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Something to Be Thankful For: Dallas BBQ & White Castle

If you tag the Rego Park Dallas BBQ in Instagram, the default location reads Dallas BBQ’s, superfluous apostrophe S and all, which is the most Dallas BBQ thing ever. I also didn’t really mean to go to Dallas BBQ on Thanksgiving. This wasn’t some long-planned, overwrought performance piece. (If anything, it’s becoming a problem. I’m not necessarily saying the two are directly related, but I’ve mentioned Hennessy Coladas twice on Tinder recently and both times I’ve been ultimately rebuffed, one going as far as unmatching me. I can’t waste time on someone who can’t hang with Dallas BBQ. It’s my new test.)  There just weren’t enough people to cook for this year to make it worth my while, I’d rather spend $100+ on a restaurant meal not involving turkey (not to mention the few more casual places I did inquire about were already booked) and my fellow orphaned New Yorker amenable to dining out could appreciate the simple charm of a $15.99 spread, most bases covered, no heirloom root vegetables, heritage breeds, or wine-soaked gelées. dallas bbq thanks duo You first receive a cup of chicken soup, carrot coins and celery ribs boiled to cafeteria-soft consistency. The first course is followed by a massive heap of bread mush stuffing (I’m of the crispy bits, recognizable crusts school) draped with slices of turkey breast moistened with thin gravy and punched up with a good deal of chopped parsley for color, a yam big enough for two, cranberry relish that was a little wilder, with walnuts, and what were clearly once whole berries, served in a plastic container, and a BBQ-appropriate square of cornbread. This was the second Thanksgiving meal this year I’d encountered with no mashed potatoes. Has double starch gone the way of canned cranberry sauce? thanksgiving sweets Dessert was no more than a wee pumpkin spice cupcake so inconsequential I forgot about it. Not a complaint. I planned ahead by making my own dessert, a pecan-pepita chocolate pie with a gingersnap crust, heavy on the molasses, bolstered by some pastries from La Gran Uruguaya on my corner that was thankfully open the morning of the 26th because I forgot to go on Wednesday and went out for happy hour oysters instead.

Two days post-Thanksgiving I was given the opportunity to finally make a variation on the White Castle stuffing I’ve had my eye on for years and that is far better than one would expect considering the ingredients. You use sliders, no cheese, and don’t include pickles, though the ketchup does throw it off a bit with tangy sweetness. I added a pound of sauteed cremini, a cup and a half each of chopped white onion and celery, just enough chicken broth to add to the liquid released from the mushrooms (more if you do like that mushier texture) a little thyme and paprika, plus fresh sage that seems to disappear no matter how much you toss in. A little sage normally goes a long way, but use more than might seem correct to make this taste like stuffing not hamburger bread pudding.

Color Me Bad: Greens and Blues of the Week

The week in which I fell victim to social media marketing. Despite being slightly irked by that matcha custard pie showing up all over Instagram, I also really wanted to eat that matcha custard pie showing up all over Instagram.

Photo: Dina Litovsky/New York Magazine

Photo: Dina Litovsky/New York Magazine

Then I got all caught up with the coconut blue punch that was so tangentially featured in the New York spread on Mission Chinese chef Angela Dimayuga catering a meal for the cast of Hamilton (am I the only human who knows nothing about this show and am indifferent to learning more?) that the recipe wasn’t even included.

Oof, but Silk Cakes, the Forest Hills bakery with Smorgasburg Queens presence has a green tea cupcake topped with blueberry buttercream, uniting blues and greens in a single morsel. And the circle was complete.

Eaten, Barely Blogged: Feeding Out of Towners

seamore's spread

Seamore’s The sustainable seafood restaurant may have won “Instagram Bait of the Year,” but I’ll concede this is a pretty shoddy pic. (There’s a reason no one is paying me $350 to promote their food.) The poke, so LA, and chosen by the visitor from that raw fish-crazed city, was easily the best thing eaten and it was all because of the peanuts in addition to the tuna, avocado, and ponzu. The bluefish in its pure state was fine, and kind of bizarre with miso brown butter that tasted like caramel corn (perhaps better for sweeter shrimp or scallops) The steamed vegetable and grainy sides of the same sort you get at The Meatball Shop (not that I ever eat there, but what I’ve heard from a friend who regularly gets vegetarian meatball takeout and was also was at this dinner, is how inconsistent and frequently half-cooked everything is) were less exciting even though it didn’t matter since the well-fried dogfish tacos took up all my free stomach space.

