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Posts from the ‘Southern/Soul’ Category

Eaten, Barely Blogged: Oregon, Better Late Than Never



Mae. I was reluctant to eat at a Southern food pop-up in Portland. Who needs it? (I would be more interested in a Pacific Northwest pop-up on the South except that there isn’t a distinct cuisine to speak of.) But it was one of the highlights of my trip; very vegetable-focused, light when it needed to be (chilled zucchini & buttermilk soup with sweet pepper relish, cherry tomato, and sumac-toasted pecans and lingerie beans, flame nectarine, pickled chantrelles, purslane with brown butter vinaigrette) hefty when it was required (chicken fried in three fats–no idea which). And I will never again underestimate the power of biscuits slathered with Duke’s mayonnaise and topped with nothing more than heirloom tomatoes and bourbon barrel-smoked salt. At $65 (suggested donation) for ten courses (was too busy eating to take photos of them all) and BYOB I would consider it a great bargain, though in Portland that means you’ll be sharing a table with some wealthy middle-aged Bergen County transplants and siblings from Eastern Oregon of mysterious means (and a dubious relationship) one whose child with a septum piercing will be going to Harvard in the fall. I was the only teenager-free diner at the table (even my boyfriend has a daughter going to the cool downtown public high school, which everyone approved of) and when the sister from Pendleton made everyone state their favorite movie, and wouldn’t let up after I demurred, I was like maybe I’m a poor conversationalist? No matter, when there’s pickled ramp pimento cheese to be eaten.


Nodoguru. $125 ticketed omakase that sells out in minutes. It was all right. Something about it felt off for Portland, not that I’m critiquing quality or creativity.  I just couldn’t get excited because I’m a jaded monster.


Pizza Vendor. Totally the break-out hit of this trip. With its straighforward name and no reason to go unless you happen to already be in Scappoose identity, it suited my needs just fine. It’s the childhood pizza of your dreams, half-and-half if you please, lots of cheese, thin, chewy, and puffy cornmeal-dusted crust, except that now you can get pitchers of beer instead of root beer and I still can’t figure out how what seemed like six-pints worth of some local IPA was only $6.99. Bon Appetit had recently declared Pizza Jerk, a take on East Coast pizzerias, one of America’s Best New Restaurants despite it being closed due to a fire. Magically, it reopened two days before I was to head back to NYC. I had planned to hit it on the way to the airport but went back to Pizza Vendor instead.


Hat Yai. It’s no secret that I’m a fan of Portland Thai food. There are all sorts of interesting niches being filled despite the Thai population being practically nonexistent. The shtick is Southern Thai in a fast-casual format with cute branding. Fried chicken, lightly battered in seasoned rice flour encrusted with fried shallots and sweet chile sauce is featured and I tried a combo with a big buttery roti and chicken curry, not exactly a light lunch. I kind of love that there are six straight liquors for $6, soda an extra $1.50 (though I’m sure that’s considered overpriced since a majority of cocktails in Portland are still sub-$10) as I’ve been on a tequila and soda kick (so I can pretend I’m not a lame as a vodka soda-drinker). Sometimes I think I will move back to Portland and then I see middle-aged foodie dudes with goatees setting up elaborate photo shoots (was under the impression this was a blogger of some consequence) who pronounce prix fixe, pree fixay, and I’m all nope, I would just be too mean for this town.


Urdaneta. Stopped in for a snack because I was wandering around the area and recognized the name as something newish and ended up ruining my appetite for the $5 Little Bird happy hour double brie burger I had planned on later. Complimentary pimenton-spiked chickpeas and a sweetbread-topped pintxo would’ve suited my needs fine. The tortilla was substantial, gilded with Idiazabal and sherry aioli, and I couldn’t stop eating it.


Pine State Biscuits. I’ve been before. It was close to my Airbnb.


