07
May
17

A Mission To Make More Neighbors, Not More Enemies

Chef Martha Lou Gadsden, center. Photo copyright 2013 by Zachary D. Lyons.

Cynthia Pristell and I with Chef Martha Lou Gadsden, center, at Martha Lou’s Kitchen in Charleston, South Carolina. Photo copyright 2013 by Zachary D. Lyons.

At a time when it seems our president is trying to make as many enemies as possible, it occurred to me that now is an excellent time to make more friends. I’ll be damned if I’ll let anyone convince me that I should be afraid of anyone without a really good reason, and the color of their skin, their religion, who they love, or the fact that they are desperate for a better, or safer, life for themselves and their families is not a reason at all to fear someone, left alone a really good reason. Some of the most wonderful experiences of my life have happened because I have ignored someone else’s fears and decided to go to that place — to meet the people there anyway. From the south side of Chicago to the 69th Street Station in West Philly; from Rosedale, Mississippi to Central Kentucky; from the South Bronx to Macon, Georgia, I have had people tell me I should be afraid — that I shouldn’t go there — and I went anyway, only to enjoy some of the richest experiences of my life.

James Robinson and I with Ms. Izola White, owner of Izola’s Family Dining, known to locals as “Ms. Izola’s,” on South 79th Street in Chicago’s South Side. Photo copyright 2005 by Zachary D. Lyons.

Now, our president wants me to fear anyone from six predominantly Muslim countries for no other reason than he says so, and, I guess, because these countries lack Trump hotels. He wants me to fear undocumented immigrants from Mexico, and he calls them rapists and murderers without foundation. He wants me to fear refuges fleeing their war-torn homelands in places like Syria, Somalia and Yemen because they are Muslim. He wants me to fear these people and more without a really good reason, while he wants me to trust him without a really good reason either. But I prefer to subscribe to the sound words of the man who pulled us out of the Great Depression, won WWII and invested in America’s infrastructure on a scale the likes of which we had never seen, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, when he said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Not just a timeless quotable, these words represent a way of thinking that is a polar opposite to what we see coming out of Washington, DC at present.

The Todd Brothers playing “Rook” at the Block House in Hernando, Mississipp. Photo copyright 2014 by Zachary D. Lyons.

Instead of succumbing to fear of these people, then, why not embrace them? Why not befriend them? Why not reach out to them, like good neighbors, and share with them, learn from them, and enjoy them? What have we got to lose, but a few more enemies? And one of the best ways I’ve found to make friends over the years is to break bread with people. Few things are more powerful bridge building tools than food, and where there are immigrants, there are not only new foods to be tried, but also new friends to be made.

Chef Tamara Murphy (right), server, Hassan (center,) and I at Juba Restaurant & Café, a Somali eatery in Seatac, Washington. Photo copyright 2017 by Zachary D. Lyons.

My friend and neighbor, Chef Tamara Murphy, had expressed a similar feeling in a New Year’s resolution in the Seattle Times at the beginning of this year in which she said she would like to “experience at least one new ethnic restaurant per month, and get to know the owners and learn more about their food.” So I reached out to her to see if she wanted to join me in exploring the immigrant communities in the Seattle area. Our first adventure was on Friday, February 24, 2017, to a restaurant in a Somali immigrant community in the city of Seatac, just south of Seattle. This would serve as the genesis of my series here, called Making Neighborhoods, because after all, that is what are doing.

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11
Apr
17

An Unholy Breakfast at Philadelphia’s Temple of Produce

Matzo brei with a side of scrapple at Norm & Lou’s Cafe in the Philadelphia Wholesale Produce Market. Matzo brei was the Passover breakfast special in April 2016. Norm & Lou’s has been serving homestyle comfort food to hungry Produce Market workers since 1961. When the Market moved to its new, state-of-the-art facility in South Philly in 2011, the various produce wholesalers insisted that Norm & Lou’s be given space inside it. Photo copyright Zachary D. Lyons.

Happy Passover, all y’all. Last year, Passover came very late in the year, at the end of April. I was in Philadelphia at the time, a place renowned for its wholly un-kosher culinary specialties like roast pork sandwiches, cheese steaks and scrapple. Heck, I’m sure Philly has figured out a way to make even its famous large, soft pretzels unclean. So imagine my surprise to find matzo brei on the menu of the blue collar cafe, Norm & Lou’s Cafe, inside the Philadelphia Wholesale Produce Market. But there it was, the special of the week, in honor of Passover.

