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Chef-Squad Kicks Off Month-Long Series of Food Pop-Ups. First Up? Hot Chicken.

Fans of Vicki Freeman, Marc Meyer and their mini-restaurant empire of Cookshop, Hundred Acres, Rosie’s and Vic’s should take note: Beginning Sunday, five different pop-ups are being thrown up throughout the next month, inspired by squad travels with their chefs and even their own personal histories. The gallery space to the left of Vic’s on Great Jones Street will serve as pop-up central.

“I’ve always had this desire to do a pop-up because there are so many different things I’m interested in, that our chefs are interested in that I don’t know if they require a full-on restaurant,” says Freeman, as she mulls over the inspiration and challenges behind launching five baby restaurants. “Everything’s electric, there’s no gas, but it’s good because we have Vic’s right next door, so we can cook things there.”

First-up is #BlazingFeathers, the team’s ode to Nashville hot chicken joints Hattie B’s, Bolton’s and Prince’s. “We go a few times a year on these trips with our chefs,” explains Freeman. “They had just spent time in Nashville and New Orleans, and they just fell in love with it going from hot chicken place to hot chicken place.”

The same fondness for one of their own chef’s falafels inspired one of the remaining four pop-ups. “About a year ago, we hired Ayesha Nurdjaja to be the chef at Hundred Acres, which has turned much more middle eastern and mediterranean, as that’s her cuisine,” explains Freeman. “So when we wanted to do the pop-up thing, I asked her, because her falafel are to die for, ‘Would you be interested in doing falafel?’ And she said, ‘More than anything.’”

Sourcing for the menus came easy as they used the same farms as their restaurants, with the exception of the pita for the falafels. “Jim Lahey from Sullivan Street Bakery is making our pitas. I forced him into it. He probably had a moment after saying yes where he went, ‘oh crap,’” says Freeman, laughing, who has known Lahey for years. “We had a blast, as we just spent a day with him learning how to make pitas. It was fascinating, as it’s new for him too, and he just nailed these pitas.”

The wild card of the pop-ups also happens to be the only one that’s a full-on restaurant, complete with two seatings and reservations being made through Vic’s. Freeman and Meyer’s sister-in-law Maiko Freeman, who is also a caterer and the brains behind Smorgasburg vendor Oni Sauce, is tackling a 10-course Japanese home-style dinner alongside Andrew Corrigan, the chef from Cookshop, and Meyer himself, the “big daddy” of the whole operation. “I set her free with the menu,” says Freeman, without hesitation. “Every summer we go to Prince Edward Island, and for one dinner alone, we went to the docks, and they have mackerel. But they consider mackerel something that just gets caught with the other fish and they throw it away. So Maiko goes with a bag, which they fill with mackerel and just give it to her, we don’t pay anything. And she did like a 10-course mackerel dinner that just blew my mind.”

Pastrami Sandwich from Five & Dime pop-up
Pastrami Sandwich from Five & Dime pop-up

The final two pop-ups were inspired by the Jersey bakeries and New York City delis of the team’s individual childhoods. “Our pastry chef at Cookshop, Stephen Collucci, grew up in Jersey and just has this fondness for old bakeshops and coffee shops. It’s his favorite stuff to do,” says Freeman. “Hillary [Sterling, the chef from Vic’s] and Ayesha grew up in Brooklyn, and I grew up in the West Village. All our lives, we just went to delis like Katz’s, and we thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be fun to do that, but a bit updated?’”

The decor for the different pop-ups will change for each, and the team looked within to cut costs. “It really is our chefs doing it,” says Freeman, as she talks about the sous chef at Cookshop, who is also a chalkboard artist. “One whole wall is chalkboard, and it has the menu, what the project is. She’s going to paint on the window for every project.”

“I did not do this to make money,” claims Freeman, after talking about the drudgery behind licensing and insuring the pop-up project. “If we can break even, I’m happy. Really, it was to give our chef’s a creative outlet. Every night, they are standing at a pass and making sure the food is coming out night after night and lunch after lunch. [This is a way] to have some fun and creativity, to break out of the mold—it’s a way to do something completely different, especially for the chefs.”

