6.25.2013

Teed Off

If you’re looking for a change of pace from the Italian food Babylon of the Southern Tier, consider a place I’ve heard about for ages and just finally tried out: Sach’s Tee House, in Binghamton. It’s different from the norm for a variety of reasons, including the fact that the restaurant is in the back room of a bar that’s under entirely different ownership than the eatery, it’s in a rather questionable neighborhood, and one man takes your order, cooks the food, brings it to you, and washes up. That means low overhead, and low prices, but it doesn’t mean the food is compromised in any way – welcome to Sach’s Tee House! It just may be your new favorite date night hangout.



When you arrive at this unassuming pub on Hazel St., breeze right through the bar and grab a table in the homey, dim room in the back.You will go back up front to snag your beverages yourself, but your host will bring you a brief menu for the night, printed on a sheet of paper. As he cooks everything himself, you will have a small selection, but from our experience, anything you choose will be good. Our first choice was the only appetizer option of the evening, bruschetta, and it was divine.


This is bruschetta akin to some of my favorites, from Tony’s in Endicott, and Founding Farmers, in DC: airy and crunchy toasted bread, not so crisp that it tears up your mouth when you bite into it, sweet, syrupy balsamic vinaigrette, and piquant tomatoes and red onions, well seasoned. It was hard to stop eating it, even though BLD hadn’t arrived yet, so Big Hungry Melinda and I needed to save some for him. It had enough oil to make everything unctuous but not so much as to make it greasy or soggy, and that balsamic was just killer.



I encouraged Melinda to order the lobster in butternut cream sauce, because I wanted to be able to tell you all that if you ever wanted to eat lobster in sweat pants without trekking to a shack on the coast of Maine, the Tee House is your utopia. The lobster in this dish was tender, but the nutmeg in the butternut squash cream sauce was a little bit out of season for June – a little sweet. For once, I think I had the winning dish on the table.



My dish was ridiculously good, and all three of us enjoyed it – Greek sirloin over mashed potatoes with arugula and feta. The steak, besides being as tender as you would get at any top steak house, was savory incarnate. As far as I could tell, the sauce bathing both it and the potatoes was a mix of Worcestershire sauce, lemon juice, and butter, but there could have been some wine in there, too. And you know I loved that savory, beefy goodness cut through with big bites of the peppery arugula – thank goodness this green has finally hit the Southern Tier! This was a sexy dish, with salty, savory, bright, rich, and earthy flavors all hitting the crescendo in my mouth. Holy cats, does this guy know what he’s doing!



My first instinct had been to order the lamb, but BLD loves lamb, so we elected him to choose it. This dish was almost a home run – but the baby lamb chops had been sliced so thin, they were cooked completely through. Our host hadn’t asked BLD how he’d like them cooked – so for our crew, they were overdone. That said, the blue cheese and fig were fabulous distractions from the somewhat tough meat, and those so-called buffalo chips, which were mega thick cunks of deep fried potato, were crispy, sweet, cheesy discs of delight.



Melinda and I split the frozen peanut butter pie for dessert. It was waaaay too rich for one person to polish off alone, and redolent with that roasted, fresh-peanut PB flavor. I can’t complain about the oreo crust, either. That is some nostalgia, right there. It was absolutely decadent, something that should be supplied to young girls after particularly tough break-ups.



A compelling argument could be made for abandoning your kitchen altogether and eating at Sach’s every night. It’s affordable – probably less than many of the better chain places – and the atmosphere was utterly relaxed and casual. You wouldn’t be afraid to laugh loudly here, to drop your fork, or have one more glass of wine. And the food is pretty incredible. I’m just sorry I hadn’t been sooner, but now that I have, I’ll be back, and I’m bringing friends! I award Sach’s Tee house an eight on the BHS scale – way above average for this neighborhood, and Hell, this city! This is a great place to take Mom and Dad when they come into town, for a laid back date, or a totally unassuming spot to diner with colleagues.

I have some exciting posts for you in the coming weeks, Big Hungries. From a fabulous date night spot on Cayuga Lake’s East shore, to a revisit to a Sackets Harbor institution, stay hungry, and stay tuned! My hunger is big; my personality is bigger!

