é by José Andrés – Las Vegas, NV

When all is said and done, the goal of a restaurant, whether it’s fast food or fine dining, is to seat you at their table. If we’re talking about the latter, besides the menu, there are a number of tactics available to a discerning restaurateur. Hiring that hot bearded chef from some hip locavore, farm-to-table joint perhaps, or landing the top floor in the latest Zaha Hadid building. Or maybe it’s touting a one night only tasting menu featuring sustainable heritage bacon.

All of these strategies have been executed in principal, or more likely verbatim, but in Las Vegas, the capital of distraction, attracting diners to your restaurant is an even greater task.  So how do you do it, how do you compete when almost every celebrity chef has a Vegas location vying for those dining dollars? Well for one diminutive dining room, it’s simple, you don’t.

This tactic of isolationism would be suicide for most restaurants, but é by José Andrés is not most restaurants. You won’t see any signs for it as you walk through The Cosmopolitan, it’s not listed on the website, and even if you were to walk by Jaleo, it’s parent restaurant, you’d probably miss it.

E spread 1

It all started with a call from my dad and a one word question, “Vegas”? The answer was an instant yes, and with that, the meal planning began. Well, I say planning, but it was really just jumping online the second I got home to see if é had two spots open during our trip. I had heard about José Andrés’ semi-secret restaurant within a restaurant a while back, and it had been on my wish list ever since.

A few days later a dainty envelope bearing a faux wax stamp arrived containing two gold admission tickets. I can hear the snickering, but for me, it showed that the staff at é sought not only to provide a meal, but an experience, starting with your own personal Charlie Bucket moment, and it totally worked.

We arrived at Jaleo with golden tickets in hand, and no clue as to what lay ahead. Soon after, our seven dinner companions slowly trickled in. Naturally small talk exposes occupations first, and we were a diverse bunch; two neuroscientists, a spinal surgeon, a PGA rules official, a “businessman” with two young “lady friends”, together with me, an architect in training and my aircraft trading father, formed a group like a strange food loving cast of Gilligan’s Island. Little did we know how important that group would prove to be to the experience. Each of us took our seat at the bronze, horseshoe-shaped bar, surrounded by full height walls of library card files meant to represent Chef Andrés’ mind, filled with flavor ideas. After a quick introduction to the friendly, and thankfully not too formal, staff, our meal of over 20 dishes began.

E spread 2

Smooth foie gras and crunchy corn nuts, wrapped in what looked like pressed dryer sheets, but turned out to be cotton candy, was a refreshingly playful way to start a meal of this caliber. José is a decidedly serious chef, as his many restaurants can attest, but you can tell he’s having fun at é. Take his “beet-kini” grilled cheese with its two slices of “bread” formed from pressed beet meringue, achieving a color that’d make Willy Wonka proud, sandwiching a thick cream of La Peral blue cheese. Yet the flavors are always the main attraction, concentrated sweetness from the beets against the grassy blue cheese.

At an Andrés restaurant, you’ll never be without seafood for long, so the coca de recapte featuring a pristine Murcia sardine and deconstructed escalivada (a traditional Catalan dish usually made with grilled red pepper and eggplant) piped in neat rows was a welcome sight. Three quick bites followed, mini brioche stuffed with goat cheese and Iberico ham, a smoked Kushi oyster, and one of Eat a Duck’s personal favorite delicacies, a seared chicken oyster set atop crispy skin.

E spread 3

How about some shark? Why, yes please! A little Cadiz style fried nugget of adobo marinated thresher shark was as impressive as it was simple. Think of a piece of perfectly fried pork belly, and then remove any trace of lean meat, that was the texture. The fish itself didn’t have a distinct flavor, but the combination of spices from the adobo and the sharp sherry vinegar on the crisp shell was intoxicating.

Apparently you can pickle mussels, and guess what, they’re delicious! The creamy little shellfish with their added sourness were paired with little pea-sized olive spheres and a squeeze of citrus that woke up the tongue. Which brings me to Cava sangria spheres! After downing these high-end jello shots, everyone at the table had a smile on their face.

Let me just state that by now, I had become fast friends with the two lovely ladies to my left, one of whom was already starting to get full, and I being ever the gentleman, graciously offered to assist her in dispatching whatever morsels remained from each course.

The next course was a true brought me back to earth as the preparation was explained. I take it there’s no fear on the staff’s part of divulging secrets here, because I was no clearer on how this dish was created after the explanation as I was before it. From what I gathered, (and José would probably cringe, or laugh if he read this) you take fava beans, purée them, mix them with some molecular something or other, and then reformed them into their former fava shape. The result is an impossible smooth “bean” creme floating in a comforting jamon consommé. Two schmears in the roasted and black garlic varieties packed an incredibly concentrated flavor, playing off the subtle ham tinged broth.

E spread 4

A return to the sea with two prawns from Palamós, barely cooked on the grill to keep their creamy texture. If you’ve ever had ama ebi nigiri, it was a similar mouth feel. The flesh was exceedingly sweet with just a hint of smoke. Sucking shrimp heads seems to have become the cool thing to do after years of Bourdain and the like preaching the gospel of guts. Seriously though, when the opportunity arises to wrap your lips around a crustacean of this quality, you’d better suck every last succulent drop out of that shell.