33 Great Jones Street
Between Lafayette & Bowery

Sunday, March 19th
#BlazingFeathers
12pm to 8pm

Thursday, March 23rd
Home-style Japanese Dinner
6pm and 8:30pm seatings
For reservations, call 212.253.5700

Sunday, April 2nd & Saturday, April 22nd
Five & Dime Deli
12pm to 8pm

Friday, April 7th
Ba-Da-Baked Bakery
5pm-10pm

Saturday, April 8th
Ayesha’s Falafel
12pm to 8pm

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Tastes of West Africa and the South Delight at Wazobia

Steamed into swollen, oblong bundles, Wazobia’s moimoi bear a striking resemblance to giant tamales, or maybe tubes of polenta. Break the Nigerian staple open, though, and the spongy dumplings — made from ground ewa oloyin, a type of brown cowpea also known as the “honey bean” — look more like Chinese lo mai gai, those parcels of vapor-cooked sticky rice, dotted with various meats and vegetables, so popular at dim sum establishments. Served as an appetizer, the moimoi come streaked with ground beef and hiding a whole hard-boiled egg; what follows is something like a fork-aided treasure hunt. Moimoi elsewhere sometimes take on a rusty hue from an onslaught of blended bell peppers, but these are much lighter, almost tan, allowing the fillings and sweet-earthy beans to shine. At $5, they belong to a shrinking pantheon of cheap eats that actually constitute a meal on their own.

Lara Adesuyi, Wazobia’s Nigerian-born chef-owner, left a career as a registered nurse to open this relaxed corner spot in Staten Island’s bayside neighborhood of Stapleton in 2013. Here she cares for New Yorkers in a different way, offering the borough’s close-knit West African community a taste of home in tandem with a soul food menu full of dishes (black-eyed peas, fried and jerk chicken) that trace their origins back to the region. When not stirring things up in the kitchen, Adesuyi presides over a small counter at the back of the maroon dining room with her daughter Edith, flanked by shelves of wood carvings, an hourglass-shaped drum, and a fridge filled with beverages both commercial and homemade.

Diners gather around this area during lunch, chatting up the two women while awaiting takeout orders or tucking into daily specials like braised oxtail. At night, the most popular spot is an adjacent table sandwiched between a wall-mounted corkboard posted with photos of family and friends and an elongated ceremonial wood mask. The seats provide a clear view of the massive flat-screen TV near the front entrance, which on one evening showed such West African music videos as Ghanaian recording artist Atom’s pop anthem “Ye Wo Krom.” But whenever you show up, and wherever you’ve traveled from, Adesuyi’s cooking remains the main draw. “There’s a man who orders big platters to take home to his family in Connecticut,” the chef says one night while packing up leftovers of chewy stewed land snails, known as igbin in her native tongue of Yoruba. “Cooking is just her God-given talent,” Edith later tells the Voice.

Start with some moimoi or their fritter counterpart, akara, which comes with a spicy tomato-based dipping sauce. Or — if you feel like exploring — there’s nothing like probing through a $13 bowl of isi ewu, chopped goat head in a rich sauce buzzing with nutmeg and chile peppers. Even fierier are Adesuyi’s pepper soups, which find whole tilapia or fatty chunks of goat meat submerged in thinner broths that likewise rely on nutmeg’s sweet, warming essence, only with noticeably ratcheted-up heat. They’re especially wonderful eaten alongside starches like fufu, the gummy dough balls that are as integral to West Africa as mashed potatoes are to America’s heartland. If you so choose, you can tear off pieces for dipping and scooping, as is the custom. Wazobia prepares three varieties: a smooth, mild fufu made from pounded white yams; eba, made with dried and ground cassava root for a sturdier mound and slightly fermented flavor; and amala, a dull-brown mix of dried yam flour with a pungent earthiness.

It’s not all intense spice, though. Move on to gentler but no less deeply flavored stews, including those snails, or versions starring slow-simmered goat, chicken, or red snapper in the same vibrant, tomato-based sauce. Pair these with heaping portions of jollof rice, another West African favorite, in which the seasoned grains are stained red from tomatoes. Suya kebabs, which can sometimes be quite spicy, are fairly mild as rendered by this kitchen, but thankfully the beef has been marinated into tender submission. Adesuyi also fries something fierce. Her whole tilapia arrives brittle and crunchy on the outside, skin puffed and bubbled like chicharrón, the fish obscured by a hillock of fried sweet plantains and a generously ladled light sauce of chopped sweet peppers. Dig in to uncover meat that’s soft, flaky, and plainly fresh. Meanwhile, hailing from the soul food section, thin fillets of cornmeal-crusted fried whiting are pitch-perfect, too, with a light crackle to their black-pepper-dappled coating.

