All around the web, people are reminiscing about Hurricane Sandy a year after it devastated Lower Manhattan. A decade and a bit after the same neighborhood took another critical blow from 9/11, it was just as hard for a lot of businesses to cope. The South Street Seaport, particularly the Fulton Street strip and Pier 17, were still ghost towns when we visited this past March
One of our favorite downtown pubs, the Heartland Brewery, was a cosy unpretentious destination for excellent craft beers and high-class finger foods, tucked underneath the overpasses of downtown. A flight of beers and some luridly multicolored nachos were an excellent way to pass a rainy afternoon.
Post-Sandy, the wreckage was extreme.
There are other Heartland locations throughout Manhattan, with similar menus and the same first-rate beers (try the Red Rooster Ale or the Not Tonight, Honey Porter) but they all fee more corporate and touristy, and none have the intimate neighborhood gathering-place feel of the Fulton Street one.
Thankfully, development has begun on resuscitating the Seaport, so perhaps some day it will be back its old glory.
You know what my favorite thing to do at the Seaport was? Sit and mellow out. On the upper deck was a row of lounge chairs, and you could veg there all day if you were so inclined. Reading, listening to music, or just watching the boats, the birds, and the Brooklyn Bridge. It was a small outpost of peace amid the commerce and touristing.
- Seaport Merchants Unite for a Comeback One Year After Sandy (wnyc.org)
- These 19 Shocking Images Show Hurricane Sandy’s Devastating Impact On The Northeast (businessinsider.com)
Purely by accident, I discovered that Alabama native and US Navy veteran Victor Kimble, known from Food Safari’s USA episode (demonstrating cornbread and jambalaya) and his own range of spice mixes, has a restaurant in the distinctly unglamorous Gartside Street strip at Erindale. My cravings for Southern food run deep and strong, despite being as Yankee as you could possibly imagine. So this was a no-brainer.
Tucked between a swimming-pool-supplies shop and a petrol station, Soulfood Kitchen is a fairly roomy establishment of about 20 tables. The walls are festooned with photos of Kimble alongside musicians like Stevie Wonder, and a television plays blues and Motown videos. Kimble(who bears a more than passing resemblance to the late Paul Winfield) is a gracious host, chatting with diners and even serenading one birthday celebrant on the trombone (!).
My first disappointment was discovering that the in-house menu is missing key dishes featured in the online menu, including jamalaya and gumbo- classic case of “bait and switch”. This is a pet peeve of mine. Keep the website menu updated please.
First dish was a guilty pleasure of mine: chicken fingers. We were served only three, but at least they were big: juicy and crispy and probably the equivalent of five lesser fingers served elsewhere. They were pre-drizzled with ranch, instead of served with a dipping cup on the side. (Apologies for the rotten photo.)
I’m not a big seafood eater but I am a fan of good crabcakes. These were delicious: plump, spicy and crispy in equal measure with a nice zesty garnish. I felt that they were a bit small for the price though…more appetizer than main. If this was all you’d ordered you might be left a bit peckish.
The pièce de résistance: ribs. Holy Jesus on a pogo stick, what ribs.
Tender, juicy, messy, and slathered in a tangy not-too-sweet sauce, these were proud American ribs. The edges were properly caramelized and crunchy while the inners were rich and fatty-in-a-good-way without any annoying gristle or unrendered bits. If these were parboiled (a common trick to achieve tenderness in a hurry) I couldn’t tell. These were possibly even better than my previous Canberra rib benchmark, Smoque in London Circuit. The spice level was just enough for my tongue to wake up, but not so hot that it numbed. I swooned with every rich porky bite. They were served with sweet potato fries, which were actually crispy, unlike every other sweet potato fry I’ve ever eaten which was a limp and soggy wannabe to a real potato fry. These were no compromise at all, and even sweet potato-hating Mr S-P gave them a thumbs-up. The cornbread was tasty, although $6 is grotesque for one desultory 3cm muffin.
Growing up in a South American family in New York predisposed me to adoring Latino food. Growing up in a Jewish family in New York predisposed me to loving Chinese food (yes, the stereotype is true in my case). Moving to Australia a decade ago brought me multitudes of glorious Chinese food but there is a tragic, pathetic lack of Latin food here. The late and unlamented Montezuma’s in Phillip served a microwaved Lean Cuisine facsimile of Mexican and was hardly worth mentioning. After its closure, there was a years-long drought of any proper Mexican in Canberra* until the opening of a branch of Guzmàn y Gomez Taqueria. GyG brought tasty, fresh, and well-spiced burritos and tacos to Civic (as well as yummy Jarritos sodas). A few branches of the mostly unimpressive and wildly variable Mad Mex didn’t help matters, but Yuki of SMB tipped me off that a spinoff of Bondi’s Beach Burrito Company was open in the old Woodstock location on City Walk. Any Mexican, even Californified pseudo-Mex, causes an instant Pavlovian reaction in me, and Mr S-P and I headed there posthaste.
