Myers of Keswick: British Groceries in the Village

Myers of Keswick is a grocery store in the West Village that specializes in foods from the UK. This month, it was honored by the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation as its Business of the Month. (For those of you not familiar with the GVSHP, it is a wonderful nonprofit organization that tirelessly works to preserve the historic buildings and character of the Village. In the past, I was a member and volunteered for the organization.)  Not too long ago, I paid my own visit to the store and found it full of tempting treasures like Jammie Dodgers and custard creams.

They serve traditional foods like steak and kidney pie, shepherd’s pie,

and Scotch egg.


I find it fun to sample the different products, especially the chocolates and cookies, of which there are many yummy varieties.

Dandelion Greens: Nutrition Not Nuisance

When the early Italian immigrants came to the United States, they were criticized for eating foraged weeds such as dandelion. It was thought that they were shorter than average Americans because they weren’t getting the right nutrition–that the meat-and-potatoes diet with plenty of milk was better than the high-vegetable diet of the immigrants. Of course, we now know that is not true, thanks in part to Ancel Keys, who enlightened the world about the Mediterranean diet in the 1950s.

Dandelion is one such weed, rich in so many nutrients.  Since ancient times, in the Middle East and Asia, it was used as medicine.  It’s good for digestion, to strengthen bones, to protect against Alzheimer’s, to protect the eyes or to detox. A great source of Vitamins K and A, it also contains Vitamin C, B6, thiamin, riboflavin, calcium, iron, potassium, manganese, magnesium, copper, folate, and phosphorus.

My earliest memories of dandelion are of the puffballs that we would pick and blow to watch the little wisps fly through the air. Little did we know they were seeds and we were helping new dandelions to grow.  Not that they need help. They are everywhere, and while some view them as a pest, others view them as a treasure.

When I was growing up, my mom had a friend who would bring us dandelion greens from her garden.  We laughed because this friend was fishing for gossip whenever she brought these over, so we associated dandelion greens with gossip.

Besides eliciting gossip, dandelion has many uses.  The greens can be eaten fresh or cooked, the roots can be ground into a coffee substitute, and the flowers can be made into wine, as many of the early Italian immigrants did.

Italians eat the dandelion greens in salads or cooked with garlic and olive oil.  They can be bitter, so it is best to blanch them before cooking, especially the more mature leaves.  We then saute them in garlic and olive oil.

However, I prepared them the way Julie Ann Sageer recommends in her new Julie Taboulie’s Lebanese Kitchen cookbook, blanched and sautéed with caramelized onions.

To cook dandelions, wash them first.  They are not very dirty like some greens can be.  Chop off the large stems from the bottom.  Then roughly chop them.  Blanch them.  They are kind of like spinach.  You have to squeeze them to get the water out.  You can then saute them with caramelized onions, as in the cookbook, or you can saute them with sliced garlic and olive oil, the Italian way.  Either way, they are a nutritious addition to any meal and definitely should not be overlooked in the garden!

–Dina Di Maio

Delicious Pizza & the Best Broccoli Rabe at Denino’s NYC

Denino’s Pizzeria & Tavern is the Greenwich Village outpost of a popular Staten Island pizzeria.  The Denino family came to New York City from Sicily in 1887. The family opened a tavern in 1937 and started serving pizza in 1951.  I visited their Village location.

I got a pizza with half cheese and half arugula and sausage.

I’m hard to please when it comes to pizza, so when I say a pizza is delicious, it really is!  Denino’s is delicious. For thin crust fans, this crust is crispy with enough chew to it so it’s not too crispy. It has a nice flavor, as does the sauce and cheese. Hard to find a perfect combo of the three, but Denino’s pulls it off.

In addition to pizza, we got a side order of broccoli rabe.  It was chopped, which was a nice touch and made it easier to eat.  It was also cooked and seasoned to perfection. In fact, this is the best broccoli rabe that I have eaten in a restaurant. It was so good, we got two orders!

 

NYC Cheesecake: Rocco’s vs. Veniero’s

Back in October 2013 in Dina’s Guide to NYC Italian Bakeries on my blog, I declared that Pasticceria Rocco on Bleecker Street in the West Village had the best New York-style cheesecake in the city. Four years later, do they still? I decided to compare theirs to Veniero’s for a West Village/East Village cheesecake challenge.

