I have a theory that if a sandwich possesses a name – The Godfather, the Costanza, The Dagwood, etc., – it is surely worth eating. It seems inconceivable that someone would take the time to name a sandwich that was not worthy. Naming is an act of love. So there was not much thought needed this weekend at Court Street Grocers when I spied Little Shonda on the menu.And if the name didn’t get me, the ingredients list did: Eggs, pastrami, swiss, pickled green tomatoes, and Lincoln administration favorite Durkee’s famous sauce on toasted pumpernickel. If the person who came up with this combination did not twist the ends of their moustache in devilish glee, I’d be very surprised. The pastrami was salty and tender, the eggs were fluffy, and the briny tang of the tomatoes provided an amazing balance to the fatty deliciousness of of the meat and sauce. Unique and utterly devourable. I metaphorically was licking my fingers after I finished the sandwich. Yes… metaphorically. It rocked so much I really want to declare this thing the winner of our contest. A round of applause for Little Shonda, and hats off to Court Street Grocers! I think this contest is officially a wrap.
We are only a few days into 2013, and I’m wondering if I didn’t already have potentially one of the best meals of the year last week at a place called La Vara in Cobble Hill. A relatively new restaurant from the couple behind Manhattan’s Txikito, at face value it appears to be merely a sweet little tapas restaurant but there’s a unique geo-culinary fusion being applied in the kitchen that seriously works its ass off. What I’ve read is that La Vara seeks to explore the legacy of food that was created as a result of the Jews and Muslims who shared the Iberian Peninsula with Christians for centuries. What I discovered is that this legacy exploration business is a very, very tasty thing.Courtney and I ordered a whole bunch of plates, and there was honestly nary a clunker in the bunch. If you are fortunate to go, here are just a few of the plates we tried that we deemed must-orders:
- The bowl of crunchy paprika fried chick-peas. Compulsively munchable and a fun starter.
- The lightly fried tiny artichokes with anchovy aioli. This one provoked dueling forks for the final bites.
- The salt cod salad. They cure their own fish in the kitchen and this beautiful plate was bright tasting, citrusy and delicious. Never had a salt cod salad and I had no idea what to expect, and it was way better than I could have imagined. This dish was a total star.
- The suckling pig (a special.) I could have eaten a whole meal of just this… honeyed cracklin’ skin over tender and juicy pork paired with a delicious chimichurri sauce. Loved it.
One other standout worth mentioning; the service at La Vara really shone. The whole staff was so genuinely friendly, we couldn’t get over it. You know you’ve been living in New York City a long time when authentically pleasant service is noteworthy, but here we are. I realize this sounds like a love letter, and maybe we went there on a particularly good night, and it did happen to be my birthday– but this just seemed like a happy restaurant and they are frankly doing everything right. Great food, terrific vibe. Go. Eat there!
Now that the weather is officially gray and frigid, what does one do to avoid going stir crazy? Sure, booze is always a fun way to pass the afternoon but there’s only so many times you can bring your two year old to the bar before Social Services comes knocking. With that in mind, every Friday On the Real will help you find stuff to do indoors. And so today, we bring you…puppets?Yes, puppets. And of all the creatures in the puppet Kingdom, I personally find marionettes inherently creepy. Maybe it’s because they are so herky-jerky. Maybe seeing them manipulated by strings inspires a certain Machiavellian dread. Or maybe it’s because of Chucky. Was Chucky a marionette? How about King Friday? Because I didn’t like him either. No matter. They’re freaky and so it was entirely an antsy-kid-in-cold-weather decision that made us head over to Park Slope to check out long-time marionette mainstay, Puppetworks. Set up as a black-box theater in the ground floor of a brownstone, it is actually sort of funky and charming.The puppeteers (marionetters?) come out before the show and explain to the kids the mechanics of how the puppets work, and they’re enthusiastic and silly and all the kids (including mine) ate the schtick up. The actual show itself was great — the kids yell and clap and point and are completely engaged, and despite my marionette aversion I’ll actually admit to being entertained as well. And I was struck by the notion that it’s totally wholesome, innocent and old-timey fun for a little kid and there isn’t tons of that fun around anymore. So this Saturday when the thermometer reads 19 degrees and your kids are drawing on the walls with Sharpies– remember the puppets.
