A Creative Cocktail

Day Twelve 12 Sips of Brooklyn
maurice-pundit-fort-defiance1865

Cocktails at Fort Defiance in Red Hook: Maurice (left) and Pundit

dec17WHEN LIFE HANDS YOU LEMONS, the saying should go, make a twist and a cocktail. When Superstorm Sandy rampaged through Red Hook in October, Fort Defiance proved worthy of its namesake. The iconic bar in Red Hook was swamped, with ocean filling the basement and two feet of the dining room. But now Fort Defiance is back, thanks to staff and neighbors who heaved to and helped clear the debris and resurrect the café.

The chalkboard at Fort Defiance provides a historical gloss to gritty Red Hook

The chalkboard at Fort Defiance provides a historical gloss to gritty Red Hook.

To celebrate the conclusion of the 12 Sips and 12 Tastes of Brooklyn, the squad repaired to the cozy bar on Van Brunt to reflect on the variety of foods and drinks being created in this varied city. We found the dead simple: seltzer and milk and syrup for an egg cream, hummus made from chickpeas, lemon, tahini and garlic. And we found elaborate creations requiring investments of time, equipment, capital and processes: bean-to-bar chocolate, or North Fork Blend red wine. But there is seemingly no environmental niche where an enterprising Brooklynite can’t enter and make a contribution. A remarkable time, as Brooklyn rediscovers its industrial past and adds new takes on old-fashioned products.

We also found delightful surprises like the Sorel made by Jack From Brooklyn, a liqueur made with Brazilian clove, Indonesian cassia and nutmeg, Nigerian ginger and Moroccan hibiscus. Jack is Jack Summers, who has created the aromatic Sorel in honor of his Barbados grandparents. Jack’s distillery in Red Hook was also heavily damaged in Sandy and he has been working to rebuild with the help of neighbors and the Red Hook Initiative.

For our toast to Brooklyn at Fort Defiance, we ordered two signature cocktails created by owner St. John Frizell, a mixologist known for using small-batch bitters and liquors: the Maurice, a version of the Manhattan that he created for Avery Glasser of Bittermens Spirits (incorporating Bittermens bitters), and the Pundit, made from coffee-infused Scotch, Cocchi Torino vermouth and Amaro dell’Erborista. Both bracing and complex.

Many think of our neighbor island Manhattan when they imagine cocktails, and there is some truth to that in the old glamour of the city across the East River. But Brooklyn today is the creative cocktail: ingredients from around the world, creative mixtures of different spirit and ideas, some simple and some elaborate, blended and crafted to form an exciting brew. To Brooklyn makers of tastes and sips, keep them coming. Cheers!

Maurice (by St. John Frizell of Fort Defiance)

1 1/2 oz Rittenhouse Bonded 100 proof Rye
3/4 oz Cocchi Americano
1/2 oz Bittermens Amère Sauvage Gentiane
1/4 oz Carpano Antica Sweet Vermouth

Stir, strain and serve in a coupe.

Bittermens Spirits
18 Bridge Street, DUMBO
646-810-9564

Fort Defiance
365 Van Brunt Street, Red Hook
347-453-6672

Jack From Brooklyn
Red Hook

Photographs by Basia Hellwig. Date stamp typographic design by Joy Makon Design.The font is Mason, by Jonathan Barnbrook, Emigre, 1992.

The Chocolate Factories of Brooklyn

Day Twelve 12 Tastes of Brooklyn
Behind the tasting room at Mast Brothers: sacks of cacao beans and staff wrapping chocolate bars.

Behind the tasting room at Mast Brothers: sacks of cacao beans and staff wrapping chocolate bars.

dec17IT’S BEEN TWELVE YEARS SINCE MASTER PASTRY CHEF Jacques Torres shocked the culinary world by quitting his high-profile job at Le Cirque to open a factory in DUMBO (DUMBO???) to make high-quality handmade fine chocolate. Who knew he’d eventually be joined by so many other adventurers in chocolate-making?