On a recent trip to Rocco’s, I got a slice as well as some taralli for the road. I love the creaminess of this cheesecake. In my book, it has the perfect consistency that I look for in cheesecake. In addition, it has the right amount of sweetness, which is not too much.

For the first time, I tried Veniero’s cheesecake. Veniero’s is located on E. 11th Street in the East Village. A nice creamy texture and good flavor, not too sweet. A serious contender, but for me, Rocco’s has a little something extra that makes it keep top spot on my list.

Of course, you can do your own cheesecake taste test and see which old world Italian bakery makes the best cheesecake to you.

Georgian Food in NYC at Old Tbilisi Garden

One thing is sure at Old Tbilisi Garden on Bleecker Street in NYC’s Greenwich Village, you won’t leave hungry. OK, I knew going here that I was going to get the cheesy bread thing I’ve seen posted everywhere. Not schooled in Georgian cuisine, I wasn’t sure what it was, but my waiter educated me on how to eat it. The most popular variation is the adjaruli khachapuri, a boat-shaped bread filled with sulguni cheese and topped with an egg and butter. I wasn’t familiar with sulguni cheese, but it is a stringy cheese made from cow and/or buffalo milk. What you do is break the egg and mix it together with the cheese. Then, you break off bits of the bread to dip in the cheesy mixture and enjoy! This is a meal in itself!  The bread dough here was very good, reminiscent of my grandma’s delicious calzone dough. It is the perfect example to show that something so simple as bread, or dough, can be amazing.

I didn’t want my meal to consist of only carbs and fat, so I also got a Georgian salad, which was a pretty basic salad with a large enough portion for a few people.

For protein, I got the bazhe chicken appetizer in which chicken pieces are topped with a walnut sauce sprinkled with pomegranate seeds.  This dish is served cold, and the sauce had a curry-like flavor to me.

Old Tbilisi Garden is a popular spot with a bustling business. It’s best to make a reservation, as I had been turned away on a prior occasion. This time, I didn’t have one but luckily, there was a table available on a busy weeknight.

Old Ragu Spaghetti Sauce Ad on Building in Tribeca

I don’t think it’s widely known that Ragu pasta sauce company was started by Italian immigrants. Assunta and Giovanni Cantisano immigrated from Potenza, Italy, to Rochester, NY, and began canning tomatoes for sauce. They started their company in 1937. At one time, the Cantisanos’s factory employed over 300 people. In the 1950s, Ralph Cantisano, the Cantisanos’s son, added the gondola to Ragu’s label. In 1969, they sold the name Ragu to Chesebrough-Pond’s. (Unilever owned Ragu for a long time, but Mizkan Group, a Japanese food manufacturer, bought Ragu and Bertolli in 2014 for $2.5 billion.) After the sale, the Cantisanos made pasta sauce under other names, including Francesco Rinaldi, which they purchased in 1981. An employee’s family bought their company in 2002, renaming it LiDestri Foods, and is a successful sauce maker today.

I read on Forgotten New York that there was an old Ragu spaghetti sauce sign painted on a building in Tribeca on 6th Avenue between White and Walker Streets. So I had to stop by and photograph it myself.

 

8 ’till late: Grocery Store Art Installation

You walk into your local corner store with all your favorite products on the shelves.  But when you reach for that box of Ritz crackers, it’s soft to the touch…and made of felt.  This is what British felt artist Lucy Sparrow’s debut US exhibition 8 ’till late:  A Felt Convenience Store is like.

Situated in a storefront on Little West 12th Street behind the Biergarten at the Standard Hotel near the High Line, it looks like your neighborhood bodega with everything you could possibly need from fruits and veggies

to frozen pies and ice cream.

But here, it’s all recreated in felt.

You can even get a felt Coca-Cola from a felt Coke machine.

Mmm…pupusas…my new favorite food…

In the back room, the felt pieces are displayed as art, with an Andy Warhol-like depiction of Campell’s Soup.

The items may not be edible but you can purchase them.  Prices are a bit steep, but I couldn’t resist taking home this package of one of my favorite childhood candies, Skittles.

This exhibition has been here since June 5 and will be ending next Friday, June 30, so get there while you can.  There may be a line but it went quickly when we visited.  The exhibit is free to attend, but the felt pieces are for purchase and prices vary.