Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Hubba - Port Chester, NY

I think I may have found my new favorite chili dog. Having now tried this dish in a number of locales throughout the country (becoming something of an accidental connoisseur along the way), I have to say that the chili dogs on order at Hubba's in nearby downtown Port Chester (24 N. Main St.) may actually surpass the rest (and even best Mamaroneck's darling hot dog palace, Walter's, IMHO). The place sure has the right ambiance and backstory: originally called Texas Chili (or Texas Quick Lunch - my sources differ on this) and open possibly as far back as the 1940s, it became Pat's Hubba Hubba in 1989 when Greenwich, CT diner owner Pat Carta wanted to expanded his business into another area location, then just Hubba upon takeover by current proprietor Carlos Magan. Pat Carta passed away in 2009 and his original Hubba Hubba diner closed in 2016, but this Hubba continues onward. And just like our friends Coney Island Texas Lunch in Scranton, PA, it has even spawned a nearby competitor clone claiming to be superior (that would be Texas Chili up the street - I'll eventually have to conduct a mano-a-mano tasting).

There's little question that Hubba is probably the narrowest restaurant I've ever had the pleasure of dining in. An NBA player with a wide wingspan might actually be able to touch both walls (snagging a souvenir dollar bill or two in the process). It's not crowded at 11:30am on a typical weekday; however, I'm told the overnight hours are when the real action occurs as the club crowd and hungry high schoolers filter in for their late-night fix.

The menu (written on paper plates pasted above the counter) consists of almost-infinite permutations of hot dogs, burgers, and fries, all centered on a large vat of beanless chili simmering at the front of the store.  I opted for a chili dog both with and without cheese - the cheese-less version has raw chopped onions.  In keeping with the local Northeast style of hot dog, the weiner is split down the middle before grilling, then served open-face atop a toasted bun.  I found the chili (which is ground beef-based - no word on if any of the cattle innards made their way into the pot) to be a bit on the aggressive side, but a perfect foil for the hot dog and toppings (and I wouldn't bother with cheese next time - it didn't add much).  After a pair of these beauties and a medium order of fries (which were also quite good), I was a very happy camper...

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

United Nations of Grub - Afghanistan (Kabul Kabab House)

Having been duly inspired by another blog I discovered shortly before moving to New York (in which the writer is attempting to try cuisine from as many different countries represented in the NYC metro area as possible - United Nations of Food), today I am beginning a new segment on this blog called United Nations of Grub. My goal is to take UNF's country list and periodically seek out a restaurant that's serving the representative dishes of each one. This will likely require me to travel into the city more often, but it's probably not a bad thing for me to have more excuses to leave the suburbs.

I intend to go through the list in alphabetically order - first up is Afghanistan, a country often vilified in these parts lately. As you might expect, Afghani food closely hews to the cuisines of other Central Asian and Middle Eastern countries; that is, lots of seasoned rice and grilled meats (usually in kebab form). Fortunately, I was able to track down a good Afghani restaurant in Queens, located oddly enough on the same stretch of Main Street in Flushing where you'll find a very large Chinese population and a Chinatown that rivals any I've seen in the US (that's a post for another day). Afghanistan does share a short border with China, so I suppose it's not so far-fetched; anyway, I digress.

Kabul Kabab House (42-51 Main St. in Flushing....gosh, these NYC addresses are hard to get used to) appears to have been recently remodeled. There's a grill area up front for takeout and walk-up business, plus a small dining room with about 10 tables in the back. The place was largely empty at lunchtime on the random Tuesday I dined there.

Mantoo are dumplings that are commonly found in Central Asian restaurants - the Afghan variety served here are steamed and features a stuffing of ground beef and onions.  The sauce that's been ladled atop the mantoo (called seer moss) is yogurt-based and normally contains mint, lemon juice, and garlic.  A smattering of carrots, peas, and a few dabs of tomato sauce finish off the dish, which was quite good and among the lighter versions of dumpling I can remember having.