Because of its intrinsically personal nature, making a gift of artwork to someone is what you might call a pretty ballsy move. Unless, of course, the art you are gifting happens to have the kind of broad universal appeal of art deco architecture. And this is the genius behind the Brooklyn-based Municipal Prints Company, a new boutique prints and lithograph maker that specializes in the gorgeous period art and design of the 1920’s and 1930’s. Their recent “City of Brooklyn” series is based on W.P.A.- era posters and I love the sharp clean lines, the elegant typefaces, and the rich contrasts of the colors. They’re great re-interpretations of some timeless designs and you pretty much can’t go wrong giving someone one of these.It’s a nice bonus that the story behind the company is kind of awesome. Brooklyn resident and founder Sheldon Yeager was a MTV Networks executive who happened to harbor a deep and abiding love of the aesthetic and architectural traditions of the early 20th century, specifically the grand public architecture of that era. Of course lots of us have passions and have debated following The Dream… but we get distracted because its lunchtime and we have to go to Duane Reade or whatever and so we never do anything about it. We find it inspiring when someone puts their money where their mouth is and takes a leap of faith for something they believe in. So we salute Mr. Yeager and the Municipal Prints Company for doing just that, and ultimately creating a really beautiful product in the process.
Not too long ago, we took an intro class in making homebrew at Bitter & Esters. It was fun and informative! Plus, drinking. We decided to take it to the next level, so this past Saturday afternoon was spent actually making beer with guidance from Bitter & Esters co-owner and brew guru, Doug Amport. That’s Doug, below. He knows his stuff.After some debate, we decided to try for an Oktoberfest-style lager. Right off the bat, I learned two things worth sharing here: first, calling it an “Oktoberfest” beer is a marketing gimmick. This coppery and delicious beverage is correctly called a “märzen,” which has its origins back in good ole 16th century Bavaria. The term “märzen” (or March, in German) is a remnant from a time when the village brewers last beers were made in March and then stored until late summer or fall. That’s why they are March beers, or Märzenbier, if you want to be a pain in the ass.Regardless, the whole “Oktoberfest beer” concept is a recent development, and so named as the release of the beer coincides with the famous autumn beerfest in Munich. Interesting AND thirst-quenching. Second factoid: the word lager is not just a noun, but a verb. The root word “lagern” is German in origin (notice a trend?) which means to store. “To lager,” or lagering, is essentially cold storage and fermenting of beer over a longer time period: usually 4-6 weeks. So although we made beer on Saturday, it’s chillin’ in a cold storage carboy until December 27th. Next up: bottling party!
Some good news over the weekend. Subways are mostly up, power is coming back, and a lot of people are back to work today. This is progress. However, we must not forget that there are thousands of your fellow New Yorkers who are cold, hungry and without shelter today. Here are just a few links in case you wish to donate or help out in any way you can.
- The Carl V. Bini Memorial Fund is actively seeking donations to benefit those effected and displaced by Hurricane Sandy. In addition to accepting cash donations, they are also accepting donations at our offices located at 18 Hervey Street. All donations will be given directly to Staten Islanders in need. Donate here.
- WNYC has a great and continuously updated list of who needs what by borough as well as financial donation and volunteer information.
- Occupy Wall Street is now shifting it’s focus to aid. They are actively helping the victims in Downtown Manhattan, Brooklyn & Queens. They are looking for more volunteers.
- Still no heat or hot water? NYSC has opened the doors to all their area clubs for people impacted by Sandy to shower and warm up.
- The Home Reporter and Brooklyn Spectator will be collecting non-perishable food items and coats for all victims of Hurricane Sandy in the neighborhoods of Gerritsen Beach, Sheepshead Bay, Brighton Beach, Coney Island, Seagate, Breezy Point, Belle Harbor, Rockaway and much of the south shore of Staten Island. Details here.
