BBQ. What comes to mind when you see those letters? Round patties browning on the grill; hot dogs rolling back and forth along the smoking grate; overflowing bowls of confetti coleslaw and glistening pasta salads resting on a table; ice-filled coolers emitting rustling noises as a hand reaches in for a beer. Many happy memories have been made in this old-fashioned Americana setting, but BBQ can take on so many more forms.
On Sunday, September 14, Brooklyn Taste Talks upped the BBQ game with their All-Star BBQ event in East River Park in Williamsburg. I received a pass from OpenTable and couldn't wait to check out the offerings. Under white tents that contrasted against a perfect almost-autumn blue sky, I sampled some seriously kick-ass fare.
First up was the charred lamb tongue with fried anchovy by Nate Smith and Lee Tiernan. Finished with a black bean sauce and some crushed peanuts, it was a perfect textural balance.
Next up, riding the anchovy train, was this anchovy and egg taco from Danny Bowien at Mission Cantina. I loved the salty taste and rich texture, along with the handmade tortilla, but I overheard some people grumbling about the lack of meat. Really, people?
Danny Bowien also partnered with Jamie Bissonnette for a Mission Chinese-represented dish of lamb tartare. This rosette of meat was simple, elegant and a perfect example of how sometimes leaving ingredients alone lets them shine.
Alternating land with sea, I eagerly slurped down this grilled blue whale oyster from Matt Rudofker. I have no idea what a blue whale oyster is (and Google was less than helpful) but I do know that this was briny, smoky and insanely good. A standard mignonette sauce is such a weak oyster companion after tasting this preparation.
I was riding a high of awesome bites but was rather disappointed with the smoked char and Long Island eel. In full disclosure, I've never been a big fan of eel, but found the chewy hunk of this sea creature to be a tougher version of kippered salmon and an overpowering force against the char, which was completely obscured. It was like a Jewish appetizing plate gone awry.
Redemption was found in the grilled duck hearts by Ivan Ramen. Paired with a rich, creamy corn something-or-other, each heart had a slightly crisp exterior and tender-yet-chewy interior. I've never eaten heart before and I must confess, I'm in love. (oh come on, you saw that one coming).
However, there was another duck dish at the event that blew me away and may have been my favorite at the event. The BBQ duck, plated with a long bean and shishito pepper from Nightingale 9/Wilma Jean duo Kerry Diamond and Rob Newton, was well worth the wait in the verryyy long line. The meat was elevated with the Vietnamese flavors and seasonings and was perfectly cooked (how they did that in this pop-up setup is beyond me, especially considering some of the botched ducks I've had in restaurants).
Taking a spin around the grounds, contemplating my next move, I saw a flurry of action in the corner, which turned out to be Island Creek Oysters being freshly shucked by C.J.., one of the fastest shuckers I've ever seen. With a squeeze of lemon, that little mollusk was the perfect palate prep for whatever came next. As a side note, if you're ever up in Boston, I.C.O. owns a fantastic restaurant called Island Creek Oyster Bar that, along with delicious bites, has a superb wine list and very knowledgeable sommeliers.
Oddly, there was only one chicken dish at the 'cue, which came from the Mile End brothers (what, no smoked meat?). Upon close inspection, the square piece of poultry looked like a terrine of some sort. I loved the vaguely middle eastern flavors in this but was confused about the tortilla piece and lack of stick.
At this point, I realized I was very full, but there was still dessert to be had. Russ and Daughters presented a grilled cinnamon babka with a streusel topping; an elevated version of cinnamon toast. Comforting and familiar, it tasted like an edible hug.
(As a follow up, I went to the Russ and Daughters new cafe shortly after the event and I must advise you to not overlook their sweet offerings. Four words: Chocolate Babka French Toast. I am still lusting after this dessert.)
The event was concluding and chefs were starting to prep for session 2, so I made my way over to the Future of Food Expo being held a couple of blocks away.
The expo showcased vendors and startups that were bringing new ideas and products to the food industry. Before I started wandering, I tasted through a lineup of wines from Sud de France. These wines, from southern regions in France such as Languedoc-Roussillon, tend to be perfect for warmer-weather fare, given the climate in which they are produced. The reds tend to work well with barbeque so these sips were a tardy, yet ideal partner, to all I had just consumed.
A few vendors of note were Susty Party, who produce biodegradable serving ware for parties, Empire Mayonnaise, who were sampling their offbeat-yet-delish flavors and Raaka Chocolates, gourmet chocolatiers.
There were also educational stations, such as these concept crackers, which illustrated the future of snacking based on what crops will be a bigger part of our agricultural footprint in the future.
Food Talks is next heading to Chicago October 3-5 so if you are in the area I highly recommend getting tickets. The weekend is overflowing with panels, discussions and of course, eating. Bring your stretchy pants, it's a weekend well spent and I'm looking forward to NYC in 2015.
Interested in checking out these restaurants yourself? Visit the New York restaurants page on OpenTable for reservations to many of these awesome spots.