Bites & Pieces

Popina

Salsa in Venezia is no chip magnet. It’s a legendary, time-worn, heady mix of wheat, salted anchovies, lots of onions, & olive oil of course. The emulsified result is creamy, dreamy, Venetian delight. But in Brooklyn. Deceptively simple, they get this (and much more) right.

Bigoli in Salsa was originally eaten during Lent and then became the supper to have on the night before a festival. Now, it’s the signature dish on the Rialto.

Popina is a little bit of old fashioned American deep South plus very Italian style of cooking. Inventive. Classy. Cozy. Fun. A new tradition.

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More details soonest.

Popina
127 Columbia Street
Cobble Hill / Carroll Gardens
718.222.1901

Open Wednesday – Sunday 530-10pm (Sunday til 9pm)

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Hail To King

King

Three girls three. That’s how this tale of a boîte-to-be begins. Chefs Clare de Boer and Jess Shadbolt were working at the infamous River Cafe in London and they shared a dream. An introduction to Annie Shi, a general manager at the cutting edge Clove Club brought forth a further meeting of the minds, plus some hopes, fantasies and luckily for those of us on this side of the pond, a plan. New York City. As luck would have it, they scored the about-to-be-vacant-after-10-years space belonging to Mekong, and the rest in these short weeks gone…is history. This charming, kicky, cozy, irrefutably sublime bistro is every bit as good as the word on the street has been.

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It’s a concise, continually changing menu leaning keenly on southern Italy and northern France, a modern European take on comfort dishes, classic dishes, dishes with refinement…sparked by creativity.

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There are several tables in the small bar for dining as well as stools for a pre-dinner cocktail. Great cocktails. On the lighter side but that bartender will do a strong classic for you in a second.

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The menu includes the date because at the very least it partially changes daily.

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Carta di Musica, a favorite of mine is thin, crisp, crackling and treated to a pool of buttery oil.

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Highly enjoyable bottle from a well rounded and well priced list. Definitely one to have with food. Big and fruity, good tannins, long finish.

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Salt cod on grilled polenta was a fusion of cool, creamy, whipped, warm, crunchy. Layers of satisfaction with a nod to northern Italy’s favorite carbohydrate and an homage to the preferred dish of the Vikings, baccala, imported from them to the Veneto in the 15th century. The sweetness of the polenta counterbalances the saltiness of the cod. It’s a great bite with a glass of red wine but I think I’d love it for breakfast as well. Breakfast wine up to you.

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Fresh ricotta with lentils and marinated anchovy was lovely. The anchovies provide a umami quality offering depth and complexity to those earthy stalwarts, the lentils. Perfecting the plate is the familiar pair of lush ricotta and bitter greens. All together, comfort at its level best.

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Hand cut tagliarini with chanterelles and parmesan was both hearty and delicate. It gives you that sense of place, maybe a cozy trattoria on a snowy Italian afternoon? Though its hook translates seductively as a contemporary dish of an evening in west Soho.

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To paraphrase a favorite Preston Sturges line from The Lady Eve , the halibut roasted over lemon leaves with braised spinach and baby artichokes was a poem. Each bite was a delight, traversing from spinach to fish to artichoke and back again. I couldn’t stop eating it. And the lemon leaves…ahhh. Our lovely waiter suggested we sniff them and then lick them. In all earnestness!  He was right, the fragrant lemony aromatic fills your senses and somehow lends a deeper understanding to the French-ness of the dish.

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Slow cooked Florentine fennel was soft, deep and carmelized. A pleasing side dish.

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Prune and cognac are classic companions and though this prune and cognac tart wasn’t grand, it was definitely good. A thin riser of pastry laid with a cozy cover of custard that suspended juicy prunes and was lightly baked.

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The atmosphere is bright and spirited with the intermingling of a busy kitchen and chatty clientele, almost like a big family dinner with every recognizable character at the table. Except it has an understated elegance, is nothing short of charming and neighboring diners don’t eat off your plate.

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The always evolving menu provides an ideal canvas for the chef’s mastery and style. Their appetite for timeless dishes enhanced with an edgy imagination appears effortless, and offers the warmest of invitations. Flavors are straightforward, satisfying, beguiling. Service is on point, everyone working seems to be having a good time and interested in sharing that with the room.

