Fasting is good for the soul. It sucks for the body, but it’s a powerful reminder about the physical effects of hunger. I recently went through this and the headaches, fatigue, and irritability were all very real. It was sobering to reflect on how many people go without food on a daily basis. Not just in faraway places, but here in America and in our very own communities.
Without a doubt, I am very lucky to be able to do what I do. My grandmother, who lived through The Great Depression, couldn’t understand why I was so irate at the dismal state of my cappuccino. So I drew her a diagram of how this drink is supposed to be fundamentally different than the latte I was served. It was no use. She thought that I should be glad just to have coffee.
But later this week, I will have the chance to put my fastidious observations on food to good use. As crazy as it seems, I’ll be judging a culinary competition at a fundraiser for The Food Pantries for the Capital District. I suspect it’s going to be awesome, and here’s why.
Getting back into old routines isn’t easy. Last year while I was away, the FUSSYlittleTOURS went off without a hitch. Now that I’ve returned to the Capital Region, I’ve let things slip. The summer savory tour never happened. And it looked like my annual rite of fall, the Tour de Cider Donut, was headed towards a similar fate.
I can’t let that happen. Perhaps the findings of this year’s tour will not be helpful to those families trying to navigate the crowded cider donut landscape during the peak of this autumnal season. But that doesn’t mean that our efforts to continually suss out the best apple cider donuts in the region will be in vain.
Yes, we are going apple picking again. Grab your calendars. Get ready to pencil in a date. And put on your thinking caps, because once again, I’m opening up the floor to nominations. But before you get too excited and just prematurely blurt out the name of your favorite orchard, let’s review where we’ve been and some thoughts on how we may move forward in the tour’s fifth year.
Sunday is the seventh instalment of chef Josh Coletto’s Rock n Roll Brunch at The Low Beat in Albany. That means this is the fourth one since I’ve returned to the area. And I’m still going to have to miss it. Damn obligations. Hopefully, I’ll make it next month to the eighth one in November. With my luck I’ll be out of town. Harumpf.
Chef Josh also participates in the Chefs’ Consortium, and I’ve followed his career in the Capital Region since he first appeared on my radar at The Flying Chicken. Now he’s mostly working down at Local 111, but still comes back up to Albany to cook these monthly brunches.
This time around he’s got a local grassfed chicken fried steak with gravy. Add a fried egg and one of his buttermilk biscuits, and I’m a happy guy. But these come with home fries too. I guess if you’re eating steak, you have to have some potatoes.
A few weeks ago Josh and I were chatting, and it dawned on me that I may not be the only person who is sad about missing these brunches. So together we came up with a little plan.
Recently I was sent a press release about a new enterprise called the DZ Farm. It’s the newest venture from DZ Restaurants, the company that owns and operates Chianti Il Ristorante, Boca Bistro, Forno Bistro and Pasta Pane.
Anyhow, they were having a ribbon cutting ceremony followed by a big party to celebrate the farm’s official grand opening. And I was suspicious.
After reading some of the copy about DZ Farm on the website, I had my doubts about the integrity of this project. How much of this was about cooking with local seasonal produce, and how much of this was about saying the restaurants were doing such things?
To make a long story short, I was invited to spend some time talking with the company’s executive chefs at the farm, and judge for myself.
Who has the best pizza in the Capital Region? After judging the finals of the Tournament of Pizza, I was asked this on camera by some St. Rose students making some kind of short film.
I didn’t have a short answer.
Pizza is a broad category. Someone who thinks pizza is exclusively the domain of New York style thin crust will never enjoy the charred blistery exterior of DeFazio’s. And those who believe the only way to cook a pizza is in a scorchingly hot oven will never delight in those rectangular pies from the Orchard Tavern where the crust almost fries in its metal pan.
Sometimes the pizza that I love the most is from my local slice shop. Not because it’s the best. It’s not. However, that’s the pizza I get to know deeply. That’s the pizza which sustains me. And that’s the pizza which comforts me.
So let’s ask a narrower question.
Between DeFazio’s and Marino’s, the two shops that made it to the finals of All Over Albany’s Tournament of Pizza: Championship Edition, who has the better pizza? You might think this has an easy answer since the question was decided on All Over Albany yesterday. Especially since all the judges, both the official panel and the attendees voting for people’s choice, were in close agreement.
But again I find myself more comfortable with a longer answer.
This is going to be a big week. There’s a lot to talk about. Friday I finally made it out to Taste to put their new weekly menu through the paces. Yesterday I got to take a look at the DZ Farm and talk to all the executive chefs in the restaurant group about their plans for the future. Tuesday All Over Albany is going to announce the winner of the Tournament of Pizza.
But today is Columbus Day, and I usually take the day off. So what am I doing here? Good question.
When I lived in Berkeley this quasi-holiday had been transformed into Indigenous Peoples day. The world is a complicated place, and seems to get more complicated by the day. Did Columbus do more harm than good? Most likely if it wasn’t him, it would have been somebody else. It was the age of ships and the age of discovery.
Today I will neither celebrate nor demonize the man. I will however enjoy a day off and have brunch with a few of my favorite people. And I’ll leave you to ponder the following.