No meal at Wazobia is complete without an order of one of Adesuyi’s sauces (also meant to be enjoyed with starches), which showcase the textural diversity of Nigerian cuisine. Nutty melon seeds thicken a sauce with steamed spinach, while the ground ogbono pods (from wild mangoes) cooked in dried fish broth is as delightfully gluey as the forest-green jute leaf soup and a dish of okra with locust beans. They complement whatever you spoon them over.

Looking for dessert? You’re out of luck there — but a glass of Adesuyi’s floral zobo, an iced tea combining hibiscus, mint, and orange blossom, offers a refreshing end nonetheless.

Wazobia
611 Bay Street
718-682-1781
wazobiany.com

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This Week in Food: Chili Cook-Off, Hot Chocolate Party, and Southern Dinner Series

Chili Cook-Off for Charity
The Brooklyn Kitchen (100 Frost Street, Brooklyn)
Monday, 3 p.m.

The Brooklyn Kitchen is hosting a chili cook-off, with proceeds going to benefit the Greenpoint Reform Church Food Relief Program. For $5, guests can sample a variety of home made chilis, with amateur chefs invited to participate too. Score a ticket here.

Valrhona Hot Chocolate Festival Kickoff Party
Ladurée Soho (398 West Broadway)
Wednesday, 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Valrhona is hosting a kickoff party for its upcoming hot chocolate week (January 21 – February 5) where guests can get an early look at the unique hot chocolates that will be available. This year’s participating bakeries include La Maison du Chocolate, Mah-Ze-Dahr Bakery, and Dominique Ansel Kitchen. Tickets are $35 and include unlimited hot chocolate and bites; rsvp here.

Kreung Cambodian Food Pop Up
The Diamond (43 Franklin Street, Brooklyn)
Thursday, 6 p.m.

Chef Chakria Un is hosting a Cambodian food pop up featuring dishes like corn with coconut milk and birds eye chili, a peanut and shrimp tamale, and noodle stir fry. Drinks are available for purchase.

Roots of Southern Cooking Dinner Series
Root and Bone (200 East Third Street)
Thursday, 6:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. seatings

Root and Bone is hosting a series of three dinners beginning this Thursday that focus on historical Southern cooking. Dinners – $100 per person – will focus on a specific year and location with this week’s dinner based on The Virginia Housewife  and The Unrivaled Cookbook and Housekeeper’s Guide. The menu includes fried chicken and chicken pudding, rice waffles, and huckleberry pie. Additional dinners are scheduled for February 28 and March 29; rsvp here.

Talk and Tasting
Honeybrains (372 Lafayette Street)
Thursday, 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Beginning this Thursday, Honeybrains will host one hour weekly presentations focused on food and wellness. This week’s discussion will feature Honeybrains co-founder and neurologist Dr. Alon Seifan and his family. A reception will follow. Additional guest speakers include nutritionist and author Amy von Sydow Green as well as Dr. Richard Isaacson of Weill Cornell Medicine.

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This Week in Food: Aussie Dining, Debate Party, Fried Chicken Pop-Up Dinner

Aussie Young Guns Dinner Series
Chefs Club by Food and Wine (275 Mulberry Street)
Monday through Wednesday

Three chefs hailing from Sydney, Melbourne, and Hobart are bringing some of Australia’s signature ingredients to the United States for a multi-course menu. Feast on dishes like stinging nettles and seaweed, steamed grouper, and “tea-misu” (made with matcha, Charteuse mousse, and Vietnamese coffee-soaked sponge cake). Reservations are $75 per person — RSVP at the Chef’s Club web site.

Taste Talks Food & Drink Awards
Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) Howard Gilman Opera House (30 Lafayette Avenue, Brooklyn)
Monday, 7:30 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Join comedian Mo Rocca for a night of culinary awards along with a baking competition and a live variety show including performances by Queens-based rapper Heems and comedian Phoebe Robinson. Tickets start at $95 for general admission. Reserve yours here.

