Friday, September 26, 2008

Five Borough Challenge - Stop #5: Fornino in Brooklyn

Williamsburg, a neighborhood in Brooklyn, is known for its legendary steakhouse, its large Hasidic Jewish population and most recently, for having the world's highest number of hipsters per square foot.
How do you afford your rock n' roll lifestyle?

Since October 2004, Billyburg has also been known as a destination for some mighty fine pizza.  Fornino owner and chef Michael Ayoub is obsessive about his pies.  He is able to control his ingredients personally by growing fresh herbs and tomatoes in a nearby greenhouse.  In addition, Mr. Ayoub makes his own mozzarella each and every morning.

When his painstaking efforts to source perfect ingredients ends, the pizza making begins.  Fornino employs a gas-assisted wood burning oven to heat its pies and give them the slightly earthy flavor that only wood can bring.  

Fornino has three sections of its menu, Naples - First Generation, Italy - Second Generation, and Fornino - Third Generation.  

The first section's pizzas consist of the most basic ingredients: crust, cheese, tomato sauce and herbs.  The second brings classic Italian iterations including Quattro Stagoni, Quattro Formagi and Calabrese.  Finally, the Fornino section showcases pies of Ayoub's creation with toppings ranging from broccoli rabe to rock shrimp to mixed wild mushrooms to fingerling potatoes.

For a report on the taste of the classic pie, here's an excerpt from's review (a website that we basically owe our entire pizza tour to):

"Rare are the pizzas that have no flaws, but this may be one of them. The light buffalo mozzarella on our Margherita was dreamy, and the standard mozzarella wasn’t far behind. The sauce was bright and tasty with a perfect balance: not too spicy, not too tangy. Even the crust, the most difficult part to master, was superb: very thin, with no sag. The gas-assisted wood-fired oven produced a surprisingly respectable char on the crust, cooked evenly across both pies we ordered."

The Fornino Margherita

That's a pretty strong rave from a group of reviewers who really know their stuff.

And so you have it.  

The five destinations for the Five Borough Challenge.  If you are interested in joining us, please let me know by posting in the comments so that we can know to expect you at the Staten Island Ferry this Sunday morning.

Oh, and pray for good weather...

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Five Borough Challenge - Stop #4: Sac's Place in Queens

As we all learned from Prince Akeem, Queens is an incredible place to find a bride.  It also happens to be a borough brimming with fantastic pizza places.

With a surfeit of pizza parlors to peruse, we hit the books to do a little research on what place might be the perfect stop on our cheese and sauce fueled journey.  A name that kept coming up over and over as a favorite of locals and critics alike was Sac's Place, located in the neighborhood of Astoria.

Sac's is short for Sacramone, as in Anthony Sacramone, the proprietor.  Mr. Sacramone obviously takes a lot of pride in his product, going so far as to grow his own oregano, basil and rosemary at his home in Pennsylvania, making mozzarella in-house, and shopping for all the vegetables used in the store himself.  As any pie constructor worth his salt does, Anthony also exclusively uses San Marzano tomatoes to make his pizza sauce.

No relation to these Sacramones, though Ginny does love a good slice...

What results from the marriage of high quality ingredients, a coal burning oven and Mr. Sacramone's pizza know-how is an extraordinarily balanced pie that hits all of the right notes.  I'll let Mr. Josh Ozersky, a favorite food writer of mine, tell what he thought of his Sac's Place pie: 

 "The telltale random crust bubbles and tiny black spots on the bottom tell the tale of coal heat, but it isn't until you bite into the slice that you get the coal effect. This isn't the thin, matzo-like crust, so delicate and austere, served at Coney Island's Totonno's or the thick, cake-like confection of Manhattan's Arturo's (to mention two of its coal-oven cousins). It's just thick enough to support the toppings, to avoid tip sag and to give a pleasing contrast between the crisp crust and the moist, sweet dough in the middle."

I can't believe I have to wait until Sunday for this...

Top that crust off with sweet tomato sauce, creamy fresh mozzarella and Sacramone grown fresh herbs, and you have yourself a pie worth trekking to Queens for.  No matter how far away you're from...

