Mad Square Eats – Bring Your Stretchy Pants

After many years of letting this semi-annual event pass me by, I finally dragged myself to Madison Square Eats

And then I had to roll myself home.

This foodie haven consists of various restaurants, carts, and food purveyors who gather near Madison Square Park for a month each season to stuff you with all the goodies your blood pressure can handle. We went on a Tuesday night and it was relatively crowded, so leave the Saturday nights to chumps and go there early in the morning if you must make this trip a weekend one. However, that night, the crowds were manageable. We even managed to score a small table (by watching its dawdling inhabitants like hawks).

And the food. Was. Great!

Roberta’s

IMG_20131001_200837_109First and foremost, we visited this station because, really…how could we not? Roberta’s is known for its pizza, and it really delivers. Thin, supple crust with an earthy, deep char that makes even a  vegetarian pie taste meaty and satisfying. IMG_20131001_200827_219 I must be the only person on the planet who does not love the Bee sting – the sauce is sensational – really spicy – but the honey is just too prevalent for my tastes. I’m not a fan. The special Supe Lace pizza, above, however, is dynamite. I can’t get over the crust – its’ just masterful. The sauce is bright and so vibrant that it’s practically alive, (in a good way, not a creepy way) and the cheese is both plentiful and tasty, but really…it’s the crust that takes the cake. It’s so delicious that I am literally dreaming of it. No matter how long this line is stand on it.

And get two pies at least.

I mean, we’re not fooling around here.

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Delaney BBQ taco stand.

So delicious that I ACTUALLY almost cried. That freakin awesome.

IMG_20131001_194820_056Their brisket is just so good. Tender, juicy, and really well seasoned – salt and pepper in every bite. It has a satisfying steak-like chew and it’s expertly  hand chopped. But the best part here are the accouterments. The soft, pliant tortilla, the acidic onions, the sharp cheese melting int he warmth and that chile sauce.

Be still, my heart.

That. Chile. SAUCE. Seriously wonderful. It isn’t hot at all, just heartily spiced with roasted chiles, cumin, and garlic. It reminds me of Taco Bell in the best way possible (is there a bad way to remind one of Tco Bell?)

I wolfed it down.

Trust me, you will, too.

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Vinh Dog at AsiaDog

IMG_20131001_194154_190This banh mi style dog is da BOMB mi.

Yes, I went there. It’s my blog, so I can do stuff like that.

Anyway, AsiaDog is really great! The hot dogs are juicy and not too salty, with an audible “snap” as you bite into them. The buns are well buttered ant toasted, adding to the taste and texture of the dish instead of just being a supporting player. At first, the cold, crisp vegetables are a little odd, temperature wise, next to the dog, but by the third bite, you will be hooked. They could have a heavier hadn with the pate but a little squirt of sriracha and mustard helps bring the umami flavor home. I would totally go back to Asia Dog and highly recommend it!They were also extremely fast in delivering your food.

I didn’t’ even get to half  of the eats that I tasted or half of the food that was offered! Brig some cash and bring some stretchy pants – and don’t wait as long as I did to get to Mad Square Eats!



 

Hog Heaven – Intro to North Carolina BBQ

A few years ago, I took a road trip to North Carolina for my dear friend’s wedding.

It was there that I discovered BBQ.

Not the overly sauced, cutely presented plates of organic berkshire pork and local dandelion greens served at most NYC places.

I mean real down and dirty cooked in the backyard and served by a woman who watched you clean your plate bbq.

I learned about it at Hog Heaven.

I chose this place with the help of roadfood.com, the roadtripping foodie’s best friend. The eatery has won many regional awards for its hand chopped North Carolina pork barbecue. This ain’t your crockpot pulled pork.  This is carefully smoked pork butt  cooked for ages in a smoker with a special blend of spices, then hand cut to create a symphony of flavors and textures.  

In layman’s terms: It’s damn good. 

 

 

I can’t even tell you what a kick I got out of seeing that sign. 

 The decor is less than minimal – think school cafeteria – but clean and filled with the most tantalizing scents known to humanity.  Clearly, we over ordered.

Don’t worry – we managed to eat it all. 

Pork sandwich

Hand cut, so the pork shoulder is in small chunks, not mushy shreds.  Not a lump of fat nor a tough shred of meat among the whole sandwich.  Just sweet, luscious pork, positively vibrant with its pure, porky taste, soaking into the soft white bun. Add just a little of the spicy, vinegar based bbq sauce for the perfect bite.   

Hushpuppies

  Imagine the taste of corndog batter with the texture of French fries.  Corn French fries.  That’s really what they are.  Gently sweet, crunchy and creamy at the same time, these little bits of fried heaven were my favorite thing on the table!  Dip them in bbq sauce, hot sauce, or eat them plain.

Chicken and dumplings

 This is as if your grandma’s chicken noodle soup had the texture of velvet and the noodles were made of lard. Truly a standout. The savory, comforting flavor of chicken broth is like liquid gold. The dumplings are warm, doughy pillows that dissolve almost the moment they touch your tongue.  Unctuous and generously hand cut.  I miss those dumplings.

Baked beans

These beans are CLEARLY not canned. Toothsome and hearty, stewed with smoky bits of pork and lots of brown sugar.  Sweet, smoky, and salty, these beans are an outstanding partner for those awesome hush puppies.

I would recommend Hog Heaven to any Yankee coming down south for the first time. It’s not quite up to Allen and Sons standards, but it’s cheap, it’s fast, and its so amazingly delicious for someone who has never before had real bbq.

That weekend I went to the wedding…I guess my college friend and I BOTH found true love. 

Easy Slow Cooker Pulled Pork

This is one of those “is it even a recipe?” posts.

But, if you didn’t grow up loving the slow cooker as another sister, then maybe you don’t know phenomenal it is!

Slow cookers are the best. They transform cheap cuts of meat into downright luxurious meals. You can start it in the morning and by the time you get home at night, dinner is already made. It’s heralded in the winter, when it can make hearty boeuf bourguignon and creamy soups, but it’s great in the summer too.

For those of us who don’t have grills, don’t want to make smokers, or are just plain old lazy…

it can make some pretty kick ass pulled pork.

The key here is to use a bbq sauce that you really like – it does all of the seasoning work for you. Also be sure to cut the pork into pieces, which helps it cook faster.

Because I NEVER start this early enough in the morning. It’s a cheater step.

Easy Crockpot Pulled Pork

2013-06-22 pix1Ingredients:

1 lb. boneless pork loin or roast, cut into 4 or 5 pieces

12 oz. your favorite bbq sauce

1 onion, cut into quarters

2 whole garlic cloves

1/2 habanero (optional)

pix 0541. Put all ingredients into the crockpot.
pix 0552. Be sure to mix it around so the ingredients all get sauced, then set it on low and let it cook for about 7 hours.

asian din 004

You will know it is done when the meat shreds easily with two forks, the onions are meltingly tender, and the fat pulls easily away from the meat.

asian din 012

3. Pull the meat with 2 forks, boil the leftover sauce  (there will be a lot more than what you started with) in a pot on the stove until it thickens (maybe 10 minutes), and mix with the shredded meat. 
yet more pictyuhz 0544. Taste for seasonings and serve.

This makes the best sandwich filling. It’s soft and juicy with a very faint echo of bite – the cooking really mellows out that habanero.  I never trim the fat, and it just melts beautifully into the juicy meat. Piled high on a potato roll, topped with coleslaw, I can’t think of anything more delicious.

yet more pictyuhz 056Except a second sandwich.

Wood Planked BBQ Salmon

As summer draws to a close, so does salmon season, and thus my participation in the Fresh Catch Crew. For my last post about wonderful, wild Copper River Salmon, this time Coho salmon, I chose a recipe that is simple and incredibly precise. This isn’t one where you can substitute ingredients or techniques. This isn’t a “play along as you will” recipe. The ingredients must be followed to the letter. But follow these instructions and you will be rewarded with what may be my favorite salmon dish to date.

Wood Planked BBQ Salmon

Ingredients:

1 lb. Coho Salmon Fillet.

*Coho salmon is some of the mildest, fattiest salmon there is. It has an extremely lush texture and because of its fat content, it is very forgiving if it is cooked a bit too long. This is the salmon to start people on who are scared of eating fish.*

Wood Plank, soaked overnight.

*This is where the salmon gets its earthy, smoky flavor. The plank lends the fish a very deep, woodsy flavor that is almost akin to being grilled or smoked outside. It is also useful for chicken or beef, and comes in varieties like ceder or alder. Each wood lends a slightly different taste to the fish as it cooks.  Be sure to soak it overnight before using it in the oven.*

Island Delight Hawaaiian BBQ Sauce

*The perfect BBQ sauce for salmon. Sweet enough to counteract the salmon’s natural salinity, savory enough to work with the cedar plank, and tangy enough to add brightness to the fish. This is not too salty or smoky and is the only bbq sauce that I have found that compliments the fish versus overpowering it. Buy it here if you have to. It is just that spectacular. And they have not paid me to say this…this is just the way that it is.*

1. Preheat your oven to 350F and put the plank on a tinfoiled baking sheet in the oven as it preheats. As the plank warms up, an intoxicating woodsy scent should fill the kitchen. Take it out after the oven has totally preheated.

2. Place the salmon skin side down on the warm cedar plank and pour the sauce over the flesh.

Really slather the sauce on there. Get it all over the fish.

3. Bake for 20 minutes or until the thickest part of the salmon is almost completely opaque.

4. Serve.

This is so easy to enjoy, even kids will clamour for it. It isn’t subtle or gourmet, but it is undeniably tasty. Moist, tender salmon cloaked in a sweet and tangy bbq sauce that caramelizes at the edges and makes a sticky sauce on the top. finally, a soft but definite layer of smoke anchors the salmon, erasing any trace of fishiness, rendering it perfect for a side of sweet potatoes, green beans, or corn on the cob.

Salmon season is almost over, so don’t miss your last chance for a year to enjoy this wonderful dish!

And don’t even THINK about messing with the ingredients…I will know…

Disclaimer: I was given the coho salmon as a sample. I am not being monetarily compensated for my opinions or recipes. 

Ninth Avenue International Food Festival

The Ninth Avenue Food International Festival is, in many ways, the same as any old NYC street fair.

The throngs of people, the dollar socks, the flabby and tasteless mozzarepas. But, there are hidden gems in this street fair, where the best of ninth Avenue’s eateries set up booths and offer some really delicious food.

Empanada Mama

This 24 hour restaurant on Ninth Avenue is always packed and now I know why! The beef empanada was one of the best things that I ate all day.

A thick and flaky dough encases shredded beef, tender and so juicy that it drips down your chin in fluorescent orange. Smoky cumin, sharp garlic, and sweet onions all mingle with that unmistakably hearty flavor of beef brisket and makes this filling but far less greasy than you might think. I can’t wait to go back here and do a full review on this place!

Dalton’s

This nondescript bar that I have only frequented once (and then, only for the cheap vodka tonics) had the best pork offering of the day. This roast pig sandwich was delicious.

Crispy shards of skin surrounding succulent, sweet pork meat, all served on a squishy potato bun. Topped with sweet and spicy BBQ sauce (thankfully, no overpowering liquid smoke here), this is everything that you could want in a BBQ sandwich, except coleslaw. When you see this stand at the festival, run there, dont’ walk. And get two.

Red’s Hot Dogs

Get the specialty pork and beef sausage and watch it get grilled until it is charred and snappy outside, juicy and hearty inside. Choose from one of their many choices, like the banh mi or the baked potato dog, or top it yourself. The toppings here are free, even the premium ones, like a spicy, meaty chili and sweet sauteed onions.

This is one of the best hot dogs I have had in a while, and will gladly seek them out year after year. They frequent other street fairs during th year, so be sure not to miss them!

Millie’s Pierogies

What good polish girl can resist a pierogi? These are best when stuffed with sauerkraut, which is shockingly complex.

Not just sour, the kraut is also a little sweet and floral with juniper berry. Enased in rich, chewy dough and dipped in cool sour cream, it reminds me of dinners of my youth. Next time, I would absolutely try a steamed kilbasa topped with more of that sauerkraut.

Pure Thai Cookhouse

This is why this fair is so important to restaurants. I have been to Pure Thai before, and liked but didn’t love it. Now, I am determined to go back.

The BBQ Beef Buns were juicy and complex, with star anise, coriander, and ginger in the soft meat. Served in a sticky, fluffy bun and topped with tangy carrots and fragrant cilantro, this was a totally satisfying bite. I could have eaten 6 of these. Even better were the Thai Sausages and Sticky Rice.

The sausages, grilled and served with sweetly caramelized onions, were sweet, spicy, and pleasantly sticky. The rice was the perfect antitode to the incendiary sauce, pungent with fish sauce and hot with chiles. The umami punches never stopped coming with this dish, and my sister and I fought over the last of it. This was an unbelievable duo of dishes – though they aren’t on their regular menu, they convinced me to give Pure another try.

And if none of these looked good, you can always go for one of these:

After all, a corncake stuffed with fake cheese and cheap chorizo never hurt anyone.

Chipotle-Plum Brisket

It’s no secret that I love brisket. After all, I’m Jewish – if you are a Jew who doesn’t like brisket, you better be prepared for a lot of shame and guilt.

You know, more than the normal kind.

A classic Jewish recipe for brisket involves tsimmis – cooking it low and slow for hours with prunes, carrots, onions, and potatoes until it falls apart in tender shreds, ready to be eaten with a spoon. Though I love that sweet and sour sauce, it lacks heat and depth for me. That is where this brisket idea came from – part Jewish, part Mexican, and entirely delicious. As a bonus, it can be made in advance and served room temperature. All you need is time, a food processor, and an appetite.

Chiptole-Plum Brisket

Ingredients:

7 lbs. brisket (with fat cap attached)

7 oz. chipotle Tabasco sauce

2 cups prunes

1 bottle dark beer

3/4 cup water

5 oz. tomato paste

4 Tbps. of salt, or to taste

1. Add 5 oz. of Tabasco sauce to the prunes in your food processor and take the brisket out to get it to room temperature.

2. Pulse until the prunes form a thick paste. Also, preheat your oven to 250F.

3. Add the beer and stir to liquefy a bit. Add the salt here, too.

4. Place the brisket in the roasting pan, fat side up, and spread the marinade all over and under the brisket. You want it covering every surface of the meat. 

5. Now, add the water, and 

put it in the oven, tightly covered, for about 45 minutes per pound. 

6. When the brisket comes out of the oven, let it rest for an hour uncovered. Meanwhile, take the roasting pan juices…

and put them in a stockpot. 

7. Add the tomato paste and the rest of the tabasco sauce, and allow the mixture to boil for about half an hour, or until it becomes thick and syrupy, like BBQ sauce.

8. Taste it and add more chipotle Tabasco if it needs more heat (be careful – the heat will intensify as it sits, so if you aren’t serving this right away, wait until serving to season it).

9. When the brisket has cooled enough to handle, slice it against the grain into thin strips. Cut off the fat cap if people you are serving don’t like it (I love it!)

Be sure to save all of that sweet and smoky marinade to top off the slices!

10. Pour off the gravy onto the brisket, then put it in the fridge to store or serve it immediately. To reheat before serving, simply place it in a 300F, covered with tinfoil, oven for 1 hour. 

This brisket is so much more than tasty. It is meat at its most primal – deep, zesty, a little sweet, and incredibly savory. It carries the smoky taste of the Chipotle Tabasco with the sweet and sour flavors of tsimmis. The reduced cooking liquid means that the brisket is fork tender without falling apart, and the fat cap melts as it cooks, enriching the meat. The spice becomes intense as it sits, but doesn’t turn hot or burning. This is something that even a spice wimp could handle. With some of that thick BBQ sauce ladled over it and some grilled onions, this is a hearty and satisfying sandwich that is as delicious the night you make it as it is cold for breakfast the next day. Try it with potato salad or some Mexican influenced slaw.

Is it any wonder that I love brisket?

*Disclaimer: I was compensated for this recipe by Tabasco*

Harlon’s BBQ at IAH (Houston Intercontinental Airport)

When I’m on a layover between flights, I have bad habits. I apply makeup in public. I put my feet on the airport chairs opposite me. And I routinely try airport restaurants that disappoint me in an effort to get some indigenous flavor in the terminal.

Harlon’s BBQ is one of the few eateries in Houston’s Intercontinental Airport (Terminal B) that is not a chain restaurant. Though I love a Chili’s or some McNuggets as much as you do, I just couldn’t make myself go there when I was in Texas, the BBQ brisket capital of the world.

I walked up to the counter, where hot links and a slab of juicy looking brisket waited, placed my order, and was served quickly and courteously. The sandwich and coleslaw are a little pricey at $10, but as far as airport pricing goes, it isn’t insane.

BBQ Brisket Sandwich

I want to like this. Nay, I want to LOVE it. I have heard all my life how great Texas brisket is, and as a brisket lover from way back, I was sure this would be up my alley.

It wasn’t.

The beef here is stringy and tough, with fat that is neither soft and melty nor crisp and rendered. It is just sort of flabby and crunches oddly between the teeth. The beef itself is not tender and falling apart, as brisket should be, and tastes steamed rather than smoked. The bread is far too cottony and substantial, and it is dry rather than being laden with delicious beefy juices. The bbq sauce is the sandwich’s sole redeeming point – piquant, sweet, and tangy.

Coleslaw

This is some excellent coleslaw – crunchy, cooling and pleasantly dressed in mayo without being doused in it. Adding some to the beef made the sandwich slightly better, but it shouldn’t be up to coleslaw to do that.

I wanted to love Harlon’s. I still want to – it is Texan BBQ in Texas, for crying out loud! But I can’t in all good faith recommend this eatery. Sad to say, you would be better off eating a Big Mac, maybe with a side of Harlon’s great coleslaw.

And I am still awaiting my first euphoric Texan brisket.

Jim’s Famous BBQ – Pork, North Carolina Style

If you walk into a parking lot and there is a portable pig smoker in the lot, go directly into the establishment to which the smoker belongs.
Even if it looks like a run down Applebees.
Jim’s Famous BBQ hasn’t received any James Beard Awards. It hasn’t been touted on any blogs, and even the Yelp reviews are middling. Yet, something about the pig smoker outside mixed with the senior citizens and men with trucker hats eating inside told me that this was some serious BBQ. People here don’t come out to eat for no reason…they can get this food anywhere. For them to come here, the BBQ might be sort of great…
 Chopped BBQ Pork with Baked Beans, Coleslaw and Hush Puppies
Next to Allen and Sons, the best pork of the trip. Though chopped a bit too fine (I prefer pork with a bit more chew), there is a full, rich flavor. It has that wonderful smoky taste – pleasantly bitter, like great espresso.
When pork is that fresh and pure, a bit of a harsh note is a good thing to mix up the tastes. The coleslaw is vinegary and the beans are outstanding – thick, sweet, and spicy with hunks of green pepper and caramelized onions. It is not too thick or goopy as baked beans can often be. The hush puppies are a little hard and dry, but the (unpictured) potato salad might have been the best side of my trip. Thick quarters of tender red potatoes in a very peppery, slightly mayonnaise-y dressing. It is just great with that tender, hot sauce laced pork. 
Full Rack of BBQ Ribs (Wet)
My mom and sister split this…
Guess they liked it. 
Plain old BBQ, served with a smile and (for North Carolina) quickly. Inexpensive but so satisfying. So glad I followed my own rule about seeing mobile pig cookers. 
One more fast rule: if someone gives you fries loaded with bacon and fried eggs…eat them.

Smithfield’s – A Fast Food BBQ Stop

Who the heck goes to a fast food place on vacation?
Me. And you, if you know what’s good for you. How sad if you never got a double double from In-n-Out. Or a Blizzard from Dairy Queen
Or a plate of BBQ from Smithfield’s Chicken and BBQ
 Smithfield’s is a North Carolina fast food chain featuring classic southern dishes like fried chicken, hush puppies, BBQ pork, and sweet tea. It’s a fast food place, but more in the vein of Chick-Fil-A than McDonald’s – complimentary coffee, pristine bathrooms, and employees who refill your beverages. 
We aren’t in NYC anymore, Toto. 
Large BBQ Plate with Pork Coleslaw, Potato Salad, and Hush Puppies
This is where I could tell that it was a fast food place. This pork was a little dry and extremely mushy – it dissolved in my mouth unpleasantly, and was left a bit cottony by too much time steaming in a pile under a heat lamp. Lashings of the very vinegary and peppery hot sauce went a long way to helping the pork. The potato salad, on the other hand, was outstanding -mustardy, with a mashed consistency and an oddly sweet taste that doubtless came from pickled relish. It worked well with the clean flavor of the chopped slaw and the serviceable, if unremarkable, hush puppies. 
Banana Pudding
A plastic cup full of sweet, creamy, incredibly banana-y banana pudding was the perfect ending to this roadtrip stop.
Smithfield’s ain’t the best BBQ I ever tried. But it is undeniably where the locals eat – the place was packed the whole time we were there. It is cheap, it is clean, the service is unbelievably congenial, and it is such a kick to eat at indigenous fast food places. 
And even so-so BBQ in NC is better than the best BBQ in NYC