And just in time for Memorial Day meat maven Josh Ozersky pens a Wall Street Journal piece on the New ‘Cue, which includes such wonders as the smoked marrow pho with brisket and house-made spicy Thai sausage at San Francisco’s Hi-Lo BBQ.
The kids over at Home Sweet Queens catch a case of momo fever after the Second Annual Momo Crawl.
Early this week Texas Monthly’s Daniel Vaughn the mag’s barbecue editor, issued “A Declaration of Barbecue War,” which includes such provocative statements as “Texas barbecue has no peer on earth.” There’s also a companion piece wherein Vaughn spars with John Shelton, an expert on North Carolina barbecue. Check out Shelton’s takedown of chain barbecue restaurants: ”pick-your-meat, pick-your-sauce, mix-and-match International House of Barbecue places that are increasingly common in our cities. True, they’re in North Carolina or Texas and they’re serving what they call barbecue, but it’s not North Carolina barbecue or Texas barbecue; it’s food from nowhere, for people from nowhere, who deserve nothing better.”
Robert Moss, a proud Carolinian fires back at Texas Monthly: “I could go on about the numerous contradictions and inconsistencies inherent in Texas Monthly’s barbecue jingoism, but here in the Carolinas, we try to be gracious. When we go to visit friends and they insist their 9-year-old daughter play us her latest recital piece on the violin, we clap when she finishes and murmur warm words about how well she played, considering her young age. If Mr. Vaughn or Ms. Sharpe offered us a plate of brisket or beef ribs from Snow’s or the Pecan Lodge, we would accept it graciously and say at the end of the meal, ‘My, that roast beef sure was tasty.’ Because our mamas raised us to be polite.”
Tyson Ho and his mentor, Ed Mitchell having a hearty country breakfast.
Today is the day that separates the hogs from the sucklings I thought to myself as Tyson, Matt, Mike and I hopped into the pickup for day two of our whirlwind North Carolina barbeque tour. “Some of the places we are going today will make yesterday’s places look like four-star dining,” Tyson said as we began our journey into the sticks.
Our first stop was Wilson, N.C., “the beginning of the sticks,” for breakfast with Ed Mitchell, Tyson’s barbeque mentor. I was kind of disappointed that we were meeting him at a Cracker Barrel, as I’m more of a Waffle House man. Actually I was hoping that breakfast would be at Ed’s new joint, slated to open later this summer. Meeting the maestro of whole hog was kind of surreal, I’d never seen him without overalls or a baseball cap.
At first I wasn’t going to eat anything as I wanted to reserve all my stomach capacity for barbeque. As I heard everyone placing their orders that plan soon fell by the wayside. I had a light breakfast, biscuits and gravy with a sausage patty. A couple of weeks ago when Tyson—a self-professed Chinese Yankee hog cooker—told me barbeque had its roots in North Carolina whole hog cookery I took it with a grain of salt. Now as I broke biscuits with his mentor, I began to realize that this stuff about barbeque being born not from trying to make the best out of tough cuts but from the celebratory roasting of a whole hog was true.
“That’s where barbeque comes from, the pig,” Mitchell said in between phone calls about his new restaurant, each of which seemed to involve fried chicken. “People didn’t slaughter the pig just to cook a shoulder they did it to roast the whole animal. The full technique comes from being able to roast the whole animal. Cooking a rib or a shoulder is nowhere near the challenge of cooking a whole animal.” Pointing to his hands he said, “The only thermometer I have is these right here, but that comes from years of experience.” (more…)
Hursey’s was the first stop on our whirlwind North Carolina barbeque tour.
My notebook and several articles of clothing still smell of hardwood smoke. I blame it on my buddy Tyson Ho. Last week we took a barbeque road trip to hit up a bunch of whole hog joints in North Carolina. Tyson, the man behind the Hog Days of Summer, never misses a chance to evangelize about Carolina barbeque, but the real reason for the pilgrimage was to pick up a cooker to replace the one stolen from in front of John Brown Smokehouse last month. Very few things cause me to leave the house before dawn. One is the Malaysian soup service at Curry Leaves in Flushing. The other is barbeque. So last Thursday morning found me standing on the corner at 4:15 a.m. waiting for Tyson to pick me up to begin the journey southward. Joining us were Tyson’s buddy, Matt Gelfand and Michael Rudin, a photographer and fellow barbeque enthusiast.