- Restore Red Hook. Please consider making a donation to help Red Hook’s independent small businesses rebuild loved locations like Home/Made, The Good Fork, Sunny’s Bar, Fort Defiance, Bait and Tackle, The Ice House, various galleries, and more.
- NY Daily News has organized a donation drive. Details here.
- Citymeals on Wheels, while typically focused on elderly home-bound populations, is in high gear delivering food to those stranded without supplies in the wake of Sandy. Right now, they are most in need of volunteers.
- RockawayHelp is a site dedicated to information on how to help the people in Rockaway who have been impacted by Sandy.
- Pets need help, too! Here are post-Sandy resources for NYC pet owners.
- And be sure to patronize restaurants that have pledged to donate proceeds to Sandy relief. Our friends at Eater.com put together a great list here.
Quite a few months ago, we scouted the Brooklyn Army Terminal (or BAT) for a possible new On The Real episode. We were amazed at the hulking immensity of this Cass Gilbert designed fortress and intrigued at what a critical role it played in our nation’s military past. Just an incredibly cool building with a million stories to tell, sitting quietly and without fanfare today on the Brooklyn waterfront. We loved that the BAT has evolved from serving the military industrial complex and today hosts thriving private sector businesses in dozens of different industries.
The cherry on top was that the life story of the Brooklyn Army Terminal dovetails into one of our favorite assertions: that the most consistent narrative of the Big Apple is the one of change. There’s no other place we have seen like the BAT, and it was a real privilege and lots of fun to have an all-access pass to shoot there. We hope you enjoy the results.
I have no idea what made us order sticky buns at Roberta’s. I don’t particularly like them. They’re usually cheaply and overly sugared on the outside and dry on the inside. Not at Roberta’s! The sticky bun here is one of the best things you will ever put in your mouth.I’m not sure, but I think they’re cooked in Roberta’s wood fired oven like all of their other bread, but this bun has the most amazing swirl of cinnamon coated into the perfectly soft and chewy brioche roll coated with a tear-inducing caramel and maple goo sprinkled with a few key granules of sea salt. Whether you go for brunch, lunch or dinner, get one or four. They’ll rock your world.
Heard a bell outside my apartment window today, and was shocked to see that the mythical grinding truck parked out front. Like the Sasquatch, I’ve heard people talking about this guy but the stories are always third hand and I’ve never actually even seen the truck. Wasting no time, I grabbed all our remarkably dull knives and headed down to the street.For the uninitiated, the deal is this: a grinder is an itinerant tradesman who sharpens all household blades, and in this case the grinder’s name is Dominic and he’s a third generation grinder. The traveling grinder in Brooklyn is a living and working throwback to a different era (like a tinker, or the milk man) and although Dominic the Grinder doesn’t drive a horse and buggy, his red hoopty ’76 GMC truck isn’t all that spiritually far off.
I asked Dominic how his customers locate him when they need sharpening, but there’s no way to find him: in true nomadic fashion, you just have get lucky and be home when he comes around. He wanted to know when my knives were last sharpened. “Never.” He looked a little aggrieved at that response but set to work. He didn’t rush, about 5 minutes per knife. I watched him work from the curb—there’s a generator huffing inside the truck that spins the grindwheels and sparks literally do fly.
After unexpected rain showers left us damp and wondering what to do, we decided on a whim to head to the New York Aquarium. I think the last time I was at the aquarium was 1987. Pleased to report it has had a few facelifts since then; it seems exceptionally well cared for and the variety of aquatic wildlife on display is pretty cool. Who doesn’t like to see some walruses, sea lions and penguins doing their laps, am I right?
I have always found watching schools of exotic fish in the dark, quiet and occasionally black lit underground aquarium a pretty mellow and enjoyable experience. Could be Courtney and I enjoyed ourselves even more than the kid on this one; we’ll have to bring her back when she’s a little older for the sharks.One thing a bit different from 1987: at $13 to park and $20/person to see the fishies, its not exactly a bargain (but then again, I’m sure keeping a walrus well-provisioned with mackerel ain’t cheap.)