The grilled Txocoli style cod jowls that followed brought the dreaded “wall” within sight. It didn’t help that I had a double portion after sharing with my generous neighbor! The garlicky pil pil sauce mingling with swirls of squid ink was almost too luxurious. In keeping with the cream theme, we were then presented with a steaming package of champagne cork sized mushrooms in a creamy bagna cauda.

I won’t lie, I was reaching my limit, but the sight of an enormous grilled Australian Wagyu ribeye was enough to generate a second wind. The color was unreal. Their grill must’ve been screaming hot because it had an amazing crust, but the deep crimson flesh beneath was still wobbly to the touch. Piquillo chips and white asparagus joined the perfect slice of beef, pairing with the grassy notes. A nice layer of fat lent its flavor to an already delicious cut.

E spread 5

With that exclamation point, the dessert parade began…with an egg, or what looked like an egg, but was in fact thickened cream whites with an orange yolk. A little chocolate drum shell containing a minty chocolate mousse atop cocoa nibs was a familiar flavor, like an intense Andes mint, or Andrés mint if you will.  José’s own take on a Ferrero Rocher was presented as a golden nugget in a ring box. The distinct hazelnut chocolate flavor combo was spot on, and even more pronounced than its namesake.

I’ve had very few dinners where I leave with more friends than I arrived with. I can confidently say that the group you draw at é can make or break the dinner. Without fail, the food will always be incredible, but the people make the experience special, and that goes for the staff as well. Our group was fantastic, the room felt alive, there was laughter and hugs and a common giddiness over this awesome moment we were all able to share. Even the chefs seemed to be having a great time. So if you visit é, befriend your neighbors, chat with the sommelier, joke with the chefs, chat with the assistants, because at the end of the day, it’s the people who make the meal.

Click to add a blog post for é by José Andrés on Zomato

Maple Custard Pie

“Ok, well…
This is the city of Lakeland,
And it always sleeps,
It may look like it doesn’t
But it does.
It doesn’t live and breathe nocturnally.
So when you’ve got no place to go find a pastry at night,
And you’re alone all huddled up by the oven,
Cause you’re cold,
Well, this recipe goes out to the bakers that’s forgotten.
Hey pie, take us home.”

This is the story of a pie for one. Triple the ingredients in a normal pie plate if you have friends. If there were stores open I would’ve added some pecans, if I had organic corn syrup I would’ve made a pecan pie. Sadly I found myself without both items, so I made a maple pie with some optional pretzel stick border. Do whatever you feel, the beauty of being alone is that no one will judge you when you fail, but you won’t fail, I’m here for you.

Crust
1/2 cup all purpose flour
2 tbsp cold butter (cut into small cubes)
2 tbsp coconut oil (the kind that you can scoop out that’s not see through)
1/4 tsp sugar
Pinch of salt

Preheat your oven to 350º
In a small bowl, incorporate salt and sugar with flour
Fold in coconut and butter until a rough crumbly dough forms
Throw it on a square of Saran then wrap up in a ball and chill in fridge for a while. Once it’s chilled roll out the dough until it’s about 1/8″ thick, lay another sheet of Saran wrap on top. Place in a small baking dish or mini pie plate roughly 3″-4″ square. I used my La Creuset 4×4 dish. Poke the dough all over with a fork.
Bake for 18-20 minutes. Remove and let cool for about 15 minutes.

In the meantime make the filling, or watch one episode of Comedy Bang Bang and then make the filling.

Maple Syrup Custard
1/3 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup heavy cream
4 Tbsp. maple syrup
2 Tbsp. melted butter
1 Tbsp. coconut oil
1/4 tsp. vanilla extract
1 egg

Whip egg and sugar until creamed
Add the remaining ingredients
Add nuts into pie crust if desired
Pour custard into pie crust. If you want to do the pretzels, which really worked well, just line them around the edges. Place in the oven and bake for 45 minutes. It will puff up high but once you remove the pie, the filling will fall like the walls of Jericho. Let it set and cool for 30 minutes.

Pie for one

This is a great pie to eat alone while bingeing on Netflix. You might cry tears of a pie.

Thank you Rancid for inspiring my pie-oem.

Tasting Tampa’s 13th Step Dinner Feat. Rooster and the Till

Who is Tasting Tampa? It’s a question long pondered and seldom answered to anyone’s satisfaction. Some say they’re nocturnal beings with a penchant for strong cheeses and the gonads of sea creatures, and that they can smell foie drippings from over a mile away, all I know is, they invented the infamous “13th Step Dinner”, and a few days ago, I was able to secure a spot at the coveted event.

The 13th Step Dinners spawned years ago when the gastronomic power bromance of Todd Sturtz and Kurt Raschke met for a brainstorm session over lunch. A name was formed to accurately capture their willing addiction to all things edible, a sort of support group for foodies. Predictably, Todd’s Midas touch took this seed of an idea and turned it into one of the premier food events in the Tampa Bay area.

13th Step MCs

This 13th Step was unique, as Tasting Tampa had not only recruited one of the top restaurants in Tampa to host it, but also partnered with Cigar City Brewing’s own Chris Lovett to provide beer pairings with each dish.

