Friday, August 13, 2010

Cheese, Please! (Part I)

The Western world has had a pretty tight relationship with cheese for the past, oh, ten thousand years or so. At this point, we’re virtually inseparable; Westerners and cheese are like Bonny and Clyde, peanut butter and banana, pencil skirts and sky high heels! My own relationship with cheese goes way back, and my love of the curd traverses all its varied forms. I’ve never met a real cheese that I could not appreciate, from the mildest ricotta to the most brutal bleu, my demand for dairy is always the same, “Cheese, please.” I truly cannot go a single day without eating cheese in some form: snack, appetizer, dessert, it doesn’t matter. A cheese course could easily replace a meal for me, and often does. But as delicious and surprising as cheese can be on its own, it’s even more amazingly adaptable to cooking. In recipes from watermelon salad to soufflé, the delectable dairy transformed from the milk of cows, buffalo, goats and sheep never ceases to draw me in. New York may not be as renowned for its fromage as Paris, or as steeped in cheese-making culture as Amsterdam, but the truth is, we have a collection of the world’s best adventures with cheese under The Big Apple’s sky. For the first ten of my thirty favorite cheese experiences in the city, read on…

The 30 Best Cheese Bites Around Town

1. Best Cheese Fries: If I had the recipe for the all natural, non-processed cheese sauce they pour over their crinkle-cut fries at Shake Shack, I could die happy. I’ve waited an hour just to devour an order of those fries…okay, two orders of those fries! As my all-time fave cheese dish in the city, I just had to put these suckers first. Ask nicely for an extra cup of cheese for dipping and you might just get that too.

Locations: *Madison Square Park, Madison Avenue (at East 23rd Street), Manhattan
*366 Columbus Avenue (at 77th St), Manhattan
*691 8th Avenue (at 44th Street), Manhattan
*154 East 86th Street (between Lexington and 3rd Avenues), Manhattan
Hours: Mon-Sun; Madison Square Park: 11am-11pm; UWS: 10:45am-11pm; Theater District: 11am-12am; UES: 11am-11pm

2. Best Adult Grilled Cheese: Not your daughter’s grilled cheese, unless your daughter is fond of taleggio with cherry mostarda and arugula, last year’s winner of Artisanal’s grilled cheese competition (and a temporary addition to the menu). At lunch, they offer a Grilled Cheese du Jour that’s sure to please, or head to the bar at dinner for the full menu, with an English cheddar, smoked bacon and apple sandwich that puts your Kraft-and-white memories to shame. With a crisp glass of prosecco, it just might be the perfect after-school update.

Location: 2 Park Avenue (entrance on 32nd Street), Manhattan
Hours: Mon-Fri 11:45am-11pm; Sat 10:30am-11pm; Sun 10:30am-10:00pm

3. Best Queso Fundido: Anyone who’s followed me over the last few years must know of my fondness for queso fundido. There was the incident with the soup (oops), perhaps not my best moment, but it hasn’t dimmed that feeling one bit. Suffice it to say, I’ve eaten a lot in this genre over the years, and I know a good fundido when I eat one – like the one at Móle, where you can have your cheese with chorizo and mushrooms too. And more is always better, when it comes to melted cheese.

Locations: *57 Jane Street (near Hudson Street), Manhattan; *321 Houston Street (at Allen Street), Manhattan
Hours: Sun-Thu 12pm-11pm; Fri-Sat 12pm-12am

4. Best Croque Monsieur: A classic at a classic, but oh my do they do it well. Croque monsieur at The Odeon means feather-light mornay sauce, a melting layer of gruyere, and luscious bits of ham and jambon, none of it too heavy, none of it tough, as so many versions of the dish can be. Equally as delicious at 1am as at 11am. Then there’s The Odeon itself, which remains a people-watching paradise, even after all these years. If you’re more of a madame than a monsieur, the kitchen will even add an egg to your croque—the easiest sex-change operation in the city.

Location: 145 West Broadway (near Thomas Street), Manhattan
Hours: Mon-Wed 11:30am-1am; Thu-Fri 11:30am-2am; Sat 10am-2am; Sun 10am-12am

5. Best Cheese Steals in the City: There are some stores in New York (Schaller & Weber comes to mind) that take you back in time as soon as you step inside. East Village Cheese is one of them. Started by Murray Greenberg, who also founded Murray’s Cheese, in order to take advantage of surplus cheese purchased by wholesalers, East Village Cheese is a mish mash of remainders, both packaged and by-the-pound (half pound minimum). Cash only, and what you see is what you get – it may not be Brillat Savarin, but where else can you buy brie for $1?

