Take Two

We just wrapped up a deliciously long holiday weekend, during which I ate a lot - our own slow smoked ribs, Grandma's macaroni salad, carrot slaw, Immaculate Baking's biscuits that I topped with scallions and cheese and used in sandwiches with Trader Joe's bacon ends and pieces, and scrambled eggs, and a wicked braciole at an Italian place in Binghamton I now have to get back to in order to blog - but didn't take pictures or write any notes. It was my holiday too, ya know!

So while I don't have a new review to serve up for you this week, I actually have revisted a bunch of previously blogged places lately, and I thought I would give you updates, in case you have some local trips on your docket for June.

During our recent trip to DC, I insisted Melinda visit Founding Farmers with me, so she could sample their epic cocktails. They were still epic, you'll be glad to know, and we ate enough to leave groaning, happy, delighted, satiated, and slightly fatter.

Goat cheese & tomato jam flatbread

It's no secret by now that I'm a fan of Zona and Co. Grille in Binghamton. I've been back many times since first blogging about this newcomer in January, and it has become one of my favorites, especially as Loft at 99 has had some issues recently.

Restaurant Week buffalo burritto
  Big Hungry Jill and I re-hit the sublime Percy Street BBQ in Philly, and experienced a new appetizer that blew us away: pork belly with cured egg yolk and maple syrup on potato bread. We ate outside at night, so this picture is terrible, but that gorgeous, gelled-but-not-cooked yolk is in the top left of the photo.

Appetizer extravaganza at Percy Street
  You know I love Kampai, in Vestal. It was one of the first places I covered on BHS, way before I figured out that trying a little harder on the photogrpahy would be totally worth it (and before th iPhone entered my life!) and it endures as a favorite. Melinda and I were just in last week, for sparkling Zipang sake and a new sushi roll with jalapeno slices on top, plus the black belt roll, an old favorite.

Maki Mono
 My Kitty Hoynes review was fairly recent, but my parents immeditaly wanted to eat there, and who was I to deny them? This time, I tried the dish Guy Fieri highlighted when Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives visited: Irish meatloaf with a ridiculously good cabbage cream sauce. The chef came out to hang with us, and gave us the gossip on Guy, too. 'Course, I'm not telling:)

Irish meatloaf, stuffed with cheddar and white pudding

In sadder news, I was messing around on Urbanspoon the other day, and found out that Taste of Dahntahn, the breakfast place in downtown Pittsburgh we loved in 2011, has closed. RIP, pancrepes.

Do you have any updates on your favorite dining locales, Big Hungries? Post 'em in the comments, or tell me where I just absolutely HAVE to go eat this summer! I'll be in New Hampshire next week for work, eating at two new spots, then Ithaca Restaurant Week after that. Direct me! Direct me! My personality is big; my hunger is bigger!



I’ve been infected. No, not with some kind of horrible illness, the swine flu or lime disease, thank God, but with the same obsession to which Tony Bourdain has dedicated many hours of cable television: pho. This northern Vietnamese rice noodle soup, common as street food in that country, is traditionally made with beef bones, charred ginger and onion, cinnamon, star anise, cardamom, coriander and cumin. You may have read my review last year of the new pho place in Vestal, near Binghamton University, which I liked, but didn’t set my hair on fire or anything.

