Satisfy Your CRAVEings in The Cape

I honestly didn't expect to be writing you a post on Cape Vincent. I've been attending the French Festival parade in The Cape for years with my Miss Thousand Islands contestants, and the food scene there has always seemed...meager. There's the cute coffee shop, the fabulous pottery shop, Chateau, and the general store, but the restaurants were, for years, more bars than eateries.

Last year, CRAVE opened right on E. Broadway in the heart of this gorgeous waterfront village, and I'm fairly certain the entire hamlet's resident rejoiced. I had to go for myself and check it out.

CRAVE's website boasts comfort food and crafty cocktails. When we visited, I wasn't presented a cocktail menu, but we enjoyed some comforting foods that were on the creative side, and for that, we rejoiced as well. I started my meal with a Caesar salad replete with homemade dressing and bowtie pasta. The dressing was on the milder side, with neither a pronounced anchovy nor parmesan flavor, but there was plenty of the grated cheese on top to compensate for that salty, nutty flavor. The pasta mixed in with the romaine lettuce leant a chewy texture to the salad, though the croutons were a little stale.

Even before the salad came, our table was graced with a little plate of focaccia squares accompanied by a small dish of garlic oil and one of roasted garlic. They explained the delicious scent of garlic that we could smell as soon as we parked outside the building. The bread was airy and moist, and the roasted garlic smeared on top made this a savory/sweet starter.

One of the fish choices on deck the night we visited was tuna, which we tried blackened, with cole slaw and sweet potato fries. The tuna was cooked just to order (medium rare), and the blackening spice served some assertive salinity and heat. The sweet potato fries and cooling slaw were actually perfecgt foils for the spicy fish, and I have to tell you: the portion size was huge. The entrée was $15, and that piece of fish was flawlessly textured and probably a full six ounces, cooked.

The chicken curry is, simply, a work of art. Okay, okay. It actually looks like a hot mess in the bowl, I admit that, but if you put a bite in your mouth, you will taste the symphony hiding in the chaos. The coconut curry sauce was rich and complex, the veggies were crisp-tender, and the chicken was juicy and tender. I would order this dish again in a heartbeat.

The veal osso bucco arrived with a pleasing shank bone stick out of the bowl. You guys know how I love caveman food. There were plenty of baby carrots in the rich "sangria" demi glace sauce, but I did feel that the sauce could have used a hit of acid right before service, with a sprinkle of sea salt over the meat. It was tender, delicious, but just a hair on the flat side, with all the sweetness of the carrots in there.

I predict that the key lime pie at CRAVE will be a famous dish throughout the Northcountry by the end of this summer. First of all, again, the portion is gigantic. It's almost a whole pie! The graham cracker crust is thick and sweet, the lime filling is tart enough to just pucker your mouth, and there's tons of whipped cream on top and served around the plate. You have got to get your hands on this dessert.

The chocolate soufflé was no slouch, either. Deep and dark, this flourless cake was still light, and not too sweet. There was richness to it without heaviness, which is the mark of a skilled pastry chef.

I will warn you that the charming front dining room at CRAVE is sunny and casually elegant, but also extremely noisy when the restaurant is busy. There are almost no soft surfaces in the room to absorb sound, so if you have trouble with background noise, you may want to sit out on the back deck. Other than that fact, we thoroughly enjoyed our dinner at this new darling of the TI region, and we intend to return for more good eats.

I give CRAVE an eight on the BHS scale, and I hope you can make the drive up to Cape Vincent to try it out yourself this summer! Who woulda thunk it - great food, right in The Cape? My hunger is big; my personality is bigger!


I Like Books So Much, I Wrote One

When I started this blog in 2010, I remember it feeling like an enormous jumping off from my comfort zone. I was putting myself out there in a way my public relations career and all its accompanying writing never had – my name would be attached to every word I published, and with that comes responsibility. I have taken that seriously, and I hope my food writing, both here and for my column in the Watertown Daily Times, has reflected the weight of that over the last eight years.

Despite hundreds of blog posts, I never thought I had a book in me. People have asked me about a cookbook periodically over the years, but recipe generation is not my strong suite. Then, last summer, a thread on Facebook about conspiracy theories got my mind racing. What if there really was a bunker underneath the Denver Airport? Who would inhabit this bunker? Who would choose those inhabitants? What would life be like down there?

It was something I couldn’t put aside once the wheels began to turn. Before I knew it, I had two main characters and the beginning of a plot hastily scrawled in the pages of a blank journal, with scraps of dialogue saved as notes in my phone. By December, I had a first draft. It happened out of the blue, and then suddenly, I had written a book! It’s called The Curated, and I hope that you all will get to read it someday.

