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Archive for the 'Food & Nightlife' Category

Source: Lioni Italian Heroes

Source: Lioni Italian Heroes

Two Bensonhurst delis are slinging some of the best sandwiches in Brooklyn, according to CBS News’ latest “Best of” list.

John’s Deli (2033 Stillwell Avenue) and Lioni’s (7803 15th Avenue) both made the cut in the unranked list of eight best sandwiches in Brooklyn.

John’s is singled out for their Godfather, a meat and cheese heavy hero that pops with color. But the ambiance gets a nod, too:

Walking into John’s Deli is a bit of a throwback – a narrow area to stand on line, signs that say things like “If you’re in a rush, you’re in the wrong place” – and a menu that has plenty of personality to fit right in.

Lioni’s, meanwhile, scores high for their fresh mozzarella and old world charm:

The sandwiches at Lioni are named after various Italian and Italian-American heroes, with Frank Sinatra at the top of the list: salami, fresh mozzarella, and a bit of seasoning (olive oil, salt, pepper, oregano). Have fun eating your way through the extensive herolist, or try your hand at creating your own combination – there’s no wrong way to put together a sandwich.

While Bensonhurst accounts for two of the eight spots – meaning the neighborhood sells one quarter of the borough’s best sandwiches, right? – eateries south of Prospect Park are well represented, with nods for eateries in Sheepshead Bay, Sunset Park and Bay Ridge.

Mama mia, what a pizza!

We were looking for someplace new to grab a slice last week, so we turned to our Facebook and Twitter readers to find out what they thought the best pizzerias in the area are. We asked that they put aside L&B Spumoni Gardens, figuring the tried-and-true neighborhood staple was too easy a fall back. What we got back was scores of comments naming 18 pie-tossing locales as among the area’s best.

See the list.

There are many small Asian bakeries that populate 86th Street. These bakeries are full of hearty food, character and wonderfully cranky counter staff. I often find myself running through Bensonhurst trying to meet my Bean colleagues, interviewing oil recyclers and searching for Sandy Koufax – and in need of a quick and cheap bite.

The Yu King Bakery (2335 86th Street) is the spot for such a bite. I walked in and noticed a few older Asian women sitting at tables, drinking tea or coffee and holding court. I don’t know what they were holding court on, but I doubt it was about the Giants or Jets season, but you never know. They seemed content and at home as they offered a welcoming smile in my direction.

I wanted to order something light, and I approached the counter staff cautiously. Pork buns and thousand-year egg cookies stared back at me. I asked the staff if they had any food without meat, and the staff responded, “Meat?” Then, they scooped some meat from the steam ovens onto a nice plate and showed it to me.

I told them I wanted something with no meat and they put the plate into the steam ovens. When the oven was open, I noticed the familiar shape of a dim sum prize, the golden glove winner: Rice flour rolls.

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Source: Lioni Italian Heroes

Fan favorite and local deli Lioni’s Heroes (7803 15th Avenue) has decided to name a sandwich after Senator Martin Golden.

According to a Brooklyn News story, “The tribute was in celebration of Mr. Golden’s commitment to the community, the city and state.

“The Marty Golden” consists of breaded chicken cutlets, roasted red peppers, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, salt, pepper and Lioni’s homemade fresh mozzarella. How’s that for chewing your senator’s ear off? Wait, that might be a gross image.

Either way, it’s reported that Golden stopped by the eatery and enjoyed his namesake sandwich.

Screenshot from Vice’s video, showing Pinello serving a fresh white pie. Click to go to video.

In a new entry for Vice Magazine’s online show “Munchies,” Williamsburg “Best Pizza” owner and Bensonhurst native, Frank Pinello takes a tour of what he considers the best pizza shops in Bensonhurst on a nostalgic and delicious trip down memory lane.

The short film begins with Frank surrounded by his large and loving Italian family as they prepare to feast on his grandmother’s authentic Sicilian cooking which he cites as a major inspiration for his own pizza shop.

Action then shifts to Frank’s own “Best Pizza” in Williamsburg, a lively and fast growing hot spot for top notch pizza, made with fresh, high quality ingredients all cooked in a 100-year-old brick oven.

