I have BIG news to share: I am moving to North Brooklyn. This week. Brownie may not even know yet, she's still in Italy and I haven't heard a peep from her in a few days. It all happened very quickly, and it now means that I have to actual pack and move my stuff, like now.
So, though you may not get a lot out of me this week, expect to hear much more about Motorino, Peter Pan, Greenpoint, Williamsburg, maybe even a little Bushwick. Not that I'm turning my back on Queens as I will be visiting often, but I guess you can now call me Brooklyn Blondie? jump
Far East Midtown is severely lacking delicious bakeries. Sure, we've got Buttercup, and there's a Crumbs AND a Magnolia coming, but really? They're mostly cupcakes. What if I want an eclair or some opera cake, my cravings for French pastries have had to wait until off hours. Not anymore.
While I was out gallivanting in Eastern Europe, Financier Patisserie, the downtown bakery, expanded into Midtown. Upon my return, I took the first free lunch hour I had, walked uptown, and stared at a big, shiny, beautiful case of affordable French pastries. It was marvelous.
I did need some sustenance, but having never eaten any of Financier's sandwiches, I was at a lost as to what to get. I decided upon their namesake sandwich, Le Financier-grilled chicken, marinated artichokes, roasted tomato, and goat cheese. It also comes with a few olives. The sandwich traveled back to the office well, and was very good if a little bland. If they were a little closer, I'd definitely get this $8 sandwich more often.
For my dessert, I could not make up my mind there. I even got the "hurry it up lady, we haven't got all day" look. I was going to say whatever came out of my mouth first, but a bowl of interesting little fried dough puffs caught my eye. "What are those?" "Chouquettes." "A who?" "Want to try one?" "Oh yes. I'll take 5."
I want to say five of them cost $2.50, but I can't really remember. Either way, they are delicious. Chouquettes are made with choux pastry-the same used in eclairs-and rolled in sugar. The inside is fluffy with big pockets of air. A few co-workers who really lucked out got to try them with me, and they were loved. I have a feeling Brownie and I will be frequenting the second Midtown location (6th Ave and 48th St) soon enough.
If you're feeling a little more high-brow, Just Food and NY Craft Beer Week will be hosting Let Us Eat Local in the Prince George Hotel Ballroom on September 16th from 6pm to 10pm. "More than 30 chefs from NYC's finest restaurants will be serving up 100% local food paired with local craft beers," all while handing out the McKinley Hightower Beyah Awards. McKinley Hightower-Beyah was a community activist and urban farmer who grew and sold local, nutritious fruits and vegetables in poverty-stricken South Queens-for more information on him, please click here. The awards set up in his honor are given to those following in his footsteps. Early bird tickets to this have sold out, but tickets are still available. Go to NYCharities.org to get your seat.
Let's relive Prague one last time. I ate a lot of dumplings, a lot of sausage, a lot of duck, but of all the meals, two really stuck out. One because it was delicious, the other because it was Bosnian. I've never eaten Bosnian before.
First up, let's discuss the Bosnian. Bosnia and Herzegovina were part of the former Yugoslavia. After their bloody war in the 90s, one can assume they are still trying to rebuild as a nation, and connect with their diaspora. Their expats are now bringing Bosnian cuisine around the world-check out this 2006 New York Times article on the NYC population;s cuisine needs.
In Prague, one of the expats opened Luka Lu, a Bosnian-Italian restaurant with a romantic and quirky ambiance. The menu is mostly Bosnian featuring some of their classical dishes including čevapčiči and pljeskavice. If you're willing to try everything, they have a combination platter which includes both of these. Čevapčiči is a dish of grilled mincemeat, usually served with pita and condiments. Pljeskavice is mincemeat stuffed with cheese, in their case Edam. Luka Lu's also includes bacon.
Both versions of mincemeat, the lamb sausages, chicken, and potatoes were all incredibly delicious, nicely spiced. Amazingly enough, it reminded me of street meat, a welcome change after a week of dumplings.
There was also dishes like their gnocchi with spinach and crème fraîche, which was awesome. Not the most perfect fluffy gnocchi I've ever had, but use of crème fraîche as a sauce was wonderful. All in all, I'm definitely willing to eat Bosnian again. For a detailed review, check out The Prague Spoon's visit.
And I'm saving the best for last. U Ferdinanda, a restaurant and tavern that is an outlet for beers from the Ferdinand Brewery. The space is very modern industrial with hammers on the table, graffiti under the bar, and hoes doubling as coat hooks.
I was immediately won over by the menu, anything that says 'From Piggy' and 'From Moo Cow' has my vote. Look below that photo, see the beef goulash that includes a beer, that's what we all had.
For less than $10. Best we had in Prague, fluffy dumplings willing to soak up sauce, tender beef. A little on the salty side, but that's what the beer's for, right?
The kielbasy had crackling skin, spicy pork, and raw cut horseradish. Delicious.