For Rick and Michael Mast, of Mast Brothers Chocolate, the adventure goes well beyond the distinctive flavor notes of their chocolate. Last year, to save energy and appeal to their environmentally aware customers, they sailed The Black Seal, a 70-foot schooner, down to the Dominican Republic to pick up 20 tons of organic cacao beans they were purchasing from small cacao farmers there—and sailed it back to Brooklyn.  There, in their Williamsburg factory, they roast, winnow, grind and age the beans to make their dark chocolate bars.

A mural across the street from the Cacao Prieto factory in Red Hook. The painting was commissioned from artist Sebastian Gross Ossa.

A mural, commissioned by Cacao Prieto from artist Sebastian Gross Ossa, across the street from its factory in Red Hook. When we went by the other night, it seemed to have survived Sandy quite well.

Daniel Prieto Preston, owner of Cacao Prieto in Red Hook, makes his bars and bonbons (and liquors) from beans and sugar cane grown on the cacao farm in the Dominican Republic that has been in his family for 100 years. But with an eye to vertically integrating his business, Preston, an aerospace engineer and an inventor with 100+ patents to his name, also designs and custom builds production machinery for chocolate manufacturing.

Raaka Chocolate makes its “virgin chocolate” an unusual way—with unroasted beans. Cacao beans present a tremendous variety of flavors, according to founder Ryan Cheney. “Virgin chocolate lets the different flavors really stand out.”

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A cacao pod, with beans visible inside, at the Raaka booth at Columbus Circle Holiday Market in Manhattan.

Cheney considers the cocoa farmers’ welfare part of his company’s mission: The farmers from whom Raaka purchases its beans receive at minimum $500 above market price per metric ton of beans, which at today’s cocoa prices is equivalent to a 20% raise. At the other end of the production, Raaka donates its leftover cocoa husks from the Clinton Hill factory to the  Edible Schoolyard NYC at P.S. 216’s after-school to use as mulch and fertilizer.

nunu-hokey-pokey1255Justine Pringle of Nunu Chocolates became a chocolate maker when she and her husband, Andy Laird, a musician, were trying to think of something more interesting than T-shirts to sell at his music shows. Before they knew it, chocolate making had taken over their life. They use a single-origin cocoa bean  from a sustainable and family run farm in eastern Colombia. Go to their tiny storefront on Atlantic Avenue, and you can sip a glass of wine or a brew or a hot chocolate (yes!) with a view of the chocolate making in the kitchen out back.

OK, OK, so you want to know about the chocolate. Here are some of our favorites, all carefully tasted by yours truly and her friends. With packaging that is “font-snob-worthy gorgeous,” as one writer put it, these chocolate bars make great gifts—or an affordable little luxury (usually $8–$10 for bars; $2/piece for bonbons). And besides, think of all those health benefits.

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Jacques Torres Chocolate snowman and santa for sale at the Dumbo store

Cacao Prieto’s Pistachio and Apricot bar, one of five very tasty fruit and nut bars, all made from 72 % dark chocolate. Can’t decide? Try the sampler with all five! Certified kosher.
—Available online or at the factory’s storefront in Red Hook.

Jacques Torres’s Chocolate Snowmen and Chocolate Santas. The 4-inch snowmen ($8) come in milk, dark or white chocolate, with contrasting decoration. The hollow giant Santa, in milk or dark chocolate with a beautifully detailed flowing white chocolate beard, stands more than a foot tall, and contains two pounds of chocolate ($45, or $25 for a medium-size one).
—Only available in the stores, since they are too delicate to ship.

Mast Brothers Chocolate’s Stumptown Bar and Salted Caramel Bonbons. Collaborations like this one with Stumptown Coffee Roasters lead to some great flavors. The caramel bonbon is not chewy, as I expected, just melt-in-your-mouth paradise. For a bar with seasonally appropriate hints of cranberry and cinnamon, stop by any Shake Shack for the special edition Mast Brothers made for them.
—Buy at the tasting room attached to the factory, online,or at stores like Dean & Deluca, The Chocolate Room, Brooklyn Larder, Whole Foods.

Nunu Chocolates’ Hand Dipped Salt Caramel bonbons and the Craft Beer or Booze-Infused Ganaches. The salt caramel is Nunu’s best seller, with fleur de sel sprinkled on top. Absinthe ganache? Mezcal chili? Who can resist? Nunu uses 53–65 % cacao in their chocolates, which they find goes best with the flavors they add.
—Order online  for pickup in the store or at these stores.

Raaka Chocolate’s 71% with Sea Salt bar and the Bourbon Cask Aged (83% cacao) bar. Sea Salt is Raaka’s most popular bar; the  bourbon bar is aged in Tuthilltown casks. Deservedly, we think, it’s up for a Good Food award.
—Buy online, at Whole Foods or markets and small groceries around town.

Cacao Prieto
218 Conover Street, Red Hook
347-225-0130

Jacques Torres Chocolate
62 Water Street, DUMBO
718-875-1269

Mast Brothers Chocolate
111 North 3rd Street, Williamsburg
718-388-2625

Nunu Chocolates
529 Atlantic Avenue, Boerum Hill
917-776-7102

Raaka Chocolate
Clinton Hill
917-340-2637

Photographs by Basia Hellwig. Date stamp typographic design by Joy Makon Design.The font is Mason, by Jonathan Barnbrook, Emigre, 1992.

12 DAYS OF BROOKLYN: First Across the East River Bridge

Day Twelve  12 Views of Brooklyn
More bridge views, see Who's Who

More bridge views, see Who’s Who

dec17IN 1883, THE FIRST PERSON OFFICIALLY TO CROSS the completed East River Bridge connecting the cities of Brooklyn and New York was Emily Warren Roebling. She crossed in a carriage, carrying a live rooster –  a symbol of victory – and really, she had plenty to crow about. More than any other person, she had made this bridge happen. The seemingly ill-fated bridge construction had first taken the life of her father-in-law, John, who’d designed and “sold” it to investors and to the two cities, and then it robbed the health of her husband, John’s son Washington, who had become Chief Engineer.

An intelligent and educated woman, Emily had been at his elbow while he studied and then extended his father’s plans and ideas. But soon her husband’s impairment – caused by decompression sickness while installing caissons at the site – left her to oversee the bridge building day to day, and then year after year. Washington followed the construction of the bridge by spy glass from his infirmary perch in Brooklyn Heights, it was believed, and relayed his instructions from there; in reality, however, for about a dozen years, he was seeing no one face-to-face but his nurses and his wife.

Emily Roebling proved able in the supervisory role for the next 14 years, even facing down challengers from the worlds of politics, engineering and investment, to keep the project in her and her husband’s hands. Did she go on to accomplish more civil engineering wonders in her own name? No. But in 1899, at age 56, she got a law degree from New York University. She died in 1903 of stomach cancer.

125th anniversary fireworks in 2008

125th anniversary fireworks in 2008

Washington Roebling’s medical treatment may have used the addictive drugs of the day. On the day the bridge opened, Roebling did not attend the opening ceremony and at the family’s reception, he was able to stand for only a few minutes and reportedly he showed no emotion; that was left to his wife. But Roebling’s health improved some time after the bridge was completed, at least enough so that he remarried after Emily’s death, and even took the reins of John A. Roebling’s Sons, the family engineering company, at age 80. He had outlived his younger brothers and their sons. In spite of continuing pain from decompression sickness, he ran the company successfully until his own death in 1926 at age 89. In 1915, the East River Bridge was officially renamed the Brooklyn Bridge.

Eggnog with Frothing

Day Eleven 12 Sips of Brooklyn
Heading down to the Waterfront Ale House, we met strolling carolers bringing old-time Brooklyn to Atlantic Avenue.

Heading down to the Waterfront Ale House, we met strolling carolers bringing
a note of old-time Brooklyn to Atlantic Avenue.

dec16EGGNOG IS A DRINK THAT MYSTERIOUSLY APPEARS in the weeks leading up to Christmas, then fades in popularity as the winter winds on. Is anyone sitting in the chill of early March and thinking “I could use an eggnog about now”? Like cherry blossoms in the spring, eggnog’s short window of interest must form part of its appeal.

So now it’s mid-December, and if you’re jonesing for the ’nog, head to the Waterfront Ale House on Atlantic Avenue and order Sam’s Serious Eggnog. Sam is Sam Barbieri, owner of the Ale House, and a guy with some serious cred himself as a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America. He definitely puts his own spin on drink and barbecue at the bar.

