Tuesday, July 24, 2012

There's Salt In This, Right?

Salty Pimp -- Big Gay Ice Cream
Big Gay Ice Cream

"I'm so glad you're moving out of this neighborhood," Vodka confesses to Ginger as we make our way through the East Village away from Casa Adela.  "Hipsters everywhere."  In truth, we are rendered incapable of either describing those we have branded "hipsters," or of articulating exactly why we dislike them, but our contempt stands.
Note: Those Who Hate Hipsters Are Generally Not "Hip."  "Nerds" If You Will
It is perhaps partly due to this disdain of the perpetual line of hipsters that forms outside the premises that Ginger has thus far avoided going to the Big Gay Ice Cream Shop, despite its proximity to her apartment and her affinity for all things sugar.
That, Or She Has a Long-Hidden Phobia of Unicorn Decor
In truth, we are more than grateful that the Big Gay enterprise has opened a store, as the last thing we ever feel like doing is chasing an ice cream truck around the city (which had been the original incarnation of the business).  And we are even more grateful that there is no line of patrons, hipsters or otherwise, wrapped around the block when we arrive.
Patience Is Not Our Friend
We order a single Salty Pimp ice cream cone, as recommended by Gail Simmons on the STREET FOOD episode of Best Thing I Ever Ate.  Lucky for us, the store has conquered the problems two people might have in sharing a chocolate-shelled dessert by providing us with both a plastic dish and spoons, leading to a neater, if unconventional, dive into an ice cream cone.
Genius Serving Technique
The Salty Pimp consists of vanilla soft serve ice cream, dulce de leche, sea salt, and a chocolate dipped coating.  Normally, we both hate chocolate shells because of how difficult they are to eat, but the dish and spoon combo has rendered this complaint a moot point.  Plus, the chocolate layer is thin, light, and easily breakable -- the ideal consistency for coating the rest of the ingredients.  The dulce de leche sauce is sweet and comforting, and the Big Gay Ice Cream staff's technique of inserting it into the crevices of the cone and the ice cream means that it is apparent in almost every bite.
What Would You Do for a Klondike - er - Big Gay Bar?
Most importantly, the vanilla ice cream itself is second to none in flavor and texture, providing the perfect base for the rest of the components (but in truth, it would be almost equally delicious on its own).
Please Note That Ginger Tarnished ALL of Our Pictures with Her Faulty Spoon Action
And finally, in a typical display of "genius," three bites into the cone, Vodka asks Ginger, "There's salt in this, right?" and does not understand when Ginger answers with only a blank stare of superiority.

"Hence the name," Ginger finally manages to sputter.  "SALTY Pimp."
This Coming from the Girl Who Spilled Ice Cream on Her Shirt...
...AND Her Pants
In any case, the salt is not only the ideal addition to creation, but its presence means that the Salty Pimp is just about the most perfect Best Thing I Ever Ate dish in the history of this blog.  Why?  For us, it is the best of both worlds -- sweet for Ginger, salty for Vodka, and scrumptious all around.
Congratulations, Big Gay Ice Cream, On Shutting Down Each of Our Go-To Complaints
To the very last bite of the wafer cone, the combination of flavors never dissipates, proving that the Big Gay Ice Cream Shop is the undisputed king of delectable-if-inappropriately-named ice cream.
Though Who Are We to Turn Down a Salty Pimp Before Noon?
As we finish our cone, Ginger grows increasingly hostile towards the crowd of customers hovering outside of Butter Lane cupcakes right next door.  It seems the group is gathering in order to take a class on proper cupcake creation, and this fact is slowly turning Ginger onto her last nerve.

"Not to be funny," she whisper-yells to Vodka.  "But who needs to take a CLASS to learn how to make a CUPCAKE?!  It's a CUPCAKE."

As Vodka mocks Ginger's rampant hostility towards cupcake classes ("As if you're such a WIZARD in the kitchen"), Ginger reasons that we might indeed share more qualities with our mortal enemies than we care to admit.

"I guess we do have one thing in common with hipsters," she begins.  "We are SUPER judgmental."

