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Picking Over Asheville’s 12 Bones

March 21, 2013

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After moving on from Atlanta we stayed in Highlands, NC before moving on to Asheville. I should mention we had a wonderful meal in Highlands at Madison’s, a surprisingly formal and fancy gourmet experience. I sampled the chef’s Quail schnitzel(!) with great satisfaction, but more on that another time.
While at Madison’s, the bartender – a serious ‘cue enthusiast – said we were essentially out of luck for truly high quality ‘cue in the area. But when we told him we were going to Asheville, he brightened, saying “There’s good ‘cue there” and pointed us at 12 Bones. The reception folks at our hotel in Asheville were enthusiastic as well, telling us that’s where the president eats when he comes through town. So my hopes were raised. Read more…

Me Like EAtlanta: The Varsity

March 20, 2013

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Our first effort at dining in Atlanta went really well: Fat Matt’s Rib Shack was sensational. The Varsity was recommended to us by a very reliable source, so we set out to try it. I gather it is something of an Atlanta institution, or landmark. I had been told they make THE BEST burgers. Read more…

Me Like EAtlanta: Fat Matt’s Rib Shack

March 18, 2013
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Let me start by saying that I am a fiercely proud New Yorker and therefore am basically ignorant when it comes to authentic Southern barbecue. I just haven’t been raised around the stuff. I would liken my knowledge of authentic ‘cue at this point to someone from Delaware who ate at their local “New York Pizza” joint and therefore thought they might know from a New York slice.
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While on a visit to Atlanta, the word I heard (via my cousin Liz at first) was to try Fat Matt’s Rib Shack. Boy am I glad I took her advice, because they serve by far the best ribs I’ve ever had in my life, so far. Read more…

Costello’s Clam Shack Is Not Quite Abbott’s, But Has An Unexpected Treat

July 28, 2012

Simple. Glorious. Classic. The Hot Lob.

Longtime readers of this blog – and people who know me personally – are well aware of my love for Abbott’s Lobster in the Rough in Noank, Conn. and in particular their utterly winning sandwich, the Hot Lob. Indeed, the first entry in this blog is about the Hot Lob. In an article elsewhere, I characterized the Hot Lob as the best sandwich I’ve ever had, and the best there is, period.

Now as time as worn on, none of my affection for Abbott’s has diminished, nor their stellar Hot Lob, but I have been enough times to realize that it is a place that succeeds because the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. The Hot Lob is amazing – but is it better than a Luke’s Lobster Roll? – I am no longer as certain. Sometimes the answer is definitely yes – when you get a piping hot Hot Lob, as opposed to the lesser and unfortunate Luke Warm Lob. But the place is better, the view is better, the overall atmosphere is better, the sandwich is delicious, the bisque marvelous, etc. etc. etc. Indeed eating a Hot Lob while watching boats tweedle by on even a gray day is marvelous. It is certainly one of my favorite places on Earth and feeds both me and my soul. (N.B. New for the 2012 season is Abbott’s “O.M.G.,” essentially a hot lob with double the meat, some seven ounces, piled into a ridiculous cone between the bun. I did not venture to try it this time).

Abbott’s has a clam shack sister a few hundred feet away – Costello’s – so despite a day’s gluttony at the former (Hot Lob, bisque, corn on the cob, cole slaw, potato chips) – we decided to give it a whirl. Whereas Abbott’s does lobster in the rough and so on, Costello’s does fried clams.

The approach. The tented structure at the end of the dock is Costello’s.

A word about the venue itself. Costello’s is located in a working dockyard. It is further down the same narrow, slow-speed street as Abbott’s. You pull in to a large parking lot and find your spot. Then it is a march down to the edge of a pier, and there, split on two levels, is Costello’s. On the lower level, you order you food. You can also eat at a few picnic tables. Above, there is more seating, under a tent-like roof, with tables and chairs as well as picnic tables.

The view from the upper deck. It is very nice, but not quite as pleasant as the view from Abbott’s.

The view is not as charming as Abbott’s, nor is the place. The view that immediately greets you is more docks and parked boats, as opposed to Abbott’s, where the boats go slowly past on their way out of the harbor. The boats pass Costello’s as well, but not quite as close, and there’s the intervening nautical parking lot and pier to see past. It’s neat, but not as nice.

The menu contains a lot of duplication from Abbott’s! Another source of the Hot Lob!

A pleasant surprise at Costello’s is this: You can get a Hot Lob there! I was well surprised to see that nearly the entire Abbott’s menu is duplicated. So it turns out there is a second place on Earth where you can get them… .

Nonetheless, it was for the clams we came, and so, ordered them. They come in two varieties: strips or whole bellies. Conferring with our teenaged server she suggested, it being my first visit, to get the strips, and, if finding them agreeable, advance to whole bellies another time.

Looking good… .

