Monday, August 30, 2010

Club Med

fig. a: Neptune knows how to stay cool*

We didn't have it nearly as bad as many of you to the west and the south, but for a while there, it was so steamy hot that it was affecting activities here in the AEB Test Kitchen. This was not necessarily a bad thing. We're of the persuasion that if it doesn't ever get HOT! at some point in time during the summer, then you really haven't had a summer. And in recent years, here in Montreal, more often than not, that's been the case--we really haven't had much of a summer.

How hot are we talking about? It has to get to the point where all you can think about is grabbing an ice cream cone or going for a swim. And the thought of cooking a meal over a hot stove, or using a hot oven, is just plain out of the question. It's got to get to the point where all you really want is a cool bowl of gazpacho.

We had that kind of weather back in July, and now the heat is back, minus the humidity (ed: I take that back--the humidity's back too). It's not nearly the scorcher that it was last month, but it is hot enough that a cool menu is very much in order.

A few weeks ago, we threw a little dinner for some friends. Now, luckily, it wasn't during the hazy, hot, and humid heights of a heatwave, but it was right after one, so using the stove & oven wasn't really an issue, but we were still leaning towards a meal that could be served at room temperature, and that's when we came up with the following Med spread.

As you may have noticed over the years, we have a tendency here at AEB to come up with meals with strong themes to them. Meals like our grand aïoli. Or our homage to España. Or our DIY cabane à sucre. This time we wanted a meal that had a theme to it, but we didn't want it to be overbearing, we just wanted it to go along with the Provençal wines we'd lined up to drink. We considered going Spanish, or Southern French, or Italian, or Greek. Then we realized, why don't we just go "Med"?

Here are some of the highlights, perfect for a warm, late-summer evening. Ideal for Labor Day weekend...

We've showcased a gazpacho recipe before here at AEB, but that one was a little new-fangled. This one, on the other hand, is as classic as they get--the tomato gazpacho of your dreams. And now is really the time to make it. It's a recipe that calls for the "ripest, most flavorful tomatoes possible," Italian frying peppers and red bell peppers, and all of these ingredients are currently at the height of season.

gazpacho fig. b: gazpacho

Classic Gazpacho

2 cups cubed day-old country bread, crusts removed
2 medium-size garlic cloves, chopped
1 small pinch of whole cumin seeds
kosher salt
3 lbs ripest, most flavorful tomatoes possible, seeded and chopped**
2 small cucumbers (Kirby, Lebanese, etc.), peeled and chopped
1 large Italian frying pepper, cored, seeded, and chopped
1 medium-size red bell pepper, cored, seeded, and chopped
3 tbsp chopped red onion
1/2 cup fragrant extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup chilled bottled spring water (or filtered tap water)
3 tbsp sherry vinegar, preferably aged, or more to taste

finely diced cucumber
finely diced Italian frying pepper
olive oil croutons (see note)
slivered basil leaves

Place the bread in a bowl, add cold water to cover, and let soak for 10 minutes. Drain the bread, squeezing out the excess liquid.

Place the garlic, cumin, and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a mortar and mash them to a paste using a pestle.

Place the tomatoes, cucumbers, Italian and red peppers, onion, soaked bread, and the garlic paste in a large bowl and toss to mix. Let stand for about 15 minutes. Working in two batches, place the vegetable mixture in a food processor and process until smooth, adding half of the olive oil to each batch. Once each batch is finished, puree it finely in a blender, then transfer it to a large mixing bowl.

When all the gazpacho has been pureed, whisk in the spring water and vinegar. The soup should have the consistency of a smoothie. Taste for seasoning, adding more salt and/or vinegar as necessary. Refrigerate the gazpacho, covered, until chilled, about 2 hours. Serve the soup in bowls with garnishes.

Note: This recipe calls for the crusts of the bread to be removed. Instead of discarding them, use them to make croutons to garnish your soup. Dice the crusts. Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add a crushed garlic clove, and sizzle it for about one minute. Add the crusts and sauté them gently for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently, until they are golden and crispy. Season with a pinch of salt and set aside.

