Saturday, November 30, 2013

Ladies Lunch: Tuscan House, Southampton, NY

The Ladies Lunch is never easy for me.  Time is tight and location is key. Compared to the Ladies Night Out where time seems to melt away as the wine is poured, at lunch there is a lot of watch-monitoring and water-drinking. Still, it is a treat.

C and I happened upon Tuscan House while shopping in the village of Southampton. At just before noon, we were the only ones in the restaurant so we chose a corner table with a "winter view." Winter view being defined as with the leaves off the trees and some neck craning you can see a sliver of a body of water.

This is the kind of place that is packed in high season with the windows all open so you feel the warm summer breeze as you indulge in Italian food.  In November, we can only dream about that.

Being that this is Southampton, prices are high.  We spent some time going through the menu trying to select dishes that wouldn't make us feel too guilty.  We agreed to split a salad and a main course.

The Caesar salad was simple yet delicious with big flakes of parmesan and crunchy croutons.  Our salad came already split into two bowls and it was bigger than I imagined.

Even more surprising, the branzino done "Venencian" style again came pre-split and neither of us could finish our half-portion.  The branzino was roasted with tomatoes and a few shrimp and sat atop a bed of spinach.  The whole dish seemed a little "blah."  It needed some more seasoning,  some olive oil and garlic could have gone a long way.

A welcome respite of calm, though, I'll take any day of the week.

Until our next Berger, KLB

The Tuscan House
10 Windmill Lane
Southampton, NY

Happy Hour Eats: Brinkley's Station, New York, NY

Happy Hour. In the suburbs, it's elusive. In the city, it's the norm. So when offered the chance to partake with E & L, two old friends, I could not resist.

Brinkley Station is not the best happy hour spot. There are no $5 cocktails here nor are there 10 cent wings.  But if location, drinks, food and especially, company are good, then what should price really matter?

Drinks are small, but good.  Seriously one of the smallest wine glasses I have ever seen. E, however, swears by the their Dark and Stormy. And both E & L had some kinds of Pork Ale.  Beer and pork products - how could one go wrong. 

Appetizers were a must. Both E & L had been before and recommended the burgers. We opted for the smaller portion of sliders. The serving came as 2 small and flavorful burgers complete with cheese, pickles, sauce and mini onion rings.  2 were not enough.  It may have been a better idea to just get the full size burger or two orders of sliders or both.  

The macaroni and cheese topped with breadcrumbs was just decadent. How could one go wrong with the blend of fontina, parmigiano and pecorino topped with breadcrumbs. Never has licking the bowl been so right. 

And then just as fast as it began, it ended. Happy hour is too short.  

Good thing they can happen every night.

Until our next Berger,

Brinkley's Station
153 E. 60th Street
New York, NY

On the Side: Check out their SoHo and Miami locations, too!

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Another Quicksie NYC Lunch: 'wichcraft, New York, NY

Another quick NYC work trip, another quick lunch.  This time we chose Wichcraft of Tom Colicchio fame.  We are big fans when reputable restauranteurs open chainlets of excellent food -- just like Danny Meyer and the Shake Shack and Bobby Flay and Bobby's Burger Palace do with burgers, 'wichcraft provides a gourmet spin on something ordinary -- the sandwich.  Or in my case, the salad.

Enter the roasted turkey salad on mixed greens with avocado and bacon.  Part healthy, part not so healthy but only 491 calories per their prominently displayed menu.  Sit down or take out and feel like you got some better than the average corner deli.

With 15 NYC locations, they are doing something right.  Try it.

Until our next Berger,

Visit the location nearest you:

Pizza and Zeppoles: Coals and Zeppoleme, Port Chester, NY

Oh, Port Chester. The step-child of Westchester County. Just "over-the-line" from Connecticut.

Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich brought the Tarry Lodge to town in 2008 and helped pave the way to make PC a great food destination. Coals and Zeppoleme are two more establishments helping to revitalize this community. 

From the outside, Coals looks like a bar in a working class town. People drinking beers at the bar, watching football, eating pizza and burgers. But if you take a closer look, that beer is a fine local microbrew, the pizza is doused with truffle oil and the burger is grass-fed with duck bacon. 

Our bare table was unassuming as we ordered our drinks (just beer and wine to my father's disappointment). And my mom insisted on the fried brussel sprouts to share. 

I am always a Brussels fan, these were well executed with walnuts and raisins, but the vinegar-mustard dressing was heavy and not to my liking. 

JB, my mom and I each ordered one wood grilled pizza - a Margherita, a Pure Bliss and a Rustico - but I, of course, insisted on tasting them all.  The pizzas were bigger than the promised personal size (no complaining here).  JB's Margherita was simple with just fresh mozzarella, tomato and basil and JB's call to have no pecorino was a good one.  The Pure Bliss, my choice, was similar to a Margherita except that it also had ricotta and basil pesto.  Frankly the ricotta weighed it down, making each slice a mandatory two-hander.  And the Rustic, which my mom had raved about and subsequently ordered, was the most unique with mushroom, truffle oil, fontinella and mozzarella cheese, plus garlic and grana padana.

It's tough to say which was the best.  They were all good.  The Rustic certainly had the most flavor, but truffle oil is not something I can eat too much of -- it is almost too sweet.  Conversely, I could have eaten the Margherita all day long.  And the Pure Bliss had the most winning combination of ingredients but I tired it of it quickly. I guess then I would declare the Margherita the winner.

And then there were those burgers, which were grass-fed and devoured by my Dad, Big Z and Little D.  

It is tough to go wrong with pizza and burgers....but then there was more.

As we headed back over the line to Connecticut, we passed a place called ZeppoleMe - a zeppole store(!) - and we had to pull over to check it out.  Don't forget we did skip dessert at Coals.

The concept of ZeppoleMe is that it's your local Italian Coffee Shop with delicious coffee and desserts.  And zeppoles are the star.  I placed my order and waited and waited.  Apparently these take more time than the vendors' at the San Gennaro festival.

After close to 15 minutes, we had 1 dozen fresh, hot, fluffy zeppoles.  They were worth the wait.
We got 2 kinds - the classic and the modern.  The classic is the aforementioned street food style and the modern is lighter and fluffier.  We all preferred the modern to the classic, I guess progress is a good thing.

With our dozen we chose 3 dipping sauces -  vanilla, buttercream and hazelnut. Let's just say there were no dipping sauces or zeppoles left.

For those of you close by, go.  For those of you traveling on I95 between New York and Connecticut, I recommend these two places for a worthy pit stop.  Bring me back some zeppoles!

Until our next Berger,

Coals Pizza
35 North Main Street
Port Chester, NY 

321 North Main Street
Port Chester, NY 

On the Side: Coincidentally, the New York Times is publishing a review of ZeppoleMe in tomorrow's paper, should you want a more professional opinion.

Friday, November 15, 2013

A Chain Reaction: Cantina Laredo, Columbus, OH

Restaurant chains are here to stay. Despite the importance of the local farm to table movement, sometimes you just want the Thai Chicken Pasta from the Cheesecake Factory or that Homewrecker burrito from Moe's. Call it what you wish - nostalgia, comfort or maybe you just want cheap and easy.

I try not to frequent chains but when the inevitable happens I don't think they should be ignored in the foodie blogosphere. Don't worry, I'm not going to be the lady from Grand Forks, ND who raved about the Olive Garden. And in fact here at Bergers & More, we already snuck in a few chain reviews including Seasons 52 and Le Pain Quotodien

So with most chains I'll be quick, unless of course something tremendous warrants a full-blown review.  Otherwise, we'll call it a "Chain Reaction". 

Yes, Cantina Laredo is a chain but they don't want to be one. They aspire to bring high-end Mexican to every mall across America in their 100+ locations.  The decor is old hacienda style with lots of candles and white tablecloths.

Sadly the result is not good. Stick to your local Mexican spot. 

At this Columbus, OH location chips were tasteless - the kind you need to dump copious amounts of salt on for any kind of flavor. Tableside-made guacamole was overly chunky. And the shrimp in the shrimp fajitas was so overcooked, I found myself fighting to take bites. On the bright side, the Skinny margaritas were large and strong, so I focused on those. 

Our Chain Reaction - go for a drink or three and dine elsewhere. 

Until our next Berger, 

Cantina Laredo has over 100 locations across the US and a few international ones, too. 

I dined at this location:

8791 Lyra Drive

Monday, November 11, 2013

Family Italian: Butera's, Sayville, NY

Another Sunday, another Italian meal.  I am starting to like this trend.  A fun family activity followed by a large/late lunch with lots of leftovers.  Probably not so good for our waistlines, but fun nonetheless.
Speaking of waistlines, we had actually earned our calories for this meal after an hour of jumping on trampolines at AirTrampoline.  We were starving and our party of 8 wanted a kid-friendly, good meal.  I’d heard of Butera’s, a Long Island establishment with 4 locations, so we gave the Sayville branch a shot.
This is a place for a crowd.  It is loud and bustling, with big round tables, and able to handle our four "5 & unders".
At 2:00, we were offered both the lunch and dinner menus as we demolished the generous bread basket multiple times.  
And if the bread basket wasn't enough, I opted for the Grilled Eggplant sandwich.  This was a monstrous open-face piece of focaccia covered in grilled eggplant, onions, mozzarella and tomato sauce.  After about two bites, I had to stop eating the bread and just eat the eggplant with its topping.  It was tasty and oh-so-filling.  
JB's Rigatoni alla Rossa was comprised of chicken sausage and spinach in a pink sauce. The sauce did not hold a candle to Marie's vodka sauce and the sausage was over-fennelled, in my opinion, but this pasta dish did the trick for JB.
We also shared a marinara pizza for the table which frankly did not have enough sauce.  The boys, per usual, enjoyed a mammoth burger and for an Italian restaurant, some good-looking fries.
We were stuffed, exhausted and it was leftovers again for the Berger family.
Until our next Berger, 

100 South Main Street
Sayville, NY

On the Side: They also have locations in Seaford, Woodbury and Smithtown, so check it out if you are in the area. 

Saturday, November 09, 2013

A Guy Recommendation: Marie's Italian Specialties, Chatham, NJ

My fascination with the Food Network has slowly deteriorated over time, JB's declined sharply but he has a new thing for Diner, Drive-ins and Dives. What he sees in Guy, I don't know, but I stumbled upon a website that pinpoints all the places featured on the show to date. And as I planned our family road trip, I looked for one on the way. And there it was, BAM (sorry couldn't help the Emeril reference ), Marie's Italian Specialties.

Technically, Marie's was a little out of our way, maybe 10 miles off the highway in Chatham, NJ which happens to be one good-looking town.  Tucked in a nice strip mall, if that’s possible, is the unassuming Italian restaurant. White walls, black tables with benches and a black and white tile floor make it more industrial-looking than your average Italian place. 

4PM on a Sunday and the place was empty.  We were starving and ordered some of so called specialties.  In fact, Guy's favorites we're highlighted on the menu - I guess they take their newfound fame pretty seriously.  We pounced on the fresh bread that was served as we eagerly awaited to be wowed.

First up, Rice Balls.  These were incredible, unbelievable really, 3 huge balls of bread and fried rice sat in a bath of vodka sauce.  Crispy on the outside and perfection on the inside.  We lapped up the vodka sauce before we even finished the 3 rice balls, but fear not another dish of more vodka sauce came.  

Then mains.  Eggplant Parmesan arrived on a heaping platter.  I could barely lift it up.  Again, amazing.  One of the best Eggplant Parmesans that I have ever had.  JB ordered their famous roast chicken.  The skin was crispy and the meat inside was not in the least bit dry.  It was, according to JB, the way a chicken should be done.  