They were agreeable indeed, very much what you think they are: breaded clam strips. Crunchy but not to the point of having lost all of their clam meat within. Flavorful without being fishy. Crunchy and not greasy. Very pleasant and on balance wonderful clam strips. However, I do not know that they make for destination dining the same way the Hot Lob does. They are delightful for scratching your fried food itch, and I think I rate them better than most clam strips I’ve had, fresher perhaps, but nonetheless it is a deep-fried thing you dip in tartar sauce.

A closer look. It is hard to tell in this photo, but trust me, those fries are skinny (and delicious).

The french fries they are served with, however, really caught my attention. They are cut so narrow and thin to be more like strips than fries. They are utterly wonderful.

On balance it is easy to recommend Costello’s. If you are going all this way, however, the Hot Lob should remain the primary target. Costello’s fried clams are delicious, but mostly if you or one of your party is having a fearsome hankering for fried food. If going with that person, you should get the Hot Lob, and steal some of their fries.

Costello’s Clam Shack

145 Pearl Street
Noank, Conn. 06340
860.572.2779

www.costellosclamshack.com

Adventures In Foodblivion: Don’t Let The Prison Bars Fool You, Cafe Ole Serves Up Fresh, Delicious Sandwiches And A Relaxed Vibe

June 12, 2012

An unusual exterior… .

Tucked away off 10th Avenue and 54th Street, behind a bizarre, jail-like facade, is a small, inauspicious shop which serves up surprisingly fresh and tasty sandwiches. It is an important oasis in the middle of Foodblivion.

Part of the trouble with Cafe Ole – other than finding it – is that between the bars on the windows and what you can see looking through them, you wouldn’t be blamed for not knowing they sell sandwiches. The only thing you can see from the street is their coffee menu, so for quite a while I thought this was just a coffee shop. But people were leaving the shop with long, white paper bags that looked like they were filled with sandwich… .

The shop isn’t particularly impressive either inside or outside, visually. There’s a very relaxed feel to the place, but frankly it looks a little… shady? Shabby? Like it’s trying to be a boutique-y shop, but can’t afford the trimmings. It’s hard to put into words. What is wonderful, however, is the relaxing and transportive Flamenco(?) music constantly playing. The folks behind the counter are very friendly. There are a few seats tucked into a corner and a small round table or two.

The menu… .

Over on the right hand wall, out of the sight from the street, there is a food menu. It sits above and behind the counter containing much of the prepared food. The salads contained therein seemed to have good ingredients, but I am always a bit nervous about those large stores of prepped food covered with cellophane. It looked good, but so far, more things about the shop were making my spider sense tingle negative rather than positive. I am glad to have been wrong about that.

Doesn’t exactly look particularly promising, does it? Not bad, but… .

I opted for the salami and mozzerella sandwich. Watching it be prepared – the beautiful, fresh bread pulled from the box, the thick slice of fresh mozzerella, my attitude began changing, like the sun coming up or the tide coming in.

Look at that!

Just look at that beautiful sandwich! Whoever is providing them their magnificent bread deserves a good measure of praise, as does Cafe Ole for choosing to go with them. That is beautiful, fresh bread. Good bread can make or kill a sandwich. This is great, crusty (but not brittle or hard) bread with a good bite and decent chew.

Looks pretty good, no?

The mozzerella was cut thick and fresh. The salami was delicious. The sandwich was served with roasted peppers and fresh basil. It was a winner! So much so, I went back a day later and got it again. It clocked in, with tax, at around $8.61.

Lovely, no?

I’ve since also indulged in their turkey and brie sandwich, which was also fresh and delicious. They have a stack of vegetarian sandwiches as well – avocado this, sundried tomato that – and I am looking forward to working my way through their menu. In addition, considering the quality of their sandwiches, those prepped salads mentioned earlier are clearly worth a closer look and I will probably have to try some of them.

Considering how starved for quality food the far West side is, Cafe Ole takes on additional importance. It is an unassuming, comfortable break offering a pleasant, tranquil vibe, nice music, and good food. I’ve come to really appreciate what it feels like to step in there in the middle of a day at the office. It’s relaxing.

I’d rather get food from Cafe Ole than from the Lunch Box, which I had previously taken to be the only place around serving a fresh sandwich. Although that place is good, Cafe Ole is better.

Enjoy!

Cafe Ole

453 West 54th Street
New York, NY 10019
212.246.9737
No website

BREAKING NEWS: Prime Burger To Close?

May 22, 2012

UPDATE: Unfortunately, the news is true, and Prime Burger will be closing this Saturday. For more information, click here

Truly upsetting news, folks.

The iconic, wonderful, delightful, excellent, in all ways wonderful, joyful, makes me happy to just think about it, superlative Prime Burger is reportedly going to close this Saturday after 74 years.

If true, this represents a heartbreaking loss to New York City foodies.

Prime Burger, put simply, is a New York City institution. Frankly, I hadn’t written it up as yet because it is one of those classic places that you never think is going to go anywhere.

Let me say it loud and clear: I adore Prime Burger.

They’ve been slinging quality burgers since, well, forever. Long before New York City got overrun by this specialty burger joint or that, or the Shake Shack and other such crappy imitators, there was Prime Burger.

