Bites and Bobs

I don't have a real post for you this week - I ate entirely for pleasure last weekend, and I'm not sad about it! I'm still hearing from some folks with warm feelings about the Sunday column. I miss it, too! But I'm also not minding the break.

I do have a couple of tasty nuggets, though:

A couple of weeks ago, I covered Khan's Kitchen, in Endicott, but already what I feared has come true. He wasn't able to make enough to stay open, and closed up shop this week. I will miss those empanadas.

This is why I'm so passionate about patronizing our local restaurants! People's livelihoods are at stake when we choose a place to grab lunch. Make good choices, kids!

When Kristina, Morgan, and I were in Saratoga Springs earlier in the summer, we brunched at a really cute restaurant a couple of blocks off Broadway called Scallions.

I had the eggs Benedict with bacon and avocado. Have you had cool, creamy avocado with buttery, warm hollandaise? Add in crunchy, salty bacon and you basically have nirvana. I recommend you get your brunchy mitts on this breakfast.

Throw in eggs and a riot of fresh fruit, and that was exactly what a girl needed after an epic night out dancing to the Dixie Chicks.

I also grabbed dinner out with my pal Lindsay in DC back in June, and we hit up Farmers Fishers Bakers in Georgetown. This place is run by the same folks who brought you Founding Farmers, one of my DC faves, but FFB didn't hit quite so high on the scale for me.

That's fried chicken AND mashed potatoes. I love both, in a primal, homespun, nostalgic kind of way. But this plate didn't quite turn my crank. Good thing the company was so good! We even shared dessert:

Beignets with dipping sauces! Again, good, but not great. There's a little bit of inspiration lacking at Farmers Fishers Bakers, for me. The food was kind of heavy and just a little boring. Nothing really stood out as stellar, unlike the amazing cocktails at Founding Farmers, or it's incredible pimento cheese.

Last weekend, I paid my second trip of the summer to Ryan's Lookout, in Henderson Harbor. I got the same dish that's become my favorite, the patriotic pasta. Here's why I love Ryan's, you guys: I had that dish in May and then again in late August, and not only was it delicious, but it tasted exactly the same, despite the fact that I know the restaurant has had some personnel changes in the kitchen between the two visits.

The corkscrew pasta is al dente, the garlic cream sauce is flavorful but light, the shrimp are sweeter than just about anyplace else and perfectly fried in their crispy rice flour coating, and the spinach and basil add earthiness and a floral, herbal note to lift the entire dish. So many restaurants struggle with consistency when their kitchens experience staffing upsets, but that doesn't seem to happen here. That means the management is on point, methinks. Ryan's is closing soon for the season, so if you want to dig into this exemplary dish, get there fast!

I just need you to know about this dish:

It's the queso fundido at Agava Restaurant in Ithaca. It is made with gooey, stringy chihuahua cheese, plus silky, local, sautéed shiitake mushrooms and poblano chiles and truffle oil, which lends the whole delightfully greasy enterprise an ethereal, heady aroma and taste. If you like something a little lighter, go for the chicken taquitos:

The darker sauce on this dish is the restaurant's signature black salsa, which is piquant and flavorful - absolutely perfect opposite creamy guacamole and crunchy fried tortilla shells. 

In short: the food at this eatery near Cornell is just as good as I remember it. I'll be back, and I've been referring other people there like crazy.

I think that's a pretty good round-up of what I've been eating lately. I've got an upcoming trip to Austin, so expect a dispatch from my favorite Mexican food mecca, and we're hitting up a Skaneateles stunner for my birthday, so I have lots of yummy things planned for you. In the meantime, my personality is big; my hunger is bigger!


Honey Throwdown

This is the fourth year the Broome County Legislature asked me to come be a part of its Fresh From the Farm Throwdown, a partnership with Cornell Cooperative Extension to expose young people in the community to locally grown foods and how to prepare them. I serve as a "celebrity" judge (insert cynical laughter here) of the dishes the various youth groups conjure up utilizing an in-season agricultural product each year.

This year, local honey was the ingredient of choice for the Throwdown, and my fellow judges Kristen Cox Roby and Sue Chinyavong were the most fun foodies ever to experience all the wonderful treats the kids cooked up. Kristen writes about food for the Press & Sun Bulletin and Sue runs my new favorite pho and coconut rice hangout, Teasure Ice Cream, in Endwell.

Team 1 was Girl Scount Troop 30245 AKA Francesca, Gianna, Delaney and Sarah. Let me just underscore the extreme Jedi skills of these girls, who experimented with subbing in honey for sugar in a variety of crackers and cookies until they came up with a moist shortbread to serve as the base for their honey fluff fudge s'mores. 

With this delectable s'mores hybrid, we also received a goblet of sweet/tart red zinger iced tea, sweetened with honey from McRey Farm. The kicker to the s'mores was the fluff piled on the fudge-dipped cookie - it was made with honey, and delivered a punch of the syrupy, floral sweetness that plain corn syrup can never equal. It was all presented rather adorably, and that's why this selection won our prize for Best Presentation.

