Eating on the Edge: Howard Beach

03-Vetro waterfront view

In our new dining out series, Endless Simmer’s NYC-based tasting team is traveling to the ends of the earth. Well, the ends of the earth for snobby New Yorkers. We’re bypassing the cutesy outer borough neighborhoods and taking the subway to the end of the line, then getting on a bus and taking that to the end of the line, then seeing what we can find to eat.

Our first, very random stop is Howard Beach, Queens, a neighborhood known to most Manhattanites as the name of that stop way out there where you get the AirTrain to JFK. But it’s also an old-school Italian-American neighborhood facing Jamaica Bay, where New Yorkers live in single-family homes with fishing boats anchored in their front yards (really!)

To get to Cross Bay Boulevard, the main thoroughfare cutting through Howard Beach, we took the A train out to Rockaway Boulevard, where you can hop on the Q41 bus to the end of the line, which is conveniently a few blocks from the Bay, right outside the imposing Vetro Restaurant and Lounge.

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An Outstanding Dinner in the City…Er, Field

Honey Glazed Pork Rack

A quiet Sunday in late August on a nondescript corner of Manhattan’s Alphabet City. The corner is walled by the branches of a decades-old willow tree and an array of urban flowers, and a sign sitting on the sidewalk reads “Farm Dinner.” A hundred-odd people have gathered for a dinner experience that has traversed the country and rests at this location for only two nights. The location is La Plaza Cultural de Armando Perez Community Garden, the chef is  Josh Eden of Shorty’s 32 and the host is Jim Denevan, founder of Outstanding in the Field.

Denevan and his Outstanding in the Field team travel the country in a bright red bus offering a roving five-course dinner with a simple concept: source your ingredients locally (including the wine), find a chef who is celebrated regionally, then invite all of your closest friends. OK, so the last part I ad libbed. The elaborate event was more like a wedding where everyone was giddily excited but no one knew each other. Fortunately, no one was seated at the kiddies table. After a glass of wine or two, it wasn’t a problem — we were all old friends catching up over a great meal. I was fortunate enough to be seated across from the photographer of the OITF website and cookbook, who was a host of knowledge on the food, which made my experience ever more fascinating.

More on the OITF menu, and some drool-y food shots, after the jump.

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One Trick Pony

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There’s something great about doing one thing and doing it well.  That’s why I love Pommes Frites.

Yes, this is coming from the same guy who nearly blew a gasket last week about chefs reworking one ingredient into three preparations.  But this is different.

Pommes Frites is a postage stamp-sized shop on 2nd Avenue in the East Village between St. Marks and 7th that specializes in Belgian french fries.  And when I say “specializes,” I mean that it’s the only thing on the menu.

They make fantastic fries.  They appear to be pre-blanched and finished to order, and then they’re served in paper cones.  The extremely limited seating consists of benches and low tables that have holes drilled in them into which you can put your cone of fries (illustrated in my shitty iPhone photo above).  The holes for the cones are charming beyond belief.

Good fries are always worth seeking out, but what is it that makes Pommes Frites so good that I dragged Mrs. TVFF down there for a special birthday treat, despite it being nowhere near our intended destination?  Without a doubt, it’s the sauces.

Just how exciting can dipping sauces be?  Well, let me tell you…

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Ooh Baby I Like It Tartare

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As you all know, I consider myself much more of a meat mogul than a fish aficionado. I rarely cook with the wet stuff, mostly because I don’t know many tricks, and I really don’t order it too often either. If you’ll allow me to be a snob for a sec, I have to say I only get excited about fish when I get to eat upscale versions of it. At your average joe resto, I’ll go for a steak or burger over the fish special any day, but if we’re talking the $30 mahi mahi or fresh scallops, than I’m definitely on (off) board.

So when Vio and I got invited to dine at Asian-influenced, pan-Atlantic bistro Black Duck recently, I got pretty stoked over their seafood-heavy menu. Black Duck is set in the Park South Hotel in Murray Hill. It’s actually in the basement of a townhouse connected to the hotel, and aside from the preponderance of single business travelers, it’s devoid of that stuffy hotel resto atmosphere at all, going for more of a neighborhood bistro vibe. Anyway, enough about the atmosphere, let’s talk about fish, baby.

