Vegetarian Irish Pub Grub At Putnam’s

Shawn Burnette never thought he’d be running an Irish pub. The chef has worked at a wild variety of restaurants, including Del Posto (high-end Italian), Glasserie (high-end Middle Eastern/Mediterranean), and Husk (high-end Southern) with Sean Brock in Charleston. He had his own restaurant in the Hudson Valley where he channeled his passion for seasonal, locally-sourced food, and now he’s the chef in charge of Circa Brewing where they serve wood-fired pizzas. He’s also the chef in charge of the menu at Putnam’s Pub & Cooker, where he brings that high-end, seasonal philosophy to the food.

Take the Irish root stew, pictured above. It’s a version of a hearty Irish dish usually made with lamb, only in this case completely vegan. The amount of work that goes into it is incredible; to make it the kitchen makes three different stocks. There’s a burnt onion stock, an Israeli technique in which onions are carbonized with their skin and then simmered. There’s also a mushroom stock and a vegetable stock modeled on a French technique but deliberately over-boiled for the right flavor and texture. The root vegetables and mushrooms are then cooked in the stocks. The resulting stew is rich and flavorful, with a texture that reminded me of the slow-cooker beef stew my mother used to make.

Burnette’s commitment to his ingredients doesn’t stop there — even the garnish excites him. He has a farmer upstate who grows a lot of the specialty produce they use at Putnam’s, including the microgreens. On top of the Irish stew were two tiny corn shoots, the immature stalks of corn plants with a bright green flavor to offset the stew.

Burnette told me that he wanted to be sure they didn’t just serve traditional Irish pub food, though they do tat too. He worked to perfect a fish and chips recipe that made Putnam’s Irish owners homesick, and there are pub stalwarts like Buffalo wings and shepherd’s pie. But there’s also a vegetarian leek and chard tart, with an expertly made pastry crust. And an incredible vegan entree called Broccoli Two Ways, though it’s actually more like “three kinds of broccoli multiple ways”, with turmeric curry. The Best of the Garden salad is just that, said Burnette, whatever veggies are perfectly in season from that farm upstate goes into it. There are vegetarian, vegan, and gluten free options all over the menu. Burnette said he wanted to make sure they wouldn’t alienate any diners, so there’s even a “secret” menu for locals who used to visit Putnam’s before he took over.

And everything is made the right way. The Irish soda bread is made in house, and they follow the tradition of “letting the fairies out” by pricking the dough before baking. But they also make the butter in house, using an Irish butter churn.

It’s that level of detail that Burnette loves the most. He loves the research that goes into every dish, the testing and refining. He gets excited when talking about getting his restaurants to near zero-waste, and the relationship he has with the farmers who supply him. He asks the farmers not just what is in season, or for what he needs, but what they need him to buy. For example, a farmer may have a load of bruised tomatoes that they can’t sell to a fancy farm-to-table restaurant, but Burnette has a pizza restaurant and can use those tomatoes to make sauce. As a result he gets a good price on the tomatoes and the farmer makes some money; and the farmer then may suggest some other unusual produce that Burnette could possibly use. It’s a win-win situation for everyone, including the diner.

I came away from my meal there, which was completely comped by Burnette, full and happy. But more than that I came away excited and interested in the food — Burnette’s enthusiasm is infectious. I’m looking forward to checking out Circa Brewing soon, and I have no doubt that the same loving attention to detail I found at Putnam’s will be there too. As a food blogger I can sometimes forget there are people behind the food I eat, and meeting Burnette was a great reminder that those people make a difference.

Putnam’s Pub & Cooker — 419 Myrtle Ave

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A Russian-Ukrainian Feast At Skovorodka

We were hungry that night, the night my girlfriend and I met for dinner at Skovorodka in Brighton Beach. There was a large birthday party happening in the back room, and our server seemed almost too preoccupied to take our order. We got his attention, though, by ordering a metric ton of food. We started with the spring salad, a mound of radishes and cucumbers with scallions and egg in a sour cream dressing, plus an enormous plate of pickles. Cucumbers and cabbage, yes, but also triangles of pickled watermelon and a large pickled tomato, along with some slices of dense bread. We spent some time alone with this food before they brought out the soup — mushroom for her, green borscht (with more egg) for me, each with a small tureen of sour cream on the side. Next came a plate of vareniki filled with potato puree, the small dumplings slathered in caramelized onions and served with yet another small boat of sour cream. We barely had time to tuck into these when they brought out the mushroom Julien — mushrooms cooked in cream sauce and baked with a thick layer of salty cheese on top. It was all so good that we managed to finish most of it while a live band sang to the revelers behind us, and we vowed to have own birthday parties there in the future.

