Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Stealth Trip to Maine

Why is it that I only seem to blog after eating with Micah?

I had a quick weekend trip to Maine to visit a friend who is ailing, but first stopped off to dine with Micah and another radio refuge, Steve, at Portland's Great Lost Bear.

They may have lost the Bear, but they've found the Beer, with 72 taps going.

What you see at right are the remains of a very good, creamy cheesecake. We started with loaded nachos. I had a cheesesteak, Steve a burger and Micah a haddock rollup. It's that kind of place.

What is really impressive is the Bear has been there longer than our server has been alive. I wrote the first radio commercials for them when they opened in 1979. The place has hardly changed. Decor pretty much the same. Menu has nearly all the items it had originally, with additions to address trends of the past three decades such as rollups and fajitas. The main addition is all of those taps.

Predictable but never boring. We went early on Friday and by the time we exited, around 7 pm there was a line out the door. The Great Lost Bear is my favorite restaurant success story. Kudos to Dave and Wesley for doing it right!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

New Jersey Pastrami Tour

My friend Micah and I like to call ourselves the Kreplach Brothers. Micah often visits his mom in northern New Jersey and when he's there I go down to avail myself of shopping and eating opportunities not found in Dutchess County. Since we've enjoyed a few pastrami sandwiches in our time, he had the idea of a comparison tour -- let's split sandwiches at four locations and decide which is best. Seemed reasonable to me!

Stop #1 was the wonderfully-named Nosher Rye in Allendale. We had been there recently and thought the pastrami very good. We got four sandwiches to go. One for Micah's mom, two for her nice neighbors as a father's day present and one for Micah and me to split. Micah had pre-selected Dr. Brown's cream soda. One of the pickle slices on the plate is from a batch of 3/4-sours I just made and it was pretty good; nearly as sour as the sour pickle from the deli.

Stop #2 was Harold's Superette in Paramus. Since this was strictly take-out, we ate in a nearby park. This pastrami had a very mild cure, and tasted more like slightly spiced corned beef. Which is essentially what it was. Enjoyable, but not a truly satisfying pastrami flavor.

Stop #3 was the Kosher Nosh in Glen Rock. This is where we met our Waterloo. They had a soup and half sandwich special, and once Micah told me the mushroom barley soup was good I couldn't resist. As well they have a free salad bar. The pickle, tomato, health salad and potato salad were all very good. And the soup was indeed excellent. We chose Dr. Brown's black cherry here for variety's sake.

By the time we finished all that, had our third soda each, and the third half sandwich, we were done. We had planned a fourth stop at Harold's Deli in Lyndhurst, but it was not to be. Even the Kreplach Brothers have their limits! The pastrami here was almost as mild as that from Harold's Superette. Enjoyable, but not strident enough for us. So the winner as far as pastrami was concerned was clearly the Nosher Rye.

We then worked off the calories with some shopping, including the wonderful Corrado's and a 3-pound seeded rye from Rockland Bakery. At $4.75 I feel I've stolen something when I shop there.

All in all, New Jersey isn't as bad as I thought it was growing up in the Bronx.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Ben's Best is Right

Some of my favorite meals have been shared with my Kreplach Brother, Micah. Ever since seeing Ben's Best Kosher Deli on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, we've been wanting to go. I live in the Hudson Valley and Micah visits northern New Jersey often. So last week I picked him up and we drove to Queens.

We tried a number of sides and appetizers. We realized that we had never eaten kreplach together. Ben's fried kreplach were superb. Served with lots of caramelized onions. Also, they provided duck sauce for dipping, which seemed strange, but went amazingly well. Had it not been Kosher, I might have wanted sour cream instead. We also recommend the health salad, more finely shredded than others we have had, and that helped the flavors blend beautifully.

The highlight, and what we really came for, was the sandwiches. He had pastrami. And while I normally favor pastrami these days, I grew up eating corned beef and wanted that comfort feeling again. We each took a taste of the other's. Both were the best we can recall. Great flavor, and just the right amount of fat. And while disappointed that the rye was seedless, it was fresh and substantial. We were quite in heaven with those sandwiches, the accompanying cole slaw, pickles and Dr. Brown's cream sodas.

Owner Jay Parker was kind enough to pose with us for a photo. He said the corned beef and pastrami are their own; made to their recipe, and the pastrami smoked in house.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

New York Neighborhood Pizza

Recently I found myself in Corona, Queens, NY at dinnertime. I had planned to eat somewhere that turned out to be closed. I had previously noticed Corona Pizza, so decided to go there.

It was a pretty dingy place, and it wasn't very busy on a Friday night at 7 p.m. Nonetheless, I ordered two slices of cheese pizza and took a Stewart's root beer from the cooler.

The pizza was really good. Not exceptional, but solid New York "plain" pizza like I grew up with in the Bronx. I imagine you can go into any neighborhood pizza joint in the city and expect a good slice. (Better than from that chain La Famiglia, which is OK for airports, but they're all over Manhattan now...fuggedaboudit!).