I arrived early and was met by a dapper Mr. Raschke, overseeing the goings on with all the grace and decorum of a top-tier symphonic composer. I was handed a menu that up to this point had been a mystery to me. With one glance I highlighted the pertinent information quicker than Robert Langdon. Oyster, sweetbreads, porcini, foie gras, beef, cipollini…GERMAN CHOCOLATE CAKE. I tried to regain my composure as I’m well aware that the proof is in the proverbial pudding, and many restaurants use these ingredients as a crutch. But this was Rooster and the Till, and anyone who’s made the pilgrimage knows that any level of excitement is warranted, Chef Alvarez never disappoints.

13th Step menu

After a quick introduction, the 13th Step hit the ground running with a gorgeous plate of fried riptide oysters, roasted brussels sprouts and smoked bacon on a shmear of miso caramel. A soft dusting of Korean chili powder left a lingering heat at the back of your throat. The oysters were crisp at first bite until your teeth hit the soft center. Their subtle ocean flavor was paired with a refreshing fermented cucumber for a little acidity. My favorite component was the miso caramel as it brought a sweet umami quality that served to heighten the flavor of its neighbors. The Hunahpu Imperial Stout had some clear soy and sesame notes that perfectly matched the miso sauce.

Fried Oyster

The winning dish of the night for me, came second. Veal sweetbreads with brown butter crumble, fried capers, preserved Meyer lemon and Rooster’s famous Parisian gnocchi. I might be crazy, but this dish initiated an Anton Ego style flashback to my mothers turkey dinner, albeit with far better ingredients and technique (sorry momma!). I’m hard pressed to remember a sweetbread prepared better than this. There was no stringy, chewy gristle to be found, it was perfectly tender throughout. Little explosions of salt from the capers only accentuated the flavor of the sweetbread while the preserved lemon lit up the palate with measured amounts concentrated acid. I didn’t speak a word during this dish as I was throughly enjoying my cozy little time travel session to my childhood. The paired Strong Ale that had been stored in cognac barrels was one of my favorite beers of the night. Whether it’s CCB’s brewing process, or just the nature of beer to absorb flavor, the 2012 Cheers was steeped in the buttery smooth flavor of cognac.

Sweetbreads

I’m not going to lie, when I read foie gras, I was hoping for a nice slice from a whole lobe. It was greedy of me and I feel terrible about it (sounded sincere no?), but this dish of porcini mushrooms topped with shaved foie, perfect sous vide egg yolk on a pine nut butter was no less luxurious. Dates and granola added a much-needed sweetness and crunch to this very savory affair. I didn’t even miss a protein (not counting the egg) as the porcinis were more than meaty.

Porcini

I have to start with the Bourbon Barrel Big Sound on this fourth course as it was truly impressive, even to my beginner beer palate. I swear I got a faint hint of bleu cheese on the nose (though it could have been the Calabrese wafting from the kitchen) and as off-putting as that sounds, it invited curiosity. The flavor was all bourbon. They could have said they had poured a shot in each glass and I would’ve believe it. The dual medallions of beef tenderloin were the perfect match for a full flavored beer like the Bourbon Barrel. The combo of beef, potato, onions and bleu cheese is classic, but Rooster elevated it with braised cipollinis and smoked potato confit. Dots of whipped Calabrese cheese asserted themselves with the perfect amount of tang. It was a dish that would have felt right at home in a smokey steakhouse circa 1962.

Tenderloin

Dessert arrived all too soon, but time truly does fly when you’re having fun. A broken down German chocolate cake was the subject of the fifth and final course. Like many of the dishes at Rooster, this was a reimagined version of the tired dessert we’ve all had since childhood. Broken segments of chiffon chocolate cake balanced precariously on chocolate crumbles like ruins of an ancient civilization. Sweet little dots laced with coconut framed the double stout infused ice cream against a pecan smear backdrop. I’ve been threatened on pain of death not to speak in specifics about the beer pairing for the dessert course, all I can say is that it made for one of the most amazingly flavorful ice creams I’ve ever tasted. The pecan smear brought the savory component to bring the consistent balance of flavor that Chef Alvarez achieves with each dish. Aside from the boozy ice cream, my favorite part may have been the little coconut milk custard blobs hidden between the cake shards. This was one of the most well composed desserts I’ve had in a long time.

Chocolate Cake

So that’s it, my first 13th Step Dinner all wrapped up. It goes fast I know, but I plan on becoming a regular attendee whenever the chance presents itself. If you live on the gulf coast, I’d advise you to keep a watchful eye on Tasting Tampa. I had a chance to speak with Kurt after the meal, and while I can’t reveal anything specific, I can say that tickets to the next 13th Step Dinner will go fast as soon as the chef and venue are announced, so keep on your toes!

Namu Gaji – San Francisco, CA

Have you ever experienced the worrisome feeling that if you don’t get something (usually food), while you have the chance, you just might die?

Everyone has an inner child, that slightly spoiled sliver of our mind that manifests itself when we’re faced with a strong yearning. I felt such a yearning recently during a trip to San Francisco. The source of my lust was Namu Gaji, a small Korean establishment at the corner of 18th and Dolores, just down the street from Tartine Bakery in the Mission.

