Early in the summer Jack and I took a cooking class at Hearty Boys, taught by the “Boys’ ” good friend and current owner of HB-Home Bistro (formerly the Hearty Boys restaurant before they made it [quasi?] big and won the Food Network’s first season of The Next Food Network Star. Now their company does catering and cooking classes so they have time to be [quasi?]famous. I speculate on that last bit). Our exec chef-teacher– and newly-initiated graFriend (he has yet to be notified) Joncarl Lachman, was not only super-lovely and an intuitive, encouraging instructor, but he recognized me from a few months back when I brought my parents to HB for my mom’s birthday. (It was 5:30 on a Tuesday evening. We were the only ones in the restaurant. You couldn’t miss us.) Jack and I chatted with him for a bit after the class– we were also the most enthusiastic/hands-on(/dorky) people in the group, for which I think Joncarl was grateful, as it was his first time teaching– and he instructed us to come together to the restaurant and see him sometime.
Joncarl: So, are you two, like, together?
Jack & me: [unison] Oh, no, no. we’re just…
Jack: We’re friends from high school…
me: What? Uhh, try junior high.
(Under-breath quibbling. Elbows.)
JC: Mmmhm. Whatever. I want you guys to come in together to the restaurant.
Ugh. Force me to come in and eat your delicious, lovely, unpretentious food and even let me bring my own bottle(s) and don’t charge me a corkage fee. Life is a real struggle.
So a few weeks later we went in for brunch (oh, don’t worry. I brought a nice bottle of light, sweet white. You know, brunch-appropriate). Now, as far as I can tell, the restaurant has about 3.5 front-of-house staff– three delightful gentlemen and Joncarl, who, though he is also delightful and a gentleman, also works in the kitchen when it’s busy, hence the .5. That morning was rather calm at the restaurant and Joncarl came out to say hi and ask how our food was. And of course, omg, obvi, it was beyond.
JC: [smiling] Where’s your date?
me: He’s not my date.
JC: Uh-huh. Where is he?
me: I dunno. Around. But hey, Joncarl, this is my friend Jill!
A month later, a party of 10 or so sits around a table to celebrate my birthday…
JC: [just out of the kitchen] Oh hi, lady! You look lovely. Happy birthday! Where’s your boy?
me: [sighing] He’s not… ugh. He’s out of town. But here, meet the rest of my friends!
friends: [collective swoon.]
He’s like a well-intentioned, if slightly misguided Yente. You can’t say he’s not enthusiastic.
Okay, I digress. Because OMG HIS FOOD.
Last night, Jack and I went to HB for a reunion tour, especially since we hadn’t had dinner there together yet. Here’s what we ordered (and you can too):
- An amazing creation they were calling something like “dutch mustard soup.” They were out of the creamy tomato, which was fine– I mean, I’m sure it would have been lovely and I love a good cream of tomato & basil as much as the next gra, but if it’s something Progresso makes too, I’m unlikely to swoon and/or give points for uniqueness. Hopefully, for your sake, they’ll put this on the menu on the regular because it. is. divine. Pureed roasted vegetables, vegetable stock, a touch of mustard (which you can definitely taste but it’s not at all overwhelming) a little cream, and caraway. The caraway totally makes it, in my opinion (though this is coming from the girl who has had a very long love affair with seeded rye bread). However, it is also the one thing that is stopping me from attempting to replicate it right away at Gra HQ. See, there were no discernible caraway seeds in the soup, which leads me to believe there’s some type of magical (expensive?) caraway extract or caraway oil (like truffle oil?) available to those who are superior to me. (anyone wanna find this out for me? Leave a comment for mama.) I won’t even post a picture of the soup because it looks so simple & unassuming in the bowl, and the lighting, a sort of horrid marriage of candlelight and fluorescent rays coming from the 7-11 across the street, did not help matters at all, despite our numerous and gallant strategic lighting campaigns.
- Artichoke & edam fritters with roasted garlic aioli. (Grammarienne’s note: aioli is defined as a garlic-based condiment, so claiming something is a ‘garlic aioli’ is sort of redundant and begs for my judgment. However, because I have deep love for HB and I’m pretty sure they were simply aiming to point out that the garlic in this particular [DELICIOUS] condiment is roasted, I feel alright about it.) Okay, so fritters are like babies– everyone knows where they come from. No rocket-science there. The genius in this starter was the flavor combination of the artichokes & edam cheese. The carciofi were super mild and went perfectly with the cheese, which was maybe just particularly well-paired (and pungent, I have to say, for an edam), or maybe I’m just making stuff up because I’m so in love with these because they’re just a higher-rent version of standard deep-fried goodness and I’m just projecting my lust for boutiquey, handpicked ingredients that present themselves to me as if the whole history of the world were really just buildup to this culinary apex. (Or maybe, option C: I need a shrink.) And really, anything served with aioli is something I want to spend considerable time with.
- The special: local bratwurst over white beans with sauteed heirloom tomatoes. I have no words. Again, this is something that is exactly what it sounds like, and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to put it together, but it does take talent to make something so simple taste so perfect and evoke, all at the same time, summer in my parents’ backyard (grilled sausages), fall in my city kitchen (any warm pile of beans + vegetables), and classic european cooking. Jack and I agreed that what HB does so much of the time– and does so very well– is european comfort food. Like what your grandmother would make you if your grandmother was a Dutchwoman named Margrietje who, after a lifetime of travel and adventure, just kind of pottered around a Subzero-stainless kitchen making soup and fritters and sausages and…
- Brandied plum bread pudding. There are few things for which I am an unmitigated sucker and fool: “Midnight Train to Georgia” at karaoke, men with beards, deglazing a well-crusted pan (yes, it’s fond, I know, but thinking of it as crust makes the de-crusting so much more satisfying), my dad’s stories, and bread pudding. For those who know me, this might seem a little anomalous, because my impatience for desserts that dare exclude chocolate is pretty well categorical. Except for bread pudding. I can’t say exactly what it is that drives this, but I think it’s the same kind of abiding fondness I have for a “wet” italian beef sandwich, a quiche, or any kind of bready casserole; a little gooey, a little spongy, (dare i say juicy?) and comforting. Except the bread pudding, accourse, is sweet. Now, when a lot of people do a bread pudding with some kind of Very Special Liqueur (I don’t quite get it… I will drink my gin and eat my sweets. Don’t booze up my dessert. But whatever), the VSL is overwhelming and makes the dessert a cloying, boozy monument to, uh, we’ll charitably call it overenthusiasm. This is what happens to so much of the tiramisu that I’ve come to know (and hate, for that very reason, aside from its annoying ubiquity. Like pretentious-posing-as-unfussy nouveaux small-plate restaurants. But that’s another post). But HB’s bread pudding was glorious. Moist enough but not soaked. Traces of brandy flavor I tended to (blissfully) forget were there. Thinly sliced plums that were lovely and sweet and just adorable, layered over and under the pieces of bread. And topped with freshly whipped, barely-sweetened cream. It was so good that we almost forgot to get a photo.