rugelah at all, but more strudel bites.

I digress, Turkey Club on Pullman.

It is at the back of the store where the magic really happens in a small open kitchen where all the sandwich ingredients are prepared in-house. Just reduced in price to a more palatable $12 this sandwich is of the kind that makes you fall in love. The ‘club’ supposedly invented in Upstate NY is often to be found on hotel lobby menus but rarely ever done right.

Court Street nails it on the head. On top, moist white turkey meat (and no this is not an oxymoron) with lettuce and bacon, then toasted bread with mayo all stacked on top of the more flavourful brown meat that has been confited and reheated on a grill to give it some crunch. Much like any great restaurant dish this sandwich has a perfect balance of textures, flavour and aesthetics.

While $12 plus tax and service should you wish is not cheap, it is large enough to be a very satisfactory meal, even better when rounded off with their signature rugelah.

NYC is a sandwich town so there are many good options in my neighbourhood alone, Van Horn does an excellent Southern fried chicken with pickled red cabbage. Ted and Honey have a fantastic pulled pork with coleslaw, and Frankie’s sandwiches are all great but try my latest favourite the roast beef with pepperoncini’s.

Advertisements

Di Fara: A Living Legend

13 Apr

I think I have alluded to Dom DeMarco’s pizzeria a few times throughout this blog without ever scratching the surface. This then is it.

I finally made the journey out to Midwood, it took about 40 minutes, first on foot, then by train. It was a nasty grey day but on a whim I decided that it was as good as any other. Midwood is very much suburbia, feeling far from anywhere resembling the NY everyone pictures. It looked a lot like Golders Green in London, urban scrawl graffiti over every bit of railway siding, plenty of semi-detached housing with driveways and garages, religious jews in their funny outfits and a high street full of double parked cars and the heavy usage of horns. In mitigation it was Friday just before all the jewish businesses were closing and the people were scrambling to get their provisions in before the sabbath.

The point of all this is to frame the pull that Di Fara has. It is a long way from the city with little reason for an outsider to visit. However, other than a police patrolman and some local mechanics, every other person in the joint seemed to be in the neighbourhood just for the pizza. One woman was collecting a pizza for her boyfriend in New Jersey, she was passing so had to stop in, “it would be worth it even for cold pizza”.  I picked up some definite Australian accents, and a fella who judging by his girth was a regular but still very much in awe of his pizza.

They were all here for the same reason, anytime you Google New York’s Ten Best Pizzas you will see Di Fara. In my opinion some of the lists have him in quite bad company (don’t ever go to Lombardi’s or Grimaldi’s despite what any guide may say) but he has to be a genuine contender. As always you have to suspend some of the pre-conceptions of visiting the ‘best pizzeria in NY’. This is not Per Se your meal will not be the result of hundreds of chef hours preparing complicated sauces and foams, but it is still a real labour of love.

DeMarco makes every pizza himself and for a 75-year-old he is pretty sprightly. But that translates to a 40 minute wait for 2 slices of pizza on a quiet rainy Friday. Part of the reason is that at 75 he is not as fast on his feet as he once was. In fact this had been one of my fears that having put off this pilgrimage off for so long I was in danger of missing out should the old mans health begin to suffer. Fortunately he seemed in rude health, taking his time, but very deliberate about all his actions. Its his attention to detail that makes the pizza what it is. Making every one from scratch is a lot of work for one person, DeMarco himself finishes every pizza with scissor cut basil and extra parmesan which is periodically grated by his daughter.

Here in lies the success of this very ordinary looking pizzeria. Forty years ago there would have been many dedicated pizza men like Dom, keeping the business in the family and ensuring high standards were being met by being there for every pizza. Now many of the New York style pizza joints are anonymously owned or with priorities solely on profit rather than quality. Di Fara has remained a rock in the shifting sands and hence he stands out.

So the question I have been waiting to answer; Is this really the best pizza in New York?

No, but it is the best place you could go if you wanted a slice of true NY style pizza. The pizza genre has many different styles from classic Neapolitan, Chicago deep dish, New Haven super thin, grilled and I am sure many others. So the fairest I think you can say is that this is the best NY style pizza in New York. For the best pizza in NYC I would have to recommend the Neapolitan style pies at Motorino.

Love and Other Drugs

10 Mar

Have you the seen the movie? Well don’t, it’s a romantic comedy and when was the last time one of those was funny!

Maybe that is unfair but too often with romantic comedies it is the case, although, I will admit that often true it is not always true. This is much like when someone says that a restaurant location is doomed. It is a familiar tale that because restaurant after restaurant fails at the same address it is the location and not the restaurant that is written off as cursed. Well much like my original fatuous comment this too stinks of gross generalisation. The truth is venue after venue will fail simply because they are not good enough, yes there may be some added struggle in convincing the non believers that it was the restaurant and not its location that made it suck, but in reality quality shines through.

Personally I would go as far as to say that there is almost no such thing as a bad location. If you are truly doing something that people want and will appreciate they will find you, there are examples everywhere. What better demonstration than the awesome pizzeria Franco Manca. Firstly it is in Brixton London, not a problem in itself, but imagine a restaurant with perhaps 10 indoor seats, add in the fact that it is situated in a covered market that is only open from 11-4pm, and finally that its neighbours include fishmongers, brick-a-brak stores and the only butchers in London I have seen that sells pig tails. All that said you turn up at 1pm on a Monday lunch time and marvel at how difficult it is to get a table in such an ‘undesirable location’.

All this brings me to Van Horn, a new Southern style sandwich joint that opened across the street from us in Cobble Hill. It sits in one of those mythically doomed sites where every restaurant before it has died a sad and lonely death. Well I am going to stick my neck out and say that this one is gonna be around for a while.

We arrived just before 7pm and were invited to choose whichever seat we liked. Apart from another couple and some regulars at the bar we had the place to ourselves. The short menu consists of sandwiches, sides and a couple of soups all paying homage to the Southern states of the U.S. You could argue that the brief menu lacks detail, but since I ordered a Chicken Sandwich and what showed up was a Chicken Sandwich it may actually be a refreshing turn to dispense with the birthplace, rearing and feeding habits of said bird.

It was in fact a deep-fried chicken breast no doubt of good pedigree, coated in bread crumbs and  12 secret spices, served with pickled red cabbage and a rather pointless scattering of dressed leaves. Whatever it was called it was delicious, deep-frying chicken just works, crispy outside and a moist inside. The side of spicy potato salad lacked the advertised spice and while not being bad in any way it was missing the oomph that would have made it more memorable. My girlfriend had the Pimento Cheese Sandwich and the Tomato Soup. Both were excellent, the soup especially, although the accompanying slice of fried bread seemed a little unnecessary.

The bill came to a  just about reasonable $38 including tip (20%) which is perhaps slightly too much considering we waived the enticing looking drinks menu. But as I said earlier I would wager good money that given time and a few more favourable press reviews the place will be packed every night of the week.

PS. Still struggling to think of many funny romantic comedies…does Knocked Up count?…all suggestions welcome………..

The next big thing….was

7 Mar

Food trucks have been all the rage for the last 18 months or so but I remain unconvinced. I would suggest most things that can be prepared well in a van would be better coming from a proper kitchen and having worked in mobile food businesses and done my share of outside catering I know how hygiene levels can slip.

However I am not immune to the charms of food coming to me rather than vice versa, so after spotting The Rickshaw Dumpling Truck hanging round the neighbourhood curiosity finally got the better of me…..

The Chicken and Thai Basil Dumplings with Satay Sauce were delicious. In fact they got better with each one I ate. The satay was a little strange, I think it was made with creme fraiche or some other very non asian ingredient, but it still worked.

I will not say the Dumplings totally changed my mind but it did open my eyes a little wider. For $6 I got 6 dumplings which made for a perfect lunch snack to see me through until dinner.  The fact is most truck vendors aspire to a permanent location as demonstrated by Dessert Truck Works in the Lower East Side, Van Leeuwen Ice cream in Greenpoint and now Cobble Hill, even London’s top mobile food vendor the Meatwagon (although only due to the theft of his truck!!!) So the moral is we either need to support the trucks enough so that they can afford permanent digs, or else ignore them totally until they give up on the trend and go back to opening restaurants.

PS…. the next big thing is pipes….yes the type old men used to smoke, I spotted two pipe smokers last weekend both under 30 years of age……….damn hipsters……next they will be trying to gentrify the old peoples homes…..

Eggy

5 Mar

Is that a term people still use? All through my youth it was a great way to wind up someone already on edge, (most especially my poor sister). Simply call them eggy and it can only work to infuriate them more.