Now, Prime Burger’s burgers aren’t the juiciest, biggest, fanciest or whatever. They are very straightforward burgers. It is a quintessential burger joint. It is perhaps THE quintessential burger joint and a window to the city that once was. Where neighborhood joints had counters and small booths. No frills, but welcoming.

The Prime Burger Deluxe is well worth your attention.

Most places, when you order a “deluxe,” you get a burger with a side of fries, lettuce and tomato.

At Prime Burger, the “deluxe” gets you a second burger!

And what puts Prime Burger over the top? It’s all about their relish. You take the little container of relish and tip it over your burger and an ordinary patty becomes extraordinary, juicy and delicious.

This is really heartbreaking. Run out and get yourself a Prime Burger with relish while you still can. Go take a seat and soak in the atmosphere. Watch the excellent video at the top of this piece, at a bare minimum.

Oy.

Prime Burger

5 East 51st. 
New York, NY 10022
212.759.4730
www.primeburger.com

Roast Suckling Pig At The Breslin Is An Experience In Salt, And Courage

April 2, 2012

Try not to think of it as cute.

Like most guys, I love getting together with the boys to go eat too much meat, get a bit drunk, and have  a few laughs. Most of the time, this time-honored ritual involves beef. But once in a while, after one has given Keens and Peter Luger a thorough walkthrough, someone comes up with the wacky idea of trying “theme and variation.” To wit: How about a whole roast suckling pig at the Breslin?

After receiving my invitation to this event, I consulted with contributor Hugh. His line on it was “don’t go.” He described his own whole roast experience – which did not take place at the Breslin – as traumatic and unpleasant.

Nonetheless, I opted to sign on. I’m glad I did, as the experience was well worth doing, but I don’t know how quickly I would do it again.

A promising menu.

The Breslin is a big, dark bar in the Ace Hotel. It has a vaguely hipster vibe. The “Chef’s Table” is a large table just in front of where the servers pick up the fare from the kitchen. You secure a reservation in advance (I don’t recall if they have two or three seatings at the Chef’s Table per night). Obviously, the pig requires preparation. The impact of that is once you sit down, there’s scarcely time to order a cocktail before all of the fixings start landing. As you can see by the menu, those fixings include a deliciously mustardy Caesar salad, the crazy delicious pork fried potatoes, and more.

The pig as it is first presented at the table.

The pig lands and everyone breaks out their mobile phones to take snapshots. There’s paparazzi for the dead pig. Even people not at our table came over to snap shots.

It’s quite easy, surprisingly, to make the leap past “cute little piggy” to “that looks delicious.” The butchering then begins.

Butchering the beastie.

Your hipster waiter arrives with tongs and a butcher knife and starts chopping the pig up. He severs the head, legs and then starts serrating the various areas of the meat. He’ll introduce you to the various parts: The ribs, the butt, the shoulder, etc… .

Now like most folks, I have had all of those various pieces individually elsewhere. And as you might guess, I think ribs taste differently from shredded pork shoulder which tastes different from butt and so on and so forth. This was monumentally naive on my part. What makes those various cuts taste different from each other, more than any other thing, is how they are prepared. This was such a “duh” moment for me. For whatever reason, I had it in my head they would taste as I had previously had them. Fool – the whole thing is done one way. Duh!

Believe it or not, that's a rib.

Another thing that was surprising to me (and perhaps will get you thinking about going Kosher) is what the best part of the roast pig was. It was the skin. Crispy, salty and delicious. Of course, it is somewhat revolting to think that you’re licking your lips (and fingers) after horking down some skin, but that’s what you’re in for.

Where there is a difference in the experience has to do with the texture of the piece you’re eating at any given moment. The ribs, for example, wound up being “barely there” while the shoulder and butt were fattier and meatier.

Some salsa to add diversity.

Honestly, the whole thing is a swim in a salt sea. The meat is tender and delicious. The salsa verde and roja add some necessary diversity to the flavor profile after a while. And once you’ve gone through the bulk of the pig, they then bring on the “Truth or Dare” portion, where things do get pretty digusting pretty quickly, the butchered head.

Yes, that's the eyes, nose, cheeks, and brains.

As you can see, the butchered head reveals the brain, eyes, jowls, snout, etc. And of course that is totally gross, no matter what. And when you dump that in the middle of a group of men, machismo will assert itself, and there emerges a “dare” component to the meal. Several of my amigos scooped out brain, which they described as being like foie gras, but I contented myself to taking their word for it.

I did sample some jowl, which was essentially a gel of pork flavored fat.

So yes, there is a gross-out component, but essentially you are in for a mass quantity of salty salt salt pork.

A brief aside to again tout the amazing pork fat fried potatoes. They were ridiculously good.

I’d say on balance, if you’re a true carnivore dedicated to eating, it is a worthwhile experience. I don’t know that I’d repeat it any time soon, but I think I wouldn’t say no if asked again at some point in the future.

The Breslin

16 West 29th Street
New York, NY 10001
212.679.1939
www.thebreslin.com
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