Edible Jersey's Most Unforgettable Bites and Sips

Photography By Carole Topalian & Jenn Hall | January 01, 2017
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fiddlehead ferns
PHOTOGRAPH: ©ELENATHEWISE, FOTOLIA.COM

In preparation for our travel issue, we asked Edible Jersey’s regular contributors to share their most unforgettable bites and sips from their own wanderings, both near and far. Here are the most delicious memories they brought home to savor until a return trip brings them back for another taste.

Fiddlehead Ferns from: Maine
 

I was introduced to the fiddlehead fern for the first time last spring by a friend from Maine. She presented me with a bag full of beautiful greens that resembles a scallion or maybe a garlic scape rolled into a tight spiral.

When my friend gave me my bag of fiddleheads, she advised me to cook them right away—they have a notoriously short shelf life—and to cook them well. I stuck with her family’s traditional preparation, blanching the greens before sautéing them lightly in olive oil and finishing with salt and pepper. The result was a slightly bitter dish, similar to our local broccoli rabe but with a fresh, earthy bite.

Fiddleheads are elusive even in New England, appearing for only a very short stretch in the late spring. If you ask this home cook, they are worth searching for. I have yet to find a flavor quite like it, and their beautiful little spirals are certainly a showpiece that will leave guests surprised. —Erica Bauwens-Young

Joe's Steak shop
PHOTOGRAPH: MIKE SILLUP

Cheesesteak at Joe's Steak from: Phillipsburg, New Jersey

 

The craving starts as a scream for a mouthful of gooey steak-sauce-soaked hoagie roll. It escalates into a call for the zip of pickled hot peppers, pungent fried onions and fall-apart shredded beef that was cooked on a grill by someone with a Phillipsburg accent and a garnet and gray P’Burg Stateliners hat. I need a hot cheesesteak from Joe’s Steak Shop on South Main Street of my hometown, and I need it now.

P’Burg is known more for its preposterously successful high-school wrestling and football programs than its culinary artisans, yet Joe’s and its signature hot cheesesteak have been part of this town’s soul since the shop opened in 1938. It is inescapably part of mine. It’s a simple sandwich: thinly sliced beef, cooked and chopped on a grill with diced onions. Cheese is melted on top, then the steaming pile of umami is placed cheese-side-down on a long soft roll. It’s topped with Joe’s tomato-based secret sauce and hot peppers (optional, but don’t be weak). I’ve had steaks at all the famous joints in Philadelphia. They’re superb, but to this P’burg boy, they just aren’t Joe’s.

One of the most memorable days of my adolescence was when my eight-grade class ordered in Joe’s right before Christmas. Brensinger School still reeked of fried onions when we returned in January. Eat a Joe’s hot cheesesteak in your car and you will be reminded of that glorious occasion every time you get in for at least a week. And that’s a wonderful thing. —Mike Sillup

JOE’S STEAK SHOP
274 S. Main St., Phillipsburg, NJ
908.454.9545
joessteakshop.com

lemon
PHOTOGRAPH: ROBIN SHREEVES

New Hope Premium Fountain Italian Lemon Soda from: New Hope, Pennsylvania
 

There’s a public garden in Wayne, Pennsylvania, called Chanticleer. It is magical, the kind of the place that if you dreamt it, words would fail to describe what you saw. The town of Wayne itself is charming. It’s home to Villanova University and, as such, has an assortment of student-friendly places to eat. At Pipeline Taco, you get the obvious (and delicious) menu, but what I long for is another sip from the soda fountain. So strong is the grip of the multinational soda conglomerates on food shops that to come upon a locally made option is truly exceptional and memorable, worthy of a postcard.

The New Hope Premium Fountain machine is unassuming and stationed where you would expect it, among the compostable cutlery and condiment bottles. It is decorated not with red 484 or blue 540, the unmistakable Pantone colors we’ve been programmed to identify as “cola,” but rather with a flurry of whimsical typography and brightly colored photographs of fruit and sugarcane, with flavors to match. I am a passionate lover of fizzy and fruity things , so I tried a sip of each. I loved the zing of ginger, the mellow cool of cucumber melon, and a cherry cola to rival my standard movie-theater choice. Ultimately I settled on Italian Lemon, a sweet-tart refresher to match that hot late-summer day. —Emily Peterson

newhopefountain.com

honey with grand padano cheese

Honey with Grana Padano Cheese from: Trento, Italy
 

Villa Margon is a restored 16th-century country house in the foothills of the Italian Alps. I was there as part of Ferrari Wine Camp—a week of comparative tastings, food pairings, and Italian hospitality—also known as the best camp ever.

As we campers oohed and aahed at the stunning views of the mountains from the villa’s courtyard, a beekeeper appeared with honeycombs dripping with nectar. At the same time a large, uncut wheel of perfectly aged Trentino Grana Padano was placed on a sturdy table with a thud. The beekeeper set out to press fresh-from-the-hives raw honey from the combs while others went to work on the wheel of cheese.