The Brooklyn Cheese Experiment, and the Vendys aren't the only exciting events coming up in September. Oh no, we have a nine day celebration of beer is also occurring. That's right folk, the 2nd Annual New York Craft Beer Week is happening.
I missed most of NY Craft Beer Week last year, and I'm not doing it again! A plethora of events are scheduled throughout the city, with numerous events each day. They've got walks, dinners, pairings, lectures, loads of things to do with beer. And if you didn't win your NYC Beer Passport when you bought your Vendys ticket, they are still available for $35, online and at bars. It allows you discounts at bars and events during the celebration.
Late Friday, I got word that the next big Food Experiment had been scheduled, and I am PSYCHED for it. Beer and cheese, these are a few of my favorite things!
Sunday, September 13th at 1pm sharp, the Brooklyn Cheese Experiment will be going down at The Bell House in Gowanus. The judges already include Taylor Cocalis-the Director of Education at (one of the best places in the world) Murray's Cheese, Andrew Knowlton-Restaurant Editor at Bon Appétit Magazine and an Iron Chef Judge, and the Brewers from Sixpoint Craft Ales. As with the Brooklyn Beer Experiment, there will be the food section as well as a homebrew section, winners need to be decided in both. I know I can't miss an afternoon of beer and cheese.
If you think your homebrew or cheese-based masterpiece needs to be shared with the world, go here for the entry form. Chances are the spots will fill up soon!
Or if you're like me and want to just enjoy the afternoon surrounded by beer and cheese, click here for tickets. They're $20 online, $25 at the door. Special $5 after-party tickets will be sold at the event.
Last weekend was summer, hope you enjoyed it. I was lucky enough to head out on the Island and get myself to the beach. And Long Islanders know that the best part of a beach day is stopping by All American Burger on the way home!
All American is great because the burgers are so cheap and yet so good for a fast food burger. I almost always get the cheeseburger-if I'm really hungry I can get a double double or a quarter pounder-fries, and a shake.
The turn-over here means that everything stays pretty fresh. I don't think I've ever gone and there's not a line. My fries are always crispy, greasy, and hot. You have to be careful there though, they don't automatically give you ketchup, you HAVE to remember to ask for it.
But the best part are the shakes. They're thick, but not pucker-face thick. They taste as though they're made with real ice cream, not a fake mix, really homemade shakes. Delicious.
I'm proud to say that 1/8th of my D.N.A. comes straight from the home of pilsener beer: Plzeň, Czech Republic. How could I travel 4,000 miles and not make a trip out of town to the mothership, and the mothership's most famous of breweries, Pilsner Urquell? I couldn't. It's unthinkable.
Plzeň is located about 40 kilometers to the west of Prague, a short train or bus trip away, of course if your train leaves on time, which ours didn't. No matter, they still use the old trains where you can stick your head out of the window.
Once there, a quick five minute walk from the train station takes you to the iconic Pilsner Urquell gates dating from 1842.
Inside the gates, you have the option of relaxing at an outdoor beer bar, trying to get a seat in the restaurant/beer hall-good luck, we tried twice and epic failed twice-or playing a game of drunken chess with missing pieces.
The brewery tours are given in a few languages, and run throughout the day. The real tour starts at the train station, Pilsner Urquell was so popular during the 1800s that it had it's own station, tracks, and trains, where a bus brings you up the hill to the main factory.
The factory itself is quite impressive. The floor is a mirror plan, one side brings in fresh new bottles, while the other works off of recycled ones.
After seeing the bottling or canning, it's off to see the brewing. After a short film, you're ushered into a hallway containing samples of barley, pilsner malt, ground hops, the main ingredients in Pilsner Urquell.
Then you get to see their mash tuns and brew kettles. Pilsner uses a triple decoction mash: a third of the mash is drawn out during each decoction, boiled, and then added back into the mash.
The next area shows the original copper pan used which was once located outside the brewery.
Then it's on down to the cellar, a nine kilometer labyrinth that used to be filled to the brim with oak barrels of beer. Now, they just keep a few filled for quality control; they want the Pilsner to taste true to the original methods.
The cellars stay around 6°C (43°F) even during the hottest summer days, making this a welcome respite during the this time of year. Prior to modern technology, they had to rely on ice rooms: winter ice was thrown down through holes in the ceiling, the melted water would stream through the cellar keeping the temperature cool.
At the end of this area, the time comes to sample unfiltered, unpasteurized Pilsner Urquell. It tasted fresher, cleaner almost than regular Pilsner, but there isn't a radical difference.
There are currently three English, three Czech, and one German tour a day, and it costs 150Kč ($8).
The Czechs are known for their beer, not for their food. It's not bad, I grew up eating it, but it's not exactly healthy. It's fatty, heavy, and relies on the dumpling or knedlicky. Oh, and a lot of cabbage too, unfortunately one of the only vegetables I don't like. I'll take the hops-based option instead. Yet, Prague had at least one surprise for me, a completely American surprise.
