Saturday, November 27, 2010

Returning To Scranton's Coney Island

Thanksgiving at Mom's in Moosic was an especially enjoyable, stress-free family day. Stress stayed home, if you know what I mean.

The kids and I joined my sis and bro-in-law and my Aunt Mary for a terrific meal orchestrated by mom. It was as traditional as it gets, and as good as any in recent memory: sausage stuffed mushrooms, a tasty fresh turkey, Mom's killer stuffing, carrots and green beans, mashed potatoes and gravy, cranberry sauce, and bottles of Beaujolais Nouveau to wash it all down. Mom made a special pumpkin lush in addition to her amazing mini-cream puffs, and we brought a Terhune Orchards apple pie. It was all just Norman Rockwell perfect, and I definitely needed that.

But the real fun was on Black Friday, when the kids and Grandma and I ventured into downtown Scranton to check out Don Clark's huge, elaborate model train display, "Minature Memories" at the Steamtown Mall, which came with a twist of tragedy at the start of the holiday. The kids enjoyed it somewhat, but I marvelled at Clark's recreation of so many Scranton landmarks, including even the fictional Dunder-Mifflin Scranton office from the sitcom, "The Office".

After the kids played a while at an indoor playground at the Mall, we huddled them off to lunch, to a true Scranton food landmark, Coney Island Texas Lunch, an 87-yr. old hot dog emporium nested under a railroad trestle a few blocks away from the Mall. The cozy luncheonette recently reopened after a devastating fire, expanded to more than triple its original size, and it really looked great. And best of all, its one-of-a-kind Texas weiners were as tasty as ever. They're not what you expect; these Texas weiners are made with short fat weiners, split and grilled and served on an airy, barrel-shaped roll that is a specialty of the area, baked for CITL by National Baking Co. in Scranton. The pictures above and below tell the story better than any verbiage. Above, Ben jumps around oustide the freshly repainted exterior, built on a steep slope next to that railroad trestle.

Just some of the many vintage soda bottles collected by the owners.....
....including my favorite (2nd from left), a locally made grapefruit soda called Kickapoo Joy Juice (I'm not making this up)!

The new dining area, nearly triple the size of the original row of tiny wooden booths.

Ben in one of the booths, built to resemble the original booths from 1923.

The regular menu. Weiners, burgers, fries, soup, rice pudding, pie. They do offer a few specials each day, including a couple of soups and desserts.

The short, fat, Texas Weiners on the flattop grill, split and grilled on both sides. The weiners are specially made for Coney Island by a local butcher, Gutheinz Meats, in South Scranton.

Two Texas Weiners with the works: mustard, chopped onions and a meaty chili sauce on that light, barrel-shaped roll.

This place is one of the great hot dog emporiums in America, hands down. Eating here brought back a flood of memories, especially from the many vintage photos on the walls. A must-visit for any hot dog lover, or anyone heading to Scranton. Can't wait to get back there. I'm glad my mom suggested it!

Coney Island Texas Lunch
100 Cedar Avenue
Scranton, PA 18503

Thursday, November 18, 2010

"Le Beaujolais Nouveau 2010 Est Arrive!"

Well Beaujolais Nouveau Day has come and gone. This year's bottling is quite enjoyable, dryer and crisper than previous years' bottles. I've read that this year's Nouveau is a more concentrated quaff than in previous years, owing to a smaller harvest. Well, at least it's a refreshing kind of hype from the King of Wine Hype, Georges Debeouf. I do not deny that I really enjoy this wine, especially on Thanksgiving, when its light, fruity, slightly vegetal taste and lightly fizzy mouthfeel pairs very well with all the foods on Turkey Day. I think of it like this: Session Wine. Light, quaffable, flavorful, bouncy, and very food-friendly, no different than the growing crop of session beers out there. It's a fun drink, nothing more, nothing less.
UPDATE: TASTING NOTES for the 2010 Georges Debeouf:
Very earthy, aromas of mascerated strawberries, figs, cocoa. First gulp says it all: you can taste the earth, the vine and the grape, almost in that order, with a snappy finish that tastes a little like sour cherries, hint of chocolate. Just enough tannin bitterness to stand up to stuffing and gravy, and to play off the cranberries and yams. Should drink nicely with all the traditional Thanksgiving flavors, even buttery mashed potatoes.

