Beer: the Stuff of Friendship & Community

I’ve never been much of one for defining things: vocab words, relationship status, my abs. But there are a few things I know to be true. One is that dear friendship is equal parts being supportive, giving sage advice, and keeping your mouth shut while your friend downs six beers during an afternoon-long bitch fest. My own dear friends recently flew me to New York and then further indulged me by not only by taking me to all the Asian restaurants I don’t have at home, but also by going to every brewery and bar patio within stumbling distance of their apartment.

Shannon at Kelso with Black Walnut Stout Barrel

Shannon at KelSo, wishing I wasn’t taking pictures

One other nebulous concept that I’ve nevertheless stuck by like a religion, is that beer is defined by more than style and taste; that its influence on our lives is wider.

The KelSo Brewery, where my friends and I stopped first on this trip, is an example of the impact beer can have in your world. KelSo recently opened a tiny tap room that is carved out of the Brooklyn warehouse where they make their beer. Shannon, Jason, and I sat for quite a while, snug in a nook lined with barrels of conditioning beer.

KelSo has woven itself into the community fabric of Brooklyn by donating their product to a number of organizations they support. No doubt these groups were thrilled be getting free wallet lubrication for their potential donors at fundraisers. More importantly, their movement gained the support of another local business and all the patrons it brings with it. KelSo is also a careful steward of the environment, taking many measures to make the smallest negative impact as possible.  

The name “KelSo” is formed from the first names of the couple who owns it, which makes me trust them, irrationally, but also makes me believe that this brewery is built from their heart, their family, and means more to them than any money — which is one of my several issues with macro beer. Continue reading

Shannon and Jason Own the Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s Chili Pepper Festival

IMG_0922The advertising promised “5 Blazing Bands, 7 Hours of Chocolate Debauchery, 23 Years of Spicy Culture, 2 Legendary Fire Breathers, 52 Fiery Food Artisans, 52 Acres of Glorious Gardens.”

Fire breathers and free spicy food?  We’re there!

We visited every stall.  Every. Stall.  And here are our picks:

Shannon’s Pepper Picks:

Brooklyn Delhi: I cringe at paying $8 for a jar of salsa, no matter how good it is, because I could (and might very possibly) eat the whole thing in a single sitting with a spoon. But with achaar, Indian pickle, a little dab’ll do ya, and with innovative combinations like rhubarb ginger on offer at the Brooklyn Delhi booth, the price suddenly seemed entirely reasonable and left me wishing I’d packed some naan in my purse.

IMG_0925Queen Majesty: Do you know that the easiest way to catch fruit flies is with vinegar? That whole thing about catching more with honey is such a lie! Anyway, I love vinegar in many forms, and even though sweet-hot sauces seem to be all the rage these days, Queen Majesty makes beautiful vinegar-based ones that still have plenty of complexity. Try the jalapeno, tequila and lime flavor for a delicious tangy kick. Continue reading

Go Browns! An Homage to the Beer and the Hometown Team

O-I-H-O! wait a sec...

O-I-H-O! …Wait a minute.

I’ve never been a follower of The Ohio State University’s sports: didn’t go there; don’t care. But everyone assumes I’m a fan because I exist within 60 miles of their stadium. In the fall it’s perfectly acceptable for a complete stranger to invade my space and hoot, “O-H!” gesturing wildly like a confused Village Person. They expect the proper response, which is not, I’ve discovered, “F-U.”

Football madness also rages strong 60 miles to my north in Cleveland. In the Browns stadium there is a section reserved for The Dawg Pound. This section is known for its rowdiness, excessive alcohol consumption, and for its population of tirelessly enthusiastic men in Browns jerseys and rubber dog masks. This all sounds suspiciously like the antics at an afternoon in the OSU Horseshoe, but I’m here to tell you that Browns fans are different. They maintain magestic reservoirs of hope and optimism and, having been dragged through the mud many times before, retain this loyalty and the there’s always next year mentality through the worst of seasons.

In the Dawg Pound

In the Dawg Pound

It is hard to be a Browns fan. We don’t win all that much. I was thinking of this just the other day as I stood in the craft beer aisle looking for a brown ale. Nothing. Not even that Honey Brown crap we considered to be “the good stuff” in college. It was all IPAs and pumpkin beer. The next store, more of the same. I couldn’t win. The third store had one kind of brown ale, Bell’s Best Brown out of Michigan. Score. Continue reading

The (Almost) Ageless Tale of the Brooklyn Slice


Scott also holds the Guinness World Record for owning the most pizza boxes. One more reason to be jealous.

There is almost nothing better than a good slice of Brooklyn pizza—the molten cheese, the piquant sauce, the chewy crust. But I would argue that listening to Scott Wiener of Scott’s Pizza Tours talk about pizza might be even better than eating it.

During a recent lecture in the Brooklyn Collection of the public library, Scott won me over, not just because of his enthusiasm for pizza (which is considerable) but also his willingness to forego the easy route of merely touting the merits of various pizza joints and instead diving into the more complex terrain of pizza history. You should have seen the way his face lit up when he pulled up the PowerPoint slide of the preserved communal ovens from 1st century A.D. Pompeii. Or the way he elatedly traced the web of relationships that connected Lombardi’s in Little Italy to Totonno’s on Coney Island. (It’s true that I got a little lost during the part of the talk in which he discussed the physics of coal-burning ovens, but that might have been due to the monster pour of white wine a librarian had given me just prior to sitting down. Man, I love the library.)

Judging from the reaction of the crowd, I wasn’t alone in being wooed by Scott. There was an audible groan when the words “Papa John’s” were uttered, and crows of delight when he revealed a stream of research that hinted that the original Ray’s might well have been in Brooklyn, not Manhattan. I was a little concerned that one peculiar old dude might kidnap Scott just so they discuss the details of oven construction, about which the old dude seemed passionate.

The story of how Scott Wiener became the crowd-pleasing pizza maven he is today turned out to be almost as good as the lecture itself. Continue reading

Do You Like Me, Ooey-Gooey? Check Yes or No

ample hills cookbookIt’s a little embarrassing that I’ve developed a hardcore crush on Ample Hills Creamery just as they are taking on a celebrity shine following the release of their eponymous cookbook. I would like everyone to know that I have totally liked this Brooklyn ice cream shop and their Salted Crack Caramel flavor for years at this point, the same way I liked Leonardo DiCaprio starting with his What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? days, way before everyone jumped on the Titanic bandwagon.

But there’s no denying that I have experienced a fresh rush of Ample Hills love ever since I went to an event last week at Powerhouse Books to celebrate the release of the book, and now, as happens with every good crush, I see them everywhere and find myself thinking of the texture of the St. Louis butter cake in the Ooey-Gooey flavor while at work, doodling pictures of ice cream cones in the margins of my notebooks, eavesdropping on other people’s conversations about my beloved in bars, etc. If you’ve never had it, you just have to trust me that this is sublime ice cream.

It is only fair to note that not everyone shares my unconditional excitement. Some people say it’s too sweet, some people say it’s too expensive, some people say that it rests on the laurels of a few stand-out flavors while everything else is sub-par. I understand that there might be a tiny kernel of truth at the center of each of those complaints. But this is a crush we’re talking about. So I think those people are stupid.

My concern at the moment is that this crush is almost certainly unrequited. At the Powerhouse event, the authors of the cookbook (co-owners Brian Smith and Jackie Cuscuna with marketing director Lauren Kaelin) asked the crowd to submit ice cream flavors inspired by books. Be still, my heart. If ever there were a contest made for me, it was this one, but I panicked and spent most of the allotted time wondering if maybe I could base an ice cream flavor on Slouching toward Bethlehem. Continue reading

The Secret to Fresh Pasta


A recent haul from Caputo's

There are many reasons I like Roger. We often agree about books and movies and music. He was once the state Monopoly champion of Rhode Island. He knows all the best puppy videos on YouTube, and though he is my boss, often shows them to me while I’m on the clock. But I think that the reason I like him most of all is that he is the one who told me about Caputo’s.

The topic came up because we were talking about making pasta. Roger, a bit of a foodie, makes his own noodles from time to time, and though they are tasty, it’s a time-consuming enterprise. “Really,” he said, “for four bucks, why wouldn’t you just buy it at that little Italian place on Court Street?” He meant Caputo’s, and he sent me the address. Regular readers of this blog will already know that I believe there’s value in knowing the long way of doing something; making something from scratch is a pleasure in itself. But even I have my limits. The secret to fresh pasta is this: you buy it at Caputo’s.

Caputo's Fine FoodsCaputo’s has an unassuming storefront in Carroll Gardens. It is one of those places that looks old, in a good way, as though maybe it staked its claim when Brooklyn was still a forest and the neighborhood simply grew up around it. In addition to the refrigerator cases of fresh pasta and sauces and soups, there is an olive bar, a cheese case, bins of glistening homemade mozzarella, shelves of dry pasta and bread and tiny jarred wonders, and freezers of pizza dough and cannoli filling and always, always, more pasta. It is all heaven-help-me groan-worthy. My Caputo’s shopping trips end only because of the limits of my wallet and my refrigerator. I have always said that if I could choose only one cuisine to eat for the rest of my life, it would be Indian or Mexican, but now I need to add a caveat that I would choose Italian, provided that all of the ingredients came from Caputo’s.

But the food, glorious though it be, is not the only attraction. Continue reading

Grub Match: Brooklyn Brunch Showdown

brunch contendersOne storm was brewing in the west, and another was brewing between the three contenders in the Brooklyn Brunch Showdown. “Please,” one contender whispered to me off the record, “bring on these brunch amateurs.” But despite some brash displays of confidence, it was shaping up as a Grub Match far too close for anyone to call. In this Olympic season of eating, would Peaches, Beast or Café Luluc take home the gold? We were about to find out. Continue reading

Eric’s Grub Match Pick, Beast

Eric's Grub Match Pick

Chicken = Grub Match secret weapon

Our final contender in the Brooklyn Brunch Showdown is smooth operator and chicken whisperer, Eric Lidman. He explained to us the beauty of potato salad and why he (and his dog) consider Beast in Prospect Heights a true neighborhood gem. Here’s more from Eric:

You’re headed to a deserted island to live on grass and coconut milk–what’s your last meal before you go? Full breakfast—eggs, bacon, cheese, fresh bread with butter and preserves, cheese, fruit, yogurt, cheese … breakfast, it’s not just for, um, breakfast anymore.

You’ve come into uncountable gobs of money—who do you hire as your personal chef? Batali, if I had to choose…though I’d resurrect Julia Child, if at all possible…

What’s the single most memorable meal you’ve ever eaten? Dinner, October 2011, Adour at the St. Regis Hotel … lobster bisque, beef cap bordelaise with bone marrow, poached rhubarb with yogurt cream and strawberries, all washed down with a 1964 French cabernet …I almost passed out when I finished.

Have you ever worked at a restaurant? Burger King, for 2 shifts. I was fired for inadvertently closing the burger steamer lid on my supervisor’s hand. Continue reading

Concrete Jungle: The Kids, Various Neighbors, Garretta’s Laugh, & a Hundred-Plus Sunflowers in a Hurricane of Enthusiasm

Two Sundays back Shannon and I followed through on an idea I cooked up last winter.  We would start seeds indoors, organize a children’s morning in our community garden across the street, and lead a hand’s-on, dirt-on-the-knees lesson in, well, all things Plant.

So I started some sunflowers inside, staggered the timing so we had one about six inches tall with its new yellow face and five just green, half-inch sprouts with plump leaves.  We armed ourselves with about a hundred seeds of sunflowers of various heights and colors, two boxes of crayons, and a big bottle of tangerine orange juice.

We had, as we explained to Garretta, our neighbor and grandmother of our first four participants, an educational program.  The explanatory exchange went something like this:

Jason & Shannon: Okay, kids, let’s talk a little about plants for a—

Garretta: You four get on over to that plot and start pulling those weeds!

(Kids shoot from the picnic bench like bees are at their butts.)

Jason & Shannon: Well, first let’s talk about roots. See—

Garretta: Pull those weeds because we aren’t gonna be here all day; we have to go to that park to play in the water.

Jason & Shannon: Damn, Garretta, we have an educational program planned here!

Garretta:  Ha-ha-ha-ha….. Continue reading

Casey’s Grub Match Pick, Café Luluc

Casey's Grub Match Pick

Cute baby = Grub Match secret weapon

This week’s pick for the Brooklyn Brunch Battle comes from sports development exec, supermom and peanut butter aficionado Casey Romany. Café Luluc, in Carroll Gardens, won her heart with its “simple, reliable deliciousness.” Here’s more from Casey on how one brunches in style, even with a baby on board.

Have you ever worked at a restaurant? Three food service experiences.  I worked at my uncle’s fish store on Friday’s when I was 15 selling fish fry. My family did not appreciate the incredible fish stank that lingered after I got home.  When I was in high school I worked at Brueggers Bagels; I will love bagels forever.  And in college I was a waitress at an Irish pub, but I barely made enough tips to cover my parking expenses.

Do you have any food pet peeves? When a restaurant does not have decaf coffee…there are a few Brooklyn Brunch spots out there that have no love for the caffeine free!

Continue reading