Archive for Brooklyn

Lunch at Mimi’s Hummus

Most rainy days find me curled up on my couch, watching TV or flipping through the pages of a magazine in order to avoid the terrible weather outside. But during last Saturday’s torrential downpour, I actually left the apartment, for a very important reason: My dear friend Rachel was taking me out for a belated birthday lunch at Mimi’s Hummus in Ditmas Park, Brooklyn. This tiny Israeli-inspired restaurant, with its warm orange walls and high ceilings, has received much positive attention lately, and I couldn’t wait to try it. Even the driving rain and high winds couldn’t keep me away.

We started with much-needed cups of hot mint and sage tea ($1.50), and snacked on complimentary olives and pickles while deciding what to order from chef Mimi Kitani’s varied menu. Five types of hummus with intriguing toppings such as mushrooms, tahini, and ground beef with pine nuts made it difficult to choose just one. But we finally settled on the fava bean version ($8), and ordered a basket of whole wheat and white pita bread to accompany it.

As soon as the hummus arrived, Rachel and I tore off bits of pita from the soft, pillowy rolls and eagerly scooped away at the spread. Creamy, light, and silky smooth, the hummus was simply amazing. The warm fava bean stew, nestled into the center of the spread, added an extra layer of richness, and I was so enthralled with the dish’s texture that I barely noticed the delicate lemon garlic dressing.

Next we split the shakshuka eggs, a piping hot, bubbling pan of eggs, tomatoes, red peppers, and spices such as turmeric and cumin ($9.50). It reminded me of a more fiery, Middle Eastern version of the Eggs in Purgatory I made a few weeks ago. Once again we put the pita bread to good use, swiping away at the sides of the cast iron pan so that none of the eggs or the deep, yolk-infused sauce went to waste. A crunchy Israeli salad, with cucumbers, tomatoes, and herbs, added a cool freshness to our meal as well ($5).

As Rachel and I chatted and sipped more tea, our waitress asked if we’d like dessert. After a moment of surprise—we had been so engrossed in our food and conversation that we hadn’t considered it—we went with the mysterious punchim ($3). Crushed chocolate graham crackers coated with coconut, these punchim were soft, buttery balls of chocolate decadence.

We took a peek at Market, the adorable food shop next door that is also run by Mimi’s owners. A quick tour revealed Brooklyn favorites such as McClure’s Pickles and Brooklyn Brine Co., as well as an array of Middle Eastern ingredients, specialty cheeses, and cured meats. Later, as I walked to the subway in the growing storm, I realized I was already thinking about my next visit to Mimi’s. Even if it’s raining again, I have four more types of hummus to try.

Mimi’s Hummus, 1209 Cortelyou Road between Westminster Road and East 13th Street in Ditmas Park, Brooklyn. T: 718-284-4444. Market is located right next door, at 1211 Cortelyou Road.

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Artisanal Junk Food: Roberta’s and Bark

Last weekend was all about the junk food: pizza and hot dogs, I am sorry to say. Now, before you get all upset about my unhealthy gluttony, can I explain that said junk food was made from primarily local and seasonal ingredients? That the purveyors were true artisans who cared deeply about their high-quality hot dogs and pizza? After all, transforming once lowbrow food items into more gourmet fare—such as the fried chicken craze currently storming the city—is certainly the trend right now. If you don’t believe me, just take a look at what we sampled last weekend:

