When Donny asked if I wanted to get pho in Bay Ridge, my first question was, “where?” But then I searched “pho bay ridge” and there was only one result — Pho Hoai. I have had bad luck with vegetarian pho, though. Usually the broth is meat based, so I tend to avoid it. Instead I ordered one of my favorite dishes: bun. Bun is usually room temperature rice noodles topped with a mix of cooked, pickled, and raw veggies. The noodles in my bun at Pho Hoai were warm; not a bad thing, just not what I was expecting. And there were no raw or pickled veggies either. The tofu and vegetables were well seasoned, unlike at Bun-Ker, and there were plenty of condiments like chili sauce and soybean paste to boost the flavor. I don’t go up to Bay Ridge very often, but my meal at Pho Hoai makes me want to explore the neighborhood more often.
Pho Hoai — 8616 4th Ave
This past weekend was the first ever Batchery — a market co-created by my friend Chitra Agrawal and her friend Sonya Samuel, creator of Bacchanal Pepper Sauce. Chitra recently created Brooklyn Delhi, where she makes and sells traditional Indian condiments, called achar, made here in Brooklyn. At Batchery, which was held in a work space in Bushwick called Bat Haus, there were vendors from a few different vendors. In addition to the excellent products I’ve already mentioned, some of my favorites were the Dark and Stormy cookie from Fatty Cakes, with Sailor Jerry rum cream sandwiched between ginger-molasses cookies, and traditional Trinidadian coconut fudge from Trini Treats. I’m not sure if there’s going to be another Batchery, but if there is I’ll definitely be there.
Noodles, noodles everywhere. With all of the attention given to ramen, you could perhaps be forgiven for forgetting about other Asian noodles. Take udon noodles, for example. Udon noodles, like ramen, are usually served in soup. Unlike ramen, udon are quite thick and often chewy. At Samurai Mama, in Williamsburg, they make their own udon noodles, and for an extra charge you can get them served in a vegetarian broth. That’s what I did when I ordered the kinokojil kake udon, or udon in broth with a variety of mushrooms. The noodles themselves were quite good; unfortunately they were let down by the broth. The aroma reminded me of powdered onion soup mix, though it had much less flavor than even that. And although there were some tasty mushrooms in there, there were also slices of eggplant. I’d never had boiled eggplant before, and I hope never again to have it. For the price they’re charging, I’d expect a lot more from a bowl of noodles.
Samurai Mama — 205 Grand St
There’s nothing about the flavor or texture of this delicious doughnut that would indicate that it’s vegan — it’s just a great, moist, yeast doughnut reminiscent of Dough in Bed-Stuy. My only complaint was that the blueberry glaze tasted nothing like blueberries; perhaps it’s my own fault for ordering a blueberry in mid-October. Check their Twitter feed to see what special flavors they’ve been working on lately.
Dun-Well Doughnuts — 222 Montrose Ave
Paulie Gee has made no secret about the fact that he serves secret pizzas that you won’t find on the menu at his restaurant. The secret menu is hidden almost in plain sight, so I won’t bother steering you towards it. Finding it on your own will be more satisfying anyway. Among these secret pizzas there are a few vegetarian ones (and even a vegan one), including the one you see above. The Where’s the Beef features fresh mozzarella, pickled red onions, and barbecue sauce from Hometown Bar-B-Que in Red Hook. I’ll admit, I was a little skeptical of barbecue sauce on pizza. I considered getting some of their house-made vegan “sausage” added to the pie, but I decided to see how the pizza worked on its own. I’m very glad I did; the Where’s the Beef is an amazing, perfectly balanced pizza. The sweet and tangy sauce is a perfect counter to the creamy mozzarella, and the pickled red onions (which are featured on a few of their other pizzas) add a nice crunch to the plate. In case you’re wondering, there’s a version for meat eaters as well, which features brisket from Hometown. My friend Jeff highly recommends it.
Paulie Gee’s — 60 Greenpoint Ave
In Vegetarian Offal I examine the scraps and cut-offs that might otherwise be thrown away. Offal isn’t just for meat-eaters anymore! Today’s offal: shiitake mushroom stems.
I love all mushrooms, other than dried and reconstituted ones, but if I had to pick one as a favorite it would probably be shiitakes. They have great flavor and great texture, and they can be used so many different ways. Traditionally, though, the stems are cut off and discarded. There’s no reason to do that, though. You do have to trim off the very bottom of the stem, because mushrooms are grown in dirt and filth after all. But if you chop the stem and and fry the pieces in olive oil and season with salt and pepper, along with the rest of the shiitake, you get wonderfully crisp and chewy little bits of flavor. I remember an episode of either “Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations” or “Bizarre Foods” where either Tony or Andrew eats a sandwich made of unknown organ meats and other scraps that had been fried until crisp and chewy. This is the same idea, only with mushrooms.
I have also used shiitake stems to make a wonderful mushroom consomme — gently simmer the trimmed stems in water with some onions and carrots. I haven’t found any other uses for them yet; I tried grilling them once but they came out pretty bad. After the jumo, find a simple recipe for tofu “steaks” with sauteed chicory and shiitake.
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This past Thursday I was contemplating what to do with my Friday off when I saw a tweet from Paulie Gee about a pop-up pizza event. I had never heard of the man making the pizza, John Wozniak, but Paul makes some of my favorite pizza in the world so I figured that was all I needed to know. Wozniak, or Johnny as he was billed in the announcement, has been working hard to perfect a pan pizza dough and was serving up eight different pies at Lo Duca Pizzeria in Ditmas Park. Unfortunately due to the realities of working his schedule around the schedule at Lo Duca the dough for this trial run didn’t rise properly, and instead of the puffy pan pizza that Johnny wanted the pizzas came out flatter and denser than he intended. Luckily the pizzas were still delicious, and Johnny seemed to take the mis-step in stride, looking at it as a learning experience. Hearing him talk about pizza I know that he has the passion, knowledge, and the drive to work out the kinks and get his technique down perfectly. I’m looking forward to the results. I also got a free slice (thanks to Johnny) of Lo Duca’s pizza; it’s a good, solid slice with really great sauce (which they make themselves).
Johnny’s Place Pizza — at Lo Duca Pizza, 14 Newkirk Plaza