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Food news from across the pond
Plus pozole in Chicago, the best tortilla in Los Angeles, and an absolutely cursed tweet.
For the past few weeks the entire world was engrossed with a story of writers, betrayal, and plagiarism. I’m talking of course about this cookbook thing in London that seems like a big deal and very obviously plagiarism but I don’t know enough about London food celebrities to fully understand the scope.
What does the opening and wild success of Salt Bae’s new restaurant mean for London? A lot, actually, according to Jonathan Nunn of Vittles. This is a great (paywalled) essay. Nunn does more than point out that Salt Bae’s restaurants aren’t about food. He puts Bae in the context of other larger-than-life figures in food and elsewhere. Best thing I read this week.
*sits up straight*
*puts on sunglasses*
That’s some King shit.
The entire Internet is in love with a bakery in Leeds that somehow is in trouble for illegally smuggling… sprinkles.
Cursed London food tweet:
Priya Krishna, who is doing awesome work at the New York Times, writes about the rise in pop culture cookbooks. They’ve been around for a long time, but it’s now becoming de rigueur for any popular TV or movie series to eventually have a companion cookbook. She covers the good (maybe a way to get people into cooking!) to the bad (the authors tend to get screwed!). Lovely read.
The content most people sent me this week: This job listing from the Washington City Paper. They polled their readers and 63 percent wanted them to publish formal reviews. However, they are going alt-weekly with it and hiring a critic to review takeout food only. This will be a delicate path to tread, but I love the idea. The only podcast I ever seriously considered starting was one where a friend and I exclusively reviewed and discussed take-out General Gau’s chicken.
Editor's note: Astute Snack Cart observers might have noticed that I used to write about D.C. but currently don’t. Cutting back helps keep writing Snack Cart sustainable. I miss reading Washington food media and the City Paper in particular, along with sharing info with my readers in Washington. I’d love to bring back the D.C. section and even expand more (it kills me not to read and write about SF and Soleil Ho!). But I need to find out a way to do so while keeping the newsletter sustainable.
This is beautiful, to me:
The New York Times ran a full obituary for Anne Saxelby, a woman who transformed how the City, country, and world think about American cheeses. I hadn’t heard of her, but I’m sure many of my more-informed readers have. Saxelby opened a small shop in the original Essex market in 2006 that highlighted artisanal and small-producer cheeses made in America, which she insisted could compete with the best of Europe.
Molly Osberg, writing in The New Republic, interviews hospitality workers across the country who find themselves on the front lines of public health. Workers have found themselves enforcing mask rules and now vaccine mandates. If your job relies on tips, forget it. Is it any wonder, Osberg says, that workers are quitting or not working in droves?
I think I sort of agree with this. *ducks simultaneously thrown fancy Italian coffee pots from my sister, wife, and mother*
I don’t include a ton of cooking content, but one of my absolute pet peeves is how many people buy woks to cook Asian food. I don’t blame the people, I blame BIG KITCHEN SUPPLY for trying to get us all to think we need them (even IKEA!). If you wonder why your stir fries are limp and soggy, it’s because woks require specialized high-temperature burners. Regular stoves aren’t hot enough and are designed for flat-bottomed vessels. Genevieve Ko at the New York Times outlines the techniques she uses to stir fry in a normal pan. Seems great!
I’ve been a fan of writer Drew Magary for a very long time and I’m looking forward to his new memoir. Besides being a writer, Drew won an amatuer edition of the show Chopped and takes his food very seriously. I enjoyed reading this interview about his weekly diet. I appreciate his framing of trying to lose weight as “editing” rather than dieting.
I’ve been thinking a lot about what restaurants are. This story in Toronto Life about the restaurant group behind a number of popular spots reminds us they are, first and foremost, businesses. This is a WILD story about optimism, scams, and hustle. What struck me the most is that throughout all the basically criminal behavior in the story, the giant hedge fund is the only one that got paid. Nice little parable for the modern economy.
I honestly thought espresso martinis were just a weird quirk of my text chain, but it turns out they are actually the drink of 2021. Yet another sign we all came back from the pandemic and don’t know how to behave anymore (I kid) (sorta). Bartenders hate them and while coffee drinks are delicious, just order a vodka Red Bull. I do remember once getting ROASTED at a party for just ordering a cup of coffee and it came out in a diner mug.
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Last year after the Governor mandated that bars couldn’t sell alcohol outside without food, bars across the state started selling “Cuomo Snacks” - cheap bites of sometimes questionable quality. There is actually a tradition of this in New York, and Open Culture writes about the history of the Raines Sandwich.
Brooklyn Nets guard Joe Harris’s Grub Street diet is fun because of its extremely earnest “Park Slope Dad” vibes. If you live in Prospect Heights, it’s fun to see a bunch of places you probably go on the list.
Scott Lynch at Brooklyn Magazine visits Santa Fe BK in Williamsburg, as does Robert Seitsema for Eater. Currently, they are slinging Southwestern breakfast burritos in the morning and hatch green chili burgers at lunch, with plans to expand for dinner. Seitsema doesn’t mention Ursula in Crown Heights, but two new and popular Brooklyn places doing Southwestern burritos makes me think a trend is brewing. Speaking of trends, Lynch’s review mentions how the owners speak with deep seriousness about paying their staff a living wage and building a new restaurant industry culture.
The rise in outdoor dining has put restaurants on the front lines of the homelessness crisis. The Times has a long piece on how restaurants relate to homeless neighbors, who can sometimes be aggressive with customers. I really appreciate the humanity in this piece, as it features quotes from a number of homeless residents as well as the usual experts and restaurant owners.
