Thursday, March 31, 2011

Top Ten #40 (Special Bonus Edition)

1. White Manna, Hackensack, NJ

2. Metal Mountains @ The Stone, March 20, 2011

fried chicken box! fig. a: fried chicken!

3. Pies 'n' Thighs, NYC

kurt! fig. b: Kurt!

4. Kurt Vile, Smoke Ring For My Halo (Matador)

5. souvenirs from Russ & Daughters

BBB fig. c: blood, bones, & butter!

6. Prune, NYC + Gabrielle Hamilton, Blood, Bones, & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef

7. Smörgåsbord!, Laloux, March 28, 2011

8. Kajitsu, NYC

oysters! fig. d: oysters!

9. Mark Kurlansky, The Big Oyster: A Molluscular History of New York

10. Shopsin's General Store, NYC


1. Destroyer @ Cabaret Mile End, Montreal, April 1, 2011 (no joke!)


Monday, March 28, 2011

Manna from Jersey

...Don't get me wrong. A big, overstuffed, freshly ground "gourmet burger" can be a wonderful thing. The meat might be of a higher quality. The meat/fat ratio and the coarseness of the grind might be carefully calibrated, resulting in a juicier more satisfying burger. The condiments might be more flavorful, possibly more exotic and/or challenging, and they might even be non-industrial. The bun might be homemade or "artisanally produced." The burger might even come with a clever wine/craft beer pairing.  But, more often than not, what distinguishes a so-called gourmet burger is its price tag ($10, $20, $30, $40, $50) and its pretentiousness (Kobe beef? Foie gras? Truffles?). And, if you're like me, sometimes you want something humbler, something that's a whole lot less busy, something that's closer to the burgers that became a popular favorite and swept the continent in the early 20th century. Sometimes you just want your burger smashed, with lots of onions. Sometimes you just want sliders. Sometimes you just want White Manna.*

white manna 2 fig. a: White Manna's cheeseburger

Not only do the good people at White Manna produce truly definitive sliders, but the experience of stepping through that Streamline entrance is a time portal experience that ranks up there with some of our favorites (like Clare & Carl's in Plattsburgh, or Wilensky's here in Montreal).

white manna 1 fig. b: White Manna, diner

There were no vintage hot wheels to be seen when we visited, like there were when Saveur featured White Manna in this collage from their "Burger Bible" issue (#122, September 2009),

white manna by saveur fig. c: White Manna, icon

but it didn't matter a whit. The vintage diner interior, the menu ($1.30/cheeseburger), the counter repartee, the sizzle of the ground beef patties, and the sweet smell of the onions were plenty enough to transport us through time. I'm not sure if it took us back to 1946, when it opened, but it definitely took us deep into the 20th century.

What's the secret behind White Manna's sliders? Well, there's the quality of the beef meatball that is its foundation. There's the smashing of the meatball against the griddle, creating the slider patty form. There's the copious amount of thinly slice onions that is then pressed into the patty. There's the pillowy-soft potato bun. And, last, but not least, there are the pickles, which aren't the droopy, day-glo specimens you get at most burger joints--they've actually got snap (!), and flavor (!!)--they actually taste like a pickle (!!!).  But most importantly, there's the technique.  Fast food, this ain't.  It takes a good few minutes to make a White Manna slider.

white manna in action fig. d: White Manna magic

The beef is given plenty of time to sizzle, the onions are given time to caramelize, and, over time, the two become one (or darned-near close to it), especially if you were wise enough to order a cheeseburger.  And the buns have to be steamed--over the patties (!).  So you've got to be a little patient--this is fast food at its slowest.  But your patience will be rewarded. And White Manna's sliders are so dainty,** so inexpensive, and so totally addictive that you can easily eat a bunch. I'd say two would be a minimum order. Many patrons order 4, 5, even 6 burgers for themselves.

Let's say I was on vacation in New York City. I'm not sure that I'd rent a car just to scour Northern New Jersey for diners, but that certainly wouldn't be the worst idea--especially since these vestiges of early- to mid-century Americana have been disappearing fast.*** If you're already driving to New York, though, White Manna makes for an easy (and particularly tasty) pit stop. You can find a map here.

Want to watch a video of White Manna's magic in action, or, better yet, make your very own White Manna-style sliders in the comfort of your own home? You can find a video + a recipe here, at Beef Aficionado.

