If Time Out New York can do it, so can I. I’ve been inspired and satiated by Time Out’s 2009 Top 100 list and look forward to conquering their 2010 list very soon. But from now until the end of the year, I present my own Top 100 Dishes of the year in reverse order. Look for another five dishes every few days.
25. LONG ISLAND CORN from ELLINIKI AGORA
I was walking home from the subway one day in July and I passed by Elliniki Agora, my favorite 24 hour produce stand (yes, there is more than one), and I saw a crowd gathering as the lady who works there was handing out pieces of raw corn. Right on the cob.
I’m never one to pass up free food so I inquired about what this was all about. She said the Long Island corn had just arrived and we should all buy it while we can. She offered me a taste and I felt strange about eating raw corn right off the cob, but as I saw other people trying it and then immediately buying it, I took the leap.
From the moment I took that first crunchy bite, I was hooked. I had never eaten corn raw like this but if it’s all this sweet and juicy, I’ll never eat it cooked again.
There’s something primitive about eating it right off the cob like that. And there’s something delicious. For the next month or so (the corn was only available in July and August), I bought heads upon heads and substituted my usual potato chips for this quick, healthy, and raw snack. I’m counting the days until next July.
|32-12 30th Avenue (between 32nd and 33rd Street)
24. KALE CHIPS from NEW YORK NATURALS
If ever a specific vegetable were to be having a moment, I think it would be this moment for kale. Somehow kale has managed to find itself on just about every respectable menu around the city this year. It’s unusual not to see a kale salad, side of sauteed kale, or some other creative preparation of the leafy green on a menu. I imagine it has lots to do with the health benefits and the flexibility of kale.
So it was only a matter of time before somebody would think to put it into chip form. And sure, you could probably fry it up, dress it up with salt and make a crunchy delicious snack. But where is the integrity and nutrition in that?
I was a bit skeptical when I discovered New York Naturals, a new company out of Brooklyn that was started specifically to make these crispy snacks. The price was a bit steep for a package of chips. I also read that they’re raw, vegan, and all-natural. How can you make a chip that’s raw and vegan and still tastes good?
Well, somehow Amy Hamberry (the owner of the company) has figured it out. The kale is air-dried until crispy (15 hours!) and they come in a variety of flavors (like any self-respecting potato chip), from spicy miso to bombay ranch to vegan cheese. The spicy ones have quite a kick to them and the cheesy ones (which are made from cashews) really bring up thoughts of Doritos, but not the heartburn.
They’re available in many health food stores across the city – and even in other states along the East Coast. And they’re just as addicting as any bag of chips, just as hip as any restaurant in New York, and better for you than both. Price: Varies, but around $7.95
|NEW YORK NATURAL|
|Available at Multiple Locations
23. BOURBON WINGS at STILLWATER BAR & GRILL
My big food discovery has still yet to be fully discovered. I hope that changes with this posting. Because the bourbon wings at the divey bar Stillwater Bar & Grill are really something that should be tasted.
I discovered them years back when we randomly stumbled into Stillwater for a beer and some socializing. We ordered wings on a whim and my mind has since been blown. And every so often, I’ll bring somebody else into this bar to sit in the back and have a truly revelatory bar food experience.
The chicken wings are baked, not fried. They’re glazed with a spicy tangy bourbon sauce and served with the requisite vegetables and blue cheese. There’s a nice dark charred flavor and color on the skin and then you discover the meat is rich and plump. As soon as you pick one up, the meat falls right off the bone. It’s a little frustrating because it takes extra work to get the chicken in your gullet, but it means that these wings are tender, juicy, and full of flavor. Those are not the words I’d use to describe your standard buffalo wings from any other corner bar.
I’ve read that another bar in the West Village, Daddy-O’s, also serves baked wings. I’ll have to get over and taste those for a possible inclusion on next year’s list. But until then, you have to stop by Stillwater and see the amazing ones that I’ve discovered. Price: $8
|STILLWATER BAR & GRILL|
|78 East 4th Street (between 2nd Avenue and Bowery)
22. BEER CROUTONS at DRAFT BARN
Maybe Draft Barn is a hot spot, but it was hard to tell when I arrived on a weekday at 6:30. If this place has not been discovered yet, it’s a blessing for the locals who have this massive bar all to themselves. Besides a comprehensive beer list, they also offer Hungarian pub food. And the most delicious bar snack I’ve ever had.
The Beer Croutons are not on the printed menu, so you have to ask for them. They’re cubes of brown (rye? pumpernickel?) bread that have been soaked in beer and then deep fried and garnished with a generous amount of salt. They were the most addicting thing I have eaten in a long time.
First off, I was amazed at how hot the croutons were considering how quickly they came out. They must have literally come right out of the fryer (there was no time for any other option). They were crispy, but not overly so, so they still had a soft tender bite to them. The salt was not overwhelming but brought out the flavors of rye, yeast, and grease. They were amazing.
It was the perfect complement to our rich warming beers. I had to actually remind myself to drink because my hands and mouth were too busy dealing with these addicting little nuggets. I’m glad I got to experience them, I just hope on a more lively night, plenty of other people get to enjoy the Draft Barn. Price: $3
|530 Third Avenue (between 12th Street and 7th Avenue)
22. BITTERBALLEN at VANDAAG
Vandaag opened earlier this year in a cursed space (this corner spot in the East Village has undergone many many tenants in just a few years). However, it seems like they’re on to something. The reviews have been mostly raves and from my one meal here, I can tell they’re making quality unique food, with great service in a relaxed and sophisticated ambiance.
The food is sort of a Scandinavian hodgepodge with influences from many European locales. One of the most authentically Scandinavian dishes is the bitterballen. I’d probably heard the word before my experience here but don’t think I’d ever tasted them. If they’re always this delicious, I imagine I would have remembered.
The exterior of these little balls are golden crispy breadcrumbs and since I have a mainly American palette, I expected cheese or potato inside. It was a wonderful surprise (not really, because I had read the menu) to discover perfectly tender braised oxtail meat. It tasted like a rich Eastern European stew with great textures and warming flavors, but all in one bite. The garnish of mustard relish brought out some sweet notes and rounded out the round-shaped croquettes.
These would fit in as passed hors d’ourves at a formal affair. And if that was the tradition in this country, I’d seriously consider becoming a full-time wedding crasher. Price: $10
|103 2nd Avenue (at East 6th Street)