Barg, or marinated grilled steak, is one of the house's specialties. The marinade typically contains saffron, olive oil, onions, and garlic (although they keep it close to the vest at KKH, simply referring to it as "special herbs and spices"). I opted for brown rice with my meat (something called green rice is available, alas, only on weekends), which also came with raw onions and stewed tomatoes. I tried a couple of sauces that were in bowls on the table and found them to be pretty aggressive heat-wise. My server commented that next time I come in, I should request that the barg be cooked to medium instead of medium-well; regardless, the meat was very tender and tasty.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Sandwiches of Westchester County - Porchetta

Port Chester is an old shipbuilding town on the Byram River that's now become something of a retail hub for this part of Westchester County (our nearest Costco and movie theaters are there) and home to a growing population of Latin Americans (judging from the mom-and-pop restaurants, these immigrants are primarily from Central and South America). The Latino joints represent a distinct group of dining destinations awaiting discovery (for example, we've eaten at a decent Peruvian place there thus far), but there are many other food options as well, including Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich's venture Tarry Market, a mini-Eataly located on the main drag at 179 N. Main Street. Patrons of Tarry Market can buy a wide array of meats, cheeses, breads, and desserts, as well as a number of to-go meals like the porchetta sandwich featured in Westchester Magazine.

Porchetta is a simple dish that's difficult to execute well.  In order to make it, a pig is deboned, then fileted with the skin kept on, stuffed with forcemeat/herbs, rolled, and roasted on a spit until the skin is crispy.  Tarry Market fills its pork roast with spicy sausage and rosemary, placing the finished meat on a fresh Italian roll with salt and a drizzling of olive oil - that's it.  I found this version to be a little on the rich side (some of the meat on my roll was excessively fatty), but very tasty and worth the 15-minute drive from the Chuckwagon...

Monday, March 6, 2017

Goody Goody Burgers - Tampa, FL

When the Gonzmart family of Tampa (founders of the historic Columbia restaurant) announced in 2014 that they would be reviving the old-fashioned Goody Goody Diner (open from 1925-2005 and best known for its burgers/breakfasts/butterscotch pie), famous food enthusiasts like myself were excited at the chance to experience a unique local culinary tradition. Unfortunately, what I didn't know at the time was that we'd be ending our Florida residency exactly 2 weeks before the highly-anticipated grand re-opening; thus, I had to wait until our first return trip to the Bay Area to finally visit.

The last Goody Goody location (there were 4 of them in the chain's history) was at 1119 N. Florida Ave. in the Seminole Heights neighborhood.  The reincarnated restaurant is in trendier Hyde Park (1601 W. Swann Avenue) closer to downtown Tampa.  The Gonzmarts purchased all of the original recipes from the old owners and, according to many diners, they have been largely successful in duplicating the beloved flavors of the house's POX burger (which includes pickles, chopped raw onions, and the secret sauce) and butterscotch pie.

All hail the case of butterscotch pies!

POX burger and fries.  The secret sauce is a thick tomato-based concoction (my nearest comp would be Sloppy Joe sauce, but not as spicy) that gets slathered on to the meat.  I preferred the onion rings to the fries.

You can choose chocolate, banana cream, or coconut cream, but the butterscotch pie is the real deal (and I'm not usually even a fan of butterscotch).  The browned meringue on top is its signature.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Blue Hill at Stone Barns

After several aborted attempts (heck, I've even tried to sign on as a volunteer there with no luck), Mrs. Hackknife and I were finally able to dine recently at the much-heralded Blue Hill at Stone Barns, one of America's top restaurants located a mere 30 minutes from the Chuck Wagon in Pocantico Hills. Chef Dan Barber and his crew moved into the non-profit Stone Barns Center (itself repurposed from an old working dairy farm owned by the Rockefeller Family into an agricultural research facility) in 2004 and have been a worldwide leader in farm-to-table cuisine and sustainability initiatives ever since.

Speaking of farm-to-table, you can't get any fresher than what's on the plates at Blue Hill - our vegetable-heavy Grazing/Pecking/Rooting tasting menu (reflecting the bounty of the current season) largely consisted of produce harvested straight from the greenhouses and fields a short walk from the dining room.  As is befitting of a restaurant integrated into a farm complex and its surrounding nature, stately wood beams and hanging plants dominate the space (which was a little dark for picture taking, I might add - forgive the sketchy photos).  All told, the wonderful experience struck me as a combination of Noma and Eleven Madison Park, with a dash of Alinea thrown in.

