Jerry’s Burger. Photography by Courtney Apple.
“Brunch is punishment,” Anthony Bourdain famously wrote. “Nothing makes an aspiring Escoffier feel more like an army commissary cook, or Mel from Mel’s Diner, than having to slop out eggs over easy with bacon and eggs Benedict for the Sunday brunch crowd.”
That’s never how Marshall Green made it feel at Café Estelle, which must have been responsible for 85 percent of the weekend traffic on North 4th Street for the five years he slung the best shirred eggs in town, among other favorites, at that widely adored spot. But there’s nothing like 1,500 early mornings to drive a man to drink—or at least to a place fitted out with a well-stocked bar.
Jerry’s Bar, where Green landed last May, has two of them. A long slab of marble salvaged from Independence Mall is the center of gravity downstairs, and a dark wooden barroom evokes an unbuttoned Ivy League clubroom on the mezzanine.
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Will 2014 be the year restaurant critics come out of the shadows? The editors of New York magazine kicked off that conversation in a big way last week, splashing critic Adam Platt’s photograph on the cover of their January issue. Whether professional food critics actually matter may be much doubted in the InstaYelp Era, but apparently there’s still a lot of faith in their ability to drive city-magazine sales.
Platt, who has reviewed restaurants for New York for many years (and just named the new Han Dynasty in New York as one of the 10 best new restaurants in the city), explains his decision—and acknowledges his editors’ prodding—in a thoughtful essay that had me nodding amen from the first sentence.
My own seven-year stint as a “professional glutton” has likewise been an “accidental career.” (These days you can meet any number of college kids who’ll tell you they want to grow up to be food critics, but I hardly knew the job existed until I found myself doing it.) Now that I’ve been at it for a while, I too have grown a little tired of putting my dinner guests through the rigamarole of a review meal. It’s a pain to make people nervous about simply saying your name out loud. It’s a bigger pain to know that many of them are straining to defer to your perceived preferences around what to order—especially when you don’t have any, which in my case is actually most of the time. No grown person should have to spend the first 10 minutes of a meal divining the potentially nonexistent whims of his host.
Then again, no one’s complaining when the check goes on an expense account at the end of the meal. Least of all me. There aren’t many sweeter gigs than taking people out to eat.
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This year’s gift roundup skewed more toward cooks than straight-up eaters, which probably tells you something about how I mainly think about food. (Speaking of which, here’s something else: I hate wasting it, which is why one of the things on my wish list this year is a pack of cheese paper, so that next year I’ll get a leg up on the bacteria and ammonia that just love to ruin any nice wedge of Délice de Bourgogne you suffocate with plastic wrap.)
But the last item on my list goes out to all you folks who’d simply like to take your favorite foodie out for a solid bite to eat. You could do a lot worse than treating them to my favorite new sandwich of the year, the pulled lamb shoulder from one of Reading Terminal Market’s newest tenants, the Border Springs lamb stall.
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The driving force behind this series is that you don’t need to spend that much to spread serious joy to the cooks and eaters in your life. Gift guides that sing the praises of Le Creuset Dutch ovens and copper saucier pans drive me crazy. Sure, those things are lovely to have to any kitchen. But they cost an arm and a leg, and more to the point, everybody already knows how great they are.
So today’s recommendation is an exception—in half measure, at least. It’ll set you back $95. But on the other hand, I feel sure that it’s never been highlighted in a gift guide before—mostly because it is a non-essential kitchen item for which you can buy a perfectly acceptable substitute for a small fraction of the price.
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If you’re like me, you’ve spent at least some of the last week Googling “Best Cookbooks of 2013”—and then wondering if Ottolenghi, by London chef and restaurateur Yotam Ottolenghi (which turns up on just about every list) is really all its cracked up to be.
I don’t know. Nor do I know if Jerusalem, which won the same author heaps of accolades in 2012, deserved them. But I can tell you this: either book would have to be mind-bogglingly good to surpass Plenty, which he put out in 2011 to slightly less acclaim.
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City living rules out a number of cooking methods—even plain old grilling can be hard to pull off in an apartment building—but it puts the biggest kibosh on one of the most primal: spit-roasting.
And yet your favorite urban foodie still has a hankering for moist, low-and-slow meat with a crispy skin, right? So set him or her up with a Romertopf baker ($40-$90, depending on the size). This unusual two-piece unglazed clay vessel has a valuable specialty: Before you use it, you soak the top and bottom in water for 15 minutes. This impregnates the walls of the vessel with moisture, which is converted into steam for the first phase of cooking. Then, when the steam runs out, the Romertopf transforms—with no effort on your part—into a dry-cooking environment that will crisp up the skin of that lamb shoulder. (That’s my favorite thing to use it for—specifically, Moroccan mechoui—but it also does a great job on whole chickens.)
Bonus: For great recipes suited to the Romertopf and other clay vessels, consider Paula Wolfert’s brilliant Mediterranean Clay Pot Cooking as a companion gift. This is one of the best five cookbooks I own, and has never, ever let me down.
Check out Shopping For Foodies, Part 1 [f8b8z]
It’s that giving-and-getting time of year again. The Internet is ringing with endorsements of $410 kitchen scales, crazy expensive coffee gear, and gold-plated liquor-pouring gizmos. Time to take the price tags down a notch with my second annual holiday gift guide.
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Wishbone is a curious name for a chicken shop that can go weeks without serving any sort of bone at all. Alan Segel and Dave Clouser’s successor to the longtime Lee’s Hoagie House in University City promises “craft fried chicken,” but that turns out to mean boneless, skinless chicken nuggets coated with dried pretzels. I can’t be the only customer surprised by that discovery. But hey, who’s to deny the craft in separating breasts and thighs from their skeletons?
Chicken nuggets have had a rough run lately. A 2013 analysis of nuggets from two unspecified national chains determined that chicken muscle only accounted for about half the content of one specimen, and a mere 40 percent of the other. Plenty of ground-up blood vessels, nerve tissue, and bone fragments, though!
So in fact there is a decent case to be made for taking the industrial revolution out of the chicken nugget, and putting some craft back in.
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The easiest way to tell a bar from a restaurant is by the smell of the men’s room.
I couldn’t keep that thought away from my olfactory nerve during a recent night at Southwark. It had been years since my first time there. And my first time had also been my last. I remember having a fine dinner, but one that failed to cast the spell that so many other folks had fallen under at the then-new, classically styled Queen Village haunt.
In retrospect, that was probably because I’d eaten in the back dining room instead of at the bar, where bartender George Costa was mixing Gibsons and Aviations when the rest of the city was still one big slosh of pink-lemonade Cosmotinis.
Almost ten years later everyone else has caught up—and Costa has moved on—but Southwark is still humming along. It recently installed a new chef, Sam Jacobson, whose previous tenure at Sycamore helped put Lansdowne on the dining map.
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Photo by Jason Varney.
On the first day, there were white tablecloths. People dressed for restaurants the way they did for Pan Am Stratocruisers, and entrées arrived beneath silver domes. On the second day, the kitchen came into the dining room, and the menus were written in chalk. People brought their own wine to dinner, and entrées didn’t arrive at all. Tapas came instead. On the third day, the servers changed into blue jeans. They stripped the lampshades off the lightbulbs, served drinks in mason jars, and pretended supper was happening in a barn. But it wasn’t until Marcie Turney and Valerie Safran opened Little Nonna’s that anyone thought to festoon an outdoor dining area with a laundry line.
I guess nothing says “Come to Granny” like old-timey aprons (illuminated by bare Edison bulbs strung from the rafters, natch) drooping above a patio lined with weather-beaten wood.
Just when you think the march of comfort dining has run out of striding room, it steps into Even More Casual Alley. It’s only a matter of time before some restaurateur plunks a bucket of potatoes in the middle of the dining room with an old man in a V-neck undershirt to peel them. Until then, Turney and Safran’s homage to the ghosts of Philly’s red-gravy past stands at the forefront of the flight from the cutting edge.
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