Baltimore, Part 1: Attman’s Deli

I am in Baltimore, Maryland for the next few days.  When I am lucky enough to take work trips, I always try to explore, eat, and soak up the local culture as much as I can on my own limited time.  I despise driving in unfamiliar places, so whenever I travel, I walk when I can, take public transportation if it’s available, or rely on ride-sharing services or cabs.  Luckily, Baltimore has a fantastic public transportation system.  I took a light rail from the airport to my hotel for $1.80, and took a free bus to and from my first restaurant destination.  Figuring out the public transportation systems when I travel makes me feel more like a “man of the world,” and not just a lifelong Floridian who has to drive everywhere to get anywhere.  I was last in Baltimore on a short trip with my wife in 2011, but even before that, the city was already close to my heart.

My favorite television show of all time is The Wire, David Simon’s Baltimore-set epic that unfolds like a great American novel with a cast of hundreds, about the failure of the war on drugs, the struggles of cops and criminals alike, the collapse of blue collar jobs, the failing public school system, the decline of print journalism.  It’s about how institutions always tear down individuals who try to change things for the better, but how you still have to try, to fight the powers that be.  It’s often bleak and grim, sometimes heart-wrenchingly sad, occasionally uproariously funny, and incredibly well-written and well-acted.  The cast members, primarily actors of color, have gone onto higher-profile roles in more popular shows as well as movies, and I’m always happy to see them pop up.  The Wire ran for five seasons on HBO, from 2002 to 2008, and you can still watch it by streaming on Amazon Prime or HBO Go.  I can’t recommend it highly enough.  Here’s the offical website with a trailer for the series: https://www.hbo.com/the-wire

To make this food-related, I discovered The Wire after it had ended, like so many other fans — but better late than never.  Long before the show was available to stream online, one of my former students always raved about it, and she had been discussing shopping around for a Crock-Pot.  We worked out a deal: I traded her my Crock-Pot in exchange for borrowing her DVDs of the complete series!  She changed my life for the better (and now I own my own DVDs), and I hope she had better luck with that Crock-Pot than I did.

Anyway, back to Baltimore!  My first stop, after checking into my hotel, was to take one of the city’s wonderful free buses to Attman’s Deli, a legendary Jewish deli founded in 1915.  (https://attmansdeli.com/)  I’m a sucker for the food, culture, and history of Jewish delis, and for any restaurants with that kind of resilience.  In this era where everything is ephemeral, I am drawn to those institutions that are obviously doing everything right in order to last decades, whether they change with the times or are so good at what they do that they don’t have to.

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To my surprise, Attman’s isn’t a table service restaurant.  You enter and line up in a long, narrow corridor at the deli counter, place your order, pay for it at the end, and then take it to a dining room or to go.  The sandwiches and other options are listed above the counter, but the menu is overwhelmingly long, so I suggest you study it in advance, as I did, or grab a paper menu when you enter (since that includes the prices, whereas the listings above the deli counter don’t).

I chose the Lombard Street (named for the street Attman’s is on), a double-decker sandwich that comes with pastrami, corned beef, chopped liver, and Russian dressing on rye bread, for a pretty fair $14.95.  I figured that was a good way to try a lot of deli staples at once.  I also ordered a potato knish, because those are so rare nowadays (as are delis in general), and because this is The Saboscrivner, I had to get an order of onion rings so this review could also be a RING THE ALARM! feature.

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The knish was good.  For those who don’t know a knish from kishka, it’s a baked or fried dumpling stuffed with savory fillings, usually mashed potatoes seasoned with onions, but sometimes kasha (boiled, seasoned buckwheat grains), ground beef, or even spinach.  This was a baked knish, the more common variety, but the legendary knishes made by Gabila’s in New York are fried.  The doughy outer shell was soft, but held up firmly enough to properly contain the potatoey filling, and the potatoes had a rich, oniony flavor.  It was everything a baked knish should be.  I like my knishes with lots of deli mustard.  (Stay tuned for CUTTING THE MUSTARD, another planned recurring feature when I start reviewing mustards.)

