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Recipe inspiration, tips, and kitchen hacks from the Chowhound editors.


The Reverend Billy of the Church of Stop Shopping fired up the crowd at St. Mark’s Church-in-the-Bowery last night, a crowd that had just gorged itself on arepas, dosas, tacos, and gyros. (And by “crowd,” we include certain members of the CHOW editorial team.) The event, produced by the Urban Justice Center’s Street Vendor Project, brought together this year’s four nominees, their carts, and a couple of hundred people willing to pay $50 for all the street food they could eat. The lines were long, but Gothamist’s Laren Spirer appears to have stuck it out to the bitter end. The New York Daily News leads with a few choice puns in announcing the winner:

Samiul Haque Noor was sizzling with pride last night as he carted off New York’s top street food vendor award.

And Eater, while congratulating Sammy, throws its support behind one of the other nominees, the Vendley brothers of the Calexico taco cart. Of course, all the vendors are winners in our book—but we do agree with Top Chowhound Jim Leff that the Arepa Lady (scroll down for his podcast with her) really shines.

Melba’s: Soul-Satisfying Short Ribs in Harlem

The must order at Melba’s is beef short ribs, braised in wine and served over a cake of cheddar grits. It’s comforting, deeply delicious stuff, says Ora. Other dishes are up and down. Among the ups, says Uptownflavor, is Tres Macaroni and Cheese, made with cheddar, mozzarella, and pepper jack.

The rest of the slightly fancified soul food menu ranges from standards like buttermilk chicken and waffles to lightened or fusiony dishes like barbecued turkey meatloaf, spinach-cheese empanadas, and Melba’s Spring Roll: collards, yellow rice, and black-eyed peas in a crisp-fried spring wrap.

Melba’s [Harlem]
300 W. 114th St., at Frederick Douglass Blvd. (8th Ave.), Manhattan

Board Links
Baton Rouge (Harlem-145 St) Report (LONG)

Banh Mi Rundown

A rundown on some of the best Vietnamese sandwiches in town:

P. Punko’s favorite banh mi is at Cam Huong in Oakland. They serve flavorful pork and crunchy pickles on warm, crusty bread, with Japanese mayonnaise. Melanie Wong especially likes their pork belly banh mi, and zippo likes the baked curry tofu banh mi–soft on the inside, like a piece of baked brie cheese.

The pork at Kim’s Sandwiches has a nice burst of five-spice flavor, crunchy daikon in the pickle mix, and nice spicy dressing; P. Punko thinks the secret ingredient is kecap manis (soy sauce sweetened with palm sugar).

Baguette Express has nice, savory meat, a little saucy, with baguette that is crusty on the outside and soft and fluffy on the inside.

The San Jose branch of Huong Lan serves banh mi with tasty grilled pork in a fried shallot sauce, but it’s very fatty–if that’s not your style, beware.

Wrap Delight has good BBQ pork banh mi, but it’s particularly notable for its vegetarian options, says Pistou–like delicious, fresh-tasting fried tofu banh mi, and hard boiled egg banh mi.

Cam Huong Cafe [Chinatown]
920 Webster St., Oakland

Kim’s Sandwiches [South Bay]
1816 Tully Rd. # 182, San Jose

Baguette Express [Embarcadero]
668 Larkin Street, San Francisco

Huong Lan Sandwich [South Bay]
1655 Tully Rd., San Jose

Wrap Delight [Tenderloin]
426 Larkin St., San Francisco

Board Links
My personal Mother of All Banh Mi posts, and a note about papaya salad with dried beef

Squeaky Cheese Curds

Cheese curds. Most folks will recognize that they’re an early stage in the production of cheeses. Folks from, say, Wisconsin, will sigh longingly, because they’re a sort of regional dish, and because they’re tasty and unlike anything else. And the thing about cheese curds, as any aficionado will tell you, is that they’re supposed to squeak when you chew them.

That might sound weird, but try them and you will see EXACTLY what this means. Luckily, you can get them here–the Oakdale Cheese Stand at the Sunday Oakland farmer’s market sells gouda cheese curds, and they have a beautiful squeak to them, says Ruth Lafler. Allowing them to warm up a bit only enhances the squeakiness.

Oakdale Cheese [Stanislaus County]
10040 State Hwy. 120, Oakdale

Jack London Square Farmers’ Market [Jack London Square]
Broadway and Embarcadero, Oakland

Board Links
found: squeaky cheese curds!

Amelia: Italian Pleasures at a Bay Ridge Hideaway

Amelia’s rich, upscale Italian food and inviting, secluded setting are winning fans in Bay Ridge. Recommended: grilled New York strip steak with Madeira sauce, grilled veal chops (with garlicky broccoli rabe), veal Frangelico (with porcini in hazelnut-cream sauce), cheese-stuffed figs over prosciutto and arugula, flourless chocolate cake.

Also on the menu from chef-owner Ken Deiner: house-made mozzarella, sauteed or in Caprese salad; tagliatelle Bolognese, lobster ravioli, linguine with Manila clams, and other pastas; seafood from the raw bar (oysters, clams) or the grill (octopus, soft-shell crabs); a Caesar salad with an unexpected accent from balsamic vinegar.

Open since August 2005, Amelia has a tiny dining room, plus a pleasant backyard and raw bar. Service and staff are warm and attentive, and the outdoor seating offers a lovely escape from city life. says giftergirl. She warns, however, that they can have trouble handling larger parties.

Amelia Ristorante [Bay Ridge]
formerly Tarantella
8305 3rd Ave., near 83rd St., Brooklyn

Board Links
Amelia’s in Bay Ridge
Amelia’s in Bay Ridge Brooklyn

Hawaiian Horizons in Santa Monica

A branch of the Hawaiian chain L&L has opened in Santa Monica to satisfy those plate-lunch cravings. Some people love it for the macaroni salad (an essential component of a plate lunch, although you CAN leave it off) alone. It may not be the best Hawaiian in town (your best bet for that is Bruddah’s in Gardena), but L&L satisfies with food like egg sandwiches with Spam or Portuguese sausage. Garlic shrimp and kalbi are particularly tasty; Spam musubi is pretty much foolproof. Kalua pork is solid, although the pork can be too salty–try getting it stir-fried with cabbage. BBQ chicken, though, is not their forte–it’s really the unhealthy food that’s the best here.

L&L Hawaiian BBQ [Beaches]
1916 Lincoln Blvd., Santa Monica

Bruddah’s Hawaiian Foods [South Bay]
1033 W. Gardena Blvd., between Vermont and Normandie, Gardena

Board Links
L&L Hawaiian BBQ now in Santa Monica

At Blue Coral, Lobsters Gone Wild

Fashion Island now has yet another reason to spend money: Blue Coral. Almost everything on the menu looks tempting, says MEalcentric, although naturally it’s seafood-centric.

The bread basket holds tender, Southern-style biscuits–a great surprise. Yellowtail crudo is a Matsuhisa-esque appetizer of high-quality fish with blood orange vinaigrette and sliced jalapenos. Seared albacore medallions with ponzu sauce, a special one night, are drizzled with a delicate sauce–tender and flavorful.

For main courses, the menu offers diners the choice of any fish available prepared in any style (with suggestions for the indecisive). A simple preparation of tuna grilled with tomato tapenade is perfectly executed; on the opposite end of the spectrum, the dramatic lobster en fuego (presented in the shell, on a big pile of hous-emade chips) is recommended too. Everyone seems to love the ultra-decadent lobster macaroni and cheese.

There’s a lengthy wine and cocktails list, and service is very professional.

The restaurant has a really nice ambience and a good mix of booths and tables. It’s pretty lively, with a crowd of young and older professionals, with a few couples on dates.

Dinner might run about $100 per person, including tip.

Blue Coral Seafood & Spirits [OC Beaches]
in Fashion Island
451 Newport Center Drive, Newport Beach

Board Links
Blue Coral in NB?
Blue Coral NB -REVIEW (long)
Ambrosia or Blue Coral???

Neatly Dicing Softer Cheese

If you need to cut cheeses like cheddar or Monterey jack into small dice, or reduce butter to small bits for incorporating into pastry, here’s a good tip to prevent an excercise in sticky frustration: very cold cheese and butter slice neatly. Stick your cheese in the freezer until it firms up a bit for easiest cutting, and cut butter when almost frozen.

