Street Food Thursday at Markthalle Neun

Markthalle neun

I keep thinking that I’ll eat some great food in a regular restaurant but instead my best meals in Berlin have been street food stalls, food markets and festivals. I’m not complaining! I’m just pleasantly surprised because I did very little research before coming to Berlin.

I ended up in Berlin because I don’t live anywhere except hotel rooms while I’m working on tour. I have no home base and all my stuff is in storage so when I’m unemployed, I get to choose where to live. When I quit my last show I knew I wanted to live abroad for awhile. I picked Europe because i’ve already lived for long stretches of time in Central and South America and I wasn’t really feeling Asia or Africa. I hadn’t been to Germany or Eastern Europe, Berlin had a relatively low cost of living, for Europe, I love the musical Cabaret (my fingernails are currently green :) and it seemed like cool artsy city to hang out for awhile. So, I rented an apartment, bought a plane ticket and a guide book (which I didn’t open until I got into the city) and voila, Berlin.

Given that extremely unscientific, gut instinct driven, dart-at-a-map method by which I ended up here, I had no idea what to expect from this city and I’ve been pleasantly surprised around every corner. I didn’t expect the street art – though I might have if I’d done even a little bit of research – and I certainly never expected the wide range and availability of street food festivals nor the rabid enthusiasm this city has for ethnic foods of every description.

But even after attending several flea markets and casual Sunday gatherings in the city, I was still blown away by Street Food Thursday at Markthalle.

Markthalle Neun

The place was packed. PACKED. Probably 2000 people and upwards or 40-50 vendors selling every kind of food, wine and beer all crammed into a beautiful 19th century brick market hall. The event started at 5pm and was already crazytown when we got there at 6. That empty table you see in that picture was the last empty table we saw all night long.

Street food thursday at markthalle neun

People sat on the stairs, shared space with strangers, balanced plates on staircase bannisters, tucked bottles of beer in their pockets and wandered around with trash in their hands looking for an empty trash can for the next several hours. Fortunately there were so many vendors that there was never a long wait for food, we just had to be creative about where we ate it.

We started with the very first cart we saw selling kasspatzen because this description was simply too delicious to pass up

kasspatzen

And then just as quickly decided we’d get one of everything and split it so we could try as much as possible.

Street food thursday at markthalle neun

There’s absolutely no way to go wrong with creamy, cheesy spatzle. And we got to watch the guy make the spatzle fresh over boiling water.

Half the fun of this event was watching the food getting made, like this genius performer hand pulling noodles. He needs his own act

Street food thursday at markthalle neun

Street food thursday at markthalle neun

And this guy’s beer tattoos while he rolls out naan bread

Street food thursday at markthalle neun

Sadly, we didn’t try either of those dishes because there were just so many options! instead we next had a cheese empanada

Street food thursday at markthalle neun

Which was cheesy but not that worthy of note. But since we were sharing everything, we just ate it and moved on.

Next up, something not made of cheese.  And also, some wine?

Street food thursday at markthalle neun

Firstly, that’s German white and rose wines that were really incredibly good and cost about 3 euro a glass. Secondly, those oysters were  – no exaggeration – the BEST oysters I’ve ever had in my life. They’re from Zeeland, the western most province of the Netherlands on the North Sea. Slightly salty, perfectly creamy and tender and tasted exactly like the ocean. I’ve never had any seafood that seemed so fresh and perfect. We each ate an oyster, we talked about how much we loved those oysters, we ate the other one and talked about it some more. Then we went and ate other things and we came back and ate more oysters. They were that good.

We loved these oysters so much that when two other guys joined our table and heard us raving about them, we convinced them to go buy a couple oysters themselves. Which they did. And even they admitted that they weren’t big oyster fans but those oysters were exceptional. Incidentally, those guys – Kristian and Alex – are American/Canandian expat craft beer producers who now live in Bejing and make a beer called Jing A. They were on a buying/crafting/brewing expedition across Russia and Europe, doing collaboration brews with other craft beer producers in moscow, oslo and berlin. Very intriguing conversation and exactly the kind of people I love to randomly meet. If I’m ever back in Beijing, I’m looking them up.

Anyway, the oysters: Top Notch.

Next up was a carne taco that looked really good

Street food thursday markthalle neun

And was only ok. Given my experiences with arepas last Sunday and the empanadas and tacos here, I’m ready to say that Central/South American food might be a weak point in Berlin but I’d love to eat anything that changes my mind on that.

