An autumn spritz

Few drinks are more crisp and refreshing, more lively, more effervescently delightful on a hot summer day than an Aperol Spritz. But now that we’re firmly entrenched in a very dreary, wet autumn, something about ordering one feels off.

And yet, it doesn’t feel right to jump right into hot toddies and mulled wine either, which are decidedly better when you come in from the cold with a red nose, flushed cheeks and slush on your boots. (We’ll be there soon enough…)

After a recent dinner at Maialino earlier this week, I think I found what feels just right for the season: the Averna Spritz, what in my mind is the Aperol Spritz’s more reserved cousin, a little darker, a little more mysterious and maybe just a little more charming.

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Averna Spritz, just in time for fall

While the Aperol Spritz is traditionally an aperitivo, meaning you’d drink it before a meal to give your appetite a nudge, the Averna Spritz is made with two Italian amari, which as digestifs are in theory supposed to be drank after a meal to help aid with digestion. I say “in theory” because all of these are Italian drinking rules, and here in the land of assbackwardness and disorder (hi, have you met our president?) those rules go out the window. I’ve had Aperol spritzes throughout dinner sometimes, and I had this Averna Spritz before I’d even looked at the menu. So drink what you want.

Unlike the Aperol Spritz, the Averna spritz is darker, both in color and taste, and has a more gingery, herbal flavor from the two amari, which are made from various herbs, spices, roots and citrus rinds. It’s kind of like root beer in that you can’t quite make out the individual ingredients but together they make for something smooth and zesty. The flavors, subtly nutty and smokey, herbal without being medicinal, definitely lean more towards winter, but because the drink is served cold on ice, it’s not a full-blown winter cocktail. Instead, it’s just right for fall.

A great, gooey gimmick

No one does over the top, gimmicky food quite like New York. There’s the giant soup dumpling you slurp with a straw, the technicolor rainbow bagel, the cookie dough scooped into cones and eaten like ice cream. The more outlandish and calorie laden the better.

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Grilled cheese fantasies come to life

And while I occasionally roll my eyes at the line of people snaking down the block at any of the places turning out these food fetish creations, I’ll be the first to admit I’ve had my share, and I too, have waited in some pretty stupid lines to get a taste of the moment’s food craze. (Cronut, I’m looking at you.)

When I heard about this next thing I immediately thought, “Oh Jesus Christ, that’s absurd” followed immediately by “I must have it.” And so my roommate and I compared schedules, nailed a date, and off we went in search of Clinton Hall‘s Flamin’ Hot Doughnut Grilled Cheese.

Made of gooey, melted mozzarella pressed between two Doughnut Project habanero bacon glazed doughnuts in place of bread, the glorious and oh-so-gluttonous flamin’ hot grilled cheese sandwich is served looped through a hook and dangled over a bowl of thick, hot tomato soup for dipping.

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Worth every last calorie.

Even though doughnuts are involved, the sweet element is minimal here, with just the tiniest, subtle sweetness coming through the layers of cheese and butter and doughy, bacony goodness. The tomato soup, which I  often find to be too runny or acidic, was neither. It was thick and creamy, just the right amount of tomatoey sweet with a peppery kick, perfect to complement the grilled cheese.

Even though Clinton Hall only offers 20 of these per day Friday through Sunday, we showed up  just after noon on a Sunday and didn’t have to fight any crowds or freeze our grilled cheese loving asses off standing outside in any lines. A couple of tables had them and obviously there was lots of gawking and picture snapping, but that’s how it goes with these food fads. But if they’re as good as this sandwich was, I don’t really care who’s watching or taking pictures or rolling their eyes. I’ll be the one licking my fingers and doing the little happy dance.

Out with the old and in with the calories

Ok, hear me out. This time I have a good excuse for my latest disappearing act. My dear, sweet computer, my ol’ Italian girl with the keyboard that used to trip everybody up except me, finally gave up the fight and went peacefully in her sleep one night.

We had a good long run together, about 8 years, so I think I need some time alone, no? Blogging on my phone, however, is a nightmare and doing it at work isn’t really an option either at the moment, so there you have it: radio silence.

