Sunday, September 13, 2015

"Long Island Food: A History From Family Farms & Oysters to Craft Spirits" by T.W. Barritt Debuts September 14

I’m excited to share news of the September 14th publication of my first book, “Long Island Food: A History from Family Farms & Oysters to Craft Spirits.” It’s the story of a suburban boy’s search for his hometown food culture, published by the History Press.

Growing up well fed on meatloaf, tuna casserole and TV dinners, I had little knowledge of Long Island’s rich agricultural and maritime history. The book explores the past, but looks to those people who are advancing Long Island’s food legacy today in delicious new ways, in community agriculture, wine, cheese, bread, fine dining and craft spirits. There’s even a chapter on Long Island’s pickle pedigree. 

I’m grateful to all of the people who generously shared their stories. It was certainly an unforgettable experience to travel Long Island over the past year and talk directly to the people who are defining what our food culture is all about. My thanks, also, to the many photographers whose beautiful work illustrates the volume. In particular, I must thank Jacob Skoglund, a talented young photographer who served as image curator for the project. 

“Long Island Food” is available on Amazon and through History Press. There’s also a Facebook page, so please “like” that if you are able. I hope you enjoy exploring the story of Long Island food as much as I did. I think you'll find it a deliciously surprising adventure!

©2015 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved

Sunday, September 06, 2015

How Mad Are These Men?

Since Zany returned to reclaim her slot as my alpha food truck maven, I’ve had to become a bit creative in finding new ways to engage with the other voracious appetites in my life. 

Take my college roommate Ford McKenzie, for example.  As you’ll recall, he’s the well-dressed social gadfly who has taken us along on all manner of food orgies.  We’ve gone dawging in Brooklyn and gorged ourselves on the annual gluttony of red meat at the manly Gowanus Beefsteak event. Ford was also the trendsetter that perfected the fine art – or mash up, if you will – of food truck lunches consumed in high-end hotel lobbies. 

Now, Zany is a purist, and believes that street food should be consumed as close to the aroma of asphalt as possible.  I know she and Ford will never agree on even basic food truck etiquette.  Frankly, I’m not even sure they should ever meet, at least not without a major security contingent present. 

So, I’ve needed to kick it up a notch to show Ford the love.  He’s had a little time on his hands, so while the rich folk are out of town, living it up in the Hamptons, we’ve been channeling our inner Don Draper, and hitting the classic New York watering holes.  We head out on the town for a variety of adventures on the last of the dog days of summer. We don’t smoke, and it’s too hot to wear Brooks Brothers suits, but we both favor brown spirits, and with that tall, dark and sophisticated thing he’s got going on, Ford does a pretty good impersonation of Don Draper – with fewer existential crises. I’m more likely to be mistaken for Pete Campbell. 

Speaking of dog days, our first stop is the Old Town Bar Restaurant on East 18th Street.  I’m a little skeptical.  I haven’t patronized Old Town in about 20 years, and I fear that from the looks of the shabby chic neon sign, nothing has changed.  Perhaps nothing has been cleaned either.

I am pleasantly surprised.  Ford is at the bar, dressed in a crisp white button down and Rag & Bone jeans.  Depending on your point of view, Old Town might be considered a “dive” but, look closer.  It’s the epitome of Old New York, and first opened for business in 1892.  It’s kind of dark inside, but if you squint, you can spot the frosted glass light fixtures, the mahogany bar with marble top, and the classy black-and-white tiled floor. Even the urinals are historic.  The clientele has been “upgraded” since my last visit and it is now pure hipster. The beards and skinny jeans are a dead giveaway.  There are also booths – and when do you ever get that with new construction? We grab a booth and order a round of Manhattan cocktails, complete with a totally artificial red maraschino cherry.  They are smooth and stimulate the appetite, so we ask for a menu.  The Manhattan is potent … well, the second Manhattan is even more potent.  I’m not even sure what Ford orders.  It’s either chipped beef on toast, or beef stroganoff.  Or, maybe a Philly Cheese Steak sandwich? I have fond memories dining on hot dogs at Old Town in a past era, so I go for the tube steaks – and I make it a double platter with fries.