The sandwich was delicious.  Not as hugely overstuffed as Katz’s infamous deli sandwiches in New York, which is fine, because I didn’t have to deconstruct it or dislocate my jaw in the process.  I sampled the corned beef, pastrami, and chopped liver separately, to fully appreciate them, as well as together in the sandwich as a melange of salty, juicy, beefy flavors.  I consider myself a connoisseur of the salted, cured meats, and I was glad to have chosen wisely from that long, almost intimidating menu.  (https://attmansdeli.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/Attmans-Carryout-menu-2018_web.pdf)  In fact, I was so wise that I saved half of the sandwich for later, and I am thrilled that my hotel room has a fridge AND a microwave!

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And the onion rings?  Well, they were fine, but not my favorite kind of onion rings.  They were a little thicker than optimal, with a coating that was kind of like crispy bread crumbs, with that unmistakable jagged surface.  The coating stayed on well, which is always appreciated, but beer battered onion rings are still my Platonic ideal.  Ring the Alarm!

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Well, stay tuned for more Baltimore food reviews in the days to come.

 

 

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Jade Sushi & New Asian

For a guy who writes about food, I rarely leave work to go out to lunch, even though I work near some of our city’s best restaurants.  Nope, I pack mostly-healthy lunches in a lunch box with baked chicken, sometimes cans of sardines, hard-boiled pickled eggs I pickle myself, big salads, vegetables, berries.  Everyday stuff.  Boring stuff.  And I eat alone in our break room and usually choke it all down quickly  so I can get back to work.  Not festive, folks.  Not blog-worthy.  This Onion article hits really close to home for me: https://local.theonion.com/man-brings-lunch-from-home-to-cut-down-on-small-joys-1819577433

But today was a rarity, because not only did I go out to a nice lunch, but I met a lot of super-cool people from the Orlando Foodie Forum on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/groups/orlandofoodieforum/), the community that keeps me in the loop and eating well in the first place.  If I’m any kind of authority on local food (and I am, at least for friends, co-workers, and students), it’s thanks to that place.

Seven of us assembled at Jade Sushi & New Asian (http://jadenewasian.com/) in the College Park neighborhood near downtown Orlando: myself, Foodie Forum and Tasty Chomps food blog (http://tastychomps.com/) founder Ricky Ly (who I’ve known online for years but never met), and other super-cool people who probably don’t want me to list their full names: Krystle (another fellow blogger, of http://www.theorlandogirl.com/ fame), Monica, Mia and Aranya, and Lani (who I owe a debt of gratitude to, for welcoming me into the world of pie championship judging earlier this year).  I always feel awkward in social situations, like I’m not going to belong, but this was a very friendly and welcoming group, and I like to think I clicked with them.*

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*Speaking of “clicked,” I’m sure at least one careful Foodie Forum reader at this gathering was like “Really?  This is the guy who elected to take the group picture?”

We ordered lots of food, and everyone was very generous and laid-back about sharing.  We tried fried chicken wings in spicy-sweet Korean red sauce, pork belly bao, and they brought out thin slices of hamachi (a fish similar to amberjack) for us all to sample, which was really nice.

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A few of us ordered spicy tan tan men, which is thin, ramen-like noodles served with ground beef in a spicy, oily red sauce.  I love a similar dish at Chuan Lu Garden with ground pork, but this might have even been better because it also came with soft-boiled egg halves like “fancy” ramen (to me, that’s any non-instant ramen), beautiful chili threads as a garnish, and I opted for a bit of sliced cha shu pork with mine as well.

I’m pretty sure Ricky took this picture with my camera phone:

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And here’s my terrible photography again!

