Wordless Wednesday: I’ve Only Got Fries For You

Grandeur – Twisted Cheese Fries

Seabirds Kitchen – Nacho Fries

Dragon Gate Bar & Grille – Popcorn Veggie Chicken

Chicago Diner – Poutine

Yimm Thai – Fried Avocado

Amy’s Drive Thru – Chili Fries

Millennium – Coriander & Arborio Crusted Oyster Mushrooms

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Drag Me Through the Garden

Quarantine conditions challenged many long-held beliefs about food in ways I could never have expected. Forcing creativity when it came to common substitutions, shortages wreaked havoc on once simple recipes. Unexpectedly, the very nature of that flexible approach to cooking broke down some long-held barriers against certain ingredients. There’s no room for food snobbery when the alternative is to forgo dinner altogether.

In short order, as supplies dwindled and deliveries remained scarce, I found myself pickling watermelon rind and using pancake mix in lieu of all-purpose flour. Proving myself the ultimate hypocrite, however, was the now legendary Hot Dog Salad.

Yes, coming from the woman who adamantly, loudly, and publicly denounced using hot dogs as an ingredient in any fashion is now doing just that. Hot dogs have always loomed large in family lore, thanks to my dad’s historic penchant for the tube meat, but I bristled at the thought of having them appear anywhere outside of a bun. It’s not that I dislike the concept or flavor altogether, but I stubbornly refused to consider their culinary potential beyond their intended form. They did not belong in sticky-sweet baked beans, certainly not in otherwise unassailable mac and cheese, and god forbid some hapless cook try to embrace the wieners in full vintage style.

The image of that jiggling block of aspic alone has given me vicarious PTSD.

In any event, after 5 weeks without tofu, tempeh, or seitan, beans alone start to lose their luster. Meatless franks, in all their high protein glory, suddenly looked a whole lot more appealing for their culinary potential.

Inspired by the most vegetative form of traditional hot dog prep possible, this Chicago dog isn’t just dragged through the garden, but fully ensconced in it. Sliced thinly, crispy around the edges, tender in the center, the pieces take on a quality not unlike thick-cut Canadian bacon. No longer swaddled in a fluffy bun but topped by it, the bread is instead toasted with celery salt seasoning, turning into croutons flavorful enough to grace any leafy masterpiece. All the classic vegetable additions are accounted for of course, multiplied to fill the plate with verdant abundance. Finish it off with a drizzle of tangy, mustard-infused poppy seed dressing for the full effect, knocking this one clear out of the ballpark.

Forget what they once were, what they were intended to represent, and just accept them as they are: Delicious.

If I can just hold on to one last crumb of food snobbery, though…. Please, hold the ketchup.

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Wordless Wednesday: Nature’s Candy

Snap! A cocktail made with gin & peas.

Korean Fried Broccoli

Mushroom. Portobello mousse with pears and cherry compote.

Beet. Salt-roasted with beet cake.

Broccoli Dogs. Smoked & grilled stalks with kraut & mustard sauce.

Brussels Sprout Tacos. Mexican bistek seasoning, served on a sizzling stone with lettuce wraps and accompaniments.

Chocolate Espresso. Chocolate with mushroom espresso pudding.

Dirt Candy
86 Allen Street
New York, NY 10002

Front and Center

Pizza parlors are a dime a dozen in any city worth its rent. Sold by the slice or full pie, the combination of crisp, slightly charred blistered crust with gooey cheese, still bubbling from the oven’s scalding hot breath, no one can resist such simple pleasures. Cybelle’s Front Room in San Francisco was founded upon that basic premise, like countless others, but rapidly evolved into an outpost for far more complex, diverse comfort food delights.

Not just catering to the sporadic herbivorous visitor, an entirely vegan menu pulls out all the stops, with old-school Italian-Fusion fare, paying no mind to misguided naysayers. Leave your diet at the door, because this is no rabbit food.

Despite her blisteringly hectic schedule, I had the great fortune of sitting down with chef Christa Yan (in our respective apartments during shelter in place mandates) to get the inside scoop of how this classic red sauce joint transitioned into a meatless dining destination.

