Food & Drink
|Peychaud’s: a better bitter.|
|(Photograph by J. Christopher Launi)|
Bitters are back
Historically it was the addition of bitters to alcoholic beverages in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries that defined a new category of mixed drinks called the cocktail. The word first appeared in print in 1806 in a New York periodical called The Balance, and Columbian Repository. In response to a reader’s inquiry about what it meant, the editor replied, “Cock tail is a stimulating liquor, composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water and bitters.” It was commonly known as a Bittered Sling.
Various types of aromatic bitters were once a popular ingredient in cocktails. Up until Prohibition there were numerous commercial brands and hundreds of proprietary brands of bitters in use.
During the latter half of the twentieth century the use of bitters declined to the point that they all but vanished. The running joke among bartenders was “Which will last longer: your marriage or your bottle of bitters?”
With the revival of the cocktail that clicked into overdrive with the new millennium, bitters are back. Many inspired bartenders have returned to classic recipes and searched out not just that bottle of Angostura but several of the lesser-known products like Peychaud’s and Fee Brothers bitters. The Fee Brothers company of Rochester, New York, has recently expanded its markets overseas and introduced two new products to its line. The writer and cocktail expert Gary Regan used to supply me with orange bitters that he made in his own kitchen. Just last year the Sazerac Company began producing them commercially under the name of Gary Regan’s Orange Bitters No. 6. It’s good to see bitters finding their way back, not just in classic recipes but also by way of bartenders’ introducing them into their original and signature cocktails. Below are two recipes that include bitters; one is a modern martini using Gary’s orange bitters and the other is the Manhattan, which calls for Angostura, a tropical bitters that has been manufactured in Trinidad since 1830.
2 ounces Finlandia vodka
1/4 ounce Stoli Vanilla
1/2 ounce orange curaçao
Dash Gary Regan’s Orange bitters No. 6
preparation: Assemble all the ingredients in a Boston shaker glass and stir with ice. Strain into a chilled martini glass and garnish with flamed orange peel.
2 ounces blended whiskey
1 ounce Italian sweet vermouth
2 dashes Angostura bitters
preparation: Pour all ingredients over ice in a mixing glass and stir as you would a martini. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a cherry. Note: If you prefer a dry Manhattan, use dry vermouth and garnish with a lemon peel.
The Hot Dog Goes Haute
|The unquenchably popular Shake Shack at Madison Square Park in New York City.|
What’s the most fashionable nibble served by Manhattan caterers these days? It’s pigs in blankets, that martini-soaker-upper of the 1960s suburban cocktail party, which to me always was a perfect mix of elegant and homey. Hot dogs have gone trendy. In 2004 Danny Meyer, the owner of such fine New York restaurants as Union Square Café and Gramercy Tavern, sensed that the exaltation of the hot dog was in the air when he opened his Shake Shack in the Flatiron district of Manhattan, a glitzed-up old-fashioned takeout place in Madison Square Park that serves beer, milk shakes, hot dogs, and hamburgers. People are lining up for juicy all-beef “Chicago-style” dogs served on poppy-seed buns and topped with a salad of relish, lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, pickles, onion, celery salt, and mustard. These are designer hot dogs.
When I was a kid growing up in New York, my friends and I all associated street hot dogs, bobbing in the murky water of vendors’ carts, with mouse droppings. Not that that stopped us from eating them and loving them. Food fads come and go for no apparent reason, but I think the emerging fad for a more elegant hot dog is anchored in the baby boomers’ memory of a slightly tawdry childhood pleasure. Now boomers want a healthier, cleaner dog. Not only have franks long had a dirty and lowbrow reputation, there is also a possibly more serious issue. Sodium nitrite and nitrates may pose a cancer risk. Sodium nitrite is used as a preservative in hot dogs; it’s part of what gives a Yankee Frank or a Hebrew National its juiciness and pinkish color.
Organic hot dogs have been available at health food stores for years, nitrite-free but mushy and brown. With the development of a new “natural” cure, pink and plump organic hot dogs are now a reality. They show up at restaurants and fancy markets.