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Alchemy is in play here, this trio of women, the food they create, the ambience they’ve fostered…the magnetism is inescapable. It’s the kind of place you wish was in your own neighborhood but wouldn’t think twice about hopping an uber to pretend that it is.

King

18 King Street with entrance at Sixth Avenue

917.825.1618

Closed Sunday. Monday-Wednesday 5:30pm-Midnight Thursday-Saturday till 1am

Ba Ba Ba Ba Babbalucci

Babbalucci

Okay, so the name makes me want to sing the Beach Boys’ Barbara Ann. I just couldn’t help the blog title. Forgive me for that but then thank me for making you go have pizza and the like in Harlem. It…is frigging good.

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Stopped in for a quick bite on my way downtown after a visit to Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx (one fabulous cemetery). I’d been meaning to get there since it opened in June and my expectations were high. But how often are those met anyway? Well, hellooo! A fetching, relaxed, vibrant ambience, lovely staff and exemplary pizza…plus a host of Italian delectables all primarily cooked in fire.

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The chef/owner, Andrew LoPresto has long worked in restaurant world and hails from a paternal lineage of professional bread bakers. He’s also worked in several NY styled pizzerias owned by his father, including Luzzo, a NYC downtown favorite. How sublime that he’s now doing it for himself. And for all of us. LoPresto’s process is akin to the slow food movement, everything is made á casa, the bread and pizza dough apparently use a slow-fermentation process to create a refined, simple crust that’s further perfected in that luscious wood fired oven. He said in the Village Voice, “The product you get is much better, earthier, warmer”. Yup.

Started with a delightful bowl of fried artichokes tossed in herbs and lemon on a bed of arugula.
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Add it to the small list of favorite dishes I would have every day if someone would just bring it to me. But now the tippy top of that list belongs to the ‘Pleasant Avenue’ named pizza. Be still my heart.

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Sicilian tuna with pops of hot cherry peppers, plus onion, tomato, arugula and generous shavings of parmesan on top. The fabulously charred thin crust floats right from the wood burning oven into your mouth and the layers of flavors undulate from brine to hot to sweet onion. Ambrosial. I am not exaggerating.

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And even though this was a late lunch and dinner loomed in the near future, I had to try the Spaghetti with Mixed Mushrooms and Crispy Artichokes.
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Flavored simply, it’s lush, savory and that perceptible and heavenly edge of smokiness clung to my tastebuds.

Also sampled but not pictured (difficult dining companion!) are the very pleasing Grilled Romaine Insalata that too arrives fresh off the fire, just like the pizza, topped with pancetta, parmesan, and croutons – all slicked in a gorgeous anchovy dressing.

The Polpettine, finespun, succulent balls of spinach & beef on a bed of cheese infused polenta are lightly sauced with a nimbly spiced marinara. This dish is turning heads on the internet. And at my table.

There’s a nice wine list and an inventive cocktail menu designed by mixologist
Enzo Cangemi. It’s worldly but happily has a substantial Italian focus with Grappa and Amaro based cocktails and heady ingredients like rosemary and lavender. Their apertivo (happy hour) incorporates bite highlights from the main menu that complement the sophisticated libations. Worth putting in some time on the barstool.

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Lots more to explore on the menu though I’ll be hard pressed to not press repeat when I return. And we didn’t get to the much lauded ‘Babbalucci’ pizza but word is – do it. Snails, uh-huh I said snails…which happens to be what babbalucci translates to in Sicilian dialect. It’s topped with tomato, garlic, parsley and gorgonzola. So, I mean…yeah. That’s why there’s a next time.

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Babbalucci
331 Lenox Avenue between 126/127th street
646.918.6572
Open daily from 11am-midnight

Faro To Table

Faro

It’s cool, creamy, industrial chic, but also like a big-warm-everything-will-be-alright-I swear kind of hug. I’ve been lucky enough to dine here a few times and each visit reminds me that Portland has nothing on NYC. Plus there’s that Roman Gnocchi but I’ll get to that later.

