Burgers, Beer and Butchering: The Food Fest Season Begins

The travel bug has been crawling under my skin.  No big trips are on my calendar, which makes me a bit stir-crazy.  But rather than fret, I found some fantastic EDA opportunities outside the island of Manhattan.  From a Burger Brawl to GoogaMooga, the season of outdoor daytime eating and drinking is now in full swing.  Although you’ll have to settle for my description of these events, there’s plenty more to look forward to- both in and out of the city – all summer long!

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There’s More To Philly Than Baseball

These days, the Philadelphia sports teams may not be meeting expectations.  But you can visit Philly, less than 2 hours away from NYC, for more than baseball.  Often forgotten by New Yorkers, it’s a great gem with tons of history, art and a culinary destination besides Jose Garces’ multitude of restaurants.  On May 6, Philly had its second annual Burger Brawl, where over 20 chefs competed for the title of Best Burger, with ticket proceeds going toward a new computer lab for a local school.  You get to sample every burger (some sliders, some cut into pieces) and decide on your favorite.  In the burger world, anything

goes these days it seems.  Some people will automatically choose the burger with the most bells and whistles.  Or the celebrity chef submission.  Popular contenders were a burger from King’s Oak with a huge slab of under-braised pork belly, cheese and BBQ sauce on top and a burger topped with foie gras, undercooked bacon and a quail egg from Misconduct Tavern.    These gimmicks may be good once in awhile, but when I want a burger, I want to actually taste the meat.  And I want it rare.

The plating is so important.

The People’s Choice winner was Bobby’s Burger Palace (ahem, celebrity submission from Bobby Flay)… a well-done burger covered with nachos and jalapenos.  A spicy kick, but hard to actually taste the burger.  Despite

her pseudo-celebrity status, however, former Top Chef contestant Jenn Carroll was on site making a nicely cooked slider with provolone, pickled green tomatoes and a pepperoncini on top.  The artisanal wheat bun was toasty too.  Worth the hype.  But I preferred the traditional applewood smoked bacon, pickles, special sauce and Vermont cheddar on the rare burger entry from Dandelion (plated in quarters to maintain its juiciness).  In the end, the winner was The Capital Grille (!), a standard blend of meat overwhelmed (didn’t think that was possible) with blue cheese.  It was good but my well done meat was nothing to write home about.  If you wonder why they won, there’s some speculation that the tantalizing cucumber water they served gave them the edge — especially when they spiked the judge’s drinks with Grey Goose…  The ticket price included beer from Dogfish Head and the latest Jim Bean bourbon.  At a steep $75, it was worth it not to have long lines and plenty of food and beverages.

Despite all the incredible burgers, we agreed that the Italian roasted pork, provolone and broccoli rabe sandwich at DiNic’s in the Reading Terminal Market was hands down the best thing we ate all day.

Tip: If you visit soon, be sure to check out the Happiness Show (free!) at the Institute of Contemporary Art and feel better about your life.

Brooklyn Staycation

Don’t have a car?  There are tons of places a subway ride away.

Going to Brooklyn is always a seasonal thing for me.  The weather needs to be nice enough to justify the hour long trip there and back (frequently lengthened on the weekends).  Since we were the only ones speaking English on the train, it even felt like going to a foreign country.

Gotta love the melting pot that is this city.  Anyway, I’d been dying to try some places in Williamsburg, and now was the time.

Noorman’s Kil is a whiskey lover’s paradise!  Low key with a garden outback, you feel comfortable even at noon trying several of their lengthy list of scotch, bourbon, rye and whiskeys from around the world.  Gary, the proprietor and barkeep, knows his stuff and is happy to answer any questions you have.  (Though you may want to wait till a little later in the day or it could get ugly.)  They offer grilled cheese options to counteract the alcohol content.  Or you could sample some oysters or a well-priced seafood platter at Maison Premiere, either before or after imbibing.  Their garden area setting is romantic even when crowded.  Not that you need much romance when having oysters.

But what everyone is talking about today is the first (and hopefully annual) GoogaMooga fest that took place this weekend in Prospect Park.  Admittedly, I have never been to this area of Brooklyn before and was pleasantly surprised.  (The Grand Army Station stop has a huge statue that reminded me of Budapest.)  I debated about which day to go- the Roots were playing on Saturday but Hall & Oates on Sunday seemed more exciting to me.  Luckily, Sunday was much smoother than Saturday’s festivities, which had long lines, confusing ticket/cash policies and apparently ran out of food early.  The kinks were worked out for the second day, and there were plenty of opportunities to eat and drink well.  Though still a cell phone dead zone (apparently people can’t enjoy having a good time without informing everyone of how great it is with a play-by-play account on FB or Twitter).

So decadent!

After a long trek from the subway to the entrance, the foie gras and jam filled doughnut at Do or Dine was the perfect reward!

Followed by a brisket taco from Hill Country and a Magic Hat, we had a good base to survey the rest of the food and beverage options.  A long line for the softshell crab sandwich at Vinegar Hill proved daunting and sold out early.  Only the wait for a Luke’s Lobster Roll was longer.  With several outposts throughout the city, it wasn’t worth it.  (Don’t get me wrong, they make a fine roll for the price, but I can get one 2 blocks from my apartment.)  In the Hamageddon section, Charlie Smith concocted this spit for

In the end, there will be pig.

his whole roasted pig.  Too bad no samples were available.  Dinosaur BBQ had some pork shoulders on the grill next to a slice of plain pizza.  I was highly amused.  Their pulled pork sandwich was tasty as always, but the Porchetta sandwich, though smaller in size, packed a much more powerful flavor punch.  The duck sausage from Craft, a must after watching sausage being made, had a smoky flavor but could have been larger.  There was also a burger station with Spotted Pig offering the same Roquefort topped heaven that’s on their menu.  Having tried all the ones in Philly, we decided against these offerings.  Though few vegetarian options (maybe that’s why some opted for a boring piece of pizza – otherwise, c’mon people- you can get that anywhere), there was something for everyone.  Including sweets.  But not so for the cocktails…

We didn’t know that you could only get cocktails with the ExtraMooga pass (at $250 a pop, you’d have to eat and drink a lot).  Otherwise, the beer tent was out of most everything and pricey for the small pours.  The drink kiosks were a much better deal, if you could maneuver through the absurd line process.  The wine pavilion on the other hand, offered tastes of several wines for a decent price, and a glass cost about the same as the drink kiosks but much better.

Sausage Making 101

Unfortunately, the info was slightly confusing as to what programs were ongoing and available.  It turns out that many of the chef demos and food celebrity discussions were only accessible with the ExtraMooga ticket – so maybe it was worth the hefty price.  We did manage to have a funny and informative lesson on sausage making with Adam Kaye from Blue Hill.  Keeping raw meat cold in the hot sun was a challenge he valiantly conquered.  Thanks Adam!

And don’t forget about the music.  The irony of hearing Rich Girl surrounded by a homogenous group of BK hipsters was not lost on me.  But it was a wonderful weekend “away” for me.

Upcoming events: Big Apple BBQ contest, June 9-10 at Madison Square Park

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