WaterfrontLogoThe Ale House is a decent watering hole, with free spiced popcorn, a respectable beer range and a list of whiskeys so extensive serious liver damage is threatened to anyone attempting to master it. The eggnog itself is made with three rums, bourbon and brandy and is light and frothy.

Speaking of froth, what better place to find industrial-strength frothing than at the National Review, the conservative publication founded by William F. Buckley. Writer Kevin Williamson favorably mentions Sam’s incomparable eggnog in a recent blog post slamming what Williamson calls the “Eggnog Gestapo.” What upset Williamson so deeply is government regulations on commercial eggnog. Apparently the Food and Drug Administration requires a minimum of 6% milkfat in commercial eggnog, as detailed in an article at Wired.

Sam’s Serious Egg Nog: 3 kinds of rum, brandy and bourbon. Like the man says—serious.

Sam’s Eggnog: three kinds of rum, brandy and bourbon.
Like the man says—serious.

Equating the FDA with the Gestapo, on one hand, is all so much Internet-standard rhetorical bombast. On the other hand, Williamson does raise a valid issue that must concern more than one Brooklyn artisan: complying with government regulations. Particularly for those in food businesses, how do small-batch producers ensure that they comply with dozens of local, state and federal rules that cover their products while trying to deliver a quality product? Brooklyn Artisan would like to hear of any problems and solutions that small-batch producers have encountered in navigating those rules.

On another note, Southern Comfort Eggnog as analyzed by Wired is made with inordinate amounts of seaweed-based carrageenan, guar gum and that much-maligned whipping boy of food critics: corn syrup. Mr. Williamson, sadly, didn’t spare any of his dudgeon for the multinational corporation pumping out engineered, lowest common denominator products.

You won’t find corn syrup in Sam’s recipe, reproduced below. Sam mandates two rums (he advertises three rums for his ’nog at the Ale House, so I guess that the chef won’t reveal all his secrets.) If you want to use a local rum, check out Due North Rum from Van Brunt Stillhouse of Red Hook.

Sam’s Serious Eggnog

4 whole eggs
¾ cup granulated sugar
2 cups half & half
1 cup heavy cream
2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp ground allspice
Pinch ground clove
4 oz dark rum
2 oz 151 rum
1 oz brandy
2 oz bourbon

Whisk together eggs, sugar and 1 1/2 cups half & half in a 3-quart stainless steel bowl until sugar is dissolved.

In a separate bowl, combine spices and liquors and mix well.

Heat the egg mixture over a double boiler whisking constantly just until it starts to thicken. Immediately remove from heat and add the cold heavy cream and remaining half & half to cool and stop cooking.

Stir in the liquor and spice mixture.

Blend well.

Waterfront Ale House
155 Atlantic Avenue, Brooklyn Heights

718-522-3794

Van Brunt Stillhouse
6 Bay Street, Red Hook
718-852-6405

Photographs by Basia Hellwig. Date stamp typographic design by Joy Makon Design. The font is Industria, by Neville Brody, Linotype, 1989.

Cookie Heaven

Day Eleven 12 Tastes of Brooklyn
The window at Betty Bakery one recent December evening. Cookie heaven.

The window at Betty Bakery on Atlantic Avenue one recent December evening.

dec16I WAS INVITED TO MY FIRST COOKIE-EXCHANGE holiday party this year, but alas, now it’s been cancelled and all motivation to cover myself in flour and sugar has gone out the window. Luckily, Brooklyn is rich in cookies—beautiful ones made by hand with the finest ingredients by the most ingeniously creative bakers. Here are just a few to tempt you.

Vintage Santa Postcard Cookies and Holiday Cookie Tin, from Betty Bakery
Bakers and cake designers Ellen Baumwoll and Cheryl Kleinman entice you with their beautiful store window and win you over with their delicious flavors and inventive designs. A large vanilla sablé decorated with a vintage Santa postcard image will be available during the holidays. I have my eye on the Holiday Cookie Tin, filled with 40 chocolate-chocolate trees, small gingerbread men, walnut linzer wreaths, lemon shortbread stars, sugar snowflakes plus a decorated cookie. Or how about gingerbread girls and boys, or some adorable little marzipan penguins and snowmen, or rugelah? Happy times.

