A Carbohydrate Fantasia in Three Movements

bergen bagel

Bergen Bagel, mi amor...

My obsession with carbs is not a new development. In eighth grade health class* we had a homework assignment that involved reading an account of what a fictional someone had eaten in a day and identifying what was wrong with that person’s diet. The person who ate chocolate cake for breakfast or the person who ate fried food at every meal was a no-brainer, but I recall looking at the one who ate pancakes for breakfast, a potato for lunch and pasta for dinner and thinking, “What’s wrong with that?”

Nothing is more enabling for the carb-obsessed than marathon training. It is the perfect cover while snarfing down great quantities of noodles, which is exactly what I have been doing, probably more than is strictly necessary. What is necessary is a carb-heavy diet the day before the marathon (it helps you finish faster and in less pain—I swear I am not making this up), which has led to my elaborate fantasies of what exactly I am going to eat for each meal this Saturday before I run the New York marathon on Sunday. And as I was constructing this ideal New York carb triptych, I realized that I haven’t written much about two of the three places I had in mind, which seems utterly unjust, an oversight that I should rectify.

I. New Yorkers tend to be very opinionated about their bagels, but for me, there’s really not much of a contest when it comes to where I’ll be eating breakfast on Saturday. Bergen Bagels are everything bagels should be: dense, chewy, flavorful, slathered with cream cheese, and without a chip on their shoulders about being toasted. Not that long ago, Bergen Bagel opened a third location just a couple blocks from my house, and, no joke, I consider this one of the highlights of the past year.

II. For lunch, I think I’ll mosey over to Manhattan Continue reading

Doogh the Right Thing: Persian Delicacies at the Pars Grill

ghormeh sabzi

That rather impressive garnish is an entire pickled lime.

When my co-worker Kamal went to his native Iran this past summer for the first time in several years, I asked him what he was looking forward to the most. He could have fed me some sentimental line about seeing how the country had changed, or something like that. Instead, he paused, and with a dreamy look in his eye, said, “Probably the pastries.” Kamal’s honesty and love of food are just two of the things I like about him.

Another thing I like is that he was so determined to score some good Persian food this week that he decided to take me and a couple of other people from the office to the Pars Grill in Chelsea and teach us a thing or two about the cuisine of his homeland. I’m not sure what I was anticipating from Persian food, but I had some notion that it would be akin to what I think of as generic Middle Eastern fare, with most vegetarian food running in the hummus and falafel vein. But I was dead wrong; it was really unlike anything I’d eaten before.

dooghTo drink, I ordered a savory yogurt beverage called doogh, which, admittedly, is sort of an unfortunate name, but which couldn’t have been more delicious. It was thick and rich and icy and flavored with dill and mint and probably lots of other things that were beyond my powers of identification. Seriously, it was probably the best drink to pass my lips since that crazy coconut shake in Canada, and I still find myself daydreaming about that thing months later. It was so good that it made me feel a little drunk even though there was no alcohol involved.

kashk-e bademjanBut it’s not like the food was anything to sneeze at, either. Early highlights included some delicious bread (similar to pita bread, but crisper) and an eggplant appetizer called kashk-e bademjan, which had the consistency of babaganouj but was spiced completely differently and garnished with ground pistachio. Even my devoutly eggplant-hating coworker Devin had to concede that it was pretty good.

As for main courses, it’s true that the menu catered mainly to meat eaters. The massive size of the grilled meat slabs that everyone else ordered spurred multiple conversations about The Flintstones. Continue reading

At the Mother Earth News Fair: Torrential Rains, Pens of Alpacas, & an Improbably Delicious Vegan Taco

Alpacas, just about the softest creatures you'll ever touch, tend to look like Muppets when rained upon. They are always, in the words of Cluckin Awesome Coops owner Reece McClung, "very unlikely looking creatures."

The Mother Earth News Fair is an odd duck.  I write that rather than “strange beast” because the fair, held at a verdant ski resort an hour east of Pittsburgh last weekend, was far more plucky than beastly, and not just because torrential rain and wind walloped the thing all through Saturday.  The “fun-filled, hands-on sustainable lifestyle event” was awash, as could be expected, in exhibitor booths hawking bee keeping products and heirloom seeds and energy efficiency technologies.  There were over 240 pretty fantastic workshops, hour-long sessions with titles like “How to Cure Your Own Bacon,” and “Homesteading the Suburbs with the Kids,” and “Hand-Milk Your Goat; Make Feta, Chevre, and Ricotta; and Stay Out of Jail.”

But there were also exhibitors demonstrating for rapt middle aged men the newest and greatest development in drill bit technology, pens of alpacas, and a wildly popular booth selling slim plastic devices that allow women to pee standing up.  The event was slammed with people.  When the Continue reading

An Elizabethan Tribute to Canadian Halibut

This past Spring, Shannon and I traveled to Vancouver Island and made a stop in small town surfer mecca Tofino.  While there, we visited The Schooner Restaurant, and I ordered the Halibut Bawden Bay entree.

It was so good I had to write an Elizabethan Sonnet in tribute.

From seas I did once shy because their fruit
Did not appeal.  For life wants life, (will flee
its death), and blood is not what I’m aboot.
Until a Schooner had my tastebuds tree’d.
Sun-crusted white Tofino halibut
Beneath corn’d pepper glaze with needle dressed
Near ghostly was an orchard caught and cut
And stuffed with shrimp and Brie and Dungeness.
The rain made blue and gray the sun setting
Into the mountain peaks that time will crush,
While dry behind the glass, and without frettings,
Post haste I crushed, myself, my dinner lush:
Proof succulence exists; and now you see
My stomach brought my conscience to its knees.

We also went to a parrot refuge while on the island. This has nothing to do with Tofino or halibut, but it's kind of wild, so I'm throwing it up.


Roanoke Kinda Sucks (Except for this Moon Pie)

I noted the existence of Moon Pies in a post a few weeks back.  I declared them “two pieces of cardboard stuffed with low-grade putty and shellacked in plastic.”  Lo and behold, on a trip down the Shenandoah Valley last week, I was forced to eat my words.  That, of course, has never happened before.

This eating of words proved to be, happily enough, the most pleasant part of our 20-hour stay in Roanoke, Virginia.  Shannon and I were both excited to visit Roanoke, though neither of us could say exactly why.  Maybe it was because it’s a city in the western edge of the state, a beautiful part of the country, or maybe it was because it shares the name of the famous Lost Colony, and few things get me as excited as groups of people, shrouded by the mists of history, mysteriously wiped off the face of the earth without a trace.  Regardless of the reasons for our excitement, modern Roanoke is a bit of a lost colony itself.  A railroad boom town gone bust, it is a charmingly refurbished and tiny city center ringed by a blasted landscape of empty streets and crumbling housing surrounded by lovely countryside carved into a sprawling network of McMansions.  Want to be depressed?  Drive around Roanoke.

But that charmingly refurbished city center did include the Euro Bakery, which sold us a homemade Moon Pie.  Now, the Moon Pie was born about a century ago across the border in Chattanooga.  It is supposed to be a mound of marshmallow glop sandwiched between two graham cracker-style cookies.  It is, without a doubt, vile.  This Moon Pie, however, appropriated the title for what is essentially a homemade Swiss Roll made in a Moon Pie shape.  Continue reading

I’ll Have the Usual


I'm still a little in love with Sam Malone.

I was still in the single digits for most of the illustrious run of Cheers on television, too young, really, to understand much about alcohol or why bars might be a good place to hang out. But even then, I loved that the characters could belly up to the bar and Sam or Woody would just slide a beer over to them while conversing about something entirely unrelated. I was a painfully shy child, and I hated having to talk to strangers (i.e. waiters) about what I felt like eating. A place where everyone knew your name and knew what you wanted before you even had to ask? It sounded heavenly to me.

Ever since, I’ve held in high esteem the archetype of the regular, but I’ve had a hard time putting on that mantle. My first attempt was during my weeklong summer sojourns at my grandparents’ house when I  would accompany my grandfather to buy his morning paper. Every day, he stopped at a little joint called Rollin’s on the way home, and they always had a cup of coffee poured for him before he was fully in the door. I fancied that after enough times, I could just saunter in, spread my copy of Harriet the Spy on the counter and be served my grape juice straight up.  But my grandfather was always too solicitous, worried that I was bored, and would nervously run down a list of items I could order in place of or in addition to my regular order. Geez, Grandpa, pizza at ten in the morning? You’re ruining our style here.

broadway gourmet

My usual lunch date. (photo courtesy of the sushi fruit hating Devin)

Even as I got older and outgrew my deathly fear of waitstaff, the stars just never aligned correctly for me to be a regular. Big cities, where I’ve lived most of my adult life, are tough for the regulars, because there are just too many restaurants with too many choices to commit wholeheartedly to the lifestyle of “I’ll have the usual.” Variety is what I love most about the New York dining scene, but sometimes you want to go…well, you know.

And then, just as I was beginning to doubt my potential as regular material, an avocado and cheddar sandwich came and tapped me on the shoulder. It’s a beautiful mess of cheese and sprouts and cucumber and mayo on multigrain bread. We met at the Broadway Gourmet Deli, just downstairs from where I work, and we rendezvous at least once a week. Mind you, it isn’t always an easy relationship. Continue reading

The Union Square Farmers Market Nightmarket: Very Pretty, Pretty Pricey

Last week, the Union Square Farmer’s Market, one of the biggest and best in the city, put on its first nightmarket, billed in a lavender promotional jpeg as “A Midsummer Night’s Green Market.”  The farmers stayed twice as long as they usually do, there was beer and music, and a handful of area restaurants turned out to dish out.

So we turned out, too.  We were psyched.

It ended up a bit of a very crowded catwalk of very good looking food.

We tried Telepan’s blueberry crescent and fried eggplant with ratatouille, both of which were pretty, decent, unspectacular.  Each of these guys were four bucks.


Next up was the peach turnover from Union Square Café, which was not only infinitely superior to its blueberry cousin but pretty damn delicious.  Once you accept the fact that any turnover stuffed with corn syrup gloop masquerading as fruit is an offense to all that is good and noble in the world, you are left with a turnover’s pastry as its defining feature.  The Café’s was fantastic: delicately crispy on the top, firm and flaky elsewhere.  Cost: six bucks. Continue reading

Jim and Nick and The Fatback Collective: Fresh Pig at the Food Truck Oasis

This is probably not the kind of image that comes to mind when you think about Bonnaroo.

This woman, who was as nice as could be, is named Banjo. That's not her christened name, but it's the one Bonnaroo folks gave her when she brought the heaviest Southern accent to Jim and Nick's. She seemed proud to carry it.

But it’s an image I saw my first night there.   I snapped it just after I watched a couple of people saw the head off a hog with something that sounded and looked a lot like the circa-1980 Sears hedge clipper we had growing up.  Off the body, the head looked almost rubber, almost like a cartoon.  Except for the eyes.  The eyes were tiny and wet.

“Ya’ll are sick, taking pictures of pig torture,” somebody next to me said, snapping a picture of his own.  Two guys stuck the end of the hedge clipper into the hog’s neck and started going to town on the ribs.  A man walking by trotted up and licked the head’s cheek.  Thursday night at the Food Truck Oasis.

This was not pig torture.  It was Alabama-based Jim and Nick’s Bar-B-Q taking the lead in the Fatback’s Collective Bonnaroo debut.   The Collective is a community of politically progressive chefs, restaurateurs, and gourmands who really dig their pork.  They share with Bonnaroo, according to Melany Mullens, one of a multiple publicists pushing Bonnaroo’s world of food, “a dedication to sustainability and pork.”

I like this coupling.  It sounds silly, but typed out it reads as simultaneously down-home and high-minded, which I figure is pretty much the point.  Bonnaroo is carbon neutral; it gets 20% of its electricity from solar panels; I could go on.  Bonnaroo is also a champion of the Southern culture of food and hospitality.  Welcome to Bonnaroo’s Tennessee, a land of new kinds of partnerships. Continue reading

Lunch at the End of the Line: Canadian Coconut Crush Edition

coconut shakeI have a problem with restaurant crushes. I’ll find someplace that I like, and then, just like crushes on boys in high school, I’ll be unable to think of little else for days and unwilling to consider any alternatives. Once I had (and—let’s face it—probably still have) a crush on my local Mexican favorite, Chavela’s, that was so intense that I feared I’d come down with some weird form of pica that involved tacos instead of rocks.

So it’s just as well, really, that Chau VeggiExpress exists on the other side of the continent, or I probably wouldn’t be able to resist eating there multiple times per week. On a recent trip to Vancouver, a city with a large Asian population, I developed a serious hankering for some pho, that delicious Vietnamese noodle soup. Pho, however, can be a little difficult to find in vegetarian form, so I poked around on Yelp and quickly came up with a review that claimed that the coconut shake at Chau was the best beverage the reviewer had ever tasted. She followed this assertion with the sentence, “Seriously,” which is one of the gravest statements a Yelper can make. So Jason and I decided to fortify ourselves there before embarking on the brutal bus/plane/train trip home.

canada kicks assAnh, a sweet woman in a “Canada Kicks Ass” t-shirt, explained the menu to us when we walked in, which included, among other things, three different kinds of noodle soup. Anh’s family has long owned restaurants in the Vancouver area, and they decided to make this one vegan to match their Buddhist lifestyle. They cook their own coconut cream for the storied coconut shake, which you can get virgin or with rum, and they also use it in their coconut curry. Continue reading

The Best Kind of Mess

fresh curd

Fresh cheese curds--this is where the magic is.

Canadians are full of good ideas: bloodless emancipation from Mother England; electric buses; and, perhaps greatest of all, poutine.

For those of you not familiar with this wonder, it’s a fantastic artery-clogging mash-up of French fries, cheese curds and gravy. It’s true that in New York, that great cauldron of dining options, there is poutine to be had. I was introduced to the dish by my friend Ethan at a burger joint in Brooklyn, a mere mile or two from my apartment. (Ethan, I am now realizing, has long served as my food guru, introducing me to all sorts of essentials like Cones gelato in the West Village, the Punjabi cab stand on Houston street and New Haven-style apizza. Combine that with poutine, and I feel that it’s more than anyone can reasonably expect from a single human being.) But in Canada, poutine is more than just a quirky random menu item. It’s omnipresent. It’s a way of life.

poutineLet’s dwell for a moment on the genius of these ingredients. You’ve got French fries, the most addictive item that the fast food industry has yet been able to create. You’ve got gravy, which, more than a term that for any particular collection of ingredients, is basically just a word for a substance that you put on top of something else to make it taste better. And you have cheese curds, glorious cheese curds, those delectable bits of newborn cheese, so squeaky when bought fresh from Wisconsin supermarkets, so crunchy and salty when deep-fried at the Minnesota state fair. In poutine, they become melting, glisteny globs of fatty heaven. (Jason and I made a special trip to a dairy farm on Vancouver Island so that we could get fresh curd at the exact moment it was released to the public—more on this magical place in coming days.)

The origin of the dish is usually traced to Quebec, and the name is almost certainly French, though apparently there is some debate about what it means. Some say that is derived from the English word for pudding, while others maintain that it comes from a French term that means (I’m paraphrasing here) “a big, fat mess.” Continue reading