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Getting a Chip Off My Shoulder

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Eating out Mexican is one of the few true values in New York’s getting-even-more-ridiculous dining scene. Every borough has cheap, genuine, hole-in-the-wall spots like Tulcingo Del Valle in the neighborhood I grew up in.

That’s why I’m supremely disturbed by the emergence of quasi-upscale Mexican restaurants. I’m not saying Mexican people aren’t allowed to be fancy, but um…I still want the cheap, giant portions, of flavorful food. I mean, that’s half the point, right? No one has ever decided on Mexican dinner because they’re not especially hungry. And this fancified Mexcian food scene has brought a truly unwelcome development: chips and salsa that must be paid for. In money. #$!%@!

This will not stand.

Everyone in my new hood, Fort Greene, talks about two Mexican joints: Pequena and Bonita. I’ve eaten at both of these now and they serve decent, if not exciting food that falls short in three crucial aspects:

– Small portions

– Lack of spice

– Served by white people

Basically, everything a Mexican restaurant should not be. Seriously, is this Brooklyn or Kansas? What’s going on here?

But here’s the kicker: both places CHARGE for chips and salsa. This is just untenable. Free chips and salsa is like a golden rule of eating out. It’s half the reason I usually choose Mexican. It is just expected, OK? If I walk into a Mexican restaurant, and don’t get that basket and bowl placed in front of me without laying down an extra $4.50, well, I think you get the point – I won’t be happy. Frank Bruni says an empty wine glass is his version of restaurant hell, well no free chips and salsa is mine.

So I recently ate at a well-reviewed Mexican place in SoHo called Cafe el Portal. This place was pretty cool – teeny underground restaurant, genuine menu, Mexican-owned and operated. Although a little overpriced, it had some crazy dishes I could get behind, like a chile relleno covered in pomegranate seeds. While this inventive menu distracted me for two to three minutes after sitting down, I soon noticed something off. There was just a certain lack of greasiness on my hands and spiciness in my mouth.

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Shake Shack it Like a Polaroid Picture

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Many apologies to all my Beyonces and Lucy Lius who are sick of reading about this obsessively over-chronicled burger stand, but as an NYC-based food blogger, I am contractually obliged to write about Shake Shack at least once per calendar year. Seeing as how it is December 28th, here goes. The following is an on-the-record gchat with our celebro-food-photog Brian:

Brian: hey, want to meet for cheese fries before the show?

BS: it’s open all year now?

Brian: YEAH!

BS: nice…yeah i’m in…who i am kidding that i will get anything else done today

Brian: haha
we’re dating
dinner and a show

BS: cheapest date ever!

Brian: lets blog it!

BS: oh absolutely

Brian: haha

BS: shakeshake in december is def newsworthy

Brian: bring your camera

BS: done

Brian: awesome

BS: i have a question…am I allowed to get a milkshake or is that too crazy?

***

Reason Number 123,549 why I would rather eat in New York than anywhere else. You can order a black-and-white milkshake at an outdoor cafe on a 30-degree day and no one so much as bats an eye.

Shake Shack in New York

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First Bites in Brooklyn

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I took a break from moving and unpacking last night to take a walk and explore the local Ft. Greene food scene, making my first stop at 67 Burger, which opened late last year. It’s another casual, “step above fast-food” burger joint, offering made-to-orders. They drew me in with their signature 67 Burger, which is served with a creamy blue cheese spread and bacon. As you can see above, this is not one of those bacon burgers with a couple of slices of half-broiled bacon that get lost in the mix, but rather the kind where you pile on the pig like there’s no tomorrow.

The burger itself is decent, if not revelatory. Wow I don’t even know what that means, please excuse me trying to be Frank Bruni for a second. Anyway, decent patty, although I must issue the common complaint that my “rare” burger had not a drop of red. The real draw here are the toppings – you can load your bun up with foodie ingredients like roasted red peppers, crispy arthichokes, olive tapenade, and red wine pickled onions. The only drawback it they charge per item, so this can add up to a pricey burger. Skinny fries on the side are perfectly golden and crispy; curly fries even better. Oh, and there are salads for all you whackos.

Verdict: Not going to put Shake Shack out of business, or cause any problems for the rapidly expanding Five Guys empire, but a solid neighborhood standby.

67 Burger
67 Lafayette Street
Ft. Greene, Brooklyn
718.797.7150

67 Burger in Brooklyn

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