Category Archives: Commentary

Johnny Prime on German TV

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Some guys contacted me to be their steak expert for a show on German TV with local celebrity chef Dirk Hoffmann. We ended up shooting two episodes: one for burgers, and one for steaks. The first one is the burger episode. Dirk is on a quest to find the best burger in NYC, but I send them to where it all started, Louis’ Lunch. In the second clip, I talk to Dirk about the history of the meat packing biz and we eat some steak at Gallagher’s. Then I send him up to the Bronx to check out the modern iterations of the meat packing and distribution businesses in the area.

Upscale Flavored Steaks

The idea of a marinated steak is nothing new. Throw some soy sauce and garlic in a tupperware container, plop your steak in there, and a few hours later you’ve completely transformed the flavor, texture and character of your beef.

Lots of small, usually budget-friendly, run-of-the-mill restaurants that serve steaks will do this to punch up the quality and flavor of their beef. But a true steakhouse, it is often believed, won’t fuck with a quality cut of steak. Just salt and pepper is all you need.

Yet some of the best places in NYC are offering “flavored” steaks. And you will almost always see something like a coffee rubbed filet on a steakhouse menu from time to time. But let this be your guide to some of the good ones out there.

Probably the most commonly seen flavored steak is the “Cajun” steak. Typically this involves some onion, garlic, black pepper and often times something potent like cumin, paprika or cayenne pepper. These spices, when combined, can really make a steak pop and excite the taste buds.

My favorite Cajun steak is at Greenwich Steakhouse. This one comes with a little pool of oils and spiced sauce on the bottom, which I like to drag my steak though for extra pop. They’ll even throw the flavoring onto other cuts if you’d like, but the rib eyes are marinated in the stuff, so I think they might have a bit more deeply penetrating flavors.

For something less “wet” when served, go to Tuscany Steakhouse. This one is only on their lunch menu, but if you ask nice they might hook it up. Especially if you tell them I sent you. It’s excellent.

Ben & Jack’s Steakhouse also does a really nice job on their Cajun rib eye, which is a happy middle ground between Greenwich and Tuscany in terms of preparation and presentation; a little of the oil on the bottom, but still mostly a dry presentation. The great thing about this one is that the dry-aged flavor still comes though nicely.

Smith & Wollensky is thought to be the originator of the Cajun rib eye up here in NYC. In fact, Chef Victor at Greenwich Steakhouse is the one who developed the recipe at Smith & Wollensky before he struck out on his own (Greenwich Steakhouse). Greenwich is much better, in my opinion, but the two are very similar in overall style.

Harry’s offers a Cajun rib eye too, but it tastes completely different from the others up above, which all tend to have the same flavor profile. Harry’s is more earthy and peppery than the exotic spice flavors on the above cuts. Still great, just entirely different.

Another great flavored steak is the chili-rubbed rib eye. You can occasionally find this at Delmonico’s if they’re doing a tribute menu, but the man they pay homage to is Chef LoMonaco of Porter House Bar & Grill. He became well known for creating this spicy and delicious flavored rib eye.

If you’re like me, when it comes to spice, you prefer something aggressive like chili. But not so harsh that is fucks up your entire palate for the rest of the meal. I happen to love Szechuan peppercorn; that numbing heat with a slight burn. There’s just something about it.

I even tried to make a steak with those flavors a while back. But my attempt paled in comparison to the Szechuan tomahawk rib eye from The Lobster Club. This thing is aggressive, for sure, and richly flavorful. It’s tingly, it’s spicy, and it’s perfectly cooked. And when you go, bring the oily sauce home and fry up some leftover white rice with it, and top it with a fried egg or two. You won’t be disappointed.

There are lots of others out there that I didn’t try yet, like the chili wagyu sirloin at Char House, or the whiskey dry-aged rib eye and lavender-rubbed porterhouse at The Beatrice Inn. I may need to win the lottery first though to afford those. I’ve heard great things, but I think the whiskey steak starts at about $1000. At least it feeds three people.

Chef Chuck Troup

I recently tried a 500-day dry aged steak at Maxwell’s Chophouse.

It turns out that the chef there, Chuck Troup, is experimenting with some really interesting things.

After speaking with him that night, I decided I wanted to do a little feature of him here on the site in the form of a Q&A interview. Read on and enjoy, and I highly recommend Maxwell’s Chophouse.

JP: Tell my readers a little bit about yourself: where you’re from, how long you’ve been in the business, and what got you interested in cooking.

CT: I was born in PA and raised in New Orleans. I have been living this lifestyle going on 31 years now. I don’t think I necessarily chose this lifestyle, it really chose me. Growing up and starting out in the industry I was surrounded by all of the craziness and excitement in a kitchen. I was so engulfed in the way all the cooks would interact with one another and I found that really amazing. It was funny to me and also exciting the way the cooks would all scream and swear at each other all night long, and then be best friends after it was all over. It really was and is organized chaos and I love that.

JP: You seem to know your way around steaks. Would you say this is your specialty, or are there other cuisines that challenge you and inspire you?

CT: I would say I know my way around steak and I do enjoy working in the steak environment, but over the years I have worked in various cuisines. I spent three years in Japan. Working and living in Japan had a great influence on me as a person, and as a chef. Being from the south, I grew up in an environment full of Cajun and Creole food. I always try to incorporate everything I’ve learned over time wherever I go. Even at a Steakhouse such as Maxwell’s, I’ll throw in a Cajun/Creole special, or even a salmon or steak tartare or sushi roll special. All in all I love pretty much every cuisine, there isn’t much I won’t cook or won’t eat!

JP: I like that you are experimenting with various lengths of dry aging. Is there a sweet spot for flavor in your opinion? 30 days? 60 days? 90?

CT: I think that my personal sweet spot for aging is the 160 to 180 day range. To me, that length of dry aging just has the right amount of funk, flavor and taste. Honestly, after eating a dry aged steak, I don’t know if I could ever go back to not eating it this way. With that being said, as a chef it’s important to know what’s too much. I totally understand why some people have different views on aging. Always have to know your guest.

JP: What sorts of other things are you experimenting with?

CT: Lately, I have been experimenting with lamb, duck, bison, elk, veal and I have even done a few pheasants.

JP: Last time I was here you let me try something that was aged for 500 days. How would you describe the flavor on something aged for that long? I took to calling it concentrated beef rocket fuel!

CT: Well for me I would say that piece of New York strip steak had an unseasoned salami texture with a huge musky flavor, but was not near as funky as a 500 day rib eye. Not sure if “funky” is a good word to describe aged meat, but it’s usually a good kind of funk!

JP: Would you ever consider offering a tasting of various ages to a customer? Say 4oz each at 30, 60 and 90 days?

CT: I would love to do a tasting of aged meat! It would be really great to have people that don’t understand the complexities of flavor that come with the dry aging process at different intervals so they can see how that switch flips with age.

JP: Are customers generally aware of what dry aging does, or do you find that you and the staff have to explain the process?

CT: I think that our audience is generally more educated than 10 or 15 years ago, plus there are a decent amount of people that go to a steakhouse for the aged meat. There are times when we will need to explain what the process is and why different cuts have different flavor at the same age. It’s important that all staff (servers, back servers, etc.) are educated on the process so we can confidently explain to our guests.

JP: What’s your favorite item on the menu at Maxwell’s?

CT: My favorite cut on the menu is for sure our rib eye. My favorite thing on the menu would be the Lamb Burger! Of course it depends on what specials we have, so it does change from time to time. Now that I’m thinking about it, I also love our roasted chicken – it’s really hard to choose!

JP: What’s your favorite cut of steak?

CT: Rib eye!

JP: What’s the most difficult steak to cook properly?

CT: The porterhouse is the hardest to cook correctly. I am completely opposed to the technique of cooking it to rare, slicing and then bringing up to temperature. A good grill cook knows that is reheating, and how most steakhouses do the meat this beautiful deserves the respect of proper cooking along with our customers.

DeBragga Meats, Certified Angus Beef and Blackbarn Restaurant

Please enjoy this triple whammy write-up about DeBragga Meats, Certified Angus Beef and Blackbarn Restaurant.

DEBRAGGA MEATS

DeBragga Meats, originally named the Brooklyn Hotel Supply Company, was founded by Joseph DeBragga, Emil Guenther and James Heilman in the early 1920s. In the mid 1930s, the company moved to Washington Street’s “meat packing” district of Manhattan. In 1948, the company was incorporated under its present name, DeBragga & Spitler, by Farmar DeBragga (Joseph’s son) and Paul Spitler.

