What were the most memorable culinary moments of 2015?
As a food reporter, my beat is defined not by meals but by experiences. Here, in no particular order, are my culinary highlights of the year.
1. Best sandwich made by someone else: At this point in my career, I didn’t think I could be surprised by a sandwich. Then I tasted the chicken sandwich at La Cubanita in Bay Shore, a Cuban deli that’s been making them for about 40 years. A counterman removes and chops the meat and skin from a deep-fried chicken leg, then heaps it onto a French roll slathered with Hellmann’s mayo and a little Goya hot sauce. The sandwich goes into a press to emerge, a few minutes later, hot, crusty, juicy and savory.
2. Best sandwich made by me: As soon as the local tomatoes showed up, I started making tomato sandwiches for lunch. Nothing fancy, just toasted white bread, mayonnaise, salt and tomatoes purchased either at a farmers market or at a local farm. Truly, there is no better sandwich. I made dozens of them, and shared them on Facebook and Instagram, where they inspired some folks to emulation, others to complain about my choice of bread (Arnold’s Brick Oven) and mayonnaise (Hellmann’s).
3. Most impressive thing I cooked: During a week on the North Fork in late summer, the berries were bursting, and I set out to make a summer pudding. This most elemental of English desserts entails lightly cooking ripe berries with some sugar, then dumping them into a bowl lined with white bread. Weight the bowl overnight in the refrigerator and, the next day, unmold it to loud applause. Thank you for the spectacular berries, Oysterponds Farm of Orient. And Arnold’s Brick Oven white bread.
4. Most welcome new residents of Suffolk County: We’ve got bison, we’ve got cattle, we’ve got goats and pigs and lambs and chickens. In September, Abra Morawiec took delivery of her first batch of quail chicks and, over the next two months, raised them on organic pasture on the Biophilia Farm in Jamesport. LI’s littlest livestock? Not for long. Peconic Escargot in Cutchogue has all its permits in place and should begin raising snails in 2016.
5. Best chocolate news: Just in time for Valentine’s Day, North Fork Chocolate opened a lovely retail store in Aquebogue that sells not only Steven Amaral’s exquisite chocolates, but a range of local provisions. Then in July, Amaral started making ice cream with milk from the cows about a mile down the road at Hal Goodale’s farm. Goodale is the only farmer on LI with a New York State license to pasteurize, bottle and sell milk. I remember the day in 2012 I first met his cows and began dreaming of the day their milk would wind up in chocolate ice cream. Dreams do come true.
6. Best continuing trend: Suffolk County: Long Island continues to bring forth serious coffee roasters. In 2015, two newcomers entered the fray: Jennilee Morris, who had long been roasting coffee for Love Lane Kitchen, and Jess Dunne opened a charming Southold shop called North Fork Roasting Co. In Bay Shore, T. Cyrus Kabir — who has a background in theater, computers and restaurants — opened Cyrus: Chai & Coffee Co. They join Long Island’s fraternity of coffee roasters: Aldo’s (Greenport), Gentle Brew (Long Beach), Georgio’s (Farmingdale), Globus (Manhasset), Hamptons (Water Mill), Java Nation (Bridgehampton), Roast (Patchogue), Southdown (Huntington), Tend (Shirley) and Thunder Island (Southampton).
7. Most hopeful sign: Nassau County: Historically, Nassau has lagged behind Suffolk in the all-important category of serious cheese shops. Whereas Suffolk is enjoying a cheese golden age with Babylon Cheese Cellar, The Cheese Patch (Patchogue), American Cheese (Sayville), C’est Cheese (Port Jefferson), The Village Cheese Shop (Mattituck) and Cavaniola’s (Sag Harbor), the only independent shop in Nassau with a real commitment to fine cheese was Curds & Whey in Locust Valley. But in November, Red Maple Market opened in Manhasset, and cheesemonger Jessica Affatato, formerly of Cavaniola’s, is doing her best to get the Gold Coast excited about the world of cheese.
8. Biggest surprise: In October, I reported a story about mussels and why they were fatter in the winter, scrawnier in the summer. (Short answer: They molt in the summer.) While I was at it, I asked Len Currie, general manager of Confederation Cove Mussels in Prince Edward Island, why some are pale and some are a deep orange. Turns out mussels have gender. The pale ones are male, the orange ones are female.
9. Biggest thrills: In July, I did a story on clams and spent the morning at Artie’s South Shore Fish & Grill in Island Park cooking clams with David Pasternack, Artie’s good friend and fishing buddy. The Rockville Centre native just happens to be the chef at Manhattan’s legendary fish restaurant Esca. Watching Pasternack shuck, bake and fry clams — and make his supernal linguine with clam sauce — was a career highlight. But the thrills didn’t end there. When it was time to plate the food, I realized Artie’s has only plastic dishes — and we couldn’t possibly use them for the photos. I had a bright idea: I would go across the street to Jimmy Hays and borrow some plates, bowls and platters from the steak house’s well-equipped kitchen. Owner Hays approved the plan. The only hitch was the street I had to cross was a perilous, six-lane stretch of Austin Boulevard — and no traffic light in sight. As I dodged the cars on my way back across the road to Artie’s, laden with a stack of dinnerware, I wavered between feelings of heroism and abject stupidity.
10. Greatest loss: In September, Gerry Hayden, the founding chef — and guiding spirit — of Southold’s North Fork Table and Inn, died from ALS. “Farm-to-table” is a phrase that a lot of restaurants throw around these days; Gerry really meant it. Raised in Setauket, he played in Manhattan’s major culinary leagues before returning to Long Island to open North Fork Table in 2006. “I was inspired to come here and cook, knowing I could procure the best produce, the best fish.” In fact, his presence inspired new farmers to break ground and new restaurants to follow his lead. Long live his vision.