Friday, May 25, 2012

Coming on Like a Hurricane - Jack White with Alabama Shakes

I'm a rolling thunder, a pouring rain
I'm coming on like a hurricane

 - AC/DC

"Hell's Bells" kept running through my head as I watched Jack White demolish Roseland Ballroom this past Tuesday. Touring behind his new solo album "Blunderbus", he was in total command. Total command of the audience, his band and his playing.  It was a remarkable show and well beyond what I was expecting.

Truth be told, I was there for the opener, Alabama Shakes. Readers of this blog know that I have been singing their praises from the first time I saw them at Bowery Ballroom in October. Since that CMJ show Alabama Shakes have been critical darlings and one of the fastest rising bands in the country. On Tuesday night they proved they are ready to jump to headliner.

One of the hardest things for a young band to do is make the transition to bigger and bigger stages. This is not the case for the Shakes, particularly their remarkable singer and guitar player Brittany Howard. Opening for Jack White is the perfect situation for this band. The room was already packed at 8pm and when they went on at 8:30 it felt like the entire sold out crowd was in the room, ready to go. From the opening bars of the first song Alabama Shakes had the crowd.

They delivered a strong forty minute set. But you could feel that as good as they were, they were already constrained by the opening slot. They were literally hemmed in, surrounded by Jack White's equipment, which left a small square of the stage for them to roam. They were also constrained by the forty minute set. Despite only having one record, you knew this band wanted to stretch out and just play and play. It was great set, but they were ready for more. So mark your calendars. June 24 Alabama Shakes headline Summer Stage in Central Park. It will be great.

Back to Jack. Full disclosure, I was never a White Stripes fan. Jack White's playing and songwriting ability was never in doubt for me, but the schtick, the Meg White bit, always left me cold. It wasn't until the Raconteurs that I began to really appreciate his talent. Being in a group seemed to free him from any pretense and let him stretch out. And having a a full band behind him really made a difference. He didn't have to carry the show anymore.

None of this prepared me for his set on Tuesday. I had heard a bit of Bunderbus and liked it. I knew he was touring with two full bands. An all male band (which played with him Monday night) and an all female band, which was the one I was hoping to see (and did). I was a little worried that this would be schtick. Two bands. One with guys dressed in black. One with gals dressed in white. The whole stage crew was dressed in dark suits, dark shirts and blues ties. And he is calling himself Jack White III. My fears where dispelled the minute they hit the stage. Actually, my fears were crushed with the force of a sledge hammer.

Jack White was literally surrounded by his top notch six piece band, the Peacocks. Drums, bass (electric and stand up), pedal steel, fiddle, back up vocal and keyboard were arranged in a semi circle around him. Resplendent in a powder blue suit and black shirt Jack White was as in command as any great performer I have ever seen. Everyone in the room was witnessing the full evolution of great artist.

The attention to every minute detail was there. As in the past, color scheme played an important part. All the women were dressed in some version of a white dress. Three long, white vertical banners hung behind the band, forming the III in Jack White III. Two specially made white spotlights flanked the stage. Three vertical cut outs (again forming the III) covered the light source, letting three long beams of light through. Even the towels on stage were black. At first glance the this looked like a band that could have toured with Johnny Cash and the Carter Family in the 60s.

Make no mistake though. This is a a formidable band and Jack White used them to their full potential. No longer trying to achieve some sort of purity with the two piece of the White Stripes or attempting to sublimate himself in a band (Raconteurs, Dead Weather), Jack White just let loose with a all the force he could muster. In addition to songs from Blunderbus the set included tracks from the Raconteurs (Top Yourself, Carolina Drama) and Dead Weather (Blue Blood Blues). But it was the White Stripes songs that were telling. On songs like "Hotel Yorba," "Hardest Button To Button" and "Ball and Biscuit" the band filled out the songs, giving them greater depth and force.

The key to it all was his remarkable drummer (I would love to know her name). She was tremendous and gave all the songs the weight that was so sorely missing in the past.  Led Zepplin would have been good with out John Bonham, but they wouldn't have been Led Zeppelin.