In 1954, Marc Sarrazin joined the firm. Marc trained as a butcher at his family’s hotel and restaurant in the Charollais region of France, which is known for producing some of that country’s finest beef. The joy that Marc took in his work, selling New York’s top restaurants the finest cuts of meat, was evident in the strong relationships the company developed under his sales leadership.

In 1973, Marc Sarrazin became President of DeBragga, and the company became known as one of the finest meat purveyors in the entire industry, working directly with the best restaurants and hotels throughout the New York metro region and the Caribbean. Marc retired in 1992, and stepped aside to welcome his son, Marc John Sarrazin, as President of DeBragga & Spitler. Marc John’s two sons Eric and Peter represent the third generation of a business that traces its roots back nearly 100 years.

About eight years ago, the Whitney museum purchased DeBragga’s Washington Street lease, and DeBragga moved to a 25,000 square foot facility in Jersey City, which operates six days per week (there are no butchers cutting on Saturdays – only packing and shipping).

Today, DeBragga works with large packers like Nebraska Beef and Greater Omaha. DeBragga are purveyors of boxed beef, not wholesalers. The Certified Angus Beef brand is the entry level quality here. There is no choice quality, and there is no commodity pork or chicken. Half of their supply is hormone and antibiotic free. They sell 120,000 pounds of protein a week, and they have 100,000 pounds (roughly 4200 pieces, or a million dollars worth) of inventory in their three dry aging rooms. Take a look:

DeBragga’s customers are less steakhouse oriented, though they do supply Strip House and Gallagher’s. Their major customers are high end restaurants. Jean George, Tom Colicchio, Daniel Boulud and others use DeBragga for their proteins. Blackbarn (below) gets everything from DeBragga. They even started an e-commerce business to sell and ship directly to people at their homes.

CERTIFIED ANGUS BEEF

DeBragga became one of the first distributors of the Certified Angus Beef brand in the early 1980s, just shortly after the Certified Angus Beef brand began (1978).

In the late 1970s, the ability to get a great steak at home or even at a restaurant was hit or miss. The CAB founders wanted to set a standard for what would be considered a premium beef product. They found the best Angus ranchers and meat scientists to help them, and together they created 10 exacting quality specifications to determine what gets accepted into the program. Marbling, of course, is one of those key specifications. Four decades later, their vision to be the best of the best still remains.

BLACKBARN RESTAURANT

All the beef in this delicious meal was Certified Angus Beef from DeBragga Meats. Chef John Doherty of Blackbarn Restaurant has been using CAB from DeBragga from the start of his career, which goes back to the early 1980’s, when he cooked for President Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and even rock gods Bob Dylan and Paul McCartney.

He cooked up a feast to celebrate CAB’s 40th year, and it was incredible. Here is everything:

Rib Eye Carpaccio with Shaved Foie Gras

Bone Marrow with Manilla Clams

Rib Cap Ravioli with Truffle Cream

Spinach Salad with Beef Bacon

Braised Short Rib Stuffed Rigatoni

Dry Aged Strip Loin Roast with Veggies

Tallow Biscuits with Berries & Cream

BLACKBARN RESTAURANT
19 E 26th St
New York, NY 10010

King Solomon Foods

King Solomon Foods is a family owned wholesale meat operation that’s been in business in Brooklyn since 1938, making them one of the oldest wholesalers to distribute in the city. They serve restaurants, supermarkets, country clubs, delis, you name it… from all over New York City to all the way out in eastern Long Island. Even some of the biggest named steakhouses in the area get beef from King Solomon Foods. These were all going to Peter Luger’s.

Here – take a closer look at some of these beauties:

In addition to Luger’s, they’ve also supplied places like Ben & Jacks, Old Homestead and Primal Cut in Manhattan. Some places even hand pick their meat in the facility.

Last weekend, Grant Siegel, Vice President of Sales, gave me a tour of the King Solomon facility, which is located on the water in Sunset Park, Brooklyn.

Grant represents five generations of the family business. As a former college football athlete from Colgate, his competitive nature is an asset to the company. He’s young, just 23, and he’s aggressively marketing and selling their high quality meats with the goal of making King Solomon a transcendental force in the game.

