Food Riot contributors are insatiable and insatiably curious eaters, so we asked them to pick the single best things they ate this month. The collection below represents home cooking, restaurants, store-bought goodies, and all kinds of cuisine. Hope you’ll find something new to taste!
Derek: Diablo de Mayo from Tanglewood Supreme in Seattle, Washington
It may have been ordered on a whim during Happy Hour at this Magnolia neighborhood seafood restaurant, but the Diablo de Mayo is, hands down, the best cocktail I’ve ever had in my life. Seriously. It’s Cazadores tequila, St. Germain (elderflower liqueur), key lime juice, and Tapatio hot sauce (I know, right?). The tequila was smooth but assertive, with a floral undertone from the St. Germain. The lime was sweet and tart, playing off the tequila without making the whole thing into liquid candy. And the hot sauce—my god, the hot sauce. It was surprising and absolutely incredible, suspended in tiny droplets that with each sip offered both a strong, slow burn and the hit of salt that a margarita—even a highfalutin $8 margarita–calls for. The drink was perfectly balanced, which is quite an accomplishment for something playing sour, sweet, spicy, and salty notes at the same time. Brilliant.
Colleen: BBQ Black-Eyed Pea Collard Wraps. Made at home from Isa Chandra Moskowitz’s and Terry Hope Romero’s Veganomicon. I thought I hated collards, so don’t know why I bothered to try these…now I don’t hate collards. Now I LOVE collards. Also, making amazing barbeque sauce is ridiculously easy.
Gretchen: Here in Foodie Heaven (Northern California’s wine country), there is but one credo: The barer, the better. Which is how I came to pay $9 at Chalkboard for radishes that had been tenderly rent from the soil that morning. They were like sweet rubies were sweet rubies edible—and massively stuffed with butter. I had ordered the veggie plate, that sorrowful-sounding dish that used to be a no-face enthusiast’s only option even just three years ago. Now carnivores and omnivores elbow into place to partake of the newest coolest dish, the veggie. This particular plate had those lovely buttery roots as well as other perfect fresh-grown crunchers, all laid out on a bed of “soil” that was actually dark rye toast crumbs, and accompanied by a marvelous creation informally known as “leek dip” that begged our buttered veg be dragged through it. As if these humble exaltations were not enough, a small serving of duck-fat-fried frites accompanied, making vegetarians sad and this omnivore so much the happier. And the bigger.
S. Zainab: I recently had the pleasure of being slapped in the mouth by some of Chef Kris Yenbamroong’s elevated Thai street food offerings at his restaurant on Los Angeles’s Sunset Strip. The Night + Market chef isn’t afraid of aggressive flavors and heat. Of the Snacks menu items I sampled, the moo sadoong was the most in-your-face and hands down my favorite. There’s a reason this grilled pork dish is called “startled pig.” It’s not for the faint of heart or meek of palate. The tender pork is soaked in the briny flavor of fish sauce, cut by lemongrass and lime–and that bird’s eye chili…it’s biochemical warfare in your mouth in the best of ways. The basil provided sweet, but fleeting, relief from the searing heat and puckering saltiness. This dish is pure joy for a lover of daring Southeast Asian cuisine. (Photo Credit: Robert Burrows)
Tasha: BEER! So I got my dad a homebrewing kit for Father’s Day—greatest gift idea I’ve ever had—and it took a couple of weeks, but we finally got around to brewing it and then drinking it! It was pretty easy to put together and brew the beer (especially with two people), and to my surprise the beer turned out great. I don’t drink a lot of beer because I’m just not a fan, but this was very smooth and didn’t make me feel all heavy and gross like some beers (coughMillercough) do. It was a Czech-style pilsner and the kit was called Mr. Beer. I would definitely recommend it if you’re interested interested in brewing your own beer but have no idea where to start.
Shannon: Pig jowl. That’s right – pig jowl. From The Bent Brick, Portland, OR. The Bent Brick is one of our favorite local haunts in Portland, so of course I Twitter-stalk them. One afternoon, I was just minding my own business on the internet, when I got a notification of their special of the day: black cod wrapped in pig jowl over black-eyed peas and fried green tomatoes. Two hours later, the hubz and I were there at the bar, drooling into a glass of whiskey and waiting for our pig jowl to appear before us.
What does pig jowl taste like, you might ask? Well, it’s basically as if bacon and pork belly had a baby, the tastiest baby in the world. It’s rich, smooth, and fatty, and it made the flavor of the freshly-caught cod erupt in your mouth. My takeaway from this experience was quite simple: eat more pig jowl. IMMEDIATELY.
Firstly, you get variety, six tiny little glasses of beer that make you feel like a giant.