la perrada de chalo hot dogs

La Perrada de Chalo There are a lot of ways to go when wooing a West Coaster and trying to convince them Queens is a great place to stay even though they’d prefer Manhattan. Don’t attempt Mexican, just don’t, even though we know the Mexican-food-in-NYC-sucks trope is tired. Colombian hot dogs are more than capable of doing the trick, however. Make the crushed potato chips, bacon, pineapple, blackberry sauce, and creamy squiggles of mayonnaise and ketchup blending into one, seem like foreign delicacy. Plus, open 24 hours on weekends, which is a tough call between the nearby White Castle.

dominique ansel kitchen savories

Dominique Ansel Kitchen I chose the chicken chicken paprikash and cheddar chive biscuit when I should’ve just shared the massive croque monsieur. And I’m still stinging from not realizing the edamame avocado toast is actually a bread bowl when I’ve dedicated my life to embracing the edible vessel.

brooklyn diner kugel sundae

Brooklyn Diner I wouldn’t tell anyone to go to Brooklyn Diner (how it happened to me is still vague) but noodle kugel in a sundae was a surprise. And a welcome one along the same rich, custardy lines as leche flan hiding out in a pile of icy halo halo.

cata egg toasts

Cata Kind of underrated. Do we ever hear about this tapas bar I picked primarily because it’s a non-abusive Friday night choice on the Lower East Side? The big gin and tonics (smoked coconut, kaffir lime) are fun, the food doesn’t suck, though even after sharing maybe five things and two desserts (among three, then four for sweets) you still might end up getting tacos on the way home and find out your Oakland friend stopped for cereal milk soft serve in Carroll Gardens. The quail eggs benedict with chorizo were the sleeper hit.

jackson heights white castle

White Castle Yeah, so I was recently at one in Detroit but I’d never been to the location I’ve lived a ten-minute walk from for the past year. And no better time than 4:30am on a Saturday. Semi-related: I’m still waiting for the damn Northern Boulevard Denny’s I was promised.


Chains of Love: Who Needs Tinder When You’ve Got Olive Garden?

So, Olive Garden has decided to get into dating advice because millennials. Just #AskAlfredo and you shall receive.

The real question, though, is who am I going to coerce into a date at Olive Garden before the Never Ending Pasta Bowl offer disappears this year?

Eaten, Barely Blogged: Weekend in Detroit

I wouldn’t necessarily say I went to Detroit for the food, though I did end up eating way more one human should (the biggest downside of traveling alone is the inability to share dishes) and was practically drunk for two days straight (had to check out those new-breed distilleries). I went for the same reason I’ve gone anywhere this year (hmm…just Hudson, NY and Los Angeles–gotta step it up in 2016), primarily to get out of New York City and visit a place I don’t really know.

Detroit’s in-progress renaissance, the emergence of bars and restaurant included, has garnered a good deal of coverage. (I’m kind of partial to this balanced take.) And if the hype over the city’s more Brooklyn-esque aspects (it’s no Paris) make you feel avoidant, don’t worry because Detroit is coming to you like it or not, one semi-artisanal coney dog and pan pizza at a time.

gold cash gold duo

Gold Cash Gold My first stop. Late-ish Friday, “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea” playing. That thing where as soon as I’m settled, everyone at the large bar finishes up and I’m sitting smack next to the only couple and inadvertently hear everything they have to say. He wanted Benedictine but didn’t know “the liqueur with the white cap” was called that, and she didn’t want to get married at the Detroit Institute of Arts because it was cliche. (She was right–there were two wedding parties there on my visit.) My first impression: Brooklyn food, even though that’s not fair. I can get on board with the self-referential name, the restaurant occupying a building formerly not serving food . The menu reads well and the prices are refreshing; $12 is a solid plate of food, not a snack, but everything I tried could use a little something more, maybe just salt. The chicken skin salad was all there, pickled peaches, peppery greens, and yet completely under-seasoned so the dish’s calling card made little impression beyond texture. The duck merguez with heirloom apples and potatoes was a little rough around the edges like the results of a weekend cooking project. The fermented pistou (fermentation is this place’s thing) was interesting and barely hinted at basil, though the meat and potatoes were both oddly grainy. 

sugar house a.k.a. bill murray au revoir, gopher

Sugar House/Bill Murray I may be the only person alive who’s indifferent to Bill Murray. One of Detroit’s first craft cocktail bars, they are still doing the speakeasy, suspenders and mustaches thing while charging New York prices. Oh, and apparently changed its name indefinitely to Bill Murray with a Bill Murray themed cocktail list. There was a lot of flourish to the $14 Au Revoir, Gopher (Vida mezcal, Amontillado sherry, masala, Angostura bitters), literal smoke, mirrors not so much. I wanted the less precious Ectoplasm Cooler because blue curacao but Midori is a step too far for me, not because I’m classy but because I find melon foul. This wasn’t a particularly friendly crowd (one thing I’ll say for Detroit is that people are not too cool to be chatty) that was composed of bald men in leather jackets, a lot of baseball caps on men of all races, older dudes in glasses and barn jackets with a faculty-like quality mingling with younger muse-y women. Beach Fossils’ “The Horse,” from an album I love enough that I paid for it on iTunes this summer as driving music but couldn’t figure out how to make my phone play over a rental car’s speakers, did not fit the vibe one bit.

bobcat trio

Bobcat Bonnie’s No one needs a $3 tumbler of well vodka, even if it’s the foundation of diy bloody mary bar, complete with every mixer and hot sauce imaginable, plus bacon, salami, and cheese for garnishes, but if one wakes up their first morning in the city and finds a bloody mary bar a mere block away, just across Michigan Avenue, one of those multi-lane thoroughfares that would be a boulevard of death in NYC but so lightly clumped with cars leisurely crossing (or do wild u-turns or drunk drive in a rainstorm–not that I would know anything about that) is no problem…well. Because I wasn’t alert yet, I ordered the SOS, mostly because I liked the idea of lamb gravy, thinking oh, like biscuits and gravy but with Texas toast instead of biscuits. But no, it’s like shit on a shingle but with lamb instead of chipped beef. And it was tasty. I brunched alone, which is somehow even more fearsome and evil than brunching in group, and survived. The bartender who called me a “Detroit stalker” to my delight because I’d researched the hell out of dining options, was a pleasant mix of cynicism and chill, much needed but not always found in Detroit. My suspicions about my previous night’s dinner and cocktail being no more than ok were confirmed. I was recommended Selden Standard, a known heavy-hitter, then against it by the two middle-aged couples, also sitting at the bar, in the city for the weekend from the suburbs–a sometimes criticized demographic that seems to sustain much of these newer restaurants–for a beer festival. They knew they their stuff, and I didn’t listen and I regretted it.

chartreuse trio

Chartreuse Kitchen & Cocktails Just some snacks and a requisite Last Word since that’s the city’s cocktail claim to fame and almost anything with gin and Maraschino is great. Made with Chartreuse, it’s the color scheme and a featured spirit in multiple styles. Neither the grilled octopus with chorizo nor steak poke were particularly regional, though that was my own doing. Lake Superior whitefish and Michigan shrimp were available. I was keeping it light because I was aiming for a second dinner (and ultimately ended up with a third, if I’m to admit the 1am White Castle fast-walk from my apartment).

selden standard tartare

Selden Standard Strong, I want to say. Despite only trying the steak tartare (yes, the second raw, chopped beef dish in two hours) this felt polished. And yet, too New York-y, too many people bunched up at the bar (yes, it was a Saturday) and getting ma’amed by staff and hoverers coveting my seat, killing the buzz and good spirits I’d amassed at DIA and Chartreuse.

cafe d'mongo whiskey sour

Cafe D’Mongo’s Speakeasy  I didn’t really enjoy this place until I got too drunk. In retrospect, maybe that’s how it works. I know it’s a favorite but there was something slightly off. I guess that could be said for the whole city in many ways.

batch brewery pork belly bolillo

Batch Brewing Company. I thought I’d hit Mudgie’s for a brunch sandwich, but it was closed for no reason on a Sunday, so nearby Batch sufficed with a pork belly bolillo and an imperial milk stout brewed with Great Lakes Costa Rican Microlot Coffee. Really set the tone for the day. 