Owned by married partners, Chef Kevin Adey and wife Deborah, who handles the front of house, they have a combined lineage of Jean Georges, Le Bernardin and most recently, Northeast Kingdom, also in Bushwick. Together they’ve created a restaurant with unaffected charm that truly and soundly is farm and grain mill to table. Others may do it, or tease it but these two are living their dream. Wood fired food, ranging from locally grown rooftop vegetables to NY state grown grains that are hand milled in house, a farmer’s ethically produced meat, to local fish and pastas that are conjured from just made grains by the hands behind the counter.

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If you live nearby, likely the streets will feel more familiar and less deserted to you as the “L” or the Uber pulls up. But I love nothing more than having no idea where you are, peering through a dark evening and seeing the light. So to speak. No reservations, and if you encounter a brief wait, no matter. Great staff, splendid food. It’s  worth it.

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Now, a tavola! Started with an on tap NY State Rosé that was delightful and set the tone of pleasure and whimsy for the food. There’s definitely a sly wit behind the range. Plus we added house made warm bread with butter that is just impossible to deny. It’s a menu item and they only make a few loaves a day so you should just go for it. Carbs are not the thing to fear here. Embrace and revel.

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There’s a good list of wines, local beers and twelve lovingly designed cocktails. Apparently the whiskey sour is the one to beat, made with Medley Bros. 102 Heritage Bourbon and with twists and dashes of this & that, it has garnered raves all around.

Two different porridges from two different visits, both divine. At one dinner a friend looked directly into the bowl and asked, where have you been all my life? It’s supreme comfort and tantalizing seduction all at once.

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The illustrious, widely acclaimed Sweet Pea Porridge with local grains, morel mushrooms and foamy whey. Essence of spring. Fabulous. Did I mention that?

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This week it was a lovely combination of corn, chanterelles and scallions. You just wouldn’t have expected porridge in the current dining scene to rate so highly and echo Oliver’s cry of “please sir, could I have some more?”

Several more digressions before we hit what might be considered the main courses. Larger plates? We shared everything each time so it was all just a huge feast to me.

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Fire Roasted Beet with a local farm egg and pistachio pesto sit atop a cream of goat cheese. The four main ingredients are all winners, bringing out the very best in each other. Inspired.

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Tomatoes and cucumbers from nearby Brooklyn Grange Rooftop Farm, in an escarole boat with scattered bits of feta. Simple, delightful, summer.

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Wood fire roasted carrots. Like being in Italy, good Italian cooking is the sum of the ingredients not the now popular foam to table techniques. Another entry from Brooklyn Grange Farm. Truly locavore, even the same boro.

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Peekytoe Crab with corn and a dollop of creme fraiche was fresh and summery but the only dish I’ve eaten here that seemed to be missing a soupçon of something. Maybe because my companions cleaned off the creme fraiche before I got into it and that could have made the difference? Still very nice but it’s in tough competition with my table’s other dishes.

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Corn tortellini with mascarpone, chanterelles and carmelized bits of fresh corn was a late spring entree and it’s salty sweet subtlety still lingers in my mind. The chanterelles were a wonderful counter to the corn’s creamy earthiness, and gave the pasta a peppery finish with a hint of their apricot musk. Hope it returns. June is right around the corner right? Sigh.

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A special pasta the other evening was a delicate garganelli with insanely -can’t worship enough- peppers from the clearly profound fields of Brooklyn Grange Farm. Perfectly folded, toothsome squares of pasta. This almost made me regret the second order of the Roman Gnocchi for the table but I digress.

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An on-the-menu pasta is the somewhat infamous Squid Ink Calamaretti served with Maine lobster in a light coconut curry milk. All of the pastas are so beautifully, brilliantly cooked – it’s almost like the perfect chip, bet you can’t eat just one. The lobster was spot on and we all loved that the pasta shape appears as squid rings so it was not only delicious but amusing. Pasta with a sense of humor. Who knew.

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There is much to be enjoyed from sustainably sourced and ethically produced meats on the menu but we only got as far as the Wood Fired Scallops with peas, bottarga and milled right there by the chef – emmer (farro). These were just great. The ideal sear, charred crust that sinks into that sweet scallop brine as you bite it.