But, whether in ice cream or in life, that is only because we have good taste.
At Least, That Is What All the Places We Have Rated 5 Stars Tell Us
Big Gay Ice Cream's Salty Pimp: 5 stars*

*Certifiable Best Thing We Ever Ate

Monday, July 23, 2012

Only the Food Network Can Turn the East Village into a Dry Town

Pernil -- Casa Adela
Casa Adela

Breaking News: Ginger is moving out of the East Village, and from the way she is acting, one would think she were moving out of the country.
Hint: She's Not Moving Here
It is in this state of franticness that, when Vodka suggests we eat at a (read: "a" -- SINGULAR) Best Thing I Ever Ate location in her soon-to-be-departed neighborhood, Ginger pulls together a haphazard itinerary of every one of the East Village locales, intent on hitting up all of them.
And Thus Commences Our Freaky Friday-Like Role Reversal
Once Vodka talks Ginger off of a ledge about the fact that, unlike Queens or Hoboken, we would be willing to return to the East Village in the future, we settle on having "lunch" (again, our "meals" are only rough estimates) at Casa Adela, followed by "dessert" at the Big Gay Ice Cream Shop.
And By "Lunch," We Mean Stop #1 on Our "Continuum of Eating"
Only problem: neither place serves booze, and heaven forbid we begin an afternoon of eating without drinks in our hands.  Willing to revise our itinerary, we soon discover that NO remaining Best Thing I Ever Ate place in the East Village will serve us a spiked beverage.  Congratulations, Food Network, on making the East Village seem like a dry town.
Magic Kingdom: Manhattan Edition
Instead of suffering through an afternoon of sober eating, Ginger suggests that we begin at the Flea Market Cafe, a place she chooses not for its culinary expertise nor ambiance, but merely because "they have a bar."  As Ginger recounts her weekend misadventures with the summary "I am never drinking again" (said, naturally, while sipping on her bellini), we down our $5 cocktails and venture into Alphabet City to find Aaron Sanchez's favorite HOLIDAY dish, the pernil at Casa Adela.
"What's Pernil?" "Roast Pork." "Thank Goodness -- I Was Afraid It Was Something Weird"
Now, prior to this foray to Avenue C, our experience with Alphabet City consists of, well, we know it's the setting for Rent.  Therefore, approximately every five feet of our walk down the block is punctured by Vodka stating some variation of "I feel like I'm in Brooklyn."
For the Record, the Comparison Is Not Meant to be a Compliment
By the time we have stumbled into Casa Adela's "scenic" dining room (let's just say it makes South Jersey's Best Thing I Ever Ate choices look like the French Laundry), we are squarely out of our element.
Get It?  Squarely. -- Because We're Big Squares
Rather than being greeted by, oh, ANYONE who works at Casa Adela, we are instead offered a table by what we soon discover is one of their regulars.  Said customer should be hired by Casa Adela pronto, as he is just about the only friendly and helpful face for miles.  As we grow increasingly sweaty due to the lack of air conditioning, one of Casa Adela's hair-netted employees deigns to arrive at our table.  "Service with a smile" is clearly not a priority in this place, as she does little but glare while slapping silverware and plastic cups of water down in front of us.
Clearly a Graduate of Hospitality 101
Said silverware soon proves to be a waste, however, when Ginger orders one pernil sandwich for us to share, and this Puerto Rican version of Sophia Petrillo swipes Vodka's knife and fork away in one swift movement of disdain.  "Apparently we get one set of silverware per dish," Vodka whispers, and rather than feeling like cheapskates (which we are fairly certain was Sophia's intention), we are merely amused.
Dear Sophia, We'd Be Even More Amused If You Served COCKTAILS
Thankfully, within minutes, our pernil sandwich arrives.  Small pieces of roasted pork sit crushed within a toasted white roll.  While from the outside, the sandwich looks hearty and filling, peeling back one layer of the bread reveals that the meat-per-square-inch ratio is decidedly on the stingy side.
Optical Illusion Sandwiching
Honey, I Shrunk the Pork
Despite the orphanage-sized protein portions, the pork itself is succulent, peppery, and perfectly cooked.  Together with the crunchy bread, it creates the illusion of a (admittedly miniature) Cuban sandwich, and it is decidedly more enjoyable than we were prepared to give Sophia and Co. credit for.
Puerto Rican Panini
Nevertheless, we think the sandwich could benefit greatly from a condiment of some sort -- a gravy or a spattering of mayonnaise -- as the whole thing is a tad on the dry side.
We Need to Start Carrying McDonald's Ketchup Packets at All Times
After a typical bout of confusion over our "massive" $6 tab, we glance one more time around Casa Adela, deciding that it is not so much a "hole in the wall" as a "crater in the foundation," albeit one that knows its way around roasting a pig.

Casa Adela's Pernil: 4 stars

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Off the Map: Into the Woods, And Out of the Woods, And Home Before Dark

Bread and Chocolate -- Berkshire Mountain Bakery, Housatonic, MA
Berkshire Mountain Bakery

The list of things that would compel Vodka to make a journey into the mountains include... well, nothing.  So, to reword, the ONLY thing that would compel Vodka to make a journey into the mountains is a Bernadette Peters concert, which is how she finds herself winding around the hills of the Berkshires on the way to Tanglewood.
You're Welcome, Berns
So Many Trees... SO MANY TREES...
Now, the Berkshires, as we have come to understand them, is some sort of New York City/Boston institution.  People are obsessed with them.  Unfortunately, if you looked up "the opposite of Vodka's kind of thing" in the dictionary, a picture of its landscape would appear.  It is, after all, rather telling that she would one-hundred times rather vacation down the shore than within this hilly setting, being that she hates sun, sand, and swimming.  So suffice it to say that she is not exactly entering the borough of the Berkshires with an open mind.
An Open Mouth, Yes, But Not an Open Mind
However, never one to let a Best Thing I Ever Ate opportunity pass her by, Vodka and her enabling parents stop off en route to Tanglewood at the Berkshire Mountain Bakery, a place recommended by Gabriella Gershenson on the MESSY episode of the show.
The Day You Find Vodka Traipsing Through the Mountains in That Outfit Is the Day the World Ends
Clomping through the parking lot in completely inappropriate mountain attire, Vodka enters the bakery to find... no one.  Under normal circumstances, this may not have been a surprise, but being that there are no less the five cars inexplicably hovering in the parking lot, the emptiness of the place is a bit jarring.
Levain Bakery, This Is Not
Looking excessively like Two Fat Cats Bakery in Maine, Vodka approaches the completely nondescript counter and orders a bread and chocolate loaf.  The proprietor (who Vodka's mother correctly describes as being "barely alive") rings up the purchase with a completely affectless expression, clearly not a member of the Berkshires tourism bureau.
Let's Just Say We Weren't Told to "Come Again"
The bread itself is shaped like a squashed playground ball (it is apparently called a "boule") and is scattered with hearty pieces of dark Callebaut chocolate.
Freckled Bread
Cutting into the loaf at our lunch location, Vodka finds more chocolate hidden in the nooks and crannies of the bread itself (though strangely, it appears to be concentrated only on one side).
Um, Bakery Man - You Missed The Other Three-Quarters of the Loaf
At first glance, this bread and chocolate concoction proves promising.  At first taste, it joins the ranks of the Berkshires itself in Vodka's rating system.
In Other Words, It Is the Opposite of Her Kind of Thing
Indeed, the problem with this bread is that we so WANT it to be tasty.  For goodness sake, we love bread and we love chocolate, so what could possibly go wrong?
Oh, Let Us Count the Ways
Vodka determines that the main problem with this bread and chocolate is the bread itself -- dry and crumbly, it is not nearly spongey enough to integrate the chocolate well.  In contrast to a pain au chocolate, for instance, the two ingredients in this dish seem completely disparate to each other.
In This Case, If A = B and B = C, A Certainly Does NOT Equal C
In terms of taste, the bread is bland in flavor, and it has not been sweetened at all to make it more dessert-like.  Because the dark chocolate is downright bitter, the melding of the two parts is a bit of a disaster.
Let's Blame the Flavor on That Allegedly "Fresh" Mountain Water
Over the next few days, Vodka tries to improve this bread and chocolate in any way she can think of -- heating it, dousing it with sugar, spreading butter onto it -- and no alterations make her want to take even a second bite.  In the end, she is left with three-quarters of a loaf of disagreeable carbs -- one that does not seem suitable for breakfast, lunch, OR dinner -- and an even greater distaste for the place from which it came.
Moral of the story: go watch Bernadette Peters in Into the Woods, but don't go into the woods to see her perform.  Because even the First Lady of the American Musical Theatre cannot fully counteract the damaging effect of mountain roads, nature's bugs, and misguided baked goods.