Namu Gaji spread

Eater has become an oft used resource of mine for finding new and delicious destinations (what about Yelp you might ask…well here’s a hint). I found Namu Gaji mentioned there not once, but twice, as a place to be held in high regard. One of the many reasons are their time-specific menu items that are only available during certain parts of the day and sometimes on weekends. One of these is the KFC. We here at Eat a Duck have learned that when a restaurant deems it necessary to announce the limited supply of some extremely popular item, you’d better be the first in line, because a double down on deliciousness is in order.

We arrived in San Francisco from Palo Alto the morning after a wedding with a mere 36 hours of eating available to us. Hardly a lot of time, but in a city so magnificent, you can cover a lot of ground fast. While Jimmy was indisposed with his groomsmen duties, I hunkered down in the hotel room carefully planning our unrestrained campaign. I couldn’t get Namu Gaji out of my mind, every conversation Jimmy and I had during the wedding weekend centered on where we were going to be eating, and I made sure to pepper Namu Gaji’s name in there liberally. “I hear Namu Gaji is nice this time of year…Jimmy, did you know Namu Gaji is open for brunch?…Jimmy… Namu Gaji?”.

My persistent pestering paid off as we added Namu to the itinerary with the goal to arrive as soon as the doors opened. We ended up arriving 15 minutes after opening, and scampered toward the door like two teens who’s pubertal urges drove them toward the entry gates of a Color Me Badd concert ca. 1993. There was already a crowd of people lined up along the glass wall, happily slurping up bibim and ramyun soup out of oversized clay pots. They were so big and full of scalding broth the cast of Friends would have difficult handling them. At every other table, we spied beautiful people corralling fat, slippery noodles and morsels of the chopped 4505 SF hot dog that bobbed on the surface of the Ramyun. We had to order. Only then did we see, when served, there was also a delicately oblong panko fried soft egg peeking out of the broth, presenting itself in a request to be devoured.

Namu Gaji Ramyun

By this time, the meal had been ordered and our amuse of one “real” Korean taco, with beef bulgogi, rice and a couple of different kimchee arrived all wrapped up in a nice dark green nori “shell”. We made quick work of the taco, admiring the flavorful combination of the beef and its contrasting kimchee mates. Coming in at around 3 1/2 bites each, they’re the perfect size to get the synapses firing. After this morsel, all that stood between us and the heralded KFC was time. It should be noted at this point, the restaurant had been open for about 25 minutes and every table was now full with more people crowding the order counter.

Namu Gaji the %22real%22 Korean taco

The space is the perfect size, tiny. Any smaller and it’d be claustrophobic, any bigger and the energy might not fill the room. You can smell the dishes near you and it’s intoxicating. We had no idea what to expect when our main arrived. I read KFC (which stands for Korean fried chicken) expecting simply a better version of what I already knew.

It came in a checked paper lined basket with fixins on the side. I couldn’t tell what the accoutrements were at first aside from the pile of pickled daikon and a small cup of gravy. I had a hard time picking up the freaking chicken as it was so freaking hot my fingerprints almost burned off. I had to throw it down at least three times as the temperature was hovering around thermonuclear. This proved to be both rewarding and perilous. Subsequent attempts to pick up the angry bird left a residue of sticky glaze on my digits that I greedily lapped up like a victorious lion. It gave me a chance to taste what all the fuss was about. The only downside was that waiting is hard. A lovely coleslaw with kimchee and kewpie mayo grabbed Jimmy and wouldn’t let go, or was it the other way around? Ah yes, it was Jimmy who greedily wouldn’t share the slaw, as it was probably the only symbol of  roughage he ate all day.

Namu Gaji %22KFC%22

When cool down time was over, Jimmy and I ripped into the thigh and breast portions, discovering how wonderfully crisp and fragile the “batter” turned out to be. The chicken itself was incredibly moist, the result of what had to have been a lengthy brine or marinade procedure. The dashi gravy was the figurative icing on the cake, to what was the single best dish I had that day. Full of nearly every flavor descriptor I can throw out there, this gravy had it all. From land, sea and air, each had their own element to make up this one perfect bite.

I couldn’t have been happier with the meal, as I keep thinking about not only the KFC, but the experience in general. It was a fast meal but a great one. I took a lot away from the dishes and hope to use them to my advantage in my kitchen as it has affected my food philosophy greatly. More and more we find cooks looking to feature their rich culture, using what I would consider classic American comfort food to bridge the gap. Namu Gaji does this to a superlative degree, better than almost anyone else out there.

Namu Gaji on Urbanspoon

Dough – Tampa, FL

“You could search for decades to find a boss bakery. You could eat rich buttery croissants…or die trying. That’s one of my boss rules. It feels good to eat some Bruuuu-Lay” – Not Rick Ross

I’ve walked around this state for so long, looking for something. I’ve been searching for yeasty keys on the road map of life, with the belief that there are treasures to be unearthed in the form of breads and danishes. My journey has taken me so very high into the rolling hills of Britton to the deepest depths along the Atlantic coast. Until about six months ago, nothing could sate my hunger for water bagels. There weren’t enough layers of buerre to pacify my passion for a perfect patisserie. Could doughnuts exist that are as good, if not better than Mark Israel’s? I may have experienced traumatic expulsive iridodialysis with vitreous prolapse , because my mind’s eye was blind to its usual logic. Because there I sat, full of doubt that even the most enticing storefront would ever match the love I feel for New York City baked goods.