I love a DIY food tour of Maine that doesn’t mention the word “Portland” once! My only complaint is that this wasn’t twice as long.
Scott Kearnan previews ten Boston restaurants he is excited about that are opening this fall. A lot of Italian places on the list (I feel like I’m seeing that in a lot of cities). However, one place, Judy’s Bay, had me at “Japanese izakaya-informed flavors and culinary approaches to New England seafood”.
The Dig highlights a new documentary, Restaurants Remade, that sounds like it should be required viewing for everyone who likes food.
The Dig also throws some love at The Underground Cafe + Lounge. I’ve mentioned this in previous editions, but it’s a collaborative restaurant, cafe, and community space at Northeastern University. Usually I’m skeptical of these things (and The Dig openly sneers at them) but this one is partnering with Nia Grace of Darryl’s Corner Bar & Kitchen and the Boston Black Hospitality Coalition, meaning this might be a space that really tries to bridge the university community with the surrounding neighborhood.
A dumpling pop-up at a hard cider taproom? That’s like Mad Libs of “things Josh has been insisting will be the next big thing since 2009”.
OK. I have figured out why I couldn’t understand Mike Sula’s review last week. The Chicago Reader is running a pop-up dinner series called Monday Night Foodball where they bring in chefs from around the city to do dinners at Kedzie Inn. Sula then writes about each dinner. I love this idea, but each article really needs an intro paragraph to explain the entire program. His reviews of the two more recent dinners, Don Pablo’s big Chilean empanadas and Hermosa, are good reads once you figure out what’s going on. In particular, the Cambodian fried chicken sandwich at Hermosa sounds like something I would be interested in.
Luisa Chu at the Tribune also reviews Hermosa. There’s a bit more context here. Hermosa is a sandwich shop by day, opened by a Cambodian family. The place focuses on sandwiches and hot dogs during the day, but owner Ethan Lim has started a nightly dinner for a single table of diners. It’s currently sold out for the next nine months, despite the almost $500 price tag (plus BYOB) Luckily, it’s possible to get parts of the meal to go (for a significantly cheaper price). The food isn’t strictly Cambodian, but a mix of classically Cambodian dishes with an American kid’s take on his family’s food. This sounds absolutely outstanding.
Sula also writes about Cafe Trinidad, Chicago’s only Trini restaurant. It closed during the pandemic for more personal reasons, but has reopened as a ghost kitchen. This review made me surprised that I’ve never heard of a Roti fast casual concept.
Portillo’s is preparing for their IPO. Those of us who pursue a hot-dog based investment portfolio are excited.
Nick Kindelsperger reviews Alla Vita, which is bringing precision and quality ingredients to classic Italian-American dishes. Kindelsperger waxes poetic on the chopped salad, and it’s a sign of how old I am that it sounds better than his elaborate description of the chicken parm (though it also sounds great). This is a nice review, but honestly it’s stolen by the aside at the end explaining how the previous restaurant in this space closed when the owners fled the country one step ahead of the FBI.
Kindelsperger also reviews Pozoleria El Mexicano in Belmont Cragin. He raves about the place, which makes a unique form of posole that is either specific to Oaxaca or this family, I couldn’t quite tell. Either way, man I want posole.
Anthony Todd at Chicago Magazine writes up Solazo, a West Elsdon Mexican restaurant that has just reopened two years after a fire shut it down. Sounds like it was hard, but a good opportunity for the owners to modernize and refresh the restaurant.
For the third time, Burritos La Palma took home the Golden Tortilla trophy at KCRW & Gustavo Arellano’s Great Tortilla Tournament of Champions. The contest, formatted after March Madness, ended with a live event at Smorgesberg last weekend. La Palma is a juggernaut of LA food, and I *really* need to go next time I'm in town. Still, the story of the tournament this year was Trader Joe’s, which made it all the way to the final 8, unseating a bunch of more popular local tortillas places along the way.
Over the last two weeks I’ve seen some doctors and realized I am severely lactose intolerant. I thought about that while reading Bill Addison’s review of Agnes, a restaurant and cheese shop in Old Pasadena. It was the first time I’d felt a pang of missing something. It’s a great review, summed up in its opening paragraph:
To surrender into the flow of Agnes — an ambitious, ever-crowded, 4-month-old restaurant and market on a bustling block in Old Pasadena — order the dish that best embodies its rhythm and wit: loaded baked potato dumplings.
Last week’s giant special on figs was fun, but this week’s Los Angeles Times mega-section on apple butter seems a bit more of a stretch? Then again, I don’t really approve of anyone outside of Massachusetts having apples. So I’m biased.
L.A. Taco covers the rising tensions between the Los Angeles Community College Swap Meet and the street vendors and vendors who operate just outside the swap meet proper. The LACC closed for the pandemic, and vendors created a sub-community right outside the official grounds. Now that it’s back open, the new Swap Meet leadership is using a number of rather assholish tactics to chase them away.
Eddie Lin is back for L.A. Taco, where he reviews Soon Hee Ga in Arcadia. This is an outpost of a stall in Seoul’s famous Gwangjang Market. Lin goes deep on Bindaetteok, the specialty of the house, which is a mung bean pancake that is then sliced and served on a skewer. I really enjoy Lin’s writing so far.
Out of Context J. Gold of the Week
“all brought together by smoky, garlicky tandoor-barbecued chicken and great slabs of hot bread, a combination that seems to override every ethnic boundary in the world.” - link (please click through this one for the title alone)