Smorgasburg: Feasting in Brooklyn

New York is a city filled with food—from old school Jewish delis, to giant slices of NY pizza, chewy everything bagels, authentic Chinatown dim sum, celebrity chef restaurants and more. In the borough of Brooklyn, food has become even more of a modern commodity. In 2011, the Brooklyn Flea company began an all-food that they named Smorgasburg—a reference to the Swedish word Smörgåsbord that’s often used as a colloquialism for a large spread of food, or choices.

FullSizeRender-26FullSizeRenderFullSizeRender-1Smorgasburg is a foodie paradise. It takes place on weekends from late April – early November, in Williamsburg’s Kent State Park on Saturdays and at Brooklyn Bridge Park’s Pier 5 in DUMBO on Sundays. At each location, local food vendors, food entrepreneurs, food trucks/carts etc. come and sell their products. This is not an event for the timid eater—you’ll wish you had 3 stomachs with all the selections. My plan is to try each stall at least once over the course of the season, and here’s my first entry for the 2015 season.

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Mac n' Cheese
Mac n’ Cheese
Classic Grilled Cheese
Classic Grilled Cheese

We arrived around 12:30, so there were already a lot of people around. I was in a group of 3, and we decided to share a few things from different vendors. We decided to start with something semi-breakfast, and got on line at Milk Truck. Milk Truck’s menu is basically exactly as it sounds – Mac n cheese, grilled cheeses and milkshakes. We ordered the Milk Truck Classic ($5.95) and added bacon. The sandwich was cheesy, hot, and crispy. The Gruyere cheese was creamy, gooey, and had a nice deeply nutty Swiss flavor. The bread had some nice grill lines and was a great way to start the day.FullSizeRender-6FullSizeRender-5

Bacon, Egg and Cheese
Asian Bacon sandwich
French Toast sandwich
French Toast sandwich

Our next stop was another semi-breakfast stop at Rise and Swine for the French Toast Sandwich ($9) with bacon! The sandwich consisted of cinnamon-cardamom French toast, lots of chewy bacon, and cream cheese. The French toast was sweet, but also slightly earthy, the bacon was fatty and delicious, and the cream cheese layer gave a nice tang. The cream cheese also kept the sandwich moist, and provided a contrast of temperatures–hot toast, hot bacon and cold cream cheese. I put a squirt of hot sauce—from another Smorgasburg vendor–and some maple syrup on my sandwich. It made it sticky and delicious, and the hot sauce highlighted a lot of the flavors in the rest of the sandwich.

IMG_1862On the way to our next culinary delight, we had some amazing samples from local food entrepreneurs. Spicy citrus horseradish from Ish Premium Horseradish, tangy vinegar-based hot sauce made from carrots at Tango Chili Sauce, earth truffle honey from The Truffleist, decadent pineapple velvet cake from Piece of Velvet, chewy and meaty filet mignon beef jersey from Three Jerks Jerky, as well as a ginger infused cocktail sauce from Tink’s Red Ginger Cocktail Sauce.

FullSizeRender-15We decided on a slight different strategy for the next pit stop—I waited on line for our food, while my two companions got us something to drink. They came back a few minutes later with some Prickly Pear Cactus Limeade ($4 or $5) from Zia Green Chile Company. The limeade was so refreshing, especially on what turned out to be a hot day. It was tangy, sour, slightly sweet, chillingly cool, and the perfect drink for an afternoon of eating.IMG_1830FullSizeRender-14

Lamb Merguez Scotch Egg with Yogurt Sauce
Lamb Merguez Scotch Egg with Yogurt Sauce

While off getting their drink on, I was holding our spot in line at Imperial Egg NYC. Imperial Egg makes awesomely unique Scotch eggs, which I’ve only seen before in London. A traditional Scotch egg features a hard-boiled egg wrapped in sausage meat, coated in breadcrumbs and then baked or fried. At Imperial Egg, they are taking the already unique idea of a Scotch egg even more out of the box.  They have flavor combinations like chicken sausage with a sweet soy aioli, butter bean, cheddar and enchilada sauce, or one with spicy chorizo. We went with the lamb merguez topped with yogurt ($9). The initial bite was meaty and juicy, with a slight kick from the spicy lamb sausage. The outside of the egg was crunchy from the Panko with a sort of soft center that was also creamy. The egg was fatty in a totally unexpected way. It wasn’t as heavy or greasy as expected, even though it was fried. The frisée and parsley garnishes give the dish a nice change of textures.

