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Posts Tagged ‘bakery’

I ate a slice of apple pie at a restaurant on Friday night. It sat on a plate that was predictably be-squiggled in caramel. It had such sharp edges you could have used it to slice diamonds. It looked perfect—but it was in fact a triangle of sugar.* Heavens to Mergatroid, was it sweet. That was all I took away. Call me a zealot, but apple pie is supposed to taste like apples. Right?

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For hire.

This pie? Pump Gully Washer Slurpee intravenously into Mary Ann from Gilligan’s Island while tossing yellow Skittles** into her mouth at nine-second intervals, and it will be a few degrees shy of how sweet this was.

And there was no butter in it. Twist the knife.

Sondheim’s Into The Woods hammers home a crucial point in the song ‘I Know Things Now’, Little Red’s post-mortem of her famous scuffle with the wolf. He’s a real smoothie. ‘Even flowers have their dangers….Nice is different than good,’ she tells the audience. There’s a difference, and it’s important to be able to discern one from the other.

You know what I mean, right? Go to any bakery and you’ll see offerings all pretty pretty inside glass cabinets. Many are over-the-top fancy, squares on a platter with Pollack-like splatters or anti-gravity curlicues hovering above. Not until you try them do you find out if they’re quality or schmutz.

Over-the-top is fine. It is. Go nuts, really. But make sure the quality is there.

The chicken noodle soup below, from Ben’s Best in Queens, NY, is a good example of this. Everything in it is from scratch and is homey, honest and real. It just happens to be served in the dinner dish of a full-grown Rottweiler.

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Woof.

Then there are places that have the decency to offer quality but insist on gilding the crap out of the lily. (Exceptions in the dessert realm are rare, in my experience. Here’s one. And I typically order desserts without toppings, which unnerves the wait staff, which I quite enjoy, and which I describe here.)

But while it’s usually desserts that chefs overdoll, it’s not just desserts. The below pizza was made with homemade crust, fresh homemade ricotta and prosciutto, and it all went into a wood-fired oven flown in from Italy. It was gorgeous, just as it was. So why did they need to pelt it silly with arugula? I ended up dragging the greens off with every bite, looking like a sheep with an iron deficiency. My friend’s little daughter didn’t even know it was a pizza. When it arrived she took one look and asked, ‘Can I have some salad?’

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Demands a lawyer.

How screwed up is the food business? Last point of exasperation: inventing stuff that looks cute but makes no conceivable sense in your mouth, like peanut-butter-and-jelly sliders. These are on the menu at a place near me. Adorable little hamburgers—charmers!—topped with…yeah.

Audible sigh.

The American public (and others as well, for all I know) is smitten with nice instead of good. What gives, and what prompted this?

*Corn syrup, more likely, actually.

**Slurpees and Skittles are corn syrup tenants as well.

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I know it’s almost Valentine’s Day and I know that’s not a picture of heart-shaped Scharffen Berger chocolate and Bordeaux up there. I’m dispensing with tradition again and deliberately not talking about candy and wine in the interest of…well…I don’t want to be trite, especially not this week. I don’t even want to get into the gooey romantic language, if I can help it. Hope you’re good with that.

Instead we’ll salivate over other combinations I adore,* stuff that’s not typical, starting with sandwiches. The first one, above and at the very bottom, makes an incredible lunch.

-Sweet** onion (like a Vidalia), caramelized in olive oil or butter

-Chicken, roasted (or grilled, or whatever), shredded and added to the onion

-Apple (pick anything that’s not a McIntosh because those’ll just dissolve on you), sliced, don’t bother to peel it, thrown into the pan with the onions and chicken and cooked until golden brown

-Fontina (a European, kinda nutty, kinda pungent, eminently oozeable cheese that any supermarket has)

-Ground allspice, a few shakes into the onion/chicken/apple pan

-Black pepper, coarsely ground  (I like a lot in this) into the pan as well

Now. Butter and toast your bread under the broiler (I used a Cuban roll because it was all the bakery downtown had left but it was awesome), melt your cheese, then pile your stuff on top.

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When I shot this I accidentally had the camera set on video like a dope. So right now I have valuable footage of a sardine sandwich in its natural habitat, on a plate, on my dining room table. It’s fascinating. They’re very docile, much quieter than you’d imagine.

