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It was a warm(ish) spring twilight. The smell of fried chicken was in the air. Or at least in my head – sometimes I get the two confused. But what better way to spend a spring evening than chowing down on expertly fried chicken? And you can even feel good about this chicken that is fried to a delicate and deliciously salty, crunchy crisp because they birds are all-natural, local and organic.

Where is this fried chicken haven of which I speak? Dirty Bird to-go on 14th Street near 7th Avenue. I ventured there last week to get the smell of fried chicken out of my head and into my hands (and stomach).

First a few words about the bird: Chicken is an every-man’s meat (for people that eat meat, that is). It’s a staple. It shows up on the dinner table all the time. Perhaps too much? That depends on what kind of chicken you’re eating, I guess.

People often get frustrated with chicken. I know the Box does. He grimmaces like a child when it’s placed in front of him at the dinner table, recoiling visibly from his plate. His sentiments are echoed in this hilarious scene from Little Miss Sunshine:

Warning: There’s some not-so-nice language in the video. So if dropping the f-bomb ain’t you’re thang, you might want to skip it.

But at Dirty Bird, there’s no reason to curse the chicken. Let me illustrate with photos:

The Scene:
A teeny tiny storefront, the main feature is the walk-up counter, complete with extra friendly servers. Really, these people were just so nice. I feel like I should know their names.

The Food:
I ordered a three-piece dark meat sampler with garlic kale. The chicken itself was juicy and flavorful – a perfect amount of salt. The outer fry crust had me pulling all the fried bits off the bone that I could find. Plus scraping any wayward ones up that had fallen to my very cool, camping-style blue plate. It’s amazing what a little buttermilk can do. The kale mingled with some large chunks of garlic and was wading in a bath of tangy, slightly vinegar-y liquid. I scooped up every last leaf in the bowl. The kale was not overcooked and soggy, but vegetable al-dente, preserving some snap.

Also noteworthy are the Chicken Fingers: tender and juicy white meat coated in the same light buttermilk fry. If chickens had fingers, they would want these. I recommend the BBQ sauce – you can taste molasses, which adds depth to the flavor. The Mac and Cheese was off the charts. It was like hot, cheesy ice cream with pasta in it. I wanted to put it in a cone. This is a good thing.

The Bathrooms:
None that I could find.

Afterward, if you need a powder room and a glass of wine, head to the bar just up the street – The Crooked Knife. Flop onto their couches and order some Cotes-du-Rhone. That’s what I did, anyway.

Overall Experience: The Big Lebowski – The Cult Classic

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We have reached another Friday! Gonna see a movie this weekend? We have some recommendations that pair well with food (of course)!

Our first film: Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. Chow down on some garlic bread with these recipes while you watch.

Our second film: My Cousin Vinny. Streak your hair, get out your leather and go to Brooklyn for grits at Egg!

Our third film: If you fry it, they will come: Hot dogs and Field of Dreams. Magic in the Moonlight.

In other news, I’ll be traveling to South Beach today for my first Triathlon of the season. You can also get the recipe for my home made energy bars at that link. Tweeting will be light as I don’t want to take out my pre-race panic attacks on you lovely people.

Come Monday or Tuesday we might have some more BIG NEWS. So stay tuned. And we will also be continuing our Meals on Reels program. Don’t forget to send us your favorite movie/food scenes! Post ’em in the comments!

Have a great weekend!

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Girls have a collection of chick flicks.  Guys have Field of Dreams.  Perhaps the only movie in which a fella can unashamedly admit to shedding a tear or two.  And when Ray Kinsella’s brother in law shows up to foreclose on the farm towards the end of the movie, things get a little intense.

At this point, the film has undoubtedly reached its climax.  All the known characters, dead and alive, good and evil, have essentially convened on or around the ballfield to await Ray’s decision on the farm.  Stay or Sell? “People will come” advises Ray’s daughter Karin, which then prompts Terry’s articulate speech about baseball and its historic qualities which, if marketed correctly, would easily make Ray a first ballot Hall of Famer in the unique but lucrative niche business of harnessing the dead’s talents for one’s own personal gain (like in the cases of Elvis, the Beatles, etc).  It would also provide Ray a way out from his more pressing financial woes.

But Ray’s at-the-time evil brother in-law isn’t having it.  Evil bro-in-law shoves Karin off of the bleachers, who falls to the ground and lies motionless.  What to do?  Call an ambulance is Annie Kinsella’s first reaction.

