Guest Post from Jesse Hartman: The food we missed in Amsterdam

The travel posts return after a long hiatus. Back with my brother, Jesse Hartman taking a quick trip to  Amsterdam from Tel Aviv, his current home base. He really did the food game right so visit my post here and combine for a complete travel plan for the proper Dutch culinary and cultural experience.

A cut-rate round-trip flight on Turkey’s finest offering, Air Pegasus, served as the perfect backdrop for a quick trip to Amsterdam, and the craziness departing from Ben Gurion Airport complimented the journey nicely. Shortly after learning that my roommate Aaron and myself would not be on the same first leg from Tel Aviv (though we were reunited in Istanbul several hours later), a wildly irresponsible fry cook at Burger Ranch decided it would be a good idea to start a grease fire in Terminal 3, delaying Aaron’s flight to dangerously close to missing the final leg from Turkey. With that behind us, along with a decent döner we landed and sped off to our hotel in the heart of Amsterdam.

Arriving around 11:30pm would usually pose challenges, but a quick check in and we were off to our first coffeeshop and food encounters. A quick disclaimer: I’m not going to sit here and bore you good reader with perpetual pot talk, nor would foul up a very nice blog, so it happened, joints were smoked, let’s move on. Just a 10-minute walk from our rooms was Burger Bar, part of a small chain that stays open until 3am! I went for the Angus burger topped with cheddar, mushrooms and jalepano, and of course their house sauce, complimented very nicely with a side of fries, that would be the first of many consumed throughout the trip.

Our first full day began with a quest to find a golden-brown holy grail of street food: the stroopwafel. A stroopwafel is basically a honey and syrup sandwich with two freshly griddled waffle cones as the bread. We strode over to Lanskroon Bakery where Aaron housed a normal offering and I sampled the coffee caramel version. On the back of the near diabetic shock and a pleasant cappuccino, we head off to Vondelpark for lounging and enjoying the mid-spring sun. Around the corner is Peperwortel, a small deli-like storefront with prepared foods that the cashier kindly heated for us. We enjoyed quiche, lasagna and some chicken wings on the side of the café, deliciously refueling for our next trek and a trek it most certainly was. At the end of the half-hour wind through the canals and beautiful architecture, we arrive at Brouwerij ‘TJ, a local beer maker housed in an old windmill. We each imbibed a flight and I thought the Columbus Amber Ale was the pick of the 5 from an interesting brewery that offers only beers that are unfiltered and unpasteurized and several organic options as well. After the beer, it was on to Skek, a cozy student-run bar, for amazing bitterballen (fried mince-meat croquettes) and delightful live music. The final nightcap was a stumble to the hilariously named Manneken Pis from Flemish-style fries, where Aaron went with a more classic sauce choice and I opted to combining saté and curry sauce.

Our middle day got off to another fantastic culinary start as we walked to Winkel Café for the best apple pie in Amsterdam. I had been on my first trip, but it was no less tasty the second time. Heading to Winkel put us in the hip and slightly less mainstream Jordaan neighborhood, where we each spent a wise 5 euros to spend some time at the Tulip Museum. After a quick and humorous discussion with a museum employee, Aaron and I were convinced to take a decently lengthy 90 minute trip out to Keukenhof, one of Europe’s largest flower gardens. Of course, we had to get properly supplied and quickly found ‘t Kuyltji, for one of the better sandwiches I’ve had the good fortune of tasting. Along the way, FEBO catches my eye- a Dutch fast-food takeaway shop where for a two-euro coin you open the display case and chow down on a small kroket or hamburger. Once at the gardens, we dove into our sandwiches. Aaron sprung for the pastrami and cheese, and I decided on the prime rib: Salty, simple and delicious, as well as filling for coming in a smaller portion. Upon our return, it’s another trip to Manneken for an afternoon snack of fries before some down time back at the room.

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On a recommendation from other American friends from Netanya, we attempted to go to Café de Klos for ribs, but were rudely greeted at the door. Look, I understand 90-minute waits happen, but at least tell us where to stand or get a drink or take our name down… This setback turns into an excellent turnaround as we decided on Sampurna for rijstaffel, an Indonesian cuisine consisting of several small plates fired out at us in almost overwhelming fashion. Roasted meats, fresh vegetables and different styles of peanut sauces all merged perfectly together as we plucked them off the hot plate. The evening only went up as we went to Bourbon Street for live jazz, highlighted by a superb rendition of “Get Down on It”. Some late-night pool and foosball back at the hotel was in order before recharging for our final day.

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With a pretty glaring hole in my food plans for a final breakfast, Aaron came through in the clutch by finding Omlegg, a small restaurant about 10 minutes walk away. After a quick wait, we ducked inside just before the drizzle outside turned into something more ominous. An omelet for Aaron and a croissant-egg sandwich for me and we were off to the Albert Cuypmarket, a large open-air farmers’ market brimming with food options and tchotchkes. I go in for a 3-euro open-faced smoked herring sandwich, which truly was one of my favorite foods of the whole trip and both of us couldn’t resist another crack at a stroopwafel. After a final burger at The Butcher, which honestly wasn’t spectacular- I thought Burger Bar was better, we head to the museums with a cold, gray day serving as the perfect motivation to do just that. We explored the Dutch arm of St. Petersburg’s famed Hermitage Museum and caught an exhibit on Spanish masters, including El Greco, Velasquez and De Goya. From there, it was on to the beautiful Jewish History Museum at the former site of the Great Synagogue and then to Amersterdam’s Museum of Modern Art which had bizarre monochromatic canvases side-by-side with more famous names such as Van Gogh and Mondrian.

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One final stop at Winkel and another perfectly convenient train ride and we arrived back at the airport to return home. It was a splendid trip; Amsterdam truly has a little bit for everyone. A few stones remain unturned; I’ve still yet to see the Van Gogh Museum or the Anne Frank House, and perhaps I can return again some time. Meanwhile I’ll have to settle for dreams of stroopwafel and street herring as I await my next traveling adventure.

Hey, Go Call Your Mother

Another fantastic post by my brother and guest blogger Jesse Hartman. He adds a certain wit and joyous humor to my sometimes cynical blog. He wished he could have continued my breakfast bagel exploration but alas a bacon, egg and cheese bagel is as un-kosher as it gets. Enjoy! 

Although Vassar College is situated roughly 90 minutes away from New York, I rarely take the opportunity to venture out of the Vassar bubble. As luck would have it, I needed to go to the city for an interview, and it would be a crime against my taste buds to ignore the extraordinary kosher food scene, especially as my trip encompassed both breakfast and lunch.

A quick sidebar- I’m the type of rube that street vendors and those guys that sell bootlegged movies in Chinatown (do they have an official name?) would drool over- this will become apparent in my first stop.

Against all common sense, my train required a 6:30 AM wake-up call and by the time I arrived at Grand Central I absolutely had to put my morning research to work. First stop within the parameters of walking distance of GCT was Zucker’s for bagels. I ordered my favorite poppy-seed bagel with plain cream cheese and lox, just like a good Jewish boy should. However, I was shocked, nay even crestfallen when the cashier rang up my order at $10.80. $10.80?! For a bagel?! This better be the best dang bagel I’ve ever had, or maybe, to quote Maude Lebowksi, “I was being taken for the proverbial ride”.

I’ll start with the least valuable member, sorry to break it to you cream cheese. It was pretty plain, but I appreciated the fact that it didn’t overpower the rest of the other components. Next up, the bagel. Now this was a great, dense, and flavorful New York-style bagel. Tasty poppy-seeds that picked up the oniony flavor perhaps from being next to an everything bagel added a pleasant effect. The real star of the show was the fish of course. It had all the requirements of great lox: a nice smoky flavor, vibrant color and a very tender feel to it, but without being chewy and bland.

After my interview I had worked up my appetite and walked over the Ben’s Kosher Delicatessen on 7th Ave. and 38th Street. Their “overstuffed” sandwiches beckoned me into ordering classic- pastrami on rye. At the avoidance of sitting awkwardly alone, I took my sandwich to go, opting to eat at Grand Central while I waited for my train. The sandwich became a bit soggy, but this was sublime nonetheless. The pastrami was incredible- melt in your mouth (who would order it lean? My bubby wouldn’t). With the right balance of saltiness and brine from the in-house pickling. The accompanying deli-style mustard was lovely and flavorful without overwhelming the meat. A garnish of deli pickles, lovely full pickled mini dill and a half-sour, topped off the incredible lunch.

This was a superb day of kosher and Jewish-American foodstuffs, and yes I called my mother on the way home too.

Coffee Shop Review #13 Big Bear Cafe

Big praise for Big Bear out of 5.

Location-4(Big Bear Cafe occupies an island corner at First and R Street NW, just off Florida Avenue. The location is a little odd and it is hard to determine where the hoards of people are coming from. There is a lot of residential apartments around but not much else in terms of shops and restaurants. It appears that as the Shaw-Howard area is developed more there will be more spill over to old corners such as Big Bear’s).