Secondly, you get to try more pricey beers without committing to a whole glass.
Thirdly, you look all look, discerning and stuff while you hum and haw over the nuances and flavors and all that jazz.
Fourthly, your friends look at you funny when you order, and who doesn’t love funny looks from friends!
The final beer, which was this off sour cherry type of beer was my favorite… mostly because it was like a beer ran away with a cherry tree, had a beautiful relationship until things started going south and then it came back and punched you in the face as you drank it.
Jacquelyn: The best food I have had this month is easily the delicious cherry tomatoes from my garden. Is this a shameless self-promotion of my excellent farming skills? Why yes, yes it is. Anyone who has ever had the pleasure of coming in from his/her backyard munching a delicious tomato from the garden knows exactly what I mean. So sweet. So perfect. I keep meaning to put them on a salad, but I always end up snacking on them before I get around to it. They just sit there tantalizing me from the countertop after I pick them. My dog has also discovered she loves to eat tomatoes. Just now I found her on the back deck with an entire limb of one of the tomato plants in her mouth. Caught her red handed. Red pawed?
Kristen: Banana Fudge Pie Ice Cream. In downtown Annapolis, there are 4 separate ice cream places. It’s sort of a topic of pride which one you choose as your favorite. Mine has always been the Annapolis Ice Cream Factory mostly for their homemade multitude of flavors, but the penguin decor doesn’t hurt either. However, this evening their ice cream machine “took an unexpected vacation” and therefore wasn’t working so I was forced to enter into enemy territory and try Kilwin’s instead. I have to admit, after tasting the Banana Fudge Pie (I’m a sucker for anything Banana-y), I may have to relinquish my allegiance to my former love. The scooper also loaded my cup with hot fudge as well which is another weakness of mine. What’s better than that on a warm summer night?!
Rachel: Deep-fried banana. I went to a food festival this month, and on the four days we went, the only thing we doubled down on was this lightly-cinnamoned, heavily ice-creamed, chocolate-drizzled deep-fried banana. There were other things on offer that we HAD NOT YET TASTED, but we had to have this banana again. If the festival weren’t closed, I’d have it AGAIN.
Nikki Steele: Straight Ol’ Fashioned Peach Pie. So I’ve enjoyed so many delicious things this month–pork belly with honey ricotta, glasses of an Etruscan style beer from Dogfish Head (yes it exists for all you history buffs)–but I think when it comes down to it, my favorite was an old standby: Peach pie that is thick and gooey made with fresh peaches and fresh pie crust, and just a hint of cinnamon. It becomes heaven when eaten with just a bit of cajeta–a Mexican caramel sauce. It also gets better over a few days and becomes insanely delicious when eaten for breakfast. Because, it’s like a pastry. And it has fruit. This obviously equals breakfast. (Or end of the day snack if you’re still working on your computer at night, as I so obviously was in this picture.)
Rebecca: Hardywood Bourbon Cru Ice Cream from Gelati Celesti. Richmond was home to the very first canned beer (true story!) and is, to my great pleasure, also home to several awesome modern craft breweries. My favorite of the bunch is Hardywood, due in no small part to their continued experiments with combining bourbon (my most beloved of beverages) with beer. Their Bourbon Cru is big and delicious, so it came as no surprise that the ice cream local gelateria Gelati Celesti made out of it was also incredible. ICE CREAM MADE WITH BEER THAT’S MADE WITH BOURBON. You guys. It’s everything.
Professional cooks live on scraps of rib-eye trim, bowls of rice cribbed from the steam table, and the odd sandwich slapped together on the fly, eaten while crouched behind the line before the next slew of tickets hit. On days off, I might order a pizza or some Thai food, or go out for a burger and a beer, perfectly happy to let someone else do the cooking. But still, even with the relatively recent arrival of other people’s children, even with the responsibilities of jobs and Grown-Up Stuff, there are occasional evenings when my friends, family, and I carve out enough time to cook and eat together.
The last time this happened I decided to put together a watermelon salad. A simple affair of watermelon, cucumber, jicama, serrano peppers, a lot of cilantro and mint, a splash of vinegar, and just enough salt and freshly cracked black pepper. Perfect for a hot July evening, the salad is a refreshing accompaniment to grilled foods and a flavorful antidote for dehydration. I went with cubes of various sizes for the melon, cukes, and jicama, and thin rounds for the serranos. Pleasantly Sesame-Streetian shapes, comfortably within my Cheffy OCD parameters. The herbs were a rough-chopped green confetti. Wee!
My brother tasted it and made a face — “What is that white stuff?”
