Tag Archives: cny food

Laci’s Lunchbox, Syracuse, N.Y.

2014-11-06 at 12-18-22NOTE: I visited Laci’s Lunchbox and wrote this piece before going to Laci’s Tapas Bar and writing my piece on Nov. 9.

Is it lunch box or lunchbox? I tend to go with the singular word, as if the box’s sole purpose was to carry lunch. But, I think most people would go with two words, as in a box that happens to have lunch inside of it.

The lunchbox in question during Thursday’s midday forage for sustenance was one that belongs to Laci, or Laura and Cindy, the duo behind the raucously popular Laci’s Tapas Bar on Hawley Avenue. These ladies have earned a reputation as more than mere entrepreneurs and businesswomen, but as community leaders. Laci’s Lunchbox, their newest endeavor, is located near the Tapas Bar where Hawley Avenue and Green Street meet. Continue reading Laci’s Lunchbox, Syracuse, N.Y.

Advertisements

CNY Food: The Winter Farmer’s Market at Baltimore Woods

2014-11-08 at 10-29-45The Central New York Regional Market is the focal point of area agriculture, but it’s not the only farmer’s market in Syracuse. During the summer, you cannot swing a cat without hitting a market. Downtown Syracuse, Baldwinsville, Skaneateles, Fayetteville, and Cazenovia all host them (among others) during the warm-weather months.

Once the leaves fall off the trees, so do the choices. Cazenovia moves indoors and becomes a monthly operation. The CNY Regional Market moves to an indoor operation spread out over a few buildings. But, that’s about it until May.

Well, it was until this past weekend.

Continue reading CNY Food: The Winter Farmer’s Market at Baltimore Woods

Grocery List: November 9, 2014

glist110914

Whether or not I write a full-on review of last night’s dinner at Laci’s Tapas Bar (I’ve written about it in the past), it’s worth noting that restaurant’s importance within the dining fabric of Syracuse.

The vast majority of restaurants fail, regardless of how good the food is. A restaurant built into a Victorian home in a gentrifying city neighborhood seems like a dicey venture. Yet, there is Laci’s, packed to the gills on a Saturday night in November.

The phrase “labor of love” seems trite, but I’m not sure what else one would use to describe Laci’s. We went with some friends that had never been before, and found ourselves discussing the importance of a restaurant like Laci’s while waiting for dessert. Each serving hits its mark, but is distinctly different from the other delivery to the table. Very little of the flavors are repeated from dish to dish. Things you wouldn’t expect to like envelope you when you try them. You push yourself to try them, and then find yourself wanting another order. For instance, The Wife ate bacon-wrapped jalepeños last night. Jalepeños. Most days, I can’t get her to eat anything hotter than cayenne pepper, but there she was chowing down. The kitchen is first-rate and that should be noted.

But, it’s not just the back of house that carries a restaurant. Everyone there has a personality. Jordan, our waiter, spent the evening joking with us, and periodically one of the owners (Laura, the La of Laci’s) stopped by to give us a hard time. And, as is so difficult to find in restaurants, there is a very apparent symbiosis between the front and back of house.

As we drove away, The Wife said to me, “We spent $100 on dinner tonight, but I don’t mind that. I feel like I got something for my money. We can’t do that all of the time, but I felt okay signing the slip because, I don’t care if I spent $20 or $60 or $100, I want to feel like I got what I paid for.”

It has me thinking about what is important in our communities as far as food goes. I think the local food thinkers and writers (myself included) talk about about the importance of using local ingredients and supporting local agriculture, but maybe we need to look at things from a more macro level. What is important to Syracuse and Central New York’s food palate? Who are the people shaping that palate? Why is what they are doing important? I would argue that Laura Serway and Cindy Seymour have done more in these areas since Laci’s opened its doors — as entrepreneurs, restaurateurs and community leaders — than some have in their lifetime.

I think it goes beyond a list of what foods or places make Syracuse a good food town, and making people feel good about living and eating here. It’s about the Syracuse’s food legacy and future, and those that hold the key to what’s next.

That is the discussion that we should focus on in this community. People, not actions, dictate the future of any subject or area. Let’s draw the spotlights their way so we can better understand our community, its needs and those that are fulfilling them.

The CNY Food Box

2014-10-30 at 07-24-21

Some months ago I asked you, dear reader, to help me create a Syracuse centric food box that I could send to my friend Allison in Arkansas.