It is at this point when we meet Bill, Frank’s free-spirited, yet dedicated delivery man who joins Frank on his journey to Bensonhurst.  Both are determined to cram as much authentic Brooklyn pizza as possible, and they start at 6322 18th Avenue with J&V’s.

Frank lauds J&V’s square slice, for its “crispy bottom, a nice fluffy middle, [and] saucy, cheesy top to it.”

For round slices, Frank heads to 6514 18th Avenue for Da Vinci Pizzeria, which Frank describes as “Classic, these guys know how to do it right.” Bill giggles in approval.

For dessert, Frank and Bill head to 7001 18th Avenue for “Villa Bate Alba Bakery,” to pick up some world class espressos and cannoli. “Amazing,” is the response from a near speechless Frank.

Just when you think Frank and Bill have eaten themselves to death, they head back to Frank’s grandmother’s place for a huge Italian dinner featuring country style stuffed pizza, sausages, and Sicilian pasta.

Frank’s enthusiasm for cooking and food is best summed up by his father Steve.

“He loved to eat … he’d actually advice us on what spice to use every now and then, he’d put his own two cents in,” he said.

Correction (10/25/2012 @ 10:40 a.m.): The original version of this article incorrectly spelled Frank Pinello’s name as Pinelli. It has been corrected, and we offer our sincerest apologies to Pinello and our readers for the confusion.

Entering this maze of produce on a weekend feels like a whole different kind of Great Adventure. Viccuria Market (2275 86th Street) is an amusement park in its own right. The excitement begins with the smell of fresh vegetables, sawdust, meat and bleach as you enter the store. This produce park is like a roller coaster filled with fancy dates, Irish Soda Bread (with an English and Russian label) and a top-shelf pickle bar.

When rolling up to Viccuria’s pickle bar, one pickle that shouts out to you is the hot peppers stuffed with bread crumbs. Resting on the top row of the olive and pickle bar, the stuffed hot peppers gives the impression that it is meant for a higher class of customer. At $7.49 a pound, this isn’t your grandma’s shtetle pickle, this is a 21st Century pickle. This marinated pepper would be the choice of royalty, diplomats and anyone with a Lexus SUV.

The great ball of greasiness clearly comes from another planet. It stares at all customers with an alien, foreign-like shape that reminds this reviewer of baby gremlins. The pepper could have made an appearance with the Star Trek: The Next Generation crew, manifesting itself on the top of Captain Jean Luc Picard’s clean and shiny head. It would be eaten during times of great duress, like when the Klingons try to take over L&B’s.

My pickle partner and I were not in search of the final frontier, but more so a final snack of summer. A tribute to all the great tastes of July and August. Since this reviewer does his best to reduce, reuse, recycle, and rebuff, we brought our own plastic containers for the pickles and the staff at Viccuria was very receptive and helpful. The pickles needed to be weighed by the fancy deli staff. Our helper, decked out in black chef’s jacket and black chef’s hat that would allow him to fit in with Parisian literati, the prospect park drum circle crowd or an old school Black Panther Party party, was super friendly. He measured the pickles and even subtracted an estimated weight of the containers from the price.

The stuffed hot peppers were the first pickles we sampled. We let our hands explore the oily goodness of the pepper. My taste buds opened to spicy blend of salt and sour that brought up images of an old world grandma with a new pickle stand at the Barclay’s Center. Whoever she is, she sure knows her bread crumbs. The filling was sweet, salty and bready – like a pierogi from heaven.

We licked our fingers clean of the greasy, oily and beautiful taste. We silently thanked grandmas everywhere for their breadcrumbin’ and picklin’ skills. We hopped into the Lexus SUV and drove off into the end of our salty summer frontier.

The hot pepper made me feel safe and loved. It helped heal my lost kid trauma suffered in the husky section of the Alexander’s Department store in Kings Plaza, 1986. If only I had been lost with these Grandma Stuffed Peppers, with their top shelf of the old world quality, I may have turned out okay.

Viccuria, 2275 86th Street, (718) 331-0100.

Is there a restaurant or specific dish you think we should check out? Let us know!

Olive bread. Source:

Cousins Sabastiano “Sal” Buzzetta and Rosolino “Jerry” Cracchiolo launched a modest bread bakery business in 1983. Now, after almost 30 years, they’ve decided to expand.