When I lived near Washington, DC in the 80's, the hype for this day was absolutely incredible. It took over the District, and there were parties at dozens of bars and restaurants. Philly had similar festivities, but the enthusiasm seemed to wane in the past few years. But this year, the parties are back, especially at the bars, restaurants and shops of Midtown Village, the area bounded by Chestnut St to Locust St, 12 th St to Broad. Their exciting details can be found HERE. Even the venerable achor of Midtown Village, McGillin's Olde Ale House, is involved, with special $5 glasses of Nouveau and half-priced famous French Onion soup, a nice lunch/after work repast.

Bistro St Tropez is also pulling out all the stops with an inviting Nouveau dinner tonight (and maybe through the weekend if you ask nicely). And Liberte, the new restaurant/lounge at the French-owned Sofitel in Center City is pouring and celebrating Nouveau all day and all weekend. Art Etchells at Foobooz has the most comprehensive rundown of the day's events, and it's a pretty impressive list. Who knew there were Beaujolais chocolates and soap! Pretty encouraging excitement for Philly.

Here's what the folks at Debeouf have to say about thois year's bottling:

"Generous notes of strawberry and black currant dominate the nose, with silky tannins that bring smoothness to the palate. The long finish has subtle touches of sweet Griottine cherry. "

Ok, I'm in.

For those of you who read me and are unfamiliar with the wine and the excitement all around it, here's a little history, reprinted from last year's musings:

At one past midnight on the third Thursday of each November, from little villages and towns like Romanèche-Thorins, over a million cases of Beaujolais Nouveau begin their journey through a sleeping France to Paris for immediate shipment to all parts of the world. Banners proclaim the good news: "Le Beaujolais Nouveau est arrivé!(The New Beaujolais has arrived!)" One of the most frivolous and animated rituals in the wine world has begun.By the time it is over, over 65 million bottles, nearly half of the region's total annual production, will be distributed and drunk around the world. It has become a worldwide race to be the first to serve to this new wine of the harvest. In doing so, it has been carried by motorcycle, balloon, truck, helicopter, jet, elephant, runners and rickshaws to get it to its final destination. It is amazing to realize that just weeks before this wine was a cluster of grapes in a growers vineyard. But by an expeditious harvest, a rapid fermentation, and a speedy bottling, all is ready at the midnight hour.
Beaujolais Nouveau began as a local phenomenon in the local bars, cafes, and bistros of Beaujolais and Lyons. Each fall the new Beaujolais would arrive with much fanfare. In pitchers filled from the growers barrels, wine was drunk by an eager population. It was wine made fast to drink while the better Beaujolais was taking a more leisurely course. Eventually, the government stepped into regulate the sale of all this quickly transported, free-flowing wine. In 1938 regulations and restrictions were put in place to restrict the where, when, and how of all this carrying on. After the war years, in 1951, these regulations were revoked by the region's governing body, the Union Interprofessional des Vins de Beaujolais (UIVB), and the Beaujolais Nouveau was officially recognized. The official release date was set for November 15th. Beaujolais Nouveau was officially born. By this time, what was just a local tradition had gained so much popularity that the news of it reached Paris. The race was born. It wasn't long thereafter that the word spilled out of France and around the world. In 1985, the date was again changed, this time to the third Thursday of November tying it to a weekend and making the celebration complete. But wherever the new Beaujolais went, importers had to agree not to sell it before midnight on the third Thursday of November.

Get out and grab a bottle or two. It's pretty inexpensive. And there are other labels besides the well-known Georeges Debeouf: Drouhin, Labour Roi, and others. Enjoy the day!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Brunch: Kid-Friendly For Real

I've managed to avoid the brunch whirl for over 5 years, coincidentally (and not accidentally) the span of time during which Ben and Sophie have been front and center for almost every dining decision in this house. There was an extended family brunch after the kids' first birthday party and a memorable review visit to the original Meridith's in Berwyn (now moved and renamed Aneu Bistro), and that was pretty much it. Over the past 5 years, I've found the regional brunch culture to be decidedly kid-unfriendly. Hotel-style brunch buffets are certainly doable, but the food is typically mediocre and uninspired; okay, they're almost always godawful. And despite the underwhelming food, the pricing for kids trends to the too-expensive-to-be-worth-it price point. Heck, I've actually worked at hotels that purposely priced brunch for "kids under 12" to discourage serving kids. I think that philosophy still exists at finer hotels, where the hope of a subtsantial, creative brunch still flickers.