They don't make pizza like this in Zamunda (or at McDowell's)

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Five Borough Challenge - Stop #3: Louie and Ernie's in the Bronx

The Bronx - Louie and Ernie's

Guest post by Turkel

With many of the city's largest Italian neighborhoods, it should come
as no surprise that the Bronx offers some of the city's best pizza.
Strangely, a simple Google search for "Bronx Pizza" generally features
hit results for a pizzeria located in San Diego, California.  No
disrespect to this restaurant, but I think one of the goals of our
challenge is to put NYC back on top, and leave the imitators further
down the list where they belong.

We're not in Manhattan anymore...

The location of the Bronx's Italian areas is not ideal for our
challenge, as many of these neighborhoods, such as Belmont and Morris
Park, are situated in the northern part of the borough.  Nevertheless,
we are determined to trek out to the neighborhood of Pelham Bay to
savor a Bronx Slice.  It won't be the easiest leg of our journey but
we think the rave reviews we hear about Louie and Ernie's Pizza make a
trip to the end of the 6 line easier to digest.

Getting close up and personal with this delicious celebrity

The pizzeria is located in the basement of a white frame house and
operated by the family that lives above it.  Creamy mozzarella and
grated cheese is served on a thin crust, producing regular pies that
are among the best in the city.  Louie and Ernie's is also praised for
its white ricotta slices and sausage pizza.  We have the feeling that
one bite of this slice will dispel any doubt that Bronx Pizza belongs
near the top of our list, as well as Google's.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Five Borough Challenge - Stop #2: Patsy's (The Original) in Manhattan

Manhattan - Patsy's Pizza

There may not be a restaurant with a more storied and controversial history than Patsy's Pizza. Pasquale “Patsy” Lancieri learned the art of pizza-making at America's first pizzeria, Lombardi’s. In 1933, Patsy ventured out on his own and created his eponymous restaurant in East Harlem. The pizzeria gained legendary status over the years for creating classic New York style pizzas with a signature char on the crust that can only come from a coal fired oven.

You don't get char like that from gas...

Patsy passed away in 1974 and his widow Carmela, took the reigns of this nationally recognized pizza destination. Carmela then sold the business to several long time employees to ensure the continuation of the restaurant's reputation for quality. The place was as popular as ever and Patsy's continued to be the name most associated with great New York pizza even after the death of it's namesake.

In fact, the name Patsy's was so well known, that in 1991, a group of business people seeking to create a chain of pizzerias in Manhattan offered to purchase the rights to the name Patsy's Pizza. The offer was too good to pass up, and there are now six "Patsy's" scattered throughout Manhattan. These additional Patsy's have led to confusion and dilution of the brand as only one of the six new Patsy's has a coal oven like the original (environmental laws prohibit the construction of new coal ovens in New York City). Taste-wise, these new Patsy's pies are generally pretty solid, but in direct competition, let's just say that Patsy's is no Patsy's.

Maddox Jolie-Pitt is neither a Jolie nor a Pitt. Talk amongst yourselves.

Like Maddox Jolie-Pitt, the six new Patsy's may share a name with the original, but not DNA. To taste the true legend, we will be making our way to 118th street and 1st avenue to sample one America's national treasures, the original Patsy's Pizza.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Five Borough Challenge - Stop #1: Goodfella's in Staten Island

Staten Island - Goodfella's Pizza

Guest Post by Turkel

Staten Island isn't exactly known as a beacon of culinary eminence. A
glance at Zagat's 2008 restaurant guide reveals that only six
restaurants in the borough had food ratings of twenty-two or higher.
Indeed, with Manhattan boasting many of the world's finest dining
establishments, it would appear to be an unlikely restaurant
destination for non-denizens.  But Staten Island haters take note –
when it comes to making a great pizza, the borough can certainly hold
its own.