The book is not about food, which people who know me from Big Hungry tend to be shocked to hear. It really is a novel about a survival bunker under the Denver Airport, the people who live in it after worldwide floods ravage the Earth, and the group who selected these particular inhabitants for its population.

Of course, there is a chef in the bunker. His name is Bobby Guerrero, and in addition to teaching my main characters how to make carnitas and apple cinnamon ice cream, he wears a series of funny t-shirts throughout the book and is just generally a super friend and a guide to my main characters.

I’m now just about done polishing my manuscript and am beginning the long process of querying literary agents in the quest to get it published. Have you heard stories about how hard this is? Most authors get around 80 rejections before signing with an agent, and then you begin pitching the book to publishers, which means more rejection. I have six rejections so far from the 16 agents I’ve queried. Every rejection stings, even though I know they are normal and part of the callus you need to build as a writer.

It's a slow process. You have to do your research to find an agent who handles your genre of book and is looking for either the subject matter or style of story you’re telling. Then you follow them on Twitter, so you can appeal to them in the right voice in your query letter, hoping you’re not sucking up too much, but also that your letter markets your book to them properly, and that your first few pages are scintillating enough to convince them to request your full manuscript.

It’s like asking 100 people to be your friend, knowing full well the overwhelming majority of them will say, “No thanks, you’re just not what I’m looking for.” All the while, you’re obsessively polishing both your pitch letter and your manuscript so that if and when you get the nod from someone, you won’t full-on panic that it’s not good enough to send.

So if you’ve been wondering why I’ve cut back so much on posting about restaurants around Upstate New York and the rest of the country, now you know. I’ve poured 75,000 words into The Curated, and it's tapped me out when it comes to describing even the tastiest treats from around our state. I’m not abandoning blogging, but I’ve really found something I’m passionate about in this novel writing game, and I hope, if I ever do get a book deal, you’ll read it and love it! 

If you'd like to keep up on my journey as I seek a book deal, make sure you're following me @BigHungryShelby on both Instagram and Twitter. It turns out Twitter is really where it's at in terms of agents and publishers, so I'm sharing much of the process there, and trying to grown my following to show agents that I can handle marketing a book when the time comes. I appreciate your engagement on the blog, and I hope you'll be interested enough in The Curated to come along for the ride!


The Weck Diaries

I've brought you many posts from Staten Island over the years, where the Miss New York Pageant was held. Most of you probably know that I have volunteered for a long time with the Miss America Organization, serving as the executive director of Miss Thousand Islands. Traveling for pageants is one of the ways I have been able to see so much of New York State and bring so many exceptional restaurants to life through Big Hungry Shelby these past eight years.

This year, Miss New York moved to Buffalo, and was held at the beautiful Shea's Performing Arts Center downtown. The venue switch was a perfect opportunity for the Miss New York Class of 2018 queens to visit Niagara Falls and Oishei's Children's Hospital, and for me to sample some of the best eats the Queen City has to offer.

In accordance with the prophecy, we first went to Anchor Bar. Yes, yes, it's a tourist restaurant, but how can one judge other wings before one has had the original? The place is both smaller than I had imagined it to be, but also much easier to access and with better service. I expected hoards of tourists, but we were shown to our table straight away on a Thursday at lunchtime.

The wings were classic - straight Frank's Red Hot sauce with a hefty dose of melted butter. We split 20 of the large wings, medium-hot, crispy but saucy. They were very nearly identical to the ones Shawn and I make at home, served with lots of crunchy celery, creamy blue cheese and ranch dressings on the side.

It's worth noting something the Food Network shows on Anchor Bar don't tell you - there's a whole menu here, from pizza to sandwiches and every fried appetizer imaginable. My mom had a turkey sandwich on rye with a house made potato salad she absolutely raved about - the potatoes in it mostly mashed, to give it a fluffy, creamy texture. So if you're not a wing lover, but someone in your group is, you can still find good eats at Anchor Bar.

The next day, it was Gabriel's Gate, a cool old row house in the Allentown neighborhood, for lunch. Gabe's, as our Buffalo guides Kristina and Pat call it, is known for French onion soup and poutine, but it was too hot for soup on the day we visited, and Kristina is dairy free. She and I split an order of fries and gravy, which was pretty damn tasty. While the fries were standard freezer fare, the gravy was rich and beefy - very yummy.

The beef on weck - Buffalo's favorite sandwich and a regional dish somewhat overshadowed by the more-famous wings - at Gabe's is something really special. The beef on said sandwich was uncommonly tender, juicy and shaved, with just a blush of pink rareness. The salt on top of the kimmelweck roll was coarse, and there was just enough caraway seed joining it to add earthy complexity without overpowering the meat flavor. A little cup of horseradish was served alongside. It was fabulous.

The wings at Gabe's are less greasy than Anchor Bar's, and I believe there's a bit more going on in the sauce besides just Frank's and butter. Perhaps a little vinegar and just maybe some pepper? I'm not sure, but I can tell you they are delicious, and what many people consider to be Buffalo's best.

We popped over to Elmwood street to shop that afternoon and had excellent iced coffee at The Spot, which is another favorite of our hosts. I really wish we had more really good coffee shops in the Southern Tier - The Spot made me crave great coffee from a independent shop.

For real deal, classic beef on weck, you need to hit up Schwabl's, in West Seneca. I loved everything about this tiny tavern, from the fact that they had Tom and Jerry's right on the menu (!), to the pickled beets and housemade, thick dill spears served with every meal. The beef on weck here was hand-carved, with thick, rare slices of juicy roast beef. The salt on the roll was finer grained than the one at Gabe's, and the caraway seeds fewer. It was a chewier, heartier sandwich, and the acidic, sweet/tart, wonderful German potato salad served with it was so delicious I don't even know how to describe it - I can only explain my jealousy. I want the recipe!

My parents split a turkey sandwich and Kristina enjoyed a ham sandwich, and these meats were house-roasted and hand-carved as well. Everything here was simply done but old school and high quality. It was one of my favorite meals of the trip, and I would not miss Schwabl's on any visit to Buffalo.

Our big dinner out was at Toutant, right downtown. This is newer than the Buffalo institutions we visited, but if they keep up food like this, it will be around a long time. As long as you don't mind climbing stairs - the dining rooms are up them.

Toutant boasts Southern cuisine, and the pork hush puppies and biscuits with blackberry jam (house made, of course) that began our meal certainly proved right off the bat that someone in the kitchen had real roots in the South.

I'm pretty sure the biscuits were made with lard, you guys. They were ridiculously yummy, and the jam served alongside was bursting with fruit and black pepper - totally delicious. We didn't even need butter.

Do you like muffaletta sandwiches? If you're smart, you do. The one at Toutant is especially decadent, served on fluffy garlic focaccia, with melted cheese and olive salad.

My oysters Rockefeller were lighter than most iterations, the gorgeous, sweet shellfish just barely cooked. The topping was just breadcrumbs and herbs with a little butter, and it was complimentary to the seafood rather than overpowering.

A side dish of collard greens were cooked perfectly, with a peppery, acidic liquor that perfectly countered some of the richer dishes we had ordered, while a tiny cast iron skillet of candied yams were literally like candy - deliciously sweet and soft, with a bruleed marshmallow topping.

Even my mom's shrimp salad with house ranch was something special, the dressing creamy and herbaceous, and the shrimp sweet, with fresh bacon bits topping the colorful dish.

I am not exaggerating when I tell you that we ate impeccably in Buffalo. A lot of people think of it as a food town solely based on wings, but if you don't include awesome pickles, tart pickled beets, delicious potato salad, and achingly good biscuits in your visit, plus the venerable beef on weck, you're really missing out. It's no wonder they call it the Queen City - I certainly ate like a queen all weekend! My personality is big; my hunger is bigger!


Saratoga Springs Travel Guide

I've taken you Hungries along with me many times to Saratoga Springs - it's one of my favorite cities in Upstate New York, full of frilly boutiques, pampering spas, and loads of good food.

When Big Hungry Melinda and I went recently for a final girls' weekend before she becomes a mom, we wanted to try some new places, and I just knew, as we sipped cocktails (her's were virgin!), crunched on meringues, and tucked into beignets, a wicked blog post would come of it.

Our first night in town, a table at Salt and Char, right on Broadway, was waiting for us. This restaurant was recommended by Bobby Flay on The Best Thing I Ever Ate, and I'm never one to ignore his suggestions - it was Flay who led me to Carol's Café on Staten Island, and the inimitable Carol Frazzetta, after all.

Once again, Bobby came through. Salt and Char is a rustic/masculine steakhouse on par with those in NYC and Vegas - beef of achingly good quality, strong libations, and gracious service. While Melinda began her repast with the wedge salad, I came in guns blazing and enjoyed the surf and turf starter, which pairs bone marrow, oxtail marmalade, and jumbo garlicky shrimp. The bone marrow wasn't roasted quite long enough for my taste, and was lacking a few chunky salt crystals over the top to season it, but the oxtail stew more than made up for its shortcomings. The marmalade was unctuous, salty/fatty, and impeccably rich. The shrimp were plump, sweet, and cooked perfectly. Thumbs up.

We split the chateaubriand, a tender, juicy, thick cut of beef complimented by a mushroom demi glace and further embellished with a fresh ramp and blue cheese butter that was on special. It was sublime, the flavor of the meat deep and satisfying.

Our favorite side dish was the cheddar mashed potatoes, which were enriched with plenty of butter and cream, yet somehow not heavy. The cheddar flavor was sharp, and the creaminess countered the beef beautifully.

Creamed spinach was another standout - the mineral quality of the greens smoothed out by cream and a touch of nutmeg, in accordance with the prophecy.

The bloody mary onion rings were less successful - the breading on these was a little thick, and under-seasoned, given the dish's moniker. There was no spice on them to be found, even though there were a gorgeous presentation.

We very much enjoyed dinner at Salt and Char, including a fun key lime shortbread "taco" dessert, and I recommend it for your next visit to Saratoga. I would give it a nine on the BHS scale.

Saturday morning, Sweet Mimi's Café was in our crosshairs, an easy walk from the Hampton Inn & Suites where we were staying. Honestly, this may have been by favorite meal of the trip, despite how jam-packed and noisy the dining room was. The coffee was strong, the service was fast, and Melinda's strawberry rhubarb French toast was thick and crusty enough to battle its own overt sweetness with plain old yum. You know, the kind that makes your eyes roll back into your head a little bit?

My croquet monsieur was perfectly executed, with thick-cut salty ham and runny eggs. The grilled asparagus on the side was a surprising and smart addition. The slight bitterness of the vegetable was a stunning foil for the richness of the open-faced sandwich.

We didn't try any sweet treats from Mimi's case, but I won't make that mistake again.

That afternoon, we enjoyed several blissful hours at Complexions Spa, which borders one of the verdant parks on Broadway. I cannot recommend enough the idea of making time for a spa excursion when you're in SS. Complexions is fancy, the forest bathing massage experience I had, with Daniel as my therapist, was absolutely transformative. I was a new woman when we left this gorgeous hideaway.

Dinner that night was at Mouzon House, just a block off Broadway and less than that from our hotel. This Cajun, farm-to-table restaurant is situated in an old farmhouse decorated with colorful, large-scale art and charming wooden floors. Garden surround you, and you may forget that you're in Upstate New York while you're here, rather than in a genteel Louisiana home.

I was less enamored with the food at Mouzon House. Crawfish beignets were a bit muddy in flavor, and extremely heavy in texture. I wanted to taste the sweetness of the seafood, but the batter fought for prominence, and the spicy remoulade sauce served alongside completely obliterated the delicate flavor of crawfish completely.

Similarly with the fried chicken over jambalaya, nothing really shone. The chicken wasn't juicy or particularly well-flavored, and while the jambalaya was fresh-tasting, with good celery and okra flavors, it lacked the strong anchor of a dark roux or the spice you might want from Cajun food. I found myself setting this dish aside in favor of a few bites of Melinda's stronger - but very spicy - shrimp and grits. The flavor of this dish was running on all cylinders, though I thought it was overly sauced, such that the grits were lost in the shuffle. If you want fried chicken in Saratoga, stick to Hattie's.

For dessert, bananas foster was good, but not great. It was made with cinnamon ice cream, an exciting prospect, but again, the flavor on this house made treat was a bit timid. French press coffees were strong and a pleasant surprise.

I would probably skip Mouzon House on a repeat trip, though if you love Cajun food, you might want to try it. Indeed, the atmosphere and service were splendid, even if the cuisine left me wanting. It is a six on the BHS scale.

Our last breakfast was at Scallions, which I've blogged here before, and which is right across the street from the hotel. This place never seems to be busy, and I'm not sure why. The food isn't a show-stopper, but it's all tasty, and the atmosphere is relaxed and bright. I like this place.

It's that time of year when we're all a little restless in the office in the sunny afternoons. Isn't it time you and your sweetheart got away? I highly recommend a long weekend in Saratoga Springs. Whether you like the horse races, unwinding at a spa, or just shopping at the many shops on Broadway - including one of my favorite independent bookstores anywhere - you can't go wrong in this charming small town. Enjoy the spa city whatever you like, but don't miss out on its considerable treats and eats. My hunger is big, but my personality is bigger!