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Ricky has been promising to give me a food photography tutorial, so today was our chance.  I felt extremely relieved and vindicated when he quickly concluded that my phone camera is just the worst, rather than my eye or my talent as a photographer.  Hey, it’s not a fancy phone, but you would plotz if you knew how little it cost, and how little I pay for my plan per month.  That allows me to go out to eat slightly more often and write about my experiences here.  The downside, dear readers, is you have to look at my blurry-ass food photos from time to time.

Well, I can never resist a deal on sushi, and Jade has some great lunch specials, including two rolls for $11.  I opted for two standards, intending to share them: a spicy tuna roll and a bagel roll with smoked salmon and cream cheese, because that is the food of my people.  I haven’t had sushi in a long time, and they totally hit the spot.

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Other people ordered some beautiful-looking bento boxes and ramen bowls.  Jade Sushi & New Asian has a huge menu (http://jadenewasian.com/menu/), so take your time looking it over so you can make the best choices.  Better yet, go with a bunch of friends (or friendly Internet strangers) and share everything!

I have been to Jade twice before, and from those prior visits, I strongly recommend the “sizzling evil ribs” (great name, even greater dish) and the Stormtrooper roll, with smoked salmon, asparagus, and fried jalapeno, wrapped with escolar, spicy mayo, and eel sauce.

So today was better than most days.  I left work, ate a terrific lunch at a restaurant I love, and hung out with some friendly fellow foodies for the first time.

Remembering Anthony Bourdain

A big reason I started The Saboscrivner is because of local celebrity Ricky Ly, founder of http://www.tastychomps.com, published author, and one of the biggest food writers in Orlando.  Ricky and I both used to be regular, prolific posters on the Florida forum on Chowhound.com, but when he founded the Orlando Foodie Forum on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/groups/orlandofoodieforum/), I followed him there and became a part of that incredible community.  I have not yet had the opportunity to meet Ricky in real life, but he has definitely been an influence on me.  I feel more connected to Orlando because of him, and I’ve learned a lot about our rich restaurant scene and food in general thanks to him.  Through his Facebook group, I’ve received a lot of encouragement about my writing, inspiring me to finally create this blog, which I should have done a long time ago.

However, maybe the biggest reason I got into this food blogging game was Anthony Bourdain.  His death last month hit me much harder than any other celebrity deaths I can think of, because I was such a huge fan of his.  Through his TV shows, his food writing, and even his novels and graphic novels, I felt like I knew the guy, and I thought the world of him.  He really inspired me to think more about the food I ate, where it came from, who made it, and the stories and culture behind it all.  He was a saboscrivner too — when you listened to his voice or read his words, you were along for the ride with this very cool, but very tortured, tour guide.  The sights, the smells, the tastes — he made them real.  You were there.  That’s what I hope to do, on a much smaller scale.

When I learned of Bourdain’s suicide almost one month ago, I wrote what I hoped was a worthy tribute on Facebook, and Ricky included my piece among other local culinary luminaries on his food blog, Tasty Chomps.  I was honored to be included among well-known chefs and much better-known food writers.  So here’s his compilation of eulogies from several different writers, including me:

http://tastychomps.com/2018/07/in-memoriam-orlando-remembers-anthony-bourdain.html

Just in time for July 4th, let’s talk about favorite groceries.

Here’s some food for thought (heh) for Independence Day, when some of us may be off work and possibly cooking with our families and friends.  Have fun, stay hydrated, and definitely stay safe, whether you’re grilling over an open flame or blowing stuff up.

I write a lot about restaurants, but I don’t eat out all the time, I assure you.  I do love grocery shopping, though.  I go to multiple supermarkets to find the best deals and best things to eat.  It’s the only kind of shopping I enjoy.

But I gots to know: What groceries do YOU strongly recommend? What do you buy that you love, that’s better than anything else? What have you discovered recently that you don’t know how you lived without? And where do you find it?