I’m laughing now; he thinks food should be taken in capsule form and the inevitable food fanfare of these evenings is almost lost on him. Tasting a spicy-savory version of tried and true watermelon was brave…but his face! Oh, the hilarity.
The two of us stood in the kitchen and talked jicama, among other things, while our friends put the children to bed. But I couldn’t stop eating the salad. I’d ask a question and then stuff my face while he answered. When the four of us sat down to eat, I grudgingly shared the third I’d left in the bowl. But my spoon kept wandering back. I badly wanted to forgo any semblance of manners and simply tip the bowl back, just guzzle the sweet-salty-spicy melon water.
As the summer wears on – and I’m lucky out here in Seattle where temperatures rarely top ninety – my thoughts turn again and again to the blatant, unapologetic refreshment of a watermelon salad. Throw in some feta! Top it with toasted pepitas! Make a black pepper syrup! Such a forgiving, amenable ingredient, as well as a handy way to transport water across deserts.
So, I guess Watermelon Salad with Serranos and Friends was my second favorite thing I ate in July, beating Fried Chicken Bits Over Reheated Rice, and Grits with Stuff. There was a Cheese and Tomato Sandwich coming in a close third, but the winner turned out to be an exercise in simplicity.
With watermelons on the brain, I recently went ahead and bought a small one from one of the vendors down at Pike Place Market before heading in for another long, busy shift at the restaurant. Coming home from work: late, tired, too thirsty for water, too dehydrated for vodka, I opened my little fridge and there it was! I had forgotten all about it!
Next to a heel of bread, a knuckle of cheddar, and a short stack of mostly empty to-go containers, there was my favorite July treat, a watermelon split and devoured in the light of a propped open refrigerator door, the juice puddling a bit on the checkered floor. Standing there in the dimly lit kitchen, I wiped the juice from my chin with the back of my hand and let my mind wander. Summer and rind, sunshine, sprinklers, kiddy pools, and hot grass. The shopping trip for a new Trapper Keeper still weeks away. Hot dogs, grape soda, road-trip Tropicana orange juice. Dampened dust, tepid lemonade. The mild melancholy of having no seeds to spit. The urge to go jump in a lake. I was slurping up all the Julys, past, present, and future, the watermelon refreshing my spirit. Truly delicious.
Amanda: Crock Pot Bourbon Bacon Baked Beans from How Sweet It Is. I made these as a side dish for my family’s 4th of July festivities, and they were immediately and enthusiastically declared The Greatest Side Dish Of All Time, and one that will be made at all family gatherings in the future. These beans push all my food buttons: a full cup of bourbon! Bacon (AND ALL THE BACON GREASE)! What is essentially a homemade barbecue sauce! They’re labor intensive- with the soaking and the cooking and the letting it sit after cooking, it’s a three day affair, but WORTH IT. (Photo from How Sweet It Is)
Marge: Cucumber mint soda at Restaurant Beatrix, Chicago. I recently met a friend for dinner at Restaurant Beatrix, the newest venture by the ubiquitous Lettuce Entertain You restaurant empire. To call the menu at this place adorably eclectic feels a little trite, but those are the only words that come to mind to describe it. It has everything from turkey and sweet potato “neatloaf” to chocolate glazed salmon tacos to hamachi crudo to potato salad deviled eggs. Everything we ate was delicious, but I want to talk about this soda. Rarely am I one to turn down a little booze on a weeknight, but after a few unforgivably steamy days in Chicago, I was in need of a real thirst quencher, so I opted for the cucumber mint soda. Note: The server even asked if I wanted to add alcohol to it, but I declined! Like a grown-up!
The effervescent cucumber mint mocktail was infused with mint syrup, which I discovered that I prefer to limp mint leaves swimming around and getting stuck in my straw. The bubbles danced on my tongue like lightly sweet, cooling applause. The drink was brimming with big chunks of hot house cucumber that we fished out with forks once we got to the bottom. Having a little “salad” in my drink also made me feel slightly better about having paid $5 for it. I will have a hard time not ordering it next time. I suspect it would go well with those deviled eggs…
Jennifer P: Rainier cherries. Seattlites seem to take these as seriously as the Germans do white asparagus… and now I know why. “Wait until it’s Rainier Cherry Season,” my co-workers would say; “the Rainier cherries are almost here!” cheered a bus driver. “Look for the yellow ones, and pounce,” counseled a friend. Then suddenly, there they were, heaped at the market, daffodil-gold blushing to pink and red. (Apparently the sides that get more sun turn darker.) The flavor: cherry on its best behavior, all sunny sweetness, with an almost floral scent. Take a Brix reading and they’re even sweeter than peaches. Taste a Bing afterwards and it’ll taste almost tannic, like wine (not necessarily a bad thing).