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Entries in Culinary event invitations & coverage (69)


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


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.




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...



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.



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...


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. 


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!



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


Grand Tasting: NYC Wine & Food Festival

It was that time of year again.  When the falling leaves and the chill in the air marked Autumn's arrival.  And the annual NYC Wine & Food Festival.  This year, I attended the Grand Tasting, a proverbial "one stop shop" that was chock full of cookbook signings, celebrity culinary demonstrations, tasty bites from some of NYC's top restaurants, and a seemingly endless array of wine and spirits samplings.

I was a bit suprised by my favorite bites, as I wouldn't have expected to be blown away by Molyvos' "Yiayia's Meatballs" (pictured further below).  Not that the restaurant is bad, by any means, but I do not remember my meals there being particularly life-altering.  The establishments that I have not yet been to who really made an impression were Manon (unfortunately, I did not get the exact names of the dishes, but the savory was a prawn dumpling in coconut broth and the dessert was a pecan/pear cake bite with cream cheese frosting.  Pictures of both are located further below.) and ReBar (Smoked Gouda Macaroni & Cheese.  A pcture is located further below.).  Dynamite!  

Culinary demonstrations!Esca: Bass crudoLugo Caffe: MeatballThe Fourth: Pear, manchego, hazelnuts, and balsamicReBar: Smoked Gouda Macaroni & CheeseSuite 36: Ahi poke Manon: Prawn dumpling with coconut broth; pecan/pear cake bite with cream cheese frostingMolyvos: Greek meatball

What a delicious, unforgettable day!  I'm already looking forward to next year's events!  


Until we eat again, 

The Lunch Belle


The Big Cheesy: Contest winner, Danielle's, recap

Please enjoy "The Big Cheesy" contest winner, Danielle's, fabulous recap from, what sounded like, a very delicious weekend event!


The scene at Openhouse Gallery on Mulberry Street this weekend was, in a word, heaven. From the moment I walked in and a random girl in a leather jacket offered me a Tums “just in case,” I knew that the next hour of my life would certainly be unforgettable.

“The Big Cheesy,” as its called, is a competition among seven of the most notorious cheese-grilling establishments in NYC. The contestants prepare bites of a signature grilled cheese offering (or two), and each guest is set loose to taste the sandwiches for one hour and cast a ballot.

I walked in to the stark white space and was handed a drink ticket and a Ping-Pong ball. I quickly redeemed my ticket for a “Crisp” from Brooklyn’s Sixpoint, and took a seat in the corner to wait for my round to begin.

As soon as it hit 3pm on the dot, my partner-in-hunger, Kathleen, and I quickly ran into the arena to get the lay of the land. Along the sides of the room were 7 small tables, each marked with bold signs hanging on the wall behind them. From left to right: 'wichcraft, Murray's Cheese Bar, Milk Truck, Say Cheese, Sons of Essex, Lucy's Whey and Melt Shop.

As anyone who knows me knows, my favorite grilled cheese in NYC is the Milk Truck Classic with spicy pickles, courtesy of the eponymous. As any true groupie would be, I was worried that Milk Truck’s submission wouldn’t meet my expectations, and that I would be gravely disappointed.

In dealing with this sandwich-induced anxiety, I decided to size up the competition before digging in. We walked around for a bit, until I ultimately decided to pick up the “Truffle Grilled Cheese” from Sons of Essex: Gruyere, goat cheese, parmigiano reggiano, sautéed mushrooms and baby arugula. This was an early favorite for me, though upon further review I decided that the truffle oil was a bit too overwhelming for my taste.

Kathleen opted for the “Bowery Bacon Crusted Melt” from the same table: Bacon crusted brioche, beemster, baby Swiss and white cheddar topped with a deep-red Manischewitz shallot jam. Again, an early favorite, but when we came back we both decided that the Manischewitz was better left on the Seder table.

I then quickly hopped over to Lucy's Whey where I grabbed an apple, cheddar and ham grilled cheese known to be “A sandwich as American as apple pie.” I should probably note here that I am trying to become a vegetarian, but that quickly went out the window. In any case, I did love the sharp cheddar/fromage blanc combo, but I thought that the sandwich as a whole wasn’t quite worthy of such a lofty title. I must say though, that Lucy was absolutely adorable - I would visit her little alcove in Chelsea Market just for a smile!

