All is quiet on New Year’s Day, making it the perfect occasion for a look back at 2013.
On the book front, I’ve been fortunate that interest in Bitters is still going strong. Just over two-years-old it’s currently in its sixth printing, sales continue to be strong and steady, and I’m still doing classes and events and fielding regular media requests. I’m so very grateful to all of the booksellers, readers, bartenders, and cocktail enthusiasts for their continued support.
Aside from adventures in Brooklyn and Manhattan this year I returned to some of my favorite cities like Seattle, Oxford, Memphis, and Austin. I made multiple trips to San Francisco and Napa Valley throughout the year and had an unforgettable weekend in the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill Triangle along with some quick trips to Boston and Philadelphia.
And so I present a super-sized, spirited look back at 2013, pausing on some of my favorite moments, most of which involved delicious food or a cocktail. And remember, you can keep up with me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Cheers, and best wishes for a healthy and prosperous New Year!
January 2013 kicked off with an invitation from celebrated chef Christopher Kostow to talk about bitters to his staff at The Restaurant at Meadowood in Saint Helena, California.
I started a new job in January, as Director of Culinary Marketing at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and after less than a week on the job, I joined the team in San Juan, Puerto Rico for Sales Conference. There may have been blizzards back in New York, but I was in a daily routine of a cold Magna at the poolside bar.
I returned to the Brooklyn Kitchen to teach a class on making your own bitters and mix up some Old Fashioneds.
On a cold February morning, Elisabetta Nonino was in New York and invited me to join her at Maialino for a private tasting of her family’s amaro and grappa. Elisabetta and her sisters Christina and Antonella represent the fifth generation of the Nonino family’s famed Fruili distillery, which was founded in 1897.
Later in February, I presented a sold-out lecture called “Demystifying Bitters” at The American Museum of Natural History in New York as part of their Adventures in the Global Kitchen series. When I was told that past speakers in the series included Harold McGee, David Chang, and Wylie Dufresne, I was sure I was being punked.
We ended the night—as we always do—with Underberg. Underberg for all.
In March I was off to Austin, Texas, for SXSW Interactive. This was my fourth time in Austin, and my third consecutive trip to SXSW, so I already have a few routines in steady rotation.
First stop straight from the airport is always Lockhart, Texas, home to some serious, destination-worthy barbecue joints. The fire at Smitty’s Market, where we had moist brisket and pork ribs.
Then over to Black’s (my favorite stop) for beef ribs and smoked turkey.
And then Kreuz Market for a hot link.
Back in Austin, Tex-Mex at Chuy’s with some off-the-menu Boom Boom Sauce.
And every morning on my way to the Convention Center there were breakfast tacos.
I waited nearly two hours for a solo seat at the counter at Barley Swine.
A memorable meal at the sushi bar of Uchiko.
Fried chicken and stellar sweet-tea chess pie from Lucy’s Fried Chicken.
Back in New York, Pouring Ribbons proved to be one of my favorite new bars in the city.
And The Dead Rabbit is definitely a bar I plan to add to my regular rotation.
In March I experienced one of my favorite dining experiences of 2013 when Philadelphia chef Michael Solomonov brought the crew from his Philadelphia restaurant Zahav for a late-night pop-up at Momofuku Ssäm Bar. The event proved so popular that a second 1:00 AM seating was added and that, too, sold out in minutes. It was admittedly surreal to be gathered around the table tucking into pomegranate-molasses-glazed lamb shoulder among strangers at 2:00 AM on a Tuesday night but I would do it again in a heartbeat.
Zahav’s Michael Solomonov and Momofuku Ssäm Bar Chef de Cuisine Matthew Rudofker taking a well-deserved break from service.
Red Hook distiller Daric Schlesselman had me in for a tour and talk at his Van Brunt Stillhouse.
With the Kentucky Derby and the James Beard Awards both falling on the first weekend of May there were a host of parties to hit up. Here’s a peek at the packed after-party at Momofuku Noodle Bar, where David Chang celebrated his win for Outstanding Chef.
Loading up on Angostura minis is a must when you’re at the Manhattan Cocktail Classic.
And behind this storied door, Dave Kaplan and many of the star bartenders behind Death & Co. hosted a terrific MCC panel, weaving an oral history of the bar.
I made two trips to Keens and sat under the gaze of the tiger both times.