Then I found Dough.

dough_logo

Well it kind of fell in my lap due to the popularity of its big brother next door. The Tampa Bay area had been proofing for months, awaiting the unique concept of a high quality bake shop. A bake shop to sway attention even from those with an affinity toward fructose.

My friend is all business. He likes to keep his Oakley’s perched on top of his head at all times. He’s known around the office as the guy who wears his Oakley’s perched on the top of his head at all times. He keeps things professional in every respect, and only pays with a debit card that earns him rewards. His breakfast choices tend to be straightforward with a dash of pink Himalayan sea salt.

Dough Spread

Naturally, he went right for some breakfasty breads that he could savor for hours as he lay motionless, splayed across the length of the oddly shaped desk that resides in his makeshift office. He chose a percariously thin personal sized baguette, completely stuffed with pork sausage seasoned with Herbes de Provence. He followed it with a smart, all in one breakfast puck. A bacon encapsulated over-easy to medium egg, cooked into a cross between a crumpet and focaccia, with a little Vermont white cheddar. He made smart choices that day. Stories will be told of his courage and quick decision-making in the face of infinite pastrybilities.

Sausage Bread "Breakfast Puck"

I’m a wild stallion. Like Miley Cyrus, I can’t be tamed. I admit it, I’ve got a sweet tooth that goes deep into the nerve endings of my molars. Guys like me need a little walkin’ around money. We stress eat and don’t want our wives knowing every single food purchase we make. I enjoy having cash on hand at all times, just in case a food truck parks in my general vicinity or a less than legal restaurant likes keeping things less than legal by only accepting cash or exotic trades.

Creme Brulee & Guava Cream Cheese Doughnut

En route to the car, we made a pit stop over at the coffee counter so my pastry partner could forfeit any possibility of work for the rest of the day by summoning a bacon latte, laced with strands of luscious smoked belly renderings. What seemed like hours passed, but in the real world it couldn’t have been longer than a two minute wait. We were parking lot bound, our little white boxes full of priceless goods secured so well, not even Mama Fratelli could steal our treasure. Sorry lady, these pastries were worth more than a fifty dollar bill. My box opened first, my hand reaching for the guava and cheese fauxnut (a.k.a. cronut a.k.a. 1/2 donut 1/2 croissant). My teeth sunk in, cutting through the layers of pastry like a hot knife through foie.

Guava Cream Cheese Bite Creme Brulee Bite

I’ve displayed halfhearted admiration for Dominique Ansel, the proclaimed inventor of the cronut for ages. Years before he struck gold with 2013’s most celebrated invention, I would always recommend his flagship NYC store as a destination not to be missed. Sadly, no one except my loyal partner here at Eat a Duck ever took me up on my suggestion. Now you’ll have to wait hours just to get a sniff near the door. My sob story all leads to this, he is a master. I recall it took months to come up with the perfect formula to create the beloved mutant hybrid. I can’t imagine how much trial and error it took to re-create a masterpiece of these proportions. Just so you know, they pulled off a fine rendition. Truth be told, the fauxnut wasn’t even the best thing I ate that day, but it was definitely an impressive feat of modern food science.

If your going to match yeast strains with a titan such as The Doughnut Plant, you have to go no holds barred. Dough did so with style, grace and copious injections of pastry creme. The creme brûlée donut need not be dissected. It only requires a heralding as a textural wonder. Two layers, in stark contrast to each other, a pillow soft squared out yeast dough, and a not so paper-thin crust of crackly torched sugar, served as a liason for two servings worth of rich creme custard. There were only two words, “Holy crap”, and then I quietly put it down and had a moment of reflection.

Dough Patisserie Display

Oatmeal Creme Pie

Learning how to make some of these creations is a task I’d rather pay to enjoy than engage in myself. You might have heard a chef say that it takes a special kind of person to go into pastry, because it’s an exact science. If this the case, then consider Dough, the Bill Nye of Tampa Bay bakeries. Science rules!

Datz Dough on Urbanspoon

Joey’s Junction – Highgate, VT

Location, location, location. The famous mantra of many a real estate agent, as it applies to restaurants, usually assumes that the “location” in question is the one with the greatest visibility and therefore the greatest potential for success. Not so with Joey’s Junction, a small bakery/cafe/art gallery in northern Vermont where they are consistently serving the most diabolically delicious breakfast that you’d be hard-pressed to find in even the most hipster-infested joint in NYC. Joey’s sits on a plot of land at the intersection of two country roads in the small town of Highgate, VT, just outside the middle of nowhere.

Joey's Junction spread

I believe a certain Kevin Costner movie once said, “if you build it, they will come”. Well the boys at Joey’s built it, and sure enough, they came. The chocolate iced and custard filled Godzilla doughnuts they’re pumping out probably don’t hurt. There are only a couple of tables inside with a couple more outside, but if you visit, there’s a good chance there’ll be at least a couple of parties enjoying a rib-sticking breakfast. Joey’s isn’t the type of place where you have to call ahead or wait hours in line for. Luckily it’s far enough from Williamsburg that the beardos haven’t flocked to it before it gets too cool.

