Posts tagged Red Hook

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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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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Back in Business at the Red Hook Ball Fields

For the past few summers that we’ve lived in Carroll Gardens, Sundays have found Jim and me working up our appetites at the nearby Red Hook public pool. After an hour or so of splashing around in the water, we’d move to the ball fields across the street and enjoy a lunch of fresh, authentic, cheap tacos and pupusas from the local Latin American vendors lining the sidewalks. Smoke would billow from under the tents as the vendors cooked their wares on large portable grills and kept the crowds moving as quickly as possible.

As many New Yorkers know, the vendors got off to a late start this year due to a prolonged struggle with the city’s Department of Health. Finally the necessary permits were obtained and the vendors started operating from the mandated trucks two weeks ago. Yesterday Jim and I walked over to the ball fields after our swim to eat some huaraches and see how things have changed. 

The move from cooking under the tents to inside the trucks has altered the atmosphere more than we anticipated. Long, slow-moving lines snaked down the block, as Jim and I waited at least 40 minutes to order our food. Granted, the huarache truck seemed to be the most popular, but gone are the days of gobbling a pupusa at a picnic table and going back for more; now that would require another interminable wait. Instead I saw many people eating corn on the cob with queso while waiting in line to place orders for something else. The vendors simply don’t have as much room to cook in the small trucks as they did under the tents, causing slower service.

Although the lines were long, the scene was quiet and not as festive as previous summers. I missed the mingling aromas of pork, chicken, and beef coming off the grills, and watching my food being cooked in front of me. I missed strolling down the ball field’s sidewalks and feeling like I could sample a pupusa or a taco on a whim. But apart from the bittersweet sentiment of the situation, it’s the vendors who have suffered most of all, having to invest in expensive equipment and losing 2 months of business. In Jim’s words, something that was a neighborhood tradition has become a bureaucratic mess.

On a positive note, the new changes haven’t changed the quality of the food. Jim loved his huarache filled with pork, while I enjoyed my version with chicken ($6 each). The meat was still delicately seasoned, spilling out of its delicate corn shell with fresh, cool tomatoes, lettuce, and crumbly queso. At least some things in life are consistent. And they might as well be huaraches.

The Red Hook Ball Fields, located at the corner of Clinton Street and Bay Street in Red Hook, Brooklyn

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Neighborhood Newcomers: South Brooklyn Pizza and Annabelle’s

After a quiet winter of culinary openings, spring has sprung several restaurants here in Brooklyn. So before Jim and I received our first CSA shipment on Saturday and became inundated with fresh vegetables, we ventured out into our neighborhood last week to see how these upstarts measured up.

South Brooklyn Pizza

South Brooklyn Pizza: Located in the space adjacent to popular neighborhood pub P.J. Hanley’s, Carroll Gardens’ newest coal oven pizza joint opened about a month ago. Both locales are owned by real estate developer Jim McGown, who is also South Brooklyn’s pizza maker. Ten minutes after Jim and I sat down at our table, our oblong, thin crust pies arrived on individual wood planks ($12). In addition to a sauce of San Marzano tomatoes, a sprinkling of fresh basil, and an ample amount of olive oil, South Brooklyn’s pies are topped with a mix of mozzarella, fontina, parmesan, and asiago cheeses. The four cheese combination creates an almost salty mix of flavors nicely tempered by the less assertive tomatoes and olive oil. Toppings are not offered, although they are supposedly in development. The crust on our pies was thin, light, and crispy, with little char to be found. Despite the lack of ambiance in its dimly lit dining room, South Brooklyn has some fine pizza to offer, and I’m certain I’ll be back when I’m in need of a quality pizza fix and don’t feel like waiting on line at Lucali’s. Thank goodness it’s right around the corner from my apartment. 451 Court Street between 4th Place and Luquer Street in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn  T: 718-852-6018

