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Welcome to The Lunch Belle, a food website/blog that views the New York City dining scene through the lens - and belly - of a highly opinionated, critical, adorably quirky, and culinary-obsessed thirty-something year old.

For those of you who enjoy highly thorough and traditional restaurant reviews, you may find them located here.  Pressed for time?  Take a peek at The Weekly Eater, where I condense seven days in to one summarized post.

But that's not all!  Additionally, I...

  • ~ For tourists, I can help you create itineraries and answer any questions you may have/offer advice for your upcoming visit to NYC.
  • ~ I can consult and/or advise on all of your small and large events.
  • ~ I will assist you with restaurant recommendations.

 

Just consider me your one-stop NYC-shop!

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Monday
Apr142014

Cheese Louise! Aliza's recap from this weekend's "The Big Cheesy"

SAYING CHEESE: My 60 minutes exploring artisanal grilled cheese sandwiches at OPENHOUSE's Big Cheesy Festival

Written by Aliza Kellerman

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One of my least favorite childhood memories is the summer I spent at sleep away camp in Wild Rose, Wisconsin. Clad in conservative, religious dress, my chubby twelve year-old body was constantly seeping out sweat, trying to avoid the sly frogs that were somehow everywhere (even the showers, those scaly pervs). Nope. I was never cut out for The Nature. However, the one saving grace of Unnamed Religious Camp in The Midwest was the bi-weekly meal of grilled cheese sandwiches. They were single-handedly responsible for preventing me from drowning myself in the shallow pond. Frogs and all.

So, you can imagine that I was overjoyed when the most beautiful day of NYC Spring, thus far, and The Big Cheesy festival coincided. I was even more excited to announce PRESS, PRESS I'M WITH THE LUNCH BELLE, I'M WITH THE LUNCH BELLE!! instead of showing a ticket. The world has gone to hell and I am the media…     

I'm elated that grilled cheeses have become so trendy, that they now get their own annual loft-like space in SoHo. Hosted by OPENHOUSE, The Big Cheesy squares off sandwich makers against each other while serving shmancy brews and making you feel like you're attending a gallery opening instead of stuffing artery-clogging grub into your mouth. I love deception.

From the get-go, I knew I was gonna have to try every single grilled cheese offered. Stamina over stomach, right? Riiiiiight? Yes. I was given an orange ping-pong ball to bequeath to the stand whose sandwich won my heart, and a drink ticket. With a cup full of Goose Island and steely determination, here's my play-by-play of my hour in dairy heaven.

...  

LA MAISON DU CROQUE MONSIEUR

 

THE DISH: A modified Croque Monsieur with mushroom ragout, bechamel, provolone cheese & truffle oil. They also had the classic: jambon de paris, bechamel & raclette cheese.

 

THE THOUGHTS: This sandwich was certainly good start to the day. Bechamel is the LBD of sauces, it works with pretty much everything and if you're as gross as me, you might even want to taste it on its own. Still, while it was a good first act, the Croque Monsieur was nothing spectacular. I didn't even realize there was truffle oil in it until I looked back at my notes. A little-known fact about truffle oil is that it's often not made with truffles, but sunflower seeds. A cheaper fix, but doubtlessly less sassy than the real thing. So I moved on to...

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THE ALL AMERICAN DINER

THE DISH: Challah Atcha Boy (garlic buttered challah with Nueske's bacon, navel pastrami, aged cheddar, fontina, chipotle apple aioli and deli-style potato chips)

THE THOUGHTS: Can I just say that, no matter how many times I see the challah at me pun on JDate, I never get sick of it. Challah is the only time in human history God has proven his love to the Jews, and it still never fails to disappoint. I couldn't help but see the irony in putting bacon on challah (“I'm New York's worst Jew,” professed the sandwicher), but I guess the pastrami provided the semetic compensation. While doubtlessly a tasty sandwich, The CAB was culinary hedonism…the grilled cheese equivalent to a cocaine fueled night at a strip club. Too much.

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VAN HORN 

THE DISH: Pimento cheese & smoked mushrooms on sourdough

THE THOUGHTS: The folks at Van Horn were,by far, the most adorable (as you can glean from the photo below). The sandwich was spicy and smoky, a very specific flavor not everyone would enjoy, though I did. Still, big props for bringing pimento back. I regularly pull that stuff out of olives. It's my martini vice. Shhh...