There’s no quit in him. He’s up at 3:00am every day and working until 9:00pm, and even putting in weekend time, as he was there showing me the facilities on his “day off.”

You probably noticed that massive slab of beef hanging behind us there in that last photo. Here it is all by itself:

Not many purveyors in the city are getting fresh carcasses like this anymore. There are maybe four of them. Most places are bringing in boxed beef and then further portioning that out for their customers.

One very important thing I learned from Grant on this visit was how much of a difference a fresh carcass makes in the final product for consumers. Take a look at this photo:

Both short loins had been aged for eight days at the time. The one on the right was cut by King Somolon’s butchers directly from a fresh carcass, right there on premises. The one on the left is boxed beef. Boxed beef comes off the fabrication floor at slaughterhouses and is then sealed up in bags and sent out to distributors in boxes. Distributors then break the beef down further depending on what their customers want (restaurants, delis, catering halls, etc). The difference in color and fat quality is staggering. The fresh beef will have a much better flavor from the aging process. But I was blown away by how dark and aged it looked after just eight days.

Speaking of dry aging, take a look at this nice room. Lots of good spacing and great air flow. To me, this is a treasure trove, and it’s probably worth about $100,000!

As the business continues to grow, Grant says that they plan to open up a second, much larger dry aging room off the back of the facility. Take a look at some of the beautiful pieces that were aging when I was there:

Grant personally doesn’t like to push the aging past 28 days, but here is a rack of 50-day dry aged ribs:

Almost everything I saw was stamped as Prime, and the smell of these short loins, especially the ones that were cut from fresh carcasses, was amazing.

But short loins and rib racks aren’t all they supply, despite the fact that they’re cutting between 500 and 600 steaks a day. There’s lamb, veal, and tons of other cuts of beef. Watch:

More pics:

There’s a Kosher division, and they even grind their own burgers from trim. There are several different blends that they market. They do dry aged burgers, a “Brooklyn” burger (the official burger of the Verizon Center), a “King Solomon” burger, and a very popular chuck, brisket and short rib blend.

Additionally, a huge part of their business comes from poultry sales. King Solomon Foods moves about 250,000 pounds of chicken a week!

They are a direct receiver of chicken, so as a wholesaler that means their prices are extremely competitive. Bell & Evans, Purdue, Allen, you name it.

The business is already highly diversified. But Grant is looking to make this place a one stop shop, as they’re even supplying things like cheese, produce, turkey, seafood and sausage. For Grant, meat is a passion. It’s in his blood, and running this business was his dream. He’s always looking to take advantage of new technologies, study what’s available, and assess new business opportunities. He has the keys to the castle, so to speak. With youth and hustle on his side, he’s integrating a new mindset into an old school industry.

And he isn’t the only young blood in the family running things. His cousin, Zack Solomon, is the Executive Vice President of the company. He’s 29, and handles the day to day logistics and operations. Together, they represent the future of a business that runs five generations deep. That’s pretty exciting.

What’s even more exciting is that they sent me home with some really high-marbled, 28-day dry-aged strip steaks to try. Keep an eye out for some cooking videos and photos of these babies.

 

NYC’s Top 5 Places for Prime Rib

I’m still making my rounds in the NYC prime rib scene, but I’ve sunk my teeth into some of the best there is. This list represents the best I’ve had so far:

1) The Grill

Easily the best expression of the dish that I’ve ever had. Somehow the flavor from the crust penetrates all the way into the center of the meat. Sauces aren’t needed, despite there being a little bit of jus on the plate already, but it comes with shaved horseradish on top (if you so desire), and a duo of horseradish cream sauce and dijon mustard on the side. All served table side from a fancy rolling cart with hinged cloche.

2) 4 Charles Prime Rib

If you can manage to get a table here, you must order the prime rib. It is their sole purpose for existence. The real dilemma comes in the form of which version to order: King Cut (bone-in, pictured above), Queen Cut (boneless, and a little smaller), or English Cut (thinly sliced). Gendered royalty and our European cousins aside, you won’t be disappointed with whatever cut you choose.

