Search This Blog


Review: Northern Spy Food Company, NYC

So there are a couple of interesting things attached to our trip to Northern Spy...

First, we ran into Paul Tabachneck, who we met in the airport on the way to NYC from Pittsburgh a couple of years ago. When we walked into Northern Spy, there sat Paul. How random is that?!? He's a musician, a gregarious and upbeat guy, and it was fun gabbing with him during dinner!

Also, we had plans to go to Blue Hill the following evening. Blue Hill is more upscale than Northern Spy, and I was thinking it would be a fun comparison/contrast. So, some similarities of Blue Hill and Northern Spy...VERY local, high quality food from reputable sources prepared in a relatively straightforward fashion. And some differences...Blue Hill, high dollar and upscale, been around for about a decade; Northern Spy, casual with very average prices, been around for about a year. So Northern Spy on Thursday and Blue Hill on Friday!

I found out about Northern Spy Food Company on Facebook, when there was a post that the esteemed Jen Bekman had "checked in" there. I'm not exactly sure how that works, but I did a search on Northern Spy and subsequently put it on my list of restaurants to visit on this trip to NYC.

Northern Spy is cozy and super casual. It's open all day, and I don't think they take reservations. We got there around 6-ish on a Thursday, and it wasn't crowded. But by the time we left, it was, so there you go.

As far as being kid-friendly, I'd say that Northern Spy could be. It was on the louder side (but not too loud) so kids making some noise wouldn't be a big deal. It was kinda tight, so getting a stroller or whatever paraphernalia in there might be a little tough. I didn't see a kids' menu, but I think there was some stuff on the menu that kids would eat. Like roasted chicken. Kids like that, right?

We ordered some spiced nuts to munch on, they were you know, spiced nuts. Why not?

The menu was very reasonable, plenty of choices but not overwhelming. The salads were fantastic...full of flavor and plenty of food. I had the kale salad and Haley had the spinach salad. The fresh kale was cut up in small pieces which was nice, very manageable, and the cheddar, squash and almonds were a great combo with the really light lemon dressing. The spinach salad looked amazing, with ham, poached egg, and potatoes in a mustard vinaigrette. Thumbs up on both salads.

For entrees, Mindy had the roasted chicken and the wild rice on the side. The chicken looked golden brown and fantastic, but Mindy wasn't crazy about it. I think that's mainly because she's not crazy about chicken in general, but her hubby completely scarfed down her leftovers. He gave it a thumbs up. (That being said, Mindy has formulated a diabolical plan to replicate the wild rice with feta, mint, and lemon.)

Jeff ordered the pork meatballs covered in red sauce, which were a special. Haley and I also ordered them to split. I thought they were perfection, melt in your mouth, absolutely delicious. Haley isn't a huge fan of basil, and she didn't care much for them.

Jeff and I both had desserts, which were pretty straightforward. Jeff had carrot cake, which I tasted, and it was very good. Nice sized portion, but not over-the-top. Not too sweet either. I had almond cake, and I'd say the same for that. It was just perfect with a decaf. I think we would all agree that we ended the meal feeling well-satisfied and well-nourished, but not thinking that we'd need to run a 5k to knock off the calories. It was GOOD food.

Sorry, forgot the booze. There was a nice wine list, with some NY wines included. And a good selection of beers as well. I had a glass of something red, shame on me for not remembering. We were having a fun time talking, and you know, it was tasty and very drinkable, and well, down the hatch!

The prices were completely reasonable...entrees around $15. Wow! Look at the sources of their veggies, dairy, meat, etc. How could you not feel good about eating here???

And BTW, Paul, who is a local, said Northern Spy got a lot of hype in the media in NYC. He said they have something called "pork trotters" that are a special, and they're out of this world. Maybe next time!

Overall, I'd say that I'd definitely go back to Northern Spy. The food was super tasty and fresh, the atmosphere laid back. Comfort food, really. Good quality, good value. Next time, I'd like to check out the market...looks like fun!


Tidbit: Michael Pollan's new book

Here's a little soundbite about Michael Pollan's new book, Food Rules.

Wow, it's a little shorty, and only costs a few bucks. Looks like a fun read. If you haven't read Omnivore's Dilemma, maybe this new book would be a good "appetizer" for Omnivore's, which is a heavier read.

I haven't read Food Rules yet, so I'd be happy to hear from anyone who has!


Tidbit: Q&A

So my good friend Matthew took a look at this blog and then emailed a few good questions for me. I got some local experts to answer, and here's what we have...

Q: How do you find out beforehand if restaurants use local meats, sustainable seafood, local and/or organic produce, etc?
How do you locate these kinds of restaurants in an area? It doesn't seem to be something restaurants advertise.
A: From Alegria Holland Ohlinger, owner of Richwood Grill in Morgantown, WV..."The only way I know of finding out if a restaurant uses organic stuff is to look at their website and menu. In bigger cities, they're more likely to put it right out there. Here in Morgantown, not so much. We do, but people have mixed responses to it. One guy recently accused us of lying the other night because he said there's no such thing as organic...but that isn't the norm.

I think it's perfectly acceptable to ask the waitstaff where the meat/seafood or anything else comes from. People ask us that all the time. Although we do try to list it on the menu, that isn't the norm here and I think it sometimes confuses people."

Editorial comment from me: Matt, I hope that we can build a good list, and get feedback from folks in different cities. Here's a place that I found close to where you live: Prince on Delaware. The website isn't totally obvious, but it would be a good place to go and ask some questions. If you try it, let us know all about it! Also, check out your local co-op. Looks like Newark Natural Foods is close to you. Co-ops are both a great place to shop, and a great resource for more info on farmers, etc.

Q: What is your take on farmer's markets? If food is sold at the meat counter or the produce stand at a farmer's market, does that assure me that it's local, hormone-free, and drug-free and possibly organic regarding the produce, or is it best to ask?
A: From Kathy Evans, of USDA Certified Organic Evans Knob Farm..."Most grocery store chains get their meat from a distributor of their chain. It usually comes from a large feed lot that sells their animals to a meat packer, who butchers the meat and then sells it to the grocery store chain.
It is a rare thing to find a grocery store that carries local meat, but yes, you should ask. In most cases the meat is not drug/hormone free unless it is labeled as such.

If a product, meat or produce, is labeled with the USDA Certified Organic label that product has gone through rigorous inspections. However, you need to school yourself on the food terminology. Cage-free chicken for instance, is a bit misleading. Cage-free only means that the animals are not in a tiny cage. Cage-free probably does mean that the chickens were in a huge building with thousands of other birds. Free range means that the bird had access to the outside, but the actual required size of that space is ridiculously small. Pastured poultry, on the other hand, means that the bird was raised out in a field with lots of fresh air, sunshine and space.

Not all farmers at a farmers market are organic or even use sustainable growing practices. You need to develop a relationship with your farmers, ask questions about their growing practices. If the farmer is not willing to discuss his/her growing methods, or if the farmer seems to be uncomfortable or talking in circles, steer away.

Another way to figure out if your farmer is growing with methods you are comfortable with is to ask if you can come for a visit sometime. Most farmers are willing to allow access to their farms. If they avoid visits, beware, they have something to hide."

Another editorial comment by me: One time I connected with a farmer who I had not met in person, through my local co-op. She told me that I could come visit her farm before I committed to buying anything, as she had a drop-off point close to my home. I asked her if she fed the same food I was buying to her kids, and she said yes. I said "I'm in!"

Matthew, I hope this helps. Thanks, experts, for the info! And thanks to Matt for this link, He says the organic blue cornmeal makes great cornbread, and that the prices and shipping are very reasonable. Win!

I hope this will be an evolving discussion, and that my sis and her hubby and others will weigh in on their experiences.

Reviews: some to come

I am so EXCITED to go to Manhattan in a few weeks. We will really be able to get some restaurant reviews rolling. YAY!

On tap are Blue Hill, Angelica Kitchen, and I just learned today of Northern Spy Food Company, which opened in November 2009.

Haven't been to Blue Hill or Northern Spy. You might recall Blue Hill got some publicity when the Obamas went there for a date a few months ago. I noticed Northern Spy via Jen Bekman (check her out) on Facebook. Score!

I have been to Angelica many times, and I love love love it. In fact, Angelica may be my all time favorite restaurant. It's vegan macrobiotic, and I am neither of those, but I still think it is amazing and the food is so healthy. CAN'T WAIT!


Tidbit: Here's an idea...

This dreary weather is bringing everyone down, including me. I'm trying to cook up a little excitement...see what you think.

So, when I want to buy a relatively expensive piece of clothing, here's something I do. I think to myself, if I saw this at Old Navy, Target, or whatever, would I still want it? The reason is that I want to make sure I'm buying something because I actually like it, not because of the name. Sometimes the answer is "yes" and sometimes "no." If the answer is "no," I just skip it. No need to pay out the you-know-what for a name, in my opinion.

How does this relate to a food-themed blog? Well, I've been thinking about how to express the importance of eating local, organic, sustainable without being preachy or boring. (I hope that some people reading this blog need convincing.) Aside from the fact that it's good to support humane treatment of animals, stewardship of the earth, etc. I think the bottom line is that folks like food to taste good...right? Right. And if you have a family, well they like food to taste good too, right? Right. And organic, local, sustainable food is usually more expensive than food at the grocery, right? Right. So do I think it tastes better just because it's "organic" or whatever other buzzword is attached, or because it's more expensive? I don't think so, but I think we should put it to the test. So here's an idea...

I'm going to try to get a few people to do some experiments with me. For example, I know a lot of people like those rotisserie chickens you can get at the grocery store. I used to like them too. But I don't buy them anymore, because I don't know where those chickens come from. Are they pumped full of hormones, antibiotics, additives, etc.? Are they all cooped up (pun intended) so they spend their whole lives moving no more than inches? I think the answer is a definite maybe. I want to find someone who routinely eats that chicken, and I'll roast them an actual free-range chicken, with no hormones, antibiotics, or anything else. Hopefully, I can get one from a local farm. And I'll just drop it off at their house. The only requirement will be that they guest post for me, and give a comparison. Here's another one...I'd love to grab someone who routinely eats at say, Cheddar's or Applebee's, and send them to Richwood Grill, on my dime, to get an honest guest post about the experience...totally unbiased info.