[recipe from Anya von Bremzen's The New Spanish Table]

We were seriously impressed by Saveur's recent special issue on Greece, but we've yet to have the time to work through its many, many tempting recipes. One recipe that's become an instant hit around here, though, is this smoky, spicy melitzanosalata recipe.

Italian eggplant fig. c: Italian eggplants


2 lbs eggplant, preferably baby Italian eggplants
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 green bell pepper, cored and chopped
1 jalapeño pepper, stemmed, seeded, and chopped
1 cup flat-leaf parsley leaves
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
3 cloves garlic, minced
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
crusty bread or toasted pita

Build a hot fire in a charcoal grill. Grill the eggplants whole, turning, until charred and soft, about 20 minutes. Let cool. Cut the eggplants in half and scoop out the flesh, discarding as many seeds as possible. Drain the eggplant flesh in a strainer for 30 minutes.

Heat 1/4 cup of the oil in a 12" skillet over medium-high heat. Add the peppers and cook for 10 minutes. Add the jalapeños and continue cooking until golden brown, about 5 minutes. Transfer to the bowl of a food processor along with the eggplant, the remaining oil, the parsley, the vinegar, and the garlic. Process until slightly chunky. Season with salt and pepper. Chill for 30 minutes to meld the flavors. Serve with crusty bread or toasted pita.

[recipe from Saveur, August/September 2010]

A crusty loaf of bread goes well with gazpacho. Melitzanosalata demands fresh bread to sop it up with, and a crusty loaf is just the ticket. Why not make your own? Jim Lahey's now-legendary No-Knead Bread recipe makes it so easy. And the results look like this:

god bless no-knead bread fig. d: god bless no-knead bread!

The A16 cookbook has yet to steer us wrong, and this recipe is what the Lee Bros. call a "Quick Knockout": minimum effort, maximum flavor. The combination of the grilled pork, the soffritto, and the bitter greens is phenomenal, but it's worth checking out the recipe just for the grilled pork technique, which couldn't be any easier, but works some serious magic.

pork spiedino fig. e: pork loin spiedino

Pork Loin Spiedino***

2 pounds boneless pork loin, cut into 1-inch cubes
about 1 tbsp kosher salt
1/2 cup dried currants
3/4 cup pine nuts
1/2 cup plus 1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2/3 cup garlic cloves, minced****
3 oz arugula or dandelion greens
wooden skewers

Toss the pork with the salt in a bowl. Cover and refrigerate for at least overnight or up to 3 days.

To make the soffritto, soak the currants in just enough warm water to cover for about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, add the pine nuts and 1/2 cup of the olive oil to a small, heavy pot and place over low heat. Gradually bring to a low simmer, stirring frequently, and cook, stirring, for about 5-10 minutes, or until the pine nuts have started to turn a golden brown. Stir in the garlic and continue to cook on low heat for about 8 minutes, or until the garlic is a light golden brown. Watch the soffritto carefully--the pine nuts and garlic can burn easily and turn bitter. Drain the currants, add them to the pot, stir and remove the pot from the heat. Let the soffritto cool to room temperature. It will keep, tightly covered, in the refrigerator for 2 weeks.

About 30 minutes before cooking, remove the pork from the refrigerator. Soak the wooden skewers in water. Prepare a hot fire in a grill, stacking the coals to one side so you have two areas of heat, one for direct heat, the other for indirect heat.

Drizzle the remaining 1 tbsp olive oil over the pork and toss to coat evenly. Drain the skewers, and thread about 5 pieces of pork onto each skewer.

Place the skewers over the coals and grill for about 1 minute on each side, or until well-seared. Move the skewers to the cooler side of the grill and continue to cook over indirect heat for 8 to 10 minutes, until cooked medium-well but still juicy.