A World Champion Pie

Choosing our destination for the Five Borough Challenge was not a
simple matter, nor one we took lightly.  Many pizzerias vie for the
borough's best slice including Denino's, Joe's and Pat's, and
Nunzio's.  Our decision was further complicated by our reliance on
public transportation to reach our destination.  Ultimately, a pizza
is only as good as its creator and as a result, we have our eyes on
the pies of chef Salvatore Russo.  Last year in Las Vegas's 23rd
International Pizza Expo, he bested 65 competitors from six countries
to win first-prize.  His pizza has been featured on the Regis and
Kathie Lee Show and is a favorite of former mayor Rudy Giuliani and
former Governor Pataki.  We think the only way to taste what all the hype is
about, is to take a trip down to Goodfellas pizza in Dogan Hills and
see for ourselves.

Who better to ask than a NYPD cop?

Since 1993, Goodfellas has been serving up their tasty brick oven
pizza in Staten Island. Their "Pizza a la Vodka" has been a perennial
New York favorite and their "Sally Pie" and "Smokin 
Goodfella" have
also been critically acclaimed.   The restaurant will certainly face
some stiff competition in our Five Borough Challenge, but we think
this slice will be worth taking the ferry for.

Stay tuned each day this week as we announce the lineup for this historic event...

Wednesday, September 17, 2008


Ladies and Gentlemen,

The day is nearly upon us.  

For years, people have said it couldn't be done.  

Sunday, September 28th, 2008 years after the birth of Jesus Christ, come join us for a day of indulgence as we attempt to eat a slice of pizza and drink a pint of beer in all five boroughs..... in one day.  

We will meet under the large STATEN ISLAND FERRY sign at the entrance to (you guessed it) the Staten Island Ferry (on the Manhattan side) at 11:30 AM sharp. 

From there we will embark on a journey that will change our lives, in one way or another.

Meet right about....there

Each day next week (Mon-Fri) we will reveal a destination on our journey and a little information about that pizzeria.  

If you have any questions, please post in the comments and I'll respond accordingly.

What to bring:

Good walking shoes

A Metrocard

A Good Appetite......for adventure

Now the only question is... 

are you down for the FIVE BOROUGH CHALLENGE?

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Iron Chef - Mushrooms

For my second installment of the Iron Chef challenges, I was asked by Tesha to compose a meal that featured mushrooms in every dish.

I didn't always like eating mushrooms (in fact I avoided them like the plague until about six years ago), but I have grown to become a fungi fanatic, so I was very much looking forward to this meal.  I knew one of the dishes that I would make, but the others would be brand new ventures.

For the first course, I decided to make my version of what is hands down my favorite mushroom dish I've ever had.  The Momofuku Ssam Bar Warm Mushroom Salad is made up of two types of mushrooms (hon shimeji and king oyster), puréed pistachio nuts braised in dashi, red ball radishes and pickled crosnes, which are very small, crisp, tan-skinned white tubers in the mint family with a nutty, artichoke-like flavor.  

The Momofuku Masterpiece

Since a dish with the same ingredients would be nearly impossible to source, I decided to make do with what I had.  I chopped up a half pound of oyster, shitake and cremini mushrooms and sautéed them with a handful of smashed pistachio nuts and a bit of butter, salt and fresh ground black pepper.  After the mushrooms had begun to turn golden brown, I added in very thin slices of baby radish for color, texture and flavor.

Normally, the dish is served with mushroom and pistachio cream to serve as a dressing of sorts for this nontraditional salad.  I decided to change it up and add a bit of unctuous goodness to this otherwise staid, subtle salad by spreading some mushroom paté on the plate before adding the warm mushrooms to it.  The idea was that the paté would "melt" a bit onto the mushrooms and round out the dish.

Warm Mushroom Salad, Mushroom Pate, Baby Radish

While the paté didn't completely melt into a buttery dressing, it did coat the mushrooms in its fatty, flavorful self sufficiently to work as both a lubricant and flavor agent.  The mushrooms were excellent, with each type showing off its individual flavor and texture while still pairing well with its "salad" dance partners.  

This was certainly a success, but I think it can be improved upon with a bit of future experimentation.

For my next trick, I chose to do a dish I came up with in college that I consider one of my best original recipes. It's a decidedly different pizza that had yielded spectacular results in past makings.