On the 10-hour drive down—thanks and praise to expert wheelman Matt—I learned quite a bit about whole hog barbeque. The most important fact being: in North Carolina the phrase “whole hog barbeque” is redundant. “A lot of people will say, ‘I went to North Carolina and asked the waitress what was on the barbeque plate’ and she looked at me funny,” Tyson, who I’ve come to consider as something of a Chinese John T. Edge, said. “That’s because there’s only one thing on it: barbeque. And barbeque is whole hog.”
Pointing to the cookhouse at Hursey’s.
“We are at the six-hour mark don’t eat too much at the first stop,” Tyson said. By the time we pulled into Burlington, N.C., I was delirious from hunger and lack of sleep. So much so that I was ready to try the buffalo chicken pita that some god-forsaken place called The Park touted on its roadside sign. “For me to eat it has to be cooked with wood,” Tyson said pointing to a stack of hickory outside the cookhouse at Hursey’s Bar-B-Q (1834 S. Church St, Burlington, N.C.).
The counter at Hursey’s is country as all getout.
Hursey’s is a local institution that started out with a homemade backyard pit in 1945. Four years later Sylvester Hursey and his wife, Daisy were granted the state’s first ever barbecue wholesale license. These days the entire operation smokes 1,200 shoulders a week over hickory coals.
A plate of Hursey’s hickory-smoked whole hog.
It’s a good thing that we were warned not to pig out too much at the first stop. By the time we were done ordering the table was covered with plates: chopped barbeque, sliced barbeque, broasted chicken, hush puppies, and a rack of ribs, along with cole slaw, banana pudding, and cobbler. The barbeque itself had a nice tangy flavor with a good bit of smoke, but was quite honestly nothing to write home about.The culprit? Prechopping and presaucing the gives the meat a texture not unlike tuna salad. I’m gonna go out on a hickory limb here and say that Sylvester and Daisy would not approve. Frankly I’ve had better whole hog in Tyson’s back yard. The ribs—and remember in N.C. ribs ain’t cue—were of the steamed saucy variety shunned by barbeque geeks like myself. I literally took one bite and left the rest.
Surely the only lobster roll to use shichimi pepper and Japanese mayo.
Tex-Japanese, a noxious hybrid created by Guy Fieri, is the last spin I’d expect to see on that summertime Maine classic, the lobster roll. Thankfully in the capable hands of Gary Anza, the chef at Astoria’s Bistro 33 it works. That’s mainly because Anza is a skilled chef and Guy Fieri is a dude prone to perching sunglasses on the back of his frosted-tipped dome. When I ordered the lobster roll ($16) I knew it wasn’t going to hew to Down East tradition. After all, the menu made it clear the sandwich included Japanese mayo and shichimi, a red pepper powder more common at Japanese izakaya than at French bistros. It didn’t say anything about the Texas toast though. Topped with a tangle of shredded cucumbers and dressed with Japanese mayo and served with some fancy lettuce it’s the type of lobster roll that could only come from a chef in Queens. Actually it’s more of a sandwich than a lobster roll. One that’s as refreshing and eclectic as the borough from which it hails.
Slices of mango surround an oval of green-hued sticky rice.
Tea Cup Cafe, a quirky Thai coffee shop with a sideline in street food, has become one of my favorite places for Southeast Asian snacks. Good as they look I have yet to try the various cupcakes and other confections. When I’m in the mood for something sweet at Tea Cup, I always get the same thing, mango with sticky rice ($5). Slices of ripe orange fruit fan out around an oval of green-hued sticky rice. The whole affair is lashed with sweetened milk and showered with sesame seeds. The first time I had this dessert I wondered what was up with the green rice. Then I took a bite and realized it was flavored with the sweet bready extract of pandan leaves. I’m told it’s a popular street sweet in Thailand. I’m just glad to have found such an artful version of it here in Queens.
I have been hitting the cold noodles at Cheng Du Tian Fu pretty hard lately. So last weekend when I stopped by for an early dinner after leading a Flushing food tour—yes, I often eat a meal after conducting a Chinatown food crawl—I wanted something different. As I scanned the pictorial menu the proprietress suggested chuān beǐ liáng fěn, a slippery bowl of blocky mung bean noodles. I shook my head and then my eye fell on something I’ve been meaning to try for some time, the house special salad ($3.50).