Arrange a bed of greens on a platter (we've been using dandelion greens, because that's we've got in our garden at the moment, but most bitter greens would do). Place the pork skewers on top. Drizzle some of the soffritto over the top of the pork and the greens. Pass the remaining sauce at the table. Serve immediately while the pork is still hot.

[Recipe from A16: Food + Wine by Nate Appleman and Shelley Lindgren]

There were a number of other small courses, including stuffed zucchini blossoms, mixed olives, and a killer cheese plate, but the dessert was another real highlight. And for that recipe (in your choice of a 140-characters-or-less Twitter version or a standard version), all you have to do is click here.


* He also knows how to party. Thanks to our friends at BibliOdyssey for the lovely image.

** We've neglected to seed the tomatoes on occasion, especially when the tomatoes are at their absolute peak, and we haven't noticed a difference in the deliciousness of the end product.

*** Those of you with ties to the Binghamton, NY might recognize spiedino as the root of the "spiedie" phenomenon.

**** This is a substantial amount of garlic. We've made the recipe with substantially less (say, 3-4 cloves) and found it very satisfactory indeed. But if you're a garlic fiend, and you've got the time, by all means, mince away.

Friday, August 27, 2010

BBQ Breakdown

figs. a & b: a postcard from Cornwallville

Way back in June, we found ourselves back in Upstate catering our favorite young summer bonanza. The Caretakers were pretty happy with the job we did the year before, so they signed us up for a repeat performance and we were all too happy to oblige.

The menu was pretty much the same as it had been the year before, except that with the number of prospective attendees having swollen to 70+, the quantities were substantially bigger.

How much bigger? I'll give you an example. As you'll recall, we smoked 2 x 10-12 lb pork shoulders slow & low for last year's bash. This year, however, we smoked 3 pork shoulders slow & low, and they were all in the 17-20 lb range (!). This took more kettle barbecues. It also took more time, more applewood, and more attention. You may also recall that we were pretty enthusiastic about last year's shoulders. This year they came from our friends at Fleisher's and they were the very nicest pork shoulders we'd ever seen. Real blue-ribbon specimens. So nice, in fact, that all that smoking turned 'em into candy.

Anyway, aside from the quantities, the menu looked very similar to last year's:

3 x 17-20 lb pork shoulders, applewood-smoked and pulled
6 x full racks of MO-style Ribs
Down East Baked Beans
Smokehouse Potato Salad
Tidewater Coleslaw
Sweet tea

pbr fig. c: "what'll you have?

We even dusted off the same PBR sign we used last year to add a little bbq shack-charm to the proceedings, although this year T. upped the bbq shack-charm with a lovely chalk rendering of a happy pig.

dough rollers 3 fig. d: mystery band

One thing that entirely new about the young summer bbq 2.0 was that it came with real, live musical entertainment.

The rumor that circulated prior to bbq day was that the mystery band was a "bluegrass outfit," possibly from New York City.

When two dapper young gentleman in suits and slicked-back hair arrived, looking not unlike The Stanley Brothers in their youth, we thought the rumor had been confirmed.

But then they laid into their first number, and the lead singer began a-hollerin' the blues Charley Patton-style, and we knew we were in for something altogether different.

I, for one, was fully mesmerized. The well-chosen selections, the bare-bones arrangements, the full-throated vocals, the tangled woods, and the warm, humid weather all added up to a performance quite unlike I'd ever seen. I don't remember them performing any Dock Boggs tunes, but for some reason I was left thinking about the lives of itinerant musicians like Boggs who played a wide variety of occasions (weddings, parties, anything) all through the mountains and hollers of western Virginia and eastern Kentucky. Again, it might have had something to do with those vocals. Greil Marcus once wrote of Boggs that he "sounded as if his bones were coming through his skin every time he opened his mouth." I'm not sure the exact same analogy applies here, but, like I said, these were full-throated vocals and these two gents were obviously well-schooled in the sounds of the "old, weird America" that produced Boggs.

Anyway, when they finished their set, I went up and asked them what they called themselves and whether they were regularly gigging. Malcolm, the singer, told me they went by the name of The Dough Rollers and that, yes, they played regularly in New York.