“Annie wait,” says Ray, the tension building with each precious second passing.  Ray’s appearance of nonchalance in the situation is anything but.  Rather, it is faith.  Faith that Dr. Archibald Wright “Moonlight” Graham (a real person, by the way) will forgo the remainder of his lifelong dream of playing in the big leagues and instead cross over that magical stone line, turn into an old geezer doctor and save Karin’s life. And Ray’s faith pays off.

And the scene that follows is absolute goosebump city. (<—- Click to watch)

Graham, played brilliantly by the late Burt Lancaster (the younger version of Graham is quite capably acted by Frank Whaley as well), saves Karin’s life by forcing out the hot dog which is lodged in her throat.  And the hot dog, boys and girls, is what this post will be about.

The other day, my boss Andrew and I were out on the road coming back from a client meeting when he suggested that we make a quick detour through Rutt’s Hut on 417 River Road in Clifton, NJ.  Andrew, a self proclaimed hot dog aficionado, insisted that my visit to Rutt’s Hutt would be time well spent.  He was right.

While no aficionado of hot dogs myself, I’m no stranger to a good ol’ dog.  When I was growing up, Dad quite regularly resorted to the practice of cooking up some juicily boiled dogs for dinner when Mom was out for the evening.  To this day, The Box maintains a rigid adherence to Thuman’s Pork and Beef frankfurters, which he claims have the best “snap” of all supermarket available dogs.  And I’m not scared to dive into a Grey’s Papaya after a late night in the City.  Long story short, I know a good dog when I see one.  And it’s not you, Toby!  (Elana’s dog…We have our differences).

But Rutt’s was a totally unique experience.  The scene inside is quite dated and bare.  A take-out counter with some standing tables and extended window ledges to chow down at.  My colleague Andrew shakes hands with who appears to be the owner (a friendly, blinged-out crucifix donning fellow named John) and orders me three particular kinds of dogs, all of which are more scorched than the next.  “We gawt a rookie here?” John says, nodding his head in my direction.

First up is what Rutt’s calls “The Ripper.” The least scorched (by veggie oil) of the three that I had, it’s still more charred than any dog I’ve had in recent memory.  Each chomp just about dislodges the skin entirely from the meat, so you are essentially eating two different foods with two totally different consistencies, simultaneously.  But it’s ultimately a successful exploration in wiener cooking science.

Second is what is termed “The Weller” which is a more aggressively charred frank.  In fact, it is so torched that the outer portions of the meat immediately beneath the skin have essentially been disintegrated into a thick crust of bacon-like flavor and texture.  The nucleus is still meaty, however.

And then there is the “Creamator” (above) which, in addition to being fried in oil, appears like it has been shoved into electrical sockets, struck by lightning, and screamed at by six hundred fire breathing dragons.  The entire diameter of the sausage has been completely, well, “creamated” into a semi-delicate shell of fat, salt and burn.  And it’s pretty “dog”garn tasty, to be honest.  It’s airy and crispy, like someone had rolled a few strips of bacon together and strategically placed them at the equator for a couple of months.

And as I successfully housed all the dogs in impressive time, and exited the establishment, I could have sworn John called out to me…”Hey Rookie…You were good.”  Like baseball and, indeed, the masterpiece that is Field of Dreams, Rutt’s Hut Hot Dogs is an American classic that should be enjoyed by men everywhere.  Ladies, on the other hand, just may not understand its message.

Overall Experience: The Big Lebowski

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Breakfast? Good choice.

My Cousin Vinny is a special movie to me. It’s one of the movies I actually own on DVD. I only purchase DVD’s of a movie when I know I will watch the film again and again and again…Some day I will give you the full list (which includes 7 seasons of the X-Files).

Also, I kinda love the white streaks in Marissa Tomei’s hair. A lot.

At one point, I got really good at imitating her character, Mona Lisa Vito: Oh you smooooth tawker. You ahhh….

But I digress.

Vinny and Mona Lisa’s discovery of grits in a sleepy Alabama cafe is one of the best-played scenes in this movie and always has me laughing, especially when Vinny literally puts one single grit on his fork and Mona Lisa pulls out her 1980’s pink camera to document the novelty of it all. But you should watch it for yourself, via this very shady video I found on youtube:

So I know you’ve heard of grits. But have you ever SEEN a grit before? And would you know where to get some good ones if you wanted them?

Of course I have a suggestion, a Vinny and Mona Lisa approved suggestion: Egg in Brooklyn. These days Vinny and Mona Lisa would stand out in Williamsburg quite as much as they did in Alabama, but I think they would make the trip for the food.

I did this past Sunday and feasted on their Eggs and Grits platter (with sweeeeeet, sweet bacon):

As the short order cook from the video suggested, these are hominy grits, made from corn. A simple concoction made no less tasty because of its simplicity. I think the secret ingredient is butter. And love. But sometimes I get those two words confused. Like when I tell people, “I butter you.” Everyone gets confused.

But these grits were just the right amount of buttered. Not greasy as all, but whipped up into an impressively light and airy pile of lightly salted creaminess. However, there was no cream added. That is the magic of grits – they have a creamy texture, but all that is added is water and seasonings. It’s like the Southern corn version of risotto.

Along with my corn risotto, I ordered eggs (over medium style) and sweet bacon. I made some sweet bacon a while back on the blog, but Egg’s is truly something special: thickly cut strips of locally sourced pork bacon made just slightly gooey with sweetness. A must order.

In addition to the down home goodness of their food, the tables come accessorized with these:

Do you have any idea what happens when I spot crayons at the table? Here’s a glimpse:

* Pirate scene not created by me.

Also, I try to steal other crayon colors from adjacent tables.

So streak your hair, dress up in leather and get yourself to Egg for their grits and sweet bacon. You’ll butter it. And take a picture, it’ll last longer.

Overall Grit Eating Experience: The Big Lebowski – The Cult Classic

Egg
135 North 5th Street, Brooklyn New York 11211
phone: (718) 302 5151

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“Have a sangwich!”

This is a line my family uses, in jest, usually after a particularly large meal. We say it for a few reasons:

1. It’s funny.

2. No one in my family ever needs a “sangwich” or a saaaaandwich (if you must). There is always so much food around that the idea of more in whatever form, sandwich or otherwise, would be pushing the limits of space, time and elastic waistbands.

(For those of you out of the loop, “sangwich” is sort of Italian-American/New Jersey/New York dialect/accent-weirdness for “sandwich”).

But sometimes you need a sandwich, as they are surprisingly handy. And last week I was in Midtown (really) and there were sandwiches to be had. Specifically, the well-crafted Portuguese sandwiches at City Sandwich.

City Sandwich chef and owner Michael Guerrieri was born in Naples, raised in New York, and cooked in Lisbon. And now he’s back in New York bringing Midtown a selection of golden-toasted sandwiches with fusion fillings. He calls this blend of flavors “ItaLisboNyorker” which is kind of a mouthful. Sandwich pun intended.

Something I REALLY like about this place is that there is no mayo in the sandwiches. Guerrieri instead uses yogurt with olive oil (I’ll get back to this in a bit).

The Scene:
The interior is unassuming. It looks like the sandwich version of a Pinkberry with less bubble-style graphics. The menu options are posted on the walls of the long, narrow space. Tables line either side, and the counter is at the back, complemented by a beverage fridge (stocking GUS natural sodas) and a basket of Gourmet Basic’s Smart Fries.

The Grub:
We selected the following sandwiches from the wall-posted offerings:

The Todd (pictured above): A harmonious blend of smoked Portugese pancetta, seasonal lettuce (nice and dark green, none of that wilty iceburg stuff), and a tomato with actual flavor. The whole thing was accented by a healthy but not goopy drizzle of honey dijon yogurt sauce. A honey dijon yogurt sauce that I liked so much I replicated at home. There’s a (bonus) recipe below!

Next up was the Henrique. Sporting Portugese Alheira-Vinegar sausage, steamed collard greens, grilled onions, melted mozzarella, this sandwich is definitely a heavy weight. But not in a way that often induces regret in an “I just ate a brick” way. It is surprisingly light – perhaps because the bread is so delicate and crispy it could float away if it wasn’t weighted down by meaty accoutrements. I loved the combination of tangy vinegar sausage, sweet grilled onion and savory collard greens. The mozzarella could have been a touch saltier (yes, even with sausage).

The Experience: The Big Lebowski

While the atmosphere doesn’t count for much, the sandwiches are innovative, fresh and feature well-thought-out and balanced taste combinations. I enjoyed the fusion of Italian, Portuguese and New York styles and tastes. And I loved that Honey Dijon Yogurt Dressing. So much so that I recreated it and mixed it up with some Persian cucumbers and avocados for a tangy salad.

Here’s how to do it yourself:

What You Need:

For the Dressing:
makes 1/2 cup
1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt (I used Chobani)
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard (NOT honey-dijon mustard)
2 teaspoons honey (I used a Acacia variety from Murray’s Cheese, but any honey that tastes good to you works)
A drizzle of olive oil

For the Salad:
1 ripe avocado, cut into cubes
2 Persian cucumbers, diced

What To Do:
Combine all the ingredients for the dressing in a small bowl and mix. Be sure to give it a taste and see if you would like more of any of the three main ingredients.

Place your chopped cucumber and avocado in a larger bowl. Add as much dressing as you would like (I added about 2 tablespoons of it) and mix until well coated. Serve with toasted bread or pita chips.

Note: This dressing is also good for dipping aforementioned bread/pita chips. This would be why I don’t have any dressing leftover.

And finally, say it with me now: SANGWICH! Have one.

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For this week’s review, Elana and I decided to expand the geographic horizons a bit and feature a Long Beach Island staple – The Clam Bar of Harvey Cedars Shellfish Co., located on center street in Beach Haven on Long Beach Island.  The Clam Bar is pretty much exactly how it sounds: a horseshoe shaped bar with about 25 wooden stools surrounding it.  A surly woman (“Nel” is her name) shuffles clockwise around the interior of the bar, serving her patrons.  The Clam Bar is perfect for us right now.  It is The Jersey Shore’s style of comfort food – lots of simple, yet tasty, seafood offerings – many of which come fried.  And comfort is needed on this Sunday.  Despite the marvelous weather, Elana is somehow battling a cold, and I am still considerably hungover from an unnecessarily late Saturday night.  It is equally comforting to know that the Clam Bar will accept my excessively casual appearance – a not-totally-dry bathing suit, wrinkled tee, and flops – I blend right in.  We bring our parents along because, well, parents get hungry too I suppose.

Upon sitting down at the bar we are immediately greeted with both good and bad news.  The good – a woman next to us discovers an actual pearl in one of her oysters. Really, she showed us.  The bad – Nel’s assistant politely advises us that Nel is not a fan of Elana’s iPhone and to “put it away before she gets angry.”  Elana (wisely) refrains from explaining to the assistant that we are merely using her camera function on the iPhone. Thus, pictures of the food could unfortunately not be captured for this review.  Myself and my family spent the next 15 minutes trying to figure out if Nel actually saw the iPhone or if the assistant was acting rogue on this one.  In retrospect, it is a comical scene – yet at the time, we feel like we may be in Nel’s penalty box for the techy infraction – she has already served two other groups with food that have come in after us.  “I think we are ready to order now” – Mom says, and Nel finally takes our requests. Nonetheless, big time service demerit here.

For appetizers, we order a dozen raw clams on the half shell as well as clams marinara, which, as the menu claims, are hot and spicy.  The raw clams were extremely fresh – which is part of their whole act.  Upon ordering the claims, Nel heads over to a shucking station – a center island inside the bar where tons of clams are kept on ice, shucked, rinsed and served within nanoseconds.  With some horseradish, cocktail sauce, and lemons – they are delicious.  Dad agreed – opting to couple his clams with a mere dash of Frank’s red hot.  The clams marina are good – little neck clams sitting in a pool of hot marinara – however they were not “hot and spicy” as advertised.  This appetizer comes with bread for mopping up the sauce – a nice bonus for a hungry Italian family.  The marinara sauce is solid, but nothing to write home about.

The dinners are also strong – Elana ordered shrimp cocktail – the ones that require the customer to do the peeling him/herself.  Yet she did not love the Dijon mustard sauce, which she found to be bland, but really liked the consistency and taste of the shrimp.  Myself and Mom went with some fried heavy hitters – Mom ordered the shrimp, and I got the scallops.  They each come in a plastic basket, served over a couple thousand fries.  Both are extremely tasty – a perfect brown cornmealish crust surrounds these treats and lends itself to good consistency.  The scallops have a snap to them, yet are still juicy and filling.  Dad goes for the Soft shell crab sandwich.  The crab meat was small in its portion at times and tough, yet had excellent sauce & tomatoes.  Lastly, the french fries were quite satisfying – not too greasy or soft, nor charred or overcooked.  I, myself, could have used a little more natural salt flavor with the fries, but everyone else disagreed with me.

We did, however sneak the iPhone into the bathroom for a couple of pictures.  Nel had no idea.


Ultimately, The Clam Bar is a worthwhile experience.  It’s unique, down and dirty, local atmosphere combined with fresh, above average food, make it a fun, casual place to go should you find yourself at LBI during the summer. The food is affordable and it is BYO, as well.  Just don’t piss off Nel!

Overall Experience – The Big Lebowksi

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