Archive for Brooklyn

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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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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