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As much as I enjoyed everything and am clearly a fan, my heart is seated squarely in that Roman Gnocchi. This is just heaven. It’s not a light dish, two large pieces of semolina covered in yet more from Brooklyn Grange gold – swiss chard or kale, depending on what month you dined here. Then cream and salt cured egg yolks. Apparently the egg is smoked overnight in the embers of all that wood-firing and then shaved over the rich, soft grain. I can’t get enough. It’s luscious. Best word I can think of for it. Truly luscious.

The space is big, bright and airy, a former warehouse for Moma art storage. A minimal fifty seats keep diners feeling spacious and comfortable. Decorated (that word minimally applicable here) sparely. White walls, startlingly high ceilings, custom built tables and the coup de grace, locally handcrafted high fire clay plates by artist Sarah Ritz through her company Freundeskreis. They’re all varied, muted hues and beautiful. And as intended, go impeccably with the decor and most importantly the philosophy behind Faro. Local, artisanal, community.

The tables were even custom sized to accommodate the ample plates and bowls, all of which were created to allow for diners with shared plates and glasses to actually have room at the table. So nice to be considered for a change.

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Innovative, outstanding cooking with more than a nod to local and sustainable sources, a celebration of respect and collaboration for regional growers, producers, artists and most emphatically, the food Chef Adey creates himself.

Faro
436 Jefferson Street
Bushwick, Brooklyn
718.381.8201
Open daily from 6pm-11pm

Bruno’s…On Fire

Bruno Pizza

Sometimes you light a fire with a match and sometimes you get really lucky and a couple of talented chefs rub their hands together and sparks fly. That’s what we have here. The combo of Dave Gulino, Justin Slojkowski (formerly the innovators at Box Kite) along with partner Demien Repucci have lighted a blaze that is igniting the pizza community, as well as focusing on just downright imaginative beautiful food. These guys are beyond creative and the hands on, charming, low profile attitude infuses every bite, every design flourish you ingest. This is no foam to table enterprise.

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There’s whimsy in this plywood lair. From the wacky yet no nonsense tables and chairs hand built by the guys themselves to dishes that include ingredients like black cashew cream, succulents and yes…handpicked by some of the posse members in actual Bushwick, Brooklyn…mulberries. Locavore at it’s dastardly finest.

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The dishes, the actual plates…I mean really. Love them.

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We started with three out of the current six appetizers and I don’t have one favorite, I have …uh huh…three. Damn, they’re all good.

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Local fluke with snap peas, uni, ocean herbals, mulberry and quinoa. Glorious. But here’s the thing, this is where the mulberries come into play. Chef Dave and cohorts picked them in Bushwick. They had an idea and they ran with it. The inspiration and thinking that goes into their menu is what makes their particular world tilt on its axis and you happily roll with it. They’re tap dancing through their kitchen on the head of a pin and suffice it to say – lick it and stick it.

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Fairytale Eggplant was so simple but perfectly constructed and absolutely delicious. With shishito, opal basil, nutritional yeast and black cashew. The black cashew, which included an aspect of vegetable charcoal was reminiscent of the Beverly Hillbillies theme song where they sing “…black gold, Texas tea” and this here is black gold.

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Definitely some of the most perfectly cooked diver scallops I’ve ever had. Served with local beans, sheep’s milk yogurt and amaranth.

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Something that Bruno’s brings to the pizza tavola is their new and very impressive Kickstarter raised machine for milling their own 00 flour, which is also domestically sourced. I’m proud to say that I made a minimal but supportive contribution and got a free pizza for my efforts. Very kind. Their months of developing the right recipe and techniques for their flour/crust was well worth it. Whatever they’re doing with that machine in the basement, they’re doing it right. A soft crackle as your teeth grazes the edge of your slice, and then that neapolitan chew of delight, a pillowy inside to the light crunch, with a flavor of wheat berries and a hint of whiskey.

We had three pizzas and I look forward to trying the others before their seasonal menu likely changes. Any of the pizzas can be made as vegetarian too.