Sach's Tee House on Urbanspoon

6.18.2013

Dispatch from NH: Hugs and Kisses

I’ve been told several times over that New Hampshire really isn’t a foodie mecca, but either I must be easier to please than people think, or I’m incredibly lucky, because all of the restaurants I’ve steered my team to during our trips there have been great, and I have a couple more in my back pocket for upcoming conferences. This most recent visit was no exception, when I ignored some negative Urbanspoon comments and booked us at XO on Elm in Manchester for our team dinner.
This modern, poshly decorated café has a lovely little sidewalk patio for those who fancy al fresco dining this time of year, but the sunny front room and trendy bar are just as welcoming climes for an internationally tinged feast. The complimentary tray of chewy, toothsome rolls and sweet orange butter doesn’t hurt, either.


I had read online that the bacon wrapped dates were a must-order, and Bosslady Liz likes them too, so those happened. This iteration of this increasingly common starter was graced with chorizo, which gave them a kick, and the bacon was nice and crisp. Thumbs up for a sweet and salty pop of flavor.


Our other appetizer was a special that night: lamb loin with a lobster fontina crepe. How unique and yummy does that sound? It was gorgeous, the crepe light as air with just the barest crunch of a crispy edge to it, the lobster fontina filling mellow and subtle, and the lamb rich and tender. I very much enjoyed this inventive dish. Also, the weirdness of the ingredients kind of made our newest teammate Paul a little squirmy, which you know I enjoyed. I’m pretty sure Paul will get used to me ordering the weirdest thing on every menu.


Karen had visited XO before and beseeched one more scrumptious appetizer choice: the maple BBQ short rib. I’ve had short ribs done asian style, with red wine sauce, and in a more traditional brown gravy, but never BBQ sauce. These were sweet and tangy, perfectly pull-apart tender, and grounded by insanely heavenly, creamy, Yukon gold mashed potatoes that were most certainly “mashed” through a ricer or food mill.



I am not going to beat around the bush about who won the entrée game. Liz, my new boss, who is ridiculously fun to eat out with, knocked it out of the park with her braised beef ravioli. Again, we’re talking short ribs here, though these were wrapped in a luxurious, rich, deep demi. The plate was studded with root vegetables and gorgeous wild mushrooms, and topped with shaved parm, and yet there was no heaviness or over-saltiness to the dish. The pasta was tender even though it was thick, and the arugula was a great, peppery, fresh accent to the darkness of the other flavors.



I think Paul was our first runner-up in the entrée competition. He wins a $500 scholarship for his butche’rs steak, which had the most home-grilled flavor of any restaurant steak I’ve ever tried. I didn’t snag a bite of his wicked-looking truffled parmesan gratin, but the demi on his plate was just as soothing and rich as Liz’s. That steak was real-deal cook-out quality, smoky and tender, and I wouldn’t be surprised to find out they had a grill out back that they cooked it on. I’m thinking about snagging us a hangar steak and making one of these babies soon.



Karen’s main course was gorgeous, though I’m not a huge fan of cooked fish: lemon butter poached cod over sundried tomato orzo risotto. It was topped with arugula, like Liz’s ravioli, but this salad was dressed with roasted red pepper vinaigrette. She loved it.


I was persuaded away from the fired chicken in favor of the lobster mac and cheese, but I wished in the end I’d gone for the chicken or the lamb shank. In any event, the dish lacked a bit of seasoning, and the lobster was a touch overcooked and chewy. I liked the creaminess of the smoked gouda alfredo sauce, and I loved the chives in there. The pasta was cooked al dente, but I just needed a little more flavor and rarer seafood to ring my bell.



Luckily, some fabulous desserts were on their way to sooth the savage beast that is Big Hungry when she loses the entrée game! We shared churros, fried bananas foster, and bread pudding, and everything was rich, ooey, gooey, and delicious. I have to give a special shout out to the toasted coconut vanilla ice cream that came with my bananas foster. That nutty, roasted coconut flavor cut through the super sweet fried bananas and rocked. I love creative ice cream!