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MELT KRAFT (My favorite!)

THE DISH: Melter Skelter-VSC 'Melter Skelter' raclette style cheese, pickled green tomatoes, jalapeno, BBQ potato chips and watercress

THE THOUGHTS: If Justin Timberlake and a giant hunk of cheese got together and made a baby, The Melter Skelter would be that prized offspring. What I mean is that the sandwich was perfect in all regards (as is JT). Is it possible for a sandwich to be talented? I'd believe it with the Melter Skelter. I think it has the potential to run a goddamn country. There were just enough textures to make it interesting (but not balut weird), and the perfect amount of flavors without there be too much of any one thing. In my experience, when people put jalapeno in stuff that isn't Mexican food, they tend to go haywire. But Melt Kraft got it right. Chelsea Wajswol explained that all the cheese is made from animals raised on Valley Shepherd Creamery, a 200 acre farm owned by her family in Long Valley, New Jersey. They offer tours and have four Melt Kraft venues: two in Brooklyn, one in Philly, and one in New Jersey. They also produce gelato, craft beer, and pairings. Not only were the Wajswols clearly bred for cheese making, but Chelsea's boyfriend, Matthew Delinsky, works with Valley Shepherd Creamery and Melt Kraft as well. Coolest. In-laws. Ever. 

5 OZ FACTORY

THE DISH: The Meltdown-emmi roth smoked provolone, brie, horseradish & chive havarti roasted pencil asparagus, mushrooms, basil, and horseradish pesto

THE THOUGHTS: Pesto is tricky. On one hand, it's delicious; on the other, it's overwhelming. Same goes for asparagus. If you love garlic and don't mind the mess, this is a no-brainer-eat-me-now gig. Still, I wasn't sold on the asparagus. I didn't actually taste it, which begged the question: why? Nine times out of ten, asparagus is a bad idea. Too stringy, too bitter. I get the need to distinguish the sandwich from a typical caprese panini, but I don't think the asparagus was the right route. Still, what a pretty sandwich!

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MURRAY'S (CHEESE) MELTS

THE DISH: 1) The Peppa Jack - pepper jack and peppadews 2) The Piccante Pig-pulled pork, pepper jack, black beans and salsa verde

THE THOUGHTS: By this point into the tasting, my stomach was distended and I was losing motivation. Murray's Melts came closest to the feel of a classic grilled cheese. Nothing too salty, spicy, or tangy. Salsa verde was tasty, but it didn't provide me with too much of a kick in the pants. Former pastry chef turned cheese-ager extraordinaire, Nicole Nash, gave me the lowdown on Murray's Cheese. New York's oldest cheese store, Murray's swiped Nash through their affinage program, where she dealt with aging young wheels of cheese at a very tender age herself: twenty-three. Nash explained that she loved her time at Aldea, the posh Iberian restaurant she used to work at under the tutelage of Chef George Mendes. “George was fantastic,” Nicole explained. “He pushed me into all sorts of experiences.” However, after leaving Aldea, Nash was unimpressed with how things went down at other glam restaurants. Four years later, she's as happy at Murray's as I was after leaving The Big Cheesy.

 