Presidential Debate Viewing Party
Pine Box Rock Shop (12 Grattan Street, Brooklyn)
Monday, 9 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.

Sip on a politically themed cocktail (like The Pantsuit or the Tremendous Trainwreck!) while watching each of the presidential debates at Pine Box Rock Shop’s series of debate watching parties. The bar will also offer voter registration forms (which must be postmarked by October 14) and beer specials during each presidential and vice presidential showdown. Finally, on election night, raise a toast to your vote with a free glass of champagne.

Virginia’s/Bobwhite Pop-Up Dinner

Virginia’s (647 East 11th Street)
Tuesday, 7 p.m. seating

Virginia’s and Bobwhite Lunch & Supper Counter are teaming up for a multi-course dinner featuring fried chicken and Miller High Life. Chow down on sweet tea brined chicken, skillet-fried chicken, a fried chicken sandwich with fermented hot sauce, and a succotash salad with bacon. The pop-up is $45 per person and includes beer (tax and gratuity not included). Reserve your spot by emailing Virginia’s.

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Carla Hall’s Southern Kitchen Puts Nashville Nostalgia Center Stage

Most nights at Carla Hall’s Southern Kitchen, all eyes are on the chicken shack’s namesake proprietress. Her hair pulled back, she makes her way through the busy and bright retro dining room to sign cookbooks, chat with fans, and pose for photos. The Nashville native’s debut restaurant, which she opened in June with partner Evan Darnell, is an ode to that city and its signature dish of fiery, oil-dipped “hot chicken” — with a dash of 21st-century branding thrown in. The building’s exterior is emblazoned with the city’s name, and inside, a market named after Hall’s grandmother Freddie Mai sells Nashville-sourced products.

“My wife loves you on The Chew,” blurts a middle-aged dad who’s clearly excited to meet her in his own right. Juggling Ritz crackers and a logo-stamped cup of her salty pimento cheese spread in one hand, he fumbles for his phone. His wife’s parking the car — they drove to Brooklyn from Connecticut — but he’d love a quick selfie now. Hall, a food world presence since first uttering her catchphrase “Hootie hoo!” on Bravo’s Top Chef in 2008, is happy to oblige. But before Dad can find the perfect angle, a piercing dinner bell interrupts the Instagram moment. In front of the semi-open kitchen, a server hoists a plate of chicken into the air and the entire staff shouts, “Boom-shaka-laka!”

The noisy celebration honors those who order the menu’s spiciest chicken, and the cacophony inescapably punctuates every meal. The uproar is also a bit of a bluff: There are spicier and more deeply seasoned birds around town, though Hall’s fiercest option has a creeping heat that’s invigorating rather than mercilessly painful. Nevertheless, tackling anything larger than a drumstick is likely to leave your lips tingling and brow sweaty. For chile heads who favor a persistent heat, Carla Hall’s Southern Kitchen delivers.

Sidle up to the front counter and order your chicken as individual pieces or in combination plates with sides. Diners choose their heat levels, from plain “Southern” to sweet “Hoot & Honey” to the aforementioned “Boomshakalaka,” and everything arrives clearly marked with toothpick flags to help avoid accidents. On its own, the chicken is all but faultless: moist and tender without being the least bit undercooked. By double-flouring before frying, the birds achieve an audibly crisp crust that’s surprisingly greaseless despite that final dunk in oil. Spice levels be damned — this is some easily devoured poultry. If you do find yourself in need of some palate relief, drinks like a Jack Daniels–spiked frozen lemonade do the trick.

From crowdfunding to renovation, Hall spent nearly two years on this project. Now, from her snug corner space in Brooklyn’s Columbia Street Waterfront District, the TV personality revels in her role as ubiquitous host. When she’s not signing autographs, she’s engaging with customers in other ways, like gently chiding a man who ordered a glass of milk. Ask her how she makes her cornbread and she’ll direct you to the bathroom (the recipe is framed above the toilet). She’s also prone to proselytizing about sauces. “I always tell everyone to try our sauces,” she confides to the Voice, and we’d recommend the same, whether it’s drizzling spicy honey over a “Hootie Hot” breast or dipping a beastly chicken tender into non-cloying honey mustard. And kudos to Hall for offering a version of Alabama’s lesser-known, mayonnaise-based white barbecue sauce in addition to the more customary condiments; its creaminess is a welcome alternative.