Time passed, Allison went through a job change, summer became fall and at some point, my brain fell out of my head. I totally forgot about this until one day and envelope with Cavender’s Greek Seasoning and a bag of fish fry coating, suitable for shrimp, catfish, Jacques Cousteau and other ocean creatures, arrived in the mail. I’ve documented the Cavender’s. I’m going to use the fish fry at some point when I set up a better deep-fry situation outside. I’m not allowed to deep fry things inside of the house and I’m actually okay with that fact.

So, in return I finally got off my butt and assembled my return offering. The Upstate New York box, I decided, left things too wide open. No, it needed to reflect Syracuse. After all, Upstate can mean at least three different types of hot dogs (Hoffmans, Zweigel’s, Sahlen’s for starters) Croghan Bologna, Buffalo Wings and Rochester Inferiority (or whatever they are noted for). Central New York can involve Utica greens, speedies and Grandma Brown’s baked beans. It needed to be narrowed to the four walls of the space I know best.

We’ve covered why Syracuse is a great food town in the past and I appreciate everyone’s suggestions. So, here’s what I finally settled on:

****

Allison:

This is the best of Syracuse that did not require overnight shipping, a ton of packing material or dry ice, and would not tip off drug-sniffing dogs. That meant that Hoffman’s hot dogs, Stewart’s Ice Cream, and Cafe Kubal coffees are off the table. It’s also illegal to ship beer to your state (imagine that…damn Baptists), so no luck there. Given my luck with shipping glass lately, Salamida’s State Fair Barbecue sauce was also off the table. So, what do we have:

Buckwheat honey: Buckwheat flowers grow at higher elevations in New York and the honey generated from their pollination is pretty tasty. It has a flavor and consistency closer to molasses. It also has antioxidant and antiinflammatory properties, so if one of the boys is a pain in the ass, you can squeeze some on them and it should take care of things. I got this from a local Mennonite farmer at the Central New York Regional Market who grows tomatoes the size of my daughter’s head.

Flour City Pasta: I lied. This isn’t Syracuse-centric. I make my own rules. Anyhow, it’s made in Rochester but the owner is in Syracuse every Saturday selling pasta. It’s all natural artisan pasta. This is their Rasta Pasta blend. The pasta is made with semolina flour and sweet potatoes, carrots, thyme, limes and cayenne pepper. Grilled chicken over this with some garlic butter, or shrimp and a lime-cilantro cream sauce might be good here.

Pasta’s Hot Tomato Oil: This is a Syracuse institution. They just began bottling this within the past few years. Prior to that, you bought it at the restaurant or bakery in to-go containers. Anyhow, a little goes a long way here because there is a spice here. Serve it straight over pasta, mix it with a good refrigerated marinara or alfredo, or just dunk a baguette into it. Mike might even like a shot in his coffee in the morning. It’s shelf stable so it should keep for a while.

Dinosaur Bar-b-que Cajun Foreplay: If you ever visited Syracuse, I would take you here. It’s the landmark Syracuse restaurant: barbecue stand run by biker turned to-go counter turned biker bar turned full-service restaurant turned national chain. They have two in NYC, one is going to open in Chicago, but why bother. The original is the original. Anyhow, it’s a Memphis-style BBQ joint and this is their dry rub. I throw it on just about everything — meat, eggs, small children.

If I was better at packing boxes or had the extra scratch to throw around, you might have received some barbecue sauce or a Syracuse Crate.

Enjoy it. I’ve never mailed anything, knowingly, to Arkansas.

JP

Texas de Brazil, Syracuse, N.Y.

2014-09-12 at 18-11-57

On his 2008 album Chewed Up, all-world comedian Louis C.K. discussed his eating habits, leading to an oft-quouted line: “I don’t stop eating when I’m full. The meal isn’t over when I’m full. It’s over when I hate myself.”

I’m not sure that there is a better characterization of our Friday evening visit to Texas de Brazil at DestinyUSA. I’m certain that one could go to this all-you-can-eat steakhouse, show some restraint, and experience it in a manner that doesn’t result in paralysis and food coma. It would require willpower and knowing your limits, two things that I do not possess.

2014-09-12 at 18-07-43

Texas de Brazil sits at the back of the Canyon entrance to DestinyUSA, in a court of other higher-end chain restaurants like Cantina Laredo, P.F. Chang’s, The Melting Pot and Gordon Biersch. The concept is Brazilian churrascaria, where passadores, or servers, come to your table with swords of meat, called rodizios. Typically, one flips a painted rock to indicate whether they would like more food or to signal that they need some time to eat. At Texas de Brazil, one receives a laminated card that is typically ignored by the sword-bearing staff. The Turning Stone Resort had a Brazilian steakhouse that The Wife and I had been to prior to its closing. Continue reading Texas de Brazil, Syracuse, N.Y.

