The Best Thing I Ate Last Week: Steve’s Swingle

The best thing I ate last week was at Atlantic Antic this past Sunday. After shuffling down Atlantic Avenue – closed to motor traffic, overrun with foot traffic on the 38th Annual Atlantic Antic festival, a day of celebrating Brooklyn’s finest on a ten block stretch of Atlantic Avenue – I spotted the stall I had been waiting for: Steve’s Authentic Key Lime Pie. Steve’s Authentic makes outrageously good key lime pies from their waterfront bakery in Redhook. Seeing it closer to home on Sunday was almost too good to be true. Having passed by food stalls the likes of Mile End, Rucola and Nicky’s Vietnamese Sandwiches, I almost felt like Steve’s stall at the end of the line was something of a mirage.

I had only ever tried the regular pies (which converted me from being an occasional fan of key lime to a die-hard one), but ever since I heard about the Swingle, I’ve been dreaming of trying one. The Swingle is a frozen, chocolate-covered mini key lime pie on a stick. If you’re wondering, it’s unquestionably as incredible as it sounds. Atlantic Antic, the street fair of all NYC street fairs, is a wonderful event, bringing local businesses and neighbors together for a fantastic day of music, food, crafts and community. Yesterday, it brought me together with the Swingle, my new favorite dessert and definitely the best thing I ate last week.

The Best Thing I Ate Last Week – Garbanzos Fritos from La Vara

The best thing I ate last week was a bar snack from La Vara, an elegant and sophisticated Spanish restaurant in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn that opened last year. Waiting for a table late on Friday night, Alex and I ordered olives – served warm in a jar of oil – and garbanzo fritos — fried chickpeas. Crispy and coated in spices, these chickpeas were addictive. I’d like to eat them all day long.

Garbanzos Fritos at La Vara
Photo creditL: Serious Eats

Luckily the chickpeas didn’t fill me up too much to enjoy the terrific meal to follow — which included olive oil cured sardines with charred bread, asparagus topped with egg and fried baby shrimp, salt-baked dorade, and a cucumber sorbet over an incredible pineapple carpacio. Serving innovative and cutting-edge Spanish cuisine, La Vara is not afraid to push boundaries, unlike, perhaps, some of the other Spanish restaurants that have been opening up in the city lately, which may be playing it too safe. Still, despite La Vara’s progressive thinking, one of its simplest dishes was the best.

Brooklyn Edible Social Club

Ricotta & Duck Prosciutto Terrine
Peppermint, Sweet Pea

It’s been over a month since my first underground dining experience, and I keep putting off writing about it because nothing I could say could quite do the meal justice. I suppose I literally can not find the words to describe it.
But the whole experience was such a pleasure, I’m forcing myself to put something down on this page- something that won’t begin to live up, but will just have to do because I really must share it.

On a rainy Saturday night in early June, my lovely boyfriend and I trotted down the road of impending gentrification from Fort Greene to Bed-Stuy, and landed at a stranger’s apartment, greeted by ten other strangers, a chef and a host. We had arrived at the Brooklyn Edible Social Club, a supper club I had stumbled upon during some light internet reading one fateful afternoon.


Chilled Strawberry Salmorejo

Basil, Piperita Mint, Almonds, Chevre

The Brooklyn Edible Social Club belongs to two kind, generous and fun souls – she a former DJ turned graphic designer and overseer of the supper club; he a jovial and intuitive chef, passionate about locally sourced food and the exquisite master behind the meal.
Host and chef aim to keep the dinners small, at only twelve people per night, to encourage a communal environment where everyone talks to everyone. Sitting across from two school teachers, next to two documentary film-makers, down the table from a banker and even further down from a symphony musician, my lovely boyfriend and I did, in fact, get to know everyone.


Steamed Mussels

Young Garlic, Smoked Pepper Beurre Blanc

Garlic Scape Biscuits

The table shared the different wines we had each brought, shared anecdotes about the most outrageous food we had ever eaten, and definitely shared our utter astonishment at the quality, originality and superb taste of each dish. I can’t event pick a favorite they were all so outstanding.
Before each course, our gracious and humble chef, dawning denim cut-offs, suspenders, and a bandanna around his thick, dark hair, explained what we had prepared for us. Every ingredient was seasonable and fresh – having been grown and bought locally. Every dish was unique but accessible, and indisputably incredible.

Portions were perfect, leaving time to explore and linger over the flavors, but leaving you wanting more, with room for the next course. Everything was cooked to perfection. No one left a crumb on a plate or a drop in a bowl.

Roasted Hanger Steak
Chipolata Sausage, Radishes, Sauce Verde

The menu followed a wonderful succesion, commencing with an ever-so-slightly chilled Ricotta and Duck Terrine which blew everyone away, an exciting harbinger of the extraordinary meal to follow.
The Strawberry Salmorejo, a chilled soup made of strawberries, was slightly sweet, slightly creamy, but somehow definitely a savory dish; the blend of basil, mint, almonds and chevre producing an exceptional flavor. I’ve never tasted Mussels cooked so right, and in a sauce just enough buttery, tangy and spicey, everyone spooned up every last drop.

The Hanger Steak was phenomenal – tender as could be and accompanied by pickled radishes and a green sauce that no-one could quite identify or get enough of. Finally, the flaky, crusty Rubarb Tart Tatin had just enough salt to bring out the flavor and maintain the sweet.

Rhubarb Tarte Tatin

Hibiscus & Prosecco Float

The bar set unreasonably high for my first supper club experience, I am afraid no other supper club will quite compare! I have decided, however, to take upon the grave responsibility of finding out, the night at the Brooklyn Edible Social Club having undoubtedly reved my curiosity engine for supper clubs, despite my sneaking suspicion that nothing could top this first trial.
It was one of the most special dining experiences I have ever had the fortune to take part in, and one of the best meals I’ve ever eaten. I’d put it in the “Best Meals I’ve Ever Had” book.
At the end of this too-delicious-to-be-true dinner, I asked the chef how he developed his recipes. He didn’t use recipes, he told me. He just thought about what ingredients would work well together and how, went to a few farmer’s markets to see what was available, and composed his dishes by intuition. A true artist.

As we sat and listened to records selected by whoever felt like playing a tune, sipped on coffee and chewed Mary Jane candies, the communal enthusiasm for food, new friends, and taking a chance permeated the room. Ten strangers, a chef and a host, and my lovely boyfriend – the loveliest dinner date of them all – knew they had just shared an evening no one would forget.

Battersby

The curse of a small kitchen is a burden most New Yorkers must bear. We take it in stride: ordering in, eating out and keeping it simple. The more ambitious of us quickly learn to get creative, enabling surfaces not otherwise meant for cooking, using as few containers as possible, and discovering the art of substitution.

The tiny kitchen becomes a whole different ballgame when you’re cooking for customers. Restaurants likeSmith and Mills, which cooks on hot plates, and Prune, which has only two ovens and one countertop, have mastered the closet-sized kitchen. Now, a new, Brooklyn based restaurant can join the ranks: Battersby, on Smith Street in Cobble Hill, whose kitchen is akin to a walk-in closet. Chefs Joseph Ogrodnek and Walker Stern both left their recent posts at Anella in Greenpoint, and opened the doors of the lovely Battersby just a few weeks ago.

How do they cope with their small kitchen? Only a few tables, and only the experts doing the work. That’s right. Ogrodnek and Stern, the creators of what will be a seasonally relevant, contemporary American menu, will be the only two cooking.

Their Marinated Fluke with Apple, Avocado, and Lime was perfect. A simple but unique combination, it tasted so right it could be the new beet and goat cheese salad. A creamy but not too heavy Chestnut Soup with Roasted Mushrooms and Quail Egg, delicious to the last drop, and Handmade Parpardelle with Duck Ragu, Taggiascia Olives and Madeira Wine were excellent, and perfect on a night when winter came a little too early. There’s no question that the two very gifted chefs know exactly what they’re doing in their very little kitchen, which, by the way, they built themselves.

Can’t Wait for Thanksgiving? You Don’t Have to!

New Yorkers may be known for a lot of things. Patience isn’t one of them. We like our lines short, our take-out fast and our coffee on the go. If you’re wondering who’s standing in an hour-long line for a cupcake, it isn’t a New Yorker.

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Henry Public’s Turkey Leg Sandwich.
Photo Credit: Dan Hallman
 

Some things, however, are worth waiting for, and on this short list, Thanksgiving will always make the cut. New Yorker or not, we all look forward to that joyous day when we gather our loved ones and stuff ourselves with turkey and gravy. Maybe we’ll watch a parade or some football, or maybe we’ll completely unplug for the day. Whatever we do, the feast is always the main event. It’s a day, and a feast, worth waiting for… Unless you absolutely can’t.

If you simply can’t wait for the last Thursday in November, or if you love this day of gluttony so much that you need a sneak preview — an amuse-bouche, if you’d like — then fear not. There is bounty of restaurants serving Thanksgiving fare all year round in this wonderfully impatient, 24/7 city. Thanksgiving at a restaurant. How New York. Yes, flocks of New Yorkers will be eating their annual feast in a restaurant this year, like they have in years past. If you’re looking for day-of Thanksgiving dinners, restaurants from Williamsburg’s new Reynard to the classic Katz’s Delicatessen will be serving grand feasts this year.

But if you need a quick, Thanksgiving fix before the big day, you can find what you’re craving if you know where to look. Here are some of my favorites for Thanksgiving a la carte:

Andrew Carmellini’s The Dutch, one of last year’s hottest restaurants, serves a buttery corn bread to every dinner table. If it’s mashed potatoes you love, the ever-expanding Meatball Shop serves a decadent side of creamy, mashed potatoes that’s not to be missed. If you’re looking for something a little different, Westvilleserves a great plate of pesto mashed potatoes. I’m still searching for good stuffing — the king of Thanksgiving, in my book. Homemade stuffing is really hard to contend with. Any recommendations on restaurants serving great stuffing?

For turkey, look no further than Henry Public, the charming, antique-filled bar and restaurant where you’ll feel like you’ve stepped back in time to the 19th century. Henry Public’s turkey leg sandwich is legendary among Brooklynites. Braised in milk, the meat is so tender it’s almost shocking, and this sandwich is definitely worthy of all the hype.

Love them or hate them, Brussels sprouts will be dawning many a Thanksgiving table, and these days they’re practically everywhere you look. Some of the best can be found at Alta, served crispy with fuji apples, crème fraiche and pistachios. For a totally unique version, Prospect Height’s Chuko serves spicy, crunchy Brussels sprouts with fish sauce and peanuts.

Some of the best pumpkin pie hails from Hill Country Chicken, which has its very own pie menu. Four and Twenty Blackbirds in Park Slope, selling whole pies or by the slice, also makes a mean pumpkin pie — as well as other Fall pies like salted caramel apple.

And if you want it all in one, Momofuko Milk Bar‘s Thanksgiving croissant couldn’t get much better.

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Hill Country Chicken’s Pumpkin Pie
Photo Credit: Hill Country Chicken
 

The best part is, when the day finally comes and goes, and you’ve plowed through the last of your leftovers, these Thanksgiving staples will still be around, for the best of Thanksgiving, all year round.

Francesca on Clinton

Frankies 457 is pretty close to perfection as far as restaurants go. The food tastes like it was made for you alone, and the atmosphere is elegant but cozy, inside surrounded by exposed brick and outside in their wonderful garden. I haven’t been to the west village outpost, Frankies 570, but a few nights ago I visited what used to be Frankies 17 on Clinton Street, and what is now Francesca, the new venture from the same Frankies Sputino team (who also own Cafe Pedlar in Cobble Hill and the amazing Prime Meats in Carroll Gardens).

The Frankies Sputino Italian is so exceptional that I could only have had sky-high expectations forFrancesca, which serves Basque cuisine. I liked Francesca; I didn’t love it. But it’s hard to love anything that you compare with an original that you simply adore. An enchanting nook in what has turned into one fratty neighborhood, Francesca — and much of Clinton Street — is like a little oasis. The menu, like so many new menus today, is designed for sharing. Small Pintxos, Jamones, Para Picar, Salads and Small Plates offer a myriad of ways to start your meal, and if you make it that far and still have room for more, you have another round of choices with Raciones, followed by Cheese and Dessert.

I loved the White and Green Asparagus with Ali Oli and Migas, but could have skipped the Cream Fideua with Idiazabel, which was nothing more than a glorified Craft Macaroni and Cheese (and I specify Craft, because the noodles were identical to those short, skinny cylinders. Following what seems to be the trend of this post, I’ll take the original, please). The rest of the menu was intriguing — I am hardly familiar with Basque cuisine — and the setting so inviting that I would definitely go back (even if I wished I was going back in time to when Frankies 17 occupied the space).


My one Basque experience was a surreal one, a few years ago when a friend and I had stopped in Biarritz on a road trip from Bordeaux to Madrid, and eventually to the Naussannes, a tiny village near Bergerac in the South of France by way of seaside Cadaques. Biarritz lies in a Basque region, and on our night’s stay in the town, we decided to drive to nearby Bayonne, a Basque town across the border in Spain. We weren’t quite sure what we happened upon, but the entire town was celebrating in city center — parades, music and fireworks abounded. We had no choice but to join in the fete, although we had no idea what we were celebrating!

Francesca may not have quite lived up to this surreal Basque festival — or its sister restaurants — but it’s definitely worth a trip, if for nothing else than respite from the circus the Lower East Side becomes every night.