Midtown Reprieve

If I had a nickel for every time I complained about midtown lunch, I could quit my job. I could quit my job and send myself to culinary school… and then I could open my own bakery in San Francisco and buy a houseboat and sit on the porch every night and look out over the water with my trusty Bernese Mountain Dog by my side…

Ahem.

So. Midtown lunch. A welcome break in the form of burgers, coming at you September 7.

4food East 40th St and Madison Avenue, New York, NY. I was lucky enough (thanks, Shannon!!) to attend a special pre-opening event at 4food, a brand new spot in Manhattan that offers a high-tech atmosphere with endless burger options. Their slogan is “De-junking fast food” and with a dizzying array of burger options. I won’t bore you with a list here, but you should check out their “build a burger” website and let the drooling commence.

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On the menu:
Pork burger on a pumpernickel roll with avocado chili mango and gruyere cheese
Square roots: crispy sweet potato, Idaho potato, and purple potato squares with sweet chili sauce
Peach and rosehip iced tea with fresh peaches

Verdict: Ahhhh SO good! The space is warehouse-like with a giant screen on the first floor that scrolls with a live Twitter feed. The staff walks around the restaurant with iPads to ask how you’re doing, help you order, and offer up suggestions. It’s like a diner of the future! My pork burger was moist and flavorful, and the toppings were a nice complement to the spicy pork. The packaging of the burger and the Square Roots (a take on French fries) boasts that nothing in the place is deep fried. The Roots are baked and then probably pan fried in oil, but “nothing deep fried” makes me feel like I could be eating carrots, and same diff, right? At least that’s what I will tell myself when I visit 4food every other Monday.

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Everything’s Bigger at Hill Country

This is a story of one girl’s quest for amazing BBQ ribs in New York City. I was told that Hill Country had “Texas-style BBQ” by a woman I met at The Brooklyn Kitchen condiments class who has toured the country and tasted BBQ all over. I figured this was a solid recommendation.

Hill Country 26th Street between Broadway and 6th Avenue, New York, NY. Hill Country is, as mentioned, Texas-style BBQ in a honky-tonk setting. This is a place that sells its own t-shirts at the front register if that’s any indication of the atmosphere. When you sit down at Hill Country they hand you a card with all the menu items, and then you have to visit the meat counter, the sides counter, and the dessert counter to order what you want. You can order as little or as much as you want, from a single slice of brisket and single pork ribs, to a whole game hen and “feed the family” sized mashed potatoes. The ambiance is a down home, down country, honky-tonk, kick up your heels kitsch-fest. But somehow it feels authentic.

On the menu:
Bourbon mashed sweet potatoes
Corn bread
Macaroni and cheese
Roasted game hen
Pork ribs
Moist brisket
Apple ginger cupcake
PB&J cupcake

Verdict: Holy brisket. I think this is what Texas does right. The ribs were satisfactory, and still nothing to write home about, but holy mackerel, the brisket. It was delicious. And Hill Country has three different types of brisket on the menu, so I GUESS I have to go back again to try the other two. Another standout menu item was the game hen. It was incredibly moist and roasted to perfection with a crispy skin. It should also be noted that Hill Country is perfect for big groups. The pickiest (or cheapest) member of your party can literally order one single pork rib and a beer if they feel like it, and separate checks are a done deal from the start. The service is attentive, the atmosphere is comfortable and welcoming, and the food was decadent and delicious. I almost wanted to start throwin’ around “y’all”s.

Almost.

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Braving the Rain

You know you’re a dedicated food writer (or just fat) when you brave torrential downpours and hurricane winds for an ice cream festival at South Street Seaport.

A tiny cone of lemon verbena

The New Amsterdam Market is one of many markets in New York City that offers locally grown produce and other local edible goodies, such as wine, maple syrup, ice cream, and cheese. All the vendors come from the North East each weekend and bring their delicious stuff with them. They host special events and festivals all the time, so it’s worth checking back to their website to find out what’s on the menu for the fall.

Sunday’s ice cream festival featured New York staples such as Van Leeuwen Artisan Ice Cream and MilkMade (mentioned here!), as well as Early Bird Cookery, Roberta’s, The Bent Spoon, and Marlow & Daughters. $20 got me 6 tiny cones of incredibly innovative flavors, some better than others.

Some bizarro but incredible flavors from Early Bird Cookery

Roasted peach with black pepper (by far the day’s winner! who knew sweet peaches with a spicy after taste of black pepper would be so divine?!)
Beet
Hay (yes… HAY) with local honey
Ginger and blackberry
Bourbon vanilla with sea salt caramel (more than 1 cone of this and I would’ve been drunk)
Fresh ricotta
Nectarine sorbet
Lemon verbena

The stand out flavors were the roasted peach with black pepper, as mentioned, the nectarine sorbet, and the fresh ricotta with an incredibly thick and creamy texture and perfect cinnamon/nutmeg/allspice blend. The rain was pouring down but I was radiating sunshine from within. See? That’s a happy face.

Double fisting!

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It’s a Wonderful Town

New York has some characters. Amidst the tourists, the businessmen, the supermodels, and the college kids live some crazy cats, and because New York is a much cleaner, safer town than it used to be, those cats are occasionally hard to spot. Enter Shopsins.