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And the detail…

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Local mushrooms, béchamel and scallions. Holy funghi.

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Summer greens with ricotta, carrot top pesto, zucchini, noodlefish, chili.

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A Margherita that broke the routine barrier for several reasons. Astonishing mozzarella from Capouto Brothers, canned tomatoes, fermented tomatoes and whaa?? lovage. These guys invite you to dine to the beat of their different drum.

Because that wasn’t enough food, ha! we had to add a pasta. A distinctive, toothsome, wondrous pasta.

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The Bucatini with fresh corn, gold bar, squash blossoms and spring onion is summer on the plate, and a pool party in your mouth.

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Olive oil gelato with charred blueberry compote, borage powder and cashew was layers of softness shrouded in pings of varying flavors and made for a meltingly gorgeous finale.

Design elements are perfunctory chic. A cacophony of plywood and innovation. It’s spare, thoughtful, practical, not entirely uncomfortable (!) and provides the canvas for the stellar cooking which is really why you came.

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Bruno’s has employed the burgeoning idea of a no tipping policy recently done at Dirt Candy. Customers pay a 20% administration fee included on the check in lieu of any gratuity. More forward thinking, pay your employees fairly. Also, at the moment it’s BYOB. I’m sure that will change soon when their liquor license comes through but it’s always fun to bring your libation of choice.

I had arrived earlier than my two compatriots for a girl’s night and had time to peruse the small but engrossing menu. As my first pal arrived I said, here’s what my dream ordering would be. It might be a lot, but I don’t think I can give anything up, think we can handle it? She glanced through the choices and said, oh yeah, we can do this. So glad we did.

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Bruno’s Pizza
204 East 13th Street
212.598.3080

Monday – Saturday 630-midnight

Procastination Is Off The Menu!

I’m Baaacck!
&
Park Side Restaurant

I may not have been writing but I have definitely been eating. Many of the restaurants which I might have scooped, having tried them before word got out – have either soared or closed since my last foray into blogging. But the silent period is now fini. Too much great food, lovely experiences and spectacular dishes hither and yon have crossed my lips, it’s time to invite anyone along who is food curious and isn’t spent from reading everything else out there!

A little dining smorgasbourg to begin. I’ll slip in and out of time and start with the past, zoom into the present and go back and forth, weaving meals together until I eventually catch up with myself!

Going back a bit, I want to give a shout out (a lip smack?) to a fun birthday dinner two years ago at the venerable, much touted and for good reason – Park Side Restaurant in Corona, Queens.

Screen Shot 2015-08-03 at 1.35.29 PMI’m a Don Pepe girl but a little side bar for another glamorous old world red sauce Italian is always in order.  There’s supreme comfort in a large menu filled with east coast classic Italian as I think of it. More Italian American than true Venetian or Roman. But it’s good. And there’s valet parking!

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You start off with a complimentary antipasti that includes hunks of parmigiano, sausage bites and little tomato covered bruschetta. And…a bread basket that has become legendary for its prosciutto stuffed lard bread. It’s almost an avalanche of sesame bread sticks (just like you remember them), dinner rolls and the aforementioned stuff-them-in-your-purse-for-tomorrow meat bread. Everything is very generously portioned and somehow good enough if not the best you’ve ever had. Maybe because there’s heart if not spice and it’s served by bow tied waiters in tuxedo jackets.

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It feels like you’re the star of a Scorsese film and for this dinner, your trip to the 1980’s is a big shouldered, married to the mob feeling blast from the past. Women who come here on a Saturday night were most certainly at the beauty parlor earlier in the day in preparation.

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Just what you imagined. A smattering pictured here. Shrimp Fra Diavolo could use more devil but the shrimp were nicely cooked and the pasta was al dente. Veal Parm was apparently satisfying in the way that your favorite diner in NJ always pleases. And it does, doesn’t it? The sauce veers to the sweeter edge and there’s enough mozzarella to feed a family of ten. I’ll always vote the way of Clams Oreganata and a big stuffed lemony leafed artichoke. Whatever you do, get an order of the Hot Cherry Peppers and add them to each of your dishes. The zing will bring a smile to your face and when offered the complimentary Sambuca and biscotti at the meal’s end, they’ll reduce any fire.