Three Sides.  The simple spaghetti that accompanied my eggplant was tremendous.  Usually the pasta side dish is a throw away, not here.  Polenta was creamy and loaded with parmesan, a win for me, but not for JB.  The only real off item was the broccoli rabe that was bitter and out of place amongst all of the other deliciousness.  

The boys stuck to their usual and ordered plain pasta, although truthfully, they gorged more on the bread than anything else.  

Service was quick and generous.  We took everything home and had meals for days.  

I’m not in New Jersey often, but if you are, or want to take a road trip, I strongly recommend this place.  We will be back.  And thanks, Guy!

Until our next Berger, 


Marie's Italian Specialties

641 Shunpike Rd

Chatham, NJ 


Sunday, November 03, 2013

Awesome Crayola Eats in an Unlikely Place: Two Rivers Brewing Company, Easton, PA

As we traveled along for Little D's birthday celebration, after our Brooklyn stop at Roll-N-Roaster, we found ourselves in Easton, PA.  Easton is the home of the Crayola factory (our birthday destination), Lafayette College and an abundance of chain restaurants.  While it was tempting to just try the never ending pasta bowl at the Olive Garden, I thought Little D deserved something better.  So we spent much of our drive to PA researching restaurants.  With a little luck, we found an amazing spot - Two Rivers Brewing Company.

Yes, I know it sounds like a bar.  And it is, so don't judge, it has stellar food.

The restaurant occupies an old 3-story building.  Today the first floor is the only floor that serves food and drink, the upper floors will soon be the official brewery. Sadly, they are not serving their own brews yet, however, several PA beers are available on tap.

We sat close to the bar and to the live music (one lady with a guitar) singing a combination of 70s covers and her own stuff, and we began our feast.  When I say feast, I am not kidding.

Their menu is eclectic to say the least.  We wanted a lot.  JB and I settled on 4 plates as we drank a local Pennsylvania brew and a California Malbec, respectively.

1.  Gumbo: This was a risky choice.  We were very far from New Orleans, but it felt like a gumbo night. We were blown away by the thick soup that was chock full of chicken, andouille sausage, shrimp and okra.
2. The Breakaway Farms Pork Board: We hemmed and hawed over this one.  Should we or shouldn't we.  This was essentially a bacon sampler.  It was Little D's birthday, and he does love bacon, so we went for it.  The server presented us with a huge wooden cutting board that had 3 different kinds of bacon, plus pork belly, bacon jam, homemade boursin, mustard and bread.  To say we loved this would be an understatement. Each bite was better than the last.  And every combination was a winning one. Pork belly and bacon jam. Bacon jam and boursin.  Smoked bacon and boursin.  I could go on.  Let's just say we were shocked (but not really) when before long the platter was clear.
3.  Shrimp and Grits: If the gumbo was a hit from the South, this was the lone miss.  Several overcooked shrimp lay on a bed of cheesy grits.  I am usually one for cheesy grits.  But this was so far away from the Shrimp and Grits I had at Luke this summer that it did not compare.  You know the dish is a miss when JB says, "You can finish this one".
4.  Peanut Butter Bacon Cheeseburger: Because we hadn't indulged enough, we had to try this.  It was genius - more bacon, cheddar and a peanut brittle dust smothered a delicious grass-fed burger.  I had to throw in the napkin on this one early, I was done.  JB prevailed and declared it a masterpiece.
5.  Grass Fed Beef Kids Burgers and Fries: This was probably one of the best kids menu dishes I've ever seen and for $5 at that.  "A little salty", per Big Z, "but awesome".  Sadly, I didn't have any, but if it was anything like the other burger, I'm sure Big Z's "awesome" review is accurate.

We had no room for dessert and decided to have some celebratory ice cream for Little D the next day.  We had eaten (well) enough.

Until our next Berger,

Two Rivers Brewing Company542 Northampton St.Easton, PA 610.829.1131