Tag Archives: Fun things to do in NYC

The Best Thing I Ate All Day in Brooklyn.

In mid-September we took a trip to New York City with our good friends the Grizzlies. Grizzly is not their real name. This is just my pet nickname for them as they share many of the same personality traits as grizzly bears. As you may know, grizzly bears hibernate for the winter.  In preparation for hibernation, they must eat heavily for several weeks prior to the hibernation period, as they will be living off the stored fat for several months.  Apparently this was the weekend Mr. Grizzly intended to pack on his necessary pounds. (And he took us along as hostages!)  I chronicled the first part of our trip in my last post.  Following is Part 2 of our adventure.

Saturday morning dawned sunny and warm! With only half a day left in our New York Adventure, we had a momentous decision ahead of us. Mr Grizzly had originally booked our farewell lunch at Jean Georges. We ate lunch there a few years ago the last time we visited NYC with the Grizzlies. Their lunch special, 2 courses for $38, is renowned among foodies in the know.  While you may not consider a $38 lunch cheap, it is a fantastic bargain for a Michelin starred restaurant.

I can not remember exactly what I ate the last time we dined there, but I do recall that it was quite a hushed and serious place. What I do recall, with unfailing certainty, is the Bon Bon Trolley, that they wheeled over at the end of our lunch. All through lunch, I had been watching the waiter manning the trolley.  As he approached each table he opened a huge glass jar filled with handmade pale pink marshmallows, almost the exact shade as Essie’s Ballet Slipper nail polish, and lifted one out with tongs.  Then he proceeded to cut each one in half with very elegant silver scissors.  I inquired whether marshmallow cutting was a position you had to be promoted to.  He responded that it was an entry level job. I seriously considered applying!

This time, we made the decision to cancel our lunch at Jean Georges, and feast at Smorgasburg instead. Please know that this was not a decision we took lightly. Smorgasburg, located in the hot and happening town of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, is an open air food market, featuring over 100 vendors. The New York Times has dubbed it, “The Woodstock of Eating.” We figured that Mr. Grizzly could be quite efficient at Smorgasburg, in packing on his necessary pounds for his upcoming winter of hibernation!

Smorgasburg, just a short 30 minute subway ride from mid-town Manhattan, is located in an empty waterfront lot on the East River, between North 6th and 7th Streets. It boasts a picturesque view of the Manhattan skyline. However, we were not here for the views. We were here to feast! We arrived shortly after 11:00 am, and most of the vendors were still setting up.

We were quite strategic in our eating plan. We decided to walk the grounds first to get the lay of the land, see what the offerings were, before we bought anything. You must come with an empty stomach, loose pants and, while some vendors take credit cards,  a pocket full of cash is a good idea. It is also ideal to come with a group of four or more. That way, you can order lots of different items, and just have a taste of each.

We came, we ate, we conquered! Here are some of the yummy bites we sampled!

1. S’more BakerysmoresWhile the “Salted Sailor” (vanilla bean marshmallow and a salted caramel ganache sandwiched between clover honey graham wafers) was calling my name, I got sidetracked by the “All in One Cookie.” Salted Oats, chocolate chunks and vanilla bean marshmallow all packaged together in a tidy cookie. It made an amazing first course! It had the ideal cookie texture; caramelized and crispy edges with a softer, chewy center. They packed a flavourful punch of salty and sweet!smore cookie2. Danny Macaroons Danny MacaroonsWith all they hype that macarons get, macaroons seem like the forgotten sister.  Danny Cohen has not forgotten about them. He gives them all the love and attention they deserve. I am coco-nuts about the Salted Caramel and the Raspberry Jalapeno Jam flavours!

3. Pain D’Avignonpain davignonAfter all that sugar from the cookies, we needed something savory. We sampled the Mini Picholine Olive Rolls. Salty from the olives, aromatic from a bit of fresh rosemary, these mini rolls sported a beautiful open crumb. They were chewy and the crust had just the right amount of crunch.picholine roll

4. Chedbredchedbred signWithout question, the honey sea salt chedbred was the best thing I ate all day in Brooklyn!honey sea salt chedbredA quote from their web site says it all! “A deceptively simple, bordering on majestic cornbread that thrives off of a subtle sweetness from honey.  Topped with brown butter crumble and sprinkled with sea salt, it strikes a perfect balance through contrast.” 