So, hey, PJ'S Pancake House in Princeton sounds good, dunnit?
Well, I've had my eyes opened recently by Le Castagne in Philadelphia, Anthony Masapollo's sophisticated Northern Italian restaurant in Center City. I once interviewed Masapollo for an article I did on restaurants that served Christmas Eve Seven Fishes Dinners, and he really impressed me with his passion for family, eating together, relaxing together and I could tell that his philosophy was an important cornerstone in his life. And as a father of four young ones, he is no doubt aware of the dichotomy between fine dining and kid-friendly dining.
Masapollo has decided to open elegant Le Castagne for Sunday Brunch, with a menu of dishes priced mostly in the teens (and a half dozen dishes priced in the single digits), ranging from yogurt and granola to frittatas, a salumi plate, sandwiches, pastas and an earthy Eggs Benedict made with toasted pane rustica, prosciutto and truffled hollandaise. But Masapollo is also offering an elaborate buffet with the usual breakfast suspects and additions like smoked salmon, chicken cacciatore, veal porcini, mussels oreganata, and pastas priced at just $20 for adults and just $10 for children. He also slashes the price of brunch entrees in half when ordered with the buffet. God bless him.
I'm blogging all of this because I think it's a refreshing (and pretty damn bold)move on his part. It's not always easy to find a restaurateur who understands the challenges of dining out with kids, both social and financial, and Masapollo is making a culinary and business decision that favors the family. Because Masapollo gets it. He's all about family. And he's putting his money where his mouth is.
Le Castagne
1920 Chestnut St

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Soup's On (recipe included)!!!

When the weather stars to chill, as it recently has done around here, I really get into making soups and stews. Especially soups. Yesterday I made a chicken soup for the ages, if I say so myself. Several folks have written me for the recipe, and so here it is. This was a quick and easy recipe, start to finish, it should take about 90 minutes or so. Use a big pot and freeze some if you want, as I have already done.

Ok, here we go:


(serves a dinner party, house party, tailgate

or just a few folks with lotsa leftovers)

1/2 bunch celery, trimmed, cleaned and chopped

1.5 lbs yellow onions, chopped

2 lb carrots, peeled and sliced

2lbs rutabagas, peeled and cut into small cubes

2lbs. white yams, peeled and cubed

4 tbs olive oil, seperated

1 bunch cilantro, stems removed, leaves chopped

3/4-1 lb arugula, stems removed, leaves chopped

3 lbs boneless skinless chicken breast, cut into 1/2 in. cubes

32 oz canned low-salt chicken broth

96 oz water, or more if needed

salt and pepper to taste

In large stew pot or Dutch oven, heat 1-2 tbs olive oil and add celery onions and carrots, stirring and sweating the vegetables until lightly browned. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Remove veggies with a slotted spoon to a large bowl and add rutabagas and yams to the pot. Stir frequently until the second batch of veggies are lightly browned. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Remove with slotted spoon and add to cooked veggies in the large bowl.

Heat remaining 2 Tbs of olive oil and brown cubed chicken breasts, working in two batches if necessary. When chicken is nicely browned, add chicken broth and return cooked veggies to pot. Add enough water to cover chicken-veggie mixture by at least one inch or so. Reduced heat to medium and cover until soup heats to a steady, low boil. Add chopped cilantro and stir. Adjust salt and pepper if needed, to taste. Add chopped arugula and stir to circulate through soup. Reduce heat to simmer and cover. Simmer for at least 30 min.