Shopsins Essex Street Market, 120 Essex Street (corner of Essex and Delancey), New York. Shopsins is a tiny diner that used to be located in the West Village and relocated to a stall in the Essex Street Market on the Lower East Side. Kenny Shopsin, the owner, has some bizarre rules: no parties over 4 people, no cell phone calls, and he has the right to kick you out whenever he feels like it. He hates the press and notoriously denies interviews. As soon as our waiter, Kenny’s son, went back into the kitchen I snuck this picture. The last thing I wanted was to be kicked out before I got my RIDICULOUS meal.

The Leeky Boat

On the menu:

Leeky Boat: fried potato skins filled with scrambled eggs, leeks, and gruyere
Slutty Cakes: pancakes made with pumpkin, pistachios, and peanut butter
Strider: maple veggie sausage, eggs, and avocado on an English muffin

Verdict: I. Love. This. Place. Word has it, Kenny Shopsin loves his loyal, regular customers and I want to be one! When I was sitting at the tiny table, waiting for my crazy incredible meal to be delivered, Kenny himself sat down outside the stall front and yelled out to someone in the kitchen, “WHAT KIND OF F***ING VEGETABLES DON’T THEY LIKE?!” If you’re looking for a New York character, this is it. Think Soup Nazi. And the food was incredible. The fried potato skins were crisped to perfection with the silky smooth blend of leeks and cheese stuffed inside, and the Slutty Cakes (if I was stuffed with pumpkin, peanut butter, and pistachios I’d probably be pretty popular, too) were to DIE for. The cakes themselves were crisp on the outside and the filling (who’da thunk it!) was an incredible blend of salty, sweet flavors. And the kicker? Each plate of pancakes is served with a tiny bottle of REAL maple syrup. Be still my heart.

The real draw of this place, outside of the character who runs it, is the extensive menu. Coconut cinnamon pancakes, hash with eggs and toast over “white trash” gumbo, the Quack (BBQ duck drumettes with chili cheese fries, eggs, and toast), MAC AND CHEESE PANCAKES!, bread pudding French toast, corn fried catfish with gumbo… Does any of this sound good to you? Over 900 menu items. If you can’t find something to love, then I don’t want to know you. There I said it.

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Buzzed

Ah, Hump Day. Is this week a long one, or is it just me? The weather in New York has been totally unpredictable, the light is starting to take on an autumn-esque quality, and I think I’m getting a cold. Fan-freaking-tastic.

As a little pick me up, I thought I’d share this tip I found while browsing the interwebz. Don’t you hate when you’re drinking iced coffee and you suck back the entire drink just slowly enough to leave an inch of coffee-flavored-water at the bottom?

Me too.

The answer? Coffee cubes! Freeze some coffee in ice cube trays and by the time your drink is gone, you’ll still have a nice little treat left. If you’re feeling especially saucy, drop a couple chocolate covered espresso beans in the ice cube trays before the cubes freeze and voila: snack time.

Note: this also works with wine (because there’s nothing classier than white wine with ice cubes floating in it, right?). Just leave out the espresso beans…

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Crunch

I’m a texture girl myself. If a dish is somehow simultaneously soft, crunchy, and smooth, I will probably love it. So when a craving for sweet corn entered my psyche, I found myself immediately drawn to this salad. And truth be told, I will eat anything with onions in it. It’s my weakness. Who knew.

On the menu:
Sweet corn, tomato, onion, and basil salad

3 ears of corn
1/2 large white onion, chopped
1/2 cup grape tomatoes, washed and quartered
1/4 cup basil, roughly chopped
1 Tbsp white vinegar
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Boil a large pot of salted water. Once water is boiling, add corn and boil for 5 minutes. Drain, let corn cool, and slice kernels off with sharp knife. Break up large chunks of kernels with a spoon until most kernels have separated.

Mix together onion, tomatoes, basil, vinegar, and olive oil until incorporated. Add the corn. Add plenty salt and pepper to taste.

You can serve this salad immediately or let refrigerate overnight to serve the next day. The oil and vinegar dressing will soak into the salad and marinate it nicely. It pairs really nicely with a simply grilled steak, or as a bed for grilled fish.

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Top o’ the Muffin to Ya!

Happy Monday, friends! It is FINALLY cool enough to bake again. HALLELUJAH. To start your week off right (and more importantly, my week) I’m giving you the moistest, most insanely delicious zucchini muffin recipe I have ever encountered. If you eat one of these seconds after it comes out of the oven (please don’t judge me?) you’ll think it’s not cooked. But let it cool, loves. Take it slow. You will be so glad you did.

On the menu:
Zucchini chocolate chip muffins

3 cups flour
1 cup sugar
2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp salt
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup canola oil (you can also use vegetable oil)
1/2 cup milk
2 Tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups zucchini, coarsely grated
1 apple, coarsely grated
1/2 cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt. In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, oil, milk, lemon juice, and vanilla. Combine dry and liquid ingredients just until incorporated*. Fold in the zucchini, apple, and chocolate chips.

In a greased muffin tin (or use muffin liners), fill cups almost the top of the tin (7/8 full). Bake for 22 – 26 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.

*Note: after you’ve combined the dry and liquid ingredients (before adding the zucchini, apple, and chips) the mixture will be very dry. Do not be discouraged, or tempted to add more oil! There’s enough moisture in the fruit you’re about to add to make it a recognizable batter.

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