Team 2, the Club Cafe gang from the Boys & Girls Club of Western Broome, actually run a restaurant that's open to the public a few hours a week at the club. Amierah, Luke, Aliviya and Quanez used honey from Berkshire Hills Honeybee Farm for their honey butter delight, smeared on top of corn muffins.

They topped the muffins with a smear of the honey butter and chopped strawberries, and sprinkled the whole shebang with some sea salt to finish. We found the addition of the salt to be so different and kind of nouveau, and awarded them the Most Creative award for their dish.

Sea salt and honey pie, the creation of Team 3, the Fantastic Foodies, is the kind of dessert that is so sweet, your teeth send up signals of protest to your brain immediately as you bite into it. However, your brain's pleasure centers are all lit up already, sending out mental fireworks and moaning noises to your lips, and at that point, your teeth and their dumb cavity concerns barely register. Eve, Kirsten, Kennedy, and Logan? You ladies made us a dessert so complex and ooey-gooey delicious, we didn't care in the slightest that it was a dentist's nightmare.

The juicy, fresh peach frozen yogurt on top added just enough tartness to stand up to the maxed out honey flavor of the pie, but the real genius was the honey mint lemonade, which employed fresh garden mint to stunning effect - a palate cleanser for this multi-dimensional, brilliant dessert. I would definitely pay money for this dish in a restaurant, and I encourage local pastry chefs to reach out to these youngsters for their recipe. Unsurprisingly, it won both Peoples Choice and Best Overall.

Team 4 brought the thunder with a massive tres leches cake in which all the sugar components were made with honey from Earl's Honey. VINES has competed in the Throwdown every year, and you've read here before about how these kids grow all their own food in their urban garden. This year's team, made up of Quitajah, Ariel, Sage, James, Joshua, Jonathan, and Destini, knocked it out of the park with their very sweet, super moist layer cake with honey whipped cream and honey-caramel drizzle. There was no mistaking the rich taste of honey in this confection.

They also made us a tea with mint and honey in it, and again, the mint was a refreshing antidote for the  cloying sweetness prepared for us by the bees and the kids. VINES took home the award for Most Local Products. They even grew the sumac flowers garnishing the cake!

The final group, Team 5, was Citizens U, another returning squad. Nyeatwig, Shazaria, Esther, Kiara, and Emroidery made us a complete tasting plate of inspired honey dishes, including crostini, jalapeño honey butter, fruit, dipping sauce, and honey lemonade. You want to make something awesome with honey? Roast up a jalapeño chile, and dice that into some softened butter with a drizzle of local honey. That stuff is dynamite!

We also loved the crostini, which gave us a salty bite of prosciutto and a licoricey leaf of basil with our honeyed ricotta. Citizen U won our award for Best Taste.

Overall, this group of kids did a remarkable job, through creativity and a lot of hard work, with this year's featured ingredient. I was a little surprised there wasn't a more savory dish in the mix - my favorite use of honey this time of year is equal parts honey and butter glazing slender green beans, seasoned with lots of salt and pepper to keep them from veering too sweet. But, I'll tell you, I came up with that recipe in my mid-20s. At these kids' ages, I too, would probably have chased the sweet preparations with reckless abandon!

We had great food this year (that pie. THAT PIE!), but what I love most about this event is that it forces so many young people into the kitchen to really dissect a locally-grown food and figure out how to cook it. Plus, the kids' pride of their dishes is so evident - they develop the recipes themselves, often through a good bit of trial and error - and to be rewarded for that hard work lays a really wonderful foundation for a lifetime of kitchen experimentation. There are so few opportunities these days for kids to fall in love with cooking, and I'm enthusiastic about supporting any of them that I can.

Oh right, it was also pretty fun to be on an extreme sugar high with these two;) Congratulations to all of this year's Honey Throwdown participants! You are all the bee's knees! My personality is big; my hunger is bigger!


Boca Bistro Will Make Your Mouth Happy

Saratoga Springs isn't a big city, but the restaurant choices can be dizzying. Will you have succulent, satisfyingly crunchy fried chicken at Hattie's? Maybe the freshest artichokes on a simple but devastating pizza at Forno Bistro? Or perhaps a light tuna tartare and a trendy cocktail at Max London's, or even a pungently garlicky falafel pita from a basement cafe on a side street?

If you're cruising Broadway, Saratoga's main drag, Boca Bistro is a welcoming sight, with its yellow metal piggy right outside to greet you. Inside, this Spanish-themed cafe lit with Edison bulbs makes a trendy and tasty place for lunch, though the dinner menu has a seductive array of paellas and tapas I'd like to try on a second visit.