An annual dinner at Keens among some meat-loving publishing cohorts remains an annual tradition.
Speaking of meat-loving, I had the pleasure of spending some time with Daniel Vaughn during his trip to New York during the Big Apple Barbecue Block Party. Daniel is the Barbecue Editor at Texas Monthly and the author of The Prophets of Smoked Meat.
And Brooklyn had its own barbecue boom this year, with many new places opening within walking distance of my apartment, including my hometown favorite Dinosaur Bar-B-Que.
Fletcher’s Brooklyn Barbecue opened in Gowanus.
And just down the street in Red Hook, Hometown Bar-B-Que opened their doors (after a year-long delay caused by Hurricane Sandy).
In late June my friend chef Ashley Christensen, who I first met at the Southern Foodways Symposium six years ago, invited me down to Raleigh for a weekend of bitters-related fun. Her stellar team at Fox Liquor Bar hosted me for a sold-out bitters class and cocktail demo during the day and then I hopped behind the bar for a few hours later that night as a guest bartender.
Ashley made sure I didn’t go hungry that weekend. There was fried chicken and pimento cheese from Beasley’s and burgers and thick shakes from Chuck’s. And when Ashley Christensen invites you to stop by her restaurant Poole’s Diner and let her cook for you, you sit down, put a napkin and your lap and say, “yes, please!”
When I first landed in Raleigh I made a pilgrimage straight from the airport to Skylight Inn in Ayden, North Carolina. Pit Master and SFA friend Sam Jones gave me the “nickel tour” of the operation.
Cleaver-chopped whole hog flecked with crispy bits of skin. Cornbread. Coleslaw. That’s all you need.
And I had time to visit Crook’s Corner in Chapel Hill to visit my friend chef Bill Smith on his home turf.
Bill invited me to join him for dinner and I still think about the array of desserts that landed on the table: his deservedly famous Atlantic Beach Lemon-Lime Pie (the crust made from saltine crackers), banana pudding, and a trio of sorbets (one made from Red Hots candy).
And amidst these culinary highlights I made my first excursion to Waffle House.
I finally made it to Swan Oyster Depot in San Francisco. The late Monday morning wait was bearable, and worth every minute.
Cold beer, crab Louis, prawn cocktail, and oysters.
I ate a lot of oysters in 2013. These are from Island Creek Oysters in Boston.
From Taylor Shellfish in Seattle.
More Boston oysters.
The Southern Foodways Alliance hosted a Potlikker Napa benefit, mixing barbecue giants Rodney Scott, Sam Jones, and Drew Robinson with chefs like Christopher Kostow and David Patterson. The result was this amazing plate of food.
There was an overnight trip to Philadelphia for dinner at Zahav and Federal Donuts fried chicken for the train ride home.
And in the fall there was the Southern Foodways Alliance annual Symposium. This was my sixth consecutive year attending and my new ritual is bookending the trip with food and drink at Hog & Hominy in Memphis. It serves as a cafeteria of sorts for out-of-town attendees on their way back to the airport from Oxford and chefs Mike Hudman and Andy Ticer are the perfect hosts. Ed Anderson, who shot Bitters, also photographed their debut cookbook, Collards & Carbonara.
I highly recommend their Old Fashioned doctored with housemade Shiftless Hog Orange Bitters.
Named in honor of Ed Anderson, the Lil Red Ed pizza: spicy peppers, speck, fontina cheese, tomato sauce, olives.
And this incredible Chocolate Malt Pie.
And when in Memphis, you have to hit Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken. Picked up some legs and thighs for the drive to Oxford.
One of the many gatherings around the table at the Southern Foodways Alliance Symposium in Oxford, Mississippi.
Among the many SFA traditions is the trek to Taylor Grocery in Taylor, Mississippi, for the best plate of fried catfish you’ll ever encounter. Don’t forget to pack your flask of bourbon.
In November I made a trip back to Seattle, where I lived for over ten years. Despite flight delays, I made it to the Palace Kitchen before the kitchen closed at 1:00 AM for a late-night bourbon and cheeseburger.
How can you not start your day with a Caramel Apple Old-Fashioned doughnut from Top Pot?
While exploring Tom Douglas’ latest project Assembly Hall, I ran into the man himself along with TDR Partner and Executive Chef Eric Tanaka. I was able to sneak in some twice-fried chicken wings and a sake slushie at ET’s new joint, Tanaