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Saigon in Brooklyn? Pho Vietnam Goes Halfway There

Life has been crazy in recent weeks, and I haven’t found the time to post. As I write this, however, I am on a plane en route to Japan for a two-week trip, which should prove fertile ground for food adventures to fill this page. Before my brain and palate are consumed with thoughts and tastes of tofu, ramen, sushi and many other things I’ve never tried before, I want to go back and recount the Vietnamese dinner I shared a couple of weeks ago with a top-notch group of eaters at Pho Vietnam in the Sheepshead Bay neighborhood of Brooklyn.

A friend told me he had eaten a meal with a large group at the restaurant a few weeks earlier, and his descriptions of the food gave me a hankering for Vietnamese cuisine. I rounded up the troops, including Dan Dan Noodle, Sgt. Pepperjack, Mascarpone, Pale Ale, Imperial Stout, Auntie Pasti and my friends Ristretto and Grappa. We carpooled out to this small Vietnamese enclave in the depths of Brooklyn. The restaurant’s interior was completely generic—plain round tables ringed by supply-store metal chairs—and could have been the inside of any Vietnamese restaurant in any strip mall in America. The restaurant was packed when the first of us arrived, a decidedly good sign. We were soon seated at one of those round tables where we proceeded to comb the menu to compile a properly distributed smattering of dishes.

We started with the requisite salad rolls, also known as summer rolls, made from a rice paper casing stuffed with crunchy lettuce and tender shrimp. Dipped in their accompanying peanut sauce, these were tasty, but relatively standard fare. Spring rolls were fine, but perhaps even more unremarkable. Things got a bit more interesting when the banh xeo arrived. A Vietnamese style pancake filled with a medley of pork, shrimp, onion, bean sprouts and green beans, these were satisfying and not too greasy. They were reminiscent of Korean pa jun or Japanese okonomiyaki, further evidence that every culture has its pancake. (Incidentally, these pancakes are also the perfect late-night-drunk/next-morning’s-hangover food, perhaps the real reason for their universality.)

Almost every time I go to a Vietnamese restaurant, I order the traditional beef noodle soup, called pho. I love pho so much that I can’t not order it. And since I had never eaten Vietnamese food with a group before, I had never found occasion to branch out much. Considering this, I wasn’t going to leave without trying the pho. We ordered one bowl of the no. 1, which typically tends to be the most replete with various cuts (and mystery compounds) of beef. True to form, this no. 1 contained so-called “six differences” brisket, navel, frank, omosa tendon and eye of round. The meat was tasty, but I found the broth a bit lacking in nuance. That’s probably because I typically load my own personal bowl up with sriracha, hot peppers and holy basil before chowing down. We also ordered a pho with beef balls, which were somewhat leaden and flavorless. On the rare occasions that I do order beef balls, I am always reminded of why I rarely order beef balls.

There were a few other unsuccessful dishes. Among these was the seemingly appealing grilled shrimp on tiny rice stick with lettuce, cucumber and mint leaves. The shrimp were mealy and bland, and the rice sticks were more like thin, dry rice crackers than what I had envisioned. Beef with lemongrass, green pepper, onions and chili pepper sounded equally promising, but it turned out to be a thoroughly forgettable plate of meat and vegetables in a gelatinous, one-note sauce.

Far better were the spring rolls with grilled pork and lettuce on rice vermicelli and the same dish made with beef. When blended together with the accompanying sauce, these became almost like a Vietnamese bibimbap, a perfect one-man feast for those not interested in pho. My favorite dish of the night was the curry chicken with rice noodles. Oil slicked and redolent of curry, it had the consistency of a soup but was also nice spooned over rice. I particularly appreciated the bone-in, skin-on chicken wings floating in it. Perhaps most impressive dish of the night was the crispy whole fried fish with Vietnamese sauce. The exterior was delightfully crunchy, and even the small bones of the wide-bodied fish were tasty when eaten with that crust. Inside. The white flesh was tender and flaky. Accented with a dash of sriracha and that salty Vietnamese sauce, this yielded a highly satisfying bite.

Pho Vietnam
1243 Ave. U
Brooklyn, NY 11229

Pho Vietnam Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Roberta’s Shows Hipsters Know Their Pizza

I had read plenty about Roberta’s, the wood-fired pizza palace in Bushwick, Brooklyn that former New York Times critic Sam Sifton boldly (and muni-centrically) called “one of the more extraordinary restaurants in the United States” in his two-star review of the place. I had thought about making the trek out to try the place, but Bushwick seemed a long way to go to wait in line for an hour with a bunch of hipsters to sit at a table and eat pizza that could not possibly be as good as everybody said. It took an invitation from an Israeli visiting New York to finally get me out there. And while Sifton’s comments revealed his limited exposure to the great regional restaurants of the U.S. (Nostrana in Portland, for example, has been making top-notch pizzas alongside a phenomenal menu of locally-sourced fare since well before Roberta’s was a twinkle in its tweed-clad founder’s bespectacled eye), I will admit that these hipsters make a pretty good pizza.