Some examples:

Hot dogs: I grew up in a Hebrew National household, then I became a Sabrett loyalist when I moved out and started shopping and cooking for myself, but the Boar’s Head all-beef hot dogs that come clumped and tightly shrink-wrapped together in a package of seven are even better. Similar garlicky flavor, but these have the perfect snap of a natural casing. I only buy hot dogs once or twice a year, but now I always go for these.  I might have to get some today!

Mustard: BaTampte for a good everyday deli mustard (easily available at Publix), and Beaver jalapeno mustard for something delicious that’s hotter (but is unfortunately much harder to find locally). I was surprised by how good the Grey Poupon Deli Mustard and Mild and Creamy Mustard were, last time Publix had a BOGO deal, since I’m not big on regular dijon. I’d definitely get more of those.*

*I have every intention of writing more about mustard, since I love it so much.  Expect a new recurring feature on this blog called Cutting the Mustard.  You heard it here first, faithful foodie followers!

Knishes: Pickles Deli in Longwood used to be the only place I could get a good potato knish in the area. They serve Gabila’s knishes, which are the best — made in New York, of course, but became rare a few years ago after a factory fire. Yes, there was a nationwide knish shortage! Well, I’ve found them in the frozen case at Publix now, and I highly recommend them, whether you’re a knish maven or some kind of n00b. Make sure you have some good mustard on hand for them!

Macaroni and potato salads: I’ve tried them all, I’ve made them with all kinds of different recipes, but I always go back to Publix for my favorite versions. The New York and Southern potato salads are both excellent.

Pasta sauce: After growing up with nasty Ragu as a kid and begging my mom to switch to Prego like my friends’ moms, I made my own for many years — first from doctoring a jar of Prego with a can of tomato paste and all kinds of other ingredients, and now by using canned San Marzano tomatoes and making it from scratch. But if I’m in a hurry, nothing beats Rao’s Arrabbiata sauce. It’s a little pricey, but you can occasionally find sales at Fresh Market or Target, and it is perfect in every way. I’ve been to many Italian restaurants whose red sauces aren’t nearly as good as Rao’s.

Hot sauce: Minorcan Mayhem datil pepper sauce. They have it on the tables at 4 Rivers Smokehouse, so you can try it there before buying it, and of course they sell the bottles. So tasty, with a lot of flavor rather than pure ass-kicking heat (which I hate). There’s even a subtle sweetness. I highly recommend it.
https://www.minorcanmayhem.com/

Whisps: these tiny, crispy crackers are made of 100% parmesan cheese, so they’re a life-changer if you’re on a low-carb diet but are craving salty, crunchy snacks and don’t feel like pork rinds. (The story of my life for the last year and a half.) I’ve seen tiny bags at Publix, or you can stock up on a larger bag at Costco for about $10. They are awesome.

Salami: Aldi is my new favorite supermarket, and they sell pre-sliced dry salami in regular (similar to genoa) and spicy (similar to pepperoni) varieties, at $5.99 per pound. They are great. The slices aren’t paper-thin, so they have a nice chewiness, and the spicy one is delicious. I always keep it on hand for snacks, along with Aldi’s sliced provolone cheese, which is usually $1.89 for an eight-ounce package with 12 slices.

By the way, If you haven’t been to Aldi, check it out. Bring a quarter for a shopping cart and bring your own bags, but you’ll find so much high-quality food that’s often the same stuff you could buy anywhere else, for a fraction of the price. I’m a convert. And they get new, random, often fascinating stuff all the time — I got a really rad record player that transforms into a briefcase there two weeks ago — so it’s worth making regular visits to see what they have.

What do the rest of you recommend?

Bosphorous

On Sunday evening, I met a friend at Bosphorous, the beautiful Turkish restaurant on Park Avenue in Winter Park.  (https://www.bosphorousrestaurant.com/)  It is one of my favorite restaurants in Orlando, and it never disappoints.  This time was no exception.

My friend had never been there before; I suggested it because she is vegetarian, and other vegetarian friends I’ve brought there thought they died and went to heaven, with all the delicious options to choose from.