Lobster Roll at Annabelle\'s

Annabelle’s: The Red Hook IKEA opens on Wednesday, surely bringing more foot and car traffic to Red Hook’s often desolate streets. Perhaps banking on this influx of shoppers, chef Neil Ganic has opened Annabelle’s, a new restaurant/bar in the old Lillie’s space (which happens to be right across the street from the blue and yellow behemoth). Befitting a chef known for the seafood spots La Bouillabaisse and Petite Crevette, Annabelle’s casual menu of soups, salads, sandwiches, and entrees leans heavily towards offerings from the sea. Jim bypassed the fish this time around and went with a pulled pork po’ boy ($13), while I couldn’t resist the lobster roll ($22). Ganic’s version employs luscious chunks of lobster meat coated with a creamy, tangy dressing served on a crispy baguette with salty fries and a side salad. I’ve heard rumors of an upcoming iteration of La Bouillabaisse next door to Annabelle’s, but I saw no sign of it. In any case, the scene in the backyard garden was pretty quiet for a Friday night at 9 pm, but I’m guessing the tranquility won’t last long. Who needs IKEA’s Swedish meatballs when you have lobster rolls across the street? 44 Beard Street at Dwight Street, in Red Hook, Brooklyn  T:718-643-1500

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DeFonte’s Sandwich Shop

DeFonte’s Sandwich Shop 

If you were anywhere near New York on Saturday, I hope you were holed up somewhere warm and dry, shielding yourself from the sheets of rain that pounded the area all day. That’s what I should have done, except that Jim and I had decided we needed to have sandwiches for lunch. Not just any old sandwiches—sandwiches from DeFonte’s, the old-school Italian sandwich shop located in Red Hook near the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel.

Somehow we had never visited this storied home of the Italian hero, even though it’s just a few blocks from our apartment. DeFonte’s has been around for ages, ever since longshoremen roamed the streets of Red Hook. Jim and I wouldn’t let a major rainstorm keep us from our lunch; we’d been talking about going there all week. I put on my knee-high rubber boots, grabbed an umbrella, and bravely headed out the front door. Who’s afraid of a little rain?

After traversing numerous muddy puddles and getting splashed by several passing cars, we stumbled, breathless, into DeFonte’s. A long counter dominates the left side of the shop, with lunch meats, salads, and fried eggplant on display. Special sandwich combinations are listed on the wall behind the counter while a formidable team of sandwich makers takes orders. Besides a small table without chairs where I saw one patron devouring his sandwich, seating is not available. So we stuffed our heroes into my massive purse and headed back out into the rain, towards our dry apartment.

The Valentina Combination from DeFonte’s Sandwich Shop: Fried Eggplant, Provolone Cheese, and Peppers

After draping our wet jeans and coats over the radiators, we sat down to eat while the rain fell with renewed vigor outside. I had ordered the Valentina combination, which included fried eggplant, provolone, and peppers on 1/3 of a roll ($7.75). Sandwiches come in 1/3 and 1/2 sizes, and even though I went for the smallest option, it was still massive. As I bit into my monster hero, I immediately noticed that this was no generic, mealy roll. The crust was appropriately sturdy and crunchy, the interior soft and chewy. The fried eggplant and cheese provided the hefty “meat” of my sandwich, while the peppers in tomato sauce added a slightly spicy crunch.

Jim, always a risk-taker, had designed his own sandwich, putting together sopresata, swiss cheese, peppers, lettuce, tomato, olive oil, and vinegar ($7.75). I snagged the next-to-late bite and was pleasantly surprised by the refreshing mix of salty sopresata, light, crunchy vegetables, and tangy vinegar.

I’ve been reading that DeFonte’s signature sandwich is a combination of roast beef, fried eggplant, and fresh mozzarella, so I’ll have to stroll back across Hamilton Avenue very soon to try it. DeFonte’s is so close to our apartment, and the sandwiches are so good, there’s really no excuse to let much time pass before my next visit. But I do think I’ll wait for a sunny day.

DeFonte’s Sandwich Shop, 379 Columbia Street at Luquer Street in Red Hook, Brooklyn T: 718-855-6982

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