3) Keens

An absolute classic. It’s big, it’s beautiful, and it’s delicious. This and the mutton chop are the two items that put Keens on the map and set their place in stone among the best steakhouses in the world. If you haven’t been here yet, you’re missing out. Plus I love that they use beef from Strassburger Steaks. Good people and fine quality products.

4) Gallagher’s Steakhouse

This baby is near perfect and really only suffers from a slight lack of crust on the exterior. I really loved it, and you can smell that potent dry-aged flavor as soon as the steak comes out into the dining room.

5) Maxwell’s Chophouse

Last but certainly not least, Maxwell’s is my wild card choice. They’re new on the scene, but they’re coming out swinging! Their prime rib is available on the regular menu, but my friends and I called ahead to reserve a rack for six. This was downright barbaric! Watch:

Some honorable mentions here would be Porter House and Ben & Jack’s Steakhouse.

That should do it. I’ll update this as I try more places, so keep an eye out. And as always, I am open to recommendations in the comments below.

Beefsteak at RiverPark

In case you are unaware, a “beefsteak” is an old timey party that involves people who dress in fancy get-ups and eat copious amounts of beef, typically without utensils and with their hands. They date back to NYC in the mid 1800s, pretty much the time period in which I should have existed. Essentially, this is Tux-Con + Carcass Club. I’m all about it.

I was invited to attend and help promote for the most recent beefsteak event at Riverpark, where there have been three such meals to date at the famed Tom Colicchio’s behest. He is credited for reviving the banquet, and I love him for it.

Anyway, my role consisted of taking photos of some dishes and posting them ahead of the big night. Then I was allowed to attend for free with a guest. Here are some of the photos I snapped:

There was even King Cake, leg of lamb, some marrow toast and potatoes au gratin. The food was pretty much the same on the night-of, with the exception of the steak being a proper rib rack roast (I was very happy about that).

And we dressed the part to a T. Check out me and my buddy all topped up.

All of this to say that point of my post is really just to share the above photos and tell you that the chef at Riverpark is excellent, so it is worth going in to eat from the regular menu.

RIVERPARK
450 E 29th St
New York, NY 10016

Japanese Beef Scoring

After having a discussion with some food pals about beef marbling scores for Japanese beef, I realized that there’s a lot of confusion surrounding the subject. As such, I figured it was time for a more detailed article about this shit. Here goes…

There are three things to understand when it comes to marbling scores:

(1) Yield Rating
(2) Quality Rating
(3) Beef Marbling Standard (BMS)

In many ways quality and marbling overlap each other, since it usually follows that highly marbled beef is also high quality beef. But lets break it down here one at a time.

(1) The A-B-C’s of Yield

I like to think of this as the quantity component, as opposed to quality. A yield rating is a percentage figure that objectively describes the cutability of an animal, or the amount of the animal that can be harvested from a particular area of the carcass.

In particular, this score is determined by carefully measuring shit once a cut is made between the 6th and 7th rib, on the rib eye. The score is assigned after plugging four measurements taken at that cut into a “multiple regression equation.”

The four measurements are: rib eye area; rib thickness; cold left side weight; and subcutaneous fat thickness.

Raters score wagyu as either A, B or C in Japan. A has the highest yield, at 72% or more. B is 69-71%, and this is the most common yield. C is under 69%.

From a business and sales standpoint, it’s better to have higher yields on your animal. So A is better than C in many ways on that angle. For example, a carcass can get knocked down from A to B if the band of outer fat (not the marbling) is too thick, because it lowers the cutability yield (makes the actual rib eye meat smaller). Farmers and ranchers who raise the animals will want to select and breed for good yield traits.

From a consumer’s or diner’s standpoint, however, the yield isn’t, or shouldn’t really be, much of a concern. While a rating of A, B or C makes us instinctively think A is better than C, that would kinda be wrong in this case.

The C grade really just means that, before the meat got to our plate, more of the extrenal fat had to be trimmed away, the rib eye was small, or there was less of that particular cut of meat to harvest from the animal. Or something like that…

Wagyu.org

(2) Quality

Quality grades describe the meat’s marbling, color, brightness, firmness and texture. It also describes fat quality, color and luster. This score is assigned as a value of 1 to 5, with 1 being the lowest quality and 5 being the highest. A lot of detailed analysis goes into this score.