What started as a two-person retail bakery at 6817 20th Avenue became well known for their Italian breads and pastries. They plan on bringing that same expertise to their new commercial bakery in West Babylon, according to News LI.

Customers have been coming back for the cannolis and sfogliatelle for years and the new bakery will deliver the baked goods to parts of the metropolitan and tri-state areas.

“We’re expanding by demand,” said Gianni Cracchiolo, president of Sal and Jerry’s Inc. “We have a few distributors and through the years they have pushed us and pushed us to produce more. They want to come in with trucks and buy by the pallet.”

The family business has a long tradition of baking. When Jerry and his family came to America from  Carini, a small providence of Palermo, Sicily, the men worked in a downtown Brooklyn bakery called Mazzola.  Later, cousin Buzzetta got in on the mix and helped the family buy a bakery named Realmuto on 20th Avenue. They renovated and renamed the place and the rest was history.

The bakery’s legacy continues as Gianni’s brother Robert, a culinary school graduate, joins the team. He wants to modernize the menu with  mousses and sculpted cakes while maintaining the recipes that made the cousins successful.

Also, Sal & Jerry’s Bakery jumped on the eco-bandwagon by cutting the onsite carbon emissions from their baking to zero.

Good luck to the modern bakery with an old world feel, just don’t forget the neighborhood that made you.

The Daily News ran their  “Best of NY” food mentions. This time around, it was the best arancini in New York.

Famous Sicilian eaters, Joe’s of Avenue U at 287 Avenue U got an honorable mention, as did their off-shoot in Great Kills, Staten Island.

Here’s what the Daily News wrote:

You can’t talk about arancini in New York City without mentioning Joe’s of Avenue U, a venerable institution of Sicilian specialties in Gravesend for more than 50 years. While the Brooklyn location of this Focacceria Palermitana is steeped in history, it is also changing with the times. Two years ago, Joe’s opened up a second location in Staten Island that not only offers the traditional cheese-smothered arancini ($4.29-$6.99), but also makes gluten-free rice balls ($7.99-$10.99, Tuesday through Saturday) that taste just as good. Topped with tomato sauce, ricotta and parmesan, these fist-sized rice balls filled with meat and peas are as gratifying and authentic as the real deal. The crust holds the rice ball together without being too heavy or oily. Even the name “arancina,” which means “little orange” in Italian, still accurately describes this flour-free rice ball. It’s a great combination of rich, Old World flavors and healthier, new world sensibilities.

 Joe’s of Avenue U has been a family business for over 50 years. They describe their food as not only a culinary treat, but “an institution where people come not only to eat, but to smell the air of Sicily they had left behind, to taste the food like their grandma made and to link the taste of a specialty to a distant past.”

That sounds deliciously poetic. Nice job Joe’s of Avenue U.

After 50 years in Brooklyn on Avenue U we have recently opened a Joe’s on Staten Island & urge you to stop in!

Food Stuffs is a bi-weekly column examining the gastronomic landscape of Bensonhurst and the surrounding neighborhoods. Each entry will cover anything and everything even remotely related to food because here in Bensonhurst, food is always news.

As you walk along 86th Street in Bensonhurst you will start to see a different style of Chinese Restaurant than those that had populated this neighborhood in the past. In old Bensonhurst or Gravesend, you would have your ubiquitous Happy Wok or Big Chef next to the pizza place or the bakery serving up ample plates of General Tso’s chicken, pork dumplings and spare ribs. You could count on these neighborhood fixtures for lo mein, fried rice and a lunch special packed in styrofoam with an egg roll and wonton soup that would keep you stuffed well into dinner.

But the new Bensonhurst has Chinese restaurants that you would see in the Chinatowns of Lower Manhattan or Flushing or not too far away in Sunset Park. At the Lian Won Café, with the specials and sign menu in Chinese (I think Mandarin), it’s a different experience from the start. Instead of being met with takeout menus and bullet proof glass, you are served hot jasmine tea and greeted by waiters that speak little or no English. And I mean none, the words water and rice were missing from our server’s vocabulary. But that’s all part of the fun.