The other night, I looked The Dough Rollers up again for the first time since late June/early July and found that, sure enough, they had been doing quite a bit of gigging. As a matter of fact, on that very night they were playing a gig in Oakland, CA. I looked up the venue they were playing and it was the venerable Fox Theater.

"Jeez, The Fox," I thought. "They must be opening for someone pretty big."

Ready for this? Bob Dylan.

Looking for barbecue recipes of all kinds? You can find a whole mess of them here, here, here, and here to throw your very own bbq breakdown.* Good things happen when you do. Be forewarned, though, your guests may be moved to acts of reverence.

p.s. Many thanks to the Caretakers for having us, and to all our NY area crew for showing the love.


* Musical act not included.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Top Ten #36

1. The Life & Death of Colonel Blimp, dir. Powell

2. Harlem, Hippies

3. Jim Thompson, The Killer Inside Me

4. The Housemaid, dir. Kim Ki-Young

5. eating your way across NYC again

6. Love Me Tonight, dir. Mamoulian + The Love Parade, dir. Lubitsch

7. George Eliot, Silas Marner

8. Wolf Parade, Expo 86

9. Med spread w/ friends

10. eating your way across the Bay Area


Saturday, August 14, 2010

Up & Running

raspberry tart 2 fig. a: return of the tarte d'été

Remember Michelle's tarte d'été in 140 characters or less?

Well, it's up & running in today's edition of La Presse. You can find it here, along with tweeted recipes from Newtown's Patrice Demers (a roasted peach & blueberry dessert), Olive & Gourmando's Éric Girard (a roasted chicken sandwich named "Le Gustavo"), and others.

Check it out.

You can also find out everything you ever wanted to know about Montreal chefs who tweet.


Friday, August 06, 2010

Connect the Dots, or Slouching Towards Bushwick and (Many) other Tales of the City

Late spring found members of Team AEB collaborating with Team Twitchy on a fast, furious, and highly caffeinated 2-day tour of New York. If you were to connect the dots, it would go something like this:

roberta's 1 fig. a: Roberta's façade

1. Roberta's

How do you describe a pizza joint like Roberta's?

I'd heard great things about Roberta's. (And this being New York, Roberta's detractors were both plentiful and vocal.) I also knew full well that it was located in Bushwick, with all that that entails. Even so, I just wasn't prepared for the Roberta's experience.

From the homely, auto body shop-like exterior (the restaurant is housed in a former garage), to the eclectic urban bricolage of its dining room/pizza kitchen, tiki garden, greenhouses, vegetable & herb gardens, and radio station (?), Roberta's was unlike any serious, new-school, hardcore-Neapolitan-pizza-oven-wielding pizza joint I'd ever been to. Aspects of Roberta's reminded me of Waitsfield, VT's American Flatbread--the communitarian atmosphere, the loopy pizza nomenclature, the emphasis on sustainability, etc.--but Roberta's represented the very opposite of AF's back-to-nature ideology. This joint was long-haired, heavily bearded, and hippyish, but it was all about taking back the city. Other aspects reminded me of Joan Didion's seminal "Slouching Towards Bethlehem." This is a place to be taken with a grain of salt--or a tab of acid. All that said, the night we went, our party might have been a little bemused, but we came close to achieving instant karma--Roberta's food was right on.

roberta's 2 fig. b: Roberta's tiki garden

Now, perhaps not surprisingly, Roberta's has its detractors (some of them vehement), but it's also got no shortage of supporters, and business is brisk. The night we went, there was a bit of a wait before we could be seated, so we took the opportunity to down a couple of frosty ones in the tiki garden, and to check out the premises.

gardening at night fig. c: gardening at night

An impressive complex of greenhouses has been built on top of parts of the Roberta's compound, and a vacant lot beyond has been transformed into a massive container-gardening operation, utilizing containers of all kinds. Even bathtubs. Inside, piggy banks scattered around the dining room solicit donations to help support Roberta's Farm Fund.