Giant Drive-In. There’s a shingled A-frame practically in the backyard of the apartment complex my mom and stepdude are now managing. No, it’s not a destination but I would recommend the big, fun (Hawaiian!) burgers and homemade shakes even if you lived a little more than walking distance.




Cedar Plank Buffet. We gathered 10 family members for a Sunday brunch buffet at Spirit Mountain Casino because nothing is too good for my mom’s 66th birthday. Fried oysters, smoked salmon, biscuits and gravy, lemon meringue pie, french toast, and bacon is just all a part of the deal.

Mountain View Sports Bar. Oh, and a late night sports reuben that I carted around from my mom’s to Scappoose because I’m gross and can’t toss food. I can’t remember if this was before or after the mushrooms and Keno (my sister is a hippie) but it was ok because we stayed overnight, no driving.


Coyote Joe’s. Weird that I would encounter biscuits three times in two days because biscuits aren’t particularly Northwesty.


San Dune Pub. An oyster po’ boy with local Willapa Bay oysters. See? New Orleans appropriation.


Little Big Burger. I completely forgot I ate this.


An Xuyen. Banh mi, only $1.49 more than the ’90s. Best sandwich under $3. The owner/cashier was so damn chatty I thought the line of customers behind me were about to kill us, yet when I looked up no one gave a shit.


Pho Van. Part of a mini Vietnamese empire. Solid pho. No, I did not make it to Rose VL Deli.


Shut Up and Eat. My grandma is into this food truck-turned-brick-and-mortar restaurant and I’m half-convinced it’s simply because of the name. The Italian sandwich contained a little more roughage than I’m accustomed to.


Ixtapa. The waiter was all, “I put habaneros in your food,” I guess to get a reaction, but I was all “ok…” That’s humor in Scappoose. The combos are crazy cheap and you won’t feel weird for ordering a chimichanga. That’s all you need to know.


Shari’s. The last two times I’ve been (2x in one year is more than I’d been in two decades) they did not have my first choice or second choice pie. YMMV. They always have tots, however.


Eaten, Barely Blogged: Taco Salad, Hot & Messy Sandwiches, Cheddar Bay Biscuits

el cortez duo

El Cortez. If you like piña coladas…then 2015 is a great time to be alive. Technically, this isn’t a piña colada but The Commodore (rum, coconut, pineapple, amaretto float) which only serves to remind that El Cortez is a clone-in-spirit of said Williamsburg bar but more tiki and ’80s-leaning (I refuse to let the ’90s claim this breed of suburban junk food Mex) hence the additional presence of the Orange Julio, a nod to everyone’s favorite Creamsicle-esque mall beverage. I don’t even like taco salad (I was so traumatized by a spell in the early ’80s where my mom made weekly taco salads with packet-seasoned ground beef, canned kidney beans, grated cheddar, shredded iceberg, Catalina dressing, and tortilla chips that turned to damp mush when we had to eat leftovers that it somehow made it into my 2011 Elle profile–pretty much my only food blog fame) but I couldn’t stop thinking about the taco salad after learning of its existence. It was totally a crush from afar. But it held up in reality, as well. It’s all about the fried shell, really. Ripping and dipping. If you just eat the beefy bean guts out, you may be saving calories and carbs but you may as well be dead inside. The taco salad, itself, is pure of form, with a base of beans and ground beef, heaving with all of the classic cheddar, lettuce, tomatoes, sour cream, and importantly sliced black olives, no overt twists or upgrades–that’s all in the condiments, a line-up of squeeze bottle salsas (the orange one packs serious throat-tickling heat). The finishing touch? A ramekin of dill ranch foam. I am so going back for the chimichanga.

union pizza works pie

Union Pizza Works. The thing about dining at 5pm is that by 10:30pm, it’s entirely possible to eat another meal. No regrets about sharing an onion and Gorgonzola pizza and a carafe of Chianti out on the cement patio. And if you’ve had enough to drink, you might hear biscuit pronounced with an Italian accent as Bisquick and order the chocolate dessert for the novelty.