Assorted Fresh Radishes and Field Greens

Kale Chips (the stand of sticks was not edible)

Badger Flame Beet Pizza

Picnic platter featuring housemade bread and various goose parts, including Blue Hill's "failed goose liver" spread, made from the chef's attempt at sourcing cruelty-free foie gras

Our course in the old dairy shed, now used to grow mushrooms and microgreens

(it was a little chilly - it's New York in February, after all)

Creamy Mushroom Soup

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Next (French Laundry Menu) - Chicago, IL

Our original plan for New Year's Eve was to dine at Naha, which is a Chicago institution that I've never had the pleasure to experience; by sheer luck, a few extra tickets were released for the current menu at Next (focusing on some of the most famous dishes of French Laundry around the time period 1996-1997) on that evening and, at the behest of my beloved, we ponied up the fee to go there instead.

Next founder Grant Achatz worked at French Laundry under iconic American chef Thomas Keller for several years and his time there greatly influenced his philosophies in the kitchen and dining room. Even to this day, tables at French Laundry (which is located in Napa and is currently undergoing a major renovation) are notoriously difficult to secure. Mrs. H. and I plan to visit the original someday, but this will likely be the closest we can get for the foreseeable future.

As is always the case with Next, the food, drinks, and service were impeccable. My only regret is that I was afflicted with a nasty case of heartburn (courtesy of Jolibee, I suspect - see my last posting) during our meal that was significantly exacerbated by some of the indulgent plates we were served (for example, the lobster and foie gras dish was dynamite, but couldn't have been better designed to induce gastrointestinal distress).

Cornet of Salmon Tartare and Red Onion Creme Fraiche

Gulf Shrimp and Avocado Salsa

Blinis with Bottarga and Dehydrated Pepper Sprinkles

Barbecued Eel with Sesame Seeds and Yuzu

Black Truffle Custard with Chive Potato Chip

The famous "Oysters and Pearls"
Sabayon of Pearl Tapioca with Island Creek Oysters and Golden Osetra Caviar

The plating for this dish was somewhat elaborate...

Hawaiian Hearts of Palm with Medjool Date Vinaigrette, Cilantro Infused Oil, and Frisee

Pompano "Amandine" with Orzo, Pole Beans, and Preserved Meyer Lemon

Five-Spiced Lobster with Port-Poached Figs and Moulard Duck Foie Gras

Storey Farms Chicken with Red Pepper Reduction, Confit Biyaldi, and Fines Herbs

"Pot au Feu"
Beef Short Rib with Root Vegetables and Sauteed Bone Marrow

Chaource Cheese with Bartlett Pears, Clove, and Lolla Rossa Lettuce

Northern Spy Apple Sorbet with Honeycrisp Butter Lattice, Cranberry, and Barley

Another signature dish "Coffee and Donuts"
Cappuccino Semifreddo with Cinnamon-Sugar Donuts

Chocolate Truffle Mignardises

Assorted Mignardises (had to take these home - too full)

Friday, January 27, 2017

Jolibee - Skokie, IL

I first heard of Filipino fast food chain Jolibee on an episode of Parts Unknown in 2013 when Anthony Bourdain (who called their famous spaghetti dish "deranged, yet strangely alluring") visited one of the US locations in Los Angeles with Chef Roy Choi. The chain (which has 36 locations here now, including one in Queens) has developed a loyal cult following in the States among expat Filipinos, first-generation Filipino-Americans, and a few curious gringos willing to expand their fast food comfort zones beyond simple burgers and pizza. Luckily for us, a Jolibee location recently opened in suburban Chicago at 3534 W. Touhy in Skokie not far from our home-away-from-home over the holidays in the city, so Mrs. Hackknife and I agreed to meet up there with my brother-in-law (an aficionado of all things fast food) to check it out.

All hail our new overlord the happy Bee mascot

Diners can conveniently order the chain's two most well-known offerings, the fried chicken and the spaghetti, as part of a combo meal.  The chicken (called "Chickenjoy" on the menu) isn't particularly distinctive in any way, other than it's definitely now on my short list of best fast-food fried chicken, all crispy and juicy and tender as advertised.  On the surface, the spaghetti (which includes noodles, slices of ham and hot dogs, shredded cheddar cheese, and a slighty-sweetened tomato sauce) sounds a bit disgusting, but the components actually work together in a stoner food-kind of way.  I can definitely see the allure.  The combo meal comes with a side of gravy (I didn't use it) and choice of drink (I selected pineapple juice).

Jolibee is also known for its Filipino desserts, including halo halo (not the best we've had - the old Filipino Fest in Tampa spoiled us forever) and pearl coolers (you're looking at the ube, or purple yam, below), but the best of the bunch is the peach-mango fried pie that puts to shame anything McDonald's was doing, even back in the 70s when their fryers were still powered with beef tallow.