Wagyu.org
Wagyu.org

As you can see, marbling, meat color and brightness, meat firmness and texture, and fat quality, color and luster are all evaluated on separate scales before being plugged into the overall quality score of 1-5. Pretty intense.

Some of the measurements are now starting to be done with cameras and digital image analysis software (like in the US), to more objectively determine the quality scores.

(3) Beef Marbling Standard (BMS)

The beef marbling stardard assigns a score to the meat based on how much intramuscular fat (IMF, or marbling) it has. It is scored from 1-12, with 1 being the least marbling and 12 being the most. Here is what that looks like:

Wagyu.org
Wagyu.org

There is definitely some interplay and overlap here with the quality score, as marbling is a factor one must consider when assigning a quality score of 1-5 up above. But the BMS score is much a more specific look at the intramuscular fat. Here is the relationship between quality and BMS:

Quality 1 = BMS 1 (poor)
Quality 2 = BMS 2 (below avg)
Quality 3 = BMS 3-4 (avg)
Quality 4 = BMS 5-7 (good)
Quality 5 = BMS 8-12 (excellent)

As you can see, a score of 5 covers a wide range when it comes to the BMS scale. BMS 8 is very different from BMS 12, yet they are both a 5 for quality.

You may be thinking, why the redundancy? Well, as I mentioned in the previous section, the quality also takes meat color, fat color, texture and other variables into account. BMS, again, is purely about the marbling.

But when I see “A5” on a menu, I want to know the BMS as well. I sell BMS 9 domestic wagyu strip for $75 a pound, whereas I sell BMS 12 Kobe for $200 a pound. Both would be considered a quality of 5. See how the BMS score just within the quality rating of 5 can drastically alter the price? Crazy.

Putting It All Together

Basically the best quality available is A5 BMS 12. The A means that there was very little junk on the animal, and it had a good-sized rib eye. The 5 means it’s the best when assessing all the variables relevant to quality, like color, texture and fat. And the 12 means that it has the most marbling.

But I wouldn’t shy away from B5 or C5 BMS 12 either. Remember the letter grade is more about quantity, at least it seems so to me, anyway. Actually, my sweet spot seems to be around BMS 8 or 9. Anything more than that is like foie gras. It tastes like a completely different protein.

Top 5 NYC Steakhouse Table Breads

If you’re like me, bread is something you love to eat, but you try your hardest to ignore at restaurants. You don’t want to “fill up on bread” when you’re about to sink your teeth into a massive hunk of delicious beef.

But sometimes the restaurant gets you. The bread is so good that you just can’t fucking resist. I always like to mention the bread in all of my steakhouse reviews, just out of habit. As a result, over time I’ve come to really respect the effort that gets put into this unassuming meal opener. Who does it the best? See below.

1) BLT Prime

Hands down the best, because it’s a double whammy. Not only do they give you a few slices of country style bread with a jar of velvety chicken liver pate, but they also bring out hot, fresh-made cheese popovers with a recipe card for how to make them at home. That’s pretty incredible. I mean, honestly, if you eat all of that, you and your date can go light on the rest of the meal. But why would you? Everything else they serve is fucking great!

2) American Cut

Iron Chef Marc Forgione has created one of the greatest biscuits known to man: the everything biscuit. That’s everything seasoning, as in “everything bagel.” This biscuit has gotten such praise that he even used it as a vehicle for a delicious fried chicken sandwich.

3) Peter Luger

The simplicity of their onion rolls is mind blowing. They’re warm, soft, incredibly aromatic and tasty as all fuck. Go for lunch. Eat the bread basket and dip the rolls into their steak sauce while you wait for one of their incredible burgers to come out. Then wash it all down with some schlag.

4) Quality Italian

There are a lot of great versions of these fresh-made dinner rolls (aka Parker rolls or “pan bread”) floating around in the steakhouse sphere, but no one quite nails it the way Quality Italian does. Similar to monkey bread or pull bread, these babies are perfectly sized bites of buttery, warm, herby, garlicky, soul-fulfilling carbs that will have you craving more and more.

5) K*Rico

I always have to do something wacky when I make these lists, so I’m including K*Rico’s fried pasta snacks here. They’re spicy and perfectly crisp. Really unique. I’ve never seen this at a steakhouse before, let alone anywhere else for that matter.