While we've yet to give Nick's sliders recipe a whirl (we're still reeling from our visit to White Manna), we have been making a very similar smashed onion burger for a while based on a recipe that appeared in Saveur. The method comes from Sid's Diner in El Reno, Oklahoma. We've never had the pleasure of visiting Sid's, but their signature burger is another classic example of an early-20th-century/Depression-era burger, one that uses a heap of onions to add flavor and make the beef go a little further. The recipe looks like this:

Sid's Onion Burger

4 tbsp canola oil
1 lb ground beef, gently formed into 6 balls
2 medium yellow onions, very thinly sliced, preferably with a mandoline, and divided into 6 equal portions
kosher salt to taste
6 slices American cheese
6 hamburger buns, toasted

Working in two batches, heat 2 tbsp of the oil in a 12" cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot and begins to smoke just slightly add 3 beef balls and, using the back of a spatula, press down on them until they're thin. Cook for 1 minute. Top each patty with a portion of the onions and season with salt. Press the onions into the meat and cook 1 minute more. Flip the burgers; flatten again with the spatula. Place a slice of cheese on each patty and let melt while onions and meat brown (you might want to cover the skillet briefly to speed up the melting of the cheese). Serve on buns. Devour.

As always, we recommend getting the beef (at least 80/20) freshly ground for you by your local butcher, or, better yet, grinding it yourself.

Makes 6 burgers.

[recipe based very, very closely on a recipe that appeared in Saveur #122, September 2009]

Then again, don't you owe yourself a visit to a true burger mecca?

White Manna, 358 River Street, Hackensack, NJ, (201) 342-0914


* Of course, you might also want White Mana, White Manna's Jersey City rival. And you may very well want both.

** Note the size of the burger in relation to the size of the pickle slices. That said, they're only as dainty as a tiny onion burger slathered in melted cheese, ketchup, and hot sauce can be.

little tavern, silver spring, MD fig. e: Little Tavern, Silver Spring, MD

*** A case in point: the Little Tavern chain of hamburger joints, which originated in Louisville, KY, but became a mid-Atlantic institution in the 1930s and 1940s, principally in the Washington-Baltimore metro area (where these green and white cottages were an important part of the cultural landscape of my youth). At one point there were nearly 50 Little Taverns; now they're all gone (although many of the locations live on in other incarnations). They, too, made miniature hamburgers, burgers so small (and so tasty), patrons were encouraged to "buy 'em by the bag" (their tag line). For truly comprehensive coverage of the Little Tavern chain then and now, check out this post from the Diner Hunter blog.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

I heart NY (+ Mtl)

russ & daughters fig. a: nice fish!

As you may already know, we're big, big fans of New York's incomparable Russ & Daughters ("Appetizing since 1914"!). We love their egg creams, we love the Old New York atmosphere ("You call this a snowstorm?! I remember when a snowstorm was a snowstorm. Remember Burt Lancaster in Atlantic City? 'You should have seen the Atlantic Ocean back then.' Well, you should have seen the snowstorms back in 1950..."), and we especially like their assortment of smoked and cured fish. In fact, we've taken to making Russ & Daughters one of our last stops every time we visit the Big Onion,* so we can bring back "souvenirs," like their amazing sable.

sable, russ & daughters fig. b: R & D sable

We come home, make ourselves a fish platter (comprised of sable, peppered smoked mackerel with orange and lemon zest, "pastrami-style" gravlax, and Baltic rye, perhaps), and it's like we never left.

i heart ny fig. c: R & D fish platter


The thing is, we always bring back some NY bagels and bialys too. We're not ones to make blanket statements about bagels based purely on geography (regional differences can be interesting, but, fundamentally, it's all about individual bakeries), even if we do get pulled into "the great bagel debate" from time to time. But this time there was no question about it: our Russ & Daughters sable, mackerel, and gravlax tasted better on a Fairmount bagel than it did on a Russ & Daughters bagel (a bagel they describe as "the Real Thing": "rolled by hand, boiled and the perfectly timed in an old-fashioned revolving oven"). I used to love a real New York bagel. I still love a real New York bagel on a philosophical level. But if this is "the Real Thing," is it possible the real New York bagel has gone the way of Old New York? Russ & Daughters' bialys sure ain't what they used to be.

i heart ny + mtl fig. d: Mtl + NY

Of course, our Russ & Daughters sable, mackerel, and gravlax tasted better on a Fairmount bagel with Russ & Daughters cream cheese than it did with any cream cheese you can get at Fairmount Bagel (or anywhere else in Montreal), but that's another story.

Anyway, help us, New York bagel aficionados! This isn't a competition and we're certainly not in favor of New Yorkers (or anyone else) paying exorbitant prices for imported "Montreal bagels" (that's just ridiculous). No, seriously. Let's talk bakeries. Where can we find the definitive New York bagel these days?