streetbird trio

Streetbird. Surprisingly little chicken got eaten for being a restaurant supposedly specializing in rotisseried poultry. That’s because the Hot & Messy, an open-faced toasted cornbread sandwich smeared with peanut butter, and smothered with avocado, bacon scant pulled chicken, and runny-yolked egg jumped off the page with its excess. (Plus, I don’t know if I need to go all the way to Harlem for roasted chicken when I’m surrounded by Peruvian and Colombian renditions.) The notti greens, green beans pan-seared in a vaguely Asian manner with chiles and peanuts and a small bowl of wildly acidic pickles provided some counterbalance. The mac and cheese, of course, did not.

apollo red lobster quad

Red Lobster. It’s perfectly acceptable to linger over a Warm Chocolate Chip Lava Cookie and a margarita with a tequila sidecar at the Apollo-adjacent Red Lobster, afterward, or probably any time. It’s a big place. The best part is you’ll still get a basket of Cheddar Bay Biscuits with the menus before they realize you’re not ordering a full meal. Don’t feel bad about it.

Eaten, Barely Blogged: Celebs, Curry, Classics

Sweet chick trio

Sweet Chick I would not say that Williamsburg, or
NYC in general, needs another southern joint. How much fried chicken can a city
stand (and I love fried chicken)? Battered, craggy and sticky with sweetened
soy like the finest Chinese takeout, General Tso fried chicken, is a different
story. Add a light rice waffle with what appeared by be chopped Chinese
broccoli baked in and you have a fun blackboard special. Lest you think all
this retooled Americana is a young person’s game (jerky fries? purple
drank?)  it was good enough for Canadian
Pat Kiernan and family, who'd apparently made the block-and-a-half trek on a Sunday

Laut curry meeLaut And then I (or rather my table-mate) spotted
Ric Ocasek and Paulina Porizkova the following night strolling past our window.
I only saw the backs of two tall, skinny people all in black. If an ‘80s
celebrity marriage can last this long, it gives hope for the rest of us. Laut
does the dreaded pan-Asian thing, mostly focusing on Thailand and Malaysia.
Stick with the latter. The laksa and curry mee wouldn’t compete with anything
you’d find in Queens or Chinatown, but where else are you going to get these
spicy soups anywhere above 14th Street? Ok, I take that
back—according to Menupages 12 other restaurants that fit that criteria.

Qi thai grill delivery

Qi Thai Grill is on Seamless, which tickles me, if
only because it means beef tendon salad and pork belly (not so crisp,
admittedly, after the journey) arriving at my door. Read more here.

Pok pok duo

Pok Pok And sometimes Brooklyn Thai needs to be
experienced in person. Reports of smaller post-hype crowds may be true, but
there is still likely to be a wait. In my case 45 minutes at 9:30pm on a Wednesday.
Kaeng kradang, a chalkboard special described a cold weather curry, turned out
to be a highly jellied pork terrine, feeling a little more French-Vietnamese
than Thai (though I know it's not). I would eat this on a baguette rather than
with finger-fulls of sticky rice. A duck salad and ribs with a pair of dipping
sauces rounded out the meal, just right for two, despite the server’s warning
that we had under-ordered. Keep your eye out for Columbia Street on a future
episode of The Americans (you’re watching it, right?). Film crews had taken
over a number of blocks near the waterfront. I did not see Keri Russell (who
apparently owns a Brooklyn brownstone, as all celebrities big and small, minus
Pat Kiernan, seem to).