After all the cheese and salt – not to mention the subsequent glasses of wine – we wanted something fresh so we went for a spring roll

Street food thursday markthalle neun

And the roll was great and the sauce was odd… I wanted clear and spicy and this sauce was neither of those things… But the roll was great and it afforded me the unique experience of formulating this sentence in my German class the next day:

Ich bin gestern zu Street Food Thursday gegangen und ich habe ein frühlingsrolle gegessen.

Which basically means: I to Street Food Thursday went and I have a spring roll eaten.

See? Food is delicious and educational!

That spring roll was the end of our food tour. I kinda maybe wanted something sweet but at the end, we’d had enough. And there’s always next week… I will definitely be here again.

And that’s all I’ve got for you this week. I’m headed to Poland at the beginning of next week, if the trains are running. Cross your fingers for me.

New Restaurants in Chicago

I always come to Chicago to eat. I have a running list of places I’ve never been and really should try and then I  also look for what’s new and hot so I can try that too. It was a fair amount of eating this trip but even more time in transit since I stayed way north at my friend’s condo in Andersonville. Sometimes I forget how big this city really is.

But all that traveling was worth it and here are the two new restaurants that made an impression on me this week.

Dove’s Luncheonette

Dove's Luncheonette

The new tex-mex diner from the One Off Hospitality group that includes chef Paul Kahan and restaurants like Big Star, Blackbird and Avec.

Diners are my favorite places to eat uncomplicated food. Breakfast especially. I like sitting at a counter watching short order cooks do their business, the food always arrives hot and fast  and I can get in and get out in 30 minutes for $10. However, when famous chefs open diners they serve complicated expensive food and it usually takes forever to get it.  While I appreciate the homage, the anticipation and immediate popularity of such places combined with the menu prices eliminate all the great elements of the original concept (fast, cheap, unfussy), leaving only the visuals.

A couple of years ago I tried the Little Goat Diner right after it opened. The wait was SO LONG and the food was only ok because there’s hardly any food in the world worth a 2 hour wait. I haven’t been back to Little Goat and I’ve been leery of famous chef diners ever since.

So, imagine my pleasure when the wait at Dove’s Luncheonette was only about 20 minutes on a Saturday around 1pm and the food was really really good!

Dove's Luncheonette

I had the chili rellenos. They were super light, fried in tempura batter and filled with fresh farmer’s cheese, the texture of ricotta. I had a spicy bloody maria topped with pickled beans to wash it down and naturally fell into conversation with the friendly group of artists seated next to me. Lunch counter seating encourages conversation with strangers.

I’d recommend Dove’s Luncheonette because the food is carefully prepared and quite great, the window seating has a nice view of passing humanity and it’s literally right across the street from the train station. For visitors, I caution you to temper your expectations. It could be a long wait to sit on backless stools and it’s not a place for a big group. Don’t wait more than 30 minutes or you’ll be annoyed and hate the experience.

Up north in Andersonville is Little Bad Wolf, a new bar from the people that formerly owned The Burger Philisophy

Little Bad Wolf

It’s advertised as American food but the menu has a strongly Mexican influence

Little Bad Wolf

Like chips and salsa. Ok arguably, chips and salsa have been coopted by every sports bar in the US so they could conceivably be considered American. And these were good ones, fresh hot chips with great salsa options.

But Elote?

Little Bad Wolf

Creamy spicy corn? That’s Mexican through and through. The tempura battered avocado was a great touch and I loved everything about this, including the cast iron dish. I wasn’t impressed with the chopped salad we ordered, bland and disappointing (albeit gigantic), but I’ve never seen hard root beer on tap so I had to try it. Too sweet for me but quite an alcoholic kick so… beware.

I liked LBW. It’s a cute neighborhood bar and I enjoy the copper and cobalt

Little Bad Wolf

If you go, order the elote.

Tomorrow, a round up of the rest of my brief Chicago visit.

Tacos in Wicker Park

A conversation about the best taco in Chicago will likely end in a throw down. Tacos are popular all over the city from gourmet tacos by world renowned chefs (hi, Rick Bayless) to tiny taco stands attached to grocery stores that have no websites. A veritable wealth of taco options.