My family and I have been going there for a few years now, and over time, they’ve managed to refine and reinvent the breakfast staples. On our most recent visit, we spied a rack full of freshly made doughnuts, “we’ll have two” my father proclaimed. Now just look at these things, I don’t know if you can judge the scale from these photos, but these things were freaking huge. Slathered with icing by hand and generously filled to capacity with the most delicious homemade custard. On top of that, the doughnuts were fried to perfection, golden brown with a bright white stripe around its equator. Crispy on the outside, fluffy on the inside and spilling over with custard, which promptly merged with the chocolate. This was definitely not an “eat a dozen glazed doughnuts on the way to the real breakfast” routine you might pull with a joint like Krispy Kreme. While I’m sure I’ll reap the full wrath of my colleague, but I felt that the quality, decadence and taste surpassed even Doughnut Plant, King, Queen, you name it. Yes the doughnuts are that good.

Joey's Junction custard doughnut

Not to be outdone is the savory fare at Joey’s. The traffic jam in our aortas wouldn’t have been complete without a breakfast sandwich and a side of home fries. Now I know what you think of when you think breakfast sandwich. Maybe an english muffin or biscuit with a piece of country sausage or bacon, maybe a fried egg and a slice of cheese? You’d be right, but somehow this isn’t enough for Joey’s. They really should put quotations around the word sandwich, because it only loosely describes what you’ll get if you order it. We were presented with two pieces of bread, I’d estimate 2 or 3 fried eggs, a mountain of onions and mushrooms, swiss cheese topped with sausage. The whole affair must have been tossed with a couple sticks of butter and thrown on the flat top because the flavor was just glorious. It was a good thing we had four people to tackle this monster, because the home fries were waiting in the wings. 

Joey's Junction breakfast sandwich

If the breakfast sandwich was Mt. Everest, the home fries were K-2. Talk about value, I think they fried up two whole potatoes and a couple of onions for one order! 

Joey's Junction homefries

Now I know most of our readers will probably never make it up to Highgate. While Joey’s is absolutely worth a trip in itself, if you happen to take my advice and head to Montreal for a little Maison Kam Fung, or L’Express, take the day, drive across the border and hit up Joey’s, you’ll be glad you did. 

Joey's Junction Bakery/Cafe/Maple Shop/Art Gallery on Urbanspoon

Svenska-Floridian Strawberry Cookies

Sometimes, when I’m milling around my kitchen whipping up my latest tasty treat, I’m not always sure that everyone will like what I’m making. It’s not because I lack confidence, it’s simply inevitable since creating something that appeals to every palate is exceedingly difficult.

There is a lovely lady at work who brings in homemade baked sweet treats regularly. Every time, she kindly offers me a sample of her wares. I have to say, she really knows her way around the kitchen. Sometimes when it’s slow we’ve been known to converse about food, wine or our favorite chefs. It’s great for me because my job has nothing to do with food, save for the odd Omaha Steaks package zipping past on its way to some hungry consumer. About a week ago she brought in a gigantic flat of Plant City Strawberries. They were the most beautiful shade of ruby-red. I was surprised when she gave me a whole carton to take home for myself. Surprised, because if our places were reversed, I’d have eaten all of them myself without sharing a single bite. All of us Floridians know what time it is, it’s strawberry season. We’ve the got the little beauties coming from all directions. So many it seems, that we resort to giving them away to our co-workers for goodness sake!

With my strawberries in tow, I promised my buddy at work that I would try to make something for her using her sweet gift. A few days went by and other things preoccupied my time and kitchen. One day after dinner, after everything calmed down at the house and there was nothing good on T.V., I got bored and started exploring the fridge. I had completely forgot about the promise I had made just a few days earlier. When I opened the produce drawer, it hit me! Shortbread cookies, with macerated and roasted strawberries on top. This was perfect because the strawberries were starting to lose their crimson luster.

I already knew the recipe I would use. I had read an article in Bon Appetit about one of my wish list restaurants called Faviken in Sweden. The chef, Magnus Nillson, shared a recipe for one of his favorites, whole wheat shortbread cookies. With the recipe in mind, I began taking inventory to see if I could pull if off with what I had in my pantry. These ingredients are all basic staples one should always have on hand. I tweaked a few things to give it that “Logan Flair”, but I feel like I respected the original concept and created a nutty, hearty cookie that isn’t just an empty sweet. You can make the strawberry part ahead of time, because it takes a while to pull the juices from the fruit, or you can make the dough a day or two in advance as well just to have it ready to go when the time is right.