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Barista Cuteness-4.5(Barista’s are charming, helpful, and seem to be in a very joyous mood. They often chit chat with people sitting at the bar and will periodically circulate to make sure everyone is satisfied. There is not a clearly defined system for calling out drink and food orders which leads to a bit of confusion, but if there voices weren’t muffled by their oversized chunky circle scarves, they wouldn’t be true hip baristas now would they)?

Coffee Knowledge/Expertise-4.5(I have kept my drink orderings pretty simple at Black Bear, ordering a house coffee and pot of tea thus far. While I have not been able to apply the cappuccino test yet I can comment on the drinks that I have had. Counter Culture Coffee, one of my favorite espresso roasters extremely impressed me with their drip coffee beans. While I do not know the specific name of the house brew being served up I know it was one of the most delicious, house brew black coffees I have ever had. There was definitely blackberry and other fruit flavors present along with a strong boldness and crisp finish. On my second outing my friend and I split a large pot of Jasmine Pearl tea. Our first cup was great but the tea turned soapy in taste pretty quickly and we had no obvious way to remove the over soaked leaves from the pot, sadly).

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Ambiance-5(Big Bear knows hot to do cute decoration and simple furniture choices. The inside look is very rustic with wooden tables and chairs. The colors are rich and dark, burgundy bar stools do not clash with the wooden atmosphere and carved out booths are spacious and comfortable. There is a great, sturdy, communal table that anchors the room and slender windows that perfectly frame cozy two-tops. The outdoor seating is also a treat and there is a canopy of Edison style lights over the entire patio. There is a lot of seating but a pretty high demand, so snagging a table is the biggest challenge).

Pastry/Food Selection-4(Camping out at Big Bear is easy because it doubles as a Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner restaurant as well as a cafe. On my first leisurely Sunday I enjoyed an amazingly zesty pulled pork sandwich that had an incredible sweet and tangy BBQ sauce. The bowl of navy beans I chose as my side was quite cold and sad but they were very fresh in quality. The second trip to Big Bear was all about getting work done via pastry motivation. My friend and I split a brown sugar cookie and vegan peanut butter cookie. The peanut butter cookie was really good and you couldn’t even tell it was vegan, always a plus. The brown sugar cookie was a chocolate chip cookie minus the satisfying chocolate chips, so it tasted great but was slightly disappointing. We decided having standard chocolate cookies would have been far too mainstream).

Overall Rating: 4.4

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Blustery Blizzard Bites Part 1: Wicker Park

Worthless weather has never served as much of a deterrent for my culinary adventures and although the biting cold Chicago winter was a bit of a slap in the face, thick wool socks, a down jacket, and a host of other layers are all one needs to do battle with the cold.

Walking in the snow does hold a slight effervescent charm so over New Year’s  my mother and I took advantage of the blossoming neighborhood that we were residing in-Wicker Park, and discovered some great eats under 15 minutes away. Growing up in Chicago I had very few memories of outings in this area because it was still pretty grungy. There were more happenings in Bucktown and Wicker Park was sort of left sitting there under the El. Wicker Park is now turning into a mix of thrift stores, record shops, pop-up boutiques, and some corporate brands, injecting new life into the area. Young crowds are bringing bars, restaurants, and coffee shops to West Milwaukee, Damen, and West Division Street.

Start the day off with a hearty and healthy brunch at Milk and Honey. This breakfast and lunch joint justifies its claim to be a cafe that lies at the intersection between “fresh and goodness”. If you are looking for something light, Milk and Honey has a host of fresh baked pastries and house made granola that is so popular it is packaged and sold as a retail product.  My mother and I split the breakfast panini and waffle of the day half and half to get that perfect savory-sweet breakfast combo. The breakfast panini was simple, yet flavorful with scrambled eggs, bacon, cheddar, and tomato served with home made potato chips. The quality of the basic ingredients really made the dish shine and pushed it to something a little above ordinary. The waffle of the day was a little more decadent and creative. The waffle was made with ricotta cheese and adorned with honey and figs. The dish remained pretty light due to the soft, fluffy cheese with dainty dried figs and was thankfully not drowning in honey. The greatest aspect about Milk and Honey is that the place is all self-service, you order your food, pay, and then get a number. As a guest, I don’t mind collecting my own silverware and water, it makes the whole dining experience smoother and more efficient.

