Find Serious Meatballs and Sunday Gravy on Atlantic Avenue

Sunday gravy only sounds like one of those fast, unfussy, one-pot dishes. There’s the stuffing of the braciole, the mixing and shaping of the meatballs, the browning of the sausages. There’s the layering of the stock, amplified with bones and meat, simmered for hours. It’s no wonder that many Italian-American families have abandoned the tradition of weekly meals around this rich, time-consuming sauce. It’s a shame, too — gravy is glorious.

Chef Ayesha Nurdjaja grew up in Brooklyn on her grandmother’s, and the version she serves at Saul Bolton’s new restaurant, Red Gravy, is part of a $45 prix-fixe dinner, available only on Sundays.

Nurdjaja builds it with lamb ribs, cured with fennel seeds, pepper, and orange zest; a complex braciole made from short ribs sliced off the bone, filled with hard-boiled eggs and breadcrumbs; and a house-made sausage of pork shoulder and back fat. The gravy’s meatballs, available the rest of the week on a bed of polenta or spaghetti (seen above), are here in abundance, spiked with fennel confit. Nurdjaja browns the meat separately, deglazing with red wine, and finally simmers everything together, gently.

The result is a deeply meaty and multifaceted sauce. Eat it with fresh paccheri, a wide tubular pasta that’s also made in-house, and you’ll get why Bolton named his restaurant after it. For more on Red Gravy, read this week’s restaurant review here.

Red Gravy, 151 Atlantic Avenue, Brooklyn; 718-855-0051


Hoboken’s Roast Beef Battle: Brooklyn and Manhattan Fight Back!

Gravesend’s version of the sainted roast-beef mozzarella hero

Last week, FiTR pitted a pair of excellent Italian-American roast beef heros found in Hoboken, New Jersey against each other. These classic sandwiches featured roast beef done rare to medium rare and thinly sliced, just-made mozzarella in abundance, and either a trickle or tidal wave of brown gravy, the kind the English introduced to the New World. In the piece, we hinted that the sandwich is also native to Brooklyn, and we recently ran out there and tried an old favorite. For the borough-challenged, we also retried one in Manhattan.

FiTR assures you, no pets were harmed in the making of this sandwich.

Of the half-dozen or so we’ve tasted in the last two years, the best was at John’s Deli, a venerable working-class hero fabricator in the Gravesend section of Brooklyn – a former British colonial town – a stone’s throw from both Bath Beach and Coney Island. (Newsday restaurant critic Sylvia Carter once told me that roast beef sandwiches were what Italians always ate on the way to or from the borough’s beaches in the summer.)

The sandwich at John’s Deli is similar to the ones found at Italian delis in Hoboken, though with a little less emphasis on the cheese. The gravy is darker and more canned-tasting, too, though that’s not a detriment in a dreadnought like this. Overall, we’d say John’s version of the roast-beef-and-mutz sandwich is nearly as good as the two Hoboken examples – better, if you happen to be from Brooklyn.

East Village sandwich shop This Little Piggy Had Roast Beef is an offshoot of the Artichoke Basille restaurant chain, which has its roots in Staten Island. Can we assume its version of the hero is the way residents of the city’s southernmost island would make it? Well, maybe. The roast beef, sliced thin, is well-done, and the gravy is more like a steaming liquid. And the amount of cheese (which is great, and tastes just-made) is about half what you find on the Gravesend sandwich, and a third what is found in Hoboken. The bread, however, is the best the sandwich has ever been made on, a real chewy artisanal loaf.

So which of the four should you get? We suppose it depends on just how close you are to any of them.

This Little Piggy’s entry in the roast-beef hero sweepstakes

The East Village sandwich shop’s exterior


5 Great Gutbombs: Introducing the Gutbomb Index (GBI)

The ditch dogs at Ditch Plains are a notable gutbomb.

It’s been over a year since FiTR embargoed the use of the term “gutbomb” on our website, except for special cases. This is one of those special cases. This post seeks to define gutbombs, note how and when they occur, and offer a selection of recently encountered examples. Perhaps it will help you avoid G-bombs in the future – or maybe it will just induce you to try new ones. Each example is embellished with FiTR’s 100-point Gutbomb Index (GBI).

First off, what is a gutbomb? The key to the genre is oversatiation: Eat a gutbomb and you’ll find yourself not only full, but feeling way too full, maybe even nauseated — hence the name. Your gut has been bombed, not just satisfied. Gutbombs arise when one of three conditions is fulfilled: large size, greasiness, and an incongruous collection of ingredients. The biggest gutbombs have all three. To qualify as a gutbomb, something must also taste great.

5. Ditch Dogs at Ditch Plains (top of page) — Two hot dogs smothered in what tastes like Kraft mac ‘n cheese would be gutbomb enough (note the doubling of the dogs, when probably one would do just fine). But beyond that, the thing comes on a bed of fries. Fries always raise the GBI by at least 10 points. GBI: 92

4. Mixed Sandwich at Cafe Zaiya — This perfectly illustrates the size factor when it comes to gutbombs. Billed as a mixed sandwich (note the singular), and priced at $6.50, this is really three sandwiches masquerading as one. Note how tightly it fits in its little aluminum container like a fat man jammed into a corset, and how the fillings include fried cutlets and mayo-drenched tuna and egg salads. GBI: 93

3. Lomo Saltado at Chifa — Trust the Chinese-Peruvians to concoct such an amazing gutbomb: The french fries, having already been cooked once, are stir-fried again with onions, tomato, cilantro, and beef not of the leanest, then drenched in a rich brown gravy. Anything that glistens like this is likely to be a gutbomb. GBI: 96

2. Salad Tashkent at Nargis CafĂ© – We’re always in potential gutbomb territory when something called “salad” turns out to be loaded with “meat.” In this case a toss of shredded daikon radish thick with mayo (a quintessential gutbomb ingredient) is further improved with a fatty lamb julienne. A generous haystack of greasy fried onion rings is the coup de grace. GBI: 98

Next: And what could outdo these previous four?

1. Potato Chip Nachos at Swine — Even the FiTR staff was nearly frightened away upon encountering this supreme example. To begin with, the thing is ugly as hell (though it tastes great). And what is the purpose of the cardboardy tortilla chips in conventional nachos? To absorb grease. Potato chips shed it, like water off an amphibian’s back. The white stuff is supposed to be cheese, but really it’s more like molten mayo. This dish might serve as a definition of gutbomb. GBI: 100


Ditch Plains
100 West 82nd Street

Cafe Zaiya
18 East 41st Street

73-20 Northern Boulevard
Jackson Heights, Queens

Cafe Nargis
2818 Coney Island Avenue
Homecrest, Brooklyn

531 Hudson Street


Say Goodbye To Gravy, Fu Sushi

Gravy in the Flatiron district has shut down. It specialized in Southern-style comfort food and announced the closing via Facebook. [Mad Park News]

Fu Sushi closed on Avenue B in August. The space is currently up for rent at $4,375 for 700 square feet. [EV Grieve]

Todd English’s The Libertine has shut down. Signs are up indicating that the location will be a third location of the wine bar, Felice. [Eater]

Kabab and Grill, a Spanish/Bengali joint in Midtown, has shuttered. They were reportedly closed for health violations but there is no confirmation of that in the Department of Health database. [Midtown Lunch]

Turkish joint Bi Lokma has shut down their location in Midtown East. The takeout eatery opened in February 2011. [Zagat]


Year of the Takeout: Day 4

Day 4: Kung Po Baby Shrimp from “U” Like Garden (917 Columbus Avenue, 212-666-3399)

You tend not to expect a lot of things from a restaurant with “U” in the name, especially when the letter appears to be the subject of a very confused — and confusingly unpunctuated — command.

However, “U” Like’s Kung Po offers the type of experience that makes this whole Year of the Takeout thing worthwhile.

I do like "U!"
I do like “U!”

For $6.25, you get a steaming, sizable portion of damned spicy seafood, which comes flecked with loads of authentic, dried chilies — a detail you don’t normally encounter at this type of establishment.

Granted, at least half the order is made up of white rice, but the baby shrimp — delicately briny — feel perfectly proportioned with a fresh, crisp veggie medley of carrots, celery, and green peppers.

And the gravy, often the weak point in these sauce-heavy picks, outright bursts with beefy, brothy flavor, without being too salty or oily.


Thanksgiving HQ: A Gravy Tip that’s Not Pretty

Here’s a tip live from Thanksgiving Headquarters: Mama Lalli, on a whim, once decided to chuck a whole squab into the pot when she was making her gravy. What a nut! Now it’s a family tradition.

Step one: Brown the squab in a pot in a 400-degree oven (or on the stove top over high heat), along with the neck, gizzards, and heart of your turkey. Stay tuned for the rest…