Home with a croqueta preparada

I have yet to hear a compelling enough argument to make me want to move back to Miami, (especially when I keep reading headlines about the city facing serious climate-related issues and one day sinking into the ocean) but let me tell you, Cuban food always gets the closest.

Cuban is pretty much the unofficial cuisine of Miami and as I’ve said several times here before, I miss it all the time. For as many and as varied as the food options are in New York, there just don’t seem to be that many Cuban ones so I’m often left wishing I had what’s so easy to get in Miami.

But after moving to Crown Heights last fall I’m now just a couple of stops away from a Cuban spot I had been meaning to try for some time, Pilar, the Bed-Stuy restaurant named after the Brooklyn-built boat Ernest Hemingway had in Cuba. (Is that not a great name and explanation?)

The restaurant is cute and laid back, with a mellow vibe and just enough cool factor to remind you that you’re still in Brooklyn, but not so much that you wish you’d worn something different (’cause that’s a thing, for me anyway). The menu hits all the classics: cafe con leche, maduros, Cubanos (as in the eponymous sandwich), ropa vieja and vaca frita to name a few, but I knew what I was getting the second my eyes landed on it, the croqueta preparada.

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It’s a slightly ridiculous thing really: ham, roast pork, Swiss cheese, pickles and my favorite part, croquetas de jamon (ham croquettes), all smeared with mustard and sandwiched between two pieces of Cuban bread, toasted and pressed together to make one tight, dense, absolutely delicious meal.

Pilar’s croqueta preparada was great, getting the combination of different flavors and textures just right: the crunchy buttery bread, bright, tangy pickles, the spicy bite of mustard, gooey, melted cheese, juicy ham and tender roast pork, and then the soft, breaded (’cause it’s the weekend so I say, yes carbs on carbs!) ham croquetas to round everything off.

I’m not exactly ready to move back to Miami after eating at Pilar, but that croqueta preparada was definitely to make me want to check out flights for a potential weekend there in the near future. And as my mom can attest, it’s not just anything that makes me want to do that.

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Move over, madame

I hold as a universal truth in my heart that almost everything is improved by being topped with a fried egg. (Maybe not desserts, but you know what, if someone were up to the challenge of making one work, I’d be happy to try it.)

It was in the picturesque little town of Sintra, just outside of Lisbon, that for the umpteenth time, this proved to the be the case. A friend and I were a perusing the menu at Estrada Velha, a small bar along the main tourist-packed road, wondering if the shop owner who’d given us the recommendation had steered us wrong, when  amidst the sandwiches and salads, I saw something that caught my eye: a francesinha.

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Allow me to introduce you to the francesinha

A sandwich originally from Porto, on Portugal’s northern coast, a francesinha is basically a Portuguese spin on a croque madame or croque monsieur (madame being with a fried egg, monsieur without, though the francesinha doesn’t have different names for this.) Instead of ham and béchamel sauce, the francesinha, has different kinds of meat inside. The one I had in Sintra had thin slices of salami, roast pork and ham, and instead of béchamel, there was a layer of gooey melted cheese. Plopped right on top? My favorite and yours (or possibly just mine), a fried egg. Finally, taking one step farther away from the croque madame/monsieur, the francesinha came in a shallow pool of a slightly spicy, sauce, almost like a tomato soup.

The whole thing was a saucy, sloppy, wet, delicious mess best attacked with a fork and knife. The sauce,  really more of a tomato and beer broth, was perfect for soaking the bread in, softening everything and blending the flavors.

I’ve always loved a good croque madame but I think I just might like this Portuguese francesinha a bit more. Maybe my universal truth about fried eggs needs to also include a good sauce.

The bagel game just got crazy

Remember that time a couple of weeks ago when I ate that weird bagel with seaweed and salmon roe and I tried to tell you it was awesome and you just kind of thought I had lost my fat mind? Well brace yourself. Things just got weirder but SOOO much more delicious. Be open minded, will you?

Yup, this bagel is black.

Yup, this bagel is black.

So I went back to Black Seed Bagels for this week’s special collaboration guest bagel, and man was it everything. From the evil genius minds of Mission Cantina’s Danny Bowien and Angela Dimayuga, (Mission Cantina, in case you don’t already know has the best burrito I’ve ever had. Ever.) this week’s special is a squid-ink bagel with anchovy butter and Iberico ham.

Go ahead and marinate on that for a minute.

First of all, yes, this bagel, flecked with white poppy seeds like reverse freckles, is black as a piece of coal. At first glimpse, it looks like a charred, burnt bagel. But it’s not, it’s just squid ink, which I have to tell you, gives it the dark color but not much of the weird, inky, fishy flavor you might already be imagining and scrunching your nose at. Inside, the bagel is smeared with a delicious, salty anchovy butter and layered with thick ribbons of Iberico ham, that beautiful, fat-marbled sexy Spanish cousin of prosciutto. Yes, you can taste the anchovies (for me, not a problem since they were on every pizza my dad ever ordered when I was a kid, making me grow to actually like them) but it’s not an overpowering taste. The buttery, melts-on-your tongue, slightly chewy quality of the ham was more dominant and tied everything together, making for a really decadent, rich, fatty (in a good way. A very good way.) start to the day.

I mean, c'mon! Look at this ol' pile of deliciousness!

I mean, c’mon! Look at this ol’ pile of deliciousness!

I get that some of these special bagels at Black Seed are just novelty items, things you have once, Instagram them, and then go back to your ol’ everything bagel with plain cream cheese routine, but maaaaaan, I wish they’d keep this one around (past April 5th).