Top 10 CNY Restaurants (2014 Edition)

Photo May 02, 6 22 55 PMAbout 18 months ago, I wrote a list of my top 10 CNY restaurants. These were not necessarily the restaurants that I thought were the best, but the one’s that I would go to if I had to build a permanent rotation of places to dine.

Since I posted that list, much has changed in the CNY food scene. One of the restaurants, Circa, has closed. Last week Gentile’s, loved my many in this area, shut its doors. A new version of The Krebs is open in Skaneateles at the end of August.

As we approach fall and begin our CNY hibernation (coming out only for food and SU basketball), I thought I would update the list. These are not necessarily the best restaurants in town or really even my 10 favorites. This list represents the permanent rotation of the area’s 10 best restaurants that I would go to exclusively (in no particular order):

  • Moro’s Table, Auburn [website]. The alpha and the omega. If money were no object…
  • Asti Caffe, Syracuse [website]. The best red sauce restaurant* in Syracuse.
  • Pastabilities, Syracuse [website]. Great for lunch. Good for dinner. The second best red sauce in town*.
  • Dinosaur Barbque, Syracuse [website]. Their bad days are a lot better than my good days. Remember, it’s not the 10 best, but the 10 that I would go to exclusively if forced to pick.
  • The Mission, Syracuse [website]
  • Otro Cinco, Syracuse [website]
  • Zabroso, Oneida [website]. The past three restaurants are distinctly different takes on Latin-American/Spanish food. The Mission is Mexican/Pan-American; Otro is a Spanish/Mexican hybrid; and Zabroso is Spanish. All three are wonderful.
  • Laci’s Tapas Bar, Syracuse [website]. Eclectic and fun. One of the area’s best dining experiences.
  • Ironwood, Manlius [website]. Good pizza. Good beer. Really, I’m easy to please.
  • The Restaurant at Elderberry Pond, Auburn [website]. An impossible car ride to get there, but farm-to-table begins and ends there.

*Angotti’s is not the best restaurant in town, nor is it the best red sauce restaurant in Syracuse. But it has long been a gathering spot for my family. It’s like my kitchen away from home. It doesn’t make this list because it transcends this list. And because I can almost always get a table.

Off-Topic: Coffee at the Airport ** UPDATED (3/26)**

UPDATES AT THE END

My coffee preferences, in no particular order:

  • Iced coffee from Blue Bottle Coffee in San Francisco: It’s perfect
  • Homemade cold brew: It’s like an acid-free coffee concentrate
  • Starbucks iced coffee: It’s reliable and the same all over the country
  • Cafe Kubal‘s iced pour-over

I would drink Kubal exclusively if it were closer to my office or if the Downtown location were a  little easier to get to. Admittedly, I’m late to Cafe Kubal. Others had sung its praises for years before I had my first pour-over and experienced mana over ice. But this isn’t necessarily about coffee. It’s about the Syracuse Hancock International Airport.

Syracuse’s sad little airport.

Now, don’t get me wrong. It’s wrong to think we should have some Eero Saarinen-designed masterpiece in Syracuse, but as the brilliant Patrick Smith writes at AskThePilot.com, American airports are terrible. Air travel, an American industry if there ever was one, has been mangled by its own greed. The explosion of airports in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s has led to outdated buildings that no one in 2000, 2010 or 2014 wants to spend money in renovating (not unlike the rest of our infrastructure). Syracuse’s current airport renovation has been LONG overdue.

In February, while headed to New Orleans, I got my first glimpse of the new security area. Bright and wide open, it looked like the security area in a larger city’s airport. And beyond the security gate was the best thing a traveler could find at 4 a.m.: an open and operational Cafe Kubal kiosk. Not only could I get a well-deserved iced red eye, I was certain that it would be good. It wasn’t. It was better than good. It tasted like the coffee beans had been roasted sometime that century; like the coffee had been brewed at some point that week; and it was presented by a person that did not need the instructions for constructing a “red eye” recited to them. To me, this was a first step in making Syracuse’s airport something more than a sterilized necessity for travel. It said — brighter than the big neon sign on the outside of the terminal — Syracuse.

And then I read this on Twitter last night:

It turns out that the airport, which is operated by the Syracuse Regional Airport Authority — a group of government and business leaders appointed by the Mayor of Syracuse and Onondaga County’s County Executive — recently selected a concessionaire for the airport that is not interested in keeping Cafe Kubal around. There were “discussions” of a “potential” landing spot for Kubal in one of the terminals, but that apparently will not happen. Creative Food Group, the hospitality company now running the food and beverage show at the airport, has opted for America’s largest purveyor of stale donuts and coffee strained through a sweaty sports bra. Yep, you guessed it:

Dunkin Effin Donuts.