But don’t you worry, it’s been gluttonous business as usual here. Below, a look at the things I’ve been eating and drinking and just not writing about:

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The phenomenal leek bread pudding from Cassette‘s brunch menu wasn’t what I was expecting (since I didn’t really know what to expect) but it was damn good. Oh and the restaurant, in Greenpoint, is adorable. You should go.

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I hated it the first time I tried it but over the years, the Negroni has become one of my favorites. At Extra Fancy in Williamsburg, they have a frozen one. Clearly, I was in love.

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In all the years I’ve lived in New York so far, I had never been to Carnegie Deli so when I heard that the local institution was closing at the end of the year, I had to go. Not wanting to wait an hour and a half on the sidewalk for a table inside, Stas and I got our order to-go and ate it in the park. The Woody Allen (“lots corned beef and lotsa pastrami”), the most delicious knish I’ve had yet, a fat slice of banana cream pie and a thick wedge of the richest, most dense cheesecake I’ve ever eaten, and the two of us were done for.

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And lastly, a special shout out to the pretzel dog at my favorite bar in my old hood, the Rusty Knot. It’s nothing fancy, just a hot dog in the loving embrace of warm, salty dough, but dammit it fills my heart with all the feels every time. Or maybe that was the drinks. Who knows. It’s all delicious.

I’m a good fork. Or so I’ve been told.

“O Angie, sei proprio una buona forchetta,” says Rita, with a slight snicker as she nibbles on a piece of bread.

Empty fork frozen mid-air, chipmunk-like full cheeks, one eyebrow raised, I stare up at her.

“Huh?” I’m a good fork? The hell does that mean?

I look at my boyfriend, the only other English speaker at a table full of Italians.

“It means you’re a good eater,” he says with a smile, and a look that says, “Be nice, Angie. It’s just a joke.”

The fork clinks against the plate as I drop it and hastily swallow my mouthful. I look at Rita, who’s still smiling at this new Italian idiom she’s taught me.  She, like many of my other Italian girlfriends in Florence, is tiny. Although she was born, raised and still lives in the paradise of carbs we call Italy, she maintains a flat stomach, toned arms and not so much as a hint of a cellulite dimple.  She’s also not anorexic or bulimic. She’s just Italian.

Hours later, we finish dinner at  The Crazy Train, a no-frills restaurant (with a dumb name) on a dark road between Florence and Empoli. Cigarettes are smoked (by the Italians of course), goodbyes and double kisses are passed out in rounds.

Dinner was ok, but after being told I was a buona forchetta, I just couldn’t enjoy my food with the same zest.

“I mean, what does that really mean?” I rant in the car, as my non-confrontational boyfriend drives quietly back to Florence. “Was she saying I’m fat? Is that what it is, I’m the fat American? You guys all think I’m a Mcdonald’s loving fatty, huh?”

We ride back in silence as I stew in my resentment.

Days later I think about the incident, and decide to Google the phrase. Translation sites, language message boards, and dictionaries all tell me more or less the same thing. Una buona forchetta: someone who enjoys eating, and does so with gusto; a foodie, gourmand.

Hmmm. A gourmand, huh? Well that’s not so bad. Sounds kinda fancy.

I read more, and before I know it I’ve gone off on an internet tangent and find myself reading recipes, online restaurant reviews and local food blogs.

Eating, it’s what I do.

And that’s when I realize: I really am a buona forchetta.  Who was I kidding feeling so indignant? I love to eat. And anyone who’s ever eaten with me or heard me describe a meal afterwards, knows I do so with passion.

And so from that now-favorite idiom of mine, I’ve made this blog, a place for me to write about food. Usually not anything that I myself have made, because while I love to eat, I was not gifted with the same enthusiasm for the process of preparing food, but instead a place to write about meals had, snacks shared and new places discovered. Living in Manhattan after two years in Italy, I figure I have plenty to work with here.

That being said, I hope you’ll come back and see what I’ve been grubbing on and where my gluttonous adventures take me. Buon appetito!