On a recent episode of the Serious Eats podcast Special Sauce, Ed Levine talks to Danny Meyer about the origins of the Shake Shack.
Did Meyer have any idea that that hot dog cart would eventually become the massive sensation it is today? Not at all. It was a happy accident, born of his love of burgers, Chicago hot dogs, and the custard that’s still served at Ted Drewes in his native St. Louis.
At Serious Eats, Ed Levine writes about Why Diners Are More Important Than Ever. From his ten-point list of what defines a diner:
8. All-occasion places: Diners must rise to many occasions, from first dates to pre- or post-game celebrations by fans or teammates, to wallowing in solitary self-pity. Diners are the best restaurants for planning murders, stick-ups, or other nefarious enterprises.
Being an all-occasion place is not the only egalitarian thing about diners:
People talk about Starbucks reintroducing the notion of what sociologist Ray Oldenburg coined the “third place” in American life: spaces where we gather besides home and work to form real, not virtual, communities. Starbucks and more high-minded cafes that followed in its wake have surely succeeded on this point, but long before 1971, when the first Starbucks opened in Pike Place Market in Seattle, diners were already serving that invaluable function for us, along with the corner tavern.
And that’s why we need to cherish our local diners, whether it’s a mom and pop or a Waffle House or a Greek coffee shop. They’re some of the few cheap, all-inclusive places to eat and hang out and laugh and cry and stay viscerally connected with other folks.
And it warmed my heart to see Ed include Cup & Saucer and Eisenberg’s on his list of notable NYC diners. An unusual thing I’ve noticed about Eisenberg’s: instead of getting your check at the table, you just tell the cashier what you ordered on the way out and pay for it. Like on the honor system! Is there anywhere else in NYC that does this? I wonder what their loss rate is compared to the norm?
Ed Levine and the crew over at Serious Eats are coming out with a book that attempts to distill the last five years of the web site into book form. Serious Eats: A Comprehensive Guide to Making and Eating Delicious Food Wherever You Are comes out in early November.
Ed Levine, whom Ruth Reichl calls the “missionary of the delicious,” and his SeriousEats.com editors present their unique take on iconic foods made and served around the country. From house-cured, hand-cut corned beef sandwiches at Jake’s in Milwaukee to fried-to-order doughnuts at Shipley’s Do-Nuts in Houston; from fresh clam pizza at Zuppardi’s Pizzeria in West Haven, Connecticut, to Green Eggs and Ham at Huckleberry Bakery and Caf’e in Los Angeles, Serious Eats is a veritable map of some of the best food they have eaten nationwide.
Covering fast food, family-run restaurants, food trucks, and four-star dining establishments, all with zero snobbery, there is plenty here for every food lover, from coast to coast and everywhere in between. Featuring 400 of the Serious Eats team’s greatest food finds and 50 all-new recipes, this is your must-read manual for the pursuit of a tasty life.
You’ll learn not only where to go for the best grub, but also how to make the food you crave right in your own kitchen, with original recipes including Neapolitan Pizza (and dough), the Ultimate Sliders (which were invented in Kansas), Caramel Sticky Buns, Southern Fried Chicken, the classic Reuben, and Triple-Chocolate Adult Brownies. You’ll also hone your Serious Eater skills with tips that include signs of deliciousness, regional style guides (think pizza or barbecue), and Ed’s hypotheses-ranging from the Cuban sandwich theory to the Pizza Cognition Theory-on what makes a perfect bite.
If I had to choose my all-time favorite restaurant dishes, the smoked haddock chowder from The Spotted Pig would definitely be on there, possibly in the top five. Years after I asked Ed Levine of Serious Eats if he could get the recipe, he finally posts the recipe for me.
When infusing the haddock, think of making a cup of tea. You want to pull all the smoky flavors out into the cream. This will result in a deeply rich soup. Once you make this you will never go back to another chowder.
Thank you Ed and April! (I’m really holding back on the exclamation points here; I’m almost irrationally excited to cook this for dinner tomorrow night…if I can find smoked haddock somewhere in NYC…)
Serious Eats made a short documentary (~9 min.) about the Union Square Greenmarket and one of the farmers who brings his goods to the market every week.
The celebrated food vendors at Red Hook’s ball fields have been awarded a six-year permit to “operate an ethnic and specialty food market in Red Hook Park, Brooklyn”. Says NYC food meister Ed Levine of the vendors:
The Red Hook Ballfields, where Latino families put up makeshift restaurants serving real, honest food of their home countries, is one of the last bastions of real food to be found in NYC. If it’s replaced by a Starbucks or a series of dirty water dog carts or some generic high bidder, it would be a travesty.
Who wins the Super Bowl of Food: New York City or Boston? Ed Levine says it’s no contest: New York all the way.
What has Boston bestowed upon us, foodwise? Brown bread, baked beans, Boston cream pie, and Parker House rolls. Pretty slim pickins’, don’t you think? How far would you go out of your way for some baked beans or some brown bread? I’d only go a block or two at the most. Now if you expanded the geographic food purview of the Patriots to all of New England, that might be an interesting discussion, because then New England clam chowder, lobster rolls, and fried clams would enter into the fray.
Ed’s a bit hard on Boston here…there’s some excellent food to be found in the city and its surrounds.
Regarding the food plagiarism business from yesterday, Ed Levine reports that he visited both restaurants yesterday and has some further thoughts on the situation. I think he nails it with this observation: “He was her right-hand man for six years, with complete and unfettered access to her creativity, recipes, craftsmanship, and even the combination to her safe. Charles is a smart, fiercely independent, tough-minded chef and businessperson who misplaced her trust when she gave her chief lieutenant all that access. McFarland, bereft of his own ideas, decided to open what is, for all intents and purposes, a clone of Pearl.”
Rebecca Charles, owner of the Pearl Oyster Bar in NYC, a seafood place modeled after hundreds of similar restaurants in New England offering similar menus, is suing a former employee (of six years) for copying too closely her restaurant and menu in opening his new place, Ed’s Lobster Bar.
Many parallels here to the design/art/film world…what is mere inspiration versus outright theft? The key question in these kinds of cases for me is: does the person exercise creativity in the appropriation? Did they add something to it instead of just copying or superficially changing it? Clam shacks are everywhere in New England, but an upscale seafood establishment with a premium lobster roll is a unique creative twist on that concept brought to NYC by Charles. An upscale clam shack blocks away from a nearly identical restaurant at which the owner used to work for six years…that seems a bit lame to me, not the work of a creative restaurateur. Who knows how this stuff is going to play out legally; it’s a complex issue with lots of slippery slope potential.
Meg has more thoughts on the issue and Ed Levine weighs in over at Serious Eats with information not found in the NY Times article. It was Ed who first raised the issue about Ed’s Lobster Bar earlier in the month.
Update: I forgot to link to the menus above. Here’s the menu for Pearl Oyster Bar and here’s the menu for Ed’s Lobster Bar. For comparison, here are the menus for a couple of traditional clam shacks: the Clam Box in Ipswich, MA and Woodman’s in Essex, MA.
Ed Levine gets served a hot dog at Per Se. “I’m quite sure this was the first time Thomas Keller ever served anyone a hot dog in one of his restaurants.” Let’s see if this works…I totally want a hot dog next time I’m at Per Se. (via the eater)