Buffalo Chick’n Mac & Cheese

Hannah Kaminsky: When was Cybelle’s Front Room originally established?
Christa Yan: So CyBelle’s Pizza used to be a pizza chain with 28 CyBelle’s Pizza locations throughout the Bay Area. It was one of my dad’s first “real” American jobs when he came here from Hong Kong as a teenager. He worked his way up and became manager of all 28 CyBelle’s Pizza locations. In the early ’90s the entire chain split up and all the stores became independently owned. My dad ended up independently owning one CyBelle’s Pizza location on Parnassus near UCSF here in San Francisco.

In 2004, the original Front Room, where we are now on 9th Avenue, went up for sale by the original owners, who had been running the Front Room since the ’70s. My dad ended up buying it from them and decided to combine the two names and menus, hence CyBelle’s Front Room was born and it’s been this way since 2004. It’s been 16 years now as CyBelle’s Front Room and owned and operated by my parents!

Caesar Salad

HK: When did you start serving a vegan menu?
CY: I started the Vegan Menu in August 2017. It started out as a few simple items. I had just moved back to the Bay after a 10-year stint in Chicago. I didn’t know what the vegan community in SF was like at all. Had no idea it was such a supportive community!

HK: What was the inspiration?
CY: Inspiration was honestly seeing the lack of vegan food in our immediate area in the Inner Sunset District here in San Francisco. I’m a comfort food type of gal. I love eating “naughty” food! I wanted some real naughty vegan food!

Impossible Nacho Fries

HK: How often do you change the menu?
CY: So we do have an 8-page permanent plant-based menu now. It’s grown definitely. We keep adding “specials” pretty much all the time that interchange every month or so. We have a little table menu that we call our mini “specials board” and that’s where we keep all our specials that change all the time, in addition to the 8-page permanent plant-based menu.

Zucchini Noodle Carbonara

HK: How have the vegan dishes been received? Was there any push back from regulars?
CY: No push back from regulars that I can recall right now honestly! I think plant-based comfort food is new to a lot of people who aren’t familiar with faux meats etc. Our regulars that have been coming for 13+ plus years are wowed by everything honestly and they try stuff from the vegan menu all the time!

Chicken Parm

HK: What’s the most popular order?
CY: It’s a tie between the beignets with cookie butter and the mac n cheese pizza right now.

Beignets with Chocolate Sauce and Cookie Butter

HK: Do you have a personal favorite?
CY: My personal favorite is our Vegan Mozz Stuffed Garlic Knots. They are super naughty. Loaded with garlic and butter and olive oil and more garlic and then more butter. Not for the faint of heart. Or anyone on a caloric deficit. But it is right up my alley and it’s been a huge hit.

HK: Is there anything you’re particularly excited about coming soon?
CY: OH YESSSS. We are debuting housemade vegan pepperoni. Working on Vegan Mozzarella sticks as well. Lots of cool vegan pizza combos. More types of different vegan wings as well. Possibly a super crispy ridiculous fried chik’n sandwich. Lots of things in my brain!

Mac & Cheese Calzone

HK: Any other background information or stories you’d like to share?
CY: My parents have been in this business 30+ years now. They are high school sweethearts. They are true San Franciscan locals. They met at George Washington High School here in SF. They compare their love story to The Notebook, it’s ridiculous and sweet and hilarious. I feel lucky to have such a solid support system that came from so much love like that. It’s almost not real but it is.

My father is at the restaurant from open till close, every single day, and has held our family and business together for decades. That to me is the definition of a dedicated father, great husband, honorable businessman. He has helped so many businesses on our block. I could go into detail but he’s so humble about it he doesn’t want me advertising. He came here from Hong Kong as a teenager with very little. This is a true American Dream story.

Cybelle’s Front Room
1385 9th Ave.
San Francisco, CA 94122

 
 

 

 

Taking a Dump for Dinner

The mere concept is ripe for ridicule. Built upon a shaky foundation of canned goods and prepared foods, dump-and-bake meals are the semi-homemade answer to the daily dilemma of someone who doesn’t want to, doesn’t like to, or doesn’t know how to cook. All you need is a can opener and a cooking device; I do understand the appeal. Quick, easy, pantry-friendly, and so much more SEO gold, convenience seems to win the war over good taste in this instance.