NON-BREAD HONORABLE MENTIONS

When you want to say FUCK YOU to bread, check out Keens’ crudite with pickles, Bob’s Steakhouse’s jar of half-sour pickles and red peppers, or Arthur’s Tavern’s tray of pickles and cherry peppers.

Another alternative is Gallagher’s Steakhouse’s homemade potato chips at the bar. They serve bread at the table, so if you want the chips – which are fucking incredible – you have to ask the waiter and be extra nice to get them. Otherwise just be a man and sit at the bar for a bit before you dine. Have a fucking drink.

Food of the Azores

The Azores are quickly rising in the ranks as a vacation destination for Europeans and Americans. While it is no secret that Portuguese and many Europeans have been visiting for quite some time, the Azores are a relatively recent “discovery” for many Americans.

The Azores are a volcanic archipelago of Portuguese-owned islands in the northern Atlantic, well off the western coasts of Europe and northern Africa. As volcanic islands, they’re very similar to Hawaii in topography and geology, only more temperate and with seasonal changes. There are elevated volcanic crater lakes, hot springs, sequoia forest hikes, waterfalls, gorgeous black sand beaches and incredible mountain and cliff views all over the place.

It’s a short flight to the Azores from Boston (4hrs). My wife and I became obsessed with the idea of going when we saw an episode of one of Bourdain’s shows set on the islands, so over the Summer we took a trip to the Azores (Sao Miguel) with my sister, my brother in law and their kids. Let me give you a run-down of the trip, focusing chiefly, of course, on the food.

DAY 1

Our first stop was in a little coffee shop for some caffeine fuel. Coffee is a big part of the culture here, and lots of people hang out in these little shops for pastries and espresso before work or heading out for the day.

We did some hiking up near a volcanic crater lake.

Yes, these are Giant Sequoias.

After working up a good appetite we ate at Tony’s Restaurant in Furnas, a place that’s known for serving a traditional Azorean meat stew called cozido.

The story is that this stew of meats is cooked in a cauldron that’s heated by lava rocks and/or the source of all the volcanic hot springs in the area. Here’s what the plate looked like:

Like many traditional stews, it contains a variety of meats. This featured a mix of pork belly, sausage, blood sausage, and lean meat. We pretty much ignored the cabbage and potatoes.

We also tried another Azores specialty, limpets.

Limpets are shellfish. They’re often served cooked, and taste like a cross between a mussel, a scallop and a clam, only a little tougher. A mossy vegetation beard grows on their outer shells like mussels, so unless they are scrubbed clean before cooking, they can have a very briny and “right from the sea” flavor (but not in a good way – more like in a stagnant water kind of way). I think I would have liked these better if they had been thoroughly scrubbed and then cooked in butter, garlic and wine, like I do with Little Neck clams, JUST until they pop open so as not to overcook.

Another item that’s popular in the Azores is blood sausage. You saw some up in the cozido, but those were stewed. These were grilled to a delicious crisp and served with grilled pineapple. Absolutely delicious, and who would have guessed those two were such a nice pairing? The sausage was smooth in texture, not grainy, iron-flavored or filled with rubbery chunks of shit meat.

Tony’s also had a great selection of local cheeses. The cheese industry is huge in the Azores. In the countryside you will see tons of cow pastures and dairy operations.

I was really excited to try these, and they were all awesome, especially that farmer’s cheese on the right, which is typically served with a spicy pimento pepper sauce (peri peri).

Oh yeah – we also tried a bunch of Azorean and Portuguese wines. The Azores is known for its “Green Wines.” They’re not a different colored grape in any way. They’re just sourced from a particular area, geographically. The one we tried tasted like young white wine.

Since I generally like reds, I wasn’t a huge fan. I was, however, a big fan of the reds we came across here in the Azores – especially the price point. More on that in a bit…

After dinner we hunted some rainbows that were forming when the sun poked through he rain clouds (up in the mountains there is generally a more overcast and temperate atmosphere, hence the wildly different foliage and vegetation).

DAY 2

We started again at a small coffee shop, this one called Senhora do Pao (a little more common as a chain).

This time we consumed a variety of pastries along with our coffee. This one here, pastel de nata, is an egg custard in a crusty, flaky baked crust.

A croissant style doughnut with chocolate icing and sugar cream filling.

And this was like a chocolate and phyllo sandwich.