* It's frequently our very first stop, too.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Northern Rites

curling scene, Mtl fig. a: curling scene, Montreal

We, here at " endless banquet," have been spouting off about the affinities between Québécois culture and Nordic culture, and especially about the notion of Québécois cuisine as Nordic cuisine, since at least 2006. In fact, that's one of the very reasons that René Redzepi and Claus Meyer's New Nordic Cuisine struck such a chord with us--it seemed to provide a model for how chefs here in Quebec might reinvent the local cuisine, pushing it in a direction that was more seasonal, more sustainable, less dependent on imports, and truer to the terroir. But Quebec remains a culture of Nordiques turned Snowbirds, a culture that in many ways has lost sight of its essential Nordic-ness. A people that had once proclaimed "mon pays c'est l'hiver," took to proclaiming "mon pays c'est la Floride/le Cuba/le Mexique/le Las Vegas" a long time ago. And, thus, in spite of our agitating, the New Nordic Cuisine has yet to take hold. Montreal is still a city of open-air hockey rinks and tobogganing, of Montréal en Lumière, Nuit blanche, and La Fête des neiges, but it's also the home of the Underground City, and it could definitely use some more Northern rites.

that was then fig. b: old-school

With this in mind, Team Laloux--namely chef Seth Gabrielse and AEB's very own Michelle--has devised a night of Nordic cuisine at Pop!: a good, old-fashioned Scandinavian-style smörgåsbord, complete with all the trimmings. Think open-faced sandwiches and Scandinavian sweets.

this is now fig. c: new-school

Think gravlax, Danish teak, and aquavit.

krogstad aqua vit fig. d: Krogstad Aquavit

Starting to get the picture?

Michelle's been so excited about this event that her birthday turned into an extended Scandinavian food- and fact-finding mission (alas, not east to Copenhagen or Stockholm, but south [?] to New York City). And, let me tell you, she found plenty.

And when we returned she also found Scandinavian prezzies sent by a psychic friend (!).

swedish tea towel fig. e: proof of E.S.P.

So Team Laloux is ready for you, and they'll be serving up Nordic delicacies both "new" and "classic" in the Danish Modern splendor of Pop! one night only (!), this Monday, March 28th.

Monday, March 28th
6:00 PM - 11:00 PM
250, avenue des Pins E.
RSVP: (514) 287-1648
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Thursday, March 17, 2011

Hippy Homes & Gardens

If you're as old and jaded as I am, when someone sends you an email bearing the title "best new blog," you tend to just raise an eyebrow and say, "next..." You might as well send me a link to some "hilarious" YouTube clip. LOL! But not all tipsters are created equal. Some tipsters know what time it is. So I actually did click on that link. And when I did I found this:

hippy birthday to you fig. a: hippy birthday to you

The blog in question was Hippy Kitchens, and M. was right, it was the best blog I'd seen in a while.

The content may be old-school, but Hippy Kitchens is one of these new-school blogs we've been hearing so much about recently. It's virtually devoid of text and consists almost entirely of photographs, but, oh!, what photographs.

mountain high fig. b: mountain high

Of course, we, here at AEB, have a bit of a soft spot for hippy kitchens. In fact, when we moved in together, for a while there, our bookshelves held not one, but two copies of The New Farm Vegetarian Cookbook, a book that's gotta rank as the ne plus ultra of hippy kitchen lit. Michelle claims that she actually cooked her entire way through The New Farm, and I believe it. She was known to make her own soy milk back in the day. I was a little more judicious in my vegan cookery, but I definitely made more than my fair share of Melty Nutritional Yeast "Cheese."

Anyway, without any further ado, here are just a few of our favorite hippy kitchen pix:

soul to soul front fig. c: soul to soul 1: Mary!

soul to soul back fig. d: soul to soul 2: fried "chicken"!

Mary & co. fig. e: Mary & co.

cactus! fig. f: cactus!*

new farm front fig. g: new farm 1

new farm back fig. h: new farm 2

soybeans fig. i: soybeans!

soymilk fig. j: soymilk!

Janet's cabbage fig. k: Janet's cabbage

And last, but not least:

uncle bill fig. l: Uncle Bill!

And, while we're at it, one for the road...

I asked Michelle to pick a well-traveled recipe from her glory days, and this is what she came up with.

