We’ve enthusiastically espoused the endless charm and beauty of a trip to Long Island’s North Fork here before. The incredible fresh food, the sandy bay beaches, the peaceful low key vibe, and of course, the wine. Having gone to almost all of the vineyards out here, I’ve arrived at the opinion that there are now a few that are absolutely making world-class juice. But if you only have time in an afternoon to visit a couple, our recommendation for a good time is simple: Paumanok, Lieb & Corey Creek.I’d suggest starting out your tasting tour at Paumanok. This family run vineyard has been making wine on Long Island since 1983 and they have damn near perfected their process. Pretty much anything on the flight menu is guaranteed to be excellent, but for me current standouts are the Chenin Blanc & Cab Franc Grand Vintage. And it’s not on the menu, but ask them if they’ll let you taste the newest Chardonnay offering called minimalist. It’s kind of awesome. I’d put a glass of that toe-to-toe against anything coming from the West Coast. Magic grapes.When you scoot over to Lieb Cellars next, grab a seat in their rustic tasting room or if the weather permits, one of the adirondack chairs on their landscaped grounds. I’d suggest you grab a glass of one of their big hits: the Pinot Blanc. And on the red side, I really enjoy their Reserve Merlot– richer than you would expect with great body, but also totally drinkable alone without food. Speaking of which, at this point in your wine tour you probably better have eaten something or you’ll be on the floor.Last but not least, I suggest you wind up your afternoon at Corey Creek. Corey Creek is an offshoot of another longtime producer, Bedell. I don’t mean to be rude, but since you’ve been drinking all afternoon, I suggest you skip the pleasant tasting flights and just go straight for the gusto… order an entire cold bottle of their award-winning Gewurztraminer. Buttery, soft, round, smooth, and utterly delicious. This is a very good bottle. Even better, these guys have the most beautiful tasting room set-up this side of Napa so grab a seat in this airy, open, nouveau barn perched high above the vineyard and watch the sunset over vines as far as the eye can see. What a great day! Just make sure to call a taxi to take you home!
I don’t know why, but The Cardinal and I have been like two opposing magnets since it opened a while back on East 4th Street near Avenue B. Every time we planned to go, something else got in the way and a down-home southern meal at this simple and warm charmer got thwarted. Well, we finally connected late last week.Lesa and I headed there early with one of the kids and bellied up to the window seat that looks out over the neighborhood’s minions coming home from a long day’s work. It’s a great seat if you can get it. To start we tried the Pimento Cheese on crispy toast and Blue Crab Hush Puppies. They were both insanely good and plentiful. Between the three of us, we were basically full when we got done with those, not knowing what was in store. Just as we were all mentally cramming our downed food into the corners of our bellies, the massive main courses arrived with the oh-shit-we-over-ordered sides. The 10-year-old had a damn good lookin’ cheeseburger with hand-cut fries and bubbly mac and cheese in front of him. Lesa had a smoked-last-night pulled pork sandwich with a pile of creamy slaw on top and a bowl of swiney greens on the side. Both served perfectly…on a Martin’s Potato Roll. Delectable!I just about got cow shock when my plate arrived. The Strip Steak was perfectly cooked medium rare with a fabulously crunchy and tasty dark crust on the outside. I’m guessing it was about 24 ounces. I ordered the mashed potatoes and corn and tomato succotash for my sides and both were just as they should be at a joint like this one…straight up, simple and wonderful. We rolled out of the Cardinal after about an hour of stuffing ourselves figuring we over-ordered by about $75. Oh well, it was worth it. Next time we’ll skip lunch before we go.
It seems to me that the secret to being a long-term and semi-mentally well-adjusted Manhattanite is to locate a periodic weekend escape hatch outside of town. Doesn’t have to be fancy; just a quiet place where you can unwind, walk on some wet leaves or sit in the sand. I respectfully submit that even the most hard-core urban dweller can benefit from a place where you can connect with nature a bit. And for a few years now, we have enjoyed traveling up north for a Columbia County weekend and finding small cottages to rent.If you’ve never been to Columbia County, it’s about two and a half hours north towards the eastern part of New York State, southeast of Albany and immediately west of the Massachusetts border. The land up there is completely beautiful with gentle rolling hills, winding roads and charming small towns like Hudson, an antiquing mecca for decorators and collectors.To our shellshocked city senses, it truly seems like virtually unspoiled country. There are no shortage of great weekend rental properties, and one of our favorite sites to find a home is VRBO. With VRBO’s help, we’ve stayed on a working farm from 1801 in Ghent, a sunny house up on a bluff that surveyed the twists and turns of the Hudson river in the (aptly named) town of Hudson and most recently, a charming little house in Hillsdale that sat right by a chattering stream in the woods. Other than the peace and scenery, one of the other things that keeps us traveling back is the sweet eats. Due to it being an agricultural region, the proximity of amazing produce makes for some pretty fantastic farm-to-table feasting. Half the fun is scouting fresh local ingredients and then cooking a big dinner in our borrowed home for the weekend, but the options to dine out are also stellar. If you’re planning a weekend trip (and you should, it’s great any time of year) here’s some of our own “must-visits”:
Stroll Warren Street in the town of Hudson (“Upstate’s Downtown!”) – over 60 antiques shops from high-end to low-brow, lots of cool home stores (Courtney loves Lilli & Loo) and a disproportionately large amount of galleries featuring wonderful art & photography exhibits.