Although I didn’t adore my main course, and all of our food wasn’t timed to come out at the same time, there was not another complaint around the table during the meal, and the atmosphere was sunlit and sleek. We voted and awarded XO on Elm a nine on the BHS Scale. I would happily return to XO, and recommend you give it a try – just don’t let yourself be talked into an entrée that doesn’t sound like the most delicious thing you see! Come visit my Facebook group to see photos of the other desserts we enjoyed, and the menu boards!

I have some really tasty posts in store in the next few weeks for you, Big Hungries. From a diamond in Binghamton’s roughest rough, to a brand new Ithaca patio paradise, I hope you’ll stop back and enjoy a taste! My hunger is big; my personality is bigger!

Xo on Elm on Urbanspoon

6.11.2013

Dispatch from Massachusetts: I’ve Even Heard Her Singing in the Abbey

I traveled to New Hampshire last week with a new batch of colleagues. Well, they’re not new colleagues, but I had never traveled with them before – and it was totally fun! Rather than just race headlong towards Manchester with no breaks or time to smell the roses, we decided to stop in Worcester, Massachusetts, for a dinner break and a respite from the road. There’s something great about gathering ‘round the table with a bunch of women who respect one another and find common humor in workplace fodder. For whatever reason, Urbanspoon was failing me, and my Food Network app was giving me bupkiss, but Google and a local Worcester (pronounced Whister for you non-new Englanders out there) website had my back, and led us to Armsby Abbey, in the downtown area. This place held scant resemblance to my two favorite abbeys, namely Westminster and the one from Sound of Music, but it did have sangria and pork belly on the menu, so I wasn’t complaining.




Armsby Abbey specializes in artisanal beers, but we didn’t have any of those. I hope I’m not letting you guys down all the time when I don’t sample beer! But I had some kind of white sangria, and loved its citrusy, bright, summery lilt. I also liked our waitress, who was most definitely a hipster, but more of the earnest/helpful nerd variety than the arrogant/hat-wearing kind. I didn’t catch her name, but she whispered to me that she was glad I ordered the rillons. Me too, Miss Worcester Mass, me too. To star our meal, my coworker B enthusiastically demanded the olives. Good call, BMB. Good call.


The nicoise were mellow and buttery, the large green babies were tart and salty, and the kalamatas were assertive in that Greek way they can be. This was a generous portion for $8, and we gobbled them up properly. Next, C also a starter that she shared, and it was good, too:


The pita quarters were a little lackluster and dry for me – I wish they’d brushed those suckers with oil and let the flat top kiss them for a moment or two – but the hummus was homemade and just slightly chunky, and I adored the unique edition of lightly dressed arugula, which brightened up each bite of earthy hummus with its trademark peppery bite.

I thought about getting the spring pea and mushroom pizza, or the Argentine beef sandwich, or even the bone marrow, but I had to be true to myself, you know? That meant the ras el hanut rillons AKA heritage breed pork belly, cooked in duck fat, seasoned with middle Eastern spices and service with apricot mostarda and pickled shallots. What a gorgeous mouthful.


Now hear this: anyone who tells you that a bucket full of bacon isn’t a sensible dinner is an idiot. Don’t believe any jerk who says so, even is she has a medical degree or something like that. Pork belly, which as you know is really just thick, juicy, tender-on-the-inside, crunchy-on-the-outside bacon will make you happier as a main course than any old dried out chicken breast ever could. At the Abbey, it’s lightly spiced with a Morrocan blend of cinnamon, clove, cardamom, coriander, cumin, turmeric, and pepper, known as ras el hanout, then fried up in duck fat – the most decadent of fats. The acidic yet mild pickled shallots and vivid fresh apricot and grainy mustard sauce cut through the lush richness of pork fat to provide the palate with a needed break. It’s a heady meal, an indulgent one, and an absolute must-do. Cholesterol be damned!



Colleague C ordered a bowl of tomato black bean soup for her dinner, which was sparking with heat from chiles, but also the freshness of summer tomatoes. The yummy, crusty bread served alongside was almost dripping with butter, and made a fabulous dipper for the spicy soup.


I am obsessed right now with that AT&T commercial where the girl says, “We want more, we want more; we really like it, we want more!” Well guess what? I really liked the food at Armsby, and I want more. That’s a pain in my tuckus, on account of the fact that I live nowhere near Mass., but it is what it is. I want smoked marrow, I want the charcuterie platter that T was going to order until she found out it had headcheese or cheeks or something on it, a couple of those fun, thin-crust pizzas, which looked amazing, and of course, y’all know I’m a sucker for mac and cheese. So the next time New Hampshire crops up on the work schedule, look out Worcester. I’m coming. My hunger is big; my personality is bigger!

