Monday, April 24, 2017

Sandwiches of Westchester County - The Pow! Burger

The kids and I made a recent discovery - Pow! Burger in nearby New Rochelle (211 Main St. for those of you scoring at home) has one of Westchester County's better burgers (as well as a healthy dose of Superhero comics love).

We've made two visits and the original Pow! burger (featuring red onion, lettuce, American cheese, and a 5-ounce patty) has not disappointed me either time. If you want a fried snack to accompany your burger, I would recommend the haystack onion rings (tossed in buttermilk and flour, according to the menu) over the house's fries, which I found to be mediocre.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Bronx Little Italy (Arthur Avenue)

I recently went on a tour (Mom was visiting from Chicago and she tagged along, too) of Arthur Avenue in the Bronx, home to what's widely considered the last authentic Little Italy neighborhood in New York City (yeah, Mulberry Street in Manhattan is still around, but it's a fragment of its former self, having been largely consumed by Chinatown and gentrification).  Alexandra Maruri (the founder and lead tour guide of Bronx Historical Tours was a terrific host and a wealth of information about NYC's forgotten borough, a much-maligned area that's in the process of revitalizing.  She is doing everything she can to spread the word about the positive attributes of the Bronx and clearly has a lot of pride in her home borough.

Arthur Avenue is located just a few short blocks from the Metro-North train stop at Fordham University.  Now that I know where it is, I can easily return via car or public transportation (a mere 30-minute trip from the Chuckwagon).  After seeing the vast dining options available to the Italian food enthusiast, I'll need many, many visits to try it all.

Borgatti's Pasta Shop, churning out noodles since 1935

Owner Chris Borgatti (son of the founder) was kind enough to give us his family story

Teitel Bros. Italian Grocery - Since 1915

The famous "sausage chandelier" at Calabria Pork Store (they make a mean Italian combo sandwich)

I brought home a traditional Italian loaf and a raisin/fennel bread from Madonia Bakery (sadly, they were out of the coveted cicola, or pork lard, bread)

Friday, April 7, 2017

United Nations of Grub - Albania (Dukagjini Burek)

Country #2 of my world grub tour is Albania. In the process of conducting a little background research, I discovered that many Albanian immigrants to the United States eventually settled in the same neighborhoods as Italians (such as Bronx's Little Italy around Arthur Avenue, the subject of my next post), both as a consequence of geography (the two countries are separated only by a narrow swatch of the Adriatic Sea) and the fact that the most famous Albanian (Mother Teresa) was Roman Catholic (as are most Italians).  Even more interesting, at least in New York City, we have a lot of Albanians running Italian restaurants formerly owned by Italians without missing a beat.  So it was with this in mind when I came across what appears to be one of the best purveyors of Albanian-style burek in what was once a prominent Italian area in the Bronx.

Dukagjini Burek (758 Lydig Avenue) is located in a small storefront not too far from the Bronx Zoo and has just a few tables for customers wishing to eat in (most of their business is takeout).  Burek is a dish commonly found throughout the Balkans and former Ottoman Empire and takes on many forms.  In the Albanian version, sheets of phyllo dough are rolled out and then filled with a number of different ingredients (such as a salty, feta-like curd cheese, spinach, or ground beef/onions).  The burek at Dukagjini is placed in round pans and baked in a gas oven, then sold either whole or by the slice (not unlike pizza).  The older lady working behind the counter was pulling freshly-baked bureks out of the oven at a breakneck pace to keep up with lunchtime demand (she had a helper in back prepping the raw dough).

Since it was a Friday during Lent, I opted for meatless and ordered one slice of spinach and one slice of cheese (my slight preference was for the cheese-stuffed burek, but they were both good, not to mention amply-sized, a quarter of the whole pie each). Many of the regular customers (who appeared to be mostly Albanian blue collar workers) enjoyed a plain white yogurt drink along with their burek (my initial thought was that it was for dipping, but I saw no one do this), which is something I'll have to try on my next visit out (along with the meat slice)...

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Sandwiches of Westchester County - The Craving

Cosmo & Alex Pisano Bros. is our local (i.e., in Mamaroneck at 252 Mamaroneck Avenue) traditional Italian deli that's been slinging sausages and baking pizzas for over 50 years.  Although I wouldn't know any better, even the New York Times has commented about how the current proprietors (the Colalillo Family, who also run the bakery next door) offer a number of products at C&A that are more commonly encountered in the markets of Rome - it just all looks cool to me.

The deli has a thriving takeout business at lunchtime, including hot food and delicious sandwiches, which is my focus in this posting.  C&A's Italian Combo made the 2016 list of Westchester County Magazine's best sandwiches, however, I found that variety to be a little off-putting (some of the meats on mine, like the prosciutto and capicola were on the fatty, chewy side), not to mention inconsistent with my new, doctor-recommended low-fat diet.  Lately, I've been opting for the Craving instead, a wonderful blend of grilled eggplant, roasted red peppers, broccoli rabe (the unofficial vegetable of our Italian community here), and fresh sliced mozzarella, all served on a long Italian roll (or wedge, as they refer to it here in Westchester).

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...