Ninjabread and Mustache Cookies, from Butter + Love
We met Alison Walla of Butter + Love at Brooklyn Flea and fell in love with her Mustache gingerbread cookies, which have bits of crystallized ginger rolled into the dough—and her fun Ninjabread cookies, gingery and sweet.

Butter-Love-Ninja-Mustache

The Ninjas were named as one of the “Best Holiday Cookies”  this year by Timeout. We have to agree. And we love the story of how Alison, who came to New York to be a Broadway actress and singer, developed her cookie business.

Macarons, from Vendôme Patisserie
The Parisian pastry house Ladurée is credited with having invented the macaron—two airy almond meringue confections united by cream in the middle. Now we have Brooklyn-based Vendôme Patisserie, whose macarons “are the only ones in New York to rival the French forebear’s…Ladurée and Vendôme touch the hem of heaven,” a New York Times reviewer effuses.

Vendôme Patisserie macarons at Brooklyn Flea

Vendôme’s macaron flavors roll off the tongue: Campari Pamplemousse, Limoncello, Black Truffle and Roasted Chestnut, Kaffir Lime, Champagne Cocktail, and then melt in the mouth. We spied the beautiful red and green tower above at Brooklyn Flea. Vendôme Patisserie doesn’t have its own shop, but you’ll find their macarons at Bacchus Patisserie on Atlantic Avenue, and at the Columbus Circle Holiday Market until, yikes, December 16. Macarons are gluten-free.

Holiday Tea Collection and Whoopie Pies, from One Girl Cookies
The holiday season is always busy for bakers, but One Girl Cookies founder Dawn Castle and co-owner Dave Crofton really have had their hands extra full since last month when their second store, in DUMBO, which had been open just nine months, was damaged by Sandy flooding. One Girl Cookies is back up and running now, turning out their sweets.

Holiday Tea Collection (Photo courtesy One Girl Cookies)

Holiday Tea Collection
(Photo courtesy One Girl Cookies)

The cookies all have names—Lucia, Lana, Sadie. You’ll find descriptions (and can buy them) online.  For their Holiday Tea Collection, the bakers came up with three limited edition tea cookies with flavors inspired by the season: Lena, a rosemary shortbread named after One Girl’s mom; Kris, a chocolate cherry crinkle cookie and Fiona, a “sugar plum” thumbprint cookie filled with plum jam. And for a true Brooklyn experience, how about a Whoopie Pie—cream cheese frosting sandwiched between pumpkin or chocolate cake? You’ll find the recipe in the One Girl Cookies Cookbook, along with 66 others. Maybe I’m feeling a little motivation coming on after all.

What’s your favorite Made in Brooklyn cookie?

Betty Bakery
448 Atlantic Avenue, Boerum Hill
718-246-2402

Butter + Love
Fort Greene
info@butterpluslove.com
Butter + Love Etsy Shop

Vendôme Patisserie
Available at Bacchus Patisserie
411 Atlantic Avenue, Boerum Hill, and at Brooklyn Flea
917-892-2127, 917-602-2251

One Girl Cookies
68 Dean Street, Cobble Hill
212-675-4996
33 Main Street, DUMBO
347-338-1268
Photographs (except One Girl Cookies) by Basia Hellwig. Date stamp typographic design by Joy Makon Design. The font is Industria, by Neville Brody, Linotype, 1989.


12 DAYS OF BROOKLYN: And There Shall Be Trees

Day Eleven 12 Views of Brooklyn
Photograph by Joseph Caserto. See Who's Who.

