Battle Sriracha Cha!: Kirsten’s Curry Steals the Show

4 02 2014

I struggled with how to approach this dispatch, especially since I have a little friendly competition of sorts from my new friend Cole Dittmer of the Lumina News.  While we are not being judged for our literary prowess – or at least I’m not (I don’t have an editor and I’m not being paid), we are both writing articles about tonight’s festivities at the regional cooking competition Fire on the Dock, part of the Competition Dining series here in North Carolina.  Our articles are both behind-the-scenes looks at the competition, and to be fair to the competitors we divided our efforts.  Cole’s work will focus on Chef Katie Carter and the team from Olive Café and my article concentrates on Chef Kirsten Mitchell and Team 1900 Restaurant & Lounge.

I am sure that Cole’s article will be professional and politically correct and studded with beautiful photography and the epitome of ethical journalism.  I thought about trying to emulate that style myself, or writing another seemingly endless blow-by-blow like I did last year.  Frankly, I am not happy with either of those approaches.  So I’m just going to do what I want here and tell you about the food.  I am all about the food, my neighbors, and all things North Carolina.

I want to tell you about some exciting NC products and innovations being featured at the Competition Dining events (like the brand new Sriracha Cha! sauce from the makers of Texas Pete and some of the wines), but it will have to wait for another post as it is now past 1:00am and I have my own cooking to do in the morning.  I need sleep and you need to know about the well-deserved win experienced by the team from 1900 Restaurant & Lounge tonight.

This was the 7th event I have attended in three years, and the 2nd at which I have foregone voting in favor of full access behind the scenes.  For sheer fun, nothing can compare to being in the kitchen with Gerry Fong of Persimmons in New Bern – last year’s winner of Fire on the Dock.  Gerry is a perpetually happy guy whose glass is always full and his joie de vivre is contagious.  Today’s kitchen was subdued by comparison, but the food was anything but muted.  Today was all about watching a hard-working woman have a well-deserved moment of success and recognition.

For third-generation-chef Kirsten Mitchell, it all came together on the plate today.  Kirsten didn’t just do well tonight, she rocked it.  I had a good feeling about the outcome from the first 20 minutes after learning the secret ingredient, when I sat and listened as she and her team developed their menu.  Like a good leader, she listened to her crew and considered their ideas.  Then she got out her pen and wrote the menu without hesitation.  She had some ideas in reserve in the event that certain ingredients weren’t available, but she went with her gut and was decisive.  Indecision is a leading cause of flops in these battles, so I was relieved to see her charge ahead.  Cut throat.  You go, girl!

Like most all of these events, this one was not without its ups and downs.  New equipment was available tonight that was not offered at prior competitions, courtesy of Denver Restaurant Equipment Company.  Kirsten homed in on the immersion circulator immediately, creating the first sous vide dish in Fire on the Dock History with huge success (Cha! Marinated Lamb Loin).  Her introduction to the awesome power of the Vitamix machine made for a colorful swath of green curry sauce on the wall a la Jackson Pollock.  Old equipment failed to function properly, including an oven that was, oh, about 100 degrees too hot for pound cake – fortunately, there was time to bake again.

At one point, Team 1900 broke out in song, which I learned is a regular occurrence in their restaurant kitchen.  I am going to have to walk across the parking lot more often so I have someone to sing with, and also to use their fryer to make some of the awesome skin-on plantain chips that I learned from Kirsten tonight.  I have had lots of tostones, and made them a few times myself.  I’ve even had them in Puerto Rico and Jamaica where plantains grow.  But I have never had a deep fried plantain chip with the skin on like Kirsten made tonight – sliced lengthwise on a mandolin and fried immediately, adorned only with a touch of salt.  I love it when Kirsten’s Bahamian upbringing influences her cooking – that’s when her food is at its best.

Cha Lamb Despite the North Carolina ingredients, her entrée tonight had the Caribbean written all over it with this show-stealing, vote-catching, competition-crushing, runaway hit:  Texas Pete Sriracha Cha! Marinated Lamb Loin Sous Vide served with Green Curry “Mofongo” (roasted sweet potato & parsnip mash), and garnished with a Plantain Chip and Sautéed Brunoise of Peppers.  That’s what I’m talking about, Kirsten.  Mm. Mm. Mm.

The Collard Soup was genius; it never occurred to me to make a pureed soup from collard greens.  I thought eating them raw in a salad was stepping out of the box.  Ha!  The tasso ham bits and all that jazz was nice, but the soup was awesome by itself. Let me know when you have a pot of that on the stove and I will definitely Cha Collard Soupmake the 100 yard trek across the parking lot.  I’ll even bring the bacon.

I have mixed feelings about the dessert.  Dessert is tough for a lot of chefs; that’s why there is a specialty called ‘pastry chef.’  It’s almost not fair to judge these chefs by dessert if they don’t have a Rebeca Alvarado Paredes on their team.  To make it and possibly not do it well is a risk; to skip it and go with three savory dishes is also a risk.  So most teams go sweet and take their chances.  Kirsten has had her butt handed to her over dessert in this competition in battles past.  But she persevered tonight and had a pretty solid showing with her homage to Gerry Fong’s winning penchant for things in sets of three.  The screen might have said Chocolate Cha! Torte, Almond Cha! Pound Cake, Blackberry Mousse, Chai Cha! Caramel Sauce, but we called it “The Fong Trifecta.”  And it worked.

Cha DessertSo here’s to Chef Kirsten Mitchell, who I am proud to call my friend.  Congratulations!

If you would like to get to know Kirsten up close and personal, join the Club and attend one of her cooking classes with the Cape Fear Food & Wine Club hosted by The Seasoned Gourmet.  She’s not just a great chef, but a natural instructor who loves sharing her passion for food with others.

Heard in the kitchen today:

Chef Mitchell, upon realizing that the home-sized immersion blenders provided were just a wee tad small for her commercial stock pot full of soup, “These things suck.”

Scott Padrick, sous chef:  “Chef – is that enough brunoise?” Chef Mitchell:  “Just keep going.”

Zack Zaytoun, cook:  “Where is that big mixer?”  The Kitchen Chorus: “Downstairs.”

“Hot sauce is my favorite thing in the whole world.” – Chef Kirsten Mitchell

Kirsten Team





Be a “Docker” – The Fire is Lit!

11 02 2013

I love my job.  I didn’t always, but circumstances have led me full circle back to the place I once left because I was very unhappy – and it is completely different than it used to be.  I consider myself very lucky to be able to do something to pay my bills that also brings me fulfillment on a more personal level.  I am all too aware that not everyone has the opportunity to do what they love for a living; I feel blessed.  Other people seem to notice, too, as they comment about how both I and my place of employment seem to be thriving.  It’s a good fit.

I have been privileged to witness another good fit in the person of Jimmy Crippens and the cooking phenomenon that is Competition Dining NC.  Knowing well that it takes a team of people to make a success of any venture, I am sure that Jimmy jimmycrippenswould be quick to tell me that he is far from a one man show; it takes a small army of people to make this fantastic program work.  Yet, when I think about this competition and the dining events thereof that I have enjoyed, I think first of Jimmy.  He is the face of these competitions, the Master of Ceremonies, the champion of the cause who spearheaded the move to make it what it is today; he is the one visible constant over the years of building a local cooking competition into a statewide program.  He seems the perfect person to be the face and voice of this movement; it’s a good fit.  I have to assume he loves his job, too, because this stuff is hard work that invades your consciousness nearly 24 hours a day; he has to be passionate about it or he could not muster the stamina that it requires to make it a success.  By the way, Jimmy has had another job – another life entirely – that he has now decided to put in the rear view mirror to permit him to embrace this program full time.

The competition that Jimmy and countless others have no doubt made sacrifices to usher into its current state is officially known as the “Got to Be NC Competition Dining Series.”  It’s mission is to raise awareness regarding the origin of the food that we consume; to support local and regional growers, manufacturers, and artisans who create our food here in North Carolina; and to showcase the talents of the chefs and restaurateurs who use these products to create the tasty dishes we consume when we dine out.  Along the way, it has also grown to incorporate other matters of interest like kitchen fire safety and small production, affordable wines that pair well with fine foods.   For me, it has been a lesson in the seemingly endless array of fabulous products that are grown or created in North Carolina.  I had no idea we made so much stuff right here in our state!

Last year, I wrote about how the events work from a diner’s perspective.  What I have been thinking about lately is what it is like from the competing chef’s perspective.  While I have not been in the kitchens of this competition, I am acquainted with some who have.  The feedback that I have received makes it clear that this competition is about so much more than just cooking; it is a long, hot, grueling day in the kitchen that starts with the announcement of a secret ingredient mere hours before dinner service.  For a competing chef and her team, it is every bit as much about creativity, leadership, teamwork, comraderie, humility, focus, and determination as it is about cooking.  If anyone thinks that being a good cook alone makes you a shoe-in to win this competition, I can point you to a lot of chefs who will tell you otherwise.  It’s a competition of character and stamina as well as cooking; taking yourself too seriously will not lead to success.

Last year, the kitchens used for the local edition of this program that we know as “Fire on the Dock” were small; the competitors had no choice but to work with and around each other to get their food to the dining tables.  From what I am told, the competitors who worked well together communicated their needs for space and time to each other, budgeted time with certain equipment so that everyone could get their work accomplished, and even helped each other with plating.  The ones that did not play well together did not fare well and, more importantly, didn’t enjoy the experience.

There will be a winner and a loser from each battle – that is a fact.  Some of the margins of loss are by mere single-digit point CompDiningNC2013spreads.  The losers, it could be said, are not really losers; they just weren’t the statistical winners.  It is a very subjective voting process and 70% of the votes are made by “average Joes,” as Jimmy refers to them.  It is important for the chefs to remember the basics when devising their menus: We eat with our eyes first, so plating is important; but the taste and texture are ultimately the deciding factors for 70% of the dining room.  I think most of us understand that pretty plates with several components are more difficult to create.  But only the pro judges – 30% of the vote – are likely to know the skill involved in creating a particular dish.  The chefs are well advised to play to the masses and just not worry about the pro judges like me.

Yes, that’s right.  These kind folks have asked me to serve as a “Pro” judge at the final three events of Fire on the Dock this year.  Clearly, they are using the term “Pro” very loosely.  Yes, I know a good bit about food and cooking, and I teach cooking classes and manage a kitchen store.  But many of these competitors have extensive culinary education and experience that, by comparison, put me firmly into the “amateur” column.  Really, who am I to judge?  Maybe they just love me for my blog.  Well, no matter, I appreciate the opportunity to participate in these great events that celebrate all things food in North Carolina.  I hope the competitors remember to have some fun while they are cooking their hearts out for my dining pleasure.  Make some memories, chefs!

If you happen to be within a reasonable commute of the Wilmington area, I hope you will join us for one of these delicious home-grown dining events and be happily labeled a “Docker” by Jimmy, like me.  I promise good food, great entertainment, and perhaps some Bluewaternew friends while you enjoy the fantastic views of the intracoastal waterway from the top floor of Bluewater.  Make a mini vacation out of it while you are at it; the rooms rates are very reasonable this time of year and a walk on Wrightsville Beach in the relative peace of February or March is priceless.  Maybe you can even have dinner at one of the competitor’s restaurants during your stay.

The brackets have been announced and the cooking starts next week on February 18th; events are filling up fast, so visit the website to make your reservations today before it’s too late!

If you can’t make it to Fire on the Dock, be sure to attend one of the events when this delicious road show comes to your corner of North Carolina.  Find the full schedule at http://www.competitiondining.com; follow them on twitter at @compdiningnc and like them on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/CompetitionDining

Fire it up, Wilmington!  See you at “the Dock!”