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Roberta’s
Jim and I began our weekend on Friday night at Roberta’s in still-gentrifying (yet very hip) Bushwick, Brooklyn. Open only since January 2008, Roberta’s immediately garnered attention for its pizza topped with high-quality, seasonal ingredients in unique flavor combinations. Its young owners Carlo Mirarchi, Chris Parachini, and Brandon Hoy even shipped a wood-burning oven back from Italy in their quest to make a great pie; it occupies the front of the long, warehouse-like space. Although the menu has gradually expanded to offer more refined items such as hen of the woods mushrooms and orecchiette with duck ragu (Roberta’s now offers a fried chicken platter as well), Jim and I were there for the pizza. But in a concession to slightly healthier eating, we started with the kale salad. The deep-green, curly leaves were adorned with thick chunks of guanciale, sweet pickled onions, and pecorino cheese that packed a flavorful punch with each bite ($9). For our pies we decided to stick with the house-suggested flavors instead of creating our own combination of toppings. I selected the RPS, which came with creamy mozzarella, tomato, roasted red peppers, and soppressata, while Jim ordered the Crispy Glover, a pie covered with tomato, taleggio cheese, guanciale, onion, breadcrumbs, and pepperoncini oil (both $14). We both found the flavor combinations a little too strong overall—in particular, the red peppers on my pie overwhelmed all other flavors, and Jim’s guanciale was burned—but we agreed that the crust was practically perfect. Light and crispy, with just the right amount of char at the edges, it was the best part of our pies (gourmet toppings included). 261 Moore Street at Bogart Street in Bushwick, Brooklyn. T: 718-417-1118

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Bark Hot Dogs
The next day we finally tried the artisanal hot dogs at Bark Hot Dogs in Park Slope. Made from a combination of pork and beef by Hartmann’s Old World Sausages in the Finger Lakes, and basted with smoked lard and butter, these were some serious wieners. Owners Jeff Sharkey (formerly of Cafe Grey) and Brandon Gillis (formerly of Franny’s) have put their personal touch on every aspect of the place, from the house-made toppings to the recycled wood tables. As at Roberta’s, instead of choosing my own toppings I let Bark guide me: I started my lunch with the Pickle Dog, which was covered with house pickles, mustard, and mayonnaise ($5.50). The tart toppings didn’t obscure the light, almost sweet flavors inside these snappily cased sausages. Jim and I also split the NYC Classic Dog with mustard and sweet and sour onions, while Jim’s Bark Dog came with sweet pepper relish, mustard, and onion (both $4.75). Each delicately flavored hot dog paired wonderfully with the Bark-suggested toppings, and I was grateful that I didn’t strike out on my own. The onion rings, on the other hand, were a bit of a disappointment. Coated with too much batter, I was left searching for the onions within ($3 for a small order). As a quick side note, I did find the list of food and beverage sources on each table a bit precious. I am all for organic, locally farmed produce and free-range meat, but putting this extensive list on repeated display seemed like overkill to me. But damn, those dogs were good. 474 Bergen Street at Flatbush Avenue, in Park Slope, Brooklyn. T: 718-789-1939

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Nunu Chocolates and a Bridal Shower

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A maid of honor has numerous responsibilities. Some are emotional, such as keeping the bride calm and radiant on one of the most special days of her life. Others are more practical, like making sure all of the other bridesmaids are wearing the same color shoes. (Yes, it really does matter.) But perhaps the most crucial maid of honor responsibility is hosting a kick-ass bridal shower. A few weeks ago, I threw one for my younger sister Melissa, who is getting married in August.

For the favors, I turned to Justine Pringle of Nunu Chocolates in Brooklyn. I knew these handmade chocolates, with their creative fillings and shapes, from tasting them at the Brooklyn Flea last year. Pringle opened her own shop on Atlantic Avenue a few months ago, and that’s where I met her to discuss the favors. Tall, blonde, and extremely friendly, she asked me several questions about the upcoming wedding, my sister’s sense of style, and her wedding colors. We looked at different colored gift boxes and quickly came up with a plan for the package design. I knew within minutes that I had chosen the right person to create something special for my sister.

While I was originally interested in using Nunu’s chocolates because they tasted so delicious, I was also attracted to the story behind them. The chocolate ganaches, caramels, and other chocolate products at Nunu are totally natural, made from cocoa beans procured directly from a sustainable farm in Eastern Colombia. Being environmentally conscious has always been a strong theme in Pringle’s life, as she has a degree in Environmental Management and Technology, and worked in environmental waste management before turning to chocolate. Looking for unique merchandise to sell at husband Andy Laird’s music concerts, she studied at the Ecole Chocolat and started making chocolates. They soon became popular in their own right, and Nunu Chocolates was born.

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For my sister’s favors, Pringle and I selected four different chocolates that demonstrated a wide range of Nunu’s flavors. I was immediately attracted to the salt caramels, whose gooey caramel center combined perfectly with the rich chocolate and crunchy salt on the exterior. The festive prosecco ganache was entirely appropriate for an Italian-American themed shower, while the floral earl grey and sweet organic raspberry ganaches calmly closed the day’s festivities. Unique and tasty, they were coveted by everyone who came to the shower.

Pringle will soon build a beer and wine bar, as well as a production kitchen, at her Atlantic Avenue shop. I can’t wait to stop by and relax with a selection of chocolates and a nice glass of wine, perhaps after Melissa’s wedding later this summer. Until then, a maid of honor’s work is never done.

Nunu Chocolates, 529 Atlantic Avenue, between 3rd and 4th Avenues, in Brooklyn. T: 917-776-7102. Check the website for ordering information and other locations that sell Nunu Chocolates.

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Lobsters from the Red Hook Lobster Pound

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Red Hook, Brooklyn, is known for its shipyards, rickety docks, and longshoremen. But lobster? I’ve heard good things about the lobster rolls at Fairway, but local residents Ralph Gorham and his wife Susan Povich are taking these coveted crustaceans to another level, with their newly-opened Red Hook Lobster Pound on Van Brunt Street. 

The concept behind the Lobster Pound is a bit unusual, even for the most rabid food enthusiast: Gorham drives up to southern Maine (to towns such as Kittery and Wells) on Thursdays, and trucks back iced cratefuls of live lobsters for the weekend. He purchases them directly from local fishermen, right out of the Maine seawater. By the time Gorham returns to Red Hook, the lobsters have only been out of the water for 5 to 6 hours. Upon arrival at the shop, they are immediately transferred to Gorham’s personally-crafted lobster tanks. He worked with a biologist to mimic Maine seawater through the addition of elements like salt and crushed coral, and maintains a water temperature of 38 degrees. 

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It’s obvious within minutes of meeting Gorham that the Lobster Pound is a labor of love. He describes the long drive to Maine as relaxing, and recounts how he used to go lobstering for fun while spending time at his wife’s home there. While he recently realized he could turn his hobby into a money-making endeavor, Gorham stresses that he does his best to bring down just enough lobsters to fill the weekly orders, so that waste of extra lobsters is prevented. This is why it’s best to place orders by Thursday for the upcoming weekend, before Gorham makes the trip to Maine and starts purchasing them. The shop opens for pick-ups on Friday, and closes when the lobsters are sold out.

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When Jim and I asked for advice on how we should cook the two 1-1/2 pound lobsters we had ordered, Gorham told us just to steam them in 4 inches of salted water for 6 to 8 minutes. Before we left, he packed up some Maine seaweed for us, and told us to use just a bit of it in place of sea salt.

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I won’t bore you with the details of our lobster cooking escapade on Saturday night; let’s just say it involved a lot of fearful cringing, a pair of tongs, and a few minutes of remorse while the lobsters quickly steamed in a big white pot on our stovetop. But once we sat down to eat them with just a bit of melted butter on the side, it was a different story. Sadness turned to joy as we ate bite after bite of the freshest lobster I’ve ever had in New York. And that seaweed made all the difference, imparting just the right amount of sea-salt flavor to the clean, savory meat. I’m not sure I can make a habit of this—lobsters are always a bit of a splurge, and our two guys cost $30 all together (about $9.50 a pound)—but Gorham recently received permits to sell lobster rolls straight out of the shop, as well as at the Brooklyn Bridge Flea. Sorry Fairway, but I’m getting my lobster at the Pound.

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The Red Hook Lobster Pound, 284 Van Brunt Street between Visitation Place and Verona Street. T: 646-326-7650. It’s best to place your orders by phone or email (redhooklobster[at]gmail.com) by Thursday. Prices change weekly. Check the website for updates.

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Farmers’ Market Find: Mushrooms from Madura Farms

A few weeks ago I sent Jim to the Carroll Gardens farmers’ market by himself. I don’t remember why I didn’t go with him; I was probably busy cleaning the apartment or getting ready to run somewhere else that Sunday morning. In any case, when Jim returned to the apartment, laden down with various bags and packages, he had quite a surprise for me. Take a look:

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He had picked up two gorgeous and ruffled mushroom pom-poms—oyster at the left side of the photo and maitake at the right, to be exact—from the new Madura Farms mushroom stand at the market. Together they cost about $13. I had wanted to write about them earlier this month, but it took me until this past weekend to stroll by the market and chat with the vendors myself. Within a few minutes, I learned that Madura Farms cultivates these mushrooms on their farm in Goshen, New York, and sells many other varieties such as button, shiitake, and portobello. Afterwards I wanted to kick myself for not specifically asking how Madura’s mushrooms are grown, but Under the BQE describes how the farm raises its various fungi in mushroom “houses,” and that they are farmed in tune with organic practices. At least someone around here is doing their research!

I found these mushrooms almost too beautiful to cook; I wanted to admire them for every angle, indefinitely. But we finally decided to break them apart, piece by piece. We sautéed them in olive oil with just a bit of salt and pepper, and added them to one of our famous homemade pizzas with some spicy sausage from Esposito’s. As predicted by the folks at the Madura farm stand, these massive mushrooms cooked down significantly, and we were left with just the right amount for our pie. 

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The meaty texture and smoky flavors of the two mammoth shrooms paired well with the pie’s fiery sausage, creamy mozzarella, and slightly sweet, whole-wheat crust. With every bite, Jim and I tried to ferret out the mushrooms from the meat, enjoying each element on its own and then together. Jim determined that the maitake was his favorite of the two, as he enjoyed its nutty, full flavors more than the milder oyster mushroom.

In retrospect, I doubt I would have picked up those imposing mushrooms if I went to the market on my own; in many ways I am not as adventurous as my husband. Perhaps I should send him to the market alone more often. Who knows what he will bring home next?

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Anselmo’s Pizza

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On Friday night Jim and I drove over to Red Hook to check out Anselmo’s, Brooklyn’s newest coal-oven pizzeria and contender in the local pizza wars. With opponents like Lucali’s and South Brooklyn Pizza in Carroll Gardens, there’s currently some fierce competition in the neighborhood. We wondered if this highly anticipated spot could hold its own in the gritty artisanal pizza bracket.

Anselmo’s is simply decorated and well-lit, with some small improvements—such as the wall hangings and exposed lighting—still in progress. Small tables line the left side of the room, while a bar along the right provides additional seating and leads to the coal-burning oven at the back. The attractive wood floor is actually constructed from old ceiling beams found in the space. Pizzaiolo Anselmo Garcia and his family bought the building intending to turn it into a bakery, but after finding the pre-existing brick oven, they shifted their dough-related plans to include tomato sauce and mozzarella. From what I tasted, they made the right choice.

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Pies come in two sizes, the 14-inch ($14) and the 10-inch ($6). Calzones are also on the menu. Extra cheese, vegetable, and meat toppings, as well as some changing daily specials, are available ($1.75 per topping on a large pie). Jim and I ordered a 14-inch pie and loaded it up: hot peppers and cherry tomatoes for him, artichokes for me (of course). Anselmo’s is awaiting approval for BYOB privileges, so at the moment the only drink options are fountain sodas. 

The first thing we noticed as we bit into our pie is that Anselmo’s produces a deliciously saucy and slightly spicy slice. Creamy, fresh mozzarella tempers the heat, with slivers of fresh basil as welcome accents. Jim and I both enjoyed our toppings, but after a few bites, we turned our attention to the crust.

