01/13/15 12:59pm
WILLIEMAYS

Willie Mae’s fried chicken is astounding.   Photo: foodbitch.me

When it comes to New Orleans—land of jambalaya, crawfish, and po boys—fried chicken isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. Turns out though that, like much of the South, the Big Easy has some mighty fine fried chicken.

I ate more fried chicken—heck more everything—in the course of a whirlwind weekend with my good friends from Chowzter than I have in quite some time. A quick cab ride from Louis Armstrong airport and Yvo “Feisty Foodie” Sin joined our fellow Chowzters at the iconic Dooky Chase’s, where everyone from U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall to President Barack Obama have dined. (more…)

10/07/14 9:47am
CHARLES

Breakfast of champions at Chez Charles in Harlem.

Nobody ever accused me of writing a blog about health food. Thus the subject of today’s Twofer Tuesday, Charles’ Country Pan  Fried Chicken in Harlem. Now I’m not going to get into the debate about who makes the best Southern fried chicken in New York City, but let’s just say that Mr. Charles Gabriel’s is the best I’ve ever had for breakfast.

When you’ve journeyed all the way up to Chez Charles, it’s best to go for broke. So my buddy and I did, ordering that soul food power duo, fried chicken andf pigs feet.  The crunchy juicy chicken lashed with hot sauce and unctuous pigs feet were just part of our complete breakfast that morning.  And heck, those collards almost  made it a healthy one. Almost.

Charles’ Country Pan Fried Chicken, 2839 Frederick Douglass Blvd., Harlem, 212-281-1800

07/18/13 11:55am
There's no need to add extra hot sauce.

There’s no need to add extra hot sauce.

PLEASE NOTE THIS RESTAURANT IS CLOSED

Yesterday the high temperature in Monrovia, Liberia was 83. Queens was substantially hotter than West Africa,  the mercury hit 97. And the heat from the pepper shrimp ($12) at Maima’s Liberian Bistro was at the same constant lip-blazing level it always is, approximately Fahrenheit 451. Maima’s is my type of place. The city’s only Liberian eatery is presided over the grandmotherly Maima. Many of the restaurant’s patrons call her mama. (more…)

05/28/13 10:32am
Whitney fried chicken, named for a certain thoroughfare in Elmhurst.

Whitney fried chicken, named for a certain thoroughfare in Elmhurst.

Ever since I got back from North Carolina I’ve had a fried chicken jones. Efforts to round up a crew of eaters to head uptown to Charles’ Country Pan Fried Chicken have fallen apart. I’d just about given upon my fried chicken quest when I found some in the most unusual of places, Pondok Jakarta, a newish Indonesian spot on Whitney Avenue in Elmhurst.

Pondok Jakarta takes its name from a traditional Indonesian hut. Whitney Fried Chicken ($8.95) leads the roster of chicken dishes. The Indonesian name listed beneath, ayam goreng ala pemuda, means fried chicken pemuda style. Pemuda means youth, and, as best as I can tell, has been affiliated with various Indonesian political movements. Politics aside it’s some fine fried chicken. (more…)

05/24/13 10:19am
Tyson Ho and his mentor, whole hog guru Ed Mitchell having a hearty country breakfast at Cracker Barrel.

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…)

05/23/13 11:00am
Hursey’s was the first stop on our whirlwind North Carolina barbeque tour.

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.

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.

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.

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.

(more…)

01/31/13 10:12am
Soul food (and musc) makes me happy.

Soul food (and music) makes me happy.

Almost every genre of music from jazz and blues to rock and roll and rap has songs about food. There are songs about sweets, paeans to poultry and there are even raps extolling food critics along with bush meat and bánh mì.  Here are a few of my favorite gastronomical ditties, with food pairings.

1. Pass the Peas, The JB’s
Just like Bobby, I like soul food “because it makes me happy.” Pair this funky jam by James Brown’s band with a plate of stewed pig ears, collards and sausage and rice from RCL Enterprises.
RCL Enterprises, 141-22 Rockaway Blvd., Rochdale, (718) 529-3576

2. Brunch, Action Bronson
Sure the video for this tune by Flushing’s finest chef turned rapper is a grisly tale of romantic betrayal and murder, but hey it’s got a great blues hook and food too. Pair it with an offal-themed brunch from M. Wells Dinette. M. Wells Dinette, 22-25 Jackson Ave., Long Island City, 718-786-1800

3. Taco And A Pork Chop, Ray Brown, John Clayton, Christian McBride.
Beyond the call and response, “Taco And a Pork Chop,” there are no lyrics to this swinging bass virtuoso showcase. Pair it with the truly spectacular pork carnitas taco from Tortas Neza.
Tortas Neza, 111-03 Roosevelt Ave, Corona

(more…)