I toddled out of the event, thanking the greeters and mumbling that I'd died and to please invite me back next year. Luckily, The All American Diner is opening up a pop-up shop soon. More to come...

~~~

Until we eat again,

Aliza Kellerman for The Lunch Belle

Wednesday
Apr092014

New Orleans in my words and pictures

Just like Hong Kong, Lyon, and Paris, I had an inkling that I would fall in love with New Orleans.  And that was before I had even stepped foot in the city!  Sometimes, as they say, you just know...

From the moment I landed at Louis Armstrong, I was captivated by the mid seventy-degree spring weather, the warm local hospitality, and the spattering of palm trees.  After all, it made for quite the welcome change from frigid NYC. 

Because of the St. Patrick’s Day parades that Saturday, I was bummed to have to cancel my 1PM brunch reservation at Commander’s Palace, as the concierge informed me that, due to street car-closings, getting to/from could be quite unpredictable for a new visitor to the city.  This deviation in plans actually led me to Luke, a John Besh restaurant, located much closer to the Hotel Monteleone (my residence for the week).  I mention this particular meal because of the friendly local folks that I met while dining solo at the bar.  From this early first impression, the residents of New Orleans seemed incredibly welcoming and genuinely enthusiastic to have me in their town. 

Luke: A welcome toast to myself, from myselfLuke: My first bowl of gumbo!Luke: "Eggs in a Jar" - jalapeno cheese grits, fried Gulf shrimp, pooached eggsPost-lunch, I must have meandered down every street in the charming French Quarter.  Although I knew about the city’s open-container “leniency,” I still did a double take every time I passed someone sucking down their ‘Bloody in a plastic cup while strolling down Royal Street.  When it was my turn to grab a cocktail, I was tickled to note a stack of plastic “to go” cups located at a table near The Carousel Bar’s exit.  That wouldn’t be the last display I observed during my trip, either...

Being a self-proclaimed Francophile, staying in the French Quarter transported me back to the cobblestone streets of Lyon and Paris.  On a daily – and nightly – basis.  Beyond this famed neighborhood, however, the French influence was also present in the names of streets, parishes, food items, and cocktails.  And, speaking of food, I made the following observations: 

  • It seemed like most seafood dishes were composed of local Gulf treasures, from fish to shellfish.
  • French bread is standard/default at nearly every restaurant's table. 
  • For tourists who wish to immerse themselves in local cuisine, it is not hard to go a full week without eating a raw vegetable or fruit. 
  • Everyone has their own rendition of gumbo. 
  • Turtle soup is a delicacy that can be found on most “high end” restaurant menus.   And, despite the fact that I adore sea turtles, I was informed that the meat used in the famous soup is from that of the "mean, snapping turtle" variety.  "Honey, these are the kinds of turtles that will gladly bite your finger off."  It was this tidbit of information that finally convinced me to order a bowl during my brunch at Restaurant Revolution.

Restaurant Revolution: I ate turtle soup...and loved it! Sorry PETA...There were only a handful of nights when I didn’t go to sleep to some sort of pulsing car bass or the music from a jazz instrument.  New Orleanians will find any excuse to party, even when celebrating the lives of the deceased.  In fact, on our walk to Dooky Chase’s, I was warmly taken aback by the large group of family and friends eating, toasting, dancing, and reminiscing over the life of a fellow father/brother/friend/husband (I know that is was a male because his picture was prominently displayed on a tripod). 

In terms of race and culture, I found New Orleans to be just as segregated as any other city in the US.  From observation, alone, it appeared as though most races/cultures stuck together, both socially and residentially.   However, where poor neighborhoods remained heavily ravaged by infamous natural disasters (with the exception of the houses built by Brad Pitt’s organization in the Lower Ninth Ward), wealthier areas were thriving.  The racial divide and disparity between rich and poor could not have been more blatant and, quite honestly, it made me very uncomfortable.  During any given day, there were moments where I felt like I was in Detroit.  Then, not more than a few miles later, I was transported to ritzy Charleston proper. 

Some interesting factoids I learned during my trip:

  • “Dixie” comes from the French word “dix,” which means “ten.” 
  • The meaning behind each quadrant of a FEMA markingPhoto found on Wikipedia

My favorite experiences during the trip were:

  • Shopping, strolling, people watching, and architecture-awing in the French Quarter
  • Street musicians/talent
  • Driving through vacant, hurricane-ravaged neighborhoods
  • Daily praline sampling
  • Southern Candy Makers  It's true.  They really do have the best pralines in Nawlins.  My favorite being the peanut butter variety.
  • Gazing at the Natchez river boat on the murky Mississippi
  • Southern breakfasts, in general, namely from the daily buffet at Criollo: Sausage gravy-drenched biscuits, grits, bacon, roasted potatoes, and scrambled eggs
  • The best damn airport grub I've EVER eaten - in the form of shrimp 'n grits - courtesy of Ye Olde College Inn

The Big Easy is an incredibly special and complicated place that is chock-full of beauty, tragedy, sweet and sour history, and a “gumbo” of cultures and races.  Having had the privilege of seeing New Orleans through the lense of many resident experts (thanks to my very well-connected Master's program at NYU), I can honestly say that this trip was positively life altering. 

I left a piece of my heart in New Orleans.

~~~

Laissez les bons temps rouler, y'all!

The Lunch Belle       

Thursday
Mar062014

Eat this NOW: Sugar cookies from...

If you're looking for the biggest, most buttery, crisp around the edges yet moist in the center-sugar cookie, look no further than...Are you ready for it?...POTBELLY SANDWICH SHOP.  "I just took these out of the oven at 5," the cashier exclaimed at a quarter past six PM.  While the website boasts that they bake their cookies each morning, that's obviously not happening.  At least not at their Union Square location.  Potbelly is cranking out cookies around the clock, folks.  Not just in the AM!  Otherwise, how could they stay on the shelves?

Look, just do yourself a favor and try one.  You're welcome in advance!

Photo: Potbelly dot com

~~~

Until we eat again,

The Lunch Belle

Thursday
Feb132014

Recipe: Handmade "Take 5, Chubby Hubby!" Truffles (...just in time for Valentine's Day)

 

Hello, gorgeous!

Chocolate?  Check.  Peanut butter?  Check.  A cross somewhere between a Hershey's Take 5 candy bar and Ben & Jerry's Chubby Hubby ice cream?  Check. 

If you live for 'sweet and salty' desserts, then I think you will love this recipe for "Take 5, Chubby Hubby!" Truffles.  Imagine, if you will, a small peanut butter-ball packed with salty pretzels, then doused in a blend of milk and dark chocolate.  Is your mouth watering yet?  I figured as much...

Just promise me one thing:  Don't let the word "truffle" intimidate you.  This is one of the EASIEST dessert recipes to make.  Ever.  But don't tell that to your main squeeze!  Let him continue to think that you spent all day in the kitchen making your "handmade truffles."  Because, trust me, he will!  ;)

And, on that note, happy Valentine's Day!

...

*This recipe was adapted from Brown Eyed Baker's version

Ingredients (makes 18-25 truffles, depending on the size of your balls)

  • 1 1/4 cups pretzel pieces
  • 2/3 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 1 tbsp. butter, at room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 3 tbsp. powdered sugar
  • 3.5-4 ounces milk chocolate (I broke up a 3.5 ounce bar of Cadbury's Milk Chocolate)
  • 3.5-4 ounces dark chocolate (I broke up a 3.5 ounce bar of Cadbury's Dark Chocolate)
  • 1 tbsp. vegetable shortening (I used Crisco)

Method

1. Put pretzels into a resealable plastic bag and crush into very small bits (a rolling pin works great for this).

2. In a small bowl, combine the peanut butter, butter, brown sugar, salt, and powdered sugar. Stir until all of the ingredients are completely blended and smooth. Add the pretzel bits to the peanut butter mixture and mix thoroughly - I use my hands!

3. Line a small baking sheet with wax paper. Using a small cookie scoop, or about 2 teaspoons worth of peanut butter mixture, gently shape into a ball with your fingertips. Place the ball on the wax paper-lined cookie sheet and repeat with the remaining peanut butter mixture. Place the baking sheet into the freezer to chill for 30 minutes (if your freezer is too small, refrigerate for 1 hour).

4. When ready to dip the truffles, microwave the chocolate and vegetable shortening together in a small bowl in 15-second increments, stirring after each, until completely melted and smooth.

5. Working one at a time, dip one peanut butter-pretzel ball into the melted chocolate and use a fork to roll it around, ensuring that it is completely coated with chocolate. Let any extra chocolate drip off and place back on the wax paper-lined sheet. Repeat with all of the peanut butter-pretzel balls.

6. Place the baking sheet in the refrigerator and again chill for at least 30 minutes. Garnish with crushed pretzels, if desired. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

 

~~~

Until we eat again

The Lunch Belle

Friday
Feb072014

Recipe: Umami-roasted Sweet Potatoes

Every Sunday for the past few months, I've religiously roasted a heaping of root vegetables.  Upon completion and cool-down, I leave half of the amount in the fridge for weeknight dinners, and bring the other half to the office to be added to salads or eaten alongside roasted chicken. 