The AC/DC and Led Zeppelin references are no coincidence. Nether AC/DC or Led Zeppelin are Heavy Metal bands, though people lump them in. AC/DC is, at it's core, a barroom blues band and Led Zeppelin is built on Chicago Blues. Jack White's music is the same. But, like Angus Young and Jimmy Page, he is one of the heaviest guitar players when he wants to be. And with drums and bass behind him, he was a gale force onstage at Roseland.

As if the show couldn't get any better, Jack White did something I haven't seen anyone else do at Roseland. He come out for his encore, but not on the main stage. Instead, it was in the raised VIP area on the right side of Roseland. This is, in fact, the original stage from when Roseland Ballroom was an actual Ballroom. (This is also the reason the sound is general bad in Roseland. The room was designed for the sound to come from the original stage). A second band set up was behind the curtain on that stage and the VIPs were pushed to the edge so everyone one could see. Another great touch from Jack White and a great ending to a fantastic show.

Get Blunderbus. Go see Jack White III. If you are already a fan you will love it. If you are not a fan or skeptical, you will be a convert. Trust me, I know. I am a new member of the Church Of Jack.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Great Googa Mooga - Year 1.

I spent this past Sunday at the Great Googa Mooga Festival. It was the inaugural weekend of the festival, which took place in Prospect Park, Brooklyn. Loosely modeled after the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, Googa Mooga marked a cultural shift. Googa Mooga was a food festival that featured music, instead of the other way around.

By all accounts the opening day, Saturday, was a disaster with long lines, stands running out of food, no wifi or cell service and a total collapse of the beer and wine tent payment systems. All these problems led to the festival getting slaughtered on social media (after everyone left, because you couldn't tweet or hit Facebook in the festival).

This is one reason why I chose to go Sunday. Never, ever go to a festival on its first day in existence.

There was some debate in my family about whether or not to go on Sunday based on what we read about Saturday. I was resolved to attend, and I knew it would be a better day. Here was my reasoning, which proved to be sound:

1 - The promoters, restaurants, vendors and other people involved are professionals. Despite what went down on Saturday they had time to fix the problems before the start of Sunday's festivities.

2 - It was a Sunday. A majority of the people who would be attending have been out, socializing, on Thursday night, Friday night and Saturday night. Those people wouldn't be rolling through the gates before 3pm on a Sunday. We would arrive early.

3 - Everyone else is reading about what a disaster Saturday was. Since the tickets were free a lot of people would just stay away.

We arrived at Prospect Park at noon. It was a gorgeous day. There was a steady but not overwhelming flow of people heading to the festival. We got to the gates and rolled right in. No waiting. Things were looking good. We got our guides and maps and started wandering, getting a lay of the land. The food was grouped in areas with loose themes. Pizza, sweet treats, burgers, pork etc. There was a big main stage in the main grounds and smaller stages scattered through out. Everything was working. No line, if there was one, was more than five minutes. And the food was fantastic. Here is a round up of what we ate, drank and saw.

Red Rooster Harlem - Berbere Roasted Chicken w/Barbecue Sauce and Mac & Greens

I don't know if we could have started stronger. No lines for Marcus Samuelsson's stand. Lucious, juicy chicken with a sweet and uniquely spicy BBQ sauce. The Mac & Greens were fantastic as well. Cheesy, chewy and delicious but lighter and with a great texture and flavor coming from the greens. Flat out great.

Vinegar Hill House - Soft Shell Crab Sandwich

Right next to the Red Rooster Harlem stand was the Vinegar Hill House stand. I think you are starting to get the picture. This was probably the longest line we stood on, and it was about 5 minutes. Since we were eating Red Rooster's chicken on the Vinegar Hill House line it really wasn't an issue.

Delicately fried soft shell crab, special sauce, lettuce on a sesame seed bun. This is the Big Mac they serve in heaven. I mean this as a compliment, and I have to give full credit to my wife who called it.

If this is all I had eaten at Googa Mooga it would have been a success. But we were just getting warmed up. We started to wander again and strolled by the Marketplace and discovered the People's Pops stand. Homemade Popsicles and real shave ice. We knew we were going to hit the Big Gay Ice Cream Stand at some point but, it was hot, we were in the park, and today was a day to indulge. So indulge we did.