5. Milk Truckmilk truckWe stopped dead in our tracks when we came upon Milk Truck.  Grilled Cheese, Milk Shakes and a Mac and Cheese Bar. How could we resist? We opted for the classic Mac and Cheese: Three cheese bechamel sauce topped with housemade rosemary bread crumbs, with a mix-in of double smoked bacon. I was surprised that they used farfalle (bowties), as the pasta shape. I am a traditionalist and prefer my mac and cheese with elbow macaroni. mac and cheeseI have since heard lots of buzz about their grilled cheese sandwiches. Should have had one of those instead!

6. Lonestar Empire 

lonestarslicing brisketMr Grizzly started chatting to the lady in the blue bandanna over at Lonestar Empire about their “Slow Smoked Texas Style Brisket Sandwich.” She explained that they use Angus Beef Brisket and season it liberally with just salt and pepper. Then they smoke it low and slow- a good 15 hours over Texas mesquite wood. The low and slow method gives the fat in the meat time to render out, making the beef unbelievably moist and tender. She was unequivocal in her recomendation of ordering the brisket “moist” rather than “lean’. Since we were all about calorie loading, we opted for the moist. Hand carved to order, succulent brisket was piled onto  a soft potato roll and topped with a vinegar laced tangy tomato based BBQ sauce.  This sandwich was killer good!lonestar sign

fatty brisket on potato roll

7. Pit Beef NYC 

The brisket sandwich at Lonestar had us craving more meat, so we ordered the “Marz Attack” at Pit Beef. This sandwich was built with pit pulled pork, a fried egg, and topped with chipotle cheddar and BBQ sauce. Sadly, it sounded better than it tasted. The pork was a bit dry , especially when compared to the moist brisket over at Lonestar.sandwich with fried egg

8. Ramen Burger 

When we first arrived at Smorgasburg, we couldn’t help noticing a huge lineup at one tent: Ramen Burger. It was barely 11 am, they weren’t even cooking yet, and already the lineup was at least 50 people long. What was the deal here we wondered? Could these ramen burgers be the new “cronut”?

line up for ramen burgerWe decided not to join the line and sample some other things first. However, about an hour later, Mr. Grizzly’s curiosity got the best of him. He wandered over to the head of the line and started chatting with some of the folks. He got quite an education in the Ramen Burger.

Created by Keizo Shimamoto, this is no ordinary burger. The all beef patty is sandwiched between two discs of ramen noodles, which have been cooked crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. Topped with green onions, a secret Shoyu sauce and arugula, the burger has a sweet and a salty taste. Although I didn’t actually taste the Ramen Burger, Mr Grizzly did charm his way into a few bites from some lovely women at the head of the line who had been waiting since 8:00 am! He reported to us that he didn’t understand what all the hype was about.

Mr grizzly's new friends

serious eats ramen-burgerShockingly there was no lineup at the Quinoa Falafel tent!quinoa falafel

9. BFC (Buttermilk Fried Chicken)fried chicken and wafflesMrs. Grizzly wandered off on her own and came back with buttermilk fried chicken and cheddar waffles. The coating was so  thick, we could not cut it with our plastic fork and knife. The only way to eat this delicious chicken is to pick it up and eat it with your hands! A shatteringly crispy coating gave way to tender moist flavourful chicken meat. The waffles were good, but really, it’s all about the chicken! Don’t forget to add a squeeze of their black maple sauce (maple syrup with a balsamic vinegar reduction).

10. Krumville Bakery

It was the bundt cake at the Krumville tent that got my attention. I had never seen a bundt pan in that shape before. Apparently it is called the Heritage Bundt pan. I must get one of these! It looks like a giant pinwheel. We started chatting with the folks at Krumville and we soon discovered that everything under their tent is Gluten Free! We ended up buying the zucchini goat cheese bacon tartlette. Yummy!!

Krumville signpinwheel bundt pan


GF tartWe thought we had hit our limit, but apparently we were wrong. There was still a tiny little corner of my stomach that had room for fries at Home Frites, and Mrs. Grizzly had room for S’more Pie!home frite

smore pieFeeling happy and quite full, we waddled our way out of the fair grounds. A perfect day in Brooklyn!

A Tale of Passion and Pizza in NYC

serious eats photoIt’s possible that I may never look at pizza the same way again. Last weekend we visited NYC with our friends, The Grizzlies. Now, I should tell you that “The Grizzlies” is not their real name. It is an alias I use to protect their identity. They are such fabulous travelling companions, I worry that if I reveal their identity, others will want to travel with them and they will never be free to travel with us.