I have experimented with everything from beets and turnips, to kabocha squash and multi-colored baby carrots.  Be it maple syrup, honey, pomegranate molasses, or balsamic vinegar, I've also dressed my veggies in just about everything under the sun.  What has wowed me time and time again is the yam/sweet potato.  And, after much trial and very little error, I think I've figured out the best recipe for roasted sweet 'taters.  Ever.  I call them "Umami-roasted Sweet Potatoes" because there is a magical and mysterious 'fifth taste' element of salt/savory that marries beautifully with sweet.

I have a good feeling that you, too, will fall in love with this simple, healthy, and delicious recipe that will delightfully perfume your kitchen and lovingly kiss your taste buds. 

Enjoy!

...

Recipe:  Umami-roasted Sweet Potatoes

Ingredients (approximately 4-servings)

  • 2 large yams or sweet potatoes - washed, peeled, and cut in to 1/2"x1/2" pieces
  • 1/2 bulb of peeled black garlic cloves (if you cannot find black garlic at your local grocer/specialty food store/Asian market, you can use regular "white" garlic cloves)
  • 1 tbsp. soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to "bake" at 425 degrees F.  Combine all ingredients in a bowl and, using clean hands, toss to evenly saturate.  Line a 13x9 glass/metal pan or walled/protected cookie sheet with foil.  Pour ingredients on to foil and disperse evenly.  Bake for 35-minutes. 

Remove from oven and toss potatoes in pan/cookie sheet (...for even-roasting.  No side should be discriminated!).  Bake for another 35-minutes.

Serve immediately, or allow to cool to room temperature before storing in refrigerator.  Enjoy for days; stays fresh up to 1-week.

 

~~~

Until we eat again,

The Lunch Belle

Sunday
Feb022014

Eat this NOW: Ken & Cook's Fried Chicken platter

I couldn't let another nanosecond go by without telling y'all about Ken & Cook's Fried Chicken platter.

Ken & Cook: Breasts, thighs, and a honey-buttered biscuitI seriously don't know what's sexier about the picture above - those butter "bubbles" atop the right biscuit half, or the outstanding color of the crust that's enveloping the chicken.

When it comes to poultry, I'm a breast gal.  Unlike my men, the dark meat just doesn't do it for me.  Luckily, it doesn't matter if you're a devotee of dark meat or white; you can rest assured knowing that there will be a hot, juicy, fresh-out-of-the-fryer chicken segment of your preference.  After all, this platter comes with both.

The reason that I don't eat fried chicken more often is because, believe it or not, the skin totally grosses me out.  And what's the point of all of that delicious fried crust if it's stuck to an enormous glob of skin?  Blech.  "I'll just take the nachos.  With an extra side of cheese.  Thanks."  But, for some reason, I couldn't stop staring at the words "Fried Chicken" on the menu that night...

On this particular occasion, I chose to delve in to my platter the polite way:  With a fork and knife.  I know, it's about as lame as eating pizza with utensils, but I wanted to properly observe the crust-to-skin-to-meat ratio.  Upon cutting my first piece from the breast, I was impressed by how little skin there was on the bird.  Why do some pieces seem to have such a thick lining?  Does skin elasticity range from body part to body part?  Don't I have better things to think about?  Sigh.  The crust had that beautiful, deep molasses color not unlike KFC's Original Recipe.  Before topping one of the biscuit halves with the piece of chicken I had just cut, I wanted to taste it.  Naked.  Finished with a dash of spicy black pepper, a puddle of warm butter, and sweet honey, the flaky biscuit literally melted in my mouth.  It's one of those unique, transcendent foods where, upon first bite, your body has a physical reaction.  Like the somersault your stomach does upon hearing amazing news.  And the chicken?  The meat, itself, was moist and juicy.  I was able to eat a perfectly intact bite (meat, skin, fried crust) without the slightest hint of skin "flavor" or gristle.  And the crust was perfectly seasoned with interlacing textures of savory crunch and gently-cooked, soft "batter."

While the other dishes that we ordered at Ken & Cook ranged from mediocre to good, the Fried Chicken platter is, without a doubt, worth going out of your way/neighborhood for.  And returning time and time again.

 

~~~

Until we eat again,

The Lunch Belle