BIG HUNGRY Brisket Poutine is a thing and you need it

One of the most gratifying aspects of writing a food blog for eight plus years is that people think of you automatically when they want a restaurant recommendation or are traveling to a new place. Another is the friends you make in the food industry, especially if you can resist the temptation to be an overly crotchety/negative critic of the restaurants in your area.

I’ve made a bunch of chef friends and restaurateur buddies through the BHS journey, and Dan at Food & Fire BBQ Taphouse in Johnson City is one of them. A few months ago, I had an inspiration about a burnt ends poutine, and shared it with Dan when Shawn and I were in his establishment one night, in between shoving tots into our mouths as fast as we were able. He loved the idea, and we’ve been chatting back and forth about it since then, formulating a dish that would work for his kitchen and would be optimally delicious.

I’m excited to announce, it’s here. IT’S HERE, my Hungries! The burnt ends have become chopped fatty, smoked brisket, the cheese curds are fried, and I can take zero credit for the gravy, because it is Dan’s masterpiece: a beef and ale concoction that is rich and complex, so the brisket and cheese curds don’t overwhelm it. He named this magnum opus Big Hungry Brisket Poutine, because Dan is a baller, and he loves me.

You should go in and order it when it’s on special because it is a massive platter of utter indulgence: hot, crispy French fries draped in shredded smoked gouda cheese, crowned with chunks of juicy beef brisket and studded with golden, fried cheese curds, then bathed in beer gravy and showered with scallions. It’s big enough to share with four to six of your closest friends, and the balance of this dish is the best part: it’s savory and just a bit salty, but never so rich that it finds the tipping point to too much.

So let me give you a piece of advice if you like to eat really yummy things: drive to Johnson City, belly up to a table at Food and Fire, order a craft beer, and dig in to my Big Hungry Brisket Poutine. Tell Dan you love it, and maybe he’ll add it to the menu permanently! We should be so lucky. My hunger is big; my personality is bigger!


A Watershed in Owego

I don’t think it’s any secret that food tastes better when you eat it waterside, or it that does to me, at least. Since I first moved to the Southern Tier, in 2000, friends and I have marveled at the preponderance of riverfront property available and the comparatively scant number of restaurants situated to capitalize on those views. The Susquehanna River isn’t the most scenic waterway in New York State, but it’s here, and it’s certainly better than staring at a parking lot while you masticate.

MJ’s Bar and Restaurant opened last spring in Owego, and wonder of wonders, it’s got a view. The folks who transformed this old building did a wonderful job with the remodel. The interior is modern rustic, cozy but cool, and the whole back portion of the dining room focuses on its view of the river, with a big glass-paneled garage door that opens up in the warmer months to give everyone a sense of the outdoors.

I loved the industrial lighting and the raw-edged wood tables, and even the ladies restroom, which had a gorgeous vessel sink and a corner toilet, but being in there on a snowy day in February really made me long for nicer weather and the ability to enjoy a couple of cocktails out on MJ’s gorgeous deck.

But let’s talk about the eats, shall we? To start, the drinks are well thought out here. The beer list has a mix of domestic and international mass market varieties, plus local craft brews, while the cocktails are creative enough to be distinctive, without being so complicated and out there, you feel like you’re drinking a bowl of potpourri. The wintry take on a Moscow mule I tried had cranberry and orange to offset the richness of the ginger beer, plus a sprig of rosemary to add a heady, seasonal scent to each sip.

We started with the quesaria – which is just queso to the rest of us. In fact, I Googled the word quesaria, and it did not come up as a recognized food term, so I’m not sure how they named this dish. I can tell you it’s delicious. It’s warm cheese dip with pico de gallo mixed in, and you can add crumbled chorizo for 50 cents, which DUH. Do that. The dip was rich and flavorful, and came with plenty of crunchy tortilla chips for dipping. It was also a good portion size for the $6 price tag. My favorite part was probably the little hot sauce floater on top, which we swirled into the cheese with our chips. This dish will most likely be on our table at every future visit to MJ’s. Shawn’s only complaint is that it wasn’t served over some kind of sterno heater or something so that it stayed warm the entire time we were eating it, and I would have to second that comment. It did congeal a bit before we were done enjoying its cheesy goodness.

Shawn ordered the brisket sandwich on the advice of our friendly waiter, who we chatted with throughout our visit about football, burgers, and life. This $9 BBQ lunch was so hearty, he didn’t need dinner that night. The smoke flavor was prevalent in the tender, juicy brisket, and the slaw was both bright and spicy enough to stand up to the richness of the meat. I am also pleased to report that MJ’s hand cuts its French fries, in accordance with the prophecy, and then sprinkles them with dried oregano and a little feta cheese when they come out of the fryer. They were crunchy and delicious.