Diner and Dumont While distinct restaurants,
obviously, these two that I hadn't patronized since the early '00s may end up
being Williamsburg old-timers as places like La Villita Bakery and La
Borinquena get pushed out. In the days before 20-somethings regularly dined on
entrees costing roughly their ages, $12 mussels and fries felt fancy (it was
the mayonnaise in lieu of ketchup that clinched it). That was the only thing I
ever ordered at Diner. Dumont still makes a nice burger. Supposedly, so does
Diner but I’ve never tried it (nor the steaks). Because I may be a decade older
but still not free-spending, I didn’t bother ordering any of the specials with
no prices mentioned. I will admit that a squid salad with lentils and fennel and
duck breast with farro and kumquats were definitely a step up from the bowl of

Walter food duo

Walter Foods Pretty much the newer but not that new
version of the mid-20s people and prices place. Chicken, steak, pork chops–the
standards–are all ok, but nothing that would explain why the restaurant is
always so packed. While eating steak frites and deviled eggs, I realized that a
Shazam for faces would be a valuable invention. Right before closing, a dude
being filmed showed up and everyone seemed to know who he was. Then again, the
room also appeared to be morphing into a private after-hours space, so perhaps
the room was just filled with his friends celebrating his Kickstarter campaign.

Lodge I would lump Lodge right in with the above or
not even mention it at all. It's always been a non-entity to me, a place with
no appeal. But it was open relatively late on St. Patrick's Day (a blessedly
low-key, non barfy holiday in these parts) and so I stopped in and had my
frequent semi-boring office lunch, steak salad, but jazzed up with pears,
walnuts and goat cheese for dinner. It was certainly better than Flavors and I
give Lodge a leg up for playing My Bloody Valentine’s Ecstasy and Wine and Up For a Bit With the Pastels (neither on Spotify, annoyingly) both my driving to school in the
morning music, taped from record to cassette, of course.


Eaten, Barely Blogged: Farewell to Carroll Gardens

Hbh sandwiches smith st. cheesesteak. cheesesteakk

HBH Gourmet Sandwiches. This is totally one of those
places that was new and talked-about and so ridiculously close to my apartment
that I could put off going for some time. It finally turned out to be that
time. (I did not get to Court Street Grocers, however–too many damn sandwiches in the neighborhood.) It's also totally one of those kinds of absolutely delicious (and kind of ugly when transported home and unwrapped) but caloric
sandwiches that makes you wonder why artisanal food gets a health halo–what do
you mean Shake Shack isn't good for you?–while other equally fatty food  is disparaged. Quality ingredients, yes, I
know. This Smith St. cheesesteak, all tender short rib meat and taleggio on
cibatta, is nothing like a cheesesteak, so if you're craving shaved beef of
questionable quality and processed cheese, this will not satisfy.

Seersucker black pepper ricotta dumplingsSeersucker. I didn't grow up using the term townie,
which feels more east coast anyway. I didn't need to because Portland was
nothing but townies. I like the word, though, so I'm going to call the person
in my neighborhood who told me that Seersucker was expensive with tiny portions
even for her, a tiny person, a townie. I'd resisted for years, based on the
name alone (which I chalked up to being a crank until a non-cranky coworker who
lived on the block also hated it and was coming up with other deserving
fabrics–perhaps Gabardine? Oh, my, that's already been taken by a Top Chef in
San Diego). My duck with a succotash-ish bed of kernels at first did seem a little
precious, but was rich, and the Berkshire pork, fall-apart belly topped with
cracklings (and I swear there was a third pork component) was flat-out meaty. The
prices were fair and reflective of what was on the plate. It was good enough
that I forgot to even snap lame camera phone pics of the mains and only
captured the starter of ricotta dumplings in a crazy broth perfumed with salty
country ham. One day I may eventually warm up to the owners' future Vietnamese
food project too, even if it doesn't make a lot of sense on the surface.

Prime Meats. There aren't a ton of dining choices
close to 11pm on a weeknight in my now-a-memory south of Fourth Place universe.
I was curious about what pleasures an $18 1/2 lb Creekstone Farms Angus burger
might provide. More than a Guy Fieri burger created from beef of the same
origin, I hated to admit. I only stole a bite, technically a forkful meat
barely held by a wet bun because it was the tail end of the meal and the whole
thing had nearly fallen apart with texture matching my steak tartare. Prime Meats grew on me over time, though I would never crowd in for brunch.




