Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Bacon + Chocolate

This was my snack on my trip to Brooklyn. All I have to say is that bacon does make everything better. Everything including chocolate.

Field Trip! Barbecue in Brooklyn

Since I live in New Jersey and work in Manhattan, Brooklyn is off of my beaten path. I've been there a few times, but I haven't really explored it, much less eaten at many of the great places I've read about. Well, when my wife was meeting up with her girlfriends on a recent Friday night, I got out of work early and spent an afternoon exploring what is arguably the most hyped borough.

After recommendations from several of my coworkers who live in Brooklyn, I had my heart set on Habana Outpost, a cuban spot with outdoor picnic tables and some delicious looking cuban sandwiches. Little did I know, the wife and her girls would be heading there Saturday afternoon. So as not to ruin the novelty for her, we called an audible. Instead of Cuban, we opted for 'cue at The Smoke Joint.

The wife got the (above) pulled chicken sandwich that came with a side of fries. The chicken was dressed in a gold, vinegar-based sauce. The golden color reminded me of a bottle of barbecue sauce a friend of mine gave me from South Carolina a few years back that I was addicted to for more than a year. BBQ sauce on ice cream anyone? But the treat of this plate was the fries. The seasoning on the fries tasted exactly like the seasoning on Herr's BBQ potato chips. It brought me back to my childhood. Tasting them made me want a Minute Maid Mandarin Orange soda. YUM!

In the absence of orange soda, I was able to wash down the deliciousness with their not-to-sweet "limonade". As the name suggests, it's a mix of lemonade and limeade. It definitely was made with fresh lemons and limes and was more on the tart side which I prefer. A refreshing choice on a warm day.

For my meal, I went with the beef ribs at the recommendation of our server. I'm a big fan of beef ribs and these were pretty good. Meaty and smoky with a nice char on the outside. They weren't the most flavorful ribs I've ever tasted, but I enjoyed them.

So I was glad to have gone to Brooklyn and spent some time hanging out and finally getting to sample some of the great food I've read and heard so much about. Looking forward to another return trip this summer.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Variety Deli: The Cure for Lunch Indecision

With so many options in the city for lunch, I often feel a bit indecisive about what to get for lunch. I just can't figure out what I want to eat. And on days like this, I have a fall back: Variety Deli. I started going here (I think when they opened) back around 2005 in part because located at 48th between 5th and 5th, it was a short walk from my office. They have a really good by the pound buffet with lots of rotating options. Perfect for my days when I don't know what I want. I can have a little bit of everything.

Variety is also good because I can eat something healthy and inexpensive, a combination that can often be hard to find. Above, I have string beans, bok choy(!!!), asparagus along with shrimp, calamari and some grilled chicken. And to make sure I get filled up, just a few noodles on the side.

By the pound buffets can be treacherous if you're not careful. You can easily walk away with a $14 container of food. I try to adhere to some of the tips by the great Zach Brooks of Midtown Lunch and keep the costs to a minimum. On this day, my discipline and the ongoing Variety 5 year anniversary special of $5.99 a pound helped me to walk away paying just $6.12 (including tax) for lunch.

So, when you're plagued by indecisiveness at lunch, embrace the love that is the by the pound buffet. You're bound to find something that you'll enjoy!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Skylark Diner Steps Their Game Up

I've always liked the idea of the Skylark Diner. Classic diner food in a slightly upscale setting with some gourmet options and accents. However, to me, the food never lived up to the promise. I tried a variety of breakfast and dinner options and usually settled on the deli omelette with corned beef, pastrami and provolone cheese. It's really good, but not necessarily the reason to make it a favorite. Well with 90 minutes to kill before a Get Him to the Greek, I decided to hit it up. It turned out to be a good choice.

A few months ago, James Beard winning chef Craig Shelton took over in the kitchen. I hadn't been back since the change and so I eagerly scanned the revamped menu, trying to decide what to get. After much contemplation, I went with the beer braised onion and bacon burger with white cheddar cheese.

The burger itself was good to begin with. Good meat well cooked (I ordered mine medium well) and juicy. But the beer braised onions with bacon took the flavor to another pleasant level. The bacon was cooked into the onions, so there was this layer of deliciousness on top of the juicy burger. I was expecting strips of bacon, so it was a bit of a surprise, but it was still good. Every bite made me want to take another. And another. And when I went to the fries for a crunchy interlude, I got a nice vinegar bite along with the salty, crunchy potatoes. A pleasant surprise even though they are titled malt vinegar fries. This was what they had in mind when they created Skylark. Good food elevated by creativity and quality execution.

Also encouraging was the fact that Craig Shelton himself was walking around the dining room, greeting guests and checking to see whether people were enjoying their food. The service was also noticeably improved. I've endured some spotty service in the past there. But all that is in the past, and I'm looking forward to returning and trying more of the newly expanded menu.

Chick-fil-A Spicy Chicken Adventure

I truly enjoy Chick-fil-A. Chicken sandwiches are my go-to fast food item and the sandwiches from Chick-fil-A are probably my favorite. McChickens are an occasional guilty pleasure, but just because McDonald's is hard-wired into my being. And the Checkers chicken sandwich is good, too. But when I read on Me So Hungry that Chick-fil-A was dropping a new spicy chicken sandwich, it immediately made sense.

They had this whole online reservation system prior to the launch. You got to pick a three hour window when you could get your free sandwich. Reservations at a fast food restaurant. Nice.

We headed over for the sandwich and ended up with a whole meal.

In addition to the sandwich, they gave us a bottle of water and and a brownie. We supplemented the lunch with those great waffle fries, the Original Chicken Sandwich (call it the control sandwich) and extra pickles.

The Spicy Chicken Sandwich itself, it was a more peppery version of their Original. Totally worth getting. But if you're like me and really like spicy food, you will need to add hot sauce, or bring your own peppers or something. All in, I now have a new item to order. "Spicy Chicken Sandwich, extra pickles and hot sauce."

Cooking at home -Spicy Turkey Burgers and Mango Salsa

You can't always eat out. As much as I would like to. So my wife and I tagged-teamed on what turned out to be a great dinner: turkey burgers.

OK, so maybe it doesn't sound like the most exciting meal. But with a little creativity, the blank canvas of ground turkey took on a new life. We had some mangoes, so she did a delicious mango salsa. Meanwhile, I spruced up the ground turkey and made it spicy (with cayenne pepper, crushed red pepper and chipotle hot sauce) to balance the sweetness of the mangoes which were at their peak ripeness. Put it all on a toasted roll and it was spicy, sweet, juicy deliciousness.

Eating at home was definitely a treat on this evening.