We decided to go to NYC with them to celebrate my husband and Mr. Grizzly’s birthdays (just a week apart). I have given them this nickname as they share many similarities with grizzly bears. As you may know, grizzly bears hibernate for the winter.  In preparation for hibernation, they must eat heavily for several weeks prior to the hibernation period as they will be living off the stored fat for several months.  Apparently this was the weekend Mr. Grizzly intended to pack on his necessary pounds. (And he took us along as hostages!)  

Usually when I travel, I spend many hours obsessing over what to do and where to eat. This time I left the itinerary planning up to Mr. Grizzly. We travelled to NYC with them in 2010 and Mr. Grizzly did such an outstanding job planning our itinerary on that trip that I put myself in his hands again.

The only suggestion that I made was Scott’s Greenwich Village Pizza Walking Tour that I had read about on Serious Eats and was intrigued. Plus, I figured if it was a walking tour we might burn off a few calories!

We met in the West Village at 11:30 am to begin the tour. As soon as Scott started his introduction, I knew we were in for a special treat. His enthusiasm was infectious. His knowledge of the history and culture of pizza would put wikipedia to shame.  I was ready to follow Scott wherever he chose to lead us. Scott introduced us to his friend Jared (photo on the right), who would be joining us on the tour. Jared shares Scott’s passion for pizza with a fervor that only the young can sustain!


Our first stop on the tour was Kesté  on Bleeker St. ” Kesté ” in the dialect of Naples translates to “this is it” which is a reference to the simplicity of the pizza here. All the hallmarks of a classic Neapolitan pizza are here – San Marzano tomatoes, Caputo double zero flour, house-made buffalo mozzarella, fresh basil, olive oil and a blisteringly hot wood burning oven.

Once inside, Scott gathered us around the oven and explained the physics of the dome shaped oven at Kesté. Not being a science person, I feel ill-equipped to transfer the knowledge to you guys, but suffice it to say that Scott’s eyes lit up and he got a little flushed in his cheeks when he got close to that gorgeous copper domed oven. It is fed with wood from ash trees. The oven gets up to almost 1000°F. It needs to cool down to about 700°F before it is ready for pizza baking.

Keste oven

At Keste, there are two guys working in the kitchen to prepare the pizza. The first, “The Pizzaiolo”, makes the pizza. The second, “The Fornaio” operates the oven. You can see them both at work in this little video I prepared. Just click on “pizza tour.” to view.

As we waited for the pizzas to come out of the oven Scott pointed out the strangely shaped knife each of us had been given. He explained that Neapolitan style pizzas are eaten with a knife and fork and the knife has an angled serrated cutting edge that  to make it easier to cut your pizza while on a plate. He gave each of us a “Pizza Journal” so that we could jot down our personal reflections of each slice we sampled. He said that we would discuss and compare our observations after we ate.

Knifepizza journal

McDonalds move over! Neapolitan pizzas are the original fast food. These pies cooked in a 1 minute and 35 seconds! When it arrived at our table the first thing we noticed was that the middle of the pie was quite thin as compared to the crust, which was puffed and blistered to perfection. There was silence as we all chewed and ruminated. The underside of the crust was slightly charred. The crust had an almost english muffin like chewiness, not a crisp cracker like texture at all. It sort of reminded me of naan bread. The sauce was quite tangy and a bit acidic. The cheese was creamy and a bit salty. The fresh basil and olive oil took this pizza to the next level!

keste Pizza - ready to eat


bottom crust - perfect char

Scott explained that the dough is made with a flour that is quite low in protein, only 11.5% protein content, as compared with bread flour that has a 14.2% protein content. At this point the eyes of several members of our group began to glaze over from too much information. I, on the other hand, got quite excited. It has been a while since I had the opportunity to debate the merits of differing protein levels of flour. The dough spends 48 hours in the fridge, slowly fermenting and developing amazing flavour.

The sauce is basically Ciao brand San Marzano canned tomatoes that are crushed and salted. That’s it! No cooking and no sugar added. While we were finishing up our pizza, Kesté’s owner, Roberto Caporuscio, showed up. Scott was positively gushing when he introduced us to Roberto. He greeted us all so warmly, explained that he got his start in the food business as a cheese maker, and then brought out some of his homemade mozzarella di bufala and burrata to try. They were outstanding! He was such a generous host and made us feel quite loved. Sadly, we had to leave once all our pizza was gone.all goneOur second stop on the tour was just across the road from Kesté. John’s Pizzeria, an institution in the Village since 1929.John's signThe style of pie at John’s is best described as Classic New York pizza. Many have described John’s as the quintessential New Your Pizza. The pie is cooked in a coal burning oven. The oven at John’s is square, not domed shape. These pizzas are cooked at a slightly lower temperature than at Kesté. (600°f vs 700°F). They take about four minutes to cook.