We shared the mixed appetizer platter with puffy lavas bread, which is almost a requirement when you eat there.  The soft, pita-like bread will arrive at your table puffed up with hot air, and you need to pierce it with fork tines to deflate it to avoid being burned.  Then rip off pieces and go to town with the cool, refreshing dips in the platter.  I have said that everything tastes better in sandwich or dip form, and these dips are among the finest around.  The platter also comes with one of Bosphorous’ stuffed grape leaves, sliced in two, and a few kalamata olives and cornichons (tiny pickles, which I love, even though I’m normally not big on pickles).  You have to order the lavas bread separately, but you’ll regret it if you don’t!

One of my favorites is the savory tomato and sauteed eggplant dip called soslu patlican.  I could eat a whole jar of that stuff in no time.  I should really learn how to make it myself!  The platter also includes babaganoush (smoked eggplant dip), tabbuli (similar to couscous), ezme (a spicy salsa-like dip with tomatoes, onions, jalapenos and other peppers, and walnuts), and haydari (a thick, creamy yogurt dip with walnuts).

My absolute favorite, which my wife loves too, is taramosalata, which is a creamy, salty, fish roe concoction.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t included this time, replaced with a thin, creamy dip called cacik, with yogurt, cucumber, mint, and dill.   (My brilliant brother, one of my most loyal readers, suggested cacik might be etymologically related to the similar Greek yogurt sauce tzatziki, and he’s probably right!)  I guess without the taramosalata, the whole platter is vegetarian, so that makes some sense.  It doesn’t even seem to be on the menu anymore!

If you don’t want to spring for the whole platter, you can always order any of these dips separately, but for first-time diners, I strongly recommend trying them all, so you can pick out the ones you like best.  My least-favorite is the hummus, because it’s just plain hummus, which I eat all the time.  I wonder if they let you mix and match.  It never occurred to me to ask!

While my wife and I usually share the mixed appetizer platter and an order of doner kebap (similar to gyro meat, and served on a bed of rich and buttery rice pilaf, perfect for wrapping up in the lavas bread), this time I tried something new to me: the lahmacun, which is like Turkish pizza — flatbreads that were at once both crispy and soft, covered with ground lamb in a piquant sauce.  It comes accompanied by shredded, pickled red cabbage, beets, and red onions (love it!), plus some mixed greens and sliced tomatoes.  You put the vegetables on the lahmacun half-moons, pour on a little of the incredible vinaigrette dressing, fold it, and eat it like a sandwich.  I loved it.

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My friend ordered the spinach and feta pide, a pastry “boat” that was warm and soft, stuffed with sauteed spinach and melty, cheesy goodness, topped with sliced tomatoes.  She was suitably impressed.

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Unfortunately, my wife was down for the count with a migraine to end all migraines, which is the only reason she didn’t join us for dinner.  But I ordered another mixed appetizer platter and a whole lavas bread to bring home to her, which she appreciated.  (Except they forgot the stuffed grape leaves on this one — First World Problems Alert!)  This is one of the ways you make a marriage work, you guys.

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Ring the Alarm! Blue Jacket Grille

Occasionally you’ll see posts titled “Ring the Alarm!,” so you’ll know onion ring reviews are coming.  I love onion rings, and I’m always on a quest for good ones.  Sadly, there are a lot of mediocre-to-bad onion rings out there.  Yesterday, I had some of the best around.

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Yesterday I had a working lunch with two of my co-workers and our supervisor.  We went to the nautical- and Navy-themed Blue Jacket Grille (https://bluejacketgrille.com/), moments from work.  It’s so great to have this relatively new restaurant close at hand.  This was my fourth visit in about six months, and the food has yet to disappoint.

I almost always order a burger there, and not just any burger, but the Pimento Cheese burger, which comes with a fried green tomato slice, and of course, what Mike Ehrmantraut referred to as the “caviar of the South” on Better Call Saul: pimento cheese.  I became obsessed with pimento cheese after trying it on one of the best burgers of my life at the Stock and Barrel in Knoxville, Tennessee, back in 2013.  Orlando has some mighty fine pimento purveyors, including Blue Jacket Grille, The Coop, Se7enbites, and Swine and Sons.  I make my own now, too.  Just like chili, meatloaf, and salsa, everyone’s version is different, but it’s hard to go wrong.

Also, this burger comes on marble rye, but I always request it on a soft brioche bun instead.  They cook it medium rare, as most tasty burgers should be cooked, and automatically serve it with lettuce, tomato, onion, and pickle, as most tasty burgers should be served.

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And of course, because I love onion rings enough to make Ring the Alarm! a regular feature on The Saboscrivner, I got onion rings as my side with the burger.  The choice was a no-brainer; these are some of the best onion rings in town.  Golden-fried, beer-battered, not overly greasy, not too thick or too thin, the onion doesn’t come whipping out of the breading to whack you in the face — they’re perfect in every way.  Definitely in the top five best onion rings in town.  I had already turned one of my co-workers onto these rings, and I was pleased to note that she and our supervisor split an order of their own.

Blue Jacket Grille is in the former location of the Smiling Bison (now in Sanford), and Redlight, Redlight (now in Audubon Park) before that, on Bennett just north of Colonial.  It’s a nice little neighborhood place, with everything you’d expect to find on a sports bar or family restaurant menu, just done better than most.  I’d rather eat here than the Ale House, Chili’s, or most other restaurants of that style any day.  They also have really terrific beer cheese, which comes with lightly-toasted pretzel slices, and if you want tots, they will bring you a HUGE basket of tots.  There are TVs all over the walls, mostly tuned to sports, if you can’t eat without that.  They have trivia nights on Tuesdays and karaoke nights some other night, which I have every intention of making it to some day.  I love both, but nobody else I know does.  Cue the sad trombone for me!

Buttermilk Bakery

This morning, my wife wanted croissants, and I agreed they sounded good.  But we couldn’t get ourselves out of bed at a reasonable time to go out, and I was plagued by nightmares about vacationing with friends to an unfamiliar beach that turned out to be a dystopian hellscape, with crumbling, graffiti-strewn hotels and roving gangs of punks straight out of an ’80s movie, daring vacationers to pass their flaming barricades and swinging chains to catch a glimpse of the ocean.  But enough about my inner turmoil!

By the time I got up and dressed, I figured most bakeries would be slammed by the brunch crowd, so I went off to bring home croissants from Buttermilk Bakery, a newish Winter Park bakery we’ve only been to once before, but I never reviewed.  (http://www.buttermilk-bakery.com/)

I was lucky to find the last parking space in the back, since they were doing bang-up business, with every table full and a line almost out the door.  But once I got up front, I was greeted by friendly bakers and a dazzling array of croissants and other pastries:

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Since we rarely make it out there, I ended up bringing home two plain croissants (although there is nothing “plain” about them), a morning bun, a monkey bread croissant, and a cinnamon sugar brioche doughnut.  They definitely made my wife’s morning, especially after I brewed up some cafe con leche for her.  After dreaming of seaside terrors and a fight for survival amid Art Deco ruins, the flaky, buttery, rich croissant and vaguely floral-accented morning bun helped me find my center as well.

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We are so lucky to have access to a plethora of awe-inspiring bakeries here in Orlando.  At this point, I don’t even mess with anything from the Publix bakery.  We have so many better local options, for the rare times I indulge in sweets.  (My wife is the one with the sweet tooth!)  We’re the hugest fans of Se7enbites, especially for pie, and we’ve had great experiences at Benjamin French Bakery and now Buttermilk Bakery for croissants.  Heartsong Cookies and Gideon’s Bakehouse both make some of the best cookies I’ve ever had, and The Gourmet Muffin specializes in… well, you can guess.  These are all baked goods — no baked bads among them!