Howard’s Favorites of 2009

Me and Donny in Red Hook. Photo by my Dad. Did Red Hook make the list?
2009 was a good year for Eat to Blog. In February we celeberated the 1st Anniversary of the blog. This was also the year that the blog started affecting my personal life, instead of my personal life affecting the blog (I’ll explain how below). I would also be remiss if I didn’t thank two particular groups of people who helped our blog grow this year. First is FoodBuzz, a network of food blogs that we joined at the end of last year. This year FoodBuzz provided me with some incredible opportunities (again, I’ll go into more detail below). The other group I have to thank is the team at Serious Eats: NY. Through their Smorgasbord feature (and a few other articles) they directed more traffic to our site than any other source (except for Google searches). And best of all, we got to meet a few of the SE:NY team at the Vendy Awards in September.

It was also a disappointing year in some ways. I didn’t really have a great restaurant meal, so I don’t feel comfortable publishing a Top 5 Meals of 2009 the way I did for 2008. Instead, I’ll just do a rundown of my personal favorite posts of 2009.

Best “Off-the-Menu” Item: Ricotta Gnocchi from Stone Park Cafe
If forced to pick a best restaurant meal of the year I can’t think of anything better than my first meal at Stone Park Cafe. Not everything was perfect, but there was some amazing food, nice atmosphere, and great service. Of course, we were given the VIP treatment because my friends were having their wedding reception there. Part of that meant getting an extra course, in this case ricotta gnocchi with asparagus, mushrooms, and fava bean puree. As I wrote at the time, “Nothing exemplifies great seasonal cooking better than this dish.”

Best Dish That I Didn’t Order: Banh Xeo from Viet Royale
Among the best bites I had this year was the banh xeo at Viet Royale, at the Eden Center in Virginia. I had heard about the Eden Center on “No Reservations” and asked my parents if we could go there during one of my visits (this was before my folks moved up to NJ). My Mom ordered this delicious crepe, which was the highlight of a very good meal (I had the vegetarian bun).

Best Pizza Topping that You Can Also Dip the Crust In: Egg at Roberta’s
When it comes to pizza, I’ve made no secret of the fact that Roberta’s is my favorite place in the city (now that UPN has closed). The toppings are good, but it’s the wonderfully charred crust that really makes Roberta’s a cut above the rest. The laid back atmosphere is one of the reasons that when I want comfort food, I think of Roberta’s. On our ill-fated Brooklyn Pizza Tour we got a pizza topped with egg and potatoes, and we were able to dip that wonderful crust into the rich, gooey egg yolk.

Best Day of Outright Gluttony: Beer, Pizza, and Frozen Custard in Milwaukee
Looking back on it, there was one day that was the single best day of eating I had in 2009. During my visit to my sister in Wisconsin we had a ton of food, but no day was better than the first day we spent in Milwaukee. We ate great sandwiches for lunch, then did a brewery tour (with plenty of free samples), and ended the day by eating the largest pizza I’ve ever seen and then downing a couple of frozen custard sundaes. Everything we ate that day was incredible.

Best Unconventional Use of a Conventional Ingredient: Frozen Tomato
I did a fair amount of cooking throughout the year as well. Perhaps the most fun I had while making something great was when I made this pasta with frozen tomato. I had frozen some tomatoes during the summer, and then used my plane grater to reduce them to tiny flakes. When tossed with hot pasta they melted and created an incredible texture and fresh tomato flavor.

Best Use of a Mister Softee Truck: Big Gay Ice Cream Truck

We first came across the Big Gay Ice Cream Truck on our Food Truck Odyssey, but I can safely say we didn’t know what to expect. The olive oil/sea salt topping we got was amazing, but it didn’t hold a candle to the Thanksgiving sundae, aka “The Gobbler.” The Big Gay Ice Cream Truck was notable not just because of the ice cream, or the amazing toppings, but because Doug and Bryan seemed to be having so much damned fun it was infectious.

Best Neighborhood I Visited for the First (But not the Last) Time: Brighton Beach

I went to Brighton Beach almost on a whim, but one trip was all it took to make me fall in love with the place. I prefer it in the winter; with the cold air blowing in off of the water, the Russian-language signs, and, of course, the Eastern European food, you can almost imagine you’re back in “the old country.”

Best Use of a Press Pass: Fancy Food Show

FoodBuzz got me into a VIP cocktail party/product launch, which gave me the idea of asking them for a press pass to this year’s Fancy Food Show. To my surprise, they got me in, complete with press credentials. Not only was I able to get into the show for free, but as a member of the press I was allowed to take photographs. I may have overdosed on Spanish olives and Italian cheeses, but I’ll never forget some of the more unusual fare, such as the Szechuan buttons — little pieces of a particular flower that produce an electric sensation on the tongue.

Best Time the Blog Had an Effect on My Personal Life: Sullivan St Bakery

The first time I went to Sullivan St Bakery I had kind of an unpleasant experience, which I wrote about on the blog. To my very great surprise, I got an email from Jim Lahey’s assistant inviting me back for a personal tour. It was a startling reminder that there are people behind the food we write about, as well as one of the most surreal experiences of my life.

Best of the Best: Burmese Food Bazaar

When I think back over the whole year, there is one, single experience that stands out as my absolute favorite — the Burmese Food Bazaar. I was exposed to a new culture and new food, and I got to spend some time speaking with one of the organizers of the event. The people were extraordinarily nice, and the whole thing was a fundraiser for victims of a tsunami back in Myanmar. I hope that they do this event again (this year was only the second time they did it) and that even more people go. I know I’ll be there.

Honorable Mentions

There were a few more dishes that I wanted to highlight, even though they didn’t quite make my “best of” list:

I’m looking forward to 2010, and all it has to bring. If you think I left something off of the list, or there’s somewhere you think I need to try next year, let me know below. Thanks again to everyone who made this great food possible, and to all of our readers for spending some of your precious time with us. See you in 2010! I’ll leave you with a bit of an oddity: my favorite food related song of the year:


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