Know anyone? If you do, send them my way...


Tidbit: Do I have to compromise?

So here's a quick story...

This past summer Mindy and Jeff and their posse of four children, Haley, and I went to the Newport Folk Festival in Newport, Rhode Island. When we were heading home, Haley and I needed to stop and grab some lunch. We were heading south-ish, I guess, from New York to New Jersey. I was secretly hoping that we were close enough to Blue Hill Cafe to stop there (and I was desprately trying to figure that out with my outdated Palm Treo). But, we were trying to make it home by a certain time, probably in time to get dogs out of kennels, etc.

So once we got into New Jersey, I knew that all hope was lost with regard to Blue Hill (sniff, sniff). Anyway, Haley said that she really needed to eat, and I said I could just have some nuts or whatever was in my backpack. She said, "Stacy, look, you can't have a handful of nuts for lunch just because you don't want to eat fast food. Sometimes you have to compromise." So I said, "well, there are the same number of calories in the nuts as in a Subway sandwich or there's absolutely no reason that I can't just eat these nuts."

After about 10 miles, she said, "I'm stopping at this exit and you are going to eat something...stop being ridiculous." I didn't say anything. And then we pulled off and I swear, within a literal stone's throw of the interstate, was a restaurant with fresh and some organic food, the Grain House. Best timing ever!


Review: Primo, Orlando, Fl

So, kind of bouncing from the review of RM Seafood in Las Vegas, I thought reviewing Primo in Orlando, FL would be appropriate. I think of Orlando as kind of a glitzy place like Las Vegas, where there's a lot of "bigger is better" type of stuff. Surprisingly (to me, at least) there is an amazing restaurant in the JW Marriott in Orlando. It's called Primo.

I found out about Primo by doing online research a few years ago, when I had to go to Orlando for work. I'm not a huge fan of Emeril's or any of the other restaurants at City Walk, etc. I was looking for something local, organic, sustainable, of course. Primo fit the bill perfectly. There are two Primo in a Victorian house in Maine, and then the one in Orlando. Sounds kind of strange, huh?

Here's a little info on Primo...
"Experience sensible contemporary Italian cuisine at its best! Chef Melissa Kelly creates plates with her "home-grown" concept in mind, emphasizing the freshest local ingredients such as citrus and seafood to create imaginative and dazzling recipes. Vegetables and herbs are grown on-site in the organic garden. Primo offers indoor and outdoor seating.

Guests of Melissa Kelly’s Primo at the JW Marriott Orlando, Grande Lakes, enjoy fresh produce that comes to their plates directly from Primo’s organic garden and local farms. In order to guarantee that all dishes meet the highest standards, only the finest ingredients are used."

I've been to Primo three times I think. Last time was, once again, on a work trip. It's maybe a 20 minute cab ride from the Disney resorts and all that. My luggage, once again, got lost so I was dressed casually...jeans, running shoes, and a black blazer. It's a very upscale looking restaurant, but I did not feel out of place in my "help, I lost my luggage and this is what I was wearing on the plane YESTERDAY outfit."

I did make a reservation, which I would definitely recommend. The reservation was actually a little tough to get, so plan ahead for sure. I think that kids would be okay at Primo if they are well-behaved, although I doubt there's a kids menu.

One of the things that stands out most in my mind (as this is a retrospective review) is how friendly the servers were. I absolutely can't stand snobbery...blah. But these folks are super, and especially last time...we had a young male waiter who was super helpful and very well-informed.

On to the chow. The menu is amazing and I'm sorry that I can't give great detail about what we had, since like I said, this is a retrospective review. There were four of us for dinner, my friend Carol and two of her friends. We had the antipasti, which was excellent. I had a pasta dish, half serving, which was plenty of food...I wasn't incredibly hungry. One person in our party had a lamb dish, which he thought was a little strong. However, I'm sure if he would have talked to the waiter, he could have gotten a different dish. We ordered a bottle of wine, a red recommended by the server, which I remember as being excellent with the dish that I ordered. We split a dessert or two, ('s killing me that I can't remember more specifics) between the four of us and I remember being very satisfied with the meal, not overly full.

Primo is absolutely a can't miss restaurant for me if I'm in Orlando. (BTW, a good friend of mine has taken colleagues there when in Orlando on business and they just absolutely feasted and had a fabulous time...he called me and I was so JEALOUS.) The prices are not on the online menu, but I'd say you could easily pay $50. per person if you have appetizer and/or salad, entree, dessert and wine. It's totally worth it and in fact, I think that most of the other upscale restaurants at City Walk and those types of places would be even more expensive (and not as good). In fact, I ate at Tchoup Chop the night before and paid about three times as much money and was about three times less impressed. Plus, of course, the local, organic, sustainable thing is a big deal...and good quality meat a must. Yeah, so I'll go back to Primo, and I can't wait to give you a detailed review of the amazing food!!!