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Radio Bakery, Rolo's, Raising Canes, Summer Cocktails...
Welcome to The Lowdown, an all-new, expanded edition of what I’m drinking, eating, reading, writing, listening to, and watching. It is also a space to spotlight a few of my favorite things. This paid subscriber exclusive will send out on select Fridays. This inaugural dispatch is free to all readers.
Many of you know how much I enjoy Rolo’s in Ridgewood, Queens, and part of that love is devoted to the confections from Pastry Chef Kelly Mencin. Partnering with the Rolo’s team, Mencin recently opened Radio Bakery in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Leading up to opening day she was popping up all over New York to offer a preview of her inventive pastries, croissants, and breads. I wasn’t able to make any of those because each one drew a line of eager fans down the block with items selling out within an hour. But, I’m happy to report I have made several trips to Radio Bakery since it opened and, after increasing production, most items (save for the popular Bolus, a Dutch sticky bun, which is the first thing to sell out each morning) have been available throughout the day. And the peach iced tea is worth your consideration.
So far I’ve sampled a few croissants (Strawberry Almond, Triple Chocolate, Twice-Baked Peanut) and always try to time my visit just as the focaccia and sandwiches drop at 11 a.m. (love the Spicy Muffuletta!). I hope to try the Croissant with Mascarpone Cream, Blackberries, and Blueberries (from Lancaster, PA) and the Peach & Cream Croissant before they disappear. The Cheesy Pretzel Bear Claw Is stellar, but my favorite item, by far, is the Brown Butter Corn Cake, an updated take on the Cornbread Muffin with Honey Butter at Rolo’s. On sight alone I bought two and after finishing one while waiting for my cappuccino I got back on line and bought two more. It’s sort of shaped like a Twinkie with a salty, crispy, cornmeal-rich exterior whose lava-cake like sunken center reveals a honey-sweet interior that comes on like a St. Louis gooey butter cake. I just can’t get enough…
Last Saturday I hopped on the B38 bus in Downtown Brooklyn for the 45-minute journey to Rolo’s for a solo dinner at the bar. It was around this time two years ago when I first visited Rolo’s and I have to say their summer offerings are some of my favorites. On deck: Watermelon Salad with Pickled Peppers and Thai Basil and a Heritage Pork T-Bone with Garlic Aioli and Marinated Heirloom Tomatoes. I showed restraint in not ordering one of my favorite dishes, the spicy Grilled Romano Beans Marco Polo, but I made short work of the Ricotta Cavatelli with Creamed Corn, Pecorino, and Black Pepper. I had this last summer during its short window of availability and I’m so glad it’s back. (My photo sort of looks like scrambled eggs but don’t let that fool you). I’m heading back as soon as I can to order it again, and hope the grilled Jimmy Nardello Peppers will be making an appearance on the menu soon.
The popular Baton Rogue, New Orleans-based, fast-food chain Raising Cane’s recently opened its first New York City flagship location on Broadway and 44th Street in the heart of Times Square. I had never been but had heard good things about their signature chicken tenders. My associates Benny and Conor went without me on opening day and came back with swag like Raising Cane’s baseball hats and friendship bracelets which they didn’t share. I made a solo trip last week and the 8,000 square-foot outpost was hopping. As Stefon might say, Raising Cane’s has everything—there are neon signs, interactive billboards of undulating french fries, racks of Raising Cane’s-branded merch (magnets, T-shirts, scrunchies, key chains) a giant sculpture of a chicken tender being dipped into an oversized bucket of Cane Sauce, a display of Cane III (the chain’s canine mascot) dressed as the Statue of Liberty, a lounge with giant Texas Toast settees and an ottoman along with a jumbo Cane Sauce end table, and even a Raising Cane’s DJ on the 1s and 2s.
The menu is easy to navigate as it consists of chicken tenders, french fries, coleslaw, and cane sauce in several sizes, along with fountain sodas (free refills!), iced tea, and lemonade. The tenders are worth the trip and have a well-seasoned, slightly craggy coating. The house Cane Sauce is composed of a mayonnaise and ketchup base that’s a bit tangy and a little savory with a hint of garlic powder and pepper (they also offer Honey Mustard but Cane Sauce is the way to go; and you can order extra). Pro tip: Benny hipped me to the move to swap out the coleslaw for an extra slice of Texas Toast (dip it in the Cane Sauce!), which I will do next time I’m there, which will likely be right now as you are reading this very dispatch.
I’ve sampled many of the cocktails, but recently dipped into the Comida side of the Superbueno menu for the first time. They kindly broke me off with a no-onion order of Guacamole y Chips. The guac was super-fresh and seasoned with serrano peppers, mushroom salt, and baby cilantro, served alongside fresh tortilla chips. I will definitely be back for that and the Al Pastor Yaki Tacos (spiced pork shoulder, adobo tare, pineapple, charred spring onion [which I immediately removed], salsa verde, lime).
Red Hook Tavern
If I’m not at Long Island Bar or Dante, you can usually find me at the bar at Red Hook Tavern. I love to kick things off with their Shrimp Cocktail with Chef Bun’s “fancy” cocktail sauce and an Old Bay sprinkle adorning the half-dozen shrimp resting on a platter of pebble ice. If I’m feeling flush, I’ll add a half-dozen East Coast oysters for the other half (in this case, six creamy Bish Point oysters from Barnstable, Massachusetts), which lands you three bonus accoutrements—Bun’s house hot sauce, Calabrian chili-spiked pickle ice, and an apple mignonette. Boom goes the dynamite!
