Thursday, September 30, 2010

Hill Country Chicken Feeds the City

A warm Southern welcome at Hill Country Chicken
Flatiron's new Hill Country Chicken fills a big city need: where to feed a fried chicken fix in a jiffy. A workday lunch, Saturday shopping snack, tourist break or inexpensive meal with kids. It's ideal un-fast food fast food. The other good news is that it's a bright, friendly oasis and the food is made fresh daily - from the thighs to the pies. Marc Glosserman, of BBQ hit Hill Country, offers two family chicken recipes depending on your preference: the Hill Country Classic, and his grandma Mama Els', a skinless version coated in crushed crackers.

Hill Country Classic fried chicken
Pieces are sold a la carte ($1.75 - $5.50), so mixing is encouraged. Both kinds are buttermilk-brined and juicy, but fell flat in the seasoning department. As for the sides ($2.50, small/$5, large), the one standout is the rich cheesy fried mashed potatoes. The blistered corn salad is mild. Fries are ho-hum. Buttery biscuits ($1) are a bargain. 
Don't forget the cheesy fried mashed potatoes
The chicken won't win any awards (for that go to Harlem or Brooklyn). But Hill Country Chicken gets an A for effort. In my book, sometimes that's more than adequate. And if they run out of pie, which sadly they did the night I was there, pop by Italian food hall Eataly around the corner for some gelato. 1123 Broadway (corner of 25th St.)

Hill Country Chicken on Urbanspoon

Monday, September 27, 2010

La Dolce Vita in the East Village

Veniero's Pastry Shop, an East Village institution
Despite the constant stream of great new eateries in the East Village, sometimes I don't want to try the latest flavor of the week. I want the comfort of old, tried and true. Especially with dessert, where classic trumps experimental any day.
You can't get more traditional or legendary than Veniero's on E. 11th St. The old-world, family-owned pasticceria and cafe dates back to 1894, and stepping foot inside is a magical walk back in time. Under the ornate stained glass ceilings, dozens of mouthwatering sweets greet you as they have for four generations. Your eyes widen, you can't help but smile. So many many glorious calories. Cheesecakes, cannoli, tiramisu, biscotti, fruit tarts, strawberry shortcake, Black Forest cake, Red Velvet cake, and pastries galore. Even gelato! The menu lists more than 60 desserts, made from scratch daily. There are even sugar, gluten and dairy-free items.

Veniero's decadent desserts
Their signature New York cheesecake (with strawberries, $4.50) is utterly scrumptious. Rich and decadently creamy. Just as good as Mom's, in fact. The Sicilian cheesecake ($4.50), made with ricotta rather than cream cheese, is lighter and hints of lemon. For coffee lovers, the enormous slice of mocha espresso cake ($4.50) definitely delivers.  And don't miss their famous pignoli cookies ($2.50 for 2) - chewy marzipan morsels studded with crunchy pine nuts. Ridiculously delicious.

A visit to Veniero's is like being transported to Venice's Piazza San Marco for a sweet hour or two. 342 E. 11th Street (between 1st and 2nd Avenues).

Veniero's Pasticceria & Caffe' on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Hidden Taqueria on Ave A Celebrates Mexican Independence Day

Zaragoza Mexican Deli Grocery is easy to pass over as just another East Village bodega. But that would be a big mistake. The nondescript exterior gives nothing away. Step inside this teeny - and curious - neighborhood shop and you're still not sure what to make of it. You're instantly distracted by shelves jammed with hot sauce, canned chipotle peppers and cleaning products. Walls are crowded with a colorful giant mural, 'Viva Mexico' flag, and party decorations. And the speakers are blaring festive corridos.

But just focus on the handwritten menu behind the counter featuring burritos ($6), quesadillas ($3), and tostadas ($2.50). The food is clearly the reason you are here. This is some of the most authentic and delicious Mexican street fare in the East Village. Classic tacos, fully loaded, cost $2.50. You won't find that price at Snack Dragon or La Lucha.

Spicy chicken tacos
Try the roast pork or spicy chicken, made before your eyes. Grab a Formica-topped table in the back, and with your first bite, you'll think you discovered some random but fantastic road side taco shack south of the border. Autentico y delicioso.

This Thursday, September 16th, Zaragoza celebrates Mexican Independence Day from 6-10pm with a traditional Mexican musical trio, and food and drink specials. It may be small, but I'm certain this taqueria knows how to throw a fiesta.

Roast pork tacos
Food served Sun - Thurs, 10am - 11pm, and Fri - Sat, 10am - 4am. Located at 215 Ave A (between 13th and 14th Streets).

Taqueria Alert!  KikaEats also is closely monitoring the soon-to-open East Village taqueria Sabor a Mexico at 160 1st Ave. It's the third location for this Manhattan based family business. Expected opening Sept 24th.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Homemade 'American Hot' Pizza

Homemade pizza in minutes

When I lived in London one of my favorite pizzas was called the 'American Hot' from the chain Pizza Express. It was the only time I have ever seen jalapenos peppers on a pepperoni pizza. It's definitely a winning combo. So I've created my own version using dried Spanish chorizo, crimini mushrooms and fresh garlic and herb pizza dough found in Trader Joe's (this dough is excellent for making calzones too, a recipe which I will share another time).

KikaEats Version of 'American Hot' Pizza

1-lb package Trader Joe's fresh garlic and herb pizza dough, room temperature
4 oz shredded mozzarella
1/2 cup prepared tomato sauce
1 3/4 cup sliced mushrooms (I used cremini, aka baby portobello)
20 slices dry cured Spanish chorizo, such as Palacios brand
1/2 medium red onion, sliced thinly into half moons
handful jarred sliced jalapeno peppers (fresh are perfectly fine too, just remove the seeds and veins)

Prep your toppings
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Lightly grease 10x15 inch baking sheet with olive oil. You could also use a round pizza pan, but I don't have one.

On a clean working surface, sprinkle a little flour about 12x12 inches to prevent dough from sticking. Pat hands with flour, remove dough (at room temp) from package and begin pressing out with finger tips. I usually cheat and roll out with a rolling pin. If you don't have one, improvise. I've used a heavy cylindrical container of sea salt before. Roll the dough into a rectangular shape to fit the pan. This takes a few minutes so be patient. Lay dough in pan making sure the dough reaches just past the edges. Press down the edges so they stay secure and don't shrink inwards.

Once dough is in place, spread tomato sauce evenly on top, keeping a 1/2 inch border untouched. Add the shredded cheese evenly. Add sliced mushrooms, onions, chorizo and jalapenos.

Bake in preheated oven for about 15 minutes until the cheese has melted and pizza dough is golden brown on the bottom. Top with freshly grated Parmesan and fresh basil, if desired. Slice and eat. Makes 8 slices.

Bite into this in 30 minutes

Note: leftover pizza slices freeze beautifully, wrapped tightly in foil.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Brighton Beach, a Foodie's Delight

Going to Brighton Beach (aka Little Odessa) for the day makes me feel like an excited foreign tourist. A 40-minute subway ride from Manhattan transports you to a vibrant Russian seaside community - and a far cry from the hot dog and Cyclone experience of neighboring Coney Island.

If the weather is still nice in the next few weeks, pack a towel, sunscreen, and your adventurous appetite and get out there. The subway drops you off onto bustling Brighton Beach Avenue, and a block from the boardwalk. Before you hit the beach, wander up and down the main drag to work up an appetite. The street is chock-a-block with enticing Russian and Eastern European gourmet shops, fruit and vegetable stands, and a grand supermarket called Brighton Bazaar, which has a massive hot and cold food bar by the pound. The only catch is if your Russian is rusty, you will feel like a foreign tourist. Much of the signage is in Russian, so are product labels. And even communicating with store staff can involve a lot of hand gestures and confused smiles. But what the hell. This is the time to sample and be adventurous.

Armed with an excellent Brighton Beach food guide from New York Magazine, I set off on my culinary adventure. Here are some highlights:

Gold Label Deli's winning baked goods
Gold Label Deli (281-285 Brighton Beach Ave.) - Definitely stop here for some of the best street snacks. This deli has a storefront bakery window doling out sweet and savory treats: classic Russian pirozhkis (fried yeast dough filled patties with cabbage or meat), cheese pastries and terrific poppy seed rolls. The menu is in Russian. The kind servers don't speak much English, but you won't be disappointed.

Bulk candy
Vintage Food Corporation (287 Brighton Beach Ave.) - Next door to the Gold Label Deli, this bustling little shop is a real find for gourmet bargain hunters. It's packed with bulk bins overflowing with high quality dried fruit, nuts and colorfully wrapped Russian chocolates and candy. The bulk sweets section is labeled in Russian, so create a mystery mix 'n' match bag of goodies.

Brighton Bazaar (1007 Brighton Beach Ave.) - This supermarket is packed with not only an enticing produce section, but also rows of specialty goods from around the world, pickles galore, breads, smoked fish and meats and lots of boxed chocolates. The hot and cold food bar by the pound is impressive and extensive.

Honey poppy seed roll
Cafe La Brioche (1073 Brighton Beach Ave.) - Enter this bakery and you are instantly seduced by a whiff of heavenly baked goods. The fresh honey poppy seed rolls are so delicious, I had to stock up. The rugalach looked equally yummy. And the cases were stuffed with sinful cream filled cakes.

M & I International Food (249 Brighton Beach Ave.) - This expansive two-floor food emporium features extensive deli counters of sausages and smoked meats, smoked fish, a bakery, and freshly prepared food. Brighton Beach's version of Zabars, it's an ideal place to stock up on Russian and Eastern European delights. I found some Turkish sesame coated simit bread, which is so delicious.