FullSizeRender-17FullSizeRender-16We decided to take a slight detour from the savory offerings and wandered over to look at the desserts. We passed by some delicious looking whoopee pies, gourmet cookies and fudge before we found out next stop – Gooey and Co. The sign was advertising gooey butter cake at the price point of three for $5—we were three people, there were three pieces of cake—it was destiny! We chose the Original Gooey Butter Cake, the Gooey Maple Carrot Cake, and Gooey Banana Cake. The banana flavor had a burst of banana flavor, and the sweetness was very mild with a subtle cinnamon aftertaste. The cake also has some rum in it, which is cooked out, but makes for a classic flavor combination. The maple carrot had delicious cream cheese frosting, just like a slice of carrot cake, which I loved! The cake itself was very maple forward, with more carrot in the background. It was very sweet so not as easy to taste the cardamom in the cake, but extra delicious. The classic original flavor was by itself super decadent and lives up to its gooey name. The cake was buttery and soft with a great brown sugar and toffee taste. I could have eaten the entire stand!

FullSizeRender-24FullSizeRender-23FullSizeRender-21After satisfying out sweet tooth, we headed towards one of my favorite stalls at Smorgasburg, Cemita’s NYC. I actually saw a segment on a cooking show, Kelsey’s Essentials on Cooking Channel a few years ago, and instantly started craving this sandwich. A cemita is a Mexican street food, similar to a torta, that’s native to Puebla, Mexico. The cemita sandwich has 10 layers, and together they make an amazing sandwich experience. The layers include: mayo, lettuce, onions, tomato, avocado, bean spread, Oaxaca cheese, spicy chipotle and a protein. Cemita’s NYC gives you a choice between southern fried chicken, carnitas, barbacoa (shredded beef), or a spicy shredded chicken called ting. Just two of us were up for splitting one of these loaded sandwiches and we went with the Southern Fried Chicken Cemita $9. As you bite into the sandwich, the first thing your tongue hits is the fluffy torta bread slathered with mayonnaise, and not too much of a bite from the pickled red onion brine. There were layers of hot and cold intermingled textures and heats throughout. Chicken There’s creamy avocado that makes the sandwich nice and messy—the way it should be!—and a nice kick of heat from the hot sauce at the end. The chicken was perfectly crisped and added a lot of heft to the cemita, and also stayed crispy. The lettuce added a nice crunch with the soft bread, and the bean spread acted as subtle glue and gave a deep flavor to the sandwich. I only wish I had more sandwiches. This was definitely a sit down sandwich. Luckily there are a few picnic tables interspersed around the market area.

IMG_1845FullSizeRender-25The last stop on our gastronomical journey was for dessert, naturally, at Blue Marble Ice Cream. Blue Marble makes premium organic ice creams and sells them in a cup or cone. We each got our own cup for $5 each. The Salted Caramel was very caramel-y with a brown sugar taste. It reminded me of those old-fashioned, chewy caramel candies. The Gingersnap Cookie flavor was not too sweet, and a little savory, with great after notes of cinnamon and allspice. The Key Lime Cookie ice cream (my choice) was tangy and refreshing, with nice chunks of cookie pieces throughout. It would’ve made an amazing milkshake. The ice cream had a burst of key lime flavor without being too sweet.

IMG_1850As we walked along the Brooklyn Pier eating ice cream, I took a few minutes to soak up the sun and truly appreciate how awesome it is to eat in New York. Then again, I am not done with Smorgasburg for the season and will be back for more unique eats, sweets and culinary delights soon.IMG_1851

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An Israeli Feast in Philadelphia’s Historic Old City 

Zahav

I finally went to dinner last week at Zahav restaurant in Philadelphia, a raincheck due to a reservation mixup from the week before. The wait was worth it though, since the anticipation built. The menu at Zahav is broken up into many smaller dishes and sharing is encouraged.

 We debated ordering cocktails, but instead opted for a pitcher of the Limonana ($16)–a freshly squeezed lemonade steeped with mint leaves. They also make an alcoholic version that has whiskey, and is available by the glass or pitcher. The Limonana was refreshingly tart, slightly sweet and delicious. It made me think of going to the beach in Tel Aviv, especially since all the coffee chains in Israel make their own version of this drink.

  

Since we were at an Israeli restaurant, we knew that ordering hummus was essential. We went with the large Tehina Hummus ($12). The hummus was made with lemon, parsley, cumin, garlic and sesame. It had a great salty bite and was super smooth, with an amazing moth feel. The next thing to hit my palate was the garlic and parsley flavors with a backbone of sesame from the tahini, a classic ingredient in hummus. The lemon made it pungent, but there was no aftertaste–just hummus flavor. The hummus was paired with a couple of big laffa, a traditional Middle Eastern flatbread that they bake in their wood-burning oven. The laffa was hot, chewy, crisp, and huge. It had a great char from the wood-burning oven, with a light sprinkling of za’atar seasoning on top. It was clear that the za’atar went on after baking, which showed a definite refinement of technique and knowledge of spices–I think that cooking za’atar often makes it lose its bold flavor. The hummus appetizer was a great start to our Middle Eastern meal.   