The cool tangle of seaweed, julienned carrots, and chewy noodles showered in cilantro is quite special indeed. Dressed with roasted chili oil, black vinegar, and a healthy dose of garlic it offers a wealth of textures and flavors. Sweet, salty, and possessed of a spice level that will leave your palate humming it’s the Japanese seaweed salad’s sexier Sichuan cousin. Oddly enough the Chinese name liáng bàn sān sù—or “cold salad three vegetables” —doesn’t quite translate to “house special salad.” Go figure.
Cheng Du Tian Fu, No. 31, Golden Shopping Mall, 41-28 Main St., Flushing
Phayul’s momo took home the prize after a three-way tiebreaker.
Forget the James Beard Awards. When it comes to recognition in the culinary arts I’m all about the Golden Momo. Yesterday was the Second Annual Momo Crawl in Jackson (aka Himalayan) Heights. The object of the event organized by Jeff Orlick was to find the best momo of the 20 places in the hood. I am still trying to wrap my brain around the fact that there are 20 places offering the beef dumpling beloved by Tibetans and Nepalese, I thought there were a dozen at most. I was unable to attend the crawl as I was giving a food tour of Elmhurst, but judging from the activity on the Twitter machine, the rain did not keep folks away.
One of Phayul’s momo maestros with the coveted trophy.
Late yesterday evening I learned that Phayul took first prize after a three-way tie-breaker with Ganjong Kitchen and Lhasa Fast Food. I was pleased to hear this as Phayul is one of my favorite Tibetan spots, so much so that I took Andrew Zimmern there. So I jumped on the 7 train to get a glimpse of the coveted Golden Momo and help my friends at Phayul celebrate.
The Dalai Lama flanked by a basketball trophy and the Golden Momo.
When I got to Phayul it was crowded—not with the 80 momo crawlers that had roamed the streets earlier in the afternoon—but with the usual mix of Tibetan families and young people all eating momo. I shared a table with a couple who each had an order of momo ($5). They were amazed both by the Golden Momo, and the fact that I was thoroughly enjoying their national dish. As I slurped a complimentary bowl of beef stock, the Nepalese gent next to me asked if the restaurant was given the award last year. “No, earlier this afternoon,” I replied. “It’s one of my favorite place for Tibetan food.” Oh and if Phayul isn’t your favorite momo place, don’t worry there are 19 other joints to choose from.
Phayul, 37-65 74th St, Jackson Heights, 718-424-1869
Indonesian Food Bazaar Saturday, May 18th, 2013 12:00–3:00 p.m. First Presbyterian Church of Forest Hills 70-35 112th Street, Forest Hills If you’re as big a fan of the Indonesian food festivals held at Astoria’s Masjid Al Hikmah as I am you won’t to miss this event. A group of self-professed Indonesian foodies from Forest Hills is hosting this shindig,which will feature martabak, gado-gado, satay and many other Indonesian specialties. Proceeds benefit Roslin Orphanage in Kupang, Indonesia. I will probably not be able to make it as I’m doing a food tour that day, but I am glad to know that there are Indonesian foodies in Forest Hills!
Smorgasburg Saturday 11 a.m.-6p.m. East River Park, the waterfront at N 7th St.
As much as I love to hate on Brooklyn and its legions of gastronerds I have to admit to a soft spot for Smorgasburg. And now have even more reason to like it, my pal Noah Arenstein’s Scharf & Zoyer and its wacky New School take on Old School deli. Did somebody say kugel double down?
Second Annual Momo Crawl, Sunday, May 19, 1:30 p.m. Meeting place: Jackson Heights Plaza, 37th Rd between 74th Street and Broadway
Local business booster and fresser extraordinaire Jeff Orlick takes to the streets and dumpling parlors of Himalayan Heights for the Second Annual Momo crawl, celebrating the dumplings beloved of Tibetans and Nepalese and their makers who “who have the courage not to open up a Subway.” Meet at the designated spot where you can purchase a momo map for “two bills of any denomination.” Momo eaters will be organized into teams of eight, and a spiffy trophy will be awarded to the winner after all the teams’ votes are tallied.