We ate a lot of knedlickys-is it knedlickys, or maybe knedlickies? I don't know, I didn't go to Czech school. Anyway, I can't eat another one until at least the holidays. I good amount of the ones we had were dry and badly needed gravy or sauce, anything to soak it in. The best knedlicky came with a fantastic beef goulash dish from an awesome spot, so awesome it gets its own post.
Other than the ubiquitous dumplings, there was an obscene amount of duck to be had. Good duck too, nice and lean, not fatty.
If you didn't want either, and by the end I didn't, there were plenty of other Eastern or Central European dishes to be had. During our second trip to U Medvídků, I chose to try the pork schnitzel with potato salad. The schnitzel was good, but the potato salad was what stuck out. Usually, I'm not a fan of mayo-based salads, but this was no regular American potato salad; it was Russian. This involves peas and carrots, mayo and mustard. Who knew this could be so delicious? I didn't, and it was.
On the other hand, Mommsie went for the Beef Stroganoff with wild rice. Another good dish, she thoroughly enjoyed it, and then started eating my potato salad. I guess all the drinking makes her hungry.
The greatest surprise came from All-American McDonald's. Apparently, they're pushing a Greek menu complete with Brownie's favorite type of burger, the lamb. This lamb burger is called "Olympos", I speak no lies, I had to order the Olympos with a straight face. Ciabatta bread, feta cheese, black olives, and a yogurt sauce. Not awesome or near delicious.
Dessert-wise, the Czechs and their tourists love ice cream, gelato to be exact. It's everywhere. I only got a few cones there, and all but this one disappeared before I remembered to take a picture.
Another McDonald's surprise came from the McFlurry camp. Flavored ice cream-chocolate, strawberry, or caramel-with strange candy add-ins, like Kit Kat. Why can't we get more options like this here?
Lastly, the Czechs are also dabbling in alcoholic ice cream. On our way to visit Prague Castle, we passed the Absinthe shop. Of course, they specialized in absinthe, they did the whole nine done to a lit sugar cube while I waited patiently for my absinthe ice cream. If it was made with real absinthe, a claim I doubt, it was most definitely the Bohemian kind since there was almost no licorice taste.
Oh, summer vacation, how I adore you so, especially when it includes visiting the Eastern European homeland full of beer. Yes folks, I'm back from Prague where a wonderful time was had by all, except for my liver. It's going to take a while for it to recuperate from all the pivo.
The Czechs have been brewing and drinking beer for nine centuries now, as well as growing hops for more than a millennium. Some of the most famous styles and brews come from the region; it's no wonder that many beer lovers make a pilgrimage to Prague at least once in their lives. You do have to know that when looking at the beer list the number with each offering isn't the alcohol content, it's the degrees figure which is directly related to the amount of malt extract used during brewing. A high degrees figure generally means a fuller flavor and stronger brew. While there, you don't drink the major brands-Gambrinus, Pilsner Urquell, Budvar, Radegast, Staropramen, and Bernard-out of a regular old bottle. We usually visited microbreweries where, if they did serve a big brand, they served it unfiltered and/or unpasteurized. And with a half liter going for about $1.60-yes, $1.60-you could experiment with different degrees of beer.
The first up was První Novoměststký, a restaurant and mini-brewery that opened in 1993. Here we had their 11° light unfiltered wheat beer, while eating the Brewer's Pan (roast knee, duck breast, bacon, sausage, roast potatoes, three kinds of dumplings, beans). Yeah, it was a lot of food. The cloudiness of the beer is due to the lack of filtration.
There were two spots we dropped and stayed for a round. At Pivovarský Dům, I tried their sour cherry beer. It was good and tasted a little reminiscent of cough syrup. I did like that they include a cherry in the beer-it sinks to the bottom and waits like a tiny surprise.
The other was U Flecků, a brewery that dates back to 1499, and is the oldest continuously operated brewery in Central Europe. We had planned to have dinner, but we unaware that the kitchen and back garden close around 10 o'clock. For New Yorkers used to eating late, this didn't work out so well. Their dark 13° beer was a nice trade-off from the lighter beers we had been having, even if it was heavy and reminded me of a stout. The garden area was gorgeous though, a good reprieve from the city streets. Just watch out for the waiter pushing shots.
One of our favorites was U Medvídků, a beer house, restaurant, and hotel. You can't go wrong with a beer hotel. The restaurant part only dates back to 1466, wonder if the Bohemian Wedding platter-roast duck, 300g of roast pork meat, 300g of home-made boiled smoked meat, 100g of piquant bratwurst, 3 kinds dumplings, and 2 kinds of cabbages-was available back then. They're most famous for the strongest beer in the world though, the X-Beer 33 which is 12.6% alcohol and 33°, not a bad claim to fame for the world's smallest commercial brewery.
They also brew Oldgott, a darker, hoppy beer served straight from the barrel.