The menu, fitting for any Chinatown, is full of diverse items like chili pig intestines and various casseroles served in a steaming hot stone dish. My partner decided on the sizzling beef casserole over rice and I opted for the Buddha’s Delight over rice.The Buddha’s Delight was solid, with wok fried broccoli, black mushroom, shitake mushroom and and tofu skin served over bed of white rice. The broccoli was a bit undercooked, but the mushrooms were perfect and meaty and the tofu skin added a nice chewiness to the entire dish. For $4.50 it is a great deal that will fill you up and make you thank the Buddha for his generosity.

My dining partner was excited about the various meats, ducks, pork, chicken and beef. His casserole decision was a bit complicated, because the waiter needed us to draw circles around the menu numbers to make sure it was correct. The casserole came out in the stone pot and was sizzling, he shared that the meat was full of his kind of flavor. He enjoyed the meat and rice so much, that he ordered another dish beef over rice, which was essentially the same dish just not in the hot stone pot.  Fortunately, he was able to take most of that second dish home because it was too much for our lunch meal.

At the end of the meal, lunch for two came to $14.50 and we tipped well in hopes of bridging the communication gap. The meal could have easily been under $10 and certainly filled us up with quality food and a new experience. Of course, I brought my chopsticks home to re-use and my non-environmentally friendly lunch partner packed his leftovers in styrofoam and took a plastic bag. He enjoyed the leftovers though, and I am still enjoying the chopsticks.

I would certainly return to the Lian Won Café and sample some of their other vegetable dishes. And my partner seconded that thought and said he would also consider bringing his own takeout container for leftovers. So be brave and be daring and try all the fun Chinese restaurants under the tracks on 86th Street. We will be reviewing more soon!

Lian Won Café, 2012 86th Street (718) 333-1666.

Is there a restaurant or specific dish you think we should check out? Let us know!

Food Stuffs is a bi-weekly column examining the gastronomic landscape of Bensonhurst and the surrounding neighborhoods. Each entry will cover anything and everything even remotely related to food because here in Bensonhurst, food is always news.

My adventures in pickling continue through the bright buckets and barrels at the Cherry Hill Market on 86th Street. While circling the pickle bar, I stop and notice the vibrant red color of a baby tomato.

In the world of pickles – tomatoes are definitely the most delicate. They can be too firm or too soft. They can become mushy liked canned crushed tomatoes. They can absorb all the pickle brine and explode like a sour fruit.

Growing up in Southern Brooklyn, my mom used to grow tomatoes in our backyard and we always had too much of everything. She was not a pickler or a preserver and after years of gardening the abundance was too much for her. My dad installed a wooden deck over the garden patch. I only wonder if my mother had tried some of these more exotic pickles (and yes, pickled cherry tomatoes are exotic to my parents), would she still be gardening and growing wonderful things on East 31 Street.

Pickling tomatoes is a delicate process, and when you have a good one, you certainly feel appreciative.

To have a successful pickle we need to avoid the mush, avoid the toughness and avoid the vinegar bombs. It’s a delicate flower. One should also be prepared for the sweet side of this pickle. Like pickled beets or pickled carrots, the sugar in the tomato is going to change the flavor of your normally salty pickle expectations. Just roll with it, roll with that salty fruit sugar.

Cherry Hill Market’s pickled tomatoes are fine. They are not too mushy and not too firm. The bright red color makes you excited about the first bite, and they don’t explode with vinegar juice. The subtle sweetness is a great addition to pickle diversity. The baby tomato pickles are some of my favorites. They remind me of spring, of gardens, of new seasons. The other good thing about this tomato, totally off the record, is that it is small enough to sample. So while you are packing them up (and remember to re-use your containers or bring some Chinese soup containers from home) feel free to sample and see if this is your kind of snack.

Of course, 86th Street is also the place for food and pickle deals. At $2.25 and with tomato season nearly over, it’s an exciting time for pickles like these.

Biting into this pickle in the middle of Bensonhurst may wake up some of those thoughts for you as well. Even as the D train roars above the elevated tracks, the pickle gives you some kind of peace.

Until the next brine!

Cherry Hill Market, 2278 86th Street at 23rd Avenue, (718) 373-4900.

Is there a restaurant or specific dish you think we should check out? Let us know!

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