Berkshire Mountain Bakery Bread and Chocolate: 2 stars

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Off the Map: First of All, It's Not Yellow, and Second of All, It Doesn't Look Like a Submarine

Cheesesteak -- Yellow Submarine, Maple Shade, NJ
Yellow Submarine

Vodka has come to the realization that to an outsider, the Best Thing I Ever Ate choices from her home state would make one assume that all restaurants in South Jersey are dumps.
We Present Exhibit A
With no offense intended to the various Food Network-featured establishments, they almost all share a certain world-weary grunginess that a master real estate agent would refer to as "character."  From Carmen's Deli's once-white-but-now-beige stucco facade, to Ritz Seafood's narcoleptic employees; from The Jug Handle Inn's roosters to Panzarotti Pizza King's, well... it's in CAMDEN, South Jersey is not having a strong showing in terms of decor.
Party City Clearance Sale?
However, if one location has to take the prize on the "character" scale, it is the Yellow Submarine in Maple Shade, NJAaron McCargo, Jr. had chosen the place in a cheesesteak run-off with Carmen's Deli on the BETWEEN BREAD episode of Best Thing I Ever Ate, so Vodka calls ahead to place her pick-up order for one cheesesteak and a side of onion rings.

For the record, she appears to be Yellow Submarine's ONLY customer for the entire afternoon.
Cue the Crickets
When Vodka's chauffeur (her mother) approaches the Yellow Submarine parking lot, she is aghast.  "This can't be it, can it?" she asks with mild concern.  Unfortunately, the giant sign proclaiming "Yellow Submarine" perched on the roof of the gas station-shaped establishment confirms her fears.
Looking Remarkably Like an NYC Taxi Stand
A picnic table that appears as though it hasn't been used in decades sits outside of the building, and if it weren't for the proliferation of patriotic stars and stripes hanging on the front door and the various decals proclaiming the "Best in South Jersey Cheesesteak," one would almost certainly assume that the place were vacant.
Yellow Submarine: The Setting of the Next Goosebumps Book
Vodka wanders inside and finds nary a soul -- the booths are empty and the counter is bare.  Is this Maple Shade or the Twilight Zone?
Does No One Eat Cheesesteaks Anymore?!
Out of nowhere, she hears a voice call, "Someone's here!" and a not-entirely-pleasant-looking employee eventually meanders up to the front.  "Pick up?" she asks without affect.  Vodka nods, and in response, the girl dumps a heap of onion rings into the deep fryer.
Service With a Smile Is Not Exactly What South Jersey Is Known For
Once the rings are properly fried, Vodka pays her $15 tab, which seems rather lofty, and she and her mother make their way out of Maple Shade (ironically encountering a bright yellow building en route, which Vodka's mother insists is the way the Yellow Submarine should look).
And While They're At It, They May Want to Start Vacuuming Their Only Rug
When we arrive home, Vodka discovers that the "large" cheesesteak she has ordered is roughly the size of a party hoagie.  It seems Yellow Submarine's cheesesteaks come in mini, small, and large -- the large being a full, sixteen-inch gargantuan-sized feast.
Perfect Prop for a Future "I Can't Believe I Ate the Whole Thing" Commercial
Living Large
When Vodka tears into the packaging, she notices that the cheesesteak is still supremely hot, despite its wait and travel time, and that due to the ventilation hole that the ever-chipper employee had cut into the side of the styrofoam onion ring box, they remain deceivingly fresh.
Kudos on the Ventilation, Yellow Submarine
Why Is This Not Standard Practice? Genius!
Contorting the sandwich into a variety of shapes for picture purposes, Vodka eventually removes half of it and proceeds to cut it down the middle to share with her chauffeur.
And Ideally, About 85 Other Family Members
The first bite proves to be the ideal type of cheesesteak for Vodka's tastebuds -- finely chopped flavorful meet, oodles of provolone cheese, and soft, moldable bread.
Yellow Submarine's Portions = A Herd of Cattle's Worst Nightmare
Featuring a generous amount of steak melding itself perfectly into the roll, this cheesesteak is among the best Vodka has ever had, on par with Tony Luke's variety and much preferred to the version she tasted from Carmen's Deli.
Gold Medal Cheesesteak
In contrast, Vodka's mother is not over the moon with Yellow Submarine's creation for the exact reason that Vodka is: the bread.  Vodka hates hard Italian rolls (which had been featured at Carmen's Deli) and much prefers soft, pliable bread products; her mother feels the opposite.  Despite these differences, we are equally impressed with the lack of grease dripping from Yellow Submarine's sandwich, and though we are only able to polish off half of the cheesesteak in a sitting, we think it is worth the rather steep price tag.
And the Onion Rings Are Worth Their Weight in Scrumptious Gold
And while the Yellow Submarine may not have done much to disprove the Food Network's seeming desire to prove that South Jersey is comprised only of dumpy restaurants, it is an absolute notch in the post of Vodka's theory that the best Philly cheesesteaks actually come from South Jersey.
It Is, After All, From Where All Classy Things Come
Yellow Submarine's Cheesesteak: 4 stars