Half an hour later, we were seated at a communal table, and we'd moved onto sipping Italian reds by the glass. Our pizzas consisted of a Margherita and a The Lupo (pesto, mozzarella, prosciutto cotto, smoked mozzarella, and spring garlic),* and we rounded things out with a hefty, incredibly juicy pork chop, served with farro, guanciale, and mizuna greens. All three were so totally rad that they didn't really fill me up--they just gave me the munchies. I was ready to work my way through the entire menu.

2. Gimme!

The folks at Gimme! got started in the Ithaca area--and that area is still home to their HQ--but they've now got two locations in NYC: one on Mott St. in SoHo/NoLIta, and another on Lorimer St. in Williamsburg. We'd been to the Mott St. location before, but this time, because our home base was in Brooklyn, it was all about the Lorimer St. location, where the staff were friendly and happy to oblige, and the espressos were expertly pulled and awfully tasty.

russ & daughters fig. d: inside Russ & Daughters

3. Russ & Daughters

There's more to the legendary Russ & Daughters (how legendary?--check out Anthony Bourdain's encomium in the photo above) than just bagels, gravlax, smoked fish, rollmops, candies, nuts, and halavah.

ultimate egg cream fig. e: UEC

There's also their absolutely amazing ultimate egg cream. Takes 'em about 5 minutes to make it because they pour (and stir) so much love and attention into it, but it's so worth the wait. If there's a better egg cream alive, I haven't encountered it.

Plus, the folks at R & D are such sweethearts. And they love to gab. And I love smoked fish. I could spend the whole day there.

milk bar 3 fig. f: inside Milk Bar

4. Milk Bar

Milk Bar was something of a pilgrimage. Michelle's been following Christina Tosi's reign of catch-as-catch-can dessert mayhem closely over the last couple of years, so we were curious to visit Milk Bar up-close and in-person. And with good reason. With all the talk of the nostalgia values of recent dessert trends (cupcakes, doughnuts, whoopie pies, etc.), Tosi is one of the few people who's really pushed things further--she's also done so more inventively. Take her trademarked "cereal milk," which simulates the flavor of the leftover milk at the bottom of a just-finished bowl of cereal (Grape Nuts?), and which she's made available as a "milk" and as a soft-serve ice cream. Want to add to the layers of nostalgia? How about topping that cereal-milk ice cream with some "cornflake crunch" or, even better, "potato chip crunch"? Of course, Tosi's deliciously playful take on pop culture has also made her a major player in a scene the New York Times has labeled "haute stoner cuisine."

We got ourselves primed for our Milk Bar sugar shock by having a Ssäm Bar pork bun as an appetizer. Milk Bar is mainly a dessert outpost, but the space is connected to Ssäm Bar, and they do offer a few items that are on the savory tip. Once we'd gotten that into our system, we tried a selection of Milk Bar's soft-serve ice creams (blueberry muffin! cinnamon bun!!), and then moved on to the cookies, pies, and cakes section of the menu.

milk bar 2 fig. g: truffles by Milk Bar

Tosi's "truffles" were a good way to sample the cakes. They're essentially bite-sized portions of the cakes that have been rolled up into a truffle-like form, and you get 3 for $3. Curious about Milk Bar's "birthday cake" cake, but hesitant to shell out the $38 it costs for a full-sized cake? Get yourself a packet of "birthday cake" truffles. We did.

milk bar 1 fig. h: compost never tasted so good

As much as I liked the truffles and the "candy bar" pie, my favorites were the cookies. At $1.85 each or 6 for $10, Milk Bar's cookies are extremely affordable, and some of them, like the kitchen-sink appeal of the "compost" cookie** and the creamed corn/comfort food qualities of the "corn" cookie, are strokes of genius.

