Archive for Brooklyn

Dinner at Buttermilk Channel

During the weekend I love to stay home. I know that might sound boring, especially for a young(ish) woman living in New York City, but I can’t help it. All of my favorite shops and restaurants just happen to be within walking distance of my Brooklyn apartment. Months can pass without Jim and I visiting the same spot twice. When the new restaurant Buttermilk Channel opened in the old Cafe Scaramouche space on Court Street, it took us several weeks to get there, but we recently took a long stroll around the corner to check it out.

All memories of the dark, drab cafe disappeared as soon as we walked through the door. Bright white walls tempered by gentle candlelight, a beautiful wood bar, and multiple windows facing the street immediately made us feel at home. Helmed by chef Ryan Angulo, previously of the Stanton Social, the restaurant embraces the seasonal, local food movement of the moment while also celebrating the unique spirit of the neighborhood.

Take, for example, the “snacks” section of the menu. Buttermilk Channel is serving handmade mozzarella from Caputo’s Fine Foods—my favorite Italian specialty store just a few blocks away—with chunks of buttered bread, basil, and a wonderfully salty anchovy sauce ($5). I loved experiencing one of my regular Caputo’s purchases in an entirely new way. Jim and I need to return to the restaurant for an Esposito’s sausage sandwich ($10), but we have no doubt about its greatness, as we are frequent visitors to this Court Street shop as well. Even the drinks display local pride: The beer list is firmly rooted in New York, while the U.S. based wine list offers a glass of Merlot from Brooklyn Oenology ($10).

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The rest of the extensive menu branches out beyond the neighborhood to offer intriguing twists on comfort food. Stand-out appetizers included spice-rubbed baby back ribs, their meat so tender it fell gently off the bone ($10). A delicata squash tart was a light, buttery surprise, as I had been expecting a quiche-like dish ($9). Instead, I received a ring of sweet, roasted squash perched on top of a flaky crust, accompanied by smooth buttermilk ricotta and a green salad.

Without a doubt the star of the second courses is the fried chicken with cheddar waffles and vegetable slaw ($18). Juicy meat nestled in a thick, crisp, buttermilk coating was perfect on a cold winter night, although the waffles were a bit bland in comparison. I also tried the warm lamb and romaine salad, a combination of tart capers, cauliflower, lamb, lettuce, and a soft-boiled egg ($14). As one of the lighter dishes on the menu it held up well against more robust fare such as the braised beef short rib and anchovy mashed potatoes. Similar to the baby back rib appetizer, the dark, tender rib meat simply dripped off the bone and onto my fork, which also returned time and time again for the tangy spiced potatoes ($22).

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For dessert I couldn’t deter myself from Doug’s pecan pie sundae ($7). Unfortunately, the caramel simply overwhelmed the dish, and it sorely needed a pie crust. Apple cider donuts—warm, fried, and spicy, and served with their donut holes—fared a little better ($7). Perhaps next time I’ll try one of the Blue Marble ice creams, another one of my neighborhood favorites ($7). After all, it’s much more convenient to walk to around the corner than to Atlantic Avenue. Although for Buttermilk Channel, I’d be willing to make the trek.

Buttermilk Channel, 524 Court Street at Huntington Street, in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn. T: 718-852-8490

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What a Difference a Year Makes: The Carroll Gardens Farmers’ Market

I know it might seem crazy to write about food with all this election madness going on, but I can’t help it. I just got back from voting, I’m too jittery to sit still, and I can’t bring myself to watch any election coverage just yet. So, in an effort to calm myself down while hoping for the best, I thought I’d write a post about a subject I’ve had on my mind for the past few months: my local farmers’ market.

As some of you already know, last year Carroll Gardens finally got its own farmers’ market. Starting in July 2007, a few tables of vegetables and fruit lined a short stretch of Carroll Street between Court and Smith Streets every Sunday through last November. While I lamented the lack of cheese, meat, and fish vendors, I remained optimistic for these changes in the future. I figured that once the market became more established, perhaps we would see more vendors on the block.

Well, it pays to think positively, because our little market has expanded quite a bit in just one year. Now when I make my weekly visit to Carroll Street, I bring two bags and indulge in a variety of local food products.

Similar to my shopping pattern from last year, I begin by stocking up on fruit from Fishkill Farms. While over the summer I focused on fresh plums and peaches, in October I scooped up apples and pears. My next move is usually towards the piles of fresh greens and other vegetables from Alex Farm as I supplement my CSA shipment with whatever other produce I might need for the week. Jim seems to prefer the vegetables from W. Rogowski Farm, so in the end we actually wind up supporting several stands at the market. I can’t forget my weekly chocolate croissant from Amy’s Bread, although sometimes I try to be healthy and buy a loaf of whole-grain bread as well.

But in addition to all of the wonderful produce and baked goods, we can now peruse products from various local meat, fish, dairy, and cheese vendors. About a month ago, Jim and I bought grass-fed, spicy Angus sausages from Grazin’ Angus Acres for the first time. We broiled them, sliced them up, and cooked them on top of one of our homemade pizzas. Raised without antibiotics or hormones, this beef was happily enjoyed with less guilt than usual. Grazin’ Acres’s sausages were so earthy and full-flavored that Jim and I went back for one of their grass-fed chickens a few weeks later.

I’ve yet to buy fish from Seatuck Fish Company, or pasture-raised eggs from Fishkill Farms, but both are on my list. Once in a while I’ll pick up some goat cheese from Consider Bardwell Farm, and a few weeks ago local honey was for sale. There are so many options, I find it’s impossible to try them all at once.

On another note, I’ve also enjoyed seeing how our farmers’ market has increased its role in the community. Every Sunday the lines seem to stretch longer and longer at each stand. A few months ago a chef from the soon-to-open restaurant Buttermilk Channel prepared a fresh vegetable pickle for the market’s shoppers. On this past Sunday, piles of mussels from Seatuck Fish Company were being prepared at one of the stands, encouraging people to linger and enjoy the day with each other.

So as you can see, our little farmers’ market has grown quite a bit in a year. I may not have tried the wares from every stand, but it’s not a problem; I have something new to look forward to every week. I just hope I can get through the rest of election day…

The Carroll Gardens Farmers Market, located on Carroll Street between Smith and Court. It runs on Sundays from July through November.

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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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Summer Salads

For some people, summer begins with fireworks on the 4th of July. For others, it happens with that first trip to the beach. Sometimes it’s celebrated when breaking out the open-toed sandals or by stirring up a pitcher of iced tea.

For me, the warmest of seasons has arrived when I can eat outside, whether it is at a friend’s barbeque, a picnic, or a stroll down Court Street with an ice cream cone in hand. This past weekend offered an ideal opportunity for outdoor dining, as Saturday night was breezy and beautiful in Brooklyn. Jim and I grabbed a blanket and joined our friends for a picnic in Prospect Park while Beth Orton sang to us from the stage nearby.

We had whipped up a few salads that afternoon, a combination of our CSA stash and a few store-bought items. Mark Bittman threw a bunch of picnic ideas our way last week, but I decided to go out on my own and make the most of the vegetables I had on hand.

When we arrived at the park we spread out our blanket and set up our spread. Empty patches of green grass grew smaller while our fellow concertgoers and picnickers settled in around us. Ignoring them all, we dug into our salads. Cooked orzo tossed with raw zucchini, grape tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, chopped fresh basil, and olive oil exuded freshness and summertime. Soft boiled potatoes coated in a lemony mustard dressing flirted with peppery arugula, while our final salad of cucumber, red onion, and feta cheese tingled under a swirl of white wine vinegar and olive oil.

I don’t think I need to post proper recipes for these salads. All I did was mix different vegetables, pasta, and cheese together until they tasted right. Rules relax in the summertime; food can be casual. The only tips I have are about the dressings: I mixed the orzo salad with olive oil, salt, and pepper a few hours before we left the apartment, just to help the flavors settle in and come together. We added the dressings to the potato and cucumber salads at the park so they wouldn’t get soggy beforehand.

Briny olives, more cheese, fresh fruit, and a crusty baguette rounded out our fresh air feast. Summer is here. All it took was a few salads, the park, and a summertime breeze.

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More Neighborhood Newcomers: Ghenet and Eton

Hot dogs, ribs, potato salad—I ate more than my fill of these good old American favorites on the 4th of July. But then I spent the rest of the weekend embracing America’s multicultural spirit, trying out a few new ethnic restaurants in the neighborhood.

Ghenet: Because I had been to this Ethiopian restaurant’s Manhattan location before, I was more than excited to hear of its new Park Slope outpost. The rest of the neighborhood must have felt the same way, as Ghenet’s intimate dining room was packed on Saturday night. After taking our seats next to the intricate metal screen surrounding the room, Jim and I started with the tasty sambusa, two small packets of crispy pastry dough stuffed with ground chicken and served with a spicy dipping sauce ($6). Next came our combination platter of five dishes served on a sheet of Ethiopia’s staple bread called injera ($31.95). We received another plate of this spongy bread on the side, and used it to scoop up our sega wett, tender bits of beef in a thick sauce of exotic berbere spices. The dish was a comforting yet light stew, perfect for a summer evening, and although the seasoning included red chili peppers the heat was not overwhelming. Instead, the heat factor was taken care of by the spicy mushrooms, one of our four vegetarian dishes. I preferred the creamy and buttery yellow split peas, dipping my injera into them again and again. Vinegar-tinged collard greens and pureed beans rounded out our meal. In Ethiopia it is customary to eat only with the right hand, but at Ghenet it’s difficult to keep yourself from diving in with both. 348 Douglass Street at 4th Avenue in Park Slope, Brooklyn  T: 718-230-4475

Eton: On Sunday afternoon during the Wimbledon rain delay I strolled over to Eton, a tiny new dumpling house in Carroll Gardens. I didn’t want to miss the match, so I took two sets to go: one group of pork and beef dumplings, and another of lentils, mushrooms, and tofu ($3.50 for each set of five dumplings). While I waited for my order in the cheerful yet spare dining space, I chatted with chef Eton Chan about how the dumplings are first pan-seared in cooking spray and then steamed. They are trans-fat free and actually pretty healthy. Back at my kitchen table, I quickly realized these were not your typical take-out dumplings. The dough was delicate yet sturdy, sheltering the compact, well-balanced centers of meat and sweet vegetables. The flavors can be enhanced by condiments such as the house soy and ginger black vinegar. I have to return and try the third dumpling option of chicken with mushrooms, as well as the extensive shaved ice menu; I’ve got my eye on the lychee and green tea flavors. And when the weather gets colder Eton will start offering hand-pulled noodle soups. For once I can’t wait for winter weather. 205 Sackett Street at Henry Street in Carroll Gardens, 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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My Cookie of the Month: Gorayba

As I’ve already mentioned, one benefit of my knock-down, drag-out hummus competition was that it required several trips to Atlantic Avenue’s Middle Eastern food shops. At Sahadi’s I slowly wandered among the imported, exotic foodstuffs. I also spent some quality time ogling the piles of pita bread, cookies, and sweets at the Syrian Damascus Bread and Pastry Shop

Of course I never left either store empty-handed. But let’s concentrate on my visits to Damascus, where I bought sweet, sticky baklava, in both walnut and pistachio varieties. Intricate bird’s nest pastries currently await me in a white paper bag on my kitchen counter, almost too pretty to eat. I stocked up on light, airy, white and whole-wheat pita bread. I also purchased an unfamiliar shortbread cookie that I couldn’t bring myself to save for later: gorayba

I knew I had to try these bracelet-shaped butter cookies from the moment I saw them behind the glass display case at the pastry shop. They practically begged me to buy them, bring them home, and enjoy them with a hot cup of tea. 

Gorayba are usually defined as Arabic cardamom shortbread cookies, made on special occasions and found throughout the Middle East. Sometimes almonds or pistachios are placed at the intersection where the two ends of dough meet. According to Claudia Roden’s The New Book of Middle Eastern Food, it’s important not to overcook the gorayba (also spelled ghorayebah). They must remain quite white in color, because their flavor changes greatly if they even slightly brown.

Some recipes say that the addition of cardamom is optional; I’m not sure I tasted it in the cookies I recently bought. Roden’s book also suggests hazelnut, nutmeg, and cinnamon variations. In any case, these cookies are memorable for their buttery, slightly sweet simplicity. Jim says his Greek grandmother used to make a similar cookie called koulourakia, but we have to investigate this more fully. And I have to make another trip to the Damascus Bread and Pastry Shop, as I’ve eaten all of my gorayba.

Damascus Bread and Pastry Shop, 195 Atlantic Avenue, between Court and Clinton Streets, in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn.  T: 718-625-7070

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