Two slices and a soda...$6.25. And across the street, the Lemon Ice King of Corona. Enjoyed an exquisitely good lemon Italian ice in the park there watching the guys play bocce. That's New York!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Back to the Old Neighborhood

In the early 70s, I lived in Manhattan's East Village, a sketchy neighborhood, but cheap to live in. There were still remnants of the immigrant communities that had settled there in the early 20th century. There were great Polish and Italian butcher shops on First Avenue, and many things Ukrainian, from an onion-domed Church, to a store with traditional clothing, records and notions, to several restaurants.

The place I frequented was Odessa, a diner-style restaurant on Avenue A across from Tompkins Square Park. The park was so dangerous that I never stepped foot in it, even in daylight.

I was in New York at the end of May and had a free evening, so I walked down to the East Village. I knew it had experienced gentrification, but I still wasn't prepared for the lively crowds in every restaurant and bar, and couples with strollers in that very same park.

Walking down my old block of 6th Street, between Avenues A and B, I was amazed. The many storefronts, all empty when I lived there, were now occupied by restaurants, a bar, a Pilates studio, a veterinarian's office and a homemade ice cream store.

Odessa Ukrainian Platter with potato pancake, potato pierogi, stuffed cabbage, kielbasa and sauerkraut. Sour cream, mustard and apple sauce served on the side.

Odessa is still there. There must have been a family squabble, because the original location is now the Odessa Cafe, really just a bar. But next door is Odessa Restaurant, still very much a diner with a fairly typical diner menu. But they still have Ukrainian specialties. Unable to decide among them, I ordered the plate with everything. It was way too much food, and it was really good.

I'm glad that a few old places remain in the East Village: Odessa, B+H Dairy Restaurant, Gem Spa and Veniero's Pasticceria to name the ones I saw.

Friday, July 02, 2010

Jersey Diners vs. Pennsylvania Diners

Many of them look similar, with gleaming metal and glass or stone and glass exteriors. The menus are extensive. Here's the difference, and like all generalizations I'm sure there are exceptions:

The food in New Jersey diners is tasty, and the food in Pennsylvania diners is bland. In fairness to Pennsylvania, I have not been to diners in the western part of the state. The ones I have tried are from Harrisburg east. I've never had a satisfying meal at any of them, and I've tried breakfast, lunch and dinner. On the other hand, I've never had a bad meal at a Jersey diner.

I was hungry, so it was a few bites in before I thought to take a cellphone picture!

My most recent one was this week in the town of Washington, far west enough that the area looked like Pennsylvania. But my lunch at the Washington Diner was one of the best ever. I ordered a roast beef and swiss double stack, accompanied by fries, cole slaw and pickle. The roast beef was very high quality, rare and fresh; the vegetables on the sandwich were fresh and crisp. The fries were classic diner fries, well lubricated but not greasy. Along with a Pepsi, the check came in at $10, a real value.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Farewell to Denver

It's just over four years since I moved from Virginia to Denver. Now I'm moving to the Hudson Valley. I lived in the northeast until I was 42 and I'm happy to be returning to familiar territory.

I look forward to again finding my favorite apple varieties, grades of maple syrup other than A, locally made cheddar, bialys and pastrami when I daytrip to Manhattan, and lobster and clams when I hit the coast.

There are three foods that have been pleasant surprises in Denver which I will miss: Chiles from Hatch, New Mexico which are roasted locally at farmers' markets and roadside stands, peaches from Palisade, Colorado on the western slope, and the sweetest cantaloupes I've ever had (and they're cheap!), from Rocky Ford in southeast Colorado.

Denver is a great restaurant town. While you can enjoy superb upscale dining, the best part for me has been the plethora of middle eastern restaurants (and markets).

I leave never having fulfilled the desire to make my own tamales. Maybe I'll stop by the Mexican grocery and buy some husks and masa harina on the way out of town to take back east.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Monday, October 05, 2009

R.I.P. Gourmet

I was saddened to learn that Gourmet magazine will cease publication this fall, another victim of the advertising drought affecting print media in particular.

Until I got a free offer to use mileage points to subscribe, I had never so much as looked at the magazine, thinking it was way too hoity-toity for me. And certainly there is that element: reviews of high-end restaurants I'll never dine at, spreads about fancy and fanciful dinner parties. But there were also a lot of down-to-earth articles, reviews and recipes. Ruth Reichl's total love of good food infused every page, and the photography was gorgeous -- truly food porn. I was impressed enough to renew as a paid subscriber.

It's quite a statement that a magazine with nearly a million circulation can't survive today.

Guess Not

Friday, October 02, 2009

Everything But The Kitchen Sink?

In this early-60s parody, Allan Sherman reminds us of a time before it was common to have multiple ethnic/international restaurants in even the smallest towns in America.