Location: 40 3rd Avenue (between 8th and 9th Streets), Manhattan
Hours: Mon-Sun 8:30am-6:30pm

6. Best Ball of Fresh Mozzarella: Listen to your Italian friends: The best mozzarella fior di latte is from the Bronx. Also the best salami, but this is a story about cheese, so let’s not get sidetracked, capisce? For your next killer caprese, head to Arthur Avenue and pick up a freshly-made hunk at Casa della Mozzarella, the acknowledged king of stretching, kneading and producing the most luscious mozzarella this side of the Atlantic. But if it’s mozzarella di Bufala that you’re after, head instead to Chelsea Market, where Buon Italia’s offering has carried me through many a meal. New York’s favorite mozz may be the fior di latte, but I’m a Buffalo girl at heart, and you can’t take the bufala out of me.

Locations: *Casa della Mozzarella: 604 East 187th Street (at Arthur Avenue), Bronx.
*Buon Italia: 75 9th Avenue (inside Chelsea Market), Manhattan
Hours: Casa della Mozzarella: Mon-Sat 7:30am-6pm; Sun 7:30am-1pm. Buon Italia: Mon-Sat 8am-8pm; Sun 10am-7pm

7. Best Cheesy Dessert: There are dozens of desserts made with ricotta and mascarpone, but for a truly cheese-centric dessert, take the N train to Tanoreen in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. Knafeh is a Middle Eastern pastry made with shredded filo wrapped around soft, semi-sweet cheese, and Tanoreen’s version is soaked in a syrup of rosewater and orange and baked until deliciously crisp outside and melty within. Go with a crowd; it’s big enough to share, and you’ll want to share the rest of your eclectic meal as well.

Location: 7523 3rd Avenue (near 76th Street), Brooklyn
Hours: Tue-Fri 12pm-10:30pm; Sat 10:30am-10:30pm; Sun 10:30am-10pm; closed Mon

8. Best Greenmarket Purveyor: A family farm that churns out a variety of raw milk cheeses (pun intended), Cato Corner is a fixture at Greenmarkets across the city. On Saturdays you can find them in Fort Greene, at Grand Army Plaza and in Union Square, where they also can be hunted down on Wednesdays, hawking a seasonal selection that, depending on when you’re there, may include my favorites: Womanchego & Bloomsday. Bloomsday, named in honor of James Joyce, is my favorite gifting cheese, while Womanchego never makes it out the door – it’s too delicious to give away. And hello, the name could not be sassier!

Locations and Hours: Check the Greenmarket webpage for more info.

9. Best Cheese Pizza: There’s a lot of debate over pizza in this town, but it’s hard to find fault with the Cheeses Christ, with its holy trinity of mozzarella, taleggio and parmigiano with black pepper and cream. It’s hard to find fault with anything at Roberta’s, which now bakes its own bread, grows its own kale on the roof, and still maintains a homey vibe despite ever bigger crowds. But who can blame them? I’d travel much farther than the depths of Bushwick for a slice of this melty, creamy, tangy goodness. It’s not always on the menu, so bat your eyelashes and ask nicely, and in my experience, they’ll make it for you.

Location: 261 Moore Street (near Bogart Street), Brooklyn
Hours: Mon-Fri 12pm-12am; Sat-Sun 11am-12am

10. Best Quesadilla: This behemoth from Country Boys Taco Truck is only available on weekends, either at the Red Hook ballfields in Brooklyn (both Saturday and Sunday) or at the Brooklyn Flea in Fort Greene (Saturdays only). The Boys are more famous for their huaraches, but it’s the quesadillas I adore, the single cheesiest meal west of the BQE. Is it worth the trek? Well, the monster tortillas are grilled and filled with piping hot mozzarella, your choice of meat, lettuce, tomatoes and crema, and did I mention that they’re the size of your head? The Red Hook ballfields are for picnicking and there’s rarely a bench free, so make sure to bring a blanket to sit on while you navigate your lunch.

Locations: *Red Hook Ballfields: Bay Street (between Court and Clinton Streets), Brooklyn.
*Brooklyn Flea: 176 Lafayette Avenue (between Clermont and Vanderbilt Avenues), Brooklyn
Hours: Ballfields: No set hours. Brooklyn Flea: 10am-5pm.

To be continued

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