The pizza starts with whatever crust you choose (pita, flatbread, traditional dough, puff pastry), seasoned with garlic powder, salt and pepper, and rubbed with an 80%/20% mixture of olive oil and truffle oil for lubrication and flavor.  Next, a handful of Monterrey Jack and Cheddar Cheeses are layered onto the doughy vessel.  

Here's where things get interesting.

I then take duck confit, shred the meat (and set aside) and use the fatty skin to flavor cremini (baby portabello) mushrooms that I sauté with it.  After the mushrooms are golden brown, I toss in the shredded meat, cook for another 4 minutes and then allow the mixture to chill together for an hour to meld flavors before topping the aforementioned pie.

Pulled Duck, Cremini Mushroom, Truffle Oil Flatbread Pizza

As usual, the duck fat gives the creminis a full, rich flavor that is only enhanced by the pulled duck itself and the truffle oil.  Crispy crust and gooey melted cheeses make this fun for the mouth texturally as well.  

It is fairly rich as far as pizzas go, so two slices (depending on the dough used) would certainly be considered an entree sized portion.

For the third course, I decided to go a bit more traditional and pair the mushrooms with one of their usual cohorts.  The dish would be a cinnamon chile spiced, pan seared rib-eye steak layered with grilled portabello mushrooms.

Pan Seared Cinnamon Chile Rubbed Rib-eye Steak and Grilled Portabello

Tesha called this her favorite dish of the night, and while I preferred the first two dishes, it was pretty good.  Mushrooms and steak are a timeless combination and this was no exception. However, I was surprised how well the cinnamon worked with the mushrooms, giving the dish a depth of flavor that I didn't expect.  If only I had consulted Seinfeld... 

To end our exploration of the fungus kingdom, I attempted to make a passable dessert featuring mushrooms, though I had never seen one on any menu.

I looked at a few recipes that I saw on Mycophagy websites and came up with a plan I figured wouldn't be entirely repulsive. 

sautéed sliced white button mushrooms in brown butter with cinnamon and ginger for about seven minutes.  I then let the mixture cool in the refrigerator for a few hours before mixing the concoction with Greek yogurt, almond dust (pulverized almonds), and clover honey.

Button Mushrooms, Cinnamon, Ginger, Honey, Almond Dust, Greek Yogurt

This dish didn't work out quite like I had planned.  

The mushrooms themselves were actually pretty good, but they did not mesh with the yogurt in the least.  It wasn't horrible by any means, but let's just say neither of us finished our portions.

It was a happy failure though as it meant that I had tackled Tesha's task.  Four courses featuring mushrooms; dessert included.

Fall On Me

Just because the summer is over doesn't mean that you have to get down about the disappearing heirloom tomatoes and fresh corn. There's a lot to look forward to come fall, as evidenced by this article listing ten foods that will be at their respective peaks in the coming weeks. Get ready for Kabocha....

Kabocha. Not just fun to say...

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

The Power To Change Your Life - RSS Feeds

While this is primarily a food blog, from time to time, I will let you know about things that are so important that I just can't help myself from telling everyone I know (and those I don't).
Here's an example...
What if I told you that there was something incredibly simple that you could do that would accomplish the following:
1) Make sure you never miss an article on your favorite website (this one, perhaps?)
2) Conveniently organize all the websites you read
3) Save you at least 25% of the time you normally spend checking your favorite sites

My friends, all this can be accomplished, completely free, in about 30 minutes.

The amazing application that will change your life is called an RSS Reader. Basically, it functions as a single space in which you can view all the websites that you read. When an update is made to the website, your RSS Reader will update itself and list that new article as unread.

To set up the reader, simply go to and fill out your settings. There are many other competing RSS Readers, but this one is clean and easy to use.

From there you can head to all the websites you enjoy reading and click on the orange icon that automatically subscribes you to the RSS feed. You can also find RSS feeds through Google Reader itself by using the search function. Unless you are a particularly voracious reader, the entire process will take you about 15 minutes.

Your new best friend

I promise you that after a few days of going to your RSS Reader to view websites, you will wonder why you've been wasting your time all these years typing in URLs.

Trust me on this one, I wouldn't bother writing about it if it weren't incredible.

You can even subscribe to this blog. Just click on the links in the upper left hand corner and choose your RSS Reader.