People's Pops  - Strawberry-Rhubarb Ice Pop

People's Pops - Lemon Shave Ice

I had enjoyed People's Pops Ice Pops before. I had not tried the shave ice. Neither my wife or daughter had tried People's Pops. The Strawberry-Rhubarb Ice Pop was really good. Thick with chunks of fruit, the ice pop was more frozen fruit than fruit flavored ice. It was tasty without being cloyingly sweet.

As good as the ice pop was, the Lemon Shave Ice was the star. It was absolutely perfect. Small ice crystals that melt the second they hit your tongue are infused with perfectly balanced lemon flavor. It was bright and cold, sweet and sour, and it may be the perfect refreshing treat for a sunny day in the park. I don't think I can ever settle for a snow cone again.

(BigPoppa's note: I walked by Madison Square Park Today. Mad. Sq. Eats. is set up next to the park, between Broadway and 5th Avenue. It runs through June 1. People's Pops is there. They have Lemon Shave Ice. Go.)

As we strolled across the main lawn, heading to the burger area, we passed a two gentlemen chatting. I glanced at them and realized one of them was Marcus Samuelsson. I had to stop and say hello and tell him how much we enjoyed his chicken and mac & greens. He could not have been nicer.

On we went to the burger experience. If you are one of those people that live for burgers and go in search of the best burgers, this was the spot for you. Four vendors doling out some of the city's best burgers. Spotted Pig, Dumont Burger, Brindle Room and The Burger Joint. I said hello to Jeremy Spector, owner and chef of Brindle Room which is one of my favorites (as you know). No, I didn't get a burger. I know. But I was pacing myself and was on the hunt for food and restaurants I hadn't tried before.

At the end of the row of the Burger stands, tucked in the corner, under a tent, were three refurbished and re-purposed video game machines (I think former Pac Man games, but not sure). The festival had their own Googa Mooga video game developed, and the machines were free.

My daughter jumped at the chance to play and loved it. In the game, which was similar to Pac Man, you are a chef who is assembling four hamburgers. You are being chased by hot dogs. As you go through the game, you have to avoid the hot dogs while knocking the top of the hamburger buns down the board to complete your four burgers. It was fun and hilarious and my daughter loved it. Nice touch.

We kept rolling. So many great choices. Then we found Tia Pol.

Tia Pol - Calcots con Romesco

Tia Pol is a Spanish tapas restaurant on 10th Avenue in Manhattan. Calcots are large spring onions. They were grilled until tender and given a healthy dollop of Romesco sauce. This was a welcome dish. I was proud of myself for eating a vegetable, and this was as good as anything I had at the fest. The calcot was tangy and sweet, slightly caramelized and the Romesco sauce was the best new grilling condiment I have had in a while. This is a dish I a going to try to replicate on the grill this summer.

Tia Pol also had a lemon refresher, which was a fresh made lemonade that was slightly more bitter than sweet and lightly fizzy. The look on my daughters face said it all. She was surprised by the taste and fizz, then settled in to a happy contentment with this mature take on lemonade.

OK, sweets. We made a beeline to the Big Gay Ice Cream stand at the Sweets Circus area. Before we got there I saw a woman eating a frozen banana on a stick. Uh oh. I need one of those. I asked her where the banana came from. The Big Banana in the Marketplace. New beeline.

The Big Banana - Frozen Banana dipped in chocolate w/ peanuts and sea salt. 

Yeah. Awesome. They also had a plain and one dipped in coconut. Need to make this at home.

We finally made it to the Big Gay Ice Cream stand.

Big Gay Ice Cream - Tang-Creamsicle Shake

They had two shakes. My daughter got the Tang-Creamsicle shake. Yeeeeaaaahhhhh. Just think liquid Creamsicle. Yeeessss. Yes. Yes.

So yes, we are pretty full. Then I saw this sign:

Fried Cheesecake Bombs. OK. Sure. Why not.

A couple of things. One, thanks to the woman next to me who asked if she could mix and match the bomb flavors. Didn't think of that. Two, thanks to the James staff who, after handing me my order of three chocolate bombs, happily exchanged one for one of the lemon - ricotta.

Finally, I could lie and tell you that I am showing you a photo of the stand so you get a feel for what they looked like. I am actually glad I can do this, but call it a happy accident. I took a photo of the bombs. When I went to pull it up while writing this what I found was a picture of the ground. Clearly, I wasn't seeing straight. Thank providence I had taken a photo of the stand as well.

As for the Cheesecake Bombs? The Chocolate Bombs were more molten cake or soufflé than cheesecake. The Lemon-Ricotta had more of a cheesecake texture. They were a little bigger than golf ball. How were they? Balls of fried cheesecake. How do you think they were? Crazy good.

Now fully stuffed and sweeted out, we heard some music and made our way to the Hamageddon Stage.

Freakin Tom Colicchio.

Craft - Dirty Duck Dog

A hot dog made of duck. Black garlic sauce. Kraut, dry with a bit of a coleslaw tang. We got one to share. I will come back to this.

We found a place in the shade before we got to the stage. I heard the band. Sounded good. I told the girls I would be back in a minute and wandered over to catch a song. I stayed till the set was over.

We Barbarians - Hamageddon Stage

We Barbarians are a three piece, originally from California, now residing in Brooklyn. They were great. A daytime slot on a side stage in front of people stuffed to the gills is no easy task but they delivered. Great songs, energetic set. References run the gamut, from Wire to U2 to the Clash. They did a cover of "Stange Overtones" by David Byrne and Brian Eno that was genius. You can hear the Eno influence in the music. I bought their EP, Headspace, at the merch tent and have been listening non-stop. Great band and one I will see again.

Check out We Barbarians here -

Music, along with food, is one of my great passions in life. I love music of all stripes and colors. I am a huge metal fan. Maiden, Priest, Slayer, Metallica, etc. Metal was, and continues to be, a big part of my soundtrack to life. I bring this up because the whole Hamageddon area was done up in classic metal references. All the booths and stages, even the Hamageddon Logo, was done in the Iron Maiden font.

See what I mean? This is the Hamageddon Metal Hog. It is also a spit roaster. There was a whole hog inside being slow roasted as I took this picture. Heavy Metal!

All the various food vendors had takes on classic metal bands. The Craft T-Shirt looked like a Slayer shirt (except I don't think Slayer has ever had a white t-shirt).

You get the idea. I love it. Death to false metal, and fake pork.

I wandered back to the girls who were lounging in the shade. The Dirty Duck Dog was gone. My own fault. We Barbarians made me forget all about it. So, of course, I had to get another one. I did. It was good.

Didn't think we could eat one more thing. But we did.

Seersucker - Cayuga Cornmeal Tart

This was a lovely dish. A flat cornmeal crust is the base. This is not a fried cornmeal tostada. It has the texture of a baked crust. Savory and unique. A cheese, almost like a goat cream cheese, is spread on it and topped with a raw asparagus salad. Simply wonderful and a great finish.

I could have stayed at Googa Mooga all day, but I had another commitment. After a stop in the Third Rail Coffee tent for a Stumptown Iced Coffee we headed out. It was 2:30 and, as predicted, the place was starting to fill up. The lines were getting a bit longer but the feel was still happy and mellow. Escort was starting on the main stage getting the dance party vibe going.

The Great Googa Mooga exceeded my expectations. I feel bad for everyone who went on Saturday. Don't let that experience spoil you for the future. And for all the haters out there who took shots at the Festival before it even started, and piled on after Saturday, your loss.

We had a great day and we barely scratched the surface. Baked, Calexico, Do or Dine, Free Bread, Joseph Leonard, Landhaus, Little Muenster, Maharlika, Roberta's, Souvlaki GR and The Meat Hook are just a few of the vendors we didn't get to sample.

I walked out with a bounce in my step and a smile on my face. For a few hours the pain of missing this year's Jazzfest was gone. Even the girls left happy. So here is to next year. Looking forward to it. And maybe we can add a day. Friday would be good. I'll bring my appetite.

The Great Googa Mooga - Prospect Park , Brooklyn -

Friday, May 18, 2012

Reynards - A First Look

On its opening weekend the Wythe Hotel in Williamsburg hosted the Food Book Fair. Luckily for me, it was also the opening weekend for Reynards, the restaurant in the Wythe Hotel. Reynards is brought to us by Andrew Tarlow and Sean Rembold, the team behind Marlow & Sons and Diner.

First a note about the Wythe Hotel. It sits across the street from Brooklyn Bowl and Brooklyn Brewery. Instead of slapping up some new, mediocre construction, the people behind the Wythe refurbished an old factory. They did a wonderful job. The building blends in perfectly with the industrial feel of the neighborhood. The building looks beautiful. There is no large lobby entrance, only a small front door on the corner. The new, large first floor windows look like they were a part of the original construction.

The only real indication that this is not a factory is the steel and glass addition on the roof of the building and the humorous and eye-catching HOTEL sign that looks like it was made from old metal advertising signs. After living through a decade of unfettered construction in NYC, either from hacks looking to make a buck or named architects who care more about their egos than the architectural history and feel of new York's neighborhoods, the Wythe Hotel is a welcome surprise.

This aesthetic continues inside the hotel. To the left is the clean, minimalist lobby. To the right, Reynards. The restaurant runs the length of the hotel on the Wythe Avenue. It is split into two large rooms with high ceilings, (an outside patio is forthcoming). The first room is the more informal of the two. It is dominated by a beautiful dark wood bar with a white marble top and backed with shelves and mirror. It looks like it could have been here for one hundred years (my guess is it was rescued from another establishment, but you never know). Cocktails and coffee get equal billing and equal treatment at this bar.

A beautiful tile floor, exposed brick walls, wood beam ceilings and globe chandeliers create a feel that nods to the industrial history of the neighborhood and pays homage to classic bars and hotel bars of old (old New Orleans comes to mind in particular). In other words, it is very Williamsburg 2012.

The second room has a similar feel but is slightly more formal, more of a classic dinning room. The tile floors are replaced by wood planks.

On this particular sunny Sunday afternoon I settled into a window seat in the front room. I was here for April Bloomfield's panel and a chance to interview her, but I had come out early so I could try the food at Reynards. My first welcome surprise came when the waiter asked me if I wanted tap or sparkling water. Tap was fine. Then he clarified. "We have flat tap water and sparkling tap water. We make our own." Basically, I was offered a free bottle of house made seltzer. I took it.

I don't know why more restaurants do this (OK, I do, they want to sell bottled water). House made seltzer. Another nod to Brooklyn and a great touch for the customer. Nice start.

I ordered a cappuccino and asked the waiter what coffee they used. I had had a cappuccino here on Friday and it was great. He told me the coffee was Terroir. He said he didn't know that much about it but the baristas did and they would be happy to talk to me about. I said thanks, I would do that on my way out.

A few minutes later, as I was taking a few notes, I heard a voice say," I understand you would like to talk about coffee." I looked up to find a striking redhead settling into the chair across from me. This was Emma. She is the head of the coffee program at Reynards. She told me all about the coffee, Terroir out of Massachusetts. We talked about my set up at home (how I made my coffee at home) and her set up.  I learned they used two different types of espresso beans. A sweeter, more dessert like bean for the mornings and the richer one for the afternoons and dinner. She figured out that I had had the richer espresso on Friday and would have the sweeter today. She said I had to meet the  barista that made my coffee, Katherine. Here they are:

I will be completely honest. I felt like I had stumbled into a Woody Allen movie (one of the good ones). "Sunday Afternoon in Williamsburg." I thanked the both of them. I tried my cappuccino. It was excellent, and it was indeed sweeter than the one I had on Friday. I was in heaven.

The food. I ordered two things. The first - Eggs + Mayonnaise;

Two lightly deviled eggs with pickled rhubarb and chives on a home made mayonnaise that was closer to creme fresh or tartar sauce. Remarkable. Deviled eggs are one of my favorite foods. These were in a class by themselves. And it took every ounce of will not to pick up the plate and lick it clean of the mayo. I could have ordered four more servings.

My second dish - Frisee salad with house made bacon and poached egg.