5. Third Rail

Third Rail was probably my favorite coffee bar of our visit. It was certainly the smallest and the cutest. And it's conveniently located just a block away from Washington Square. My late-afternoon macchiato was totally gratuitous (again, as I mentioned above, when you roll with Team Twitchy, you tend to have a fair bit of caffeine coursing through you system pretty much all the time--high-quality caffeine), but somehow it still managed to taste like my first of the day.

ice cream picnic fig. i: impromptu ice cream picnic

6. Beez Kneez Ice Cream

One afternoon we were lying in the grass and taking in the sun and the views in Williamsburg's East River State Park when some Aussie came by and asked us if we were interested in some ice cream.

Why, yes, we are interested in some ice cream. Thanks for asking.

He pulled a container out of his cooler, handed us a couple of spoons, and the next thing we knew we were eating Australian ice cream made with real Australian honey. Was Beez Kneez ice cream as "killer" as their website claims? Well, it was pretty darned good, and the honey did taste pretty exotic, and, besides, how many artisanal ice cream companies can you think of that deliver?

How do you find Beez Kneez ice cream? Why, on Twitter, of course

negroni fig. j: Franny's negroni

7. Franny's

It had been a while since either of us had been to Franny's. Much too long a while. Our first two experiences were all about Franny's justly famous pizza pies, and both experiences were breathtaking. This time around we took a very different tack. L. had a theory. She insisted that as outstanding as Franny's pizzas were/are, their real strong suit was their line of pasta dishes. And their cocktails. Quite specifically, L. claimed Franny's was serving the Negroni to end all Negronis. Now, we already had a dinner date planned, but it was 6:00 pm, and an absolutely beautiful evening, an evening that was just begging for a Negroni, so the next thing I knew, there we were, having a couple of Franny's phenomenal Negronis with a spaghetti chaser. Now, I'm not sure that this pasta dish eclipsed Franny's pizzas (I still have dreams about their clam pie), but it certainly lived up to the standards I've come to expect from them. Chickpeas, minced garlic, crushed chili peppers, slivers of fresh mint, and some truly perfect pasta--so simple, so honest, so extraordinarily satisfying. Now that's what I call Happy Hour.

8. Aburiya Kinnosuke

Our dinner date that night was with our friends A. and J. and when it came to picking a restaurant, we deferred to their expert knowledge of New York's Japanese food scene. Their pick? Aburiya Kinnosuke, an elegant Midtown Japanese restaurant, specializing in robata grilled treats, fish dishes, and "tidbits for drinking." The atmosphere was semi-private yet convivial. We had our own little dining cubicle all to ourselves, but we were not detached in the least from the rather animated festivities going on all around us. Aburiya Kinnosuke was evidently making many of our fellow diners quite happy, and, I have to say, the vibe was infectious--especially when the beer and sake arrived.

I was excited to see all manner of robata dishes on the menu. I was even more excited when they began to appear before us. Among the night's highlights were a trio of pork sensations: organic berkshire pork simmered in brown sugar soju, grilled pork cheek, and black peppered berkshire pork. Oishii!

saltie 1 fig. k: inside Saltie 1

9. Saltie

Saltie was already one of Team Twitchy's favorites. It instantly became one of Team AEB's too. From the moment I set eyes on the place, I was sold. The decor. The color scheme. The Jim O'Rourke blaring from the stereo speakers.

saltie 2 fig. l: Saltie's Scuttlebutt

And then there's their specialty sandwiches. Like their truly amazing Scuttlebutt, which contained feta cheese, mixed greens, hard-boiled eggs, capers, pickles, and a roasted red pepper aioli, and was served on their house-made focaccia. Patrons have been known to fall head-over-heels in love with the Scuttlebutt. I've joined their ranks, but, unfortunately, mine is a long-distance affair.

saltie 3 fig. m: inside Saltie 2

Saltie is essentially a luncheonette, and they're closed on Mondays, so plan your visits wisely.

Oh, and they also make an awfully bold, awfully tasty buckwheat/olive shortbread and some wickedly beautiful fruit galettes.

the brooklyn kitchen + the meat hook fig. n: inside The Brooklyn Kitchen + The Meat Hook

10. The Meat Hook + The Brooklyn Kitchen

Two for the price of one.