Thai Rock Reopens, Monday, May 20 375 Beach 92nd Street, Rockaway Beach I haven’t been able to bring myself to go to Rockaway Beach since Hurricane Sandy. That said I am very glad to know that Thai Rock reopens Monday. I’m gonna do my darnedest to stop by. You should too. Here’s a statement from the owners.
We miss you. We miss working. We miss the normal commotion, you know, the things we normally complain about, and although we are not fully ready to serve you as we once did, we are opening our doors Monday and will continue to work day-by-day improving everything we can and always strive to provide the best food, drinks, music, water sports and other diversions.
Our goal is to make your experience at Thai Rock like being on vacation and now more than ever, we will do all we can to bring our customers much needed joy, good times and great food.
One lesson I learned since being in the restaurant business is “good enough is good enough”. I admire the people who instinctively know this, but for me, it’s a hard learned lesson that still requires more work. Like the cliché about Rome, I now so much more appreciate the importance of the journey and that the “goal” is merely a milestone along the way and not a destination.
Friends, we have been on a journey together and individually that we did not ask for, that we were not prepared for, for which we sacrificed and lost much, and, to this day, our governmental support net is still not properly supportive. Together we are challenged as a community, to rebuild, to be strong and united, and to help one another. Individually, we each have a responsibility to keep our families healthy, to keep ourselves vital and to strengthen our resolve for the future because that is the promise. The future is the goal. The future is where the journey takes us and it’s each and every one of our responsibilities to protect, promote, nurture and encourage a positive and health future. This is our strength. This is our wealth.
So, Thai Rock is not what it was, but it’s better than it’s been and we will keep on making it better and now it is good enough to open. Please come by and visit, our menu will be extremely limited to start, and we will only have the outdoor deck open, but it sure will be great to see you again. Hugs are permitted.
Playground’s red ant egg salad. Photo: Dan Kim/Gastronauts
Dear C+M, Lately I have been hearing a lot about eating insects. Everything from how they’re packed with protein and B vitamins to how the Nordic Alchemists at Noma are turning them into gourmet delights. I’d like to give bugs a try, but I am just a little bit squeamish. Can you reccomend an entry level insect eating experience in Queens? — N. Tomofage, Bayside
N., I’m so glad you asked! I’ve been waiting to tell the world about Playground Thai Bistro in Woodside. They have some truly lovely insect dishes on the menu, plus they’ve got karaoke. (Frankly I prefer eating bugs to singing karaoke.) At a recent Gastronauts dinner I tried a lovely red ant egg salad. The ant eggs themselves pop, sort of like a thinner, antier salmon roe. They’re dressed with roasted rice, lime juice, and chili powder, among other things. Delightful! The fried grasshoppers with black pepper sauce are quite nice too. For God’s sake whatever you do don’t get the silkworms if you see them on the menu. They taste like a musty attic and are most decidedly not an an entry level insect eating experience!
For as long as I’ve been living in Queens Laziza of New York has been one of my favorite spots for Middle Eastern sweets. For almost as long they’ve been under new management and have been trying to get a sandwich counter going in the back of the space. The other night I stopped by to see if there were any kebabs to be had. Sadly there were no kebabs or falafel. There was, however, a sandwich, the baklava sandwich! That’s right I said baklava sandwich.
A seemingly infinite variety of baklava is on display in the case that runs the length of the shop. So why shouldn’t Laziza’s permutations of walnuts, phyllo, and honey include a sandwich. The $3 baklava sandwich isn’t so much a sandwich as it is a baklava on steroids. The sticky baton-shaped megabaklava is about four times as big as the typical specimen. It’s also partially wrapped in paper, much the same way a pita sandwich from nearby Cedars Meat House would be. That paper will not keep your hands from getting sticky though. It’s everything you’d expect in a baklava sandwich, flaky, crunchy, nutty, and sticky sweet. Add a cup of espresso and it’ll blow your head clean off, in a good way of course.
When I was leaving I asked the gent at the counter how to say the name of the sweet treat in Arabic. “Baklava,” he replied, “baklava sandwich.” Until I hear otherwise that’s what I’m calling it, too.
Laziza of New York, 2578 Steinway St., Astoria, 718-777-7676