Swoon Kitchenbar. Terrific food, great atmosphere. It’s all about the Brown Sugar Brined Pork Loin.
Old Chatham Sheepherding Company. Award winning sheep’s milk cheese and yogurt, and you can visit the sheep. For the kids, you sickos.
Local 111 Restaurant. We went here on a date night one time. As fresh and delicious a menu as anything I’ve ever had. For real.
Olde Hudson Specialty Food. Man, I love this little grocery. They’ve got the whole shebang there, much of it sourced locally. And the staff really seems to love working there. Refreshing.
Grazin’ Angus Acres. Strictly grass-fed animals that have more freedom to roam than we do. The steaks are thick and juicy, and here’s a tip: get a dozen eggs to scramble at home. Like nothing you’ve ever tasted.
Hudson-Chatham Winery. This historic farmhouse winery sits among a fragrant carpet of grapevines and makes for a happy place to have a tasting. Grab a couple of bottles on your way out; we suggest the Merlot, the Blanc de Blanc, or the Baco Noir Reserve. Or all three.
Before kids, before meaningful responsibilities and certainly before this forum of ours moved from infancy to toddlerdom, there was a cozy and rustic tavern tucked away in a nook at the crossroads of Little Italy and the Lower East Side. Many long afternoons were spent at the perfectly worn zinc bar with great friends and loves nibbling on Devils on Horseback and Smoked Trout, sipping on French 75’s. Sadly, that tavern was too long forgotten by this writer and unfairly so.Freemans at the end of Freeman Alley just off Rivington is back on the radar and it’s as great as it has ever been. No matter how many times you’ve been, Freemans always feels like a find…like you really have to know the underground byways and secret handshakes of this town. When you enter the blue door at the end of the graffiti adorned lane, you are greeted with what they describe as this “rugged clandestine Colonial American tavern” with walls loaded with peeling paint and vintage taxidermy. The menu follows the same mantra, “simple, rustic and inspired by early American traditions.”For brunch, the Piedmontese Cheeseburger is amazing and the Smoked Trout is second only to the ones I smoke at home…but, I digress. The Roast Pork Sandwich is one that also must be tried with its blanket of thinly sliced pickled zucchini and garlic mayonnaise piled between two slices of grilled peasant bread. Dinner brings other fantastic goodies. To start, go for the House Made Country Paté, the Hot Artichoke Dip or Steamed PEI Mussels. For the main, their Whole Grilled Brook Trout is always a winner as is whatever their Daily Market Fish happens to be. Or for something a little meatier, go for the Grilled Pork Loin or Colorado Lamb Stew.Whichever your culinary poison, wash it all down with one of their classic cocktails or traditional old-world wines. If you’ve never been to Freemans, go now. If it’s been a while, let this serve as your reminder. If you go all the time, call me an idiot and have a nice day.
I don’t know if it’s the all about the adventure, the amazingly rustic atmosphere, the incredibly friendly (and good-looking) staff or just the down right cravable food, but we have been finding ourselves waking up on Saturday mornings with Roberta’s on the brain. You see, their brunch simply wins every single time.
Behind an unassuming glass storefront on Atlantic Avenue just off the corner of Henry is one fine eating and drinking establishment that we hope continues being so roundly superb for years to come. I was first introduced to Colonie for brunch by friends who live in the neighborhood. The staff is so unbelievably friendly even when you show up on a crowded morning with a couple of strollers. The room is so incredibly warm and inviting with casual furnishings, a healthy dose reclaimed wood and a wall of green fauna welcoming you to the back room with chef’s bar surrounding the bustling kitchen. On the several occasions I have been, each meal has been perfect. Start off with their basket of baked goods. Their shrimp and grits are to die for, the duck hash rocks and they make a seriously fine cheeseburger. Jesse and Courtney have been for dinner and Lesa and I finally followed suit last week. We started off with a dozen of Thomas Keller’s favorite oysters…Island Creeks from Massachusetts. Plump, briny, perfect. We washed them down with a couple of Cool Hand Cukes which makes for one super sweet earth and sea combination. Moving on, we had their freakishly good grilled octopus, Pate de Campagne and Ricotta Gnudi which are little balls of aged ricotta lightly boiled and served with ever-so-gently warmed sweet 100 tomatos…killer…like Colonie’s take on the caprese salad. By the time we got around to thinking about the main course, we were so full that we opted for a cheese and salame plate. My only regret is that we didn’t leave enough room for the pork chop which is brined for three hours and then lovingly pan seared and basted for what looked like a perfect crust over what I hear is the most tender inside you’ll find anywhere. I was weeping as I watched the chef cook and servers deliver each one to their lucky patrons. I’m ordering it for an appetizer next time I go.
Seems like the perfect day for some afternoon drinking and Phebe’s at the corner of 4th and Bowery is the downtown’s perfect choice. Tell bartender Gina that neighbor Greg sent you. Maybe she’ll make it a double!
I moved to Alphabet City about a decade ago and there was one of the crappiest Chinese take-out joints this city has ever seen right across the street from me on Avenue C. Finally, that place closed and construction began. A few months later, a crappy Italian restaurant opened. Like, I’ll-pay-for-the-damn-food-just-get-me-out-of-here crappy. I always felt terrible for the owners who would assemble all of their friends at the front of the restaurant just behind the newly installed glassed-panelled garage door to try to attract unsuspecting patrons into the otherwise empty room. PEOPLE! You cannot open a crappy Italian restaurant in the East Village and expect success. WAY too much great competition. But then something wonderful happened. The Italian place closed and a couple of supremely talented restauranteurs took over the lease and began to transform the space into what is now Edi & the Wolf.
Edi and his good buddy Wolf have created one of the best rooms in the city in which to enjoy a meal with an aim to “recreate tradition with a feast of rustic Austrian cuisine and a carefully curated European wine list” and they manage to do just that. Today, the aforementioned garage door feels as if it has been there for a hundred years with a happy mess of herbs and vines invite you to venture through a barn wood shack that leads into this amazingly warm and creative display of cozy genius. Your attention is drawn to many curiosities scattered throughout and the much written about thick coiled rope above the bar. I have no idea why it is there, but it doesn’t rally matter because it looks amazing hanging there from the wide-planked ceiling with candle wax dripping down its side. It’s a warm addition to just the sort of room that makes you want to curl up on one of their banquets and enjoy an amazing meal with a big bottle of red wine.
And speaking of food, the friendly folks at Edi & the Wolf nail it every time. Small plates like the Hamachi, Pork Belly, and Liptaurer & Herb Gervais are served perfectly arranged on black slabs of slate. If you’re into sharing or being so full that you’ll have to be rolled out of the place, the Spätzle is a must. It is one of the finest examples of culinary comfort love I have experienced in my few short years on this earth. And if that’s not enough, the main courses are incredible. I usually get the Pork Weiner Schnitzel which is perfectly crispy on the outside and tender on the inside with refreshingly prepared potato salad with cucumber and lingonberry jam. On my last trip, however, I stepped outside the box and went for the Shell Steak. Oh, my! Divinity! Perfect char on the outside and uniformly pink in the middle, every bite was a short trip to heaven. Served up with parsley root, mustard greens, wild mushrooms and nugget potatoes, I was in no mood for my meal to end even when my attention was required by the three-year-old whose IPad’s juice had just run dry. So if you haven’t already, go to Edi & the Wolf on Avenue C between 6th and 7th Streets. It’ll be well worth the trip.
Yesterday afternoon I was searching for someplace great to go with Lesa for dinner. Combing through the pages of Eater, I decided to have a look at their 20 of NYC’s Most Underrated Restaurants page and our old friend Degustation popped off the screen and into our plans for the night. Billed as a Franco-Spanish tapas bar by its owners Jack and Grace Lamb, Degustation is still going strong on East 5th Street between Second Avenue and Cooper Square after six years. Though you can order small plates like the amazing Fried Egg with Pork Belly or Seared Foie Gras, we have always opted for the chef’s tasting menu. We went for the $75 a head 10 course version and it rocked our world just as it did the last time we were there five years ago.
- Seared Pork Belly as delivered.
- The after was oddly just as beautiful.
It has been said that Brooklyn has the best food out there right now and Jamesin Prospect Heights resoundingly affirms that proclamation.
The way the melted and charred onions intermingled with the creamy goat cheese and perfectly cooked lamb was simply divine. The cocktails at James were serious winners as well and unlike most places in the neighborhood, James is open for lunch every day except Monday and brunch on weekends. This place just climbed to the top of our long list of favorite places for a meal.