So, let’s reset here: Local airport managed by local businessleaders that often complain about a stagnant local economy and a crumbling local tax base allow a New York City-based company to remove a local business from the local airport in lieu of a franchise that serves bitter coffee and second-rate baked goods.

Yeah, that sounds right.

Oh, but there will be a Middle Ages Brewing Company, you say. Correct, thus far Creative hasn’t abandoned this concept, however I would like to point out one thing. Ever notice when the vast majority of flights depart Syracuse? If you said before 9 a.m., you would be correct. Syracuse is not a hub like Charlotte where people have layovers. Think about every time you have had a drink at the airport…it was probably while waiting for a connection in Charlotte or O’Hare (truth be told, Philadelphia is a great airport to get boozy in). In Syracuse, you either have an early morning flight or you are landing, and how often do people stay at the airport after landing for drinks? Neveish?

So, I digress. Once again, Syracuse proves itself to be Syracuse. It had a chance to be special and do something good by turning travelers on to a local food choice. Instead, it took the sterile, antiseptic route and chose below-grade coffee and food.

This is how we end up with highway viaducts, shopping malls that don’t pay taxes and baseball stadiums ignored by everyone.

At least when it comes to bad decisions we are nothing if not consistent.

##

Updated 3/26 8 a.m.:

Cafe Kubal owner Matt Godard posted a note to his company’s blog about the situation. It’s a worthy read, if for no other reason than the inside baseball that is revealed. I would draw your attention to this paragraph:

During our last few months at the airport, the quality of our product suffered. We were not permitted to train the airport employees during the transition of the concessioner’s contract. As a result, the rigorous standards we hold ourselves to were not being met. For that, I would like to apologize. Our customers deserve the best we can give them, no matter what.

That last sentence really stands out: Our customers deserve the best we can give them, no matter what. It’s a lesson out of a Peter Shankman presentation. Here is a local business owner trying to ensure a quality product with particular attention to a licensed outlet that was using his brand, and human/corporate obstacles prevented him from doing so. If the entire situation is indicative of Syracuse, then this sentence is a symbol of the entire air travel industry. Screw the customer: we can make $3.50 on that 45-cent bag of Chex Mix while at 30,000 feet. Screw the customer: make them pay $25 if they check their bag, even though wheeling it to the gate means they can probably gate check it for free. Screw the customer because margin is the priority.

For every major airline (United) that I gripe about (United) because they (United) have made travel a nightmarish (United), there is a JetBlue. What makes that airline different? It at least puts on the facade of caring about its customers. JetBlue offers some  little comforts, like chairback TVs, free baggage, and comfy seats built for regular-sized people. Sure, it has stockholders that care about margin and profit, but it has found a space where good customer service means more than just getting from point A to point B.

The problem is that like JetBlue, Cafe Kubal is not the norm. Instead of others adopting this principle, we end up with Dunkin Donuts shops on every corner and in the middle of the airport.

Al Dente Express: Some More Local Love (Side Hill Farmers + Fins & Tails)

Photo Mar 01, 11 58 59 AM

NOTE: Al Dente Express is my answer for what to do when I want to talk about a place or places I visited, but it doesn’t warrant a full-on, exhaustive review. Here is a wrap of two Central New York retailers that I recently visited.

Friday night’s story from The Tampa Tribune was affirmation for everyone that bemoans Big Agriculture and our nation’s broken food supply:

The family of four, two of them elementary school-age children, had dinner on Monday night, a nice meal of bottom round steak. 

Then they began hallucinating, so bad they called 911, then rushed to the hospital themselves.

On Friday, Tampa police announced why: The meat had been laced with LSD.

The family bought the meat from the Wal-Mart at 1501 N. North Dale Mabry Highway, just north of Interstate 275, but police said they don’t yet have any idea when or where the meat became tainted with the hallucinogen.

So, there are three possibilities here: 1) The meat was tainted at the processing plant, which is not good. 2) The meat was tainted at the store, which is really not good. 3) Someone at home tainted the meat, which is really, really not good.

This is an isolated case, but assuming that we are not dealing with option three, it’s another case to be made for local purveyors. Pink slime, GMOs, and poorly-sourced fish are just some of the phrases that haunt those of us concerned about the purity of our food. It costs a little bit more to guarantee the quality, but in the end it pays off.