Last summer we met a couple of Brooklynites in Montreal who told us they were just on the verge of opening a butcher shop/kitchen store/cooking class kitchen/kitchen studio complex. I can't remember how big they said it was going to be, but I remember it being BIG. Like, 650,000 square feet or something. I'm exaggerating, of course, but the project seemed so huge, so elaborate, so grandiose that I could barely wrap my head around it.

Then, 10 months later, I was taken to a neighborhood kitchen supply store, and, lo and behold, there it was. That butcher shop/kitchen store/cooking class kitchen/kitchen studio complex had materialized before my very eyes.

The Brooklyn Kitchen/The Meat Hook is not exactly Trump Tower (it's not even Zabar's)--it's actually remarkably modest in size--but it is just as ambitious as it was initially described to us, which means that there's a lot to keep the food-obsessed among us busy.

The Brooklyn Kitchen is a seriously well-stocked kitchen supply store with knowledgeable staff. They're worth visiting for their knife selection alone, which is impressively comprehensive, with German, Swiss, French, English, American, and Japanese models to choose from.

The Meat Hook is a old-school-as-new-school butcher shop fronted by local butcher extraordinaire Tom Mylan. Like their friends at Fleisher's, they only work with farmers that they trust and they only carve sustainably raised animals. Sausages are made fresh daily on weekdays. They carry artisanal bacons and country hams like Benton's. They're friendly and helpful, too. The real deal.

grumpy fig. o: inside Grumpy

11. Grumpy

I never actually ordered a coffee at Café Grumpy (Greenpoint), but, in the company of Team Twitchy, I got to check out their roasting operation and partake in a full-on coffee cupping exercise. My very first.

I also got to check out Grumpy's backroom blackboard--the one that lists all the coffees they've been roasting.

Not sure how to find Grumpy Greenpoint?

grumpy map fig. p: limited edition Grumpy map

Here's a handy map, courtesy of Team Twitchy. Just look for Mr. Grumpy Face.

12. Trini-Gul

Shut out at A & A because it was already early afternoon and they were very much sold out, we continued along Nostrand and just chanced upon a relatively new Trini establishment called Trini-Gul. We were looking for doubles, and doubles they had. Cheap, too. Only $1.50. Not as spiced and herbal as those at A & A, but absolutely delicious nonetheless, and they came fully loaded with hot sauce, tamarind sauce, and minced cucumber (!).

H. was with us on this particular stop, and, frankly, she was a little skeptical. She'd never had doubles, never even heard of them, and she wasn't sure it was worth the stop.

She came out of the experience a true believer.

"What are these things called again? Doubles?"

Trini-Gul has that kind of effect on people.

hill country 2

hill country 1 figs. q & r: inside Hill Country

13. Hill Country

What can you say about a place like Hill Country?

More than just a Texas-style barbecue joint, more than just a Manhattan Texas-style barbecue joint, Hill Country is a Manhattanist theme park, a Manhattanist fantasy of Central Texas, of the region that encompasses Austin and Lockhart, of a region that's renowned for its music and its barbecue. Fittingly, Hill Country's signature barbecue is modeled after one of the undisputed Legends of Lockhart: Kreuz Market.

Now, they might have pushed things further and named it Hill Trash because there's something almost Cracker Barrel-esque about Hill Country (although it's so much more cleverly/tastefully appointed, as you can see from the photos above), and there's definitely something about Hill Country that's straight out of your standard male-fantasy beer commercial/promotion (think Bud Camp). The place is simply outrageous. And enormous. And overwrought.

Copious amounts of brisket, sausage, ribs, etc. are portioned right there in front of you and served counter-style on butcher's paper, and on the day we went there was also an honest-to-goodness pig pickin' taking place. You've got your meat counter, and your sides & fixings counter, and your drink counter. You've got waitresses in short shorts and tight tees providing real Texas hospitality on the dining room floor. You've got two floors to choose from, because Hill Country is a bi-level establishment. You've got live music and big-screen TVs, Hill Country cocktail bars and a Hill Country merch counter. Get the picture?