Of course, I had to try it. Matzo brei is a childhood seasonal favorite of mine. Matzo brei is sorta like French toast, but instead of using a nice loaf of challah, you break up several sheets of Passover matzo, soak it in warm water or milk, and then mix it with eggs and fry it. Top it with some nice maple syrup and some cinnamon powder, and boy, howdy, you are good to go!

You know what else is a favorite from my youth? Scrapple! If you are unfamiliar, it is exactly what it sounds like it is — pork scraps (ears, noses, lips, liver, etc.) and corn meal cooked down and mashed together and formed into these one-pound loafs that look like small bricks. These are cooled so they set up firmly, and then you cut a three-eighths-inch or so slice off and pan fry it until it is golden brown, like in the picture above. It, too, was on the menu at Norm & Lou’s, so I figured, why not order both? I was sure it would be delicious, and it might even be worth the risk of being smited from on High for having the audacity to offend the Creator with such an unholy combination.

A pallet jack operator moves out a produce order at the Philadelphia Wholesale Produce Market in April 2016. Opened in 2011, the Philadelphia Wholesale Produce Market is considered one of the most state-of-the-art produce distribution centers on earth. Photo copyright Zachary D. Lyons.

Norm & Lou’s Cafe originally opened in a shack at the first location of the Philadelphia Wholesale Produce Market in 1961. In 2011, when the Market moved to its current location in a new, state-of-the-art facility considered one of the best produce distribution centers on earth, the various produce wholesaling companies that call the Market home insisted that Norm & Lou’s be given a space inside. They had come to rely on their great food in the otherwise remote warehouse and industrial district in SE Philly. Now a 95-seat restaurant, anyone can enjoy a great breakfast or lunch, all in a space with a modern thing called indoor heating, something that is not offered, by the way, in the rest of the facility.

10
Apr
11

Walt’s Fish Market & Restaurant – Sarasota, Florida

4144 S Tamiami Trail
Sarasota, FL 34231-3608
(941) 921-4605
Open Weekdays 9am-9pm
waltsfishmarketrestaurant.com

I went to check out the Siesta Key “Farmers Market” on Sunday, April 10th, but like most “farmers markets” in Florida, it seems, I could not find any farmers there. How is it that the #2 (behind California) specialty crops (fruits, veggies, stuff you can eat with being processed by Cargill or ADM) state sucks so bad at this whole farmers market thing. I mean, #1, 3 & 4 (CA, Washington & Oregon, respectively) kick bottom at farmers markets.

Okay, that said, I did meet a fishmonger there from a place called Walt’s Fish Market & Restaurant, and his fish looked pretty good, so I grilled him a bit. The salmon was wild king from five or six boats the market’s owner knew from Kodiak, Alaska, and the rest of the stuff was local Floridian seafood, like yellow-eye snapper, swordfish, Key West pink shrimp and stone crab. He told me to go check out the storefront on US-41 (a.k.a., South Tamiami Trail), just south of Bee Ridge, on the west side.

This market made my northwestern heart proud. These fishmongers spoke, believe it or not, FISH! They knew not only about the species, but they knew where it came from. And not just the port — the boat! Beautiful, fresh stuff, and almost all local to Florida. (Try finding that in, well, just about any grocery store in Florida. Oy!) They had shrimp in like 10 different forms, only one of which was farmed crap from SE Asian, hidden in the back of the case out of disgust and apparently only carried because some folks just have to have their “normal” tasting, mangrove forest destroying, tsunami accelerating, pumped full of drugs and eating too much processed feed made from perfectly good seafood we could be eating directly farm-raised shrimp. (Why? Because when it comes right down to it, humans is still stupid animals.) The rest of their shrimp were from the Keys and the Gulf of Mexico.

Booyah!

They also have a restaurant there — mostly chowders, salads and fried stuff. I decided I needed a snack. They really pushed their fried shrimp. Being from Seattle, where we eat the local sea insects either raw or lightly steamed, and in a real pinch, sauteed, I balked at this, but their insistence, and the fact that they had already impressed me with their fish market case, won me over.

These were the best flippin’ fried shrimp I have ever had! Seriously. Delicate, crunchy crust had a light flavor that did not overpower the shrimp, which were sweet and tender and perfectly cooked — unheard of normally with fried shrimp. And they used just the right amount of breading, too, instead of serving me shrimp fritters — all bread, little shrimp. And the cocktail sauce, too, was perfect, complimenting and enhancing the shrimp, not covering up a lack of shrimp or shrimp flavor, or simply serving as a means of moistening the lump of breading.

I also got a little container of their freshly-made conch salad — basically, a conch ceviche with orange and yellow bell peppers, some onion, and a hint of Scotch bonnet chile. Lovely!

If you are ever in Sarasota, go here. Make your ancient relatives shop for fish here. Support a great local business with great local fish and great local food. Don’t waste your time at Publix, and cut out the three-plus middle men between you and the boat at Whole Paycheck (I mean ‘Foods’).

And skip the Siesta Key “Farmers Market”. Visit us in Seattle for the real thing until Florida gets its act together.

25
Mar
10

Cult of the Crab 2010 at Waterfront Seafood Grill

Waterfront Seafood Grill on Seattle's Pier 70 offers dramatic views of Puget Sound. Photo copyright 2009 by Zachary D. Lyons.

Executive Chef Peter Levine of Waterfront Seafood Grill, on Pier 70 in Seattle, is once again offering his annual March celebration of all things crabby with his 2010 Cult of the Crab menu. This year, he has chosen to focus on sustainable crab fisheries for his menu, including Northwest Pacific Coast Dungeness crab, Maine Peeky Toe crab, Maryland lump and soft shell Blue crab, and King crab from the Barents and Bering Seas and Japan’s Hokkaido Bay. “People don’t realize that seafood is one of the last hunted proteins on the planet,” said Executive Chef Peter Levine. “Through our sourcing, we can bring in wild seafood that has been sustainably harvested and guests get to experience all the rich flavor of a wild product.”

A Little Fancy Crab Louis. Photo copyright 2010 by Zachary D. Lyons.

To showcase the 2010 Cult of the Crab menu, Chef Levine invited a bunch of us food writer types for a fun evening of hangin’ with our peers (on a pier, no less) and sampling five courses of his special crab menu — on the house, mind you, as a matter of full disclosure.

We started off with A Little Fancy Crab Louis, a lovely little salad that was at the same time both crabby and eggy, as it should be. Chef Levine always impresses me with his innate ability not to overpower delicate flavors like crab and lobster with other ingredients and sauces, and this dish is a classic example of that. Sure, the egg that is standard to a Louis stands out, but it does not get in the way of the star of the dish, the Dungeness crab. Indeed, all the elements of this dish get their fifteen minutes of fame without blocking the camera shot of the others.

Crab & Sweet Pea Panna Cotta. Photo copyright 2010 by Zachary D. Lyons.

The second offering of the evening turned out to be my favorite: Crab & Sweet Pea Panna Cotta, or as Chef Levine liked to call it, Peas & Carrots. In this dish, a sweet pea panna cotta (essentially the Italian form of flan, sans all those eggs the Spanish use) filled with Dungeness crab and topped with Peeky Toe crab is surrounded with a drizzle of spiced carrot broth and accented with fried taro root chips. Besides being drop-dead gorgeous, this dish presented a wonderful collection of balanced contrasting flavors. The bright sweetness of the peas in the panna cotta paired beautifully with the briny sweetness of the crab, and the smoothness of the panna cotta further balanced the delicate texture of the crab. The spiced carrot broth played off of the pea panna cotta like, well, peas and carrots. And the two taro chips simply added an extra little visual component that amusingly made the dish kind look like a rabbit’s face, which is fitting for peas and carrots, right?

Dangeness "Banh Mi" Sandwich. Photo copyright 2010 by Zachary D. Lyons.

The Dungeness “Banh Mi” Sandwich seemed to be the favorite of many of the other food writers around the table, as well as Chef Levine, though just to prove I am a free thinker, it was not mine. Dungeness crab, pickled daikon and carrots, head cheese, cilantro and jalapeno mayo wedged between a chewy banh mi roll comprise this dish. And while I like the idea of it, and I didn’t dislike it, I found that the wonderful flavor of the Dungeness crab, which is truly one of the greatest flavors on earth, was kinda lost amongst the other flavors here, in stark contrast to what I am used to from Chef Levine. I hate to pick on a dish my buddy actually favors, especially when he feeds me a lot, but hey, I promised you my honest opinions here in spite of the fact that my meal was bought for me by the place about which I am writing. And again, this dish by no means sucks. I just personally like to have the star ingredient be the star ingredient in all the dishes on this menu. Sue me.

Maryland Blue Crab Ravioli. Photo copyright 2010 by Zachary D. Lyons.

Chef Levine knows I loves me some of his ravioli, and his Maryland Blue Crab Ravioli did not disappoint. Fish off, it is lovely, isn’t it? Shaved asparagus and butter braised leeks give it a freshness, while lemon-zest gives it a, well, zestiness. The crab within and atop the ravioli present their briny sweetness pleasantly amongst the buttery, peppery sauce and zesty, sweet accompaniments. Honestly, a serving of that panna cotta and this ravioli, and I would be a happy camper. (Lucky for me, I got all the other dishes, too!)

Maryland Soft Shelled Crab. Photo copyright 2010 by Zachary D. Lyons.

Our final dish of the evening was the Maryland Soft Shelled Crab. Served pan-fried over a salad of green beans, cucumber, almonds and shaved fennel, I found this dish to be a bit of a throw-back treat to my college days in the Mid-Atlantic. There is just something wonderfully primal about eating a crab in its entirety — legs, body, face and all — and you do that with a pan-fried soft shelled crab. Most people are probably used to getting crab this way in a spider roll at a sushi bar. Of course, those are not Maryland blues. They’re from who knows where, or how they’ve been harvested. But these Maryland beauties have a special sweetness to them, especially when they are shipped live, overnight, from the East Coast, like these suckers were, that you just don’t get from their frozen, over-harvested Pacific cousins. Mind you, I still had that feeling that this crab would be better between two slices of white bread with some mayo, like how we eat them in the Mid-Atlantic, but I did love this dish.

Lounge pianist Ben Fleck at Waterfront Seafood Grill. Photo copyright 2009 by Zachary D. Lyons.

Ben Fleck is the resident lounge pianist at Waterfront Seafood Grill, and he adds to the stellar atmosphere of the place. Sure, Waterfront has great views of the Olympic Mountains and Puget Sound, service that is unrivaled in Seattle, a beautiful, open dining room tastefully decorated, and stuff that gets set on fire at your table side, not to mention (though I’m going to anyway) a general manager, Chris Sparkman, who owns Sparkman Cellars in Woodinville that makes brilliant wines. But having Ben Fleck there cranking out tune after tune, from the 1920s to 2010, just puts a smile on my face every time I go there. And the piece de resistance for me was when I heard him first play No Quarter by Led Zeppelin. That elevated him to god status in my book.

Chef Peter Levine and I. Photo copyright 2009 by Zachary D, Lyons.

Again, Chef Peter Levine is a buddy of mine, and he feeds me. But trust me, he feeds me well. Hey, you might not want to buy a used car from a guy with that disarming a smile, but let him cook for you any day.

25
Mar
10

Crispy, Fishy Deliciousness

We take our seafood seriously here in Seattle, including our fish and chips. Fortunately for us, so does Pike Street Fish Fry (925 E Pike Street, Seattle, (206) 329-PIKE). Indeed, these guys are so serious about their fish and chips that I found myself asking, after first experiencing their fare, if I had really ever had fish and chips before?

Cod & Chips and Sturgeon & Chips at Seattle's Pike Street Fish Fry.

Cod & Chips and Sturgeon & Chips at Seattle's Pike Street Fish Fry.

Pike Street uses batter some might liken to tempura, while others might recognize it as a more classic English style. What it is not is crumby, which tends to be a signature batter style here in the Northwest, and it is not panko-y — that flaky Japanese breading that sorta shatters all around you. Pike Street’s batter leaves its fish with a crisp, slightly (though not unpleasantly) shell that keeps the fish beautifully moist while serving as a vehicle for the salt and seasonings applied after the frying process. The result is a heavenly fish fry that leaves any of the various fish varieties from which one can choose as the star of the show.

Fish offerings on Pike Streets menu vary with the seasons. If you stumble in during our local sturgeon season, I highly recommend it. Sturgeon is an ancient fish with flavor-rich oily flesh that can live in both cold fresh and ocean waters. But it is only available for short periods each year. While it might be overpowering for some folks who like their fish mild-flavored, for those of us who like a fish with flavor that bites back, like black cod, king salmon, mackerel, etc., sturgeon is to die for, and given that I have not seen another fish fry using it makes it an even greater treat.

True cod is the standard fish for fish & chips here, and just about everywhere. It is a milder fish with a lot of moisture to its significant flesh that takes well to breading and seasoning, but freshness is paramount. There are those in Seattle who use their fryer to maximize their income on their retail fresh fish sales by selling it as fish & chips just before it “goes off.” That is not the case at Pike Street. Their true cod is wonderfully fresh, delighting your taste buds with its light, moist flavor contrasted against the crispy, seasoned batter and salty, crunchy pommes frites (um, those are fries, or chips, folks… and frankly, unless you operate a French, Belgian or Creole restaurant, please just call them fries. Enough with the frites already).

OnPike Street’s March 2010 menu, you will ling cod (not the same as true cod), coho salmon (which means it’s wild, as the bastards haven’t figured out how to farm-raise it yet), halibut (another Northwest fish fry mainstay), catfish (um, not local) and a few none fin fish options. They have also expanded their menu to include grilled items (for wusses who worry about the health effects of a good fish fry), sandwiches (made from anything on the fryer or grill menus), some veggie and vegan options, and a variety of sides that can be, well, slawed or battered and fried.

The highest-priced menu item weighs in at a mere $11, so consider this a “cheap eats” kinda place. Just beware of the fried slice of lemon that accompanies each fish & chips order. Even if you are a fan of lemon, it’ll curl your face inside out!

30
May
09

Joule Restaurant in Wallingford

This past Wednesday evening, after a long day working at the Wallingford Farmers Market in Seattle, three of us on the market’s management team wandered over to Joule Restaurant to grab a bite and, um, work some more. Joule’s Chef/Owner, Rachel Yang, who is trained in Korean and French culinary styles, has preformed a number of brilliant cooking demonstrations for us at the market in the past, and she is the one that always loans the other chefs tools when they forget to bring them, but we had never sat down to eat in her place, just around the corner from the market.

Chef Rachel Yang of Joule Restaurant in Seattle's Wallingford District demonstrating how to make a squash blossom pancake at the Wallingford Farmers Market in 2008. Photo copyright 2008 by Zachary D. Lyons.

Chef Rachel Yang of Joule Restaurant in Seattle's Wallingford District demonstrating how to make a squash blossom pancake at the Wallingford Farmers Market in 2008. Photo copyright 2008 by Zachary D. Lyons.

Here’s the short and skinny. I could go on and on about every last dish from Joule’s menu we tried, and we tried eight or nine, plus three desserts, but it really would be pointless. Everything we tasted left us speechless. The food was that spectacular. It was so good that our conversations were repeatedly interrupted as one or another of us would completely check out while we were having “a moment” with whatever dish we were sampling at the time. Indeed, the following comments were made during the meal:

  • “I thought I had had cauliflower before. Apparently I was wrong.”
  • “You have never had mac & cheese, either. Try this.”
  • “Oh, my. Even the bread and butter is incredible.” 
  • “I have to know how they do that with beef tongue.”
  • And, “When was the last time you heard Zach this quiet?”

It was that good. And don’t ask me or the Joule staff what to order. Order it all. Go with a big group so you can do so without guilt. I already know where my birthday dinner will be held next year, as that is always a large group affair.

Joule hosts a summer series called “Urban Barbecue,” wherein every Sunday, from noon-8 p.m. the restaurant features a different menu theme, like Korean street food, food on a stick, etc. Check these out to truly capture Chef Yang’s creative genius.

Whatever you do, go to Joule. Go there now. Right now. Why are you still reading this? You should already be out the door and on your way to Joule.

02
Apr
09

Brouwer’s Buffalo Stew

Okay, this place is growing on me — Brouwer’s Cafe, a Belgian-styled pub in Seattle’s Fremont district. Not being much of a drinker these days, I don’t frequent too many watering holes unless they are serving some mighty tasty chow. Brouwer’s, it turns out, is one such watering hole.

Most often, I have found myself at Brouwer’s for a Seattle Chefs Collaborative meeting of some sort… and frites. (Mind you, it annoys the bejeezes out of me how everyone and their mother is calling fries “frites” these days, but for Brouwer’s it is acceptable. It is, after all, a Belgian joint.) The frites are might fine, and come with your choice of a variety of dipping sauces, as they should. I have also helped a friend finish off her Lamb Burger, a tremendous sandwich that, word to the wise, you should order with the chipotle mayo on the side.

On a recent visit lunch, however, I finally got a chance to try Brouwer’s Stooflvees, their Buffalo Carbonade served over a big plate of frites. Buffalo Carbonade is Brouwer’s delicious buffalo stew. It is a fairly simple dish of wonderfully seasoned, fork tender Nevada bison meat cooked for a long time, than ladled over those aforementioned frites, which soak up all the tasty sauce of the stew while adding a little texture, salt and complexity to the dish. I loved it. I’ve been thinking about it since I ate it. It is true comfort food. I can imagine it going great with a hearty Belgian or Northwest ale. Maybe next time.