***

Tucked behind Manlius’ venerable Sno-Top ice cream stand is a small plaza with a Subway, a national drug store chain, a European chocolatier and a cooperative owned by a handful of Madison County farmers. In July 2013, Side Hill Farmers opened its doors as a storefront for a handful of farmers to move their product. My visit a couple of weekends ago found a busy, rustic-looking meat market with a wide open area in the rear of the store where meat is butchered on an open-air stage. Beef, pork, chicken and homemade sausages pack the display cooler, while an open dairy chest is packed with cheeses and milks. A freezer carries homemade sauces and stocks.

Photo Mar 01, 12 19 45 PM

Kevin McCann, the butcher-on-duty, gave me the nickel tour after convincing me to visit the store on Facebook. My introduction pulled him away from breaking down a dry-aged hunk of beef that had just emerged from the refrigerator. It was pretty glorious looking. Kevin said that the response to the store has been explosive, so much so that they are looking to expand to the open space next door, where they would have more room for produce and charcuterie. They already produce their own salami, filetto (cured pork tenderloin) and speck, but he was looking to get a space where he could expand the in-house production of cured meats.

Photo Mar 01, 11 59 50 AM

McCann and the other staff butchers break down the meats that come in from the farms from Onondaga County’s eastern neighbor, using everything that comes in the door. Steaks, chops, roasts and offal go into the cooler or the CSA bundles available. Bones are cooked down for homemade stock. And what little else that is left gets flipped into dog treats. The cooler was slowly emptying on this particular Saturday afternoon, steak-by-steak. Kevin mentioned that their major issue surrounds supply. Unlike a grocer, Side Hill doesn’t have a warehouse or wholesaler that it can get more product from at the drop of a hat. “One cow in, one cow out,” he said.

Photo Mar 01, 12 11 02 PM

All steaks and roasts are tenderized on the spot before being wrapped. Most of the staff has culinary training, so cooking tips and recipes are not lacking. The three Denver steaks (below) I procured were well-marbled and Kevin even trimmed some exposed fat from the edges for me. I pan-seared the steaks and finished them in the oven to medium/medium-rare, finding them to have a rich, almost creamy flavor. The steaks were not wet- or dry-aged. They were carved and left standing in a refrigerator case, so none of the tendons had the chance to break down. For a cheaper cut of meat from the flap, they were amazing.

Photo Mar 01, 4 54 01 PM (1)

While I’m pretty loyal to Bostrom Farms for pork, I think I’ve found a winner for local beef. And, to my knowledge it’s the only place in the area to buy Stoltzfus Family Dairy chocolate milk. It’s creamline milk, which means that it hasn’t been homogenized. Homogenous milk has gone through processing to break up the fat into dissolvable pieces. Creamline is like the old school milk with the cap of cream at the top. It’s amazing on its own, though The Wife reports that it is enhanced with a heavy-handed dose of Bailey’s Irish Cream.

***

Photo Mar 08, 9 35 54 AM (HDR)

Fins & Tails has been around for about 200 years now (okay, so 27 this summer). It’s the type of fish market that you would expect in a larger city or closer to the shore, not on Erie Boulevard East near Thompson Road.

It is just about the only place in town where you can count on sustainably fished products, served by people who know the fish they are selling. Wanting to make a fish stew over the weekend, I knew that I could probably find the shellfish I wanted and probably a mild filet of something to toss in. I was right. The cooler had a bucket of mussels that had arrived that morning, as well as Gulf shrimp, littleneck clams, salmon, cod, and bluefin. A second cooler had a host of homemade seafood salads and soups that one of the co-owners works in a kitchen area behind the counter for takeaway. I grabbed clams, mussels and cod, as well as their best kept secret: fish stock.

Photo Mar 08, 9 37 46 AM

Kitchen Basics makes a decent fish stock, but homemade is always better. F&T uses fish bones and shrimp shells to make their stock, extracting the marrow and collagen to construct a rich broth. Parking isn’t the easiest and I’ve always thought the plaza was kind of dodgy, but there is no better place in town to buy fish. Its reputation precedes itself so much so that for a while, F&T provided and managed the seafood counter at local grocery Green Hills Farms.

Yes, they are more expensive than your average supermarket but if you want quality, you pay for it. When F&T says it has red snapper or sole, you don’t have to worry about DNA testing when you get home. That’s worth paying for.

Side Hill Farms is located at 315 Fayette St. (Rt. 92) in Manlius, just behind Sno-Top. It opens Monday through Saturday at 10 a.m. Fins & Tails is located at 3012 Erie Blvd. East in Syracuse, near the Thompson Road exit from I-690 in the former Liquor Square plaza. It is open Tuesday through Saturday.