For lunch, dinner, or an in between tapas-like snack Big Star is worth all of the hype. This buzzy bar and taqueria does the classics right and also serves up some innovative Mexican bites of their own. The Al Pastor and Queso Fundido are an absolute must along with the Walking Taco and the Tostada del Betabel. The Walking Taco is a mash up between an Al Pastor and an enchilada served in a bag of Frito Lay Chips, indeed quite perfect for a quick, mobile snack. The Tostada del Betabel is essentially a bright beet salad with some kick served on a crunchy tostada, creating a perfect balance of temperatures and textures. The only downside to Big Star is there less than impressive Horchata, perhaps they focused a majority of the beverage attention on the incredible whiskey and beer selection, maybe no one can fault them for that.

Coffee Shop Review #3 (THE ONE)

Tryst Ravings (categories still out of 5)

Location-5 (Adam’s Morgan is rapidly becoming my favorite neighborhood of D.C. filled with an eclectic mix of ethnic restaurants and trendy spots. There is an abundance of live music in the area and the metro stop is conveniently located close to the National Zoo as well).

Barista/Bartender cuteness-5 (Everyone at Tryst is not only attractive but incredibly friendly as well. Your check will be adorned with a big handwritten “Thank You :)” no matter who waits on you).

Coffee Knowledge/Selection-5 (I have had two cappuccinos at Tryst and they were both absolutely the best cappuccinos I have ever have. This recurring anomaly led me to believe that it must be the Counter Culture Coffee beans that Tryst pulls combined with a highly skilled barista staff. The robust aroma that encases the coffee shop is simply delightful. In addition to coffee, I ordered a cup of apple cider to go with my meal which was piping hot and served in an enormous mug, just how I like it. Nothing could have screamed a cozy, Fall, October evening more. The special Lavender Hot Chocolate was also tempting my friend Abby and I so we will have to sample it next time).

Ambiance-5 (Tryst’s tagline is “No corporate coffee, no matching silverware” and this motto describes the feel of Tryst very well. Think bohemian living room filled with mismatched lamps, sofas, and armchairs. For those who are looking to study there are tables and chairs that are large and equally as inviting. Tryst’s bar area is another fun “sceney” location to sit at and is great if you are flying solo. The friendly bartenders are very welcoming and chatty as they shake up drinks for fellow costumers. On my latest evening at Tryst we were fortunate enough to have a live performer who was quite exceptional. Tryst hosts live music most nights of the week and our electric cellist was an awesome treat).

Pastry/Food Selection-5 (Three words: ALL DAY BRUNCH, there is really nothing better. The Spinach Egg Sandwich that I ate on my first outing was hearty and the balsamic-marinated cherry tomatoes were an excellent fresh pop of flavor. Tryst also serves a host of gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches and does it right with the addition of a cup of tangy, perfectly seasoned tomato bisque for an additional $3. I’ll make sure to indulge in the Lavender Hot Chocolate and the pastry case next time).

I am not surprised that Tryst is receiving a perfect 5 Overall Rating because really, all I can do is rave about my new favorite coffee shop.

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Coffee Shop Review #2 Northside Social

Northside Social Wrap-Up (categories out of 5)

Location-4.5 (Heading out to Arlington may seem like a trek but it is an easy metro ride away and gives you a little change of scenery. There appeared to be some cool pubs and restaurants around Northside Social but the cafe itself is on its own little “island” on a busy intersection).

Barista Cuteness-3.0

Coffee Knowledge/selection-4.5 (Northside brews Counter Culture Coffee, which is fast becoming one of my favorite roasters. They passed the cappuccino test with flying colors, delivering a hot, bold, not too foamy cappuccino. Less choices if you are a single origin lover but the options are there).

Ambiance-4.5 (Northside has a lovely outdoor seating section that was bustling with activity. The main room has plenty of tables and counter seating and if you are looking for a more secluded spot there is a back room with additional tables and counter space. There is also an upper terrace complete with a wine bar. The main floor is perfect for studying while the upper deck creates a great cozy, social environment).

Pastry/Food Selection-4.5 (While I chose to go for a full on meal, the pastry selection looked quite comprehensive and tasty. The butternut squash soup was warm, classic, and comforting. I was surprised to find that the spinach, corn, tomato quiche special came with fresh fruit and was served on a salad greens. This was a great bonus to a good quiche that satisfied my appetite. The rest of the menu offered some tempting cheese plates as well as some delicious sounding breakfast sandwiches such as the LT Bacon and Egg served with maple butter and frisee on an Italian feather loaf).

Overall Rating: 4.20

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