BBC (heh), as the name implies, has a casual, beachy, cantina vibe with pom-poms and serapes serving as decorative accents. Orders are placed at the bar.
We decided to make a meal out of small plates. First up was an appetizer-sized quesadilla. Unlike at most places, which give you a dipping bowl of salsa on the side, here the salsa was actually layered in with the cheese. This resulted in a delightfully gooey, smokey, cheese snack, pre-cut into finger-friendly strips.
Next up was a favorite USA pub food snack that I’ve never seen in Australia: jalapeño poppers. Unfortunately, BBC’s version did not live up to their bite-sized poppable name, and were in fact rather too large. Biting into one caused the coating to crumble and the cream cheese to squirt out like toothpaste. The jalapeños themselves were nearly raw. I was unable to finish more than two.
An assortment of three tacos with different fillings was the “main” of sorts. The least of them was the chili con carne, according to the Mr. Chipotle chicken and pulled beef were tastier, and liberal garnish of pico de gallo disguised a pretty hefty amount of filling.
Finally my most anticipated dish: taquitos filled with pulled pork. I say pulled pork even though the menu claimed they in fact contained cochinita pibil, that Mexican classic of orange-juice-marinated pork. The pork was juicy, tender, and perfectly shredded, but lacked the tangy sweetness of real pibil and required a bit of doctoring with lime wedges and Tapatio sauce to punch up the flavor. Notwithstanding, they were decently sized and perfectly crunchy and very, very satisfying. But if you’re looking for spicy pig, you’d actually be better off with GyG’s chipotle pork.
Overall BBC is not a bad option for fairly tasty Mexican in the city. The atmosphere is nice and the food is only slightly overpriced. Just avoid the poppers.
*Don’t even get me started on the allegedly Mexican Melbourne restaurant which managed to serve me an oxymoron on a plate: a quesadilla with no cheese in it. When I mentioned this to the server, they took it back to the kitchen and returned it to me five minutes later. A handful of cheese had been thrown over the top and melted so half-assedly that the outlines of the individual shreds were still visible. What a crock.
I have a normally healthy suspicion of “celebrity chef” restaurants. But the Mesa was a class act all the way. I can’t imagine that the Southwest-tinged food has become tired, because we ate there a scant 10 months ago and it was surely one of the best meals of our trip. Gracious and friendly but not obsequious service and potent cocktails were nice touches.
Here are some memories from the late eatery.
Over at Cocktails and Colognes, Harry is experimenting with making his own fig-cardamom-infused vodka.The sheer Indian-restaurant dreaminess of that put me in a cocktail-inventing mind: Iced Assam tea? Apricot juice?
But then I thought back to the “Proud Punjabi”, an $18 glass of sweet-tart bliss, and by no means the most interesting thing to be served at Digress Restaurant and Lounge.
Digress is definitely Canberra’s, probably Australia’s, and possibly the world’s only Indian-Italian fusion restaurant known to me. Where else can you get so-crazy-it-just-might-work mashups like chicken tikka carbonara and vindaloo pizza? But I think their greatest creation might be the “Proud Punjabi”, an addictively toothsome combination of mango lassi, coconut liqueur, and Tia Maria. Expensive, but worthy.
Anyway, if anything needs to be mixed up with homemade fig-cardamom vodka, it’s a mango lassi. Posthaste, young man.
Review of Digress coming shortly, as it occurs to me it’s been far too long since I’ve been there. Once last year, but prior to that was in the company of SMB’s Yuki in December of 2011, Yuki’s beautifully photographed review is here. (Full disclosure: Yuki used to work for me.)
I was reminded of the marvelous Wafels and Dinges earlier today. It’s a Belgian snack truck in New York City that sells waffles, of course, in two styles, and other acoutrements thereto. You can get them sweet or savory or any combination. The version pictured above is topped with spekuloos, a peanut-butter textured paste made of crushed ginger biscuits and quite the most craveable sweet goo since Nutella.
On the day this photograph was taken, the truck was down in the Financial District. I took my hot, fluffy, fragrant waffle and walked over to Zuccotti Park, where I savored it while making ostentatiously loud lip-smacking noises in front of the Occupy Wall Street campers.
They had their tie-dyed t-shirts and protest signs and righteous indignation.
I had a Belgian waffle.
- Wafels & Dinges (dylanstilin.com)
- Most delicious dessert trucks in America (usatoday.com)
- First Look: An East Village Storefront for Food Truck Favorite Wafels & Dinges (sweets.seriouseats.com)