While the chicken is a surefire bet, your mileage may vary with sides and desserts, all of which are vegetarian and nut-free. The best of the bunch are smoky collard greens, followed by candied yams and above-average macaroni and cheese sporting an admirable crust. Limp coleslaw and lumpy potato salad, on the other hand, both prove uninspiring. And while all birds are delivered on slices of white pullman loaf, every slice we tried was dry. Instead, opt for biscuits and cornbread, especially if you can catch them while they’re still hot.

Daily specials — written on a roll of butcher paper — include desserts like peach cobbler and a somewhat mushy, raisin-studded bread pudding. On my visits, these generally fared better than the menu mainstay: a rich, near-perfect banana pudding ultimately marred by banana flavoring in its marshmallow topping. But for the sweetest ending, look to Hall’s buttermilk soft-serve, which cleverly imbues the icy confection with both sour tang and Southern twang.

Carla Hall’s Southern Kitchen
115 Columbia Street, Brooklyn 718-855-4668
carlahallsouthernkitchen.com

 

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At Belle Shoals, Make Your Own Grand Marnier Cocktail

Though coolers of ice-cold beer may be the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the phrase “fishing trip,” Jimmy Palumbo of Belle Shoals (10 Hope Street, Brooklyn; 718-218-6027) thinks of Grand Marnier. Known fondly as “Jimbo,” the North Carolina native has an appreciation of the orange-flavored liqueur thanks to his father’s surf-fishing outings to North Carolina’s Ocracoke Island in the Outer Banks. And indeed, the spirit’s warm burn offers the perfect metaphor for the area’s famed howling winds.

When Palumbo was tapped as the head bartender of Belle Shoals — a bar modeled after a fictional Southern town, with hospitable touches like Cheerwine, fried duck leg on a biscuit, and po’boys — making room for a Grand Marnier cocktail was a must. “If you go to Charleston and Georgia, and a lot of places in the South, you’ll see people drinking Grand Marnier straight,” says Palumbo. “It’s an eighty-proof spirit. It’s designed to be something you could sip as a base of a cocktail. We wanted to kind of highlight and focus on that. We wanted to figure out a way to kind of incorporate [the idea] that people drink [Grand Marnier] straight, so then we had the idea of using mini-bottles.”

The result? The Auntie Bellum, a cocktail that allows guests to get involved in the mix — literally. A TSA-friendly mini-bottle of Grand Marnier sits nestled on a bed of crushed ice at the top of the cocktail for guests to add. The amount of that sweet orange spirit to put in the drink is left completely up to them.

While the Grand Marnier is perfectly enjoyable on its own, Palumbo wanted to demonstrate the drink’s versatility — and not just in dishes like duck à l’orange and crêpes suzette. Like at most Southern-themed bars, food is an integral part of the experience here, so pairing drinks with the menu was equally important to Palumbo. And in some cases, Southern dishes inspired the actual drinks — like the Auntie Bellum.

“We just had to figure out a culinary thing that could also fit with [Grand Marnier]. Immediately, we went with the ambrosia salad — everybody’s favorite winner for the potluck,” Palumbo explains. The classic ambrosia salad recipe varies depending on who’s making it, but common ingredients include oranges, coconut, toasted marshmallow, sugar, nuts, and fresh citrus.

“The main challenge for that was to make sure we weren’t making a drink that was just a dessert… that was too sweet,” Palumbo notes. To help stifle some of the sweetness in the ambrosia-inspired cocktail, he chose coconut water to make his coconut syrup. The bartender also opted for a Lustau Amontillado sherry for its notes of toasted almond, fresh lemon juice for acidity, and tiki bitters to add some island spice.

Palumbo was mindful in choosing specific ingredients to ensure nothing would damage the purity of the Grand Marnier. By allowing guests to add in the orange flavor, they’re able to devise their own final touch to an ambrosia salad designed for the liquid-diet crowd. The toasted marshmallow garnish was added to give guests the textural sensation of that crispy, creamy feeling found in a spoonful of the actual dessert. “When you eat that salad, if that flavor, marshmallow, wasn’t there, it would just be that weird filling of a pie without the pie,” explains Palumbo. “You kind of need that toasty marshmallow flavor to tie it all back around.”

Finally, for guests who just want to sip on a sherry cocktail and keep the Grand Marnier accompaniment for a nightcap, that’s fine, too. “Whatever you want to make of this cocktail — go nuts!” jokes Palumbo.

Palumbo gave the Voice the recipe for those of you who’d like to try the Auntie Bellum at home — though you’ll be missing out on Belle Shoals’ vintage Wurlitzer jukebox.

Auntie Bellum by Jimmy “Jimbo” Palumbo of Belle Shoals

.75 oz. fresh lemon juice
1 mini bottle of Grand Marnier
.5 Lustau Amontillado Sherry
.5 oz. coconut syrup
3 dashes tiki bitters

Combine all ingredients except the Grand Marnier. “Whip shake” the ingredients with crushed ice and dirty-dump (pour the ingredients without straining) into a lowball glass. Add more crushed ice and top with the Grand Marnier mini-bottle and a skewer of toasted mini-marshmallows.

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Best Weekend Food Events: Crawfish, Wine, and Guac Burger Dumplings

by CHLOE and Mimi Cheng’s Guac Burger Dumpling, Mimi Cheng’s, 179 2nd Avenue, Friday through March 31

Veggie burger joint by CHLOE has teamed up with Mimi Cheng’s for one month of guac burger dumplings. Throughout the month of March only, guests can enjoy by Chloe’s burger in dumpling form, which features black beans, quinoa, sweet potato, and corn salsa stuffed inside. The dumpling is topped off with guacamole and tortilla chips, alongside some beet ketchup dipping sauce.

Wylie Dufresne and Sam Mason Dinner Menu Debuts, Soho Tiffin Junction, 42 East 8th Street, Friday, 6 p.m.

Chefs Wylie Dufresne and Sam Mason lent their talents to create Soho Tiffin Junction’s new dinner menu, which debuts this Friday and will be available all year long. Dufresne advised on the menu and collaborated with the restaurant to create dishes like masala meatballs and fried chicken tenders marinated in curry. For dessert, Sam Mason of OddFellows Ice Cream Co. created a soft-serve version of the traditional kulfi (saffron, cardamon, caramelized milk) with toppings including chocolate sauce and rose syrup. The menu will be available every day of the week, from 6 p.m. until closing.

Wine Riot, 69th Regiment Armory, 68 Lexington Avenue, Friday through Sunday, 7 p.m.

Sip on 250 wines from across the globe, poured by experts, at this interactive tasting experience. There will be plenty of booths for guests to stop by to get an unpretentious, wine-filled cram session and learn about these worldly vinos. Check out other activities throughout the armory, including a DJ and a photo booth. Finally, don’t forget to download an app that reveals where to buy the wines you’ve sampled at the riot. Tickets are $65.

Kids Food Festival, Celsius Restaurant at Bryant Park, 41 West 40th Street, Saturday and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Crawfish season is here!
Crawfish season is here!

Join The Meatball Shop’s Daniel Holzman, and Seamus Mullen of Tertulia, as they demonstrate fun family recipes geared to get kids cooking in the kitchen. Additional family-focused activities include a balanced plate scavenger hunt, goody bag prizes, and a special appearance by Snoopy. Guests with kids who want to participate in hands-on cooking demos can get $25 tickets here.

Weekend Crawfish Boils, Double Wide Bar & Southern Kitchen, 505 E. 12th Street, Saturday and Sunday, 3 p.m.

Fresh Louisiana crawfish season is in full force at Double Wide, where chefs prepare a traditional homemade crawfish boil each week. For $30, guests get a bucket filled with three pounds of crawfish, sausage, corn, and potatoes. The bar is also offering $5 Abita beers and rum cocktails. Can’t make it this weekend? Don’t worry, Double Wide will host these every weekend until the end of summer.