Well, consider my hair on fire, my skirt flown up, and my mind blown. I have tasted superior pho, and it is available just a short drive from Vestal, on Main St. in Binghamton at Pho 99 Vietnamese Beef Noodle House. I don’t know when this place opened, but I’m glad it did, and I want you to go there and slurp up this soup and then lay gifts at my feet in appreciation. If those gifts could come in the form of Tory Burch flats and sandals, that would be super cool.
Anyhoodle, I’ve been begging Big Hungry Melinda to accompany me to Pho 99 at least since Parade Day, and we finally both found time to do it this past Saturday. Pho 99 isn’t fancy, but it’s not too shabby, either, and as soon as the soup hits your table, you’ll be so focused on that big bowl of something good, you won’t care what’s going on out on the street or at the next table.
First arrived the venerable pho fixings platter, which was much more robust than the one I posted about previously. This assortment of Thai basil, lime, jalapeno (which I’m sure would be Thai chile in more urban areas), and bean sprouts was so pretty, I just had to show you:
About Vestal’s pho, I remember remarking that the broth was weak, and needed all the lime, basil, and sriracha it could get. This broth was glorious. Melinda and I both chose the sliced steak and beef ball pho, which was recommended by our server. The huge, steaming bowls arrived looking like mostly broth and white onion, with a pink ball in the center. It turned out that was the rare steak, sliced very thing, cooking in the hot broth, and covering the clump of thin rice noodles. Once doctored with lime, sriracha, basil, and sprouts, the broth was citrusy, spicy, but also rich, and just slightly fatty. It was salty, complex, just like all my favorite asian flavors. The beef balls are really just meatballs, so don’t be scared. They were finely ground and tightly packed, without a ton of flavor to add, whereas the steak was tender and really yummy. Honestly, it was all just pho-nomenal. In fact, it was so good, I’m not even a little bit ashamed of that pun.
We also ordered some egg rolls from the appetizer list. These were homemade, fresh and initially yummy, but really, really greasy. As in, the grease was actually pooling inside the bottom of each roll, and they were almost inedible by the last few bites. I won’t order them again.

I’m happy that Pho 99 has added to the landscape of Asian food we have here in the Southern Tier – I just wish it was closer to my house! I could slurp a steaming caldron of this witches’ brew at least once a week if this joint were closer. But I’ll have to settle for, maybe, once a month visits? If you’re in the area, wanting to try Vietnamese food, and shy about new things, try this dish. It’s beef noodle soup, nothing more! You can bring in the herbs, citrus, and heat yourself, as little or as much as you choose – so what’s to be scared of?
I also wanted to share with you cool little Asian salad dressing I recently came up with one night when I was wanting to throw together a light, summery slaw. I added it to a rainbow slaw mix from the store that I augmented with scallions, red bell pepper and fresh cilantro. Like to hear it? Here it go:
Sweet Chile Vinaigrette
  • 1 ½ T Thai sweet chile sauce
  • 2 T Rice vinegar
  • 3 T Canola Oil

Mix it up, dump it on, eat it up. Oh, I’m sorry, were you expecting more? Nah, this is all you need! And it’s good! Enjoy! My hunger is big; my personality is bigger!

Pho 99 Vietnamese Beef Noodle House on Urbanspoon


Up Barley Creek with a Paddle

As you know, the fam and I make frequent trips to Staten Island for pageant-related hoopla. One the way back from said hoopla, being creates of habit, we like to stop at The Crossings Outlet Mall in Tannersville, PA. It’s not as big as Waterloo or as luxe as Woodberry Commons, but it has the clutch stores we love: BCBG, J. Crew, Banana Republic, Coach, and Bass (for my Dad). This time, we even spent some quality time in Cole Haan, which means gorgeous shoes, which makes Shelby a happy girl. We hit The Corssings this year on Mother’s Day, which meant I bought Mom’s socks for her in Goldtoe, and lunch once we were sartorially satiated, just down the road at the Barley Creek Brewing Company.

This was our second time dining at Barley Creek, and while it’s not world class dining or the most original brewhouse ever, the food is solid, and the décor is nice. It was a little less clean this time than our last visit, and the wait for food was longer, but it was a holiday, after all. The place is decked out in true Pocono/Adirondack style, with exposed beams and lots of woodwork, and the menu is straight up pub comfort food. Across the parking lot, the “Pint Size Park,” also serves food in an outdoor space where you can play waffle ball, horseshoes, and bocce ball.

Happy Mother’s Day, Sue!

I’ve had the beer cheese soup before and loved it, but this time around, the pot roast burger won me over. I was most fired up about the crispy onion strings on top, but it turns out the mashed potatoes were the star of this show. They weren’t reinventing the wheel or anything, but they were smooth, they tasted of real, Russet potatoes, and they didn’t overpower the rest of the plate. I can’t say the same for the onion poppy-seed bun, which was just too much bread for this dish, a theme repeated on my parents’ plates. I also would have liked the line cook who assembled my plate to take a little more care when selecting the pieces of pot roast to use on my sandwich – they were more than one slice I declined to eat due to fat and gristle. However, the overall flavors was good, and the fried onions were, indeed, yummy, giving a crisp texture juxtaposition to all that lush gravy. Even the sweet potato fries were out of the ordinary good – the steak fry style orange planks were sweet and much crunchier on the outside than you usually get from this menu item.

Mom went for another burger – the bacon blue. This wasn’t the thickest burger, or the juiciest, but Mom appreciated the very flavorful bacon and blue cheese. Again, her Kaiser roll was a little too heavy and threatened to overpower the beef, bacon, and cheese. Cleverly, she removed the top piece of bun, as I had, and merrily treated the burger as a knife-and-fork sandwich.

Joelle ordered mozzarella sticks, and told me they were good with a great deal of enthusiasm, as she shunned the marinara and grabbed for the ketchup. She’s 13, and maybe not the most developed of palates, but I trust her judgment on this most sophisticated of dishes. Out of the mouths of babes, ya know.

Dad had the cheessteak, which I was very relieved they didn’t call a Philly cheesesteak, because you know how that bugs me. He wolfed it down and didn’t offer me a bite. Once the plate was nearly clean, he fessed up that the steak and cheese were delicious, the green bell peppers a wee bit overpowering, and again, the bread ratio totally off. Barley Creek’s cooks know how to coax flavor out of their meats and cheese, but maybe need to rethink their bakery choices.

As stuffed full of carbs as we all were, dessert seemed prudent. After all, it WAS a holiday, and Joelle had just told me the day before than an Oreo she ate was the best cookie she’d ever had (I imagine her mother would differ on this opinion). So yeah, we ordered the oreo stack and four spoons. Here’s what came out:

Oh baby! Again, this was not the most elegant of desserts, but it was rich, it was creamy, and it fortified us with enough sugar to get through the rest of our day. Plus, it provided Joelle with more cookies and cream action than such a tiny thing should probably be able to handle. Delicious!

I didn’t score the Barley Creek Brewery at the time, because while everything they served us was tummy-filling good grub, it wasn’t blowing my mind. I think I’d give it a six in retrospect – solid food and a nice setting, but not much above average. That being said, if you’re shopping in Tannersville, this is better than some of the other choices right near the outlet mall, and I’m betting the pint size park really is fun. So give it a try next time you’re in the Poconos, and let me know what you think! My hunger is big; my personality is bigger!

Barley Creek Brewing Company on Urbanspoon


Dispatch from DC: Alien Cheese Mission

When I told a Washingtonian colleague, M, who is also a diehard foodie, I was going to the District for the weekend with my best friend and her mom, who are decidedly less into things like bone marrow and oxtails than I am, he instantly recommended Central Michel Richard, right on Pennsylvania Avenue. And this, my Hungries, is why we humans were given the gift of relationships – they pay off in food!

But I should back up a minute, because the reason for our girls weekend in DC is so cute: Melinda wanted to treat her Mom, for her birthday, to her dream of seeing the Lincoln Monument. She invited me, I believe, because I know Washington so well and love to travel, and I hope not just because I had a load of Marriott points sitting in my account. While in DC, we saw not only the Lincoln, but also the Jefferson, WWII, Korean War, and signers of the Constitution memorials, the Smithsonian American History Museum with Julia Child’s actual kitchen and pantheon of First Ladies’ inauguration gowns, The Capital Building, Ford’s Theater, and The National Cathedral. As we, literally, are a bunch of girls, we cried at more of these tourist destinations than not. From the weep-worthy quotes engraved everywhere at the stunning, grand WWII Memorial that zeroed in perfectly on the sacrifice our grandfathers made, to the ethereal light streaming through the stained glass artwork at the Cathedral, it was a heady weekend. And yes, Mrs. Kmetz met her man:

But back to the food, y’all! We had an epic, groaning, fantastic lunch at Founding Farmers, but I already told you about that place last summer. Rest assured, it’s still extraordinary, and please PLEASE make a special trip just to sample the marvelous cocktails. But our dinner at Central was equally as good, if not better, and I thought you might like to hear about it.