Skovorodka — 615 Brighton Beach Ave

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Italian-American Classics At Sam’s

Stranded by the MTA on a weekday evening in Downtown Brooklyn I decided to walk part of the way home, rather than face an interminable wait underground. My walk took me to Atlantic Avenue, and then up Court St into Carroll Gardens, where I saw the neon lights of Sam’s Itlaian restaurant. Sam’s has been open in Brooklyn for something like 50 years, and I’d been there once before (though I don’t really remember anything about it). It’s one of the few true neighborhood institutions still open; Sam’s is the kind of place where they know the names of almost all of their customers, where the overhead music hasn’t been updated since 1970, and where they pat you on the shoulder when you order. Although Sam’s specializes in pizza they have a full men of Italian-American classics, of which I ordered the eggplant parmigiana (the plate, not the hero). The eggplant was silky smooth, and the sauce both sweet and savory, and the bread warm and crusty. Sure there’s nothing novel or trendy about Sam’s, butthere’s a reason they call them classics.

Sam’s — 238 Court St

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Vegan Thai Warm Mushroom Salad (Het Paa Naam Tok)

I’ve had the dish het paa naam tok several times in my life, but it didn’t occur to me to make it until recently. I first came across this salad (a wonderful mix of soy, lime, mushrooms, herbs, and chili powder) at Pok Pok Ny, and I loved it. I had a variation of it again in Thailand, where it was so spicy it made my nose run. A few weeks ago I had it at Corthaiyou, where my girlfriend and I loved it so much I determined to make my own.

I came across Andy Ricker’s recipe online and it’s pretty simple. Sure, it calls for a couple of specialty ingredients but thee is nothing you can’t substitute or omit as you wish.

Start with any mushrooms you like — most recently I used a mix of oysters mushrooms, king oysters, and creminis, but you can use anything. Cut them into large chunks — larger than bite-sized, because they will shrink when cooked. Ricker calls for them to be grilled with salt and pepper, but I don’t have a grill so I lightly browned them in my cast iron pan. A little charring adds a nice flavor to the salad, but you can cook them to your preferred done-ness.

While the mushrooms cook prepare the dressing in a small sauce pot. It’s a mix of soy sauce and lime juice (I’d say one part soy to four parts lime), with a pinch of toasted Thai chili flakes (or whatever chili flakes you have lying around). Bring the mix to a boil and turn off the heat.

By this point your mushrooms should be done cooking. Move them to a large bowl and pour the hot dressing over them. Let them sit for a while, soaking up all of that salty/sour/spicy goodness. When you’re ready to serve toss the mushrooms with some fresh herbs — cilantro is good, a mix of cilantro and mint would be better — and (optionally) some toasted rice powder. It’s best served warm or room temperature, and with some etra chili flakes on the side. You can add lemongrass, or thinly sliced shallots, but even if you just made it with the mushrooms it would be amazing.

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Smorgasburg At Industry City

I haven’t been to Smorgasburg in a while — too expensive, too many people, and a pain to get to on the weekends when subway maintenance is often happening. During the winter they have a scaled down version as part of Brooklyn Flea, over at Industry City. This past weekend my girlfriend was hosting some out of town guests, and they wanted to visit the Flea, so we all stopped in for a snack. I finally had my first ramen burger, which usually has crazy long lines at the regular Smorgasburg but on ym visit was practically deserted. The vegetarian version forgoes the burger patty for roasted mushrooms, topped with greens, a sweet garlic-y sauce, and mayonnaise. The gimmick is the bun, made with cooked ramen noodles formed into patties and crisped briefly on the griddle. It was tasty, though not worth the $10 price tag.

Smorgasburg at Industry City — 241 37th St

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Vegetarian At Pho Viet Nam

I’ve mentioned before that it’s hard to find good vegetarian pho here in Brooklyn. That’s one of the reasons I ended up making my own. At one place I went to in Sunset Park many years ago they advertised pho chay (“chay” indicating vegetarian) on the menu, but when I asked they said the broth was not vegetarian. The ended up bringing me a bowl of hot water with noodles and vegetables in it, and it was not so good. But sometimes on a cold winter day I find myself craving it, so I stopped by Pho Viet Nam on Avenue U to see if they could satisfy my cravings.

When I asked about the broth they said they could give me a vegetarian one. What they brought was not a fully flavored pho broth (usually made with lots of spices and herbs) but was a huge step up from hot water. It tasted strongly of onions, and was mildly seasoned. After adding the provided bean sprouts and fresh lime juice I fortified it with chili sauce, soy sauce, and fermented bean paste, and it was pretty great. The noodles were thin with just a hint of chew, the fried tofu nice and firm, and the veggies were fresh and still crisp. I ate almost the entire bowl. I still like my vegan pho better, but Pho Viet Nam makes a pretty good one — just make sure to ask specifically for the vegetarian broth.

Pho Viet Nam — 1243 Avenue U

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The Queen Bean From King David Tacos

Down by the Grand Army Plaza farmer’s market there’s a tiny little cart that’s not officially part of the market. This is King David Tacos, and they sell Austin-style breakfast tacos on Saturday mornings. There are only three tacos on offer, and only one is vegetarian, but it’s a great one. The Queen Bean features a smear of re-fried beans, potatoes, soft scrambled eggs, and some melted cheese, all wrapped in a flour tortilla. Served with your choice of either green or red salsa (I prefer the green by a slight margin), it’s an amazing little breakfast treat with which to fortify yourself before you hit the farmer’s market.

King David Tacos — Grand Army Plaza

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