Eaten, Barely Blogged: Clinton Hill Times Three

Soco red velvet waffle and chickenSoCo I’ve been spending time in Clinton Hill recently, trying to assess the livability of the neighborhood (I would say the prognosis is good; we put an offer on a condo yesterday). I’m not a total stranger to the area since I did work at Pratt briefly in the late ’90s (my first-ever, full-time salaried job [$22,000] which I left to work at a food website–yes, they existed 13 years ago–for $3,000 more. Everyone got laid off six months later…) but Myrtle Avenue has ten million more bars and restaurants than in my day. SoCo was the craziest (well, the booming sit-down Chino-Latino place with the name I always forget technically was) in that there was a huge crowd spilling out onto the sidewalk. More club than restaurant. But the next afternoon, the post-brunch crowd seemed mellower so I joined in, lured by the promise of fried chicken and red velvet waffles on the window menu. It’s the most popular dish, too, I was told. I would estimate that at least half of the tables had at least one plate of red waffles on it. The mash-up was far less breakfast/dinner than dinner/dessert hybrid. The sweetness was there, and pumped up by the maple syrup, but the cocoa flavor almost grounded it. You really didn’t feel like you were eating chicken and cake, just a tasty new form of fat and carbs. Lovers of unnaturally colored food and nonsensical flavor combinations will be pleased.

Speedy romeo dick dale pizza-001Speedy Romeo I love processed cheese, not just Velveeta and Cheez Whiz, but thickly sliced deli cheese, too, all extra creamy and salty. I also love Hawaiian pizza, so it’s almost as if Speedy Romeo’s Dick Dale was custom made for me. Using popular-in-St. Louis Provel cheese (a melty, processed cheese that combines cheddar, swiss and provolone) plus pineapple and smoky speck ham on a wood-fired pizza is pure genius. Adding a spoonful of pickled chiles, the restaurant’s condiment of record, provides a sharp contrast against the smoother, sweet flavors, and makes this pizza one of my all-time favorites. That is not say, all will love it, especially considering ham and pineapple is a scourge to purists, never mind the utterly un-artisanal cheese. Oh, Slice covered this very pizza this week with a nice slide show and everything–I had no idea it contained béchamel.

Putnam’s Pub It’s a gastropub, nothing out of the ordinary, but good to know about if a late night roasted bone marrow or devils on horseback (not bacon-wrapped dates here, which is the usual interpretation, but fried oyster topped deviled eggs) craving strikes.

Sunset park diner & donuts grilled cheese sandwichSunset Park Diner & Donuts I never ate here once when I lived down the street, though that’s not really a judgment of the restaurant but more about my rarely eating at diners. It’s slim pickings for post-2am dining in the area, and they do a grilled cheese with bacon deluxe, i.e. with fries, as good as anyone. The restaurant is even on Seamless, which is surprising. It almost makes me wish I still lived over there just so I could have french toast and jalapeño poppers delivered to my door at 3am.

Van Horn

1/2 Van Horn is one those places like Rucola, Strong Place, Court Street Grocers, Brucie, and countless others walkable from my apartment, that get enough chatter without me adding to it (plus, I haven’t eaten at any of them). Maybe you’ve heard of Van Horn’s fried chicken sandwich? Up until last week, I nearly felt like I’d eaten it already.

Van horn chicken sandwichNow I have. It was impressive in person, the lightly battered chicken breast bulging out of its sesame seed bun. The weird thing was that the red cabbage slaw tasted more like shredded beets in that dirty way the root vegetable can. It added a healthy aura too. This was haute Chick-fil-A , not a substitute.

Van horn pbtI prefer my Southern sandwiches to be less virtuous, though, and the PLB oozing with pimento cheese and further greased-up with bacon (then toned back down slightly with a lettuce leaf) was the exact late-ish night snack I had been looking for. The cheese blend was complex and hinted at more than mere cheddar and mayonnaise (in fact, they use garlic aioli).