But somehow, against all odds, Hill Country actually delivers. The brisket could definitely have been smokier, but it could hardly have been any more moist and succulent. The smoked Kreuz sausages were total crowd-pleasers--the jalapeño cheese, in particular, was juicy, just the slightest bit fiery, and oozing with cheese. The campfire baked beans with burnt ends would have been at home on the range. The green bean casserole would have passed muster at a church fundraiser. And the banana cream pudding was a blue-ribbon winner.

And we're not the only ones who like Hill Country. We're in good company (that's right, Bruni named the place one of his top five restaurants in the world).

ricotta & greens sandwich fig. s: Bklyn Larder's ricotta & wilted greens sandwich

14. Bklyn Larder

From the good people who brought you Franny's, comes Brooklyn Larder, a.k.a. Bklyn Larder LLC. Here, you can find Franny's phenomenal sweet fennel sausages and all the rest of their brilliant selection of charcuterie, along with baked goods, prepared foods (pickles, sides, main dishes, etc.), a small but surprisingly extensive cheese counter that specializes in the very best of the New American Cheeses, a small but tastefully chosen selection of artisanal beers (North American and European), and a tantalizing selection of chocolates, preserves, canned goods, and other specialty food items.

Be forewarned: Brooklyn Larder is the kind of place that makes you want to drop a whole whack of dough.

They also have a great selection of freshly prepared sandwiches, including a ricotta and wilted greens number that was ever so simple, and ever so right.

pork bun picnic fig. t: Palisades Parkway Pork Bun Picnic

15. Milk Bar

You can never have too many Momofuku pork buns and you can never bring too many Milk Bar cookies home for your friends, so a return trip to Milk Bar was my final stop.

Just in time, too. This post is just ridiculous.

They don't call it the Big Onion for nothing, I guess. Come to think of it, that's kind of what I looked like by the end of this trip.

Roberta's, 261 Moore St., Brooklyn (Bushwick), (718) 417-1118

Gimme!, 495 Lorimer St., Brooklyn (Williamsburg), (718) 388-7771

Russ & Daughters, 179 East Houston St., Manhattan (Lower East Side), (212) 475-4880

Milk Bar, 207 2nd Ave. (@ 13th), Manhattan (East Village), (212) 254-3500

Third Rail, 240 Sullivan St., Manhattan (Greenwich Village), (555) 555-5555

Franny's, 295 Flatbush Ave., Brooklyn (Park Slope), (718) 230-0221

Aburiya Kinnosuke, 213 E. 45th St., Manhattan (Grand Central/Midtown East), (212) 867-5454

Saltie, 387 Metropolitan Ave., Brooklyn (Williamsburg), (718) 387-4777

The Brooklyn Kitchen + The Meat Hook, 100 Frost St. (virtually underneath the BQE), Brooklyn (Williamsburg), (718) 389-2982

Café Grumpy, 193 Meserole Ave., Brooklyn (Greenpoint), (718) 349-7623

Trini-Gul, 543 Nostrand Ave., Brooklyn (Crown Heights), (718) 484-4500

Hill Country, 30 West 26th St., Manhattan (Flatiron District), (212) 255-4544

Bklyn Larder, 228 Flatbush Ave., Brooklyn (Park Slope), (718) 783-1250


Many thanks to Team Twitchy, A. and J., and H. Respect to all of you that this whirlwind visit didn't allow to see.

* Remember the "loopy nomenclature" I mentioned above? We seriously considered getting a Millennium Falco (tomato, Parmigiano, pork sausage, onion, basil, and breadcrumbs), and the Specken Wolf (speck, mushrooms, oregano, onions, and mozzarella) was tempting too, but in the end we opted for 1 classic, 1 special, and one main.

** Get this: pretzels, potato chips, coffee, oats, butterscotch, and chocolate chips.