Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Dumbo-style Scary

Yes, those are wrapped in plastic.
14th st NW & Rhode Island Ave., Washington DC

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Mozzadrella wanders South...

I went to DC this past weekend to see my pal James get hitched, and thought I’d check out where the fresh mozz gets made below the Mason-Dixon. I departed from out slightly dingy hostel for the only promised land for foodies in the District: Eastern Market.

Eastern Market refers to both the expansive brick building where purveyors hock their wares and the surrounding neighborhood, a sleepy, cozy area near Capitol Hill. Built in 1873 as a city-supported market, it’s protected by the National Registry of Historic Places.

Until April 2007, when fire accosted the structure. Part of the roof caved in.

It’s currently being rebuilt, but in the meantime the city has erected a temporary structure known as the “East Hall” near the original grounds. It retains the lofty space-feel of the place, and serves as host to the same vendors. My favorite is the Bowers Fancy Dairy Products, run by Ray and Tessa Bowers, a Polish family that has been importing cheese to DC since 1964.

This family distributes samples generously and with zest. I sampled a surprisingly tangy goat’s milk gouda (decidedly different from it’s Dutch cow’s milk counterpart) and a gouda/parmesan hybrid with a woodsy flavor. If you stand there for 15 minutes you will be full. And in awe of their massive cheese plains.

In addition to the imported cheeses the Bowers’ also carry domestic, local cheese from nearby Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia. Cherry Glen raises award-winning goats in Boyds, Maryland, and features both fresh and aged chèvres (fresh is the more crumbly, tart of the two, aged chèvre takes on a creamier, lava-like texture with a stronger nose). They also manage a goat’s milk ricotta (a whey cheese from cows, sheep, or water buffalo) which makes use of apple cider vinegar to achieve the grainy consistency. The Glen Farm only uses microbial rennet, which is to say it’s vegetarian-safe.

My favorite part, the item that floored me, was the 5lb butter lumps in the display case. They measure 3x3x12. Woof.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Mom, what's a "Benny"?

Benny (n.) Bennies, pl.
1.) One who does not pay proper respect to the indigenous peoples of the Jersey shore. A colonizer.
2.) Groups of individuals who visit the Jersey shore in the summer who a.) clog the streets with beach traffic b.) rock socks with sandals c.) wear white tank undershirts displaying outgrowths of chest hair and/or track suits.
3.) A slang term for tourists of Italian-American descent who vacation in the shore towns of Belmar, Spring Lake, Point Pleasant and Manasquan.

The term derives from Bayonne, Elizabeth, Newark, and New York, though I understand the New York part specifically targets Staten Island.

Take a look at some recent controversy surrounding the uprising.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008


I don’t know that I have a lot to learn from New Jersey, but she sure wants to teach me.

I’ve been down the shore, weathered the inanity of the jughandle, been called a “Benny,” parsed out the different accents, been thwarted by the blue laws on Sunday, tasted the coffee at Wawa, and toured countless vinyl-coated diners.

I first came to New Jersey three years ago this week. I’m back. She is awful persistent.

And yet (resignedness) I can admire a place with an “indigenous” food culture, completely contained within New Jersey borders. I’m talking about Taylor Ham: It’s not a secret, but New Jersey keeps it.

Taylor Ham is a sausage-like porcine product, with a texture at the midpoint between Canadian Bacon and Spam. The salient element in the very popular “Taylor ham and cheese” sandwich, it anchors NJ’s pork roll culture. It’s worth noting that this is strange to a Midwesterner—until only recently, the breakfast sandwich, or generally consuming breakfast with your hands, was relatively foreign. Plates. Bowls. There are reasons why this is accurate.

In the summer of 2005, my green ignorance of both Taylor ham and beach culture was met with astonishment, and quickly I was ushered to the deli.

Now, Taylor ham is usually prepared by slicing the sides so that the middle doesn’t bubble up, then placed on the griddle until it’s crispy.

Its sodium-nitrate-infused succulence might be sandwiched, or lay atop an omelet. As I mentioned, Taylor ham rarely leaves New Jersey (I guess the rest of the country can make do?) but it is worth sampling should you find yourself, sandy and terrified, on the boardwalk this summer.

Naturally, in New Jersey, all paths lead back to politics: John Taylor of the Taylor Provisions Company (1837-1909), was a New Jersey State Senator who punted street vendors in NJ and presided over the Inter-State Fair. To this day, Taylor ham is made not far from Taylor Street in Trenton.

Photo sources: No Frills Marilyn, Buba69

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Under Brooklyn Bridge, July 2008

I haven't seen the waterfalls yet.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Mozzadrella Moved ‘Crost the Hudson!!!

In the fervid riptide of the last three months, I said goodbye to my cat, packed up the apartment in Brooklyn & swept it broom clean, and moved across BOTH rivers to land in Jersey City, NJ. I miss Brooklyn a great deal, and hope to be back soon, but in the meantime I am luxuriating in my central air, my laundry in the unit, my dishwasher, and my unreal view. Once the shock wore off a little, I’ve gotten back to exploring and eating my way around downtown Jersey City.

By and large, three ethnic flavors comprise and color Old Chicago: Italian, Irish and Polish. And since my mother is joining an extensive Polish fam in January when she marries a Rezack, I thought I’d familiarize myself with the native flavors before I face the meat, meat and more meat buffet at her wedding.

On my first tour of Grove Street, I was instantly attracted to the wooden and slightly fey mannequin in the window of Sava’s Polish Diner. His makeup looks a little color-by-number, and he knows how to accessorize—he features a tuft of fake hair where a pocket square might go. I had to eat there.

A boisterous Polish woman greeted me at the counter, and gave me a brief overview of the fare: Hungarian goulash (meat stew), stuffed fried cutlets of chicken and pork, mixed vegetables, and I ordered stuffed cabbage, pierogies, and kielbasa.

First off: this cuisine is not for texture warriors. Poles apparently like their food quite soft, salty, and a little flat in flavor profile. You must avail yourself of the horseradish mustard available on the side—I appreciate that burning, urgent moment when mustard hits your sinuses and you almost go blind with heat. It hurts so good.

The stuffed cabbage is prepared with onion, rice and “trap meat” (pork, I assume?), and bathed in a tomato gravy—think of a limper stuffed grape leaf. While I wasn’t so hot on that, the kielbasa was deliciously tender, and well-complemented by the tart and slightly bitter sauerkraut.

But the pierogies—ah, the pierogies. Pierogies are a Polish dumpling, made of potato, cheese, or fruit, namely cherries, and served either boiled or fried. If you had the sorry experience of dining hall pierogies at Grinnell, you might dismiss the species as akin to a rubber bath mat. Not so! And while Sava’s do smell like hair sizzling on a curling iron, they taste like a savory pillow of divinity, boiled for three minutes and covered in sour cream. I ate three. I could have stomached ten.

The atmosphere of the restaurant feels like a kitschy convenience store, with overhead lighting and stark tables. Oil paintings that feature buxom & nubile Eastern European women in traditional frocks line the walls, their smiles ready-made for beer bottle labels, their cleavage deep and mysterious like deep sea trenches.

Sava’s also sells traditional Polish condiments and hard-to-find imported goods, including pickled sorrel leaves, creamed horseradish, and powdered cherry pudding mix. It turns out that the mannequin is nameless, and picked up nearly 20 years ago when the restaurant was across from the Hudson County Court House. I kind of want to call him “Jamie.”

I thought Charlie would like the items near the register: