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Friday, August 29, 2008

Meat on Dem Bones

Thursday, August 28, 2008

A Mess of Meat (on Rye)

Last year I was eating “pigs-in-a-blanket” at a buddy's wedding when something strange happened. One of those blankets was stuffed with two pigs. It seemed pretty wild, friend; even risqué. But the experience imparted a valuable life lesson: sometimes you really can double your pleasure... especially with “Double Meat.”

Double Meat is the sort of mantra/knowledge that comes in handy when you are trying to decide between sausage or pepperoni pizza (order both, silly!); or when you add a slice of prosciutto to your chicken parmigiana (now it's definitely kosher); or when you top a burger with Bacon and Ham (Balance and Harmony). But if anything, the Double Meat Dance delivers its biggest dividends on a sandwich. Sometimes a combo just brings you higher, offering flavors and textures that solitary slices cannot provide.

On this front North Jersey knows what's up. Hence the preponderance of their curious regional delicacy, the Sloppy Joe. We've already covered this sandwich's history but to remind you: it's a double-decker on rye with two meats, Swiss Cheese, coleslaw and Russian dressing. The combo is gimongous, tasty, messy. And every place does the Joe a little different.

On our quest for the best, The Porkchop Express prowled many delis and found two final spots worth touting: Evergreen and Hickory Tree. Names notwithstanding they are in no way related, save for both offering that real-deal New Jersy delicatessen experience we have come to... relish.The Evergreen Deli has been around awhile: some 75 years, if you include it's run as a butcher shop. About 4 decades back Tony Pascucci of Newark bought the spot and turned it into an eatery. Sandwiches – sold to local neighbors, kids, cops, characters – are the main draw, but Mr. Pascucci has always taken his food seriously. Hence the daily specialties, a range of homespun dishes (brisket, mac & cheese, Italian classics) prepared with pep and care.
Your eyes don't deceive: Evergreen Deli brings the Extreme Double Meat Style

As for their Joe ($9.95)? Sloppy, good reader. And big and good-natured. Which makes it the official “George Wendt” of Joes. 6 full ounces of rich house-roasted beef and turkey left little to the imagination. But this wasn't their only use of double meat – or even our favorite. Mr. Pascucci's Chicken Murphy took top honors, a tasty combo of savory sausage, plump chicken, potatoes, peppers and onions. They should probably rename this Sausage Murphy, as the links really stole the show. But by any name the dish speaks for itself: a testament to thoughtful preparation and sound execution, with just enough vinegar and spice to keep the affair surprisingly light, lively and balanced.
Mr. Pascucci's son Anthony keeping tradition alive

Evergreen has been, and remains, a true neighborhood destination. On our visit Tony's son Anthony enthusiastically greeted patrons by nickname (Mr. Roastbeef, Mr. Crispy), tending to the lunch rush before heading off to his regular gig as a lawyer. His father passed away suddenly earlier this year, and ever since he has taken up the slack: meeting and greeting, prepping and cooking. As to why he does it, the answer comes quickly with a big smile: serving families who have grown up with his father's food and carrying on the tradition just “makes you feel happy.”

Amen: happy and full.But not so full that we couldn't appreciate one more good thing. Hence our stop at the Hickory Tree. They serve one of the most highly touted Joe's around, and we wanted to check the technique in person.
As with every Joe spot worth its salt, you will find at least two or three loyal customers who swear “this one is the best.” And for all the talk, Hickory Tree's sandwich walked tall. This turned out to be one of our favorites, largely due to – surprise! – their meats. Exhibit A(wesome)? One seriously delectable roast beef. Each plump rosy lump is seasoned, tied, aged, cooked, trimmed and sliced in-house. Owners Anthony Pascarella and Louis Napolitano take pride in the results, and they should. It is fresh, well-seasoned and supremely tender. So when you order your Joe make sure to include beef in the mix. It goes particularly well with their tangy Russian dressing, soft rye and sweet slaw. To make matters more enticing, at $7.50 this is a real Flavor Bargain.
Full Counter at Hickory Tree Deli: Beef and Beefsteaks

While you're there, take some time to peruse the aisles. Hickory Tree has a refreshingly eclectic selection of sundries, culled from around the world and Jersey both. Local iced teas and farm fresh tomatoes mingle with balsamic figs, imported sauces and freezers stuffed with freshly prepared Italian food. Flavorful, professional, cosmopolitan: this is a satisfying stop on any Sloppy Joe tour, and a fine way to round out our New Jersey Deli Drive: with double meat delights for all!


Evergreen Delicatessen
529 S. Springfield Ave.
Springfield, NJ
(973) 376-6095
Open from around 6am-3pm, Monday thru Saturday

Hickory Tree Delicatessen
648 Shunpike Road (Chatham Mall)
Chatham, NJ 07928
(973) 822-1956
Open from 6:30am-5pm, Monday thru Friday; 6:30am-5pm Saturdays

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Monday, August 11, 2008

Uptown Saturday Nights

“Unless You've Tried Our Food... You Cannot Compare!!”

So says the menu at Spartan Souvlaki, and they've got a point. It is hard to equate without having tasted the goods. The only problem? I was hungry, friend. Ravenous to the point of distraction. And those wondrous smells of a whole pig roasting on a nearby spit weren't helping me focus. What's more we had just arrived, and this is not a restaurant where the eats comes quickly.
Owner George Lykourezos models a plate of delicious Slow Spartan cuisine

Nor should they. Slow Food is all the rage these days, and Spartan Souvlaki is guided by a deliberate “made to order” mantra. They prepare a good deal of their menu – from the namesake kebabs to fantastic savory pies – upon request. So if you decide to dine here, remember the old saying: “something something good to those who wait.”
Delightful Duo: Spartan Souvlaki's Cheese and Spinach Pies are well worth the wait...
...especially paired with a fresh Tomato Salad

That said, a bit of strategy helps the more anxious of eaters. So start by ordering a pair of pies, even before you've received your menus. Both the cheese and spinach take about twenty minutes to bake, and bear little in common with the standard slabs of heavy-set Diner spanikopita. The spinach is light and lightly seasoned, a buttery model of restraint served straight from the oven. The cheese – elegant, whipped, oozing with flavor – bears more in common with a french soufflé. Order each with a side of Tomato, feta, onion and olive salad, and your palate will be officially whet for the meat to come.
Htapodi (grilled octopus)
Locaniko (sausage)

As you move to heartier fare consider the tender, well-seasoned beef (!) gyro served in a fluffy pita with a big dollop of their garlicky homemade tsatsiki. While both the Souvlaki (sold by the skewer) and Grilled Octopus (htapodi, $6.75) were tasty, their execution was uneven: somewhere between satisfying and slightly overcooked, depending on the day. No such guesswork was needed for the Greek Sausage (locaniko, $5.95), whose distinctive flavor comes from its unusual spicing: an aromatic mixture of orange peel, mint and oregano. Add a twist of fresh lemon juice, order a Mythos beer ($5), and wait for the main course.
Large Plate of Lemon Potatoes, which may take valuable eating time away from...
What you came for: Large Plate of Roast Pork

I should emphasize main. Unlike most NYC Greek joints, Spartan Souvlaki doesn't dabble in the usual suspects (moussaka, pastitsio, et al). Nor will you miss them – especially on a Saturday Night. This is when the Lykourezos Family rolls out the big guns: two spit-roasted pigs.
M.A.W.: George Lykourezos spends the evening creating a memorable pork experience
Yes, giddy reader, Saturdays is Roast Pork Day – “my favorite day of the week!,” our waitress (George's daughter) Christine confided. And I can't help but agree. Weather permitting, her father wakes up at 7am to season two pigs and slow roast them over a bed of natural wood coals. After rotating the better part of the day, the meat is falling off the bone and ready to eat.

I know “falling off the bone” is a dull cliché, but there really is no other way to describe these hogs. By 7pm ribs were literally dropping from the carcass. The meat was as tender as any fine barbecue, with a supremely clean flavor and strong smokey presence to boot. George's seasoning enhances without overwhelming, and a sprinkle of oregano-seasoned salt finishes the meat with modest flair. Rich, moist, succulent: any handful of adjectives will do. But also fall short; this is something you should experience firsthand.Taste aside, one other detail sets this pig roast apart. George takes great care in assembling each plate, providing samples of different sections of the pig. Our (Large, $24) plate was an ode to the Dionysian joys of entire-animal-eating, a cornucopia of ribs, tenderloin chunks, leg hunks, and plump shoulder slices. The overall effect is simple and sublime: we experienced the many different flavors to be had from a whole hog, a variety of textures and meatiness that kept us exploring long past the point of “full.”
George's son Louie Lykourezos, serving up the meze

And that, in a nutshell, is Spartan Souvlaki: warm, generous, thoughtful. Don't be mislead by the decor (vaguely reminiscent of a “classy” strip club), or the apparently hectic pace (the waitstaff rarely, if ever, stands still). Most of the workers are related (George's daughters are waitresses, his son a chef, his wife the hostess), and they will make you feel genuinely welcomed. As for the extremely affable owner, George sets a buoyant tone. A plumber and contractor for 23 years, he gave up his former trade to share fresh, straight-forward Greek food in a thoroughly unpretentious environment. And he hasn't looked back.

The results are something to savor, friend. So whether you consider yourself a meat enthusiast, enjoy outdoor dining, liked that movie “300,” or simply appreciate warm down-to-earth people sharing mighty fine pork, Spartan Souvlaki should be tops on your list of outings this summer. It's our feel-good story of the season!


Spartan Souvlaki
6820 8th Avenue
Dyker Heights, Brooklyn
(718) 748-5838
Open Monday-Saturday, 11:30am-10pm

Cash only. Bring enough for a large plate of Roast Pork ($24), a large Tomato Salad ($9.25), a gyro or locanikos appetizer (around $6), a couple of their pies ($4.50), and a few Mythos Beers ($5).

Two pigs (120 lbs of meat) are roasted, and eaten, every Saturday as the weather permits. Outdoor tables provide a ringside view.

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Thursday, August 07, 2008

Red Hook'd: Full House

FYI, everyone is back at the Red Hook Ballfields. Although Hernandez Huaraches (now at the The Yard) and Carcamo Honduran (restaurant here) will not be appearing this season, the roster is set. Swing by, support the vendors, and eat well. It's a win-win situation!
Ms. Sosa pours from the endless well of delicious agua fresca. Chili mango (off camera) waits in the wings.
Ms. Perez is happy to be back, and we are thankful she has returned. Shown here holding goat and steak tacos.
Ms. Carello was hard at work, dishing up Guatemalan delights from a new expanded menu.
And last but by no means least, Mr. Soler shows some Red Hook pride outside his new truck. He'll be at the ballfields every weekend, and continue to run a stand at the Brooklyn Flea on Sundays.

And that, good reader, is some long-awaited Taco News...

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Saturday, August 02, 2008

Hernandez Huarache Sighting

Many folks were disappointed that Margarita Hernandez is not selling huaraches at the Red Hook Ballfields this season. Good news: she turned up elsewhere.

You can now catch her at The Yard, 388-400 Carroll Street in Brooklyn. Click here for map.