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Park Side still gets a celebrity or three and they proudly share a wall of photos.

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There are three floors of dining including the Marilyn Monroe salon on the second floor and the Garden Room on the main level. Party rooms are available for a big shindig. There’s a long wooden bar to wait at if you are foolish enough not to make a reservation.

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Park Side definitely has its fans and regulars. I really enjoyed being there but I couldn’t help comparing the food to Don Pepe’s and they long ago stole my Italian American craving heart. However, after dinner you can venture down the block to the illustrious Lemon King of Corona and watch the decades old rivalry on the bocce court just across the street – while you lick delicious icy-ness in your flavor of choice and cleanse the hot cherry peppers and time machine travel out of your system.

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Park Side Restaurant

107-01 Corona Avenue

Corona, Queens

718.271.9871

Monday-Saturday 12-1130pm, Sunday 1230-11pm

Get The Bite On Autumn

Sullivan St Bakery

There’s no question that carbs – particularly the kind that come dressed as any kind of bread product are fantastic every time of year. But nights with a trace of chill grant permission for something extra cozy and maybe illicit. Even to devotees of low carb eating.

So, after a meeting in West Chelsea I thought I’d check in on the newest location of my favorite carb palace, Sullivan St Bakery. Not just because I’m a fan of their take away breads, dine in paninis and the oh so Roman pizza squares but for the seasonally offered flavors that come with. And Autumn? Knocks them right out of the park.

By now anyone interested in NYC food knows of Jim Lahey and his wonderful pizza haunt Co. (aka Company), his no knead dough recipes and for his long-time trend setting bakery called Sullivan St. (of course the great Grandaisy Bakery owned by his ex partner/wife is an independent offshoot).

There are a few pastries, bomboloni (Italian doughnuts filled with jam or vanilla bean custard), canotto dolce (mascarpone fruit crumble) but you can also have a seasonal pickled vegetable salad, a panini that might include prosciutto, mozzarella or a chickpea fritter with citrus yogurt. To that you can add wine, beer, a sensational strawberry lemonade. The atmosphere is ultra spare and modern but comfortable. Easy to hang out and get some work done or chat with friends over soul satisfying pizza.

In any case, on to my siren’s call. Dough. And in the best possible incarnations. I walked out of there with a loaf of one of the best breads I’ve eaten anywhere ever…the medium whole wheat Truccione Sare. I bow to thee crusty-chewy-light-dense-soft sourdough oval with “irregular crumb structure”.

And it freezes well so sublime toast is in your future. If it lasts that long.

Then it was time for the true autumnal Tuscan tradition, Pan Co’ Santi (bread of saints). It’s a little sweeter but works well for a snack, a breakfast, any meal really. I had it with some fresh, sweet green figs. Holy bread balls. It’s studded with walnuts, raisins and a touch of cinnamon. Trust me, buy two loaves.

But the best of the best of the best is the Romani style pizze squares. They will cut it in custom sizes from the long rectangular sheet but it’s offered at the counter in squares. All except the only-available-for-a-few-weeks in the fall Schiacciata d’Uva (squashed grape thing) a pizze/bread made with champagne grapes, raisins, and anise seed atop the salty Pizze Bianca dough to celebrate the grape harvest. It has its own shape. Pops of tangy sweetness that comfort your tongue with bits of saltiness.

Then my personal superstars. The zucchini with gruyere and breadcrumbs and another Autumn only treasure, the Cavolfiore, cauliflower slice with parmesan, chili peppers and olive oil. Sometimes prepared with fennel. Simple and succulent. Eyes rolled back in your head kind of simple.

Many other finds – the legendary patate slice, the pizze bianca with pecorino or without, green olive breads and the like. You just can’t beat the long standing taste treats here. Jim Lahey started this small bakery in 1994 after studying sculpture and then bread baking in Italy. That artistry is evident in the look and feel of everything that comes out of his kitchen and in the inspiration of every bite that goes into your mouth. Especially in the Autumn.

Sullivan St Bakery
236 Ninth Av
212.929.5900