A tremendous amount of muscle flexing went into manually splitting the wheel apart. We laughed as both men and women took their turn at the difficult but entertaining work of freeing the treasure inside. A cheer went up as it cracked open and waves of its heady, nutty scent drifted through the crisp fall air, mingling with the sweet smell of honey just inches away.

The two together were the holy grail of the salt/sweet combo. I knew, as I walked around that courtyard with a plate of cheese and honey in one hand and a glass of Ferrari sparkling wine in the other, that I had to commit it all to memory. Who gets to have an experience like that more than once? —Robin Shreeves

Second Fiddle Double IPA, Fiddlehead Brewing from Shelburne, Vermont
 

Last winter, after more than a decade’s experience drinking beer, I really tasted beer for the first time. The beer: Second Fiddle, a double IPA divined at Fiddlehead Brewing Company (owner: Matt Cohen). Second Fiddle packs an 8.2 percent ABV punch that feels like a long kiss. The first thing you notice is the aroma, so herbaceous and citrusy that my mind served up all kinds of summer memories. And it was minus-twenty outside. How could a beer be so ferociously aromatic? At top Vermont breweries, beer is not viewed as a shelf-stable product, like flour or tomato soup. Many Vermonters view beer the way people view a peach in summer. If you eat that peach at the fruit’s peak moment, its flavor will explode.

The ideal moment to drink most beer is right after it’s brewed. That was why my friend’s little bro stopped by Fiddlehead to pick up six-packs the day they were canned, and then drove them to the house where we were staying. My tall can of Second Fiddle was as fragrant as a spice shop in part because it was born less than 24 hours before I took my first sip. What a sip that was. This was beer that fulfilled the fullest potential of what beer could be! —Chris Malloy

FIDDLEHEAD BREWING
6305 Shelburne Rd, Shelburne, VT
802.399.2994
fiddleheadbrewing.com

bernkastel

Plum Schnapps from Bernkastel-Kaus, Germany
 

If you find yourself in a locals’ bar in Bernkastel-Kues—an otherwise wine-centric town on the Mosel River—know this. That sweet-looking, gray-haired couple you meet? They will cheerfully drink you under the table, one tiny glass of schnapps at a time.

Twisting through the lanes of the jewel-box town, where the light reflecting off the river renders everything surreal, my husband and I were admittedly at a disadvantage. Earlier, we had visited the wine museum and “vinotheque,” where the open cellar is like adult trick-or-treating. This perhaps explains our landing at Kölsches Eck, a dark bar catering to Germans.

As we sipped drinks, men cracked wise over card games. The language of friendly competition proves universal. Eventually, I grew pink enough in the cheeks to test my traveler’s Deutsche, a feeble prost earning bemused smiles. Chuckling (or taking pity), the pair from Bremen then joined us.

In passable English and terrible German, we chatted and shared broken stories. Then the plum schnapps came out. They bought the first round, which landed on the table in diminutive servings, innocuous: “Drink!” It was sweet if bracing, sunshine-tinged. We returned the favor: “Danke!” Things went on like this for some time. Only in the morning’s harsh light did we get the joke, a rite of passage delivered with good cheer. —Jenn Hall

peppers
PHOTOGRAPH: ©DAVID GILDER, FOTOLIA.COM

Hatch Chiles from Santa Fe, New Mexico
 

My favorite thing about being a chile-head, a heat-seeker, a star-crossed lover of spicy food, is searching out local dishes that use hot peppers when I travel. But in Santa Fe, the peppers find you. Long braids of withered crimson chiles hang in vendor’s lots on the roadside. These are New Mexico chiles, and the local wisdom is that they’re best unripe: green.

Hatch Chiles are New Mexico chiles grown around the southern town of Hatch and picked before they turn from green to red. Their season is fall, but they are everywhere year-round. I first had Hatch Chiles in a sauce on eggs for breakfast. That sauce, simply called “green chile,” is one of the staples of New Mexican cuisine. The heat the roasted, peeled, slow-simmered chiles brought was cool and mellow, not mild but not hot enough to obscure the pepper’s smoky and fruity flavors.

I ate chiles rellenos made with green chile sauce every morning for a week. When I stopped for a lunch of enchiladas, I responded to the common question of “Red or green?” with a wide-eyed “Green!” At the end of the week, Hatch Chiles found their way into my luggage: eight ounces of glorious sage-green pepper flakes. (My wife wouldn’t let me take more!)

The flakes are the funky cousin of standard red-pepper flakes. They have the cool burn of a good green chile sauce, a low heat that melds with their nuttiness and deeply vegetal flavor that brings to mind roasted fresh pepper. Turns out Hatch Chiles aren’t made for only Southwestern staples, but soups, stir-fries, pastas, pizzas… and pretty much anything. —Chris Malloy

Article from Edible Jersey at http://ediblejersey.ediblecommunities.com/eat/edible-jerseys-most-unforgettable-bites-and-sips
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