Photograph by Joseph Caserto. See Who’s Who.

dec16IT HAPPENS SO SUDDENLY. ONE DAY YOU TURN A FAMILIAR CORNER and – voilà!  there you are in the midst of an evergreen forest! The pine scent is intense, the prickly branches reach out to you, it’s heady and exciting: Christmastime, Christmastime! Soon you realize your brain is being bathed in or battered by holiday music. O Tannenbaum jostles Rudolph the Red….Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah (preferably sung by k. d. lang) co-exists with Handel’s Messiah (preferably one you can sing along with in a church). You’ve shopped and staggered home to wrap. The tree lights are on. Who’s got the tape? Grandmother makes her annual joke: No packing in the peekages! Stockings are hung by the fire or maybe just draped over the back of the couch. When emotion overtakes you, it often comes by stealth – at the midnight service when a pure young voice sings the first notes of O Holy Night, or after the stockings have been emptied and the wrappings are in tatters and the family holds hands to give thanks over the turkey dinner. Or maybe it’s private, when you step outside to remember childhood celebrations and the people who loved you who now are gone and you silently thank them for the year you got the bike of your dreams and forgive them for the Christmas of the Scratchy Socks and Really Stupid Sweater. Take a deep breath, smell the pine wreath, give in to it all – and laugh a little as Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer from a car passing in the slushy street chimes in with your iPod, “Good King Wenceslas looked out/On the feast of Stephen/When the snow lay round about/Deep and crisp and even….” Here’s to 2012 and another fine Christmas.

Bring Back the Soda Fountain!

Day Ten 12 Sips of Brooklyn
P-and-H-sodas-at-The-Bklyn-Kitchen1453

P&H Soda syrups for sale at The Brooklyn Kitchen. From left, Ginger, Lovage, and Hibisicus

dec15HOW DID SODA GET TO BE PUBLIC ENEMY NO. 1? There was a time when the soda fountain was the shining emblem of wholesomeness and American values. Wasn’t that the place where The Beaver could go and conduct his heart-to-heart talks with dad Ward Cleaver? But here in New Bloomberg City 2012, that talk might land Ward with a referral to child protective services. Or at least pointed looks from the local moral guardians.

The Beaver's brother Wally working at the soda fountain.

The Beaver’s brother Wally working at the soda fountain in a “simpler” America

Hard to be a soda entrepreneur these days, with City Hall intimating that your product ranks with cigarettes and racy magazines in the corruption of the kiddies. On the other side, the big guys, the Pepsis and Cokes of the world, have been laying down heavy fire in their war on limiting soda sizes. It’s frankly hard to know which side to root for in that struggle. May both sides lose.

Things look far rosier to Anton Nocito, whose dream was to open his own soda fountain but who along the way became a fabricator of artisanal soda syrups. P&H Soda Co. started about three years ago when Nocito sold sodas at the now-defunct Greenpoint Market. Customers and stores like The Brooklyn Kitchen expressed interest in the syrups, so Nocito obliged. Then he taught classes on making syrups and landed on the Martha Stewart Show teaching Martha herself to make Cream Soda. In that appearance, he certainly doesn’t come across like a corrupter of youth.

P&H syrups are all natural and come in exotic flavors like Lovage, Hibiscus and the old stand-by Ginger. From the humble start in Greenpoint and Williamsburg, the product is now available in stores across the country, including in Georgia, Massachusetts and California, as well as on menus in restaurants and bars as far afield as Florida and Minnesota. A list of locations is available on the P&H Soda Co web site.

Locally, Nocito likes to get out to venues like the New Amsterdam Market to share special fabrications that can’t be bottled “because we don’t use preservatives, so the flavor tends to fade too quickly.”

Small-batch soda is getting to be an active market in Brooklyn, with Brooklyn Soda Works and Q Drinks making their own products focused on natural ingredients. Brooklyn Artisan will follow all the developments with interest.

As for his original dream, Nocito remains steadfast: He wants to “open a soda fountain with all natural sodas and a menu consisting of locally sourced ingredients. The manufacturing of the syrups definitely sent us in another direction and we’re currently trying to get back on track with our original goal.”

With any luck, The Beaver will be there for more heart-to-hearts, and not have to sneak around with back-alley natural sodas.

P&H Soda Co.

Brooklyn Soda Works

Q Drinks
718-398-6642

Photograph (top) by Basia Hellwig. Date stamp typographic design by Joy Makon Design. The font is American Typewriter, by Joel Kaden and Tony Stan, ITC, 1974.

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