A Time for Thai

It’s been a while since we’ve sat down for a good look at a Binghamton-area restaurant. I’ve been so busy gallivanting all over the country, and believe me, it’s not about to stop anytime soon. In the coming weeks, I’ll be bringing you tastes of Philadelphia, Charleston, Manchester, NH and Amsterdam! But a new Asian food gem has opened in downtown Binghamton, just across the street from “the city club,” or Binghamton Club, and we need to talk about it. And then you need to go to there.

It’s called Thai Time, and is very cute inside, with warm wood tones and red and yellow trimmed accents. They don’t have a liquor license, so if you require some wine to go with your pad thai, make sure to bring your own. They also seem to do a pretty brisk takeout business, and they cater as well.

Melinda and I went a few weeks ago, and received prior advice from my friend DeDe that the curry puffs from the appetizer list were not to be missed. The tender, marinated minced chicken, potatoes and onion in little pastry dough shells were delightful and had a good amount of curry spice without too much of the funk that can sometimes accompany potato/curry dishes. Each bite provided a delicate crunch and warm savoriness from the spice.

Our other appetizer was the Thai crispy spring rolls, which were a little boring in comparison to the puffs. These were the standard Thai restaurant iteration, with glass noodles and a satisfying crisp when you bit down. The sweet chile sauce alongside was the vital component to this dish, lending needed acid, heat and flavor.

Before we were done savoring the curry puffs, one of my restaurant pet peeves happened: the entrees came out, just minutes after our appetizers had hit the table. I never understand this – you need to wait to fire the entrees, if they’re quick-cooking, until the patrons are done or nearly so with their appetizer course! There also were no chopsticks offered, which would have been appreciated, and for the noodle entrees we ordered, there was nothing on the side. I assume if you get one of the chef specials or entrees, a bowl of white rice comes out alongside, but I feel like there should be the equivalent of a bread basket at all restaurants. There was no equivalent here.

I ordered the pad see aew, described on the menu as stir fried egg noodles with egg, broccoli, snow peas, onion and baby corn in sweet soy. It was savory and sweet, as promised, the noodles firm without being too al dente. The veggies were very crisp, but the sauce was the star, with just the tiniest hint of spice that built as you ate it. At the pinnacle of the meal, my mouth was on fire in a pleasing way, dancing with the complex flavors of this dish.

Melinda ordered her Thai standby favorite: drunken noodles. This dish is described on the menu as shrimp and chicken stir fried rice noodles with egg, baby corn, mushroom, broccoli, string bean, carrot, peppers, onion and basil. It also has three tiny, Thai chiles demarcating that this dish is spicy. Indeed, drunken noodles bring the spice to the party in an authoritative way. The heat was much more up front in this sauce, savory, a bit tart, but balanced, with the Asian hallmarks of salty, sweet, sour, and spice all working together. A stunner. Both dishes provided generous servings as well.

We ended our meal with the fried ice cream, which I do not recommend. We didn’t even eat it all – it was that odd. Rather than a crispy coating of corn flakes or an egg roll wrapper, the shell was a pound cake-like substance, which had absorbed a good deal of the oil in which it was fried. Not yummy, at all. Overall, we rated Thai Time at a seven on the BHS scale. While the entrees and curry puffs were very good, the few idiosyncrasies just didn’t add up to an outstanding meal. I will eat here again, and I would absolutely get take out if I lived in Binghamton. I’d like to try the spicy eggplant and fried rice next time around, although it will be hard not to order those great noodles. They were so comforting and hearty.

Prior to dinner, we checked out the new lounge at Lost Dog Café, in the space next door previously occupied by The Hair Co. The new room is eclectic and very downtown, keeping with Lost Dog’s aesthetic, only a little brighter and swankier. Stop by here for a nouveau cocktail, like a cucumber martini or a yummy mojito:

For my Northcountry peeps, I also did manage to hit up River Dogs, in Clayton, when I was up for Miss TI a few weeks back. First off, I have to say Morgan and I had some of the friendliest service I have ever experienced from the lovely woman at the counter, who I took to be the owner. That said, I found the food to be pretty ordinary. Good, but ordinary. I was expecting my dog, with sauerkraut, bacon and cheese, to be bursting with flavor, but everything got kind of muddled and muddy. The dog didn’t have tremendous snap, and there was no predominant, strong flavor to the end result. Same with the onion rings, which were most certainly a frozen product – fine, but ordinary. An OK respite if you want to hop out of your boat for a minute and grab a bite, but there are much more unique eats to be had in Clayton.