However, in any list of the best tacos in the city you’ll find these two places listed:

Antique Taco

Someone referred to Antique Taco as “pintrest-y.” It’s funny cuz it’s true. There’s a carefully cultured farm kitchen preciousness to the decor from the wide wooden tables and wooden stools to the jelly jar glasses and cloth dish towel napkins. For some of you, this is a draw. For the rest of you, just ignore it and order a taco:

Antique Taco

Whoever decided that bacon belonged on a carnitas taco is a genius and I love them, especially when they also added spinach, fresh cotija cheese and a few slices of creamy avocado.The plate was warm, the tortillas were bendy and slightly crunchy and the whole thing cost $8. $10 once I added the mouth puckering mango lemonade agua fresca. It actually took 15 minutes or so for me to get my tacos and the place wasn’t busy but I know that means that they started from scratch and made it to order.  Antique Taco deserves all their accolades. I can’t think of a better lunch in Wicker Park.

But if I want tacos for dinner, I go to Big Star:

Big Star ChicagoBecause this place is always a good time. Big Star is an established restaurant that acts like a food truck, referring to themselves as a “beer-focused, taco-slinging, late-night honky-tonk” offering a to-go window in nice weather and refusing to take credit cards.

Big Star ChicagoBut the food is the real deal because Big Star chefs go back to Old Mexico for their taco inspiration, offering pollo pibil steamed in banana leaves and carrots with mole sauce. Their tacos al pastor include pineapple, the guacamole is creamy with crispy chips and the honky tonk vibe invites groups of people to stay too long, eat too many tacos and perhaps sample a bit too much tequila. Big Star is a night all to itself.

There are a lot of great taco places in Chicago. These two are just the beginning.

New Restaurants in Tucson

Tucson street art

Tucson has a somewhat conflicted food culture. The overall vibe of the city is casual and some of its best food can be found in open air taco stands. However, there’s a growing group of Tucsonians who want to dress up and go out for dinner and cocktails. Every time I come back to town I find new upscale, urban restaurants with long wait times and unusual food choices.

Here are the four new restaurants I tried this visit:

Nook Downtown

Far and away my favorite of the four, Nook is a downtown Tucson’s newest breakfast/lunch place. With wooden tables and flooring, brick walls, padded chairs and a light open airy feel, Nook follows the latest restaurant design trend of stylish comfort. Like you’re at home but it’s way better looking.

Godfather benedict

I had the Godfather Benedict, one of Nook’s signature dishes, with arugula, prosciutto and poached eggs topped with hollandaise sauce and a balsamic reduction. Everything about this dish was perfectly on point. The proscuitto was thinly shaved and slightly fatty, the arugula had a nice peppery bite and this hollandaise might have been the best I’ve ever had. I fear thick clunky hollandaise sauces and so I rarely order benedict but this sauce was thin and creamy with a lemony kick to it. I wanted to lick the plate. Nook is Matt and Nikki Thompson’s first restaurant and I think they’ve knocked it out of the park. I hope Nook gets lots of love and attention so it’s going strong the next time I’m in town.

Oink Cafe

The unfortunately named Oink Cafe is another new breakfast place in town. That picture above pretty much says it all: bacon. Lots and lots of bacon. Pig is the trendy animal of choice in the 2000s and while it’s hard to argue with crispy fatty luscious bacon strips, I don’t know that Oink is doing anything new with the pig. The flight of bacon, above, had 8 different preparations, largely indistinguishable from each other.  I think your average breakfast diner would rate them as “good, slightly spicy, good, maybe sweet?, good, good, smoky?, good.” The rest of the food we had was also good but nothing I’d return to eat. I’d rate this place as solidly average with lots of bacon.

Jackson Tavern

Given that I just spent a week in Maine, i was amused to hear that one of Tucson’s newest restaurants serves New England style seafood. Jackson Tavern is Brian Metzger’s newest restaurant (also Poppy Kitchen and Gio Taco). The polished wood tables and open design of the restaurant bring a casual neighborhood feel to the dining room and the U-shaped bar in the next room definitely looks like the northeast. Of course there are pictures of lighthouses, since I can’t get away from them even in the desert. Design aside, I think the seafood concept is such an unusual choice for the southwest. Who comes to the desert looking for clam strips? But I think this restaurant is a perfect example of the growing food culture in Tucson and underlines the desire to move beyond all the usual food options in town.

