In a world where it seems everyone is making barbecue, [random-Asian-country]-ese street food, and trying to come up with the NEXT BIG THING (cough-Bruffin-cough) comes Woezo. Woezo is a stand at Smorgasburg that’s actually bringing something new and exciting to an over-saturated marketplace: West African food. It’s true that in certain neighborhoods around the five boroughs there are authentic African restaurants, and it may seem a bit presumptuous for a white kid who was in the Peace Corps to bring these flavors to a hipster paradise in Williamsburg, but why argue when the food is so good? They have plenty of vegan and gluten-free options on the menu — you can mix and match what you want in your bowl to suit your appetite. I got a base of rich polenta, topped with mushrooms and fried tofu with a peanut sauce and some spicy chili sauce as well. Mixed all together it managed to be both comforting and unfamiliar, and somehow was evocative of a place to which I’ve never been. I hope more potential Smorgasburg vendors follow this example, and search for something truly new to bring to the event — the world only needs so many Korean-barbecue burritos on a stick.
Woezo at Smorgasburg — Kent Avenue and North 7 St
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: scallion roots.
Back when my friends at We Heart New York ate at Aska, they mentioned a dish that contained leek root. I remember reading that and thinking to myself, “Well that’s interesting.” The next time I was cooking with scallions, after chopping off the root end I regarded the squiggly threads with suspicion. I rinsed them thoroughly; this is the end deepest in the dirt, after all. I cautiously took a bite. I was amazed — it had the same full onion flavor as the rest of the scallion. I set about trying to figure out a way to harness the flavor in a palatable way. It didn’t take me long to think of tempura. I made a quick batter with brown rice flour and cold seltzer (a technique I learned from Ming Tsai), then dipped the cleaned scallion ends in the batter. I made sure each of the little roots was coated, shook off the excess batter, and then fried them in vegetable oil. When they were lightly browned I drained them on a paper towel and sprinkled them with a little kosher salt. The roots get nice a crunchy and curl out like tentacles. The brown rice powder gets nice and crispy and lends a sweet nutty flavor, complimenting the sweet flavor of the cooked scallion roots. These would be the perfect addition to any tempura basket or fritto misto. So the enxt time you trim the ends off of your scallions (or leeks, it works for leeks too), keep them around for a little fried treat.
When I ordered the Vegan Pozole at Lucky Luna, a new Mexican-Taiwanese fusion restaurant in Greenpoint, I ordered it extra spicy. I also asked about the dashi broth, since dashi — a Japanese soup base — usually includes dried fish flakes in its manufacture. At Lucky Luna they use dried mushrooms instead so that the pozole is vegan. Meat eaters take note, they make a version with pork as well. Pozole, aka hominy, is corn kernels that have been treated with lye. This unlikely sounding process softens the kernels and makes them chewy, and also unlocks vitamins within them. The pozole was served in that under-seasoned but hiccup inducingly spicy vegan dashi (as requested), so I’m glad I also ordered Mom’s Cucumber Salad (also vegan). The cucumbers were cold and bracingly sharp with vinegar, cooling down my mouth from the fiery pozole. Of course there’s no fusion involved; it’s a fully Taiwanese dish, no Mexican influence to be found. But it was so good I didn’t spend any time worrying about that.
Lucky Luna — 167 Nassau Ave
Not long ago, the bodega on the corner near my apartment here in Windsor Terrace changed owners. The new owners started selling these intriguing stuffed pastries, displaying them in the same case as the standard Boar’s Head meats and cheeses. Ever since I noticed them I was intrigued by them, but it wasn’t until recently that I thought to ask one of the owners if they made the pastries themselves. “My Aunt makes them,” was the reply. She makes three varieties: beef, cheese and spinach. The owner told me that they were traditional Middle Eastern foods, and I realized they were a variety of boreka. A boreka is a stuffed pastry which I became very familiar with back in 1999 when I was in Israel. I ate dozens of borekas while I was there, freshly fried and filled with molten hot salty cheese. These appeared to be baked rather than fried, but they were basically the same thing. I ordered a spinach and a cheese, and the bodega owner warmed them up for me in the microwave to take home with me. The cheese one was very good, filled with a crumbly, salty white cheese and diced onions. But the spinach one was phenomenal. The spinach is roughly chopped and cooked with onions and a lot of lemon. The dough is soft and chewy, making for an easy hand-held snack. I’ve since been back for the spinach borekas a few times, and they’re always great. I don’t want to say exactly which bodega it is, because I doubt that the owner’s Aunt is making them in a commercial kitchen and I don’t want them to get in trouble with the DOH. My roommate, who is also a big fan of the spinach pies, thinks that the borekas aren’t actually made by an Aunt, they just use the story to make the pastries seem homemade. I, however, choose to believe.