Van horn hushpuppiesIt’s easy to poke fun at artisanal updates to classics (I’m still surprised that it took a mayonnaise shop to finally push the food world over the edge) but the hushpuppies–super light and nearly creamy inside–were better than anything I was served in North Carolina last month. The honey butter didn’t hurt their case.

By the way, these horrible photos were taken by my horrible phone, which I replaced with the new iPhone two days after this meal. Eventually I cave to most trends (though I’m stating right now that these scrunchy socks will never appear in my drawer or on my person). However, the jury’s still out on apps like instagram and foodspotting (hipstamatic is banned on name alone) and that’s because I’ve been trying to cut down on food photos, not increase my output (and I kind of hate social sharing, despite embracing Twitter and well, blogging before blogs formally existed, even though sometimes I feel like I’m missing out on something indefinable). I’m loathe to give up the SLR for portrait-worthy foodstuffs, even if it makes me a so-called food paparazzi, but I can’t see a camera phone, even a good one, replacing my real camera. Do people actually use both in one setting? I’m afraid of the future now.

Van Horn * 231 Court St., Brooklyn, NY

Price’s Chicken Coop & Keaton’s BBQ

I’m not going to blow your mind with any North Carolina revelations. I was only there for a weekend (with a jaunt to Virginia in the middle) and stuck with common knowledge (if you’re a Roadfood/Chowhound type) regional favorites. Frankly, that’s the way to go. Without naming names, Charlotte’s entry into “farm-to-fork” dining was a total dud (you tout so-called small plates but don’t allow sharing without a surcharge?) and the two revamped diners on the same block had service so misguided that it bordered on abusive.

Price's chicken interior

Ok, then, chicken. You will not go wrong with fried chicken, especially not at Price’s, a takeout counter always lined by bodies, ordering, waiting, pondering…ok, I was the only one really scrutinizing the menu, both on the outside window and the ancient version covered with computer-printed price addendums above the cashier ladies’ heads. Everyone else knew exactly what they wanted.

Chicken coop chicken

I settled on a half chicken mixed (dark and white meat) with default tater rounds (I forgot to ask for hushpuppies, the favored starch in these parts) and coleslaw, regular coleslaw, unlike ruddy, spiced version I encountered at barbecue joints. The skin was thick and crispy enough to hold up hours later (this was just for pre-dinner nibbling) and seasoned primarily with salt and a good deal of pepper, nothing fancy.

Price's chicken coop gizzards

Chewy gizzards fried fresh on the spot are an ideal snack to gnaw on. I felt like I wanted to dip them in something, though. Maybe a few shakes of vinegary hot sauce would’ve been right.

Keaton's bbq signs

Now Keaton’s is a whole other bird, fried and sauced. About an hour north of Charlotte, the roadside bunker sits miles and miles into fields, legitimately in the middle of nowhere Pre-internet, how did word spread about these far-from-hubs eateries?

Inside, it feels like a big rec room that happens to have a counter and kitchen attached. The wood-paneled walls are filled with faded prints, latchhook art and clippings of long-deceased owner, Burette Walker Keaton, many with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth. According to one of the guys waiting for his takeout order who was pushing the limits of the posted no shirt, no shoes rule mumbled something in a hard to decipher manner (I think I have the Northern version of that affliction) about how he always had a cigarette while cooking.

Keaton's bbq dining room

There was also a sign banning photography of staff members. The room was not this empty, I just waited for the opportunity between tables turning to quickly snap a shot lest I be targeted as a rule-breaker. (I’d already shunned the sweet tea and couldn’t risk appearing like even more of an outsider).

Keaton's bbq beverages

If one person orders sweet tea, they will be given an entire pitcher. Sure, the ice takes up a lot of room in the ubiquitous giant Styrofoam cup (standard issue at every casual restaurant in the region) but that’s still a lot of sweet tea. For the record, the sweet tea at Price’s hit a new high in sugar content. I’m not convinced there was even an ounce of tannic leaf-derived refreshment in that syrupy blend. I ordered a bottle of Cheerwine just because I could. A little of the cherry red soda goes a long way, but it sure is pretty.