two james distillery tasting

Two James Spirits If I had to choose a single standout Detroit interaction (thanks for asking) it would be the aw shucks, farmboy-ish kid from somewhere near St. Louis who had been in town two months for work and was sitting a stool away from me at a distillery’s tasting room and freaked the fuck out over the blue corn tortilla chips garnishing his chicken hominy stew. “I’ve never seen a black chip,” he said, clearly upset, no longer wanting to finish the dish he had ordered only because everyone else at the bar had been raving about it. (He wasn’t familiar with cumin and didn’t like it either.) He asked me what my green drink was. Absinthe, which I explained tasted kind of like licorice, trying to find some common ground and not sensory overload him any further.“Regular licorice or black licorice?”

detroit city distillery double dad

Detroit City Distillery I didn’t make it to Eastern Market Saturday or to the crazy bloody mary place or another fancy place, Antietam, named bizarrely after the bloodiest battle in US history, a fact unknown but shared with me after admitting I had no idea how the pronounce the word or had any knowledge of what it was (to further boast my ignorance, I didn’t even know Detroit was across a river from Canada, the only major US city north of Canada I also learned). This is the Double Dad (Elvethea gin, ginger beer, basil syrup) a nice respite from the tailgating wildness occurring outside. Is it too Northwesty of me to admit that I’ve never encountered tailgating in person in my life? History and geography aside, my dumbness was confirmed when I bought a bottle of gin and white rye at Two James without thinking about how I’d flown Spirit with a $40 checked bag surcharge. 

buddy's trio

Buddy’s Too much fancy was occurring, so it’s not surprising that this was possibly my favorite meal and not just as an antidote to new-school Detroit. With hard-baked corners, substantial mozzarella, and a degree of doughy heft, this square style bridges the New York thin crust, which yes, is the best, and Chicago deep dish, which I don’t hate but is barely pizza-like (we all know it may as well be lasagna). This is fun pizza only enhanced by the atmosphere. You have to get into the crispy edges, cheese heft, eaten with a fork and knife. This was the Detroiter, a combo featuring curled and crisp pepperoni slices, a specific subgenre of pepperoni prep I didn’t even know whas a thing. This was the only time I would’ve preferred a table and company (so what if I put an innocent plea on Tinder looking for a pizza date, which didn’t totally come to fruition despite interest and botched plans) rather than being relegated to the bar, in this case not by choice. There weren’t any open two-seaters in the half-filled upstairs dining room.

american vs lafayette coney

American Coney Island and Lafayette Coney Island. I don’t love hotdogs or chili or the combination of the two but regional specialties are more important than my petty wants and needs. It had to be done. American is clearly the Geno’s, flashy, self-congratulatory, to Lafayette’s bare-bones no nonsense a la Pat’s. (I’m talking Philly cheesesteaks, if that needs saying, and if it does, ugh, who are you?) What I learned about myself? That I do like chili cheese fries (not pictured). Fried starch and melted cheese is never a disappointment.

first little caesars

Little Caesars is based in Detroit, and the original 1959 location still survives in a strip mall in Garden City. I very much drove out of my way for this. Proud.

culver's curds

Culvers. In some ways Culver’s was the impetus for this impulse-trip. Or sort of. For a scary peek into how my decisions are often made, here is how it went: I matched on Tinder with someone maybe a little too young (but the guys who claim to be 40-ish look 50-ish and I can’t deal–dudes, just say you’re 52 and own it) who was visiting his parents in Pittsburgh.  I was bored after a few texts but decided I needed to visit the Rust Belt, so posed a Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, or Cleveland question on Facebook. Somehow Culver’s emerged as one compelling reason to visit this region, posited by an age-appropriate but geographically inconvenient person I met on Tinder over four months ago and who was partially the reason for choosing LA over the summer instead of my original two ideas, Seattle or Santa Fe. When it’s all laid out like that, it’s a little disturbing that a dating app would play any role at all in my travel plans, let alone such a large one in 2015. Still single, and I can’t imagine why. 

culver's butterburger

So, a Butterburger, cheese curds, and Vernor’s rootbeer were the last things I ate before returning my rental car. I regret not having time or fortitude for a Custard and being unable to eat more than a few fried nuggets of cheese. The weekend had caught up with me and I was feeling it. Without the Culver’s stop, though, I would’ve considered the entire Detroit mission a failure. It was important.

Stuffed Peppers of the Week

Photo: Andrew Scrivani/The New York Times

Photo: Andrew Scrivani/The New York Times

If I were a more paranoid, narcissistic type, I would start thinking I was being trolled. Obviously, editors at The New York Times have better things to do than push me to the edge by publishing stuffed pepper recipes in their cooking newsletters.

But here you go: made all modern with farro and smoked gouda.