Niman Ranch makes hormone-free grass-fed beef dogs. Dines Farms, in the Catskills in New York State, also makes a very good beef version from free-range, grass-fed cattle, with a natural casing (some upscale dogs are packaged without casings, which means you don’t experience that ballpark snap when you take a bite). On the West Coast you can buy elegant, healthy hot dogs made by Let’s Be Frank in San Francisco. And the great thing about these new designer hot dogs is that they taste just like traditional hot dogs—but even better. They may cost more, but at least you know what’s in them.—Erica De Mane
THE AUTOMAT IS BACK
|(Collection of Richard F. Snow)|
In 1888 the 27-year-old Joe Horn wanted desperately to be a restaurateur. He had the money—a thousand dollars—but no concept. His partner, 38-year-old Frank Hardart, had an idea—to share the wonder of French-drip New Orleans coffee with the world—but no money. A third man, whose name is lost to history, had a European gadget, a machine that served food automatically. These three men came together, and their collaboration, the Horn & Hardart Automat, became the coolest way to eat for much of the twentieth century: You fed nickels into a slot, and a glass door sprang open, giving you your meal.
In 2006, 15 years after the close of the last Automat, a surprisingly similar story led to an Automat revival. Thirty-year-old Robert Kwak was the enterprising restaurateur this time, and his friend 30-year-old David Leong the one with the ideas. Leong, who had taken a trip to Amsterdam, came back to the United States full of praise about an automatic restaurant he had seen there. Just like Frank Hardart, who took a trip to Germany to see the invention for himself, Kwak was unconvinced and flew over to Amsterdam to have a look. Immediately smitten, he came back enthusiastic about the venture.
The result, Bamn!, in New York City, is an Automat for the twenty-first century. Dolled up in shiny pinkness and cartoony fonts, the machines offer “macaroni and cheese krokets” (a new utensilless version of Horn & Hardart’s beloved macaroni and cheese), roast pork buns, chicken nuggets, peanut-butter-and-jelly croquettes, and other items, which rotate from a menu of 50 choices.
Though Kwak and Leong had never been to an American Automat, they did talk with Marianne Hardart, the great-granddaughter of Frank Hardart and the author, with Lorraine B. Diehl, of The Automat. “I read the book twice, and we picked her brain about the old Automat,” says Kwak. Hardart, for one, is pleased about the resurgence of the machines. “If the automatic windows provide fun and a sense of playfulness for a new generation, great!” she says, and “if they bring back fond memories for those who frequented the original Automat, that’s great too.”—Claire Lui
All New York in one big cookie
|The Black and White doesn’t stay whole long.|
When Sgt. First Class Laurence Lang at Camp Victory in Baghdad was asked by a visiting TV producer if he wanted anything from home, he immediately answered, “Black and White cookies.” Sergeant Lang grew up in New York. If we had a state cookie, the Black and White would be it.
The sergeant’s story made the papers. Suddenly Black and Whites were everywhere. From my apartment on Ninety-fifth Street to the greenmarket on Ninety-ninth, I now have nine Black and White opportunities. Nine where once I had three.
It’s not that the Black and White ever disappeared. For many it’s a staple, quintessentially New York. It’s big. It’s integrated. If you tilt it, it looks like a yin/yang. It’s the best of both worlds, chocolate and vanilla, and heads the great New York black and white tradition, followed by the Black and White soda (I prefer a White and Black) and the less site-specific Oreo, Yankee Doodle, Devil Dog, and Hostess cupcake with its calligraphic vanilla loops. We’re a complex city. One flavor isn’t enough.
A classic Black and White is five inches in diameter. Beware: There are lots of small ones and bad ones out there. Sad as I am to see the 2nd Avenue Deli go, I won’t miss its sorry rendition. Moishe’s was even worse. The ones shrink-wrapped in Korean markets taste a little better than Kitty Litter. I’ve tested Black and Whites everywhere, and the very best ones are made by Yura and Company, hands down. Sublime care and thoughtfulness go into their Black and Whites. (Did anyone else in New York grow up calling them “Headlights”?) Yura uses two different kinds of icing. The vanilla side, lightly scented with almond, is a fondant, hard, matte, what’s on petit fours. The chocolate side is soft and buttery, the kind of icing that takes a fingerprint. Many Black and Whites, if you close your eyes, it’s like eating Life Savers in the movies: You can’t tell what the flavor is. Not Yura’s. Even the dough gets the royal treatment. It’s pale yellow, never browned, and has a fine, dry crumb. It’s not cakey, spongy, or moundy in the middle. You may be tempted to scarf Yura’s Black and White in the street, but I recommend waiting till you get home then slicing it in 8 strips one way and 8 the other, creating 64 little brown and white tiles that take a long time to eat.
I’m glad Sergeant Lang got his cookies. I want him to come home safe so he can contact me through this magazine and I can treat him to the best Black and White there is. He’s earned it. (Alas, Yura doesn’t think its Black and Whites can travel, so you have to come to them!)—Patricia Volk