oven at John'sJohn's pizza 1When the pizza arrived at the table, Mr Grizzly eagerly reached over to grab a slice. Scott came trotting over to our table and told us to wait a minute. He reached into his backpack and pulled out… an infrared thermometer??taking temp at John's pizzaHe measured the surface temperature of our pizza and told us that it was still too hot to eat. We would blister the roof of our mouths if we ate it too soon. We needed to let it cool to 175°F before we could sample. Safety first folks! At this point, I began to think that Scott was one of the coolest people I have ever met. Man, I need one of those thermometers!

Finally the pizza reached a safe eating temperature and we dug in. The crust was quite thin and quite a bit tougher than at Kesté. I observed that the sauce was sitting on top of the cheese, so that the sweet taste of John’s sauce is what hit my tastebuds first. The cheese was quite stringy and salty, but in a good way. There was a delicious layer of oil, from the cheese that was floating on the top of the pizza. Scott explained that the cheese goes on first here, and then the sauce. They use (Polly-O), a  low moisture mozzarella and it is sliced, not shredded. The crust is made with General Mills bread flour which has a 14.2% protein content, which explains the tougher crust. They allow the dough to ferment in the fridge for about 24 hours.

My first bite took me right back to my childhood. Now this was pizza! Interestingly enough, I later learned about something called Pizza Cognition Theory (PCT). Sam Sifton, former NY Times food critic posited that, “The first slice of pizza a child sees and tastes …, becomes, for him, pizza.” I grew up eating Monte Carlo Pizza in Toronto (now called Mama’s Pizza). It had that same thin crust, sweet sauce and stringy cheese with a thin layer of oil on top.

On the way to our third and final slice, Scott stopped and took a few minutes to wax poetic on the subject of pizza boxes.

Scott waxes poetic about boxes

As a collector of pizza boxes for the past 10 years, Scott knows his way around a pizza box. He spent a few minutes expounding on the mechanics of corrugated boxes and pointed out that if a box has no vents, the steam from a hot pie gets trapped inside and the crust can take on the smell and taste of cardboard. All of the sudden, it became crystal clear to me why the crust of Pizza Pizza always reminded me of cardboard. Scott’s book on the subject of boxes is being released on November 5!

Our final stop was Famous Ben’s Pizza at the corner of Spring and Thompson, in SOHO. There is an adorable statue of ben just outside the shop.Ben's pizza sign 1a

Ben's sign 1Ben’s specializes in Sicilian style pizza. These are thick crust square pies that take about 20 minutes to bake at 550°F in gas fuelled deck ovens. Mrs. Grizzly and I generally don’t love thick crust pizzas. We were expecting to be disappointed by this slice. Ben's sicillian pizza 1After just one bite we were instantly smitten! We expected the crust to be doughy and heavy but somehow it was the exact opposite. This crust was light and bubbly with an amazing bottom crust crunch, like good focaccia.Ben's sicillian pizza bottom crustScott explained how they make the Sicilian style pie at Ben’s. The sheet pan is heavily oiled and then the dough is stretched to fit into the pan. It gets a nice long rest, about 2 hours, and then it is topped with sauce. Then it goes into the oven for about 10 minutes to get the crust started. The cheese, lots of it, is added during the last 10 minutes of baking.

It was here at Ben’s that Scott demonstrated for us what pizza aficionados like to call “cheese pull”.  

cheese pull

This is not to be confused with the dreaded “cheese drag”, where all the cheese comes off the top of the pizza in one bite.

It so happened that Mike Kurtz, of Mike’s Hot Honey was taking Scott’s tour with us that day. Mike treated us all to a squirt of his honey to dip our pizza into. What a yummy combination with the cheese and crust. First you get the sweet and after about 2 seconds, the heat hits you in the back of your throat. Jared and I agreed that it would be so much fun to serve this honey with apples at Rosh Hashanah dinner next year. What a surprise!

If you happen to be in NYC and are looking for a really fun and unique way to spend a few hours, check out Scott’s tours. It is hard not to be swept up into his enthusiasm. I am sure his parents must be so proud of him. Really, all parents want from their children is to see them find their passion in life. If they can make a living at it, even better.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of our new York Adventure with the Grizzlys, where we master the NYC subway system and make the trek the Williamsburg Brooklyn for Smorgasburg – the Woodstock of Eating!