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Top Chef Carla Hall Will Give Brooklyn a Taste of Nashville (and Fried Chicken)

Carla Hall is opening a new restaurant in NYC. The Chew co-host and former Top Chef contestant is debuting Carla Hall’s Southern Kitchen (115 Columbia Street, Brooklyn) in the former space of Andy Ricker’s Whiskey Soda Lounge. We got a preview tasting of the food Hall will be serving during a Southern pop-up dinner collaboration with Top Chef alums Jeff McInnis and Janine Booth at Root & Bone.

Clockwise from top left: Hall's potato salad, collard greens, and Nashville hot chicken (back); Root & Bone's lemon-dusted fried chicken (front) with a Gentleman Farmer cocktail
Clockwise from top left: Hall’s potato salad, collard greens, and Nashville hot chicken (back); Root & Bone’s lemon-dusted fried chicken (front) with a Gentleman Farmer cocktail

Inspired by Sunday dinners at her grandmother’s house, the Nashville native is bringing a taste of her hometown to Red Hook. The menu concept focuses on the Southern city’s beloved spicy poultry and hearty side dishes. Hall’s chicken is pickle-brined, battered, fried, then doused in a hot oil, producing a thick, slightly greasy crust, with a tongue-coating hit of cayenne pepper. The meat is served on white bread with a house-made pickle on top.

The style is a stark contrast to the lighter, sweet-tea-brined, lemon-dusted chicken fried at Root & Bone — which goes to show how diverse fried chicken can be. Hall’s version is not overly piquant, but there is a mild burn, which builds after a couple of bites. A proposed menu states that the dish will be offered in a variety of spice options, with a choice of legs, breast, thighs, wings, or tenders.

Root & Bone's grilled corn with popcorn and corn nuts
Root & Bone’s grilled corn with popcorn and corn nuts

The bird is the main character, but sides are an integral component. No meat will be used in any of the seasonally rotating vegetable plates, so Hall is relying on vinegars, oils, and smoked paprika for flavor. Her goal is to attract crowds that normally steer clear of homestyle comfort food due to its rib-sticking nature, while also making it healthier for those who already appreciate those dishes.

Root & Bone's heirloom tomato salad with fried pimento cheese, pickled green tomato, basil, and molasses vinaigrette
Root & Bone’s heirloom tomato salad with fried pimento cheese, pickled green tomato, basil, and molasses vinaigrette

That means a side of thinly sliced, crisp collard greens that taste similar to traditional renditions, but without the porkiness — Hall employs smoked onion and smoked paprika to mimic the time-honored aromas of roasted pig. Potato salad gets an added dose of nutrients with the addition of sweet potatoes; it’s still creamy with plenty of mayo, but rounded out with some fresh chives. And a dish of deviled eggs takes cues from a cucumber sandwich Hall favorited while living in London — the yolks are blended with mustard and topped with diced, lightly pickled cucumbers, tasting light and gratifying at the same time.

Hall and her partner were hoping to unlatch the doors early this fall, but not surprisingly, when the contractors got into the space they realized there would be some delays. Right now, the team have their fingers crossed for November. “We’re hoping to be open by Thanksgiving, because this is the kind of food I eat on Thanksgiving Day,” Hall says. “So I’m going to be eating it with or without you.”

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Loosie’s Kitchen Brings Communal New Orleans Flavor to Williamsburg’s South Side

With the opening of Loosie’s Kitchen and Loosie Rouge (91 South 6th Street; no phone), co-owner Vincent Marino has injected the underside of the Williamsburg Bridge with a dose of New Orleans flair. But he decided a simple bar and restaurant based on the Big Easy wasn’t enough. “Yes, you can eat and you can drink, but you can also exchange ideas and get involved in artistic projects,” Marino told the Voice.

Marino set about creating a space where creativity can flourish any time of day, with food, music, cocktails, and décor all working together. Pushing through a blue picket gate, which acts as an entrance to the Cajun-flavored compound, guests are led down a walkway filled with lush foliage — it’s like a walk through Williamsburg’s version of the Garden District.

Bright murals painted in pink and yellow accentuate the elevated outdoor dining area, which is set with communal picnic tables for group dining. It seems conversing with strangers is encouraged (though you may wind up sitting in an elementary-school-size chair).

Seared octopus with grilled okra
Seared octopus with grilled okra

The interior has a Danish midcentury design, and includes a nod to the barbecue spot Fatty ‘Cue (the former tenant) — a chandelier in the shape of a pig. It’s a reminder that the kitchen is just steps away. “The design is not necessarily what you will see on the plate, but it fits extremely well together,” as Marino explained.

While a New Orleans theme is evident in most dishes, there’s also a focus on local ingredients, according to chef Paul Gioe. Several combinations, like octopus (not native to the Bayou), seared and served with grilled okra and fresno chile relish, and a pastrami carpaccio with celeriac remoulade, show an untraditional approach.

Fried chicken with homemade cornbread, hot sauce
Fried chicken with homemade cornbread, hot sauce

Additional main courses include fried Amish chicken thighs served with cornbread and homemade hot sauce, blackened catfish, and a shrimp po’boy. “It’s a Cajun, Southern, Creole-influenced menu more than anything,” Gioe said. “When you see catfish, when you see fried chicken, when you see okra, there shouldn’t be any doubt that you’re eating in a kitchen that’s Southern, and that’s the idea.”

Hurry-cane, anyone?
Hurry-cane, anyone?

The kitchen is currently serving dinner, with additional plans for lunch and brunch to debut in the coming months. Piano players make frequent appearances at the bar, Loosie Rouge, where wine, classic cocktails like the “Hurry-cane” and vieux carré, and a selection of beers (starting at $5) are available. Marino noted, “We’re trying to bring people together, and food and drink are a good excuse. Sometimes, we bring a brass band.”

A porky reminder of the former occupant
A porky reminder of the former occupant

 

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FOOD ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES

Southern Comfort Food With a Vegetable Twist at Root & Bone

Root & Bone’s (200 East 3rd Street; 646-682-7076) Southern-food aesthetic sits somewhere between upscale-restaurant and down-home cooking. James Beard–nominated chefs and co-owners Jeff McInnis and Janine Booth sprinkle their menu at Root & Bone with comfort food classics — think waffles, grits, meatloaf, and fried chicken — but the chefs have put a twist on your typical Southern comfort foods.

Vegetables are important to the restaurant’s ethos — the duo’s menu showcases the cultural roots of their cuisine through vegetable dishes. Though their menu includes typical items like green beans, they take it up a notch by pairing them with a fire-roasted tomato purée and crunchy peanuts.

McInnis is from the Florida Panhandle, right on the border of Alabama, and started cooking when he was fifteen. Although Booth is Australian, time spent cooking in southern Florida inspired her passion for Southern food. The chefs have a rich history in cooking and traveling around the world learning new cuisines, but eventually they returned to the foods McInnis grew up eating and cooking.

Adding more vegetable dishes to their repertoire “feels more natural,” says McInnis. “It’s easy and it’s fun and all my cooks — they love it. They’re not stagnant. When you keep the same menu forever, they get bored and they’re not really challenged. It’s motivating to change the menu.”

Rainbow ribbon salad ($12) is not your typical salad. Dried, crisp strips of summer squash and zucchini — actually looking quite bacon-like — are wrapped around summer squash and paired with a creamy vidalia onion dressing and a pesto made with carrot tops. The pesto has that familiar garlic bite at the finish, along with the crunch of pine nuts. Underneath the ribbons of summer squash and zucchini are roasted purple carrots, sweet and tender with a little zip. The mashed summer squash within the salad has a more resoundingly sugary taste than the carrots.

Sweet corn spoon bread at Root & Bone | Tara Mahadevan
Sweet corn spoon bread at Root & Bone | Tara Mahadevan

A spoon bread with cheddar cheese and sweet corn ($9) is certainly not your traditional cornbread. Not too sweet, the bread is softly rich — a spoon is absolutely required to eat it. Dill, thyme and chives are a potent herbal accent. The dish is topped with a dollop of crème fraîche, which provides a thick, milky texture and tastes more akin to sour cream.

Because the chefs work with a local supplier to use what’s seasonal and available, the menu changes frequently. After we dined at Root & Bone last week, four new vegetable-based dishes were added to the menu, including grilled corn ($10), grilled peach caprese salad ($15), spring pea and artichoke risotto ($21), and charred asparagus ($8).