The next sandwich, above, makes an incredible breakfast if you’re my mom. I grew up in a house that relished the combination of sardines and raw onion on a sandwich. The above is normal to me and wildly addictive, too, actually. I hope I don’t lose subscribers over this.

-Sardines (skinless and boneless, packed in either water or olive oil)

-Mayo

-Red*** onion, thinly sliced

-Bread of some sort (I used a whole wheat roll from Trader Joe’s)

-Salt to taste

Add mayo to bread. Add the rest. Wipe exertion from brow.

Since many of you are already appalled, another delirious combination is tuna packed in oil into which you’ve mixed in a good amount of anchovy paste. Keep the sliced raw onion, hold the mayo, and sandwich-ify.

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Other yummy food combinations:

-Almond extract, just a teaspoon or so, baked into anything that features peaches, nectarines, cherries or apricots. Almonds and all of these fruits are botanical cousins. Ever notice that the pit of a peach looks a lot like an unshelled almond? Yep. And they are lovely together.****

-Mushrooms cooked with a few splashes of chicken broth. Not cousins, to be sure, but for some reason they bring out the best in each other, like Tim Burton and Danny Elfman. Okay, mellower than the two of them, but the point stands.

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*Sorry. Crap. That was quick.

*Totally not my fault. Vidalias are sweet!

***It’s a color, not a holiday.

****%&#%*!!!

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Last week I was driving through Lakewood, NJ when a sudden flash of inspiration hit, and in blinking lights it read Gelbstein’s Bakery. It’s not the first time this inspiration has hit me, but it was the first time in a long time that I could do anything about it. For last week, I was wearing pants instead of shorts.

Crickets, right?

A little explanation: Gelbstein’s is located in the heart of a city made up largely of Hasidic citizens. These folks are strict when it comes to clothing, and when it comes to women, the less skin showing, the better. So when I realized I had on pants, it was a green light to visit Gelbstein’s. I didn’t want to go while wearing shorts because it would be disrespectful, first off. And as it was, I had on my usual summer uniform of t shirt, flip flops and surfer bracelets. Any more and it would have looked like I was filming an episode of The Little Lost Shiksa.

Another reason why I went: I was in the mood for an adventure. Not sure about you, but every now and again, usually when life is going really well or when I need a life shake-up of sorts, I get a craving to do something loopy. This time was a life-is-going-really-well adventure craving. But whatever the motivation, I make myself follow it, and I’ve never regretted it. The bakery, its clientele and its products are unlike anything I am used to. Perfect.

Gelbstein’s has been in business for nearly 30 years. My dad used to rave about them, curling his arms out in front from the waist, and saying, ‘Rye breads like this!’ They still offer incredible ryes (although not as gigantic as hyped) but all of their breads are unique and fresh. You can taste it, honestly.

Something else that’s unique about Gelbstein’s: It’s a small place, yet most of their goods are right out on the floor in bins or packed on full sheet pans, accessible to our greedy little hands. I asked a shop girl who was refilling the bins where I could get a bag, and she pushed a bunch of huge plastic sleeves into my hands. It was Friday—Shabbos—which is punctuated by an evening meal at which two loaves of eggy, braided, pully breads are the stars, so she figured I was planning to load all of the bags to capacity. That Shabbos bread, challah, was featured in easily half a dozen ways, but I chose a few little loaf about the size of three stacked bagels and shaped almost like a brioche, with a lumpy knot on top. I’ve never seen loaves that size or shape. They were sprinkled with sesame and poppy seeds and yummy little bits of onion. I also took a couple of whole wheat buns topped with oats and a little whole wheat baguette.

The service made me smile because it felt as if I was in the city*; it was all business. They’re the type of place that is so busy that there’s not much time to discuss what grade your youngest is in now or whether the rain is supposed to stop on Wednesday or Thursday.

‘How many?’ barked the petite lady behind the counter. She picked up my bag, counted its contents, and dropped it back on the counter. Not placed—dropped.

When I got home, I took the shot above and then pulled off that challah’s fat knot and gobbled it up. Then I sliced the roll in half, loaded it with wild salmon that I mixed a little mayo and some capers into, and ate that, too.

A loopy excursion that ends with a great lunch is my idea of the perfect adventure.

*I know everyone means something different when they say ‘the city’. In north and central New Jersey, we means New York. When South Jersey says it, they mean Philly.

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