Gluten Roast

Have 4 cups raw gluten ready. [recipe follows]

Combine in a bowl:
1/2 cup oil
3 tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp salt
1/4 cup peanut butter
1 cup warm water
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp onion powder
1/4 tsp black pepper

Work the seasonings into the raw gluten, some sauce will remain. Shape gluten into an oiled loaf pan. Add 2 cups of water to remaining sauce. If no sauce is left, add 2 tbsp soy sauce and 2 tbsp oil to water. Pour over loaf. Place 2 onions in thick slices on top. Sauce should come almost to top of loaf; if not add a little more water. Cover tightly with foil. Bake at 350º for 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Uncover for last 15 minutes of baking, baste. Liquid left in pan can be thickened for gravy.

Basic Raw Gluten

8 cups wheat flour (half unbleached white or whole wheat and half gluten flour)
2-3 cups water (or enough for a stiff dough)

Knead 10 to 15 minutes until you have a smooth, elastic ball of dough. It should spring back when poked. Put in a large bowl, cover with water. Let soak an hour. Knead it under water, kneading out the starch and holding the gluten together. Change water when it gets milky. Let it rest. Repeat the process of kneading, changing the water and letting it rest several times. When the water stays almost clear, you will have 4 to 5 cups of raw gluten ready to be spiced, oiled and cooked.

Chunks can be simmered in a savory broth (add soy sauce, onion, oil to vegetable stock, simmer about an hour and thicken liquid for gravy). It can be baked for a roast or pot roast, oven-fried or cooked in barbecue sauce.

Leftover cooked gluten is good sliced for sandwiches, chopped bite-size and added to chili or used on pizza.

[Louise Hagler and Dorothy R. Bates, The New Farm Vegetarian Cookbook, fifth edition, 1992 (1975)]

Michelle says she made this roast "countless" times. She also says that it was only last year, when she was making a traditional pot roast recipe that she got from an Edna Lewis cookbook--a stovetop boneless pork roast with a peanut sauce--that she realized what this gluten roast was attempting to simulate.**

In any case, Michelle has been so inspired by this post that she thinks we should do an entire hippy kitchen menu sometime soon. What's it going to be? Sloppy Joes? Soysage? Tempuna Salad? Who will be our lucky guests? Maybe it should be a potluck!

The soundtrack? Melanie! Definitely lots of Melanie.

Melanie! fig. m: for Melanie

Have your own hippy kitchen lit classics? Tell us about 'em!


* "Even cactus can be a delicious, nourishing food!"

** Indeed, in the index at the back of the book, the recipe is listed as "Gluten Pot Roast."

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Coke is it!

it girl fig. a: Coca-Cola girl

We're not the biggest consumers of soft drinks--in fact, we barely drink any at all--but we certainly can appreciate the tonic qualities of an ice-cold Coca-Cola on occasion, and Michelle has been known to contemplate the mysteries of its fabled secret formula. So I was pretty excited to tell her that our good friends at This American Life had cracked the code. That's right. While conducting research into Coke's original recipe and the carefully rehearsed myth of secrecy that the Coca-Cola Corporation has cultivated for well over a century, This American Life discovered a photograph that appeared to contain the legendary 7X formula. A published photograph! As in: it had been published in a newspaper! In Atlanta! In 1979!

fig. b: 7X?

They then took pains to validate the authenticity of their discovery. And if that wasn't enough, they enlisted some high-powered soda industry help to make a batch from scratch.

This is a tale of intrigue and shocking surprises. It's a tale of trial, error, persistence, and triumph. And it makes for great radio. It's also the best piece of food & drink-related sleuthing we've come across since Matt & Ted Lee's New York Times piece on Marilyn Monroe's stuffing recipe. But let's face it: this is big. It's like discovering the Holy Grail by comparison.

I wasn't the only one who was excited. Michelle was thrilled (just look at that smile). And I don't think I've ever heard Ira Glass this excited about anything ever before. He was positively beside himself. And with good reason. Talk about a Coke high.

Want to hear the episode for yourself? Want to try your hand at making your very own batch of John Pemberton's original recipe 1886 (or thereabouts) Coca-Cola from scratch? You'll find everything you need right here.


Friday, March 04, 2011

Taste of the Nation

It's funny how things happen.

One minute you're hosting a top chef from Chicago for a culinary event here in Montreal, and the next you're in Chicago at the invitation of the aforementioned top chef attending another culinary event and having the time of your life.

And about another minute and a half after that, you're back in Montreal.  You're not even really sure if any of it actually happened, and the fact that you kind of forgot to take pictures doesn't really help, but you did manage to take a few...