The line at Say Cheese was getting pretty long, so we pushed our way to the front. We both grabbed the dessert grilled cheese: nutella and mascarpone on graham cracker dusted bread, complete with a pipette of chocolate stuck in between the two pieces of bread. Now as much as I love all things chocolate and all things Nutella, how on earth could someone expect me to, in a crowded room full of people and holding both my bag and my jacket, navigate the “bite and squeeze” motion that I was hearing so much about? No matter, I’m still not sure I’m convinced that a melted Nutella sandwich really counts as a “grilled cheese.”

Say Cheese's savory offering was a French onion grilled cheese with Gruyere, Swiss and Parmesan on sourdough. As I had moved to the back of the pack, when the enthusiastic guy behind the counter shouted, “who wants French onion?” my timid “me!” was not quite enough to be heard. A bold neighbor of mine to the right pointed and shouted “SHE DOES!” at which point I’m sure half of the room turned around. With my head hung down to the ground, I went up to fetch this sandwich which I had gone through so much trouble to acquire, and after only two bites I thought was slightly too overwhelming. If I had a craving for a bowl of French onion soup, I would order it - not a sandwich.

As an aside, it was around this time that I overheard a very tall well-dressed man say, “Milk Truck…good reddens!” and I nearly punched him right then and there!

In order to escape the crowds, we journeyed over to 'wichcraft, which was towards the front of the room, and mob-less. Rightfully so, the aged fontina with hen-of-the-woods mushrooms was certainly not mob-worthy. Great bread though.

As the hour continued we noticed a lot of Ping-Pong balls being given to Melt Shop, so we wanted to see what the fuss was all about. I took one bite of the aged cheddar with bacon and cranberry onion chutney and immediately thought that it was trying too hard. The cranberry onion chutney was much too candied for my taste, but I can see how someone with more of a sweet tooth would have been intrigued.

We traversed the room and arrived at Murray's Cheese Bar where I was told that it would be “one minute for the perfect grilled cheese.” Obviously, I was skeptical. I was then asked about my plans to Instagram and Snapchat said “perfect grilled cheese” and was warned that I might want to stretch while I waited. Theatrics aside, Murray's “Classic Melt” with smoky tomato soup was, if nothing else, a pretty decent embodiment of what a “classic” grilled cheese should be. While I thought that the bread:cheese ratio was a little heavy on the former, I can’t resist Levain Pullman bread. The smoky tomato soup was nearly perfect, and I should admit that I had about six shots of it in my final twenty minutes. Ultimately, Kathleen cast her vote for Murray's, and we plan to stop by the Cheese Bar sometime soon.

Finally, it was time to try Milk Truck. The line was small and there were barely any Ping-Pong balls in the vase, so obviously my heart was beating out of my chest! Now let me tell you, my when I saw the word “blue,” my heart sank right on to the floor. If there is one kind of cheese I hate (well I also can’t stand Goat’s cheese) it is Blue cheese. Milk Truck was serving up the “Bacon Cheddar Blue:” thick sliced bacon, cheddar, blue cheese, caramelized onions and McClure’s Spicy Pickles (<33333) on rosemary Pullman bread. The thing about this sandwich was that I actually…loved it! Anyone than can make me love something that I hate definitely have some kind of magical grilled cheese-making powers.

After some careful deliberation, I quickly reached the conclusion that every sandwich in the room (except Murray's) had way overdone it. I wanted to judge based on which sandwich I could imagine eating in its entirety, but they all had such strong flavors that I was left remiss. I was also looking for consistency. If the taste of a sandwich changes within a span of ten minutes (as I found with Sons of Essex), then how can I honestly say that on any given day I could walk in to find the best grilled cheese in the Big Apple?

Ultimately, the look of despair on the adorable young hipster in the beanie behind the Milk Truck table became too much to bear, and I walked over and cast my ballot. He humored me with some “wooing” and clanging of spatulas, but my having decided on a solid favorite mostly satisfied me.

I later found out that Melt Shop took home the grand prize for the second year in a row, and I can’t say that I’m surprised. While I was in search of a sandwich that was “traditional, original and simple – just like me!” I can imagine that most people in the crowd were looking for something with a little more oomph and innovation. Say Cheese took some second place, likely thanks to the culinary genius of Ferrero, and Sons of Essex was a solid third.

In all, on a day full of excitement, uncertainty, and approximately 2340238 calories, I was more than happy to stand by the crew who has made me countless unforgettable classic sandwiches and one unforgettable Bacon Cheddar Blue.


Until we eat again,

The Lunch Belle...& Danielle


South Beach Wine & Food Fest, 2013

For those of you who have been around for a while, you know that every February, my friend, Emily, and I shed our winter-weather gear and head to Miami for the South Beach Wine & Food Festival.  It's a weekend that I look forward to all year long.  Why?  Because, aside from the obvious (my passion for food and wine), there's just something about Miami Beach that works for me.  Clicks.  Does it.  I often say that it is the "perfect beach city," as the sea water is warm and the prettiest hue of turquoise blue - there's a strong Latin culture and flair - an abundance of fabulous shopping - world-class night life and dining - and some of the best looking people on the planet.  Oh, and temperatures in February range anywhere from 75 to 85 degrees (Fahrenheit). 

Where does the time go?  Seriously, I'm having some issues coming to grips with the fact that my 3-day food and sun-soaked weekend has passed.  However, I'm already looking in to hotel reservations for 2014!  The dates for next year's Festival, by the way, are 2/20-2/23.  So, in the meantime, please enjoy my recap from yet another fabulous visit to Miami.


Thursday, 2/21

Just call me your personal "travel martyr."  Why?  Because I thought that I was saving a bundle by flying in to Fort Lauderdale instead of Miami.  And, technically, I was.  Until I saw my bill for the 45-minute cab ride to the hotel.  $80, folks!  Pre-tip.

This year, Emily and I decided to stay at the Fountainebleau, which is located next door to Eden Roc, where we stayed last year.  We wanted to try something different and, after having checked out Fountainebleau's hot pool scene last year, decided that we'd be better positioned to meet men.  And famous chefs. 

After checking in, the first thing Emily and I did was head down to the pools/beach.  We did not want to miss a minute of sunshine!

Fountainebleau lobbyFountainebleau's many poolsCheers! Nothing like a poolside frozen margarita to officially kick off a holiday weekend!...and fresh fruit-infused ice water when you need a break from that frozen cocktail.Prior to our 8pm dinner reservation, Emily, Josh, and I headed to the W hotel's outdoor lounge, Grove, to meet my friend, Tammi, for a cocktail.  Oh, how I wish we could have stayed there all night!  Legit, Grove was one of the coolest outdoor cocktail venues I've ever been to.  In the world.  This, fellow travelers, is a Miami *must.*

For dinner, we met up with Yasmin and Mike at Quinn's.  The five of us were seated at a prime outdoor table overlooking famous Ocean Drive

Per our adorable Cuban waiter's advice, I whetted my palate with a muddled-watermelon mojito. It was outstanding!The bread basket was absolutely fabulous, namely because of the freshly-baked popover, which was paired with strawberry butter. (I ate three of them over the course of the eve.)I live for stone crab claws, and this piece was the single best claw that I've had, to date!This Caribbean-inspired red snapper entree was listed on Quinn's menu as being one of their house specialties. Josh and I decided to split the dish and, while we agreed that the fish was fresh and well-seasoned, its accompaniments - grilled plantains, squash, black beans - reminded us of "conference food." Lukewarm, gummy, flavorless, and incredibly "1990s."This was the best key lime pie that, I believe, I've ever had. The tart curd/filling was not frozen - the graham-cracker crust was still a bit crunchy - and I loved the raspberry drizzle.After dinner, Emily headed to one of the Festival events, while I retired to our hotel room.


Friday, 2/22

Because chaise lounges are such a hot commodity, I ran down to the pool before 9am (!!!) to snag two for Emily and me.  The effort!  Then, I grabbed my goggles and went for a dip in the beautiful ocean...

When I got out, I almost stepped on this...

Portuguese "man o' war"Upon my return to the pool area, I noticed a film crew and learned that Telemundo was shooting a chef's demonstration with Richard Sandoval

Richard Sandoval for TelemundoAs if a famous chef and a near-jelly fish-bite weren't exciting enough, the lunch I ordered, poolside, was *actually* really delicious.  Who'd have thought?  Grilled mahi-mahi fish tacos came drizzled with cilantro crema and were accompanied by cole slaw and a fantastic salsa.  Bam!

Poolside at the Fountainebleau: Grilled fish tacos, cole slaw, salsa After putting a serious dent in my new beach read, Why Men Love Bitches, I delved in to a little retail therapy and scored a gorgeous pair of Valentino riding boots for 50% off! 

What's a vacation w/o a sassy beach read?"You had me at 50% off." My new Valentino riding boots...Post-shopping, I met Alex and Chef Cesare Casella for a cocktail in the lobby of the hotel.

Me, Cesare Casella, and AlexMy first event of the weekend was the Amstel Light Burger Bash, which kicked off at 7:30pm on the beach at the Ritz-Carlton.    