The dogs are so tasty, I order a third.  And, these puppies even have a pedigree.  The menu notes, “As seen on the Martha Stewart show.”  Who can resist Martha-approved hot dogs? We leave Old Town Bar, awash in rye, vermouth and nitrates, and I take note of two stiletto heals, dramatically strewn on the pavement on Park Avenue South.  There are a thousand stories in the naked city.
About a week later, we are looking for an appropriate venue to celebrate Ford’s birthday.  The birthday venue is important when you’re closing in on your late-thirties. I come up with the perfect solution.  The famed Four Seasons restaurant on 99 East 52nd Street has lost its lease and will soon be closing its doors.  It’s a New York institution, it’s a bastion of male-hood and we simply must go.  Don would insist.  Parenthetically, when our gal Friday, “Peggy Olson” discovers that we’ve made the pilgrimage without her, she is reportedly in an awful snit.  But, you know how it is.  Sometimes guys need their space.  
Here’s the backstory.  I’ve only been to the Four Season’s once, and it was with Ford, back when we were callow fellows. We met at the bar for drinks and then talked our way into the “pool room” for dinner without reservations.  That’s a full dining room with an Esther Williams-worthy swimming pool located at the center. I am horribly underdressed and have to borrow one of the Four Season’s all-purpose loaner blue blazers.  Ford, who is always dressed correctly, is appalled.  I mean, my blazer is borrowed!  In fact, the only thing I remember about the dinner is the shimmering swimming pool and the fact that Ford, as usual, was critical of my sartorial skills.

Now let’s flash forward to the present day. I duck out of work at a reasonable hour and secure a place at the Four Seasons Bar. The place is almost empty.  I’m wearing a blue blazer – which I own.  Ford arrives shortly after, wearing a classier blue blazer (because “anything you can do, I can do better"), a pale blue herringbone button down and white slacks.  He has nothing to say about my ensemble, which really doesn’t signal approval but only means I haven’t made any egregious fashion errors. 

I’m feeling a bit nostalgic.  The closure of the Four Seasons will be the end of an era, and judging by the décor, that era was the late 1960s.  The Four Seasons is a cavernous architectural cathedral, celebrating winter, spring, summer and fall. Mr. Vivaldi would be mesmerized. There are shimmering, jewel-like, scalloped curtains that quiver with the movements of the air conditioning.  Icicles descend from the ceiling, and the high-end booze is contained in a floral-shaped sculpture at the center of the bar. 
More to the point, the Manhattan cocktails are supersized.  I watch with a bizarre, fatalistic fascination as the bartender mixes our rye and vermouth in something resembling a large jug.  How did Don and Roger do it? 

The bar is occupied by a collection of regulars, and one guy who decided to wear a golf shirt, inviting Ford’s scorn.  We figure most folks are frolicking in the Hamptons and we’re the only one’s left in the city. “It’s loser week,” says Ford, referring to those of us who have no housing on the East End. 

The plus-sized Manhattan cocktails (yes, that’s plural) serve to put Ford in a festive, birthday mood, and we round out the menu with an order of pig in a blanket.  What can I say? We’re classy guys.
We decide to skip dinner at the pool room and head downtown for the best fried chicken in New York.

Eventually, we end up at the Bibbi Wine Bar in the East Village enjoying the bartender David’s signature wine cocktail dubbed, “Where’s Pat.”  It turns out, Pat is sitting next to us at the bar.  The cocktail is a better version of Pat, than Pat.

Just before Labor Day, we embark on a dizzying elevator ride to another New York institution – SixtyFive, the new and improved cocktail lounge at the Rainbow Room at Rockefeller Center.  Due to corporate raiding, 30 Rock is now known as “The Comcast Building,” which is not nearly as romantic.

Ford arrives nattily dressed for the end of the summer season in a red and blue striped seersucker blazer, Rag & Bone jeans and his signature Gucci loafers.  How do people keep those shoes clean in New York City?

We cue up in the lobby where the matron rejects the guy in front of us because he is wearing a t-shirt.  There is a dress code after all. 

We are whisked by elevator to the 65th floor, where the new lounge is a stunning study in silver, and the drinks are an exercise in economic development.  Cocktails average about $25 dollars a glass, so you might consider refinancing your mortgage.  Most of the staff, and clientele is as breathtaking as the sweeping views of the Big Apple.

Ford orders a Manhattan, which is a little skimpy compared to the swimming pool-style cocktails at the Four Seasons.  I decide that the Rainbow Room just screams for a Champagne Cocktail.  And, it’s cheaper than the Manhattan, too.  Truthfully, I think my Champagne Cocktail is a better match for Ford’s seersucker blazer than his Manhattan.
Before heading downtown for a bowl of tasty and overpriced pasta, Ford and I stop to admire the view.  (Note to future tourists:  the view of Central is best observed from the men’s room, and SURPRISE!  There is no washroom attendant!)

I’m inclined to want to take a moment to smell the roses and admire the view, but Ford – in classic A.D.D. fashion – takes a quick glance and is already heading for the elevator.  New Yorkers are so jaded. I guess he’s already composing his next Coca-Cola jingle.