IMG_1747

I had the clam strips, which were surprisingly tender albeit with quite a lot of breading. We also had deviled eggs that were ok and my friend Chris had the mac and cheese, which he said was really delicious. I think Jackson Tavern is a unique offering for Tucson. It might be a hard sell in a place so far from water but for people who want good seafood in the desert, they won’t be disappointed here.

Reforma Cocina y Cantina

Reforma Cocina y Cantina is going to do really well in Tucson because the St Phillips Plaza area is known for good dining, these owners also run the very popular Union Public House next door and the restaurant itself is lovely. Designed like a Spanish style adobe hacienda with white lights outside and a dazzling full wall display of agave spirits inside, this is exactly the kind of location the Tucson dinner crowd wants.

I wish the food were better. The best things we had were side dishes: the arroz oaxaqueno with poblano chilies and queso fresco was flavorful, spicy and delicious and the esquites, charred corn with chipotle lime crema, tasted exactly like the grilled street corn slathered with crema and cotija sold in Mexico. However, my shrimp tacos had overcooked shrimp and a lack of flavor – though the hand made tortillas were good – and the chili en nogada with poblano chili and vegetarian chorizo had way too much dried fruit and the strangest mealy consistency. Even the tortilla chips in the picture above were slightly tough and the salsa lacked salt and heat. Given Tucson’s well deserved reputation for excellent authentic Mexican food, Reforma’s food was disappointing.

However, like I said, the food isn’t the point here. We had a hard time getting a reservation on a Saturday night so it’s certainly popular and the restaurant has a nice vibe and it’s beautiful.

I’m happy to see another excellent breakfast restaurant in Tucson just as I’m happy to see Tucson’s food culture grow.  I hope that the burgeoning interest in dining out will actually develop Tucson’s food scene into a place where the beautiful restaurant spaces have food equal to the surroundings.

Lunch in Ft. Lauderdale

Burger?

Rok Brgr

How about brie, sautéed mushrooms and onions, thick cut bacon and no bun with lots of dipping sauces on the side? That was mine. You should design your own burger at Rok Brgr. Turkey burger? Done. 12 kinds of cheese? Alright. Loaded tots with bacon and sour cream served in a cast iron skillet? You know you want to.  Or maybe a side salad to take the edge off your cholesterol guilt? Rok Brgr has all this and outdoor seating. Boom.

Or maybe BBQ is more your style?

Tom Jenkins BBQ

Then go over to Tom Jenkins and get in line. The place is minute, there’s always a wait and you might need a back up plan for where you actually eat because chances are good that the 4 tables inside will all be full by the time you get your food. But the smoker is ancient, the meat is incredible and don’t forget the peach cobbler. Good BBQ In Florida? Who knew?

For those of you who need linen napkins with your lunch,

Tap 42

Try Tap 42. Craft beer, hand crafted cocktails and hand crafted craft beer cocktails. So many options! The bar is indoor/outdoor, the patio is breezy and shady and the food is delicious. Try the mussels and the quinoa salad.

And just for grins, how about a late night option?

Rocco's Tacos

Get the guacamole at Rocco’s Tacos and watch them prepare it table side. Follow it up with tacos and pitchers of margaritas.The margaritas have a punch to them so beware… In addition to the great food, I love the Mexican art work inside and all the beautiful light fixtures. On the weekends the place is jam packed, the music is loud and the place is hopping but during the week you can sit on the patio without any wait.

Nice job, Ft. Lauderdale! You’ve got a lot more going on than just the beach.

Ft. Lauderdale

Eating in Southern California

Start with breakfast in Huntington Beach at The Sugar Shack

The Sugar Shack

Sun, scrambled eggs and perfect crispy hash browns. Is there a more perfect breakfast? Take your time. Hang out. Have another cup of coffee and then wander down to the pier and watch the surfers catching waves. This is Southern California breakfast at its finest.

There are a couple choices for lunch starting with Sankai in Costa Mesa

San Kai

Yes it’s in a strip mall. I know. Go anyway because the fish is fresh and you can sit outside. Plus sushi is the prettiest food you’ll ever put in your mouth.

But maybe tacos are more your thing? Then head south to Carlsbad and go to Cessy’s Taco Shop

Cessy's Taco Shop

The thing I love most about the Southwest and Southern Cali is that you can get better Mexican food off a red plastic tray in a glorified taco truck than you get in most sit down restaurants up north. Cessy’s has great tacos. Get lots of salsa and go to town on the fresh hot chips. Lunch. Bam!