Board Links
Dicing cheese or butter

Biltmore Blueblood Blues (Plus Barbecue)

Asheville, North Carolina

Podcast #1: Hear the game plan as I drive from the Piedmont toward the mountains—and Asheville. MP3 file

Lots of people love Asheville, and it’s on the way to Tennessee, so I stopped in to check it out. I found a town with a profound identity crisis, equal parts hippie artists, rural North Carolinians, and yuppies.

I recoiled from the yuppie camp (though I am carrying a Treo smartphone), and the artsy crowd seemed pretentious. I guess I felt most comfortable with the country folks, with whom I had the least in common. I fully realized that my comfort level was a bit artificial, since they’re polite enough to make you feel welcome even if they deeply dislike the looks of you. But, hey, it works for me. As a resident of Queens, New York, I’m thrilled anytime I say “Hello,” “Good-bye,” or “Thank you” and hear someone actually answer.

Asheville’s fracturedness is perfectly exemplified by its buzzy newish barbecue place, 12 Bones (5 Riverside Drive, Asheville, North Carolina; 828-253-4499). The décor signals a down-home aesthetic, but it’s filtered through a layer of self-conscious irony (have a look at their website to get the vibe). This extends to their menu, where the inclusion of things like smoked mushrooms and feta cheese salad with spiced pecans makes one doubt the ingenuousness of items like “mashed sweet taters” and banana pudding served with dry Nilla wafers on the side.

The food at 12 Bones shows the same uneasy ambivalence. Mac and cheese, tasting straight from a box, is either a hip statement, a guileless gesture of down-homeness, or lousy. I’m not sure which, and I’m not sure the kitchen is, either.

My pulled pork sandwich showed great skill and finesse. See the photos to admire the impressive irregularity of their coarse hand-chopping, the deft inclusion of outside brown, and the flecks of herbs from the gossamer finishing sauce. But also notice that the restaurant toasts and butters the rolls. This does contribute a sensual hit, but it’s a thoroughly wise-ass move that would provoke outrage—even physical violence—from hard-core ‘cue people. That said, deliciousness is deliciousness, and I did enjoy my sandwich very much. Also fine collard greens and local microbrew (from French Broad).

I hit 12 Bones on my way into town as sustenance for the uncertainty to follow. I’d taken a chance by booking a room at the lavish Inn on the Biltmore Estate, having scored a special Internet rate of $199/night, actually a great bargain. I thought it might be interesting to zoom in on a different economic universe at this transitional moment, as I prepare to ingest every rib and catfish in the adjacent state of Tennessee.

Food at the Biltmore itself is a question mark. So, only after the fortification of a good lunch, I drove the long, winding, breathtaking lane through the Biltmore grounds up to the Inn, where I instantly felt as if I’d been dropped into a Laura Ashley catalog. It didn’t go well. Hear my multiple lifeline-like calls to Pat Hammond (who’s helped run for years), wherein I whine from amid a lapful of luxury:

Podcast #2: MP3 file
Podcast #3: MP3 file
Podcast #4: MP3 file

Here are two of those rocking chairs I was waiting to occupy:

And here I am reclining in the lower-rent chair I eventually settled for:

For sure, the surroundings are beautiful. Here are some photos, all taken from the same side of the Inn (I didn’t want to stray far from The Chair):

But hound can’t live by view alone. After the indignities and annoyances described in my phone call to Pat (plus a bunch I won’t bore you with—well, OK, just one more: I chatted about wine with the friendly, sincere-seeming cocktail waitress, and she gleefully told me she knew “just the one” for me to try. I later found it cost double the price of all the other wines—and I caught her pulling the exact same routine with two other parties), I began to feel … well, ripped off. It felt as if many tendrils were aggressively groping for my cash. Hotels obviously exist to turn a profit, but the ancient tradition of hospitality draws a line that ought not be crossed.

When that line is crossed, it doesn’t bode well for good eating. Plus I felt a stubborn determination not to pay another buck—not even the additional $44 to tour the grounds. Plus, having finally sat down to consult prior discussion on Chowhound, I read that the food in the various Biltmore eateries is uniformly blah and overpriced. So I’ll go to bed without supper, and dash out first thing in the morning.

The Chow Less Eaten

Before I leave the state, here’s a rundown of some promising tips I failed to follow up on. If you try any, please report your experiences on Chowhound so that your fellow eaters can benefit!

Monsoon (10630 Highway 67 West, Butler, Tennessee; 423-768-3327) is, I’ve heard, a primitive but authentic Thai restaurant where you’d least expect it—in the agrarian, God-fearing hills of northeastern Tennessee (right across the border from North Carolina). I unfortunately chose the southern route into Tennessee. Drat.

Isabella’s (1720 Highway 88 West, West Jefferson, North Carolina; 336-846-2714), just on the other side of the North Carolina/Tennessee border, is another unlikely outpost, this one for Cuban food. They advertise “The Best Hamburgers in Town,” but I’d be all over their ropa vieja. Note: these two leads are courtesy of the folks at Maverick Farms (installment #15), who’ve not personally tried them.

Smithey’s Café (405 North Second Avenue, West Jefferson, North Carolina; 336-846-7737) does “country cooking, made fresh daily from scratch. Affordable food and a comfortable, local atmosphere. breakfast and lunch.” I heard about this good-sounding place while surfing for info on Isabella’s.

I passed scads of diminutive Biscuitville outlets, was charmed and slightly curious to try them, but declined because of their patent chain-ness. The parking guys, Daniel and Jonathan (see installment #20), say they’re great. My loss for being a snob!

Also in northwestern North Carolina, an unnamed lazy Susan place in Linville Falls was recommended by Jonathan, the parking guy. I couldn’t find more info but did serendipitously learn about Louise’s Rock House (10780 Linville Falls Highway, Linville Falls, North Carolina; 828-765-2702), which trustworthy-sounding folks like a lot for pulled pork. Might be a rare bastion of barbecue in the relatively ‘cue-deprived western part of the state.

Smith’s Grocery (Dortches, North Carolina; 252-443-4323), right off I-95 near the Virginia/North Carolina border (so a very hot tip for drivers), is a large market whose meat section includes barbecue (note that in North Carolina, “barbecue” always means pulled pork, unless otherwise specifically stated). It was recommended by the talented baker at Johnson’s Bakery, a.k.a. Kersh’s Old World Bakery (installment #16).

Bob Garner, the North Carolina barbecue expert whom I interviewed in installment #18, especially recommended two places, which he’d described with particular heartfeltness in his guidebook. I regret not being able to get to them: Grady’s (Arrington Bridge Road and Sleepy Creek Road, Dudley, North Carolina; 919-735-7243) and Branch’s (713 Red Hill Road, Mount Olive, North Carolina; 919-658-2031).

Carolina Wine Co. (6601 Hillsborough Street, Raleigh, North Carolina; 888-317-4499) is where Dave Sit (see installments #10, #11, and #12) mail-orders a lot of his wine. He says their selection and prices are real good.

I never did find North Carolina hot water cornbread (a.k.a. spoonbread) (hear the podcast in installment 20), and this was my biggest disappointment of the trip thus far. It’s a whole other grail for a whole other trip.

Some unused Winston-Salem tips from Jonathan and Daniel (the parking guys):

Alex’s Cafe (750 Summit Street, Winston-Salem, North Carolina; 336-722-9080) for zucchini sticks.

Sweet Potatoes (529 North Trade Street, Winston-Salem, North Carolina; 336-727-4844) for sweet potato fries.

Mayflower Seafood Restaurant (850 Peters Creek Parkway, Winston-Salem, North Carolina; 336-725-3261) for all manner of seafood.

Burke Street Pizza (1140 Burke Street, Winston-Salem, North Carolina; 336-721-0011) for great Philly cheese steak and cheeseburger subs.

Homemade Grenadine

Commercial grenadine syrups are usually made from corn syrup and flavorings, with little or no trace of pomegranate. Making your own grenadine is easy, and will make for superior libations.

bobbyperu explains how: You’ll need 2 parts 100% pomegranate juice to 1 part superfine sugar. Bring the juice to a simmer over medium heat and reduce by half. Reduce heat and add sugar, stirring until it’s dissolved. Cool to room temperature, and store in refrigerator. It will last quite a while, if kept refrigerated.

Board Links
Anyone made grenadine?