This was a beach day though, so we soaked up some rays and drank some refreshing Sagres beers on the shore at Bar Praia de Agua de Alto. Sagres tasted like a Corona or a Bud Light. The Radler is lemon flavored.

We even tried some local gin. Very nice.

On our way home from the beach we stumbled upon a festival going on in one of the hilltop towns called Agua de Pau.

Those were strawberry and pineapple swirls of syrup on the soft serve vanilla. Awesome. But what really got my attention was this:

A vendor selling lupini beans.

What’s so great about a bucket of beans, you ask?

When my siblings and I were kids, our parents used to give us these to snack on. I always thought it was an Italian thing, but when we were in Italy I don’t recall seeing them anywhere (though we didn’t go any further south than Rome). For $0.60 we got the equivalent of what costs about $5 in the US.

They’re disc-shaped and enclosed in a soft shell. You squeeze them to get them out. Then you munch away. They’re soft but with a slight crunchy snap. Usually stored in a brine water, they’re a little salty.

I was so psyched about that.

DAY 3

On this day we went up to a beautiful old volcanic crater that became a lake called Lagoa do Fogo.

So fucking beautiful.

We hiked for a bit in the mountains too, to another hidden lake.

We also visited a tea plantation called Cha Gorreana.

We tried some tea, of course, some more pastries, and the Portuguese equivalent of empanadas. Everything was delicious.

After more driving and sight seeing, we ate at a restaurant near our apartment called Paladares da Quinta.

This was an assorted sausage platter – again featuring blood sausage and pineapple. These were superior to the other ones. So crispy on the outside and tender on the inside. Awesome.

We also did some cheeses.

As you can see, the farmers cheese was again served with that pimento sauce.

Garlic bread with herbs.

Octopus stew. We learned pretty quickly that stews are a big part of Azores cuisine.

Pork belly and clam stew. Also delicious.

This was a steak covered with melted cheese and topped with ham, served with fried eggs and French fries. This was similar to “Loco Moco” in Hawaii (which is curious, since Sao Miguel was very similar to Maui in many ways, physically and geologically).

Chocolate cake.

Crepe wrap with ice cream inside.

Very affordable for all that we ordered.

DAY 4

We spent our fourth day taking in the sites on the eastern and northern sides of the island, landing at a beach called Praia dos Moinhos.

I really liked this beach, mainly because there was a kickass beach restaurant called O Moinho Terrace Cafe that served up some decent burgers and boozy slushee drinks.

The burger won some local awards.

Here’s the view from the restaurant:

The burger needed some work to hang with the big guns of NYC, but overall I was happy with it. The atmosphere sells it too.

That night we ate in Ponta Delgada, at a restaurant called Rotas do Vinho. Melon and prosciutto:

Potato chips for the kids:

Wine for the grown ups:

Cod:

And then some ice cream at a place called Abracadabra.

Day 5

On this day, we hit the northwest side of the island, and went up to Sete Cidades, another crater lake area. We had crazy overcast and rain, however, so we didn’t get any gorgeous vista photos. Instead, we explored an abandoned 1980’s hotel called Monte Palace. I would wager that these photos are more interesting anyway:

We ate at a restaurant called Brisa do Mar in Mosteiros. My wife had the winning dish; a plate of grilled sardines.

I went with something more basic – chicken and sausage with fries.

We checked out the beach there too, which was really view-worthy. There were surfers and boogie boarders all over.

There was a stray dog:

We hit the beach for one last hoorah before the sun set on our final full day in paradise:

On two of the nights here (night five being one of them) we ate dinner at home in the apartment. We hit the grocery store and recreated some of our favorite dishes to snack on.

Great local brewery – there were five or six varieties:

Our favorite wine, $3 and amazingly smooth:

Spicy lupini beans:

Sauce of the Gods:

We also crushed some welcome pastries and booze that the apartment owners left for us. Very nice gesture, and we were able to eat whatever we wanted from their garden out back.

The next morning before heading to the airport, we had one last coffee in Ponta Delgada and tried some panini ham and cheese type specialties at a place called Azores Forever.

That about does it. The Azores really excels in cheeses, pastries and breads, stews, seafood and, of course, lupini beans! I really would love to go back. It’s just a four hour flight from Boston.