I got the torta sandwich, which is pulled pork with a little cheese, cilantro and avocado. The pork on this was delicious, but the sandwich wasn’t quite what I expected. Usually a Mexican torta sandwich will be spread with refried beans or pureed black beans, or have a chile sauce of some kind on it. This one was predominately meat, and the small amount of cheese and avocado weren’t really enough to stand up to its richness. The bun, too, was crustier than I would expect with a traditional torta – delicious, but not authentic. A torta is typically built on a fluffy bolillo roll. I would consider this more of a pulled pork sandwich with a slight Latin flair than a true torta - yummy, but not what I was expecting from the sales job the menu gave.

I switched up my carb order and tried MJ’s heavenly hash, which is a play on Cracker Barrell hash brown casserole, and loved it. The cheese on top was crispy and browned around the edges, and the shredded potatoes inside were tender and flavorful. I highly recommend this side when you visit MJ’s (you can also get this at brunch – yum!)

After all that food, dessert wasn’t an option, but some of the ones MJ’s has posted on its Facebook page have looked delicious. Overall, I would give the food here a 6 out of 10 on the BHS scale, but the ambiance and service bump that score up to a 7 with a bullet. I think they’re developing a lot of the menu items here by pure experimentation in the kitchen – which is encouraging, but a few details may still need to be dialed in.

They have what they’re calling a pho-nomenal sandwich on the menu, which I assume is supposed to be a play on a bahn mi (the Vietnamese cult sandwich of French bread, pate, pork and pickled vegetables), but theirs has something on it called awesome sauce, which probably is not pate. I don’t mind twists on classics, to be sure, but it does leave me wondering where the chefs here are getting their naming conventions, since pho is a soup. Unless the sandwich is supposed to echo the soup rather than a bahn mi? But then it would most likely be made with beef rather than pork – you know what? I can’t unravel this mystery. I’m just going to have to eat it instead.

What else do I plan on eating my next visit? Sopes, street tacos, stuffed mushrooms and cheeseteak, please and thank you. And the brunch menu looks insane – the biscuits and gravy are calling me like a siren, to crash upon the Susquehanna’s rocky shores. Won’t you join me?


Sophisticated Dining Has Come to Clayton

Our little Clayton, NY is kind of on fire, you guys. Not only is The Chateau knocking it out over on Route 12E, but right on the water on Riverside Dr. in the village is the newly unveiled DiPrinzio's Kitchen, welcoming diners to a modern setting you might expect in Skaneateles or Saratoga, but almost never around these parts.

Inside, it's bright and airy, with light wood floors, dark wood tables, two walls of windows, and a bar stocked with St. Lawrence Spirits. Basically, River Heaven. You have got to go!

We began our feast with the arancini, which are Italian rice balls, stuffed with cheese, breaded, and deep fried. These babies are a big deal downstate, especially in Staten Island, but I haven't seen them much on Northcountry menus. This is cause for celebration, my Hungries.

The Milanese style risotto is tinted a glorious yellow from saffron, formed around a small cube of (I believe) mozzarella cheese - enough cheese to have a pull when you cut the ball in half, but not so much that the cheese gushes out all over the place when you bite into it. It's classy! No gushing!

They were served in a shallow pool of bright tomato sauce blanketed in a dusting of grated parmesan. Delicious.

Focaccia! Not the standout of the meal, but perfectly passable - airy but also smacking of olive oil flavor and just a little oregano.

We split a Caesar salad of which I didn't get a pic, but which was just about perfect. The Caesar dressing, which can sometimes be too salty or two lemony, was light and well-balanced. It just lightly dressed the romaine lettuce, and shavings of parmesan cheese finished it off beautifully.

We liked that the pizzas were small enough to order several, but still big enough to share. The crust had well-developed flavor and texture - thin, but not so crispy that you miss the chew factor. The spicy pepperoni was offset well by that bright, acidic red sauce.

Gnudi is pronounced like nudie, but it's not quite so risqué. These fluffy gnocchi cousins are made with ricotta cheese and served tre colore, or in a sauce trio of tomato, basil pesto, and alfredo. The pesto stole the show completely, with robust pine nut and parmesan cheese flavors anchored by the floral herb.

We liked the fettuccine alfredo less. The pasta was fresh and delicate, which was a check in the plus column, but the sauce was SO light, it carried almost no flavor at all. There was very little sauce dressing the pasta, and whereas so many other dishes were well-balanced, this one tasted like it was mostly cream with very little cheese. It lacked cheese, salt, and maybe some pepper - mostly, it needed personality. It was the one downfall of our meal.

Carrot cake sheltering under a thick sheath of cream cheese icing completely redeemed the weak pasta dish. This layer cake was moist, with plump raisins and good carrot flavor - not too sweet or overly spiced. The cream cheese icing was equally tart and sweet, and complimented the cake deliciously.

DiPrinzio's makes their cannoli shells fresh, in-house, and fills them to order, to ensure a crunchy product. Need I saw more? Our diners loves them so much, the picture came out blurry.

I am very impressed in DiPrinzio's, especially for a brand new restaurant, and legit excited to eat there when The River is alive and kicking, and the restaurant's waterfront deck is open. The food here isn't perfect yet - sometimes that comes later - but most of our dishes were very well executed, and we enjoyed our meal tremendously.  The service was a little haphazard as well - we had to flag down our server a couple times as she was catering more to regulars - but when she was at our table, she was enthusiastic (though her mangled pronunciation of the word prosciutto will live infamously in our memories for a good while) and friendly.

I give DiPrinzio's Kitchen a seven on the BHS scale, but I'm betting you I revise that score with time as the team finds their rhythm, and The River's beauty elevates the gorgeous interior to even greater heights. You better get your table before the season starts - I'm betting the wait for a table come May will be kind of lengthy. My personality is big; my hunger is bigger!

PS: They have Taco Tuesdays!!


Cherry Coconut Oatmeal

Apparently, I'm in recipe mode lately. I don't know why. Blame the new year, maybe? But I was wanting a new oatmeal recipe for healthy weekday breakfasts a few weeks ago, and received some inspiration from a can of light coconut milk in my pantry. Before I knew it, cherry coconut oatmeal was born.

No big story, here, but I do use a few specialty ingredients. You should really look into getting yourself this stoneground oatmeal from Zingermans. I've seen steel cut oatmeal in grocery stores, but this is an entirely different animal. I know it's expensive, but this is one of those items that's totally worth it, and I go through only about two bags a year. It's less chewy than steel cut oats, but more nutritious than regular old fashioned rolled oats, because more of the whole grain is left in tact in the stone grinding process. It's homey and thick, utterly delightful. BUT, if you want to use your favorite oatmeal for this recipe, please do. Just change up the cooking method accordingly.

Second item: agave syrup. Have you used this? It has significantly fewer calories than sugar, and the nature of the sweetness it adds to dishes is a little less cloying, to me. If you don't have a bottle, use honey or sugar, but again, you'll need to adjust with more of those items - agave syrup is typically used in teaspoon measurements rather than tablespoon.

BHS Cherry Coconut Oatmeal

  • 1 Cup Stone Ground Oatmeal
  • 1 Can Lite Coconut Milk
  • 3 C Water
  • 1/2 C Frozen Whole Cherries
  • 1/4 C Dried Cherries
  • 4-5 tsp. Agave Syrup
  • 1 tsp Vanilla Extract
  • 1 tsp Cinnamon
  • A pinch of Kosher Salt
  • 1/4 C Dried Coconut Flakes (I use Bob's Red Mill, which are unsweetened)
  • 1/4 C Sliced Almonds

Put your coconut milk and water in a saucepan and bring to a simmer, then whisk in the salt and oatmeal. Drop the heat down to low and put a lid on it. The stone ground oats need to cook for 20 minutes, so set your timer for that.

Halfway through the cooking time, add your cherries, both frozen and dried. Give it a stir and replace the lid.

In a small, dry skillet, toast your coconut flakes and almonds. Keep a close eye on these to make sure they don't burn. If you like, add a sprinkle of salt and cinnamon to these, as well. Toast them for maybe 10 minutes, then remove to a plate to cool.

When the oatmeal is done cooking, add in your agave syrup, vanilla extract, and cinnamon. I stir these in, then replace the lid and let the oatmeal rest off the heat for another 10 minutes, for the flavors to come together.

Portion the oatmeal into single-serve re-heatable containers for each day of the week. I get four days of breakfasts from this recipe. I also portion the coconut/almond mixture into little baggies, and add this as a topping after I reheat the oatmeal, for a crunchy element. Each portion should be around 1/3 C.

It's so yummy! The agave syrup won't make it super sweet, so add some brown sugar or muscovado sugar, if you like, or thin out with more water or milk if you like a loosen consistency. This is more of a method than a strict recipe, but the combination is utterly wonderful, and the cherries give you a great vitamin boost to your morning. Enjoy!