I was introduced to Cauliflower, a fellow journalist visiting from Tel Aviv, by our mutual friend, Dr. Shakshuka. Cauliflower’s army buddy, Olivero, is a musician and graduate student and lives in Bushwick within walking distance of Roberta’s. So it was that Cauliflower proposed we meet there for dinner there. I put our party on the list when I got there at 8:30 and edged my way through a crowd of skinny-jeaned, florescent-thrift-shop bedecked twentysomethings to the bar for a beer. The wait for a table ended up being somewhere around 40 minutes—not a short time, but not as bad as it might have been. We decided to order two pizzas to share, a meat plate and an octopus appetizer.

I rarely meet and meat plate I don’t like, but this one was particularly well-sourced from the artisanal American producers widely considered to be the exemplars of their craft. There was prosciutto from La Quercia in Iowa, finocchiona (fennel sausage) from Salumeria Biellese in Manhattan and sopressatta from Alps Provision Company in Astoria, Queens. Of these, the bold finocchiona won the day, although even it may have been overshadowed by the torn-off chunk of excellent crusty bread that Roberta’s makes in its wood-fired ovens. My Israeli friends hadn’t eaten much octopus, but they gamely sampled the dish after I suggested we order it. Cooked to tender perfection, with a slightly charred exterior, this octopus came with the treviso, a kind of radicchio with long leaves like an endive; a deeply flavorful fermented garlic called black garlic; and sea beans, a sea-salty, bright green stalk whose texture resembles thin, tender asparagus. This was a balanced, yet fairly complex dish that included two ingredients I had never tasted, and readers of this blog know that I have tasted a lot. Two points for Roberta’s.

Finally it was time for the pizzas. We ordered one Tracy Patty, made with mozzarella, ricotta, boquerones, savoy cabbage, roasted garlic and black pepper. Boquerones, cured Spanish anchovies are flat out one of my favorite foods in the world, and the riotous, salty, oily flavor the lent to this pizza did not disappoint. Creamy, mild mozzarella and sweet ricotta offset those flavors nicely, and the cabbage provided wonderful crunch with a less-pungent Brussels sprout-like flavor. The second pie was the Banana Hammock, topped with bechamel, mozzarella, pork sausage, garlic, red onion and banana pepper. Once again, the contrast between the creamy bechamel and the spicy pork sausage, not to mention the kick of pepper and onion, made this pizza a standout. I preferred the boldness of the Tracy Patty, but Olivero came down on the side of the Banana Hammock. The crusts on both were delightfully light and chewy with perfect blackened pockmarks around the edges—absolutely nothing to complain about here.

What did I conclude after finally hauling out to Bushwick to try Roberta’s? It is an excellent and enjoyable restaurant, which might even be worth the wait, providing drinking can be done in the interim. Like a true gentleman, Cauliflower covered my cab ride home to Park Slope, but Roberta’s might even be worth the money it takes to haul oneself home full, slightly drunk and happy at the end of a good night.

261 Moore St.
Brooklyn, NY 11206

Roberta's on Urbanspoon

At Chuko, Vegetables Are The Unlikely Stars

I never thought I would say it, but the vegetarian option was the sleeper hit at Chuko, a new-ish ramen place in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn. Well, that’s not exactly an accurate statement; I ordered the vegetarian broth…and then added pork. Still, I can say with some certainty that the broth was the best element of that dish. Flavorful and complex, it was replete with Brussels sprouts, kale, sweet potatoes, roasted squash and other fresh, seasonal vegetables. I ordered it with a soft-cooked egg, which ran into the steaming broth when punctured with a chopstick. The pork was medium-thick slices of smoky duroc. It was tasty enough, but I found it too lean for soup. A fattier cut would have melted luxuriously into the broth. Instead, this became slightly overcooked and chewy in the broth. Pork notwithstanding, that vegetarian broth was emblematic of the way the chef at Chuko (opened by three Morimoto alums) handle their vegetables. I ate dinner there last weekend with Cousin Ketchup and my friends P.C. Biscuit and Granny Smith.

The first evidence of Chuko’s vegetable prowess emerged with the arrival of the appetizers. We ordered all four on the regular (non-special) menu. Among these was a fantastic kale salad, made with a combination of raw and tempura-fried kale, pickled golden raisins, dressed in a slightly sweet white-miso vinaigrette, and topped with cripsy curls of Japanese sweet potato. The Brussels sprouts were deftly sauteed until their cut edges were lightly blackened. Then they were doused in pungent fish sauce and topped with crunchy peanuts and pickled peppers, yielding a divine assemblage of texture and sweet-salty flavor.

The less successful appetizers were those that contained meat, including the overly bready fried chicken wings which came with a fairly tame dipping sauce that was supposed to be spicy. These weren’t even in the same food group as the mind-blowing ones I ate at Pok Pok Wing. Also underwhelming were the pork-stuffed gyoza with a soy-based dipping sauce. It’s not that they were bad; they just weren’t particularly distinctive in the way that the kale and Brussels sprouts had been. I should have just ordered the headcheese special, but I wanted to put the core menu items to the test.

Next came the ramen, which comes in four broth varieties: soy, miso, pork bone and that tasty vegetarian one. In addition to the pork, there is the option to add chicken, which is lightly cooked and cut into silky smooth pieces. We ordered as many different combinations and permutations as we could among the four of us. P.C. Biscuit selected the pork bone broth, mixing things up (with the eager encouragement of our server) by adding the chicken to the mix. The broth and thinner noodles that came with it were nice, although I didn’t come away with an overly porky impression. He also got the hard-cooked eggs, whose static nature made them seem superfluous. The white rectangles of chicken were surprisingly flavorful, but the texture was almost slimy and would have benefited from a slight char on the grill. Granny Smith’s miso broth was tasty, with an almost milky cloudiness, but Ketchup’s flavor-packed soy broth with pork was probably my second favorite soup on the table.

The ramen at Chuko was good by Brooklyn standards, and at $12 a bowl, it’s more affordable than Zuzu Ramen. But if I come back to Chuko, it will not be for the pork or chicken wings—it will be for the vegetables.

552 Vanderbilt Ave.
Brooklyn, NY 11238

Chuko on Urbanspoon

The Name Sets the Bar at Ricos Tacos

When I looked up the restaurant listing on New York Magazine’s website for Piaxtla Es México Deli Ricos Tacos y Antojitos (commonly known as Ricos Tacos), the site listed the restaurant as Rico’s Tacos, as if Rico were a guy who had opened up this hole-in-the-wall taqueria in the heavily Mexican, Brooklyn neighborhood of Sunset Park. But there shouldn’t be an apostrophe in the restaurant’s name; “ricos,” in this case, is an adjective referring to the tacos, and it means delicious. It is a name that sets a high bar, and I wanted to see if the food measured up. My friend Fry Girl, who has spent some time in Mexico, gamely agreed to come along and to drive me to the restaurant in her car.

The inside of the restaurant has all the charm of a dingy diner, with faded orange formica booths, a high counter displaying prepared foods, a glass-doored fridge filled with Mexican sodas and a small jukebox on the wall. Much like it was during my visit to Tulcingo Deli VI, also in Sunset Park, we were the only gringos in the place. We sat at a booth in the corner and proceeded to order a veritable feast’s worth of food. It was a cold night, so soup sounded like a good first course. There was pozole, the traditional Mexican soup made with pork and hominy, and there was menudo, another traditional soup made with tripe in a chili-based broth. They were both cheap, so why not order one of each? The pozole wasn’t the best example of this soup I’ve tried; it could probably have used more seasoning. But it was rich and thick with a creamy consistency that comes from the blend of stewed hominy and fat. In other words: pretty satisfying. The menudo was tasty too, replete with big chunks of tripe that melted in the warm, spicy broth. Fry Girl isn’t a big fan of tripe so it was up to me to tackle most of this one. Luckily I didn’t finish it because there was a ton of food still to come. I washed the spiciness down with a sip of the restaurant’s sweet horchata (cinnamon rice milk).

Next came the tostadas. Thinking these would be as small as their $3 price tag, we ordered three of them in addition to three tacos, which were also $3 each. Notable among these were the tostada de tinga–a crispy corn tortilla topped with a sweet-spicy combination of shredded chicken blended with salsa, vinegar and white onion, and the tostada de enchilada—a spicy combination of shredded meat coated with tomato and chili sauce. The latter was tender and complex, our favorite dish of the evening. All came topped with lettuce, cilantro and crumbly cotija cheese. The al pastor was best of the three tacos we tried, although even that was not up to the standards of Tulcingo Deli (let alone my beloved Erick’s Tacos in Chicago). I found it a little sweet and not nearly as nuanced as other preparations I’ve tried. The beef taco was a bit dry and bland, and the chorizo was unimpressive. The restaurant’s tasty salsas, including a spicy salsa verde, a smoky salsa rojo and an avocado sauce, made the less worthy tacos more lively. Of course, it’s possible that the reason we started losing interest had more to do with having eaten far too much than with the fact that the food could have been better. Most likely, it was a little bit of both.

So did these tacos live up to their name? They were tasty enough, but even in Brooklyn, I’ve eaten tacos more ricos than these.

Piaxtla es México Deli Ricos Tacos y Antojitos Mexicanos
505 51st St.
Brooklyn, NY 11220

Piaxtla Es Mexico Deli on Urbanspoon

Report: Man Bites Dog at Bark

I am a fan of the classic New York hot dog. They may not be quite as good as my beloved Vienna Beef Chicago dogs or the beer-boiled brats I eat when I go to Wisconsin, but sometimes a hot dog from one of the Sabrett carts on every New York street corner can really hit the spot. One of those times is late at night after a few drinks. Unfortunately, many street-corner hot dog vendors have packed up by then. That’s the genius behind Bark, the carefully sourced hot dog spot on the edge of Park Slope, that is open until 2 am on Friday and Saturday nights. Empanada Boy and I stopped in on Friday on our way home from seeing “Sleep No More,” the fascinating interactive production of the story of Macbeth being staged in a Chelsea warehouse. We had an early start time for the performance and had not had time to eat beforehand. We also had drinks at the venue’s bar, including potent absinthe and elderflower cocktails. The combination was enough to have me conked out on the subway. Only food could revive me at that late hour. Bark was open and ready to receive us.

The inside of the restaurant is typical Brooklyn minimalist, with a number of long, high communal wooden tables and a few smaller individual tables. Patrons sidle up to the counter and order from a large chalkboard menu. This includes hot dogs with seven or eight different toppings, such as the bacon cheddar dog and the chili cheese dog. There are also burgers and other sausages like brats and weisswurst, in addition to various kinds of French fries, shakes and a few other sandwiches. Always one for a classic, I orders the Bark dog, made with sweet pepper, onions and yellow mustard. EB went for the pickle dog with two kinds of house made pickles, mayonnaise and mustard. We also asked for one order of fries to split between the two of us and sat down at one of the high tables to wait.

The dogs and fries were delivered in short order, and we ravenously began to dig in. The hot dogs, made exclusively for Bark by Hartmann’s Old World Sausage in Rochester, NY, had a commendable snap to them, their skins releasing flavorful juices with each bite. But the toppings on my dog were fairly unimpressive: Chopped red onions were pedestrian, and sweet peppers were few and far between. EB’s toppings were a little more noteworthy. His dog sported crunchy sweet and sour pickles, which set off the richness of the mayonnaise. The buns had more flavor and more satisfying chew to them than your average street corner hot dog, but nothing can replace Chicago’s traditional poppyseed bun in my mind.

Nontheless, we downed those puppies in a matter of minutes, pausing only to snag some of the thin, crispy fries. I like to dip my fries in mustard (ketchup being a little too sweet for my taste), and I was delighted to find both plain yellow and Dijon varieties on the table. There was also malt vinegar, another favorite condiment of mine. According to the detailed “Resources Menu” section of Bark’s website, all condiments are house made except for the ketchup (Heinz’s), yellow mustard (French’s) and mayonnaise (Hellman’s). Bark doesn’t hold a candle to Chicago favorites like Hot Doug’s in my mind, but for a New York dog, this is about as good as it gets.


Bark Hot Dogs
474 Bergen St.
Brooklyn, NY 11217

Bark Hot Dogs on Urbanspoon

Food and Music Get Funky at Kombit Creole

When Empanada Boy and I walked into Kombit Creole, a Haitian restaurant on the border of Park Slope and Prospect Heights, on a cold night last weekend, a six-person band was already steaming up the joint. A rasta dude with dreadlocks played the bass alongside a trumpeter whose thick, unkempt beard, stretched-out wool sweater and serious music-school chops allowed me to guess with 99% certainty that he went to Oberlin. The hostess rearranged some tables in the crowded restaurant to make room for us to sit against the wall. We sat took our seats and contemplated the menu, signing our plans to each other over the raucous din of the music. I had read about lambi, a traditional Haitian conch stew, and one of Kombit’s specialities. I was set on trying it, despite the $22 price tag. Conch can’t be that easy to get around here, I figured. EB wanted the goat tasso: cubes of sauteed goat meat, served with rice and disks of fried plantain.

Trying to be authentic, we both passed up the familiar Jamaican Red Stripe and ordered bottles of the Haitian beer, Prestige. It turned out to be a fairly watery, nondescript lager, but at least we were blending in with our surroundings. Soon the lambi was delivered. Thin strips of chewy conch were stewed in a tomato-based broth, which included garlic, onions, parsley and a sweet edge of tomato paste. In addition to the slightly rubbery texture of the conch, the meat imparted a strong flavor like the bottom of the ocean, infusing the tomatoey broth. In fact, the flavor was so strong that it recalled the pungency of offal. I enjoyed the dish, particularly when mixed with the accompanying bean-speckled rice, but I simply couldn’t finish off the entire plate of conch stew.

Much to my surprise, EB’s dish continued in the offal vein. The pieces of goat had the funky edge of organ meat, and while I was pretty sure they weren’t actually pieces of goat liver, I wouldn’t be shocked to learn that they came from some other nearby part. The meat was tender, if a little overpowering in its flavor. Luckily, EB is a huge fan of calves’ liver, so this meal was right up his alley. The dish came with some of the same rice, a mild dipping sauce and a coleslaw-like salad that ended up being remarkably spicy. The spicy slaw provided a nice contrast to the sweet disks of crispy fried plantain, which were a bit undersalted, but generally tasty.

The band played on through our entire meal as one of its members passed a hat to collect money for a group planting trees in Haiti. While planting trees might not have been my first priority for rebuilding a poverty-stricken country, recently devastated by an earthquake, it was hard to say no. Like the assertive flavor of the conch and goat meat, the appeal was a reminder that Haiti’s spirit is alive and kicking.

Kombit Creole
279 Flatbush Ave.
Brooklyn, NY 11217

Kombit Creole on Urbanspoon

Tabaré Gives Uruguay Its Due

My parents were visiting last weekend, and in true Lassie style, much of that time was spent eating. Our meals included visits to Mile End and Zabb Elee, near-perfect bagels from Park Slope’s Bagel Hole, Blue Smoke fried chicken and ribs at the Jazz Standard, lunch at the Upper East Side’s Paola’s with other Oregon relatives who happened to be visiting and a homemade feast with Daddy Salmon’s relatives out in Long Island. On Sunday, we drove with Second Breakfast, Okonomiyaki and my cousins Rice Ball and Leftover Girl to Doylesville, Pennsylvania where we toured the unbelievably ornate Fonthill Castle and then walked along the path that runs between the Delaware river and a former shipping canal. The drive home took longer than we had hoped, so we all decided to go out for dinner. Rice Ball, who is nine, had school the next day. Luckily, there is a restaurant right next door to his house in Williamsburg: an Uruguayan spot called Tabaré.

The restaurant is a cozy little space, dimly lit, with windows looking out to the street and a small patio out back. A table for eight was easily arranged after 8 pm on a Sunday night, something that might not be possible at some of the happening places on Bedford Street. (Hipsters, science has revealed, don’t need sleep. Or is it just that they don’t have jobs?) I’ve tried Argentinian food, Brazilian food, Peruvian food and Colombian food, but I can’t say I had ever knowingly tasted Uruguayan food before visiting Tabaré. A quick glance at the menu revealed that the country’s cuisine is heavily influenced by those of its European settlers from Italy, Spain, Portugal and France. Empanadas graced the menu, alongside lasagna (spelled “lasaña,” the Spanish way) and fish cooked “en papillote” (or “pescado en papel”). We started by ordering beer and wine, a necessity after enduring the sluggish tunnel traffic back to the city. Trying to be as authentic as possible, Mango Mama ordered the Uruguayan Pilsen, while I went slightly further afield and ordered the Argentinian Quilmes. It seems the Argentinians best their Uruguayan neighbors at beer as well as wine; the Quilmes had more flavor and depth than the Pilsen.

We started with an order of delicious Provençal-style mussels, cooked in a buttery broth of garlic, shallots and white wine. This came with a buttered slice of grilled baguette and could have made a lovely meal by itself. In fact, Okonomiyaki had ordered another bowl of mussels for her main course. Dining with EB himself, we could not, of course, pass up the opportunity to order empanadas. These come in three flavors, and one order includes two. I selected caramelized onions, gruyere and fontina and Spanish tuna and black olives. These were both tasty, although I preferred the tuna. They came with two dipping sauces: one a chili-spiked oil and the other a slightly spicy blend of parsley, cilantro, garlic and oil olive, similar to the Yemeni condiment skhug. Then came the main courses. Okonomiyaki got her mussels, and Leftover Girl got the fish (which that evening was pollock) cooked in parchment paper. The fish was tender and flaky beneath a crisp shell of herbed grated potato. It came with a simple, but exquisite, salad of multi-colored cherry tomatoes.

Almost everyone else got the dish that is clearly the restaurant’s speciality: the chivito completo. This is a traditional Uruguayan sandwich, made with filet mignon, bacon, mozzarella, onions, green olives, lettuce, tomato and a fried egg. (Rice Ball ordered his with nothing but steak.) Served on a burger bun with a side of crispy fries and house-made mayonnaise, this sandwich was a heavenly blend of salt, fat and protein and would no doubt prove deadly if eaten with any kind of regularity. I ate some of other peoples’ sandwiches, but in an effort to try more menu items, I had opted for the potato gnocchi of the day. These were rich with a pleasant chewiness, but they came with a heavy, creamy, tomato-based sauce that was infused with so much sage that the herbal flavor became a little off-putting. The sauce, otherwise well made, was also too weighty for its already opulent base. This is not to say I didn’t finish my meal, but I felt uncomfortably full after doing so and had a soapy sage taste lingering on my palatte.

We were all pretty full, and Rice Ball had to go home for bed, but our server brought over some flan, courtesy of the restaurant. She had seen me taking pictures of my food, and Leftover Girl had accidentally mentioned something about my blog, so I was initially concerned that this gift was a way of guaranteeing a better review. But our server assured us that the gift was planned all along and Okonomiyaki said she had gotten a free dessert almost every time she had eaten there. Besides, the Mango Lassie’s good opinion cannot be bought! I have to admit, though, that flan, creamy and perfectly caramelized, was pretty darn good.

221 S. 1st St.
Brooklyn, NY 11211

Tabare on Urbanspoon

Brennan & Carr: The Irish Italian Beef

It’s been more than three years since I left Chicago for New York, and I have few regrets about the move. But sometimes I’m hit with a wave of culinary nostalgia, whether it’s for the phenomenal sausages at Hot Doug’s, the tacos al pastor at Erick’s Taco’s or the top-notch beer list and mussels at the Hopleaf. Apart from Vienna beef Chicago dogs, one of the things I miss the most is Italian beef. Ostensibly invented in Chicago around the 1930s, Italian beef is thinly sliced roast beef, doused in meat juice, and served on a long roll. It traditionally comes topped with giardiniera (spicy pickled vegetables) or sweet Italian peppers. Empanada Boy and I used to live just down the street from Budacki’s Drive-In, a stand of the kind typical in Chicago, serving hot dogs, gyros, fries, meatball subs and, of course, Italian beef. At one point, EB developed something of an addiction to Budacki’s Italian beef. I would come home after going out to dinner with friends and ask him what he ate. He grin sheepishly, and I would know exactly where he had been. While I was in Yom Kippur services during the first year we lived together, EB decided to fast in solidarity. He held out until the afternoon, at which point he broke the fast—at Budacki’s. It was only appropriate that this year we designated the day after Yom Kippur for a trip out to Brennan & Carr in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, an Irish place, specializing in dipped roast beef.

My friends Tater Tot and Margarita had seen Brennan & Carr on an old episode of “Man vs. Food”. Being Midwesterners, they were intrigued at the apparent similarity of the restaurant’s specialty with Italian beef. I should say that Tater Tot was intrigued; Margarita is a very patient vegetarian. EB and I took two subways and two buses to meet them and their six-month-old baby, Half Pint, at Brennan & Carr. The restaurant is just off Avenue U, a street of vast ethnic diversity. In one telling example, a kosher deli stands directly across the street from G&S Pork Store. Brennan & Carr was established in 1938 when the area was entirely marsh land and almost entirely inhabited by Irish immigrants. I’m not sure if it’s original, but the restaurant’s exterior decor is reminiscent of a faux alpine ski chalet, complete with signs written in that old-fashioned Scandinavian-looking font. The door to the restaurant is next to a take out window, from which everything on the menu can be ordered to go. When we walked inside, the entranceway was dim. A old cash register stood by the door and cooks behind the counter assembled food beneath heat lamps. One of the servers, clad in a white butcher’s coat that looked like a lab coat, led us to a table in the better-lit wood-paneled main dining room. “I’d like a beer,” I said when our server asked us what we would have to drink. “Bud or Bud Light?” he asked. Brennan & Carr is that kind of old-school place.

Apart from its roast beef sandwich, Brennan & Carr is known for the Gargiulo burger, a roast beef sandwich with a burger patty and some cheese thrown in. While that sounded like something of a novelty, we decided to focus on the roast beef. Tater Tot, EB and I each ordered a dipped roast beef sandwich, and Margarita settled for some mozzarella sticks. Fries and onion rings rounded out a very healthy meal. The roast beef came on a round roll, already sodden with meat drippings, but still somehow spongy enough to be lifted to the mouth without disintegrating. The meat was achingly tender, and the jus brought another layer of moisture and flavor. The sandwich had no toppings. It really didn’t need them. I tried a bite with Guilden’s mustard and found the rich, silken meat was still bold enough to overshadow the condiment. The fries were decent and perhaps best used as tools to sop up the jus. Onion rings were fine, but nothing special.

Having finished our sandwiches, Tater Tot grinned and admitted to still being a bit hungry. Would someone would be willing to split another? EB uncharacteristically balked at the idea, but I was game. (Perhaps I was still making up from the previous day’s fast.) Before we ordered, I glanced over at the menu and noticed the roast beef platter. Our server informed us that this was a plate of beef, accompanied by one roll and two sides of our choosing. The three of us could surely stomach the meat, and Margarita pledged to do her part with the fries and onion rings. A pitcher of Bud was ordered to wash it all down. Roast-beef course number two proved to be a winner. The platter of meat arrived slightly pink on the edges and swimming in jus. As we ate our meat, we discussed the differences between Irish roast beef and Italian beef. Obviously, there was the matter of the roll shape and size. Italian beef is cooked to well-done and has more of a chew to it than the melt-in-your mouth Irish beef. In my opinion, the giardiniera goes a long way toward making the Italian beef as fantastic as it is, but Irish beef may be better able to stand alone. I’m not going to renounce my allegiance and devotion to the Chicago classic, but its New York cousin gives it a real run for its money.

Brennan & Carr
3432 Nostrand Ave.
Brooklyn, NY 11229

Brennan & Carr on Urbanspoon

Ladies Who Lunch…On a Budget

Last spring, my cousin Leftover Girl relaunched her fashion blog, Neon Mamacita after a post-college hiatus. The blog always had well-curated photos of cutting-edge fashion, but now it has a whole new dimension: original photographs of Leftover Girl and friends modeling vintage fashion that she is selling on her own Etsy site. A vintage clothing addict myself, I have become a huge fan of Neon Mamacita Vintage and look forward to Leftover Girl’s weekly posts. Part of the reason I love it so much is that most of the original photos are shot by Leftover Girl’s brother, Cousin Ketchup, who is a professional photographer and a great artist. Now you may be wondering what all of this has to do with food. Well, despite being the only two bloggers in our family Leftover Girl and I never thought of collaborating until last week. Over dinner at a restaurant, we hatched the idea of doing a combination vintage fashion shoot and food review. Neon Mamacita Vintage currently has an abundance of great midcentury dresses, so we decided to dress up as ladies who lunch. Of course, if we were really doing ladies who lunch, we would go to tea at the Plaza or go to the Palm and pick at our cobb salads, but this is The Mango Lassie, so cheap gets the final word. We also wanted proximity to my house to avoid having to walk too far in public in our period finery.

I knew the perfect place. We would head up Fifth Avenue in Park Slope to Trois Pommes Patisserie, a quaint little spot with tiled floors and small marble cafe tables, that serves fantastic pastries, along with Stumptown coffee and fine teas. Chef and owner Emily Isaac was once the pastry chef at the stellar Union Square Cafe. Her pedigree shows in the delicacy of her crusts and the complexity and creativity of her offerings. The last time Mango Mama visited, I hosted a brunch at my house and didn’t have time to make my traditional coffee cake. Mango Mama walked into Trois Pommes and bought a dried cherry cornmeal cake that was to die for, as the ladies who lunch would say. Mango Mama told me today that she still thinks about it months later.

Leftover Girl and I strolled toward the bakery in our dresses, coats, hats and kid gloves. We pretended to gossip about whose son was getting into Dalton and who was buying a new summer home in the Hamptons. Ketchup followed, camera in hand, snapping shots of us as we walked. I wore a pink and white dress with a bow at the waist that looked like something Betty Draper might have worn in her more innocent, more demure days. (It’s for sale on Neon Mamacita!) On my head, I had a wide brimmed pink hat, which doubled as Gael Greene-esque way to preserve my anonymity on this blog. My coat (also for sale) was a sort of brocade with a blue willow-like pattern and a velvet collar. White pearls and my grandma’s white leather gloves and rhinestone brooch rounded out the ensemble. Leftover Girl wore a white dress under an animal printed hooded coat with red velour pumps and a feathered hat hand-beaded by our aunt, Okonomiyaki, an exceptional artist.

This being our lunch, we walked up to the counter in the patisserie (not minding the sideways glances were got from a few people inside) and ordered a mini bacon quiche. For dessert, we snagged a lemon meringue tartlet. We sat down at the bench in the window and dug in– while still maintaining our ladylike sense of propriety, of course. That quiche, which we ate slightly warmed from the oven, was by far the best one I’ve ever had. The buttery crust was flaky, rich and melted in my mouth. But it was the filling that set this quiche over the top. The eggs were mixed with cream to form a luscious custard. This was embedded with squares of smoky bacon. Ketchup took a couple bites and decided to get a quiche of his own. He tried the spinach variety, which was equally creamy but not quite as decadent as its meaty friend. We washed these down with a raspberry iced tea (Leftover Girl) and an almond rose hot tea (me). Trois Pommes only serves in cardboard takeout cups and on plastic plates. Utensils were all plastic too. While these made for slightly inconvenient eating and less attractive fashion photography, we thought it fit our “on a budget” caveat pretty well.

Dessert was the lemon meringue tartlet whose crust was as butter-kissed as those of the quiche. The filling could have been a bit tarter for my taste, and the slightly chewy texture of the meringue was a bit unsatisfying. In truth, I probably would have been ecstatic to be served this tartlet at any patisserie in the city, but even this delicious dessert couldn’t outshine those quiches. Perhaps the red velvet “Twinkies” in the case could have done it, but I doubt it. Filled with butteriness, we saved a quarter of the lemon tart for Empanada Boy who had opted not to join us. After all, ladies who lunch should not be seen cleaning their plates.