When I first read (over on Yum Veggie Burger) that there existed in Williamsburg a vegan cheese shop, my initial reaction was an eye-rolling “well of course that exists.” But the more I thought about it, the more intrigued I became. I needed to see for myself, so I headed out to find Dr. Cow. The shop is a tiny space that’s the storefront of their kitchen. All of the cheeses at Dr. Cow are made with nuts — cashew, macadamia, and Brazil nuts. I’ve had cashew cheese before, a fact that seemed to surprise the woman working at the shop, but it was a soft cheese used as a filling in pasta. At Dr. Cow they’re doing something I’ve never seen before — they’re aging the cheese, allowing them to solidify into cheese-shaped forms. Now let’s be honest: no one is going to mistake these for real cheese. The texture actually reminded me of thick hummus more than anything else, and there was a strange, funky sharpness to both types I tried. And yet when paired with some crusty bread, they were quite delicious. I had a cashew cheese flavored with turmeric and kale, with a thin strip of beet in between those two layers. I also tried a macadamia cheese, flavored with saffron. Because macadamia nuts are higher in fat than cashews the texture is much softer, and the texture was a little chunkier. Dr, Cow also sells nut milks, as well as a selection of raw, vegan, and organic desserts. The cheese is a completely different thing than those heavily processed vegan cheeses meant to melt realistically and top veggie burgers and pizzas and such. They aren’t cheap; these are painstakingly crafted artisan products, and the prices reflect that. Although I probably won’t be back to Dr. Cow anytime soon, I love that they’re doing something completely new and different. Hopefully the shop, which has only been open for about a month, will be there for a long time to come.
Dr. Cow — 93 South 6th St
A few days ago I got an email telling me that La Lucha, a luchador-themed restaurant in the East Village, would be hosting a pop-up taco event to celebrate Cinco de Mayo. The event was taking place at Pine Box Rock Shop, a vegan bar in Bushwick, and would have lots of vegan and gluten-free options. They were calling the event La Cuarta Verde (the Green Fourth), since it was happening on May 4th and would be veggie-centric. I went to La Lucha once, back when I was writing for Serious Eats. And I went to Pine Box Rock Shop last year, for the Vegan Shop-Up. I immediately emailed back that I would be attending the pop-up. Upon my arrival yesterday I introduced myself to Raymond, who had invited me to the event. Raymond introduced me to the owner of La Lucha, who had been my server at the restaurant. Despite the fact that it was almost exactly two years ago to the day, he remembered not only me, but the person with whom I’d been dining, what we ordered, and where in the restaurant we were seated. That’s an impressive mental feat. He told me he had just purchased a food truck which he wants to launch in Brooklyn, focused mostly on Greenpoint. For $3 each I got some tacos and an order of grilled corn. The two tacos I ordered were both vegan: a roasted poblano taco and a zucchini taco. They also gave me a mushroom taco, which had a sprinkling of queso fresco and so was not vegan. I did not order the taco, so I don’t know if they sent it as a result of a mix-up at the grill or they purposely gave it to me to try for free. The tacos were great, especially after a squeeze of La Lucha’s homemade salsas. The grilled corn was slathered in mayo and cheese, and was excellent. Along with a few beers at the bar, it was a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon. Hopefully their truck will be on the road soon.
Pine Box Rock Shop — 12 Grattan St
La Lucha — 146 Ave A (Manhattan)
You may remember from my post last year, but the Food Vendors at the Red Hook Ball Fields had run through their initial five-year permits and were waiting to see if they would be renewed. The good news is that they were granted another six years, and the even-better news is that they are now open for the 2014 season! The weather’s still a bit chilly, as Spring refuses to fully commit to Brooklyn, but everything tastes better when you eat it outside. Make the trip out to Red Hook any weekend between now and October for some of the best Mexican, Central- and South American food you can find here in the Five Boroughs.