Armsby Abbey on Urbanspoon

6.08.2013

Triple Cities Double Threat

I’m late to the blog post party this week, which I’m blaming on business travel this past week, but it will yield some new reviews from New England for next week, so you should probably be thankful. I’m also in the throes of full-on prep for our girls for Miss New York, coming up in July, and our pageant, in August, plus a couple weddings this summer. Color me stressed. And you know what helps with stress? Carbohydrates. Well, I’m not sure how much they really help, since none of my pants fit, but they alleviate, at least in the short term, some of the anxiety I’m prone to this time of year.


The newest place to obtain carbs mas delicioso in Endwell is called Daylight Donuts, and it’s right on Main St., across from the Valero. While it may share initials with another chain of donut huts that enjoys the lion’s share of fried dough lovers’ loyalty in the Northeast, that’s about all it shares.



I’ve never been certain that Dunkin Donuts were worth the calories, though I’ve consumed my fair share. However, I assure you, the cool, inventive, assertive flavors packed into the little works of art at Daylight Donuts are worth every minute of cardio. I’m talking blueberry cake donuts topped with cream cheese icing that taste like fresh blueberries; real, identifiable slices of banana in the Elvis donut, and unique, custom flavors like strawberry lemonade for summer. The texture of these donuts is light and airy even as their sugar content is off the charts and their flavors are bold. I always feel like all other donuts taste the same, even when one is Boston cream and the other is an apple fritter. You don’t really taste apple, just sweet, sweet, more sweet, and sugary sweet. At Daylight, the strawberry tastes like strawberry, the chocolate tastes like chocolate, the peanut butter tastes like peanut butter, and the snozberry tastes like snozberry! Name that book, and I’ll give you a dollar.



I think you and I both know which donut is my favorite, and hoo boy is it a doozy. The Elvis combines a yeast donut stuffed with banana and peanut butter, coated in maple frosting and crusted with salty, freshly-cooked bacon (no jarred, dried out, insipid bacon bits). The PB was ooey goeey, and the bananas were uber ripe and sweet, which made the salty bacon sing. I wish that bacon had been smokier, like maybe from Benton’s Bacon, in Tennessee, but this isn’t my personal donut dream, it’s a chain, so I guess I shouldn’t get carried away like that. No matter, this was essentially the perfect, decadent, breakfast pastry, and I can’t wait to have another.



Another new edition to the culinary landscape in the Triple Cities is doing God’s work over on the South Side of Binghamton. Old Barn Hollow, Binghamton’s first locavore store, carries food products grown, raised, or otherwise made in New York State. From my beloved butternut squash seed oil to grains from Cayuga Pure Organics, and local meat, dairy and eggs, if you’re trying to eat clean and local, Old Barn Hollow is for you.



I bought some Northern Farmhouse Pasta, made in the Catskills, and some gorgeous Yukon gold potatoes that we grilled up the following night. Melinda made good with some organic, grass-fed lamb, and we both got some gorgeous little handmade soaps.



Old Barn Hollow also will have more and more fresh vegetables and fruits as the season goes on, and they make gluten-free baked goods in house, in addition to carrying bread and granola. I worry, with the size and odd location of this gem, about its survivability, and that’s all the more reason you need to make it a priority and go! The reason the Southern Tier is sort of bereft of little cool spots like this is because we don’t support small businesses as a community. But places like this, though more expensive than Walmart, not only employ the people who work in that shop, but also the farmers and small, artisanal food producers all over our great state, who are strengthening our economy and our environment. Local food is good for the Earth and good for our bodies, and we all need to go out of our way to support it. I’ve always had to drive to Ithaca to get food like this, and I’m so excited to see a place like Old Barn Hollow bring that availability to Binghamton.


I’m stepping off my soapbox now to remind you that your own hometown holds farm stands, small businesses, and untold yummy treats. Step away from the big chains and seek out all the great food we have RIGHT HERE! My hunger is big; my personality is bigger!