Inspired Cooking with Marc Copenhaver

19 09 2012

I was sitting at home on Friday evening catching up with what people were saying on Twitter, and came across a tweet from Marc’s on Market about a cooking class on Sunday.  If you don’t know, Marc & Sara Copenhaver own and operate the restaurant Marc’s on Market at 7213 Market Street here in Wilmington.  I was looking forward to a day off on Sunday and had no plans; going to a cooking class sounded like fun.  So I called and left a message for a reservation and made a note on my calendar.

Those of you who know what I do to earn my paycheck may find it a bit weird that I went to a cooking class.  I manage The Seasoned Gourmet, a locally owned kitchen store that hosts the Cape Fear Food & Wine Club; cooking classes are a major part of what we do, and I teach classes myself.  For you, I submit this:  Just because I host classes every week and teach a few doesn’t mean I know everything.  I’m not a gourmet chef; I’m just a good cook.  I love food and cooking and am always looking for inspiration in the kitchen.  As it turns out, Marc’s class was definitely inspiring – I’m so glad they had room for me to attend!

On this day, we went beyond the simple, modern dining room I have patronized numerous times into the spotlessly clean operating room of this 2008 Wilmington Top Chef.  Marc’s theme for the class was to create a meal from what he found at the Farmer’s Market – seasonal cooking at its best.  He did indeed have some local, seasonal selections like kohlrabi, onions, okra, and head-on shrimp.  He also selected some items that are in season right now but not grown locally, like baby artichokes from California and Hatch chilis from New Mexico.  Marc recommends that you not get too hung up on the local thing, but challenge yourself instead to cook seasonally and enjoy the best of everything that is available.  As he said, “Everyone has a right to make a living selling their products.”

Marc started the session by sharing his thought process about how to bring all these great ingredients together, telling us that we
should apply what we know about cooking different ingredients and use that to guide us as we create new dishes.  The star of the dayCap Steak, Creamed Corn, Okra was undoubtedly the Deckel Steak (also known as Cap Steak or Loin Flap Steak), which Marc described as the cut of beef that is wrapped around the outside of the Rib Eye.  It looks a bit like the flank, but Marc says the grain runs the opposite direction of flank.  He trimmed the excess fat, sliced the meat lengthwise against the grain, and rolled it into pinwheels tying it together with butcher’s twine.  A simple seasoning of salt, pepper, and a brush of oil and Marc grilled this to a perfect medium rare.  Served with Fresh Creamed Corn with diced Hatch Chilis and Onions plus Pan Seared Petite Okra this was a fantastic small plate of food packed with flavor.

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Before we enjoyed the Cap Steak et al, we had what Marc called a counterintuitive take on Shrimp; “Sweated” Shrimp cooked low and slow (well, slow for shrimp anyhow) in a dab of butter and served with Kohlrabi Slaw and Roasted Baby Artichokes.  The texture of the shrimp was amazing.  “It’s the same bite all the way through,” Marc said, as opposed to the rubbery outside and soft inside that quick-cooked shrimp often has.  Marc’s idea here was to let the shrimp cook in their own juices with minimal seasoning, which can only be done with super fresh shrimp that hasn’t been drowned in tap water or frozen.  The kohlrabi slaw had a great texture but I would have kicked up the flavor some (the older I get, the more flavor I crave).

The final dish was like going to science class – and I was the student who was awed by it the most!  My cooking is very basic and traditional, so imagine my surprise when Mark flavored up some sour cream in the stand mixer and then added crushed dry ice to it to make an almost instant ice cream!  While I didn’t care for the flavor profile – sour cream, maple, cinnamon, apple cider – I was highly impressed with the texture and the speed of the process.  I will be going to Rose’s to get some dry ice to try this technique very soon.  Marc served the ice cream with roasted, caramelized pears for a sweet finish to a fun class.

Unlike other classes where you know the menu in advance and the table is set for you, this experience was totally folksy (carry your own chairs to the kitchen if you want one) and free form – the menu is not announced in advance.  As long as you don’t suffer from any allergies or dietary restrictions, it’s rather fun to walk in and be surprised about what you will be eating.  The portions are modest, so you won’t have to cancel your dinner plans.  You aren’t provided recipes – you write down what you want to remember as you go, and Marc happily repeats anything you might miss during the action.  Sara pours generous samplings of the wines that she has carefully paired to the menu.  At $45 per person with the modest portions of food and the self-help aspects, I would rate it a fair value but not a great one.  However, if you want the chance to go behind the swinging doors into the restaurant kitchen of one of Wilmington’s most talented chefs, then the experience is priceless.

I hear that Marc & Sara offer these classes once a month on a Saturday or a Sunday at lunch time.  If you “like” them on Facebook or follow them on twitter (@marcsonmarket) you are sure to hear about them, as well as their menu changes and specials.  Whether you  attend a class or stop in for dinner any given day (except Monday), you are sure to enjoy good food and great hospitality!





The Top 10 Reasons I am a “Regular”

17 05 2012

I’m off to do good for others today.  So while I am out, here’s a little something for you to digest.  I look forward to your comments!

Since we all know I don’t have a life, I thought I’d take some of the copious time on my hands to write about food from a different perspective:  The Dining-Out Experience.

No, I have not gone off half-cocked and appointed myself a culinary expert.  This isn’t about the food.  Well, OK, it isn’t all about the food.  It’s about the total package of the dining-out experience from the perspective of a customer.  I happen to be an educated consumer: I have owned my own small retail/service business; I have cooked for groups and for people in their homes; and I continue to teach cooking classes in my semi-retirement.  So I know food.  But I am not a culinary school graduate and have never owned a restaurant – so I may not have credibility with those that are and do.  I am just a smart consumer with a good palate who knows how to properly wield a knife.  That makes me at least as qualified as anyone else to write about what keeps me coming back to certain restaurants and never returning to others.  In spite of the credibility issue, there just might be something here that could be of use to a restaurateur should they choose to pay attention.

I’m focusing on the positive here, so you may have to read between the lines to understand why I am not coming back to your restaurant if that be the shoe that fits.  So let’s begin, shall we?

The Top 10 Reasons I am a “Regular” at your restaurant, Letterman style, are:

10.  The décor, lighting, music, and temperature are moderate and comfortable.  You are firm in your identity and don’t distract me from the food with ridiculous wall murals, hideous paint colors, or objets d’art hanging over my table at eye level.  Your décor befits your brand identity.  You know that: lighting that is as bright as a grocery store or as dim as a movie theater; music that is so loud I have to yell at my companions; and a dining room that is too hot or too cold really turn me off.  You have managed to master these elements of ambiance and I am always comfortable here.  I’m here for the food, after all, not for a nightclub experience.

9.  You never fix things that aren’t broken.  I have been eating the _________ at your restaurant for a couple years now, and it’s my favorite thing on the menu.  I went to one of my other favorite places recently and ordered my go-to dish from their menu.  When it came out of the kitchen, I didn’t even recognize it!  And the taste?  Not good.  I could understand removing it from the menu to add something else, but they really shouldn’t have changed it.  I’m guessing they got a new cook and he just had to put his stamp on things.  But you pay attention to your sales history and customer feedback and make those kinds of changes based on facts, not personal whims.  So I know your food won’t go downhill like that.

8.  You always make it right with me.  Everyone makes mistakes once in a while, and when you do you make it right.  Whether offering a do-over, another item from the menu, a complimentary dessert, or just removing the item from my bill – I always leave happy.  I was in this other place not long ago – a very highly reviewed place here in town – and they overcooked my entrée (really, they killed it).  They offered to make me another, but I declined because I was running late and was hungry.  So I ate what I could of it and paid full price.  I was a bit put off that they didn’t offer a discount and have not been back.

7.  You make the best ____________ in town.  My friend had your signature dish when we came in together for the first time.  I had a couple of bites, and had to agree with her that it was really good.  I came back to have a whole order of it to myself.  I have tried most of the things on your menu and still think this is the thing you do best.  Your place is my go-to entertaining spot when I have out of town guests because the _________ is reliably good – and the service, too (see # 4).

If your dining room is empty, read on.

6.  Your menu suits you.  Your name, your décor, your logo, your advertisements, your location – you know, your brand identity – is reflected in your menu.  One of the places I won’t ever go back to again has an Irish name (complete with shamrock in the logo), a dark, confused décor (diner meets tavern meets just plain old), and a completely Italian-American menu.  The menu was also six pages long – that’s just ridiculous.  You aren’t like that at all – I know what to expect when I come into your restaurant, your menu is two pages, and you prepare it all consistently well.

5.   I am greeted upon arrival by someone friendly.  It might not be the host, who may be off seating other people.  But someone is always at the door to welcome me and, if need be, beg my patience whilst you seat the parties in front of me.  I really dig seeing that friendly face who has remembered my name now that I am a regular.  (One favorite breakfast place is small and their server greets me from across the room with a “Hey there! Sit wherever you’d like.”  That’s the diner equivalent of being met at the door and is totally awesome!)  I was just bragging to a friend about how you know me and always try to give me my favorite table.

4.  I am always served promptly, and requests to take my meal slow are no problem.  No, it’s not an oxymoron.  Prompt service after seating makes me feel important.  When I want to take my time and not rush through my meal, you are happy to let me linger over conversation with my companions and a bottle of wine.  You are all about happy, repeat customers, not just numbers, and I have never been rushed so that you can reseat my table.  I reward your servers for their patience, though I know that not all customers do.  But you do the right thing regardless and it keeps me coming back.

3.  It is clean.  The cracks, crevices, baseboards, restrooms, bar, chairs, tables, menus, salt & pepper shakers – the whole enchilada.  Not just at opening, but also at 7:30PM, when I excuse myself from the table between courses (for my fellow diners, this represents peak dinner rush to those in the biz.  But you probably knew that since that’s your preferred time to dine out).  And I tell my friends how clean it is.

2.  You only hire quality people and you take care of them.  Oh yes, I can tell.  Ever been waited on by a bartender or server who is not feeling the love?  It shows in many ways.  Sometimes it is evident in the new faces you see every time you go back, but often one visit tells you all you need to know.  No smiles (or one made through gritted teeth), that look of exasperation, slow service, poorly cooked food, dirty surroundings, oh – silly me.  I’m repeating myself.

1. The food is always good.  I say again, I am here for the food.  When you make a mistake, you refer to number 4 above.  That leaves me in a position to say that the food is always good.  No complaints here.  You make about 5 starters, 12 entrées, and 5 desserts and they are all good.  Compared to other places, I would say that your food is great.  Maybe it’s because you just offer relatively few things compared to some places, so your cooks are able to focus on preparing them really well.  All I know is the food is good and I keep coming back.

<insert pregnant pause>

For the restaurateurs out there, I’m going to let you marinate in that for a bit.  Knowing me, I’m sure there will be some follow-up blog post in the future.  If you disagree or find fault with anything I’ve said, feel free to let me know.  But before you do, bear in mind two things:  1) Sometimes we protest the loudest about things that hit a little too close to home (I call this the mirror effect – seeing the truth can be very uncomfortable); and 2) The customer is always right.

For my fellow diners, I encourage you to chime in with the things that keep you going back to your favorite restaurants.  I’d like to hear what makes you a happy “regular” customer!





The Pizza Project 3.1: Antonio’s Take Out

6 04 2012

If you don’t know what this whole “Pizza Project” thing is about, you can read my intro here http://eatwilmington.wordpress.com/2012/04/05/the-pizza-project/.  Or not.  Right now, I’m talking about take-out pizza (my third category of pizza exploration) from Antonio’s Pizza & Pasta in Porter’s Neck (for my distant readers, Porter’s Neck is a northern suburb of Wilmington, NC).

Yesterday afternoon was cold, dreary, rainy – a good pizza day (who needs soup?).  Much like today, unfortunately.  So it was decided by committee (me, myself, and I) that dinner was going to be take-out.  I just cleaned up the kitchen and I am not in the mood to do it again.  The others agreed.

Buddy

Being on the verge of a foul mood due to lack of sunshine – and having to get a sweatshirt out of the closet (I thought we were past that, dammit) – I did not feel like venturing far from home.  Ruling out the nearby delivery options – Papa John’s (not bad), Pizza Hut (greasy), Little Caesar’s (only in desperation), and Domino’s (not even on my radar – they shouldn’t have changed their sauce) – I settled on Antonio’s, just up the road a short five minute drive.  I hadn’t been before, but I had heard good things.  So off I went, leaving my non-voting committee member to keep my chair warm (isn’t he cute?  He’ll eat anything, food or not, so he doesn’t get a vote).

The sign adorning the building was either a good thing or a warning – under new management.  Either way, I was committed at this point.  So in I went, and except for the floor plan that requires one to go left or right immediately, it was a good vibe.  The ‘seat yourself’ sign said to me, “We’re casual here” so I headed toward the action in the back of the restaurant.  There I found the register on the counter, a pleasant young man in attendance, and the pizza maker busily assembling pies behind him.  It was early – just after 5 – so the staff-to-customer ratio was high on the staff side.  Given the modest size of the establishment and the number of servers I saw, I’d say the potential for good service was high for in-house diners.  Maybe I’ll give it a try one day and see for myself.

In perusing the menu and the pile of pizza boxes awaiting filling, I determined that there was no “small” option here.  The medium pizza is purportedly 14” – that’s a large in most places in town – and the large 18” wide.  Yikes!  While I was languishing in indecision, contemplating stomboli, my thoughts were interrupted by the pleasant clerk, “Our medium three topping pizza is on special for $9.99 tonight.”  That did it.  So I ordered it with pepperoni and banana peppers (my favorite), and since I had a third option, I added sausage.  Hey, don’t laugh at me.  I may be the food snob who regularly channels Thomas Keller in the kitchen, but pizza is pizza – not potato pavé with melted leaks over Comet’s tail peppercorn crusted prime rib with cherry gastric (yup, I made that recently – it’s my cover picture on my blog, and it was THE BOMB).  This?  This is just pizza.  Simple is just fine.

While the pizza maker went to work, I took a seat on a narrow bench near the restrooms in the middle of the dining room (did I mention this place was small?).  I scanned the pictures on the cork board, along with a couple pieces of fan mail from happy customers.  I saw the pizza maker hand off a box to a young man who headed out the back door and made a mental note to check if they deliver to my neighborhood.

Soon I was being passed a box by the pizza maker from behind the counter.  The box was nearly too big for me to hold onto, and I was thinking it couldn’t possibly be

T-Rex!

a medium.  When I got it home and parked it on the stove, it nearly covered all four burners.  I got my measuring tape out to confirm – yup, it’s a large.  It filled nearly every inch of the box – a true 18 inches.  I was only able to eat one piece – it covered the plate!  Very New York of them, I thought.

Normally, I’m more of a thick crust girl.  Thin crust, in true NYC fashion, is to be folded in half lengthwise when eating, not only because of size, but also because the

center of the crust is inevitably soggy.  I did have to fold to eat because of the massive size of the slice, but there was nothing soggy about this crust – it was quite good.  Overall, the pizza was very well made, the toppings were generous, and the absence of sogginess made me a happy camper.  Unfortunately, the sauce and overall flavor was not memorable, which left the total experience sitting firmly in my ‘just OK’ pizza pile.  It’s a shame, really, because that crust is really great.

Antonio’s offers specialty pizzas with different sauces, so I will try again some time with a different sauce.  They even offer their penne pasta in vodka sauce as a pizza topping, according to their website – the pure decadence of doubling up on carbs makes that worth a try.  And since the crust is so good, I will give the Stromboli a whirl.  Eventually.

For now, I have to find some people to help me eat this T-Rex of a pizza.  It’s so big the box doesn’t fit in my fridge.  What’s that?  Oh yes, my non-voting committee member would be happy to help.  But if you haven’t noticed, he is only 15 pounds big.  One slice adds a pound to him, and the vet says that’s a bad thing for his little self.  So he gets his kibble and a sweet potato palm tree made by his favorite baker, Alan, at My Porch Dog.

Until the next time, take it easy, friends.  I’ll see you along the pizza project road!

 

 

 

 








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