My official media pass!Me and EmilyEntry to the 'BashFolks waiting on line for burgersChef Laurent Tourondel (right)!Look who else came out! GUY FIERI!Burgers.  Burgers.  And more BURGERS!  I was in hog heaven (or, should I say "beef heaven")...

This was, by far, one of the most delicious nights I've had in recent memory.  My favorite burger of the thirty-four was from Miami's own Burger & Beer Joint.  The "Susie Q" was composed of:  Aged sharp cheddar, smoked applewood bacon, tomato jam and spicy mayo on a brioche bun.  Crispy dill pickles and buttermilk ranch (dressing) accompanied.

My favorite burger: Burger & Beer Joint's "Susie Q"...

Saturday, 2/23

As per usual, I was up early and headed down to the pool to grab chaise lounges.  This morning, however, I had to snag 8 chairs instead of just 2.  Since Emily had befriended 4 new people and invited Yasmin and Mike to join us, I literally had to place a piece of random collateral - sunscreen bottles, water bottle, magazines - on an entire row of chairs.  Once everyone slowly started to arrive, I decided that it was time to crack open the 40oz. can of malt liquor that Emily's friend brought for me in a paper bag.  Remember, dear readers:  I put the "ass" in "class."

Damn right. This is some good stuff, believe it or not!At around 1pm, I headed back to our room to change out of my swimsuit and wander over to my next Festival event:  Whole Foods Grand Tasting Village.  Held beach-side on the sand was a literal "tent village," consisting of cooking demos, book signings, and a massive grand tasting.  While the sights were lovely and impressive, and the talent lineup was fantastic, I found the event, itself, uncomfortably crowded and hot.  I only lasted about 20-minutes, from entry to exit.  :( 

Entry to the Whole Foods Grand Tasting Village

Cooking demoChef Aaron Sanchez's cooking demoInside the preassure cooker/grand tentA bunch of tastings that, sadly, I did not sample because I was so uncomfortable...Something I did get to try, however, was a Mama's Guava Bar.  Guava, if you did not know, if my favorite fruit, and I adored these chewy bars laced with the stuff.  I don't know who "Mama" is, but I totally wanted to hug her.   

Mama's Guava BarsLike I said further above, I got the hell out of that grand tent as soon as I possibly could.  Famished, since I had not sampled much of the food, I went back to my hotel and noshed on a spicy tuna roll.

Blade at the Fountainebleau: Spicy tuna rollAfter a fabulous afternoon nap in my comfy hotel bed (I know, life is really hard), Em and I got ready and joined two of our new friends (who we met at the pool) for dinner at local favorite, Pubbelly.  Although the restaurant does not take reservations, we scored an awesome outdoor table without having to wait more than a minute!  Unfortunately, I did not have my fancy camera on me that night, so that explains the lack of photos.  Plus, I'm too embarrassed to share the shiteous shots that I actually snapped of the meal with my iPhone.  So, instead, I will just give a brief, jealousy-inducing synopsis of what we enjoyed:

  • Sour Patch Kid (cocktail):  Sake, pickled pineapple, chili flakes
  • Stone Crab claws
  • Croquetas:  Chorizo, roasted apple aioli
  • BBQ Pork Wings:  Smoked teriyaki, picked grapes slaw, bacon
  • Eggplant Fries:  Housemade ketchup
  • Shortrib & Corn dumplings:  Black truffle, corn soy, shiso, parmigiano
  • Kimchee Fried Rice:  Porkbelly & pineapple

I would wholeheartedly recommend Pubbelly to anyone looking to try multiple, eclectic plates that are packed full of flavor and creativity.  We absolutely loved our experience!

For a night cap, the four of us headed to the uber chic and trendy SLS Hotel, where I realized that, never in my entire life, had I been surrounded by more sexy, breathtakingly gorgeous human beings.  Seriously.  Ladies:  If you want your man to *not* pay you any attention and check out other girls all night, take him here!!  On that note, the public facilities at this hotel, bars and restaurants, are no place to step foot within if you're having a "fat day" or a "bad hair day."  Trust me, you will only feel much worse!


On Sunday morning, I caught another flight out of Fort Lauderdale and headed home.  Although I was sad to leave another outstanding weekend in Miami, I was looking forward to seeing my pup, Lucy, who turned 1 the day prior.  A belated-birthday celebration was in order!

Thanks for this, D Pet Hotels!~~~

Until we eat again,

The Lunch Belle

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