The most fascinating open kitchen, ever

Central is busy, most likely due to the James Beard Award hanging right near the front door, or maybe because of its plum location, right on Pennsylvania. We were seated in full view of the open kitchen, which Miriam and I enjoyed immensely throughout the evening. The plating dude oversaw every single thing to leave that kitchen, which his giant metal chopsticks – awesome.

Appetizers first, natch! We went for the gougeres- cheese puffs to you and me – plus the bacon and onion tart, and tuna carpaccio. The airy, biscuit-y gougeres were first up, and a nice, friendly beginning to the meal. Tiny and poppable, we liked them, but maaaaybe forgot them quickly when other food came. The bacon and onion tart, which hit a lot of my buzzwords for goodness, was silky and supremely savory, the onions and crème fraiche melted in with the bacon without being too salty. The crust was cracker-thin, and the fresh chives sprinkled on top imparted the perfect, brightening touch. The tuna was mmm, gimme another shovelful good, topped with a surprisingly complex gremolata of garlic, scallion, ginger and chives. Something else in there was crunchy and fabulous – maybe daikon radish? I don’t know, but I would like to eat this for lunch every day. Healthy and yummy.

Oh baby
 Our final appetizer, and the best dish of the night, was the burratta mozzarella with tomato confit. And I am not sure I have the words to tell you about it, which is how the title of this post came about. That cheese was gorgeous! It was buttery, as all good fresh mozz is, but lighter than any I’ve ever tasted, with a gossamer texture that was simply unreal. It was like a dream. The only rational explanation we could come up with for that whipped, lighter-than-creamy mouth-feel was that it was alien-crafted in a space lab. It didn’t need salt, it didn’t need pepper, it just required that you eat every single morsel.

I have to highly recommend the entrée I ordered, which was the braised short ribs, though I also will inform you that by far, the dish we saw coming out of the open kitchen the most was the fried chicken. I was seduced by the carrots and cumin accompanying the ribs, and rightly so. The combination was sinful, rich, and full bodied. The meat was exactly the right texture, tender with a slight chew, not fall-off-the-bone, but no hint of toughness, either. Rather than the typical deep, rich wine sauce short ribs are braised in, the spiced demi glace was a refreshing twist that was also warming, bathing the carrots in a bright, but still earthy stew.

And then dessert came, and the heavens opened up, and tiny little angels started to sing lovely songs about white chocolate and bananas. Or maybe that was a sugar-induced hallucination; I’m not sure. Melinda chose the lemon tart, which was presented topped with demonically awesome white chocolate cups filled with a sugary, whipped confection of unknown origin, plus lip-smakingly tart lemon curd. Under the eggs were more traditional lemon tart ingredients, surrounded by a “nest” of shredded wheat. It was diabolical, debonair, and delicious!

Miriam and I “split” the banana split, fittingly. It was deconstructed on a divided tray, with the bananas smothered in homemade whipped cream, brunoised pineapple and apple, and nuts, and separate, perfect scoops of chocolate ice cream with wonderful, crunchy spinkles, sweet strawberry sorbet bathed in strawberry puree, and rich vanilla ice cream with caramel and almost powered peanuts. I liked this childhood wet dream, but Miriam loved it, and dug in with gusto. I loved watching her enjoyment. Isn’t that why we share meals?

I will add that for all the terrific food, our waiter was a bit of a bore. Miriam nicknamed him Picklepuss, and truth be told, he never actually cracked a smile throughout out meal until Melinda and I were into the three-figure mark in our imbibing. I didn’t get Picklepuss’ actual name, and he certainly didn’t damper our good time, but maybe it would have been an even more enjoyable experience with a fun server.

I definitely recommend Central for your DC getaway, and I give it a 10 on the BHS scale, easily. I also recommend, if you’re there in the warmer months, that you find the paddle boat rentals at the Tidal Basin, and give them a spin. So fun!

“Ah, the good life!”

My hunger is big; my personality is bigger!

Central Michel Richard on Urbanspoon