Perfect. warm, thick, chewy bacon, almost a pancetta. Bread toasted with olive oil for croutons. A perfectly poached egg. All this co-mingles with a light bacon vinaigrette on frisee to make a perfect breakfast or brunch salad. Smiles all around.

I was fully fueled, happy and ready for my panel. And I was already looking forward to coming back to Reynards for another meal.

A thought.  I sat in Reynards on this sunny Sunday watching people come and go. At first glance, oh the humanity. Hipsters? Check. Silly men in silly hats? Check. The new version of Eurotrash, dressed in what they think is hip NYC garb. Check. Tourists from the Upper East Side? Check. Williamsburg is now a tourist destination. Reynards fits the bill.

However, as I basked in the glow of my meal and dismissed the people around me I had an bit of an epiphany. I am an NYC snob (just look at the paragraph above if you don't believe me). I am not alone in this. I am sure a few of you reading this nodded approvingly at my disdain. I know there are a lot of people that avoid Williamsburg, and Brooklyn as a whole, because of the attitude, because of the people. They feel it is becoming a cliche and is over hyped. Too many guys in beards, flannel and caps. Too many girls is prairie dressed or ironic t-shirts. Too many things "Made in Brooklyn, or "Breukelen." They roll their eyes at the idea of a barista. I get it. I can be the same way. As fashionable as it is to go to Williamsburg, it is just as fashionable to take shots at it. Don't.

Yes, there are parts that at too precious for their own good. But I have spent enough time there to realize a lot of the attitude is coming from those just visiting, not the people that live and work there. Ignore the crowds. Get past them and enjoy what a wonderful, creative neighborhood this is, especially when it comes to food and drink. If Reynards were in New Orleans, Savannah or Toledo, no one would roll their eyes. The reality is that the people behind the restaurants, the chefs, bartenders and baristas take what they are doing seriously. This is their art, their craft. For Emma, coffee isn't a job, it is a passion. And thanks to her passion, and my willingness to ask questions and listen, I had some excellent coffee, learned something and met a delightful person with similar interests. How is that bad?

There is cultural shift happening. This weekend's Googa Mooga Festival is one indication. After years of music festivals with food, this is a food festival with music. People are saying chefs are the new rock stars. That is true, but dismissive. Food is the new music business and chefs are the new artists. It makes sense. Hard core music fans used to troll for hours in record shops looking for music. You were thrilled to be the first to discover a new band. But now, the second you discover something, your cousin in the Coldplay T-shirt can call it up on his iPhone. The adventure is gone in music, the thrill of the hunt. And the satisfaction of finding something you love that no one else has. You cannot do that with music any more.

But you can do it with food. You can hear about a new chef, a new place in a remote corner of Brooklyn and go find it. You can discover a new cocktail bar or drink. A new coffee. Great Cajun food. The adventure is there. The thrill of the hunt. And being one of the few in the know. Your cousin can't try the tostadas on his iPhone.

Williamsburg is past the tipping point. The secret is out. But it still has room to grow. It is still easier to get a business started there, and the customers are more open to a new idea. I suspect if you went into Reynards with attitude you might get some back. Isn't this true everywhere? But I went in with an open mind, excited about the food, and I was rewarded. Reynards staff was great and welcoming and the food was top notch. I was excited to enjoy the fruits of their labor, and they we happy to indulge my curiosity and excitement.

So don't be afraid. Don't be intimidated. Don't be dismissive. Come on out. The coffee is fine.

Reynard's at The Wythe Hotel - 80 Wythe Avenue at N 11th , Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

Friday, May 11, 2012

A Cajun Surprise in Williamsburg

I am way behind on my posts. My apologies. I will try to make this simple because I need to catch up but also because I want your full attention with this one.

Last Friday I headed out to Williamsburg to attend the first Food Book Fair for It was a nice event held in the brand new Wythe Hotel and I really enjoyed it. More on that later. As I came out of the Bedford L Station I paused, deciding what route to take to 11th and Wythe. My Spidey Sense tingled (really my New Yorker Sense) and decided to walk up 7th Street. I made a right on Berry and a little store front caught my eye. A place called Juniper. It was closed but had an A in the window so I figured it was a restaurant. I made a mental note to find out more.