  

Next up were the mezze dishes, or small plates. The Crispy Grape Leaves ($10) were a little greasy with crispy, thin as paper leaves stuffed with beef. The meat was spicy, with a smoky flavor. My first one was very meaty, and the second one had some more rice, and was almost creamy in texture. The grape leaves were garnished with a harissa tahini. Harissa is a North African–often from Tunisia–chili pepper paste. Our waitress indicated that they make their own Harissa with Aleppo peppers. The sauce was creamy and aromatic, with a smokiness that echoed the cumin in the grape leaves, and a pleasant aftertaste of building heat.

We also ordered the Fried Cauliflower ($10). The dish had a great aroma, and the cauliflower maintained a nice bite and were charred. They were rubbed with a spice rub, including cumin, and cooked tossed with some raisins. The accompanying yogurt labaneh sauce was delicious. My friend used the word “exquisite.” The labaneh was seasoned with chive, dill, mint and garlic. The tanginess of the yogurt cut through the almost heavy cauliflower, and there was a touch of acidity in the labaneh that added a nice twist.

After the mezze plates, came the Al Ha’Esh, which literally translates to “on the fire” in Hebrew, but referee colloquially to barbecue. The two proteins were served over a Mediterranean rice pilaf on the same plate, and featured  number of sides. This was to encourage sharing in a communal meal, which is the way Zahav prefers their diners approach the eating experience here. The Sirloin Sishlik ($14) had bIg chunks of meat, which were perfectly grilled, and served on skewers that were removed table side. The beef had an aromatic, grill flavor and was slightly chewy. It was seasoned to perfection with definite undertones of garlic.
 
The Salmon ($14) was also cooked excellently. The inside of the fish glistened, was juicy and white in the middle. The menu indicated that the salmon came with pomegranate molasses, and I worried that it might be too sweet, but the fish turned out very savory while still absorbing the deep flavor of the molasses. The skin was nice and crisp, which was probably helped by the molasses coating.

Along with the al ha’esh plates, came a bunch of condiment garnishes. There was a Mediterranean spiced bowl of stewed tomatoes, carrots and white beans. It had a creamy consistency and its heaviness stood up to the grilled proteins. It wasn’t exactly as light as a chutney, but not as heavy as a braise. It was especially tasty with the Schug, a spicy Israeli condiment that the chef prepared with pistachios and habanero peppers. The pistachios in the schug gave it great body and deep flavor, while the habaneros lent a serious, lasting heat. The dishes also came with some rice mixed with lentils and onions that was different from the rice on the main plate. It was almost like an Israeli version of dirty Cajun rice. Finally, there were some picked veggies that had a great tanginess that haloes cut through the richness of the meats, and some black garlic tahini. The tahini was very strong, but the garlic flavor was not super prevalent. It was actually fabulous with the pickles.
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If you knew us, then you’d know that we can’t resist dessert, especially to compete our Middle Eastern feast. The Kataifi ($9) was listed as chocolate ganache with a passionfruit soufflé. My first bite had a passion fruit punch–it was sweet, sour, acidic, and creamy. The passionfruit custard was lightly dusted with nuts, and sat in a phyllo dough birds nest. The chocolate ganache was nestled on the inside bottom of the nest. The entire dish was texturally almost a play on baklava, but visually the passionfruit looked like the egg white of an egg in a bird’s nest–very creative! The dish was very playful with textures–creamy, crispy, and chewy–and cerebral.
IMG_1926The Ice Cream Sandwich ($9) dessert came with thinly sliced, sweetened beets the outer layers of the sandwich consisted of a crumbly and chewy chocolate cake, which had an almost streusel-like texture, but fudgier. The cake was slightly weird, but a good foil for the sandwich. There were also chewy candied cumquat slices on the plate, which was sweet but still kept its bitterness. The “ice cream” was a labaneh semifredo, which differs from ice cream in that it has more of a frozen mousse consistency. The cream had a unique flavor from the labaneh and wasn’t cloyingly sweet. The melon in the middle of the plate was a nice fresh way to finish the dessert. If I had to guess, it might have been casaba melon.
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Overall, all of our food was super delicious, and we were so full after our Israeli feast. The highlight of the meal for me though, was that the chef and owner, Mike Solomonov, stopped by our table before dessert. He was really nice, and talked to us about our meal, the restaurant, and how our night was going. I loved how he made time to see how we were enjoying his restaurant. Thanks so much!IMG_1925