Rolo’s Summer Cocktails
And with the Rolo’s summer food menu comes summer cocktails, and Bar Director Tony Milici’s drinks always hit in surprising, unexpected ways. I loved his Strawberry Rye Swizzle (Rye Whiskey, Strawberry Campari, Fresh Strawberry, Lemon, Grapefruit, and a shit-ton of pebble ice). There was an off-menu Jungle Bird-riff special called the Taxidermy Jaguar (Gosling’s Black Rum, Campari, Lime, Pineapple, Lychee Syrup) and a cheeky little Shandy Warhol (IPA, Martini & Rossi Ambrato Riserva Speciale Vermouth, Bordiga Vermouth Di Torino Extra Dry, Guava, Lemon).
Union Square Cafe Summer Cocktails
On Tuesday, I posted up at Union Square Cafe’s upstairs Parlor Bar for a taste of some of their new, mid-summer cocktails curated by Beverage Director Michael Beck and the bar team. There were five different cocktails to consider, from the dry and bitter Americano take, My Bitter Half (Berto Bitter, Zucca, Blanc Vermouth); to the Boulevard A, a white Negroni meets Boulevardier take (Bourbon, Blanc Vermouth, Salers, Apricot); to a strawberry milk punch closer called The Last Straw (Gin, Rum, Strawberry, Rhubarb, Basil) that came garnished with a frozen basil-cream floret. The Something Essential (Blanco Tequila, Rhum Agricole, Pink Peppercorn, Lime) came on like a sophisticated Tequila Sunrise with a bit of pucker and spice, and was one of my favorites of the night.
On my way back to Brooklyn from Union Square I stopped by Long Island Bar to say hey to Toby Cecchini, fresh from Wisconsin with a nice bag of local pretzels for me. It was late but the bar was still packed on a muggy night and he made a Cappelletti Spritz, a favorite of ours, and we settled into one of the booths up front to catch up, chatting til midnight.
Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning Part One (In Theaters)
I caught this picture last Thursday after my inaugural visit to Raising Cane’s at the Times Square Regal E-Walk. That theater has been under renovation for awhile and it possessed a dark, unsettling, dystopian The Last of Us vibe. After settling into my seat I immediately wandered back downstairs to beg the young man working the door to turn up the air-conditioning. But the movie was everything you want from a summer blockbuster. Three hours of adrenaline-spiked, globetrotting, stunt-filled action with stops beneath the Bering Sea, the Arabian desert, Washington, DC, Abu Dhabi International Airport, an exhilarating car chase in Rome, the alleys and bridges of Venice, and a runaway Orient Express careening through the Swiss Alps. The women in the cast—Rebecca Ferguson, Hayley Atwell, Vanessa Kirby, and Pom Klementieff—steal the show.
Hijack (Apple TV+)
I stumbled upon this late one night and admit I’m digging it. It stars the always amazing Idris Elba as a passenger on a hijacked flight from Dubai to London whose profession is a negotiator. There are seven episodes, each one representing one hour of the seven-hour flight time. Episode 5 dropped this week leaving many unanswered questions remaining.
Oppenheimer (In Theaters)
I’m usually an opening weekend moviegoer and had hoped to be sitting in a theater watching Oppenheimer this very afternoon. But I neglected to order an advance ticket and it’s sold out at most IMAX theaters, which seems to be the best way to see it. I think the theater on the Upper West Side is the one “true IMAX” screen in town to see it on film instead of digital (it’s all very confusing). But as it’s on just one screen with only a handful of showtimes it seems everyone in NYC had the same idea as me.
“At These Bars, the Best Bottles Are Hidden Away in Private Cabinets of Curiosities” (VinePair)
This week I cracked open the cubbies and cabinets of a number of bars (Billy Sunday, The Crunkleton, Grand Army, Dante, One Fifth, The Cabinet, and the late Pouring Ribbons) to uncover some of the personal collections within the back bar that reflect the passions of the owner.
“Colson Whitehead Answers the Proust Questionnaire” (Vanity Fair)
Timed to the release of his new novel, Crook Manifesto, book 2 in the “Harlem Trilogy” that started with Harlem Shuffle, the Pulitzer Prize Award-winning author answers the Proust Questionnaire as only he can. “What is your greatest extravagance? Once a year, I supersize my 10-piece McNugget meal. You can’t take it with you.”; “What or who is the greatest love of your life? The naps are really up there in the rankings, not gonna lie.”; “What do you most value in your friends? They’ll help me dump a body off the turnpike.”
“Why Washingtonians Love Cougar Gold Cheese So Much” by Molly Allen (Eater Seattle).
Everything you might want to know about Washington State University’s beloved Cougar Gold canned cheese (as seen in the LAST CALL Holiday Gift Guide).
“Is It a Meal? A Snack? No, It’s ‘Girl Dinner.’” by Jessica Roy (The New York Times)
At the first sight of “According to TikTok,…” I should’ve known this wouldn’t be a story for me. A little cheese, salumi, olives, crunchy vegetables, and pistachios for dinner? That’s what Italians call aperitivo.
“When It Comes to Perfume, It’s OK to Be Bitter” by Megan McIntyre (The Zoe Report).
I admit I used to enjoy a subtle spritz of cologne back in the day (usually something bright and fresh, citrusy and grassy) but an ex-girlfriend quickly put the kibosh on that practice due to an allergic reaction (or so she said). These days my natural scent is Campari, but as a back-up it’s simply Old Spice Fresh deodorant-antiperspirant for me (which proved to be a hit with a different ex), though the stash I hoarded from Amazon (it seems to be discontinued as the current offering is $17 for one stick) is now spent. So now it’s Old Spice Deep Sea (because I live above a former longshoremen’s bar).
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