That’s it from the fair land of Big Hungry this week, folks. I’m off to Charleston next week and am desperately trying to wrangle a reservation at Husk for dinner. Wish me luck, as this joint is named in just about every Southern food publication and blog as the best place ever, and it’s looking mighty booked up next week. My hunger is big; my personality is bigger!

Thai Time on Urbanspoon


Quickfire Cruising?

Like many people with a persuasion for pork and all things - books, TV, movies, blogs, magazines, t-shirts - food-related, I count Top Chef among my favorite things. I've been watching it since Brian Malarky was knee high to a a grasshopper, or you know, since he was on the show and I was able to utter, "Hey, I ate at the Oceanaire in DC once, and it was fabulous; cool!"

It should be noted that in just a couple short weeks, I will turn 35. It seems unthinkable, I know. Yes, I have so much wisdom, but also: so young-looking! So vibrant and up-to-date with the music these crazy kids are listening to! Am I right? Oh, no? I seem exactly 35, or as Melinda puts it, "The wrong side of 30?" Fine then. But I think I should get to ring out my early 30s with much pomp, circumstance, glitter, bacon, and suntan lotion as possible. And therefore, besides a wine-fueled party with those I love, what I really want for my birthday (and Christmas) is to go on the just-announced Top Chef Cruise!

I've never been on a cruise before. Neither has Shawn. We've also never been to Key West. Also, I want to buy Gail Simmons a cocktail and tell her how much better she dresses than Padma, and how I think Padma and all the other stick-figure celebrities have meetings about how to keep the normal-sized girls from looking too good on camera, but that Gail has completely triumphed, and her frocks in Vancouver at the end of last season were all really gorg.

Gail, may I borrow that fetching purple frock?

But besides my rich inner-fantasy friendship with Gail, I really want to hob knob and take cooking lessons from Spike, Tiffany, Jen Carroll, Casey and NOT Mike Isabella or Angelo, who I think were both pretty obnoxious, though I would eat at Graffiato or Buddakan if the chance presented itself. I want to tour Key West and Cozumel, and I want to swan about a large ship knowing at any moment, I might round a corner and run into Tom Colicchio in shorts.

I feel like Shawn is really going to hate this idea, and I'm not sure how to pitch it to him. I could offer to cover the beverage plan, so he could be assured of unlimited beers while onboard? I could let him know that I won't make him go to the cooking demos with me, as long as he'll come along to the cocktail party and nightime entertainment? How do you think I should bring it up? Also, have you been on a celebrity cruise of this type before, and do you really get to interact with the stars all that much? What I'm asking is: is it worth the amount I'm going to have to prostrate myself to my home-body boyfriend in order to strike this deal? Or should I go quietly into that dark night that is my late 30s happy with a new dutch oven as my birthday gift? Please weigh in with all ideas, comments, opinions (unless they are about wrinkles), and recommendations!


Dispatch from DC: The Source

Third and final week of reporting all the fantastic food I was lucky enough to sample in DC last month. I can’t believe the explosion of good food there – certainly something not present just a couple years ago. When boss K and I were planning our department’s meals for the week, I was in almost a frenzy over all of the worthy choices. For our team dinner, she offered a number of possibilities near our hotel, and the combination of terms Newseum, Wolfgang Puck and Asian Fusion enticed me to an alarming degree. What those terms add up to is The Source, Puck’s DC fine dining headquarters, which just so happens to feature Asian fusion food with a Chinese emphasis, and be located in the Newseum, which for media relations professionals is one of the coolest DC landmarks.

The interior of The Source is pretty stark – white walls and black accents, without much else to distract from the stunning, colorful, impactful cuisine. One disappointment was the rest room, which, in the vein of Eat’s slightly dilapidated lavatory, was shabby. Was it is with high end dining spots not attending to the upkeep of their washrooms? This disappointment, however, was mitigated right off the bat with the complimentary amuse bouche of cold sesame green beans served with glazed walnuts. The beans were crisp and bright green, savory with sesame oil and soy, and sweetly accented by the nuts. A great way to start the meal.