Like this photo,

chicago? fig. a: my kind of town?

which may or may not be Chicago,* but it does seem to indicate that I've been airborne recently, and it certainly captures the dizzying pace of the last week.

And you did make it home with a few artifacts...

Like this menu.

6 years, 6 beers, 6 chefs fig. b: 6 years, 6 beers, 6 chefs

Sure, it got soaked by a beverage accidentally, making it all but impossible to read, but it does seem to suggest that a good time was had.

And this toque,

3 Floyds and 1 Boris fig. c: Three Floyds and one Boris

worn back at home by the world's handsomest cat.

Sketchy evidence, you say?  You're just going to have to take my word for it that I attended an astounding anniversary dinner at Hot Chocolate.  A 6th anniversary dinner, mind you, featuring 6 women chefs from coast to coast (our very own Taste of the Nation!), and 6 craft beers paired by the very talented Lauren Salazar from New Belgium Brewing Co.  Some of the pairings were jaw-droppingly good, and the food was amazingly well balanced considering 6 different chefs put the menu together.  And I'd like to send a big shout out to the legion of sous chefs, assistants, and volunteers that filled the kitchen.  I have to admit it was fun to just sit there, watch from the outside, and enjoy myself.

In case you can't read the beer-splattered menu, it went like this:

Koren Grieveson from Avec (Chicago) made an amazing shaved fennel and white asparagus salad with ubriaco prosecco cheese, walnuts, and black truffle toast.  Not truffle oil, but buttered baguette covered in sliced, fresh black truffle.  Paired with Jolly Pumpkin's Oro de Calabaza, a light and sour beer.  Summer on the patio.

Missy Robbins from A Voce (New York) made rye flour ravioli, filled with potato, served with smoked ricotta, guanciale, trotters, and jus.  I loved this course because it had echoes of perogies and because of its pairing with Three FloydsHam on Rye beer, whose flavours melded perfectly with the pasta.  Not exactly a quaffer, but a deliciously savoury beer that's perfect for, well, savouring.

Celina Tio from JULIAN (Kansas City) did a crispy skin loup de mer, with garbanzo bean puree, pine nuts and lemon.  Firestone Walkers' Pale 31 was served with this course.  Another great pairing which was greater than the sum of its parts.  This beer was easy drinking.

Naomi Pomeroy from Beast (Portland, OR) did lamb côtelettes with whipped potatoes, sauteed winter greens and sour cherry chutney.  By this time I was getting full, but the meat was so perfectly cooked that I couldn't help but finish the plate.  Oops.  Served with Goose Island's Madame Rose.  Delicious.

Stephanie Izard from Girl and the Goat (Chicago) took on the cheese course.  The cheese, Willies Bandaged Cheddar, blew me away.  It also made me laugh with its accompanying fries and sauce. Sound like poutine?  Well, that's because that's basically what it was.  But done very, very well.  And with apples.  Served with North Coast Brewing Company's Old Stock Ale.

Last but not least, our host Mindy Segal (Hot Chocolate) served dessert.  First up, a wortsicle: think of a frozen chocolate bonbon on a stick flavoured with beer wort--in other words, the best chocolate malted taste ever.  Then a delicious milk chocolate and halva frozen nougat, with ginger snaps, coffee tapioca and caramelized bananas.  This course came with a beer brewed specifically for it: Smoked Chocolate Porter from Piece Brewery, which provided some more of the aforementioned wort.

We rolled out of there and hit The Map Room, a must-visit stop in Chicago, and had, yes, more beer.  This is a great bar which also opens early and serves coffee.  Very convenient.  We ended the night there, and then started the next morning there, too.  There's something almost poetic about book-ending an evening like that.

An enormous thank you to Mindy for inviting me and hosting me, and to Dan for showing me around, and to all the great people I met on my brief sojourn.  I will be back!


Hot Chocolate, 1747 North Damen Ave, Chicago, IL

The Map Room, 1949 North Hoyne, Chicago, IL

Big Star, 1531 North Damen, Chicago, IL (tacos and a dizzying array of tequilas)

Quimby's, 1854 W. North Ave, Chicago, IL (best alternative bookstore ever)

Myopic Books, 1563 North Milkwaukee Ave, Chicago, IL (huge used bookstore I couldn't even begin to browse through)

Wormhole Coffee, 1462 North Milkwaukee Ave, Chicago, IL (great coffee)

* Come to think of it, it's not Chicago at all--it's New York!

p.s. Stephanie Izard's The Girl and the Goat just got named one of America's best new restaurants by Saveur! Check it out!