How about dinner by the water on Harbor Island?

Island Prime - C Level

That’s macadamia nut encrusted baked brie from Island Prime – C Level. Yum. We had a table overlooking the water where we could see the boats sailing in the bay and at night you can see the San Diego city skyline. Island Prime serves classy food in a relaxed atmosphere. It’s classic California.

Stop at the Hotel del Coronado for drinks before you head home.

Hotel del Coronado

A historic landmark with 125 years of rich California beach history, Hotel del Coronado has beautifully landscaped grounds and a gorgeous bar so it’s worth a visit.

End your evening by watching the sun set over to the ocean. Because that’s why you came to California, right?

Pacific ocean

A few things in Philadelphia

Some days you get started late and then breakfast happens at noon.

It’s totally ok because Green Eggs Cafe has you covered. They serve breakfast until 4pm, and not just any breakfast but elegant perfectly proportioned breakfast like the pancetta, spinach and sun dried tomato benedict above. The food is delectable, the atmosphere is calm and easy, it’s like Sunday morning but better because it’s Monday afternoon and you have nowhere to be all day. Take your time. Order a tempura fried “twinkie” cake, cream filled homemade sponge cake served with strawberries as an homage to the soon-to-be-vanished-forever (maybe) Hostess twinkie. Breakfast dessert. It’s what I’m saying.

Then because it’s Philadelphia, birth place of our American government, walk off some of the twinkie calories and go visit the Liberty Bell

Yes, it looks exactly like the pictures. Yes, it’s cracked and it will never ring again. Yes, you should see it anyway. As my friend Corey said, “it’s so fitting that we revere an ill-made cracked bell as the symbol of liberty and justice for all.” An imperfect symbol of an imperfect idea but they both endure.

The Liberty Bell Center is built on the foundations of George Washington’s house, with sketched out windows and doorways and views down into the basement where his slaves lived

America has a lot of dirty laundry and it’s good to revisit it every now and then, to take a good look at the past so we don’t repeat it. I think this space is beautifully curated. There’s a lot of information here about the beginnings of the United States and the fight against slavery and it’s winnowed down to some key highlights and displayed well in this architectural format.

Independence Hall is across the road and since you’re right here and it’s free, you should visit. There’s not a lot to recommend the tour since all the rooms in the Hall have been renovated and filled with reproduction furniture but take a second to think about the men that created our constitution in that space. Somehow 13 different colonies all sent representatives and they stayed in these rooms until they’d hammered out an agreement everyone could sign. Imagine that happening now. I can’t. It’s borderline miraculous that we have a working government now, even with all its faults.

Now that you’re overloaded on history, do an abrupt 180 and cleanse your viewing palate with a visit to the Mutter Museum.

Skulls, conjoined twins, preserved human organs in formaldehyde. Yes, not kidding. This is the Museum of Medical Oddities and if ever you’ve wondered what typhoid does to your intestines or how many things people “accidentally” swallow, all your questions and more will be answered in this curious place. I wouldn’t recommend it to kids under 10 but for the rest of you, go visit. To honor the 200th anniversary of the Brothers Grimm fairy tales, there’s an exhibit about fairy tale creatures and how they could actually be real. Fascinating. Also, there are books bound in human skin. I’ve run out of words. Just go check it out.

Now you need a drink? Of course you do

Village Whiskey’s Erin go Bragh flight of Irish whiskeys should be just the thing. It’s not cheap but it is delicious. They serve bar snacks but they’re only ok. It’s really all about the whiskey. And it’s a small little place so don’t bring a big group.

Dinner? Alright then.

How about hot pink walls and all you can eat tacos at Distrito? The neon lighting and funky decor remind me of Boca del Lobo in Quito Ecuador but the food at Distrito is so much better than Boca. Tiny tacos of pollo (ok), carnitas (good), lengua (really good), hongos (amazing) and mahi mahi (mind blowing) just keep coming to the table one after the other. When they say “all you can eat” they really mean it. Check out the wall of lucha libre masks, the swing chairs upstairs and get your picture taken in the taxi car table. This place is really fun and the food is really good. I’m a huge fan.

Now maybe a movie? See Skyfall and watch James Bond go off the reservation and loose his 007 status before roaring back to save the day in the nick of time. He’s getting old, that Bond, but he’s still got it going on. Same goes for Daniel Craig.

More Philly next week. Stay tuned.