Coal-burning ovens are notoriously difficult to control—look at the criticism South Brooklyn Pizza received about the intense char on its first coal-fired pies and the problems once faced by Lucali’s with its wood-fired oven—but our pie was expertly cooked, with just the slightest amount of char on the crust. As for thickness, the crust on Anselmo’s pies is not very thin nor too thick. Unfortunately, it winds up in the non-distinct middle, with somewhat of an identity crisis. I am sure that with some time, Garcia will figure out the ideal thickness, but a decision needs to be made. Apart from this issue, these pies definitely show promise.

If I had to choose, I’d say that Lucali’s is still the hands-down champion in the Carroll Gardens/Red Hook pizza challenge. But Anselmo’s, with its distinct brand of pie and family feel, is an up-and-coming opponent. Lucali’s and South Brooklyn Pizza better keep their eyes on this young upstart.

Anselmo’s, 354 Van Brunt Street in Red Hook, Brooklyn. T: 718-313-0169. Anselmo’s does not deliver and is cash only. It is closed from 5 to 6 pm so that the oven can be cleaned.

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Dinner at Prime Meats

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There’s a powerful duo transforming Carroll Gardens these days. The partners in crime sport beards, are known simply as “the Franks,” and are opening restaurants left and right on Court Street. If you haven’t figured it out by now, I’m talking about neighborhood wonder twins Frank Castronovo and Frank Falcinelli, the owners of local Italian favorite Frankies 457 Spuntino. With the recent openings of Prime Meats and the Viennese-themed Cafe Pedlar, a soon-to-open retail store, and plans for Delightful Coffee Shop in Red Hook, the Franks have casually built a Brooklyn empire over just a few months.

None of these new projects has aroused more curiosity than Prime Meats. Although it will eventually operate as a full-scale restaurant, the smaller bar room opened a few months ago as a sort of underground speakeasy, serving Prohibition Era style drinks that Jim adores (his favorite is the absinthe-fueled Sazerac). I’m not much of a cocktail person, so while I’ve enjoyed hanging out among Prime Meats’s exposed brick walls, beautiful pressed tin ceiling, and dark wood bar for the past few weeks, what I’ve really been waiting for is the food. When we heard that the gas was finally turned on last week, Jim and I excitedly walked over to sample the abbreviated Germanic-themed menu.

As at Frankies, Prime Meats lets simple, high-quality ingredients speak for themselves, albeit with a focus on Central Europe. Even the wine and beer menu reflects this regional slant, with German beer and Alsatian, German, and Austrian wines. An abundant salad of raw red cabbage, lightly seasoned with lemon, balsamic vinegar, and sunflower oil, and crunching with walnuts, was a refreshing start to our meal ($7). Jim indulged in the säkrüt garnie, an overflowing platter of pork belly, kassler, and smoky sausages served with potatoes on a bed of tart sauerkraut ($14). I hadn’t seen this much pig on a plate since our vacation in Alsace eight years ago. Prime Meats plans to make its own sausages—the new kitchen at the back of the restaurant will be equipped for on-site butchering—but the wursts are currently procured from experts in Yorkville, Manhattan’s once primarily German neighborhood.

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I went with the Hungarian style pork gulyas, a peppery, tomato-infused pork stew served with a side of buttery, creamy, herb-infused spätzle ($12). Did I mention that the spätzle were buttery? Topped with friend onions, they were wonderfully decadent and authentic, better than some that I’ve tasted in Germany. We’ll have to make another trip to try the weisswurst ($9), the homemade pretzel with Bavarian mustard ($3), and the desserts (currently limited to a selection of artisanal cheeses).

Once the main restaurant opens in a few months, the menu will expand with more similarly-themed Central European selections, as well as additional vegetarian options. If the Franks are indeed building an empire, I am more than happy to live in it—as long as I am guaranteed a table at their restaurants.

Prime Meats, 465 Court Street  in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn. T: 718-254-0327

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