© 2015 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved

Thursday, August 13, 2015

The Absolute Greek Truck and a Mediterranean Holiday

Zany is forced to briefly postpone our next food truck adventure as she must attend an urgent lunch meeting that serves a sorry selection of ham and cheese wraps.  I’m not even going to try and make sense of that.

However, the postponement is fortuitous as Zeus spends most of the day hurling lightning bolts at the island of Manhattan.  The subsequent day is brilliant and serene and the sky is azure blue.  It is perfect food trucking weather.

After emerging from a little morning playtime in Central Park, I do some early recon on Sixth Avenue.  At 52nd Street I get a make on what appears to be a brand new entry to the food truck scene, the Absolute Greek Truck. 
The truck exterior is decorated with a sweeping panorama of an ancient Greek village overlooking a cerulean ocean.  It’s just tempting me to throw convention to the wind and embark on a Mediterranean holiday.

I’m not sure what “Absolute” Greek really refers to. Is that unbending, or despotic?  Is it “absolutely awesome?” The owners bill the truck as “a taste of Hellos on Wheels.” At least “the Greek” is not indifferent. Seems like the perfect choice for lunch, so I send Zany a screen shot of the menu. 
 She texts back, “You had me at “loaded Greek fries.” Done deal. 

The lunch hour approaches.   New advances in technology allow me to know exactly when Zany is arriving on the scene:
We meet at the outdoor plaza on 52nd and Sixth Avenue where the Absolute Greek Truck is attracting a hungry crowd. Zany strolls into the plaza wearing stylish Jackie O sunglasses and I note that her bag perfectly matches the truck’s Mediterranean seascape. 
This gig in the beauty business has made her quite the fashion forward food trucker. A few more food truck lunches, and I’m likely to resemble Aristotle Onassis. 
We line up and debate the menu.  There are a variety of pork and chicken options, but Zany is going for authenticity.

“If we’re going to do Greek, we have to have lamb,” she insists.  We settle on a spread that could feed a team of Olympic athletes, including stuffed grape leaves, Gyro in Pita stuffed with beef and lamb, red onion, tomatoes and tzatziki sauce, Greek fries topped with feta cheese and oregano and “Souvlaki,” which is chicken on a stick.

“It’s New York City,” says Zany.  “We have to eat meat on a stick.”

Now, where to dine?  There are several outdoor plazas in the area, but I’ve got a different idea. 

“This picnic can only be enjoyed on the shore of the Mediterranean,” I declare.

Now, the Mediterranean Ocean is a little far to go for lunch, but thank Poseidon, we do find a reasonable facsimile just two blocks away.
Our ocean is a sparkling azure blue, and there’s plenty of room for Ari to dock his yacht Christina O. 

The Greek god Helios is working overtime and the sun is blazingly hot.  Zany unpacks our picnic.  “It’s Greek tapas by the sea,” she remarks.
The cigar-shaped stuffed grape leaves serve as our appetizer. The rice filling is tangy and pungent.
The Greek fries come in a simply elegant white paper bag with a liberal sprinkling of feta cheese.  Feta doesn’t melt all that well on fries, so we quickly adopt a highly effective technique of scooping up two fries at a time with some feta sandwiched in between.
The chicken Souvlaki is nicely browned and seasoned.  I reach for a fork to slide a chicken cube off the skewer and she stops me.  “You nearly violated the cardinal rule of food trucking,” Zany exclaims.  “No utensils!”
I’ve gotten sloppy.  I forget I’m dining with a pro.
The Gyro is massive, but Zany still manages to deftly divide it in two.  She takes a bite and gives a satisfied murmur.  “That lamb tastes like it’s been slow cooking since this morning,” she says.  The red onion, and cool tomatoes add a nice contrast, and soon I find that my fingers are covered with tzatziki. 

For a while, as we digest our meal, we sun ourselves by the shore, and then I suggest that such a feast can only be topped off with a dollop of Greek yogurt.  Zany whips out her phone and locates Uptown Swirl on 7th Avenue, where they feature a self-serve dispenser and a decadent selection of toppings.   We find the closest thing that resembles Greek yogurt …
But, our pumping and swirling skills leave something to be desired.  
We walk leisurely back up 7th Avenue, and when I suggest we hurry and cross before the light changes, Zany chides me saying, “You’re making me work too hard on our Greek vacation.” 

Later that afternoon Zany texts, “I think I may have gotten a mild Mediterranean sunburn…worth it.” 