Today I definitely found myself being pushed to the edge and fittingly enough the venue that did it was called EGG. This is one of those places that has always been on my radar, in fact it was on the original Jim list, but it is only now that I have ticked it off.

Egg serves breakfast all day with more than a nod to the South. This means eggs, scones, grits, hash browns, hush puppies, fried chicken and just about anything else that can be battered. I am sure there are plenty of southern dishes that do not require a deep fat fryer but they were not many on the menu today.

Set in the heart of Williamsburg this restaurant attracts plenty of the locals all dressed in the de rigueur hipster look. This style is fairly consistent all over the world, you’d be very familiar with it if you had spent any time in East London. Note the leather boots with slight heal, skinny jeans, some form of bohemian coat not designed to keep you warm, facial hair and a hat. At one point all the people sitting in the wait area were dressed in black with many or all of the above characteristics. Oh to be an individual…..

Anyway I digress. The thing that made me so on edge was the wait for a table. This does not usually bother me. If I know somewhere is popular I try to avoid peak times, or travel in the knowledge that there will be a wait.  On this occasion we knew there could be a short wait even though we got there on the early side of lunch. They have what you might call a virtual hostess, that is a clipboard and a list but no hostess. Its smart really, it saves on a staff member and you can easily track where you are on the list.

This is where the smartness ends. Having filled in the list I then peered into the restaurant and to my astonishment counted the vacant tables. There were 6 of them, some set ready to go and some still with debris from the previous customer. I know there could be any number of reasons as to why they were not seating us, they may have been short on floor staff, the kitchen might have been at full capacity, they may have had tables reserved although they do not take bookings. The problem is that without a hostess to explain we were left in a cold room slowly reaching boiling point.

In different circumstances I may have walked but we persevered and while the waitress incharge of seating did her best to screw the list up, we did eventually get our table …

I went for the Toasted Cheese Sandwich with Bacon and Angela had Egg Rothko which was a thick slice of brioche with a hole in the middle filled with an egg covered in cheese. To this she added some tater tots and some hush puppies mainly because I was intrigued. The sandwich was good, and the Rothko likewise, everything else was an ode to brown. I could feel my heart rate slow as the arteries filled with grease, but then you do not go to Egg for a healthy meal. The tater tots were great, kind of like a rosti but in ball rather than a disk. The hush puppies on the other hand reminded me of a very inferior falafel. They are made with cornmeal and I imagine were a way of making a readily available cheap food stuff a little more palatable back in the day….

The food was good. I have mentioned in a previous post the dangers of publicity and popularity for a restaurants reputation, and I think Egg probably falls into that category. There is nothing wrong with the place, the food has good provenance (they even grow some themselves on their farm), it was all well cooked, but it is not a place that stands up to hype well. It is after all an all day breakfast spot with some extras thrown in. Do not go expecting too much and you will leave well fed and perhaps in need of some exercise…

P.S. For kids and adults alike…it seems it doesn’t matter how old you are if you have crayons and paper you will doodle….Every table I passed had some form of art…..

Generally Speaking

3 Mar

Generally speaking I do not like to complain in restaurants as I feel it puts everyone on edge. However sometimes it is not enough to write it off to experience, you must make yourself heard. On the rare occasion that I feel it is necessary it is often governed by a comedy of errors rather than one mistake.

Perhaps the first misstep was our own. having enjoyed the Kings Speech at the BAM Theatre we decided on dinner in Fort Greene. There are numerous choices in the area, the result of a steady period of gentrification that has turned the once shady neighbourhood into a desirable locale supported by gourmet stores, coffee shops and restaurants with the added bonus of Fort Greene Park.

It came down to the middle eastern spot Black Iris or the ‘New Brooklyn Cuisine’ of The General Greene. The NBC moniker sounds as pretentious as it possibly is, however of the many restaurants that fit the locavore billing most we have tried have been good if not better. It should have been a no brainer since a previous visit to the General Greene had left me somewhat underwhelmed.

Nearly everyone deserves a second chance so this was it. From the moment we escaped the biting wind it was as if the place was stuck in slow motion. The service was poor, not laid back as I think the intention was, but just plain slack. Inattentive, inefficient and frustrating. With no-one specific waiter/ress we were served by all three of the staff on duty, hence none of them knew what we had ordered nor what we were still waiting for. We shared four small plates and were happy for them to come as they were ready. First up was a cream of tomato soup that was green! It was okay until our taste buds were assaulted by a riot of pepper. Next up was their 3 cheese Mac and Cheese. Perhaps at this point I should have been bolder and complained since it was as if the chef had read the menu literally and used three morsels of cheese. The dish was a joke, essentially it was overcooked pasta, a tea-spoon of bechamel and a soupcon of cheese dust….

Things could only improve as we waited for the next of our dishes….and waited…and waited…. Eventually we realised that it was not going to happen without our help so I summoned who I imagined to be the manager and as gently as possible inquired as to the rest of our meal. Some moments later after a heated discussion between the wait staff the bartender appeared with a bottle of wine, some apologies and a free refill. At this point though the game was up, there was nothing that they could do to rescue the meal, although in fairness they did everything they could.

The wine was a nice touch, and then when the bill came they had removed the two slow-moving dishes. I hate not paying for mistakes on the bill, so more often than not I will make the server aware of an error. In this case I had no qualms about not paying for the two dishes that took 40 minutes to arrive, however I was interested to know if it was a mistake or an intentional gesture. It was in fact intentional so hats off to the manager. In the end she proved to be aware enough to know when recompense was needed and at least we left with a sense of ease.

Unfortunately the final gesture was too little to ever make me think of going back. I have put up with poor service in the past but this was always on the condition that the reward of a great meal can mask the deficiencies. The General Greene failed to deliver even the most basic food to any kind of competent level, and since this was the second disappointing visit I am happy to close the book on this place for good.

Roman’s

7 Feb

After a week of abstinence its Saturday night and its my first restaurant meal of the month.

The criteria for tonight was either somewhere that took a reservation or an early start to avoid the dreaded two-hour wait which can be pretty standard in many of New York’s restaurants at prime time on a Saturday. The food also had to be excellent as if I was going to step away from my healthier eating regime it had to be worthy.

Roman’s had been a suggested destination for many a meal since it opened in 2009, but so far my girlfriend had managed to eat there twice without me, a fairly shocking state of affairs seeing as I am supposed to be the one wearing the chefs trousers in this relationship. Since almost nowhere in Brooklyn takes a reservation we plumped for the early dinner option.

We arrived at 7pm anxious as to the possible wait. Previous experience had led me to believe that while everything stays open much later in NY people also start much earlier, so a restaurant being full at 6pm is no surprise. Thankfully we were told around 30 minutes with the added bonus of four seats available at the bar so we could enjoy a glass of wine while we waited.

Very nice it was too. Jenny ably chose a Pinot Noir, not the cheapest on the list, but the next one up, as we all tend to do. It was in fact a very nice bottle so much so that later on it led to another. Within the promised 30 minutes we were sat down and having the daily changing menu very clearly explained by our server.

Roman’s serves a classic Italian style four course menu. Obviously there is no obligation to partake but by sharing some of the smaller courses everyone round the table should be able to have a taste. In the end we all skipped the “Third” and opted for several shared starters and pasta as our main. A good choice too, because as much as it’s an Italian menu, it’s definitely American portions.

We shared some delicious Stracitella (mozzarella before it is formed into a ball soaked in cream) on toast, fried potatoes with an olive mayonnaise, some bruschette and a rocket and parmesan salad. The simple things were just right and the cheese was stringy and creamy in a most satisfying way. The olive mayonnaise was rich and a perfect accompaniment to the crispy potatoes.

Onto the pasta. The ricotta gnudi seemed to go down very well, the verdict was both light and filling. There were good noises about the vegetarian pasta too, although it was perhaps a little light on vegetables for $15. My Bolognese was seasoned aggressively but just about within the limits.

Having skipped the third course and very much enjoying our wine we instantly decided to share one of each of the two dessert options. First up was their famous chocolate ice cream, followed by a ricotta pound cake served with whipped cream and grapefruit steeped in amaretto. The ice cream was NY Magazines pick for the Best of 2010, but it was far from that good. I don’t think I would be alone in saying, it’s not even ice cream, nor is it sorbet, but more of a frozen chocolate ganache. This is not a bad thing in itself but it was lacking in texture and while very good quality chocolate not something I would rush back for. The pound cake was more enjoyable, moist, with a hint of the alcohol and sharp citrus.

Including tip (20%) it came to a very reasonable $240 (£150). While the food is generally simple it was all executed very well. . So once again its hats off to the boys from Diner who have created a restaurant where seasonal food, solid techniques, friendly service and a good atmosphere guarantee value for money.