Ingredients for Cookies

  • 2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup light brown cane sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 1 stick of unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 large egg, room temperature
  • 1 large egg yolk, room temperature

Ingredients for macerated strawberries

  • 20 strawberries cut into rough chop
  • 2 Tbsp light brown cane sugar
  • 1/2 tsp almond extract
  • juice from 1/2 lemon
  • zest from 1/2 lemon

Preparation

  • Place strawberries, 1 Tbsp sugar, lemon juice and almond extract in a bowl. Let sit 1 hour. strain jus through sieve, into a small sauce pan on low-mid heat.  Put strawberries back in bowl and add last Tbsp of sugar. Let sit again for 15 minutes while the strawberry liquid is reducing. Strain strawberries once more into sauce pan. Let liquid reduce for another 15 minutes. Combine reduced juice/syrup and strawberries together and set aside. You should end up with a loose preserve.
  • Pre-heat oven to 400°. Whisk flour, sugar, salt and baking powder in a large bowl. Add butter; using your fingertips, rub in butter until coarse meal forms. Whisk egg and yolk in a bowl; add to flour mixture; stir just to blend.
  • Butter 2 non stick cookie sheets. Measure dough 2 tablespoons at a time and roll into balls. It might take a while to get used to rolling the highly crumbly dough. Be patient. Place on prepared sheets, spacing 2″ apart. Make an indentation in center of each ball; fill each with 1 teaspoon of strawberry mixture. Bake cookies until golden, 12–14 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool. You have to do this immediately!!! These cookies are very fragile. Don’t ruin them! 

Let me explain a few things before you go out and conquer this great recipe like a modern-day Leif Ericson. The reason I spend the time to extract the juice from the fruit, instead of just cooking everything down together in a sauce pan, is because you’ll lose that distinct strawberry flavor. All you’d end up is a sweet mushy goo, not that there’s anything wrong with that, but we’re going for a punchy strawberry flavor here. It really doesn’t take much effort. You can go off and do something else like make the dough while you wait. Also, I add salt instead of using salted butter because I want to feel the coarse grains in the finished product. This cookie is not what I would consider super-sweet. It’s just plain good. I described it to all that partook as a cookie/scone hybrid because those are the characteristics that I saw in the texture and taste. They might not be for everyone but they were a hit at the office. This recipe makes about 14 cookies, so do some math if it’s not enough to feed your crew. Skål!

The West Egg Cafe – Atlanta, GA

Those who know me, know that breakfast isn’t my favorite meal of the day, It’s not even in my top 3. So if a breakfast joint catches my attention, it has to be doing something right. So to keep the march of recent Atlanta eateries moving along, I present you with The West Egg Cafe. Located just a stones throw away from two more Atlanta stalwarts, the recently mentioned Abattoir, and Antico, the west egg is serving up classic southern breakfast, without the frills. Now when you hear the word “classic”, it can bring to mind tired, old food that’s been done over and over. You’ve had all this stuff before, tall stack of pancakes, a breakfast sandwich, maybe some grits and eggs. Yeah, boring, doesn’t sound like the usual excitement you’ve all come to expect from Eat a Duck. However, The West Egg succeeds in this realm, and managed to bring an eye-raising experience to the humble first meal.
This is going to be a tough one, because there’s really nothing showy or flashy that I can point out for you to explain why it’s so good. Let’s just get to the food shall we, because let’s be honest, that’s why you’re all here. Upon entering the space, it feels like you’re in an old renovated service station or something. Lot’s of concrete, steel girders, industrial lighting and such. Very chic, hipsters lurk in the corners, sitting on couches that look like the ones your grandma used to have. Up front, they’ve provided a coffee and pastry bar to sate the hunger of the dozens of waiting patrons. A case of cupcakes and whoopie pies seemed to catch the attention of the smallest in our party. Something else caught Logan’s eye, homemade pop-tarts, uh…yes please. I have to say, I really enjoy it when restaurants make little snacks available to you while you’re waiting for the main event.

West Egg entrance & menu

 We were seated on the patio and began to peruse the menu. You can tell the owners took pride in the design of their establishment, the menu is actually interesting to look at and well designed like everything else. Plus, if you’ve got older people in your party, there will be no need for reading glasses. There are many interesting choices to be had, many of which involve their signature pimiento cheese spread. They seem to be fond of this stuff as it’s included in every other menu item. Since we were planning a big dinner marathon that night, I wanted to stay on the light side. The first thing that caught my eye (since it was in enormous letters) was the build your own biscuit option. Yes, breakfast biscuits are a simple item, you wouldn’t expect to be wowed. I sprang for the turkey sausage, cheddar and egg biscuit, Logan chose bacon and my wife went for the veggie sausage.

This biscuit is what did it for me, each of the components was seasoned just right and cooked to perfection. The biscuit was buttery and fluffy inside, with that little salty bite on the crust. The sausage was tender and juicy, and had the most amazing spice, exactly the way a good country sausage should be. The egg, which seems to always be a filler on most biscuits, was well seasoned and actually added some nice flavor. They had melted a generous slab of cheddar over everything so that it penetrated every nook and cranny.

Logan wanted to sample a little more of the menu, so he picked up the picnic plate. This consisted of the aforementioned pimiento cheese spread with some sesame seed crackers, maple glazed ham, pickled okra and deviled eggs slathered with a maple bacon jam. I don’t like deviled eggs by any means, but these, these were good, I mean…bacon jam, enough said.

They don’t use fancy ingredients and there’s no three star chef in the back using high-end techniques. It’s just quality ingredients, cooked exactly right with no funny business. What more could you ask for? This article doesn’t do it justice, so when you go to Atlanta, just do me a favor and get yourself a biscuit at The West Egg Cafe.

West Egg Cafe on Urbanspoon

Eat a Duck’s 2011 Catering Blowout!

Well it’s that time of year, the time when all blogs around the world roll out their Top 10 “whatever” of 2011 lists. We could go down that path, but we here at Eat a Duck try to use our time each year to steadily ramp up our culinary experiences to a fever pitch, so we can go out with a fitting food-related fracas to be remembered. I believe we have succeeded in that goal my friends, and as always we’d like to share it with you.

Logan has mentioned many times before that whenever we get together, a tasty food experience is bound to find us and this past trip was no exception. I was informed by my colleague that he had been offered the chance to cater a party for a co-worker of his and that he needed a sous chef. Of course the answer was an immediate yes, so he sealed the deal and Eat a Duck was primed for its first dinner service for non-family members. When I arrived from Miami, Logan had already begun to brainstorm and the client also had some requests, so it was up to us to bring what could have been an everyday party, into a tongue tingling, finger food fiesta.

After much deliberation and a few heated arguments over presentation, this is the menu we came up with:

1. Panzanella salad skewers with mozzarella bocconcini, cherry tomatoes, fresh basil in a sherry vinaigrette

2. Cannellini bean hummus with garlic, green onion, cumin, paprika and generous amounts of olive oil

3. Turkey and pork chorizo on puff pastry with stone ground mustard, caramelized onions, quince paste and a dusting of manchego cheese

4. Lamb meatballs with shallot, garlic and mint on crusty bread topped with romesco sauce, pine nuts and grated cotija cheese

5. Scotch eggs using quail eggs wrapped in breakfast sausage and coated in Panko, deep-fried and served with a horseradish mustard dipping sauce

6. Fresh strawberry, pineapple, pound cake and marshmallow skewers

After we set the list, we took a step back to take in the dizzying amount of ingredients we would need to procure in the two short days we had to prepare. It was truly a daunting task, coming up with estimated prices and amounts for each ingredient, where to get them, when to prepare and then assemble the various components, not to mention how we would transport everything to the event!

All told, it took nearly a full day to collect everything and bring it home. As we stared into the fridge, which was now a solid wall of foodstuffs, we were having trouble figuring out where to begin attacking this mammoth task. We agreed to get the sauces and various garnish items taken care of and work our way towards the different proteins. With a few strokes of the knife and a couple of seconds with the food pro, the hummus was done and chilling in the fridge, good, one dish down. Then the Romesco, a nice sautée of bread, almonds and garlic, combine it all in the food pro with some piquillo peppers and tomato, throw it in the oven to caramelize and done.

 

The Scotch egg sauce came together quickly, as well as the sherry vinaigrette, although we had a scare when I dumped all the necessary olive oil in the mixing bowl without so much as a single whisk. Luckily for me we had a blender nearby which took care of the emulsion handily.

Now that the sauces were in the bag, we could start thinking about the meat. We needed to boil and peel 72 quail eggs, encase them each with sausage, bread them in panko and fry them to golden crispy perfection. Have you ever seen that many quail eggs in one place before?! What a beautiful thing, it’s a crime we didn’t have any fresh Uni on hand!

 

We also needed to roll roughly the same amount of lamb meatballs, not to mention cook and slice up the chorizo. We weren’t out of the woods yet. Logan started in on boiling the eggs Friday morning and we got them all peeled and cleaned in under an hour. I cranked out all the meatballs that afternoon while Logan attacked the chorizo. We were looking good, raw ingredients were being transformed into finished components and we could finally see our creations taking shape.

 

Saturday morning came like a thief, and while we had made great progress, there was still a lot of work to be done. I had an engagement to attend that afternoon so I worked on surrounding each egg with sausage to prepare them for breading and frying. I unfortunately had to leave Logan for a while so it was up to him to juggle the cooking of both the meatballs and the scotch eggs. While I was away, Logan began the frying process. We both thought this was going to be the easy part, little did we know that the egg-meat physics were conspiring against us. For some reason, when the eggs hit the hot oil, some of them were getting blowouts, exposing the fragile egg to the scalding oil bath. In the end, it didn’t end up being a big deal, although Logan and I, being the perfectionists that we are, would have liked to have had a nice pyramid of pristine eggs. In any event, they tasted amazing and that’s all that matters.

We finally finished all the components of each dish and packed everything into a cooler and a couple of serving trays. Off to the party we went. We arrived before the guests, so we had some lead time to assemble the dishes and get them ready for service. I tackled the Panzanella skewers while Logan hit the dessert. We tag teamed the chorizo, following each other with each piece of the puzzle. Puff pastry down, mustard smeared, chorizo placed, caramelized onions slathered, quince placed, manchego tossed. The same process for the meatballs. After constructing a tidy little Scotch egg pyramid (architecture school finally pays off!) the spread was complete. We were rewarded with an ice-cold Yeungling as we stood back to appreciate the gravity of what we had accomplished.

It was a fantastic way to end the year, the two of us together, doing what we love, and on a scale neither of us had ever experienced. On the drive home, all we could talk about what when we might be able to do it again. So if anyone is looking for a deal on some gourmet caterers, Eat a Duck has you covered. Check back in the days to come, because Logan will be going into detail on some of the dishes we prepared so you can try them at home!