I attended two great panels at the Food Book Fair. Then it was lunch time. Trying to figure out where to eat I grudgingly called up Yelp on the iPhone. I just wanted a reminder of the restaurants near me. For once, Yelp delivered. What popped up at #1? Juniper.

This is what I read. 4 stars. "Best Burger." Then this - "great Cajun." What? Great Cajun? In New York? And I have never heard of the place? I was on the move.

Juniper. Cajun/Southern Food. It is a nice, quaint, simple spot. Seats about twenty or thirty. White walls, green wainscoting. A simple bar. It has the feel of a simple local spot in the south. The decor is not over done.

Now focus on today's specials. Jambalaya. Baked Mac and Cheese. Catfish Sandwich. Cajun Shrimp Salad. Fish and Chips. And the special note in the corner; "Everything made to order."

Please, please let this place be good. I am happy to be in Williamsburg today, but my heart is in New Orleans at the second weekend of JazzFest. I deserve Juniper to be good.

There is also a special of Shrimp and Corn Chowder on offer today. I order it. It comes. It looks like this:

It is good. It is very good. Actually, it is great. Rich and creamy but not to heavy. It has big chunks of shrimp, diced potatoes and sweet, snappy kernels of corn. It is spicy. Perfectly spicy. Peppery with enough heat to make your tongue crackle with delight but without the urge to grab for any liquid in sight. Someone knows how to balance spice and heat. I am smiling and shaking my head in appreciation.

I am happy. Juniper is worth the trip for this chowder alone. Now my hopes are up. I ordered the Catfish sandwich. Catfish in Brooklyn. My fingers are crossed. It arrives. It looks like this:

Now I am unabashed. Time for unadulterated praise. This is simply delicious. Fantastic. Two thick pieces of catfish, breaded and fried. They are light, fresh and perfectly moist. A house tartar sauce, more like a garlic aioli, and some lettuce adorn it. I think this is the best fish sandwich I have had. Anywhere. Seriously. And here comes that perfectly balanced heat again. The batter of the catfish is spicy with a little fire. It comes through after the catfish, after the cool lettuce and tartar sauce. It sneaks up on you and lingers. Oh yeah.

 I forgot to mention, those spicy fries are really, really good as well.

Whoever is making this food must have grown up in the South. Their understanding of this food and command of the spice rack is too good. New York is the greatest food city in the world. Sorry everywhere else. But we do have a few holes. Southern, especially Cajun, being one of them. I never thought I would eat southern/Cajun food this good in New York City.

This is Tom:

He is the owner and chef of Juniper. He is a lovely and friendly guy. He comes out of the kitchen to make sure you are happy and enjoying your food. He is decidedly not from the South. But he is a huge fan of southern cooking and has traveled and eaten all over the South, especially New Orleans. His key to cooking southern food this well? Keep it simple. It isn't that hard (so he says). Don't reinvent the wheel.

Tom thinks this is easy. Maybe that is why he is so good at it. This is not easy. I know. I have been dissapointed too many times.  It is now my mission to spread the gospel of Juniper. Many of you reading this know how much I love New Orleans and Cajun food. Now I have, at long last,  found a spot that makes great Cajun and southern food. It has been here for over a year and I didn't know about it. Shame on me. I want everyone to know about it.

I am going back. I am going to try everything there, starting with the Jambalaya, which Tom says he will have for a few more weeks. I am going to write about it until you go there. I am going to sing Tom's praises until the place is so busy I can never get in. I have to. Juniper must survive. It must thrive. It deserves to. It is that good.

Juniper. Go now.

Juniper - 112 Berry Street (at 7th) - Williamsburg, Brooklyn

Thursday, May 10, 2012

April Bloomfield and JJ Goode - "A Girl and Her Pig"

I was lucky enough to spend part of last weekend in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, covering the Food Book Fair for It was interesting and a lot of fun. The highlight was getting to meet April Bloomfield (The Spotted Pig, The Breslin, The John Dory) and the co-author of her cookbook ("A Girl and Her Pig), JJ Goode. For those of you who would like to read the piece I wrote and my interview with Ms Bloomfield here is the link:

I also had two great meals. Stay tuned.