When I read on the menu that Boca's Cuban was made with pork shoulder and serano rather than sliced pork loin and plain old boiled ham, I was sold. A typical Cuban sandwich is out of balance, for me: low on pork flavor and too sour, with the yellow mustard plus the Swiss cheese and commercial dill pickles. This one brought pork fat to the party, along with housemade garlic pickles, a Dijon-flavored mayo, and a very small amount of milder, creamier cheese. It was robust, perfectly salty, with savory, slightly sweet ham, lightly crisp pickles and gooey, melted white cheese. The menu called the bread upon which it was built ciabatta, but it was lighter in texture than any ciabatta I've ever had.

A side of patatas bravas, or fried potatoes, were heavy on the sweet paprika, showered with fresh parsley, and graced with a dollop of light, fluffy garlic aoli. Less oily and dense than store-bought mayonnaise, this condiment was so well suited to the earthy, spiced potatoes, it made me second guess ever having ingested ketchup.

On a house made, house smoked pastrami sandwich, a crunchy slaw and a tighter Spanish cheese (with pull like mozzarella, but more flavorful) accompanied more pickles and tender, juicy, peppery meat. It was really exceptional on griddled bread, with a small dish of spicy aoli served on the side to slather on, if you so chose.

We didn't sample enough of the menu to fully evaluate Boca Bistro, but I did eat enough to to tell you that this is a good spot to stop for sandwiches hovering somewhere above your typical deli selections. Our waiter was flaky, but our cocktails were legit, and we thoroughly enjoyed our lunch there.

Boca Bistro Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

This Thursday, I'm returning to judge the Broome County Legislature's Honey Throwdown. My fellow judges Kristen, Sue, and I will taste dishes made by area youth groups made with local honey and pick our favorites. It's my fourth time judging the Throwdown, which teaches kids about the importance of knowing where their food comes from. So stay tuned for next week's blog post, where I'll share photos and results of the event, plus hopefully a recipe or two. If you follow the Big Hungry Shelby group on Facebook, you can check out the dishes as I see them on Thursday afternoon! My personality is big; my hunger is bigger!


A Ray of Sunshine on Endicott's Washington Ave

Washington Ave., in Endicott, receives a lot of sighs, tongue clicks, and shaken heads. "It's not like it once was," they exclaim.

Ordinarily, I like to take on these dooms dayers, arguing about gentrification and about how one good shop or restaurant can revitalize most neighborhoods. But Washington Ave., seemingly, is a hopeless case. Walking back to our office last year, a colleague and I came face to face with a man who, minutes after we encountered him, stabbed several people on the other side of the street. It is rough here! 

On a street like this, a smiling face can go a long way. So walk on in to Khan's Kitchen, right on the corner of the Ave and North St., for a big, bright smile from the owner and cook. This cafe opened in the early spring, serving up beyond generous portions of mostly Mediterranean and American eats, but really, the menu is remarkably diverse. Looking for a great gyro? Khan's has it, handed over with a wide smile and low price tag. The meat is halal, too.

Oh wait, did you want a non-spicy empanada, stuffed with tandoor-roasted chicken and American cheese in a flaky, buttery pastry? These gorgeous babies are only two bucks a piece:

My favorite dishes are the chicken tikka, which is highly seasoned (but not spicy) tandoor chicken, tender and flavorful, served over absolutely delicious long grain brown rice seasoned with cumin and aromatics like onions and green bell peppers, doused in a mild and supremely savory "hot" sauce and a light, thin tzatziki sauce that has less cucumber and garlic flavor than most - I'm guessing it's just yogurt, olive oil, dill or thyme and maybe a little cumin? I haven't been able to fully diagram every flavor, but it's saucy and provides a cool, lightly creamy balance with a hint of sharpness to the chicken and rice. Diced tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and lettuce doused in more tzatziki provides lightness that I like to sprinkle all over the nearly three-cup serving of chicken and rice.

That entire container of food is $7. And here's what's messed up: I have actually eaten it ALL for lunch, in one sitting, because it's so good, but also because I am a monster who doesn't possess a shred of self-control. Rowr.

My other fave is the lamb rice, which is the same salad, same rice, same sauces, but with a layer of savory, deep and rich lamb gyro meat right in the middle. The lamb is saltier than the chicken, so the feeling of this one is a little heavier. It's delicious, but you'll be thirsty later. Get it anyway. 

Khan's also has burgers, fish and chips, and spring rolls, but I haven't worked through the whole menu yet. I'm kind of stuck on that wonderful chicken tikka. My coworker Carrie and I always feel bad that the owner isn't charging more for his plentiful food! This place has been getting steadily busier each week we visit, as people catch on, and rightly so. The dining room is bare bones, the wall color and sparse decor leftovers from Get Forked, the short-lived sandwich shop that used to haunt this space. But we love it anyway. I give Khan's Kitchen a seven on the big hungry scale, and if you have just $7, you've got lunch and an experience that will redeem your belief in Washington Ave.!

Khan's Kitchen Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Have you joined the Big Hungry Shelby Facebook group yet? Well, why not? I'm serving up extra helping of local and national food news and events over there, so join the feast today! My personality is big; my hunger is bigger!