©2015 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved  

Sunday, July 26, 2015

A Zany National Hot Dog Day

I’m no longer in the habit of loitering on open street corners waiting to meet people for lunch.  I no longer order tacos from trucks or gorge myself on lobster rolls or waffles and dinges. That was another world, a lifetime ago.  Maybe it was actually a parallel universe.  It’s hard to recall.  But I know it all came crashing to a halt when my al fresco amigo, Zany packed up and left for Chicago. 

Sure, there were others who, on occasion, would join me for high calorie dining on the streets of New York.  They were witty and well-dressed but Zany was the one….my partner in culinary crime.  The Watson to my Holmes. The Robin to my Batman. The Mary to my Rhoda. 

It’s been four years since her gluttonous Food Truck farewell.  And my world was never the same (although my diet may have improved).

Then, several weeks ago, the email from Zany arrives.  It is titled, “Question.”  The text reads, “Are you taking new applications for lunchtime dining companions?  If so, does previous experience improve the odds for acceptance?”

Apparently, the rumors of her demise were greatly exaggerated.

Within seconds I reach her on the phone.  It is true – she is moving back to New York! 

Much has changed since the Big Z left the Big Apple.  She is now a VIP in the beauty business headquartered in Manhattan, and she and her husband are parents to two happy, well-fed kids, Sticky Hands and Jayhawk.  Despite all this responsibility, Zany’s innate ability to sniff out a good meal is more fine tuned than ever. 

Almost immediately, she checks out the local territory. The day before our adventure, I get an email titled “Recon.”  Zany writes with her characteristic enthusiasm, “46th between 6 and 5 is hopping with food trucks! They are parked all down the block…cheesesteaks, tacos, Greek, Thai… Plus there is ample seating in this plaza I’m in.”  Clearly her appetite has not diminished either.

The following day, we rendezvous on the corner of 46th Street, and it is just like old times. The mood resembles a boisterous street festival with well-appointed gals in sundresses and sandals and guys in hair gel and open collars. A guy is carrying a sign through the crowd demanding that we all REPENT! (Could he be a representative from the American Dietetic Association?) 

Immediately, we spot our prey, the Coney Shack truck.  The stunning black and red vehicle hails from Brooklyn, and features an eclectic menu of Southeast Asian tacos, burritos and hot dogs generously garnished with seafood, chicken, pork or beef.  I know.  It’s hard to believe, but I kid you not. It’s the ultimate mash up to use meat as a condiment atop a hot dog, and it is fortuitous as it is National Hotdog Day – our patriotic celebration of the wacky wiener! 
We line up to place our order, and Zany looks at me askance with a devious smile and says, “Amanda, eat your heart out!”  Apparently, she has taken note of her lunchtime successors.  I sense a smack down in the making. 

“Nothing wrong with a little competition,” she adds with a the confident smile of a champion.

Our grub in hand, we head to a nearby outdoor plaza where the street party is in full swing. There’s even a reggae band.  Sometimes, I wonder who’s really working in Manhattan.

“I’ve eaten in this plaza,” I tell her. “After you and Mad Me-Shell skipped town, I had a lobster roll here alone …”

“Sulking?” she asks.
Zany has gotten very good at dividing food into bite-sized portions, and starts to split up our hot dog sampling platter. 

We’ve ordered the Mach Dog, “toppled” with caramelized pork, onion rings and melted Mex cheese all nicely browned with a blow torch, the Chicka Dog, topped with garlic lemongrass chicken and pickled daikon, and the Calamari Dog, topped with crispy 5 spice calamari.  You can barely see the dogs under all the toppings, but each is better than the next.  We savor the collision of proteins and Asian spices and take a moment to pray for all those poor souls who are celebrating National Hot Dog Day with a dirty water dog from a street cart. 
A lady is hovering over our table hoping to claim our seats, and we need something to neutralize the nitrates, so we head off in search of dessert.  After wandering for several blocks we locate an ice cream truck with an intense selection of sprinkles that rivals a Crayola Crayon box. 
“So what do you think?” Zany asks.  “Should we do this once a week?”

I’m game.  In fact, I feel like I’ve got a new, caloric lease on lunchtime.  Screw the kale salad. 

We make plans for our next meet up and say our goodbyes.  Zany starts heading east. I take my last lick of ice cream and I expect my tongue is probably now cobalt blue. That will really make a great impression at my afternoon meeting.

I turn to look back, but Zany is gone, vanished into the throng of people on 6th Avenue.  For a minute, I wonder if I’ve hallucinated the whole adventure, but maybe it’s the hot dog coma kicking in. 

Note to self:  I’ve got to start biking again.   

©2015 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved