A.G. Newsletter #2: Gorillas, Meatballs & Top Chef Masters

Hey there subscribers,

Let's start with the most shocking news from last week. Craig and I, it's safe to tell you now (sorry stalkers!) lived for three years on the same block as Gorilla Coffee in Park Slope.

As you may recall from this post we were big-time regulars there. In fact, one of the major factors Craig had to seriously consider when we talked about moving to the West Village was: "How will we live without Gorilla Coffee?" That stuff was like jet fuel; anything else after that would be like running on soybeans.

It turns out we got out just in time. For those of you who don't live in New York or who don't follow the omnipresent New York food media, a big thing happened at Gorilla Coffee last week. The entire staff quit. Almost ten barristas! And Gorilla Coffee is now (and for the foreseeable future) closed.

It turns out, the staff wasn't getting along with the owner's girlfriend. She'd pop in every so often and, according to a few barristas I spoke to at my other favorite coffee shop (Joe, in Manhattan) bullied the staff so severely that several quit right away and others said they were going to quit if the girlfriend didn't leave them alone. The owner promised the staff that the girlfriend was now banned from behind the counter. Six happy weeks passed. Then the girlfriend came back, bullied them some more and the entire staff--in an act of solidarity--quit.

The whole thing makes me kind of sad. I'd met the owner and her girlfriend before and they both seemed really nice; I also really liked the staff at Gorilla. Mostly, though, we really loved the coffee; so, for all you Park Slopers reading this, I hope Gorilla Coffee survives this crazy ordeal. And for everyone else reading this who couldn't care less about caffeine-consumption in Park Slope, let's talk about meatballs.

Specifically, the meatballs in Arthur Schwartz's book The Southern Italian Table. When Craig and I got back from the Catskills last week, I was weirdly craving meatballs. Sometimes that happens with me, I crave red meat. I'm a true carnivore, through and through.

And these meatballs were just what I was craving. Unfortunately, I didn't use my real camera to take a picture, just my cell phone camera. But this will give you some idea (I served them on polenta):

Ya, that's really not a great picture. But the meatballs were, indeed, really great. The secret? Fresh bread crumbs! They make the meatballs airier and lighter and not, as sometimes happens, a big, dense ball of meat. The recipe, which I'll include below, is really easy to throw together. And since it only requires beef (no veal or pork) it's relatively cheap.

Finally, have you guys been watching Top Chef Masters?

Craig is very much not a fan ("it's not dramatic," he likes to say) and though I didn't agree with him the first season, I'm starting to share his point of view.

The problem, I think, is that there's some kind of pact between the producers, the judges and the chefs that no one's going to get reamed, that though these master chefs will be judged, they won't be raked over the coals. Sure, this week, the judges gave some harshly low star ratings to some super star chefs (two stars for David Burke?) but in terms of their actual feedback, it's all so diplomatic. That's kind of boring.

Then there was this week's Carmen Gonzalez incident. If you didn't watch the show, basically Chef Gonzalez was making a sausage and oyster stew that she was supposed to pack up in order to bring to a party the next day (though whether or not that was really the next day is something I'm not sure about). Chef Gonzalez delivered the producers a magical, dramatic gift: she accidentally left her stew behind. The camera lingered on it to show the audience, "Ruh roh, Chef Gonzalez is in trouble!"

My problem with that is that allowing Chef Gonzalez to screw herself over made the show less interesting not more interesting. The reason I watch "Top Chef Masters," if I watch it at all, is to see great chefs in action. It's not to watch them sit miserably in cars as they're driven back to the Top Chef Master studios while their colleagues use their time to cook a fabulous dinner for C-grade celebrities.

Happily, though (spoiler alert) it all worked out in the end for Chef Gonzalez: she won! I found that shocking. Not only because she had so little time but, also? Presumably that sausage oyster stew sat out, on a shelf, overnight. Does Diptheria win you extra points from the judges?

That's it for this week's newsletter. Check the blog this week: there may be a contest in the works (with a lovely, expensive hardcover prize) and---don't get too excited now---a recipe for a berry smoothie. Oh ya, this week is going to be hardcore.

Thanks for reading!
Adam (The Amateur Gourmet)

* * * * *

Arthur Schwartz's Meatballs (Polpette)
from The Southern Italian Table

About 2 cups dried crustless bread in 1-inch cubes
1 1/4 pounds ground beef (preferably 80% lean, not leaner)
2 eggs, beaten to mix well
2 large garlic cloves, finely minced
1/2 cup loosely packed grated pecorino cheese
1/4 cup loosely packed finely shredded parsley
1/3 cup pine nuts [I left these out]
1/3 cup raisins [I also left these out]
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup vegetable oil (approximately)
1 quart Tomato Sauce

Soak the bread in cold water until soft, a few minutes.

Meanwhile, combine the beef, eggs, garlic, pecorino, parsley, pine nuts, raisins, salt, and pepper in a large mixing bowl. Do not mix yet.

Squeeze the bread by fistfuls to drain it, then break it up with your fingers, adding it directly to the bowl. Mix the ingredients very well, squishing the mixture with your hands to make sure the bread blends with the meat. Do not worry about handling the meat too much.

Roll the mixture between your palms into 12 meatballs, each using about 1/3 cup of meat.

Heat about 1/8 inch of oil in a 9- to 10-inch skillet over medium-high heat.

When the oil is hot enough to create bubbles around the handle of a wooden spoon, gently place the meatballs in the pan. As soon as a crust develops on one side, using two utensils (I use a metal spatula an a wooden spoon), dislodge the meatballs and turn them to another side. Continue rotating the meatballs. After about 10 minutes the meatballs should be well browned but slightly rare in the center.

If serving the meatballs without sauce, lower the heat slightly and continue to cook, rotating the meatballs regularly, for another 5 to 8 minutes. Serve immediately.

If serving the meatballs with sauce, place them in the sauce once they have browned and simmer gently for 15 minutes. They may be held, but are best when served immediately or within an hour.

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