Keaton's bbq plate

I was expecting a sweetish, tangy barbecue sauce but the red stuff was more complex, peppery with a little kick. I did order hot. There was a vague jerk vibe, too; maybe allspice was at play. I had been wondering if the fried skin+sauce would approximate a Southern version of Korean fried chicken, but no, not really. The saucing rendered the crispy skin secondary. It wasn’t as superfluous as dousing shell-on crab a la Singapore, which I’ll never understand, but the beauty of the frying process does get mitigated once soaked in warm liquid. This was good chicken, but I missed the crunch. That’s the spicy slaw I was talking about above–and a slab of mac and cheese.

The pop-pop of shotguns rang out in the thicket of trees across the street from the parking lot. I have no idea what was being hunted, but at least it gave more credence to the camo and guns crew that had been dining inside Keaton’s.

Price’s Chicken Coop * 1614 Camden Rd., Charlotte, NC
Keaton’s Barbecue Chicken * 17365 Cool Springs Rd., Cleveland, NC


Brooklyn Star

No amount of salad, yogurt, fruit and dinners ripped from the pages of Cooking Light—my dull weekday diet—can make up for an excess of pork fat, batter and beer. Weekends are a problem for me. But what’s the point of going to southern-by-way-of Williamsburg Brooklyn Star if you’re living a life of grilled chicken breasts and steamed broccoli?

Brooklyn star rillettes

Unusually, the long wait on a Saturday night didn’t sour my mood. The luck of two seats instantly opening at the crowded bar and a gratis Sazerac granted by the kindly bartender (whose accent leaned more Scottish than Southern) just shy of the one-hour-mark raised my spirits. We had duck rillettes to occupy us, too. Served in a jar, as country-fied cuisine in urban settings often is, the rich confit was cut by the tartness of pickled green beans and was just as good on a biscuit as a baguette. The thing about terrines, pates and the like is that there’s never enough bread and you feel silly eating charcuterie by the spoonful.

Brooklyn star pigs tails
The fried pigs tails were more bony than anything, but if they’re on a menu you’re going to order them, right? The darker nuggets on the periphery of the bowl are jalapeño hush puppies.

  Brooklyn star marrow

I appreciate the starch variety. Hush puppies, biscuits and here, Texas toast as the bready delivery mechanism for roasted bone marrow. The parsley salad you may have seen before in this context; the red onion jam, maybe not.
Brooklyn star steak

I did not sample the country fried steak with a creamy white gravy, but it looked substantial.

Brooklyn star brussels sprouts
Yes, one vegetable (there are a few on offer) fried, of course, and tossed with ham, apples and chow chow. The unexpected combination paired with brussels sprouts was the most Momofuku-ish dish I encountered.

I’ve never been into chili or chips, but I do love tripe so I’d deal with the Fritos accompaniment and likely-to-be hearty preparation to see what the tripe chili is all about. Something for next time.

Brooklyn Star * 593 Lorimer St., Brooklyn, NY


Hill Country Chicken

Hill Country Chicken really wasn’t what I had expected. The cute, ‘50s farmhouse décor, plenty of open seats and an abundance of choice, not a single item sold-out, were all pluses. My restaurant pessimism over newish restaurants was squashed flat.

Hill country chicken drumstick & thigh

I wouldn’t say that the heat lamp setup is kind to the fried chicken, though. Pre-Willie Mae’s Scotch House visit, I would’ve been fine with this dark, denser, paprika-heavy approach (the Mama El’s style with a crushed cracker crust is actually pretty tasty, but for me the skin is the whole point of frying poultry) but now I’ve been spoiled by a lacier, golden version that will satisfy after only one thigh. Of course, Hill Country would certainly fix a Manhattan fried chicken craving if New Orleans isn’t in your immediate future.