Cook a pot of rice or small dried pasta according to package directions if desired. Do NOT add to soup. Rather, place a few large spoonfuls of rice or pasta in a soup bowl and ladle soup over top, stirring gently to combine in bowl. Serve with a green salad or warm crusty bread or both!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The End Of Tomatoes

When I visited Honey Brook Organic Farm on Sunday for our weekly share of veggies, it was the first time in months when tomatoes were not available. The volunteer working the farmstand let out a soft sigh and said, "Yep, that's the end of tomatoes..."

On my drive into the farm, the fields in which just two weeks ago I had been picking fat, penguin-shaped "sauce tomatoes" and egg-sized Roma varieties, and sweet, sweet cherry tomatoes in hues of yellow. orange and bright red, were all plowed over. My heart sank.

What had become a Saturday/Sunday ritual for me, chopping up the previous week's crop of bright red beauties, adding them to a large dutch oven of sizzling chopped garlic and olive oil, stirring and smelling, simmering and bubbling, salt and pepper, and then torn leaves of basil, and cooking down to a bright orange sauce, and replacing all of that with a new bounty of ripening fruit in wire baskets on my kitchen counter, was over. I do have a freezer full of plastic containers and freezer bags of summer sauce, but I am a guy who loves his life rituals, and I will miss this one.

Now the crop was fall lettuce (still the best on earth), cabbages, radishes, rutabagas and turnips, sweet potatoes and yams, cauliflower and Swiss chard, green peppers and arugula.

Yesterday came a solemn, matter-of-fact e-mail from the farm, detailing the last days of the season for farm share pick-up; Sunday will be the last day for us. There will a few days in the following week for gleaning of the fields, and then it will all be over for the year. Sigh.

I love the fall season, its colors and flavors, the crisp cold mornings and breezy afternoons, but I am always sad when the Honey Brook farm season end, and I am sad now. And I have way too many sweet potatoes, rutabagas and arugula.

Monday, November 1, 2010

The Amazing Green Apple

I had the very good fortune to join the friend of a friend and a lively gang of her co-workers for an impromptu lunch at a restaurant whose fame has been growing on foodie websites usch as eGullet and Chowhound. North Brunswick's Green Apple restaurant is situated in a partially hidden shopping center just off Route 130 South, about a quarter mile south of Adams Road, as unlikely a location for authentic Chinese food as one could imagine. But isn't that the true fun of discovery? And isn't that the joy of making new friends?

I walked in as lunch was being served family style, ordered by one of my dozen new lunchmates, a Chinese chemist for the pharmaceutical company at which the group all worked. My eyes quickly caught sight of an abundance of fiery hot dried peppers in several of the dishes. Oh boy. Sechuan style.

There were heaping platters of Chung King Spicy Chicken, tossed with onions, green pepper, brown sauce and those dried chilies; the same dish served with shrimp in place of chicken; julienned beef with long hot green peppers (a favorite dish of mine at other Sechuan restaurants); green beans tossed with garlic and shallots; small bowls of airy pork stuffed wontons in chili oil; two Sechuan-style seafood "hot pots", one called "Boiling Fish," a huge spicy bowl filled with filet of sole, a cascade of vegetables and Sechuan peppercorns, and a darker, incendiary bowl called "Dancing Fish", with sole, a similar mix of vegetables and a truly painful amount of dark red dried chilies. There were bowls of white rice to help soften the spice attack, but these plates were skillfully done, eminently delicious and searingingly hot!

Green Apple also serves sushi, with a large sushi bar and the requisite serious sushi chefs behind it. We were offered a couple of sushi rolls, arranged elaborately on large platters, to counter the vibrant dishes we had all just consumed. One such roll was dubbed a Hawaiian roll, with tempura shrimp, cucumber and avocado. Another was a special Halloween roll, with spicy yellowtail, shrimp and jalapenos. Both were grorgeous presentations, but it's unlikely any of us could really appreciate the subtle artistry within after the assault our taste buds had just taken.

After just this lunch, I'd rank Green Apple among the very best Chinese restaurants in the state; it can take its place proudly alongside Sechuan House in Hamilton, Tiger Noodles in Princeton and China 46 in Paramus. You've gotta get to this place. It will not be long before this new place is a destination restaurant.

Japanese & Chinese Cuisine
432 Renaissance Blvd. East
North Brunswick, NJ 08902