Of course, don’t get me started on the name. “Dumping” is simply never a positive verb. Evoking images of landfills, garbage, dropping or throwing away, I can’t get past the term. Mentally condensed, I read it out as “Trash Casserole” nine times out of ten, without thinking about it. Of course, don’t get me started on the connotations of “taking a dump.”

Snark aside, there’s a time and a place for everything. It’s a shame the idea is maligned by basic nomenclature, but you can’t blame a child for a name given at birth. Considering the dire state of my refrigerator, it’s time I get my head of out the gutter- Or toilet, as it may be.

Relying more on unprocessed dry goods than traditional alchemic creations of modern prepared foods, my take on classic stroganoff is an effortless one-pan approach to nearly instant gratification. Soy curls, some of the greatest unsung heroes of meatless proteins, take the place of more bovine inclusions. Re-hydrating right in the cooking liquid, alongside dry pasta, there’s no fussy soaking, draining, sauteing, or separate special treatment necessary.

You don’t even need to break out the knives if you plan your pantry well. Purchase pre-sliced mushrooms, jars of minced garlic ready to go, and even frozen diced onion to keep in the true spirit of dumping doctrine. Heck, go ahead and use canned>mushrooms if need be. There’s no shame in making the most of what you’ve got, and this luscious cream sauce is so rich, it can easily conceal a multitude of sins.

Soaking in all the umami seasonings built into the broth, tender noodles provide actual substance, rather than filler for this rendition. Use whole grain options for a bit of extra fiber, or gluten-free if you’re intolerant. Remain flexible, keep an open mind, and start preheating your oven.

Comfort food shouldn’t just provide solace on the plate. If I may be so bold, I’d like to propose that it should be soothing to create, too.

I get it: Dump dinners sound like culinary defeat, the last attempt at sustenance devised by a starving cook at the end of their rope. It doesn’t have to be that way. Emboldened by fresher fare, let’s all take back the notion and take a dump for dinner, together!

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Deep Roots

All successful restaurants are the product of passion, innovation, and fearless vision, but in the case of Bloodroot in Bridgeport, CT, it was radical feminism that came before the food. Founded over 40 years ago, Selma Miriam and Noel Furie made a statement by planting this seed of rebellion before such progressive concepts hit mainstream awareness. Part bookstore, part community center, the menu is as diverse as the people drawn to this vegetarian bastion.

Established right by the water’s edge in a residential neighborhood, small sailboats bob just beyond the grassy parking lot. You’d be forgiven for thinking you walked into someone’s home by accident, but that comforting vibe is entirely intentional. Fluffy cats laze around on bookshelves alongside obscure texts, purring contentedly in the quiet moments between the clanging of pots and pans.

Offering refuge along with solidarity and nourishment alike, the unconventional business model is one that shouldn’t work on paper, and yet, Bloodroot remains firmly established, feeding the masses with an ever-evolving bill of fare that reflects seasonal and local produce.

Famous for their soups, “Tightwad Tuesday” is a favorite incentive for a midweek visit, when a generous bowlful is ladled out with a side of salad and a hearty chunk of their homemade breads, chewy loaves dotted with seeds and whole grains, at an affordable price. Escarole & Garlic, Lima Bean with Lemon & Parsley, Tomato & Fennel, among many others, never fail to soothe the soul.

Worldly inspirations color the eclectic assortment of dinner options, such as meatless Jerk Chicken with Coconut Rice, Mexican Mole, and Grilled Greens-stuffed Tofu Pockets, just for starters. The flavors bring a taste of the world to any table, but the ladies keep no secrets to their success. Literally an open book, all the recipes are detailed in their numerous cookbooks, and sharing is explicitly encouraged. That openness and generosity is the true key to Bloodroot‘s success; it takes a village to support such an unconventional business, just like bold objectives it seeks to achieve. Here, enjoy a side of acceptance with a drizzle of equality, right next to your Szechuan Peanut-Sesame Noodles.