Hill country chicken selection

Sides are perfunctory. I’d rather fill up on the fried pimento cheese sandwich, shown wrapped in red-and-white gingham paper in the back. The crisped treat is salty, gooey and not greasy in the least.

Hill country chicken pimento cheese sandwich

Cut into quarters for sharing.

Hill country chicken pies

I think I liked the pies more than my tablemates, as it came out that they are cake people. I like pies of all sizes; shrunken ones with more crust to filling ratio don’t even bother me the way it does others. Then again, I also like more cupcake than frosting and more bagel than cream cheese. My choice, the bourbon pecan, didn’t have much whisky flavor or sick corn syrup sweetness that I want in my southern-style desserts. The peanut butter chocolate and special of the day, a mash-up of chocolate and butterscotch chips, walnuts, coconut and condensed milk like an Eagle magic cookie bar in a pie shell, more than made up for the pecan pie’s relative austerity.

The only true downer was the lack of a liquor license. One-third of my group was very interested in the watermelon wheat beer listed on the menu, the other third doesn’t drink and me, I loathe melons but could’ve stood a beer or two. I will admit that the Boylan fountain drinks with unlimited refills (at least no one was monitoring return visits) was pretty cool even though I don’t drink soda. Never having developed a taste for pop, it’s the only food (is it a food?) I can be self-righteous about (please don’t take away my fat or alcohol) and probably why I don’t get the uproar over proposing no soda purchases with food stamps. Is fizzy fructose a want or a need? When I got food stamps decades ago, I bought crazy shit like smoked salmon and hot cross buns, so who am I to say?

Hill Country Chicken * 1123 Broadway, New York, NY

Willie Mae’s Scotch House

1/2 I was recently talking with a trade mag writer and got on the topic of pizza, burger and fried chicken mania. He didn’t get it and was of a burger is a burger why overanalyze it mentality. I tend to agree (says she who photographs 85% of her restaurant meals). I just can’t get into the nuances of a pizza slice, and frankly, don’t have strong opinions on these American classics. I’m forgiving on the mediocre end—I can’t think of a particularly bad burger that I’ve eaten.

Willie mae's exterior

But on the rare occasion that I encounter an exemplary version of a foodstuff, I certainly recognize it. Willie Mae’s Scotch House, the no-secret-to-anyone restaurant just a handful of streetcar stops from The French Quarter, squeezes in the crowds during their narrow four-hours-a-day operating window. And it’s not just touristy hype.

I ate a lot of fried chicken over our long New Orleans weekend: fast food-style at Popeye’s and even lower brow at Brother’s, a 24-hour convenience store near our hotel. It was all pretty good. But nothing matched the pure golden perfection of this three-piece plate. 

Willie mae's fried chicken

The crust is substantial, but not superfluous or heavy despite its strong presence. I don’t know if it’s the seasoning (neither too salty or peppery) or the cast-iron pan frying that makes the skin and batter meld into a single, flaky entity. Greaseless is often an adjective used to describe stellar fried chicken. These drumsticks and breasts were oily, grease was present (James wrapped up my third uneaten piece in napkins and stuck it in his bag and it soaked right through its paper wrapping) and there was nothing wrong with that. The meat stayed juicy. Normally, I’m ho hum on chicken breasts but the one I saved to eat in the middle of the night was still moist and the skin hadn’t turned blah and flabby.

Wllie mae's butter beans

Soupy butter beans are a classic side. I regret not ordering a biscuit, too.

So, now I have a benchmark and I’m spoiled. I’ve yet to eat any fried chicken in NYC that matches Wille Mae’s. Ok, that’s not saying much since I actively avoid crowds and long waits, particularly in one corner of Brooklyn. I will build up my tolerance and see if Pies ‘n’ Thighs and The Commodore deliver the sublime experience everyone says they do.

Willie Mae’s Scotch House * 2401 Saint Ann St., New Orleans, LA