You know what wasn’t great? How my colleagues started discussing the movie Contagion as we were choosing our appetizers, a conversation that quickly led to a table-wide ban on the suckling pig I wanted to order. You know what, I watched that movie when I returned home, and the pandemic was not the pig’s fault, people! It was that trollop Gwenyth Paltrow feeling up half the casino after the scummy chef didn’t wash his hands. Don’t blame the piggies!

They did, however, let me order the pork belly “tiny” dumplings with black vinegar. I mean, I couldn’t have honestly been swayed on this matter. And boy, were they delectable! Classic Asian flavors played off the always-reliably-delicious pork belly in these tiny morsels: salty/umami/soy, bright/chile/cilantro, acidic, fatty….YUM. Equally good were the special spicy beef dumplings, which were larger, explosive, melt-in-my-mouth tender and just hot enough to remind you you’re alive. Our third appy, tuna tartar, was different from your run of the mill tuna starter. It had a superbly creamy texture and just enough spice to wake up the mouth ever so slightly, all in a fantastically crunchy, subtly sweet little fried cup.

I knew what I would order well in advance from checking out the menu online: lacquered duck with lo mein. First off, I am a sucker for Chinese noodles, and I’ve been meaning to work more duck into my diet. That’s not to say I wasn’t still envious of K’s choice: the pork belly special. God, it’s like pork belly is a cruel mistress providing me intermittent pleasure and a lot of strife when I’m over here trying to be happy with the dinner choices I’ve made. Knock it off, divine swine!

But listen, this duck? It was pretty spectacular in its own right. The skin was professionally and precisely rendered, utterly crispity-crunchy and coated in a rich, sweet, deep, savory plum wine reduction. The meat absolutely melted, it was so tender, and if you have any reservations about duck being gamey or exotic, try it here. This was as familiar as dark meat chicken, but 100 times more flavorful and satisfying. Meanwhile, the lo mein, served on the side, was my first fine dining version of this take-out classic. It was kick-ass: firm, thick noodles with a gorgeously smooth, deeply flavored brown sauce, not overtly salty but tongue-coatingly rich, studded with big chunks of sautéed bok choy and crisp green onions. It was gorgeous and delicious. Deliciously gorgeous. Gorgeously delicious.

Colleague S and I decided we also wanted to split the shanghai noodles as a side dish. This is just superfluous carbs for the sake of being a greedy little piglet, let’s be clear. But they, also, were perfection: thick udon-esque noodles coated in a beef sauce comprised of cooked-down short ribs, bok choy, red onions, a bit of tongue-tingling chile and a gravy-like brown sauce. Even more savory than the lo mein, this was China’s answer to comfort food, elevated to Wolfgang Puck’s heights.

K’s pork belly, which didn’t taste salty, but merely savory, the most perfect bacon and veggie plate you could ever imagine

Keeping with my recent fascination with oddly flavored ice creams, my dessert choice was almost pre-determined: chocolate ganache torte with avocado-pistachio ice cream. The torte was somewhat hum-drum and very rich, but the ice cream was ultra velvety, owing to the creamiest of vegetables, avocado. I loved it. Korean chile was supposedly one of the components of this dish, but I actually would have welcomed more spice to offset the heavy sweetness of the chocolate torte. All I know is, I can’t wait for Hagen Dasz to jump on this trend and make apple cheddar and avocado pistachio ice creams.

Someone else ordered the chocolate chocolate chocolate soufflé, which is quite the affair, as it turns out. The tableside preparation verges on elaborate, and the triple hit of soufflé, sorbet and sauce delivered an almost too-rich bittersweet chocolate punch. If you’re a chocoholic, this is for you, though I like something fresh and bright to offset it.

I was so enraptured by the pristine Asian flavors present in this meal, I’m going to get Chinese food for lunch today. These are precisely the flavors – of soy, sesame, oyster sauce, chile and rice wine – that I crave when I think about Asian food. This is best classified as Asian comfort food, utterly designed to cradle the diner in a shower of deep, layered flavors.

The level of service at The Source is elegant bordering on stuffy – they could have ratcheted it down a notch on the formality scale, and I still would have thought the prices were fair. That tattered rest room was really the only place I could ding this District gem. A quick table poll came up with a rating of 8 on the BHS scale, though I was really feeling it as a 9. But again, I very much love Asian food, and that outstanding short rib braise, crispy rendered duck and homey, savory pork belly really hit every flavor and textural note I could ask for. On the scale of eats in the Nation’s Capital, I would score it behind the Blue Duck Tavern and in a different category than Founding Farmers, which is much more relaxed and hip, but I would go back and order anything containing pork or duck on that menu anytime. Or any noodles. Or any dumplings. Oh crap, I just drooled…My hunger is big; my personality is bigger!

The Source on Urbanspoon


Dispatch from DC: Way, Jose

When in Washington, do as the Washingtonians do. Ok look, I’m pretty sure a lot of the people in Jaleo with us a few weeks ago were tourists, just like us. However, I know plenty of Beltway insiders who count Jaleo and Jose Andres’ newer installations, like Zaytinya and Oyamel, among the best eats in the city. Of course, Andres also is something of a media darling, collecting Tony Bourdain and Andrew Zimmern as devoted fans, and having worked with Ferran Adria at El Bulli in Spain, the recently closed but always-and-forever cradle of molecular gastronomy. I first ate at Jaleo’s Bethesda location in 2005, and the memory of a few, key dishes is seared into my tummy such that I still make my own version of one of the dishes I’ll tell you about in a sec for some parties.

This time in DC, I visited Jaleo on 7th St. with boss K and colleague L, neither of whom are big, but both of whom were as hungry as I. I didn’t bust out my trusty notebook, because I didn’t want to miss a second of scintillating conversation, but the pictures I took of the delicious parade of tapas that graced our table will jog my sangria-addled memory enough to recap. I think…

This stained-glass-meat vision is called pan con tomate with jamon Serrano. It is one of the first things on Jaleo’s exemplary tapas menu, and it or one of its tomato bread compadres MUST cross your path at Jaleo. I’ve never been to Spain, but seeing as I could willingly and happily subsist on just this for at least a week, I’m pretty sure I’d like it there. Think crusty, rustic-yet-light-as-air, charred slabs of white bread rubbed, massaged, and infused with fresh tomatoes, then draped with delicate slices of prosciutto-adjacent, lightly salty/porky/earthy Serrano ham. The whole affair is drizzled with Spanish olive oil and brought to you simply unadorned, ready for you to hork down in a heady, hedonistic haze of pure delight. Do not let the SPANISH FOOD label scare you away from a great meal. This dish is a Jaleo classic, and consists of bread, tomato and ham, which isn’t too scary, if you ask me.

Our efficient but friendly waiter suggested we try a cheese board. We were a table of three women; we were NOT about to say no to cheese, so we chose a manchego, the iconic Spanish sheep’s milk varietal paired with apples; a creamy, sweet goat cheese paired with raisin walnut bread and fig jam; and a bleu cheese wedge with wine-poached pears and pine nuts. All three were creamy, dreamy, and matched simply and stunningly with their accoutrements. I think the goat cheese and bread were my favorite, but then, I am having a goat cheese love affair at the moment, so this poses no surprise.

Earlier, I alluded to the fact that I still serve one of Jaleo’s tapas selections at parties, and this next one is it. Endibias con queso de cabra y naranjas is a really hard to pronounce name for goat cheese, mandarin oranges, toasted almonds, and a light honey vinaigrette served in little endive leaf boats. It is simple, but different; light, but delectable. I love to serve these at my Miss America party, because the tiny smidge of semi-soft goat cheese is unlikely to completely derail my guests’ New Years diets, and because they’re insanely simple to throw together. I make my dressing with honey and rice wine vinegar, although I’m sure Jaleo is using white balsamic or champagne vinegar or something fancier. These babies are bright, light, and scrumptious, so I encourage you to try them when you visit.

K wanted to try the bacon-wrapped dates. Having just had Hops Spot’s version during my BHS photo shoot earlier this summer, I remember the meat candy-ness of this dish, and flashed the two thumbs up in her general direction. This adaptation was deep-fried and served on top of a finger-licking-good apple-mustard sauce that was both sweet and hot – a spicy, fitting foil for all the rich sweetness of bacon-wrapped nuggets of dried fruit.

K also chose the next stunner: house-made chorizo slices perched on a bed of mashed potatoes so smooth, it must be one dude’s job just to rice them in the back kitchen. The chorizo was bursting with paprika and spice without being overwhelmingly salty or hot, and the apple cider sauce (maybe a gastrique?) served around the mashed potato fortress was piquant and provided needed acid to address the fatty richness of the sausage. This is a classic tapas tradition, and a good one that’s not too risky if you’re a first-timer.

Ensalada de coles de Bruselas con albaricoques, manzanas y jamón Serrano was the next dish ushered to our table by a procession of Latino lookers. Translation: warm brussel sprout salad with apricots and ham. This was another light, refreshing dish that each of us kept going back to for one more spoonful. The brussel sprout leaves were separated and crisp-tender, gorgeously bright green and ever-so-slightly dressed with the fruit and Serrano. Another salty-sweet success, but this one anchored by the funky, clean taste of the sprouts.

Grilled chicken thighs with parsley puree and garlic sauce were not my favorite, but that’s not to say they were bad. Chicken thighs just don’t happen to strike my fancy – a little chewy for me, and there wasn’t a ton of chicken flavor there. The sauce was tasty, maybe tinged with some tomato and paprika or piquillo pepper, but it didn’t really ring my bell. I would skip this one.

Another tapas must-do is gambas al ajillo, garlic shrimp. I believe Jaleo has changed its recipe for this classic since my last visit, as I remember a less-red bowl of yum, but I still loved the overt garliciciousness enrobing the gigantic, perfectly cooked shrimp. I liked this much more than the version I had at Beso in Staten Island in June, though my shellfish-averse tablemates demurred from sampling the pungent, black-olive-laced dish.

The crowning achievement and Best Dish of the night, in my opinion, was the Canelones de cerdo y foie con béchamel. Even before I provide translation for that, it sounds pretty epic, am I right? Well get a load of this: pork and foie gras canalones in béchamel sauce is what the menu says, but my mouth said HOLY CRAP, THIS IS HEAVEN. This was mild, milky, rich, cheesy, salty, homey, comforting and warming. The pork flavor took a backseat to the rich foie gras, which was mellowed out with the expansive milky cream sauce, and then haloed in a bubbling, browned blanket of broiled, just slightly sharp cheese. The canalones, which I assume are cousins to Italian cannelloni, were tender as can be, all but disappearing into the béchamel, which may have been kissed with the lightest touch of nutmeg. I could not get enough of this, and honestly could have polished off the entire thing myself. Oink. I will be desperately trying to recreate this concoction at home in the years to come, and I suspect, to no avail.

Oh but wait, there was dessert. Of course. Again, three women, an effort at ordering some vegetable dishes to offset all that pork, you know we had to have something sweet! The dark chocolate mousse with cocoa sponge cake and hazelnut ice cream didn’t really knock me over. You know, it was…chocolately. Bonus points for the odd ice cream flavor, except that I couldn’t identify it as hazelnut and had to ask the waiter. I mean, my taste buds may have been blown out at that point by all the foie gras, but who can say?

The watershed moment came from an unlikely place: rice pudding. I’ll wait a moment while you gasp. This is NOT gran’s rice pudding, dear readers. This is a smooth rice-derived custard, punched up with vanilla and cinnamon, studded with electric candied lemon zest chunks and showered with crispy, crunchy, puffed, caramelized rice. There was texture, shocking brightness and sugary-acid from the lemon pieces, and mile upon dreamy mile of whipped cream and pudding. It also was a huge portion, so as each of us worked through the layers of flavor, exclaiming delight and surprise, we didn’t run out of fuel for our culinary journey. Despite your previous rice pudding assumptions, order this treat when you hit up Jaleo.

Unlike Beso in SI, and other tapas joints I’ve haunted, Jaleo is modern and swanky. There’s pop art, installations of traditional Spanish serveware displayed in bright, white towers, cool lighting and fun music. They want you to linger over multiple courses of Andres’ traditional, simple, stunning food. Nothing here was heavy, yet everything had a depth and maturity that belies why this has become one of DC’s most beloved institutions. I’m going ahead with a 10 on the BHS scale, because the food is so different from anything I can get around here, but still familiar and unchallenging. These are not acquired tastes, but they do surprise and enchant, with a whimsy and gusto very much reminiscent of the chef who created them. On your next visit to our nation’s capital, check out Jaleo, and I dare you, eat even more pork than I did;) My hunger is big; my personality is bigger!

PS – Baked Euphoria’s Café is now open on Washington Ave in Endicott. It is supremely close for those of you who work with me, and is serving up pretty delicious sandwiches along with predictably decadent desserts. The antipasto sandwich on ciabatta I had Tuesday was bursting with salted, cured meats, fresh veggies, and acidic vinaigrette, and the Mexican hot chocolate cupcake had a surprise inside: marshmallow fluff filling. They still have some organizing and polishing to do in order to make service a success, but go ahead and give it a try for breakfast or lunch!

Jaleo on Urbanspoon


There She Is...Miss Thousand Islands 2013

Just think, after this post, I'll stop chattering on about pageants for a few months! But for now, once again, we interrupt your regularly scheduled gluttonous musings to bring you this PSA (pageant service announcement):

Lonna McCary, 22, Irving, NY, was crowned Miss Thousand Islands 2013 on Saturday, August 11 at the Clayton Opera House. Lonna is a graduate student at Hilbert college, earning her masters deegree in criminal justice administration, and hopes to be a Parks Service officer. She sang "Son of a Preacher Man," for the talent competition Saturday night.

The Miss Thousands Islands Pageant celebrated the 2013 pageant with the theme Point of Service. Miss Thousand Islands 2012 Allison Carlos, from Watertown, crowned her successor, while the pageant was hosted by Miss TI 2007 Ann Walck Iannotta and Brian Patrick Sweeney. Miss Thousand Islands Outstanding Teen 2012 Maggie Ackerman also performed during the show, and our princesses Sarah and Joelle were on hand to help out in a big way.

Seven young women from upstate New York competed for the title. McCary received a $1,000 scholarship, in addition to winning the $150 Deltra Willis Award for Best Talent, and a trip to compete in the 2013 Miss New York Pageant in Staten Island next summer. First runner-up was Chelsea Brumagen, Hudson Falls, who also won the $150 Krugman-Simonitis Award for Best Interview and the Miracle Maker Award for raising the most money for the Children's Miracle Network. Second runner-up was Amy Hayes, Rexfod, who also was chosen Miss Congeniality, a $150 cash award, while third runner-up was Lauren Crandall, Fultonville. Ashley Loggins, from Albany, won the $150 Charles Webber Community Service Award.

Miss TI 2012 Allison Carlos gave an emotional farewell speech at the pageant, thanking her supporters and sponsors, A Touch of Grace, Page Fitness, April McClintock Photography and In Motion dance studio. She also performed her talent piece from Miss New York, "Rock Your Soul," and choreographed her In Motion dance students in a lyrical number to Leann Rymes' "Give."

Thank you to the contestants for working so hard all weekend, and all our volunteers for giving us your weekend, your energy, and your hearts. Our sponsors, both local businesses and individuals, are the best around, and we were so glad to see so many of you at the Clayton Opera House on Saturday evening. We look forward to working with Lonna in the coming months to prep her for Miss New York.

Thank you to Allie as well, for the most hilarious gift I've ever received from an outgoing Miss TI! You guys, Allie adopted a piggie for me!

I promise I won't try to eat him, but I WILL review a restaurant in Watkins Glen when we go visit Mr. Smithfield!


Dispatch from DC: Thank God Thomas Jefferson was a Foodie

I first heard about Founding Farmers via an article in Rachael Ray’s Everyday magazine which depicted a cheerful Mrs. and President Obama dining at the communal table at the back of this hipster-infiltrated newcomer in the Foggy Bottom neighborhood of Downtown Washington, DC. When I found out I would be spending a five full days there in July, I started frenetically reaching out to local friends to find out where to take my colleagues for dinner, and Founding Farmers came up several times as a don’t-miss-it favorite. That was that, I chose it for my first night in town, and dragged along co-worker L, who is new to our company and whom I had just met that afternoon, for an evening of groaningly good farm-to-table cuisine.

We started as one should, with a proper cocktail. Hoo boy, is FF making some serious likker, you guys! I mean, they’re infusing premium liquors with all kinds of cool stuff and making fruit juices and mixers by hand, with organic ingredients. It’s funny how you get a little older and suddenly, neon green Jose Cuervo margarita mix out of a jug doesn’t taste quite so epic anymore. What you really want is called Bone, and it’s a much-celebrated star on Founding Farmers’ cocktail menu: Knob Creek bourbon (which I didn’t even know I liked), lime juice, Tabasco, and a candied bacon lollipop. This drink was explosively spicy, which accounted for the sweet, sugar-encrusted meat candy balanced atop its seductive surface. Our adorable waitress, Claire, instructed me to take a nibble of the bacon with each sip. I’m sure it’s not surprising that she didn’t have to tell me twice. It was a homerun – the boozy, tart, fire-in-the-hole liquid disintegrated the sugar surrounding the terrifically tender bacon in each mouthful, leaving me with a little woozy to go with my boozy, and a huge grin on my face.

I am putting Tabasco in all cocktails, henceforth!

Later on I had the Clementine, which also rocked the spice, and was equally delicious if not as sinful as Bone. Also note the chunky, square ice cubes. I read an article several years ago in one of the last Gourmet issues about serious mixologists and their love of mammoth ice cubes, which I’m now happy to report, really do help keep the drink cold without watering it down. This is a place to skip your usual Bud Light and really go crazy with the demon liquor. Speaking of demons, I have scribbled at the top of my notebook this is demonic meal. I meant that in the best way possible, as everything I’m about to lay down was scrumptious to the point that we both ate too much of everything, then complained about being stuffed while still furtively shoveling tiny, last morsels of different courses into our pie holes. That’s how you know it’s good.

We started with a whole plate of the bacon lollis as an appetizer, because once I had one with my drink, I needed more, and because if L had tried to take a bite of my Bone garnish, I may have accidentally bitten her, which is frowned upon in our company’s employee handbook. As I’ve already mentioned, these bacon lollis are instruments of the devil, blessed by the most cherubic of angels: thick-cut bacon, unbelievably tender, as if the crust of brown sugar and cinnamon had somehow marinated it before baking. This is salty/sweet at its best, and deceptively simple, somehow tasting like bacon cooked over a campfire. There’s no reason you couldn’t make them at home, but it’s more fun in hip DC, gushing to your colleague about how naughty it is to simply split a plate of bacon. BACON!

Equally appealing, but maybe less scintillating, was the trifecta of dips, green goddess, romesco and pimento cheese, with slabs of thick, charred, white country bread. The pimento cheese was from-another-planet good, in a way that I knew even as I ate it I would find a hard time describing. It was cheesy, yes, but also smoky (some of that came from the bread), spicy, deep and salty. I tried to map out what ingredient could have leant the usually simple mixture of cheddar cheese, mayo, pimentos and Worcestershire sauce the incredible depth this dip had, but it was beyond my reach. Maybe FF makes their own Worcestershire sauce? By contrast, the green goddess was a cool customer, all smooth avocado, basil and cream, equally peppy, creamy and acidic smeared on that hearty bread. The romesco, a Spanish-influenced sauce made with roasted red peppers and marcona almonds, was my least favorite at first, but then grew on me as I shoveled in bite after bite of adorned bruschetta. The sauce can be overly sweet sometimes, but this one had strong almond flavor and had a pleasing, mouth-coating texture. I might skip the bacon lollis on a return trip in favor of sampling something else, but I will never overlook that fabulous pimento cheese.

I ordered the chicken and waffles. It was an embarrassment of riches. I have no business ordering a dish that decadent; that sugary, fatty, salty and cholesterol-laden. But I did it anyway, because once you’ve downed a bacon-topped cocktail, do you really have any shame? Exactly. So let me tell you how good it was. It. Was. Awesome. I mean, I went to school for two years in rural North Carolina; sister’s had some fried chicken. Somehow, impossibly, this was the best I’ve ever had. Better, even, than Mrs. Rowe’s illustrative masterpiece in Staunton, VA. Each juicy piece was redolent with a good amount of black pepper, and I think…I think, it was fried in lard. WhoaMG. The waffle was light as air, just slightly malted, and served with two tiny, metal box o’ milk-shaped pitchers, one for syrup and one for a very milky, buttery chicken gravy. As if this ridiculous accumulation of the richest treasures of any kitchen ever weren’t enough, I ordered macaroni and cheese and summer squash with peas alongside. Does it alleviate you to know the mac and cheese was NOT the best I’ve had? It did me, because that was one less thing I had to concentrate on in order to avoid licking my plate in public in front of L. I actually felt emotional about this dish, it was so good.

L ordered halibut pan fried in hazelnut brown butter, which was certainly less embarrassingly depraved than my choice, but no slouch in the “yum” department. The butter was robust and nutty without overpowering the delicate flavor of the fresh fish. The okra and tomatoes she received as a side were true southern beauties – earthy, rich, and deep with lip-smacking umami flavors. Yes, the okra is a bit slimy, but the flavor of the cooked-down savory, sweet vegetables is so satisfying, you won’t even notice. That is some soul food, right there.

I love it when they grill the lemon
 I will happily admit my gluttony and eagerness to try dessert, despite the fact that for the integrity of my waistband, I should have quit eating somewhere around the time a tiny milk carton of gravy hit the table. I will not comment on why L encouraged me and suggested the beignets, but I’m glad she did. These treats are much-lauded on Urbanspoon and other blogs, and for good reason: they were spectacular. Like tiny doughnut holes delivered from Utopia, the little fried dough balls managed to both be crunchy when one bit them and collapse in on themselves once in the mouth, disintegrating into sugary, fatty lumps of delight. Because of the bacon, booze, cheese, bread, chicken, waffle, pasta and yes, vegetables I had already crammed in my cramhole, I think I only ate one. Or two. Whatever, the amount isn’t important. What’s important is that L and I barely had time to talk to each other in between moaning and groaning about how good everything was.

There are some additional notes, of course. While the bathroom door was adorable:

…L ordered espresso with dessert and did not enjoy it at all, even making faces whilst drinking it. I was two cocktails in at this point and feeling no pain, so I didn’t ask her what was so terrible about it, but the faces did not spell delicious. Also, the nice lady at the table next to us was missing the grapes from her farmer’s salad, which isn’t cool. You order a salad with grapes in it, you probably want your grapes. This is probably how the term sour grapes was coined. That’s about all I have to say negative about this meal, which made me stupidly happy and had L and I both waddling to the nearest cab when we left.

Note the mason jars full of customized liquor

If you’re visiting the land of our forefathers soon, put Founding Farmers on your list, and enjoy the bounty of farm-to-table gastronomy. It’s a fact that many of the actual founding fathers were farmers, and the mission of this joint to celebrate the foods harvested near to our nation’s capital may be a little corny, but it rings true to me. Plus, they’re treating those ingredients with respect, creatively transforming them without torturing them into submission. I gave FF a nine on the BHS scale, but L was reserving higher scores for later in the week, perhaps, and came back with just a seven. I don’t know, maybe she was still mad about the espresso. When you go, score it yourself and let me know what you think. This is, after all, a free country;) My hunger is big; my personality is bigger!

Founding Farmers on Urbanspoon


2013 Miss Thousand Islands Pageant

We interrupt your regularly scheduled gluttony to bring you this PSA (pageant service announcement):

The 2013 Miss Thousand Islands Pageant will be held at the historic Clayton Opera House in Clayton, NY on Saturday, August 11 at 7 p.m.

The Pageant is an official preliminary to Miss America, and will crown Miss Thousand Islands 2013 at the culmination of a community service-themed production titled Point of Service. Miss Thousand Islands 2012 Allison Carlos and Miss Thousand Islands Outstanding Teen Maggie Ackerman will participate in the event, as well as Miss TI Star Princesses Joelle Leek and Sarah Roux.

Eight young women from upstate New York will compete for the title of Miss Thousand Islands 2013. The winner will receive a $1,000 scholarship and a trip to compete in the Miss New York 2013 Pageant in Staten Island, NY, next summer. More than $2,000 in additional cash and scholarships will be given at the pageant, to runners-up and non-finalists.

2013 Miss TI Contestants
Tickets to the event are $12 at the door. There also will be raffles and a 50/50 contest. The pageant will be hosted by Brian Sweeney, a physical therapist at Fort Drum, and Ann Walck Iannotta, Miss Thousand Islands 2005 and 2007.

“The Miss Thousand Islands Pageant is committed to promoting the ideals of service, scholarship, success and style in our community,” said Susan Pilon, Miss Thousand Islands executive director. “We are thrilled to welcome eight contestants to our pageant family this year, and we look forward to watching them grow into young women who give back to their communities and continue in their education.”

The Miss Thousand Islands Scholarship Pageant is a not-for-profit organization which provides opportunities for young women in New York State to further their educational goals through scholarship, service, and achievement. The pageant was the recipient of the Miss New York Organization’s award for 2012 Best Production and the 2012 Volunteers of the Year award for board members Gary and Sue Pilon. The 2013 pageant is sponsored by many area businesses, including A Touch of Grace, Waterbury Fine Jewelers, April McClintock Photography, The Ritz Salon, Stewart’s Shops, Jreck’s and Bella’s Bistro.

The Miss America Organization is one of the nation’s leading achievement programs and the world’s largest provider of scholarship assistance for young women. Last year, the Miss America Organization and its state and local organizations made available more than $45 million in cash and scholarship assistance. For more information on the Miss New York Organization, go to: http://www.missnyorg.org