Will travel for food

“Will travel for food” might as well be my philosophy for life, because I rarely mind a trek— be it by foot, train, plane or automobile— if there’s a good meal waiting to be had at the end.

When my Lisbon-living friend suggested we take a daytrip to Tomar, a small town about a 2-hour train ride away, to have lunch at a great family run restaurant where you had to tell them what you’d be having when you made the reservation so that the lovely little grandma in the kitchen could start the appropriate preparations, I was sold. (I mean, there was also a visit to a thousand-year-old castle at the top of a hill thrown into the pitch, but really, he had me at lunch.)

Chico Elias, did in fact, involve a hike. No, really. After our two hour train ride, my friend and I had to cut through town and hoof it up a hill, on the side of the road, under the unrelenting August sun to reach our lunchtime destination.

Like showing up at your actual family’s house, the door was locked, and someone, possibly one of the children, answered the door and let us into the cool, still dining room. No menus or English either. My friend confirmed our order in Portuguese and I just smiled and nodded.

The delicious duck at Chico Elias comes hidden under layers of deliciousness.

The delicious duck at Chico Elias comes hidden under layers of deliciousness.

I mean really, will YA LOOK AT THAT?

I mean really, will YA LOOK AT THAT?

First out was the duck, prepared in a way like no other I’d ever had. Served in a heavy casserole type dish, it came out as a mountain of a most delicious mix of stuffing-like cornbread, pine nuts, walnuts, greens, and buried inside like the treasure that it was, tender, juicy, perfect duck. Each heaping spoonful had a little bit of all of the ingredients and all of it was perfection. The blend of textures and flavors including crunchy, sweet, nutty, juicy, soft, meaty and earthy was just everything I needed and wanted, with all of the comfort and warmth of a home cooked meal.

Roasted goat and the most perfect potatoes in Portugal

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If my own home cooking were this good, I’d never leave the house.

Next up, the goat, a rich, meaty dish so good that even after the absolutely filling duck before it, I couldn’t stop shoveling it in until it was done. Served alongside the juiciest, most savory, melt-in-your-mouth potatoes and equally juicy, delicious greens, good enough to convert even the most veggie opposed eater, the outrageously tender, soft roasted goat was one of those foods you can’t eat without at least once closing your eyes and letting out a deep mmmmm.

Just like at home, where your family (or at least certainly mine) never thinks you’ve eaten enough, it’s worth noting that the portions at Chico Elias are massive. Each dish we had could easily have been split between three people, who would’ve all walked away well fed and beyond happy, but between the two of us we had two. So yea, enough food for five to six people.

Faitas de Tomar

Faitas de Tomar… slices of cloud like dessert

But because no truly perfect meal is complete without dessert, we went with local specialty, faitas de Tomar, a moist, spongy cake like sweet made with egg yolks and sugar. It was just the right amount of sweet and light to balance the heavy, savory feast we’d had.

Would I ride the L train from Brooklyn to JFK, fly across the Atlantic to Lisbon, jump on a train to Tomar and haul my butt up that hill to eat at Chico Elias again? Damn right I would.

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A whole lot of comforting

My sister and I are separated by roughly 1,200 miles (1,276.3 if you ask Google) and because I have a slight aversion to Miami, where she still lives, and she’s been to New York a bunch of times, we thought we should get together in a whole new city.

Our requirements were that our destination be no more than a couple of hours away by plane, have fun things to do (the younger De Angelis isn’t one for poolside lounging or beach bumming) and have lots of good food. So off we went to Atlanta, to do our sister bonding with a side of southern comfort.

Many a calorie was consumed by way of fried, butter-laden southern specialties, but we both agreed the best meal of the trip (though possibly the worst for our waistlines) was at Mary Mac’s Tea Room, the kind of bright, sunny restaurant that fills up with bustling families and church ladies in their Sunday best, all packed in for heaping plates of artery-clogging southern goodness and tall glasses of sweet tea.

Plain table bread? Psshh, not here, folks!

Plain table bread? Psshh, not here, folks!

Right out of the gate, Mary Mac’s starts you off with a basket of sweet morning buns and cornbread in place of regular ol’ bread. Morning buns, with their sweet cinnamon bun-like swirl of brown sugar, were an interesting way to start things off, almost dessert-y and a nice complement to the more savory butter-slathered cornbread.

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Oh you know, just a little light lunch.

While the options were many, with seemingly endless combinations of carbs on carbs on carbs, I went with the shrimp and cheese grits with fried green tomatoes and my all-time favorite, sweet potato soufflé, as sides. The cheese grits were all of the creamy, buttery, cheesy perfection I needed them to be, with fat, juicy shrimp plopped on top, and the fried green tomatoes, tangy and juicy inside their crunchy, battered shells were the ideal companion. But by and far, my heart was won over by the sweet potato soufflé, all creamy and smooth, caramelized marshmallow sitting on top like a dream.

Fried chicken, dumplings and mac and cheese...trifecta of deliciousness.

Fried chicken, dumplings and mac and cheese…trifecta of deliciousness.

The other De Angelis went with fried chicken (because really, when in Rome…), mac and cheese and dumplings. The chicken, a giant, hulking affair of crispy, crunchy skin and tender white meat paired well with the softer, creamier sides. The dumplings, thick and soupy in their gravy like sauce were like the ooey, gooey, cheesey mac and cheese in rich, over the top southern goodness.

Peach cobbler, cause there's always room for something sweet.

Peach cobbler, cause there’s always room for something sweet.

Finally, even with all of that in our systems, we squeezed in dessert: a shared portion of Georgia peach cobbler. Unlike the cobbler I ate in bed back at the hotel, this one was all fruit, no crust. It was good, the stewed, spiced peaches soft and warm, but definitely could’ve used at least a little bit of ice cream. Cause hell, after you’ve had that many calories, what’s another couple hundred?

We left completely stuffed, ready for deep, long naps, and happily bordering on discomfort by the amount of good ol’ Georgia comfort food we put back.

Mary Mac's Tea Room on Urbanspoon

Ice cream oddities

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Nothing odd about my love of ice cream

I will never, not ever, ever, tire of eating ice cream. It just won’t happen.

Not that I was in any way remotely close to forgetting this fact, but I was recently reminded, when I went to check out Williamsburg’s new ice cream shop, Oddfellows Ice Cream Co. speacilizing in small batch, made-in-house ice cream in what drew my attention, unusual flavors.

Sure, they weren’t all odd. The usual suspects, chocolate, strawberry and vanilla, were all there afterall, but there was also cornbread for example, and even more daring, there was chorizo caramel.

Naturally, I went straight for those, one fat scoop of each piled into a little cup.

chorizo ice cream

Rich, buttery chorizo caramel ice cream

Chorizo caramel, for those of you who are making faces reading this, thinking it’s disgusting, was far from it. The ice cream was decadently rich, with sticky ribbons of caramel swirled throughout and the chorizo only made itself known in a subtle savory hint of flavor, perfect against the sweetness of the caramel. The cornbread was also subtle and sweet, with a more even flavor throughout and a thick creaminess that was a reminder of all that is great about ice cream. It wasn’t overtly corny but did have a slightly different sweetness than a vanilla or other creamy ice cream.

With a whole summer of hot, nasty days ahead of me, I might just make it my goal to try all of Oddfellows flavors, odd or otherwise.