Ketchup took more photos of our clothing against the backdrop of the cushioned window seat. The patisserie really did make a lovely, colorful, sensuous backdrop for Neon Mamacita’s fashions. We put our coats back on to head back out to the street to pose in front of a stately brownstone or two. But before we left Trois Pommes, we clinked our paper and plastic teacups together in a toast to our food and fashion collaboration. Based on the success of our first joint effort, it’s safe to say that the Mango Lassie and Neon Mamacita will meet again soon.

For more views of the clothing we wore, see

Trois Pommes Patisserie
260 Fifth Ave.
Brooklyn, NY 11215

Trois Pommes Patisserie on Urbanspoon

The Great Turduckening

I have a policy of never reviewing the food my friends make. I see it as a largely pointless and potentially harmful exercise. If I say good things about a friend’s food, my readers may think I am merely being nice. If I say bad things, then I may lose a friend, something worth eating many an overdone chicken breast or mystery tofu scramble to avoid. As it is, friends rarely invite me over for a meal. I am left to conclude that this is either because they think my standards are too high, or because they simply don’t cook. But I am going to break my own rule today by describing what is only the latest feat of culinary skill expertly executed by my friend Oyster: Ladies and gentlemen, I give you The Great Turduckening!

First, a definition: A turducken is a deboned chicken, stuffed inside a deboned duck, which is then stuffed inside a deboned turkey. Actually, the turkey still has its leg and wing bones, but no thoracic cavity. As I found out yesterday, turducken is traditional in Louisiana, which is where the idea of stuffing fowl inside each other allegedly first made landfall on this side of the Atlantic. People outside of the South sometimes eat turducken on Thanksgiving for a change of pace. Oyster was recently in New Orleans, which is where he hatched a plan to bring the turducken tradition back to his friends in the Mid-Atlantic. He would cook enough to feed us all, in addition to providing New Orleans-style beans and rice and a keg of Natty Lite—or was it Miller High Life?

Before I get into the details of this elaborate affair, I must mention some of the other food-focused parties Oyster has had this year. In February, he earned his name, buying 300 oysters from a wholesale supplier, shucking some to put into a delicious stew, some to bake and whole hell of a lot to slurp down raw with a squirt of lemon juice. Then in April, while I was (sadly) in San Francisco, Oyster held a crawfish boil for which he purchased 100 pounds of mudbugs from a dude down in Louisiana and had them shipped up. There were also alligator steaks. Most recently, in July, Oyster went to Cape Cod and caught a bunch of quahog clams. He brought them home and topped them with bacon-herb bread crumbs, baking them until the topping was crisp (pictured here). Again, he invited his friends to partake. I have said it before, and I’ll say it again: Oyster is a giver, and all of us who love to eat count ourselves lucky to be among his friends.

For the this feast, Oyster decided to buy his turducken preassembled. If anyone might have figured out how to debone three birds and properly assemble them into this portmanteau of birds, it would be Oyster, but the man has a full-time job. He first tried calling the premium New York meat purveyor Lobel’s, but he was told the two turducken would cost him $275 each. Oyster is generous, but not stupid. He called up a butcher in New Orleans, and his more affordable turducken were put on the next flight out. (I heard from one of his colleagues that the birds were shipped to the office, creating quite a stir.) We had all assembled in Oyster’s cement side yard where we drank beer as we awaited the main course. Eventually, a big pot of delicious andouille-laden beans and rice came down from the apartment kitchen. The first turducken, now sliced into large rounds exposing rings of each meat, arrived soon after. Beer-filled and ravenous, we lost no time in digging in.

The meat was tender, a testament to Oyster’s care, but I found it somewhat bland. It took me a minute or two to puzzle out why. It basically boils down to this: Two of the things that make poultry taste good are bones and crackled skin. By definition, the turducken has minimal amounts of both of these things. Duck, in particular, is nothing without the skin. As a gamier meat, it also benefits from being cooked slightly rare, something that could not be achieved with a turducken because the chicken in the middle must be cooked through.

For dessert, I made a brown butter nectarine cake featured in a Melissa Clark column in the New York Times earlier this summer. I figured we might as well eat nectarines before all the nectarines are gone, and what better way to eat them than atop a brown butter-infused base?

Any criticism of turducken I have detailed here is, of course, not to say that I didn’t appreciate Oyster’s supremely competent effort. Not having tried another turducken, I can only assume that he cooked these to perfection. I would have been so unsure of my ability to prepare one of these that I never would have attempted it in the first place. I may have implied above that the turducken is a flawed concept, and I’m not going to go so far as to moderate that stance. But, flawed or not, I am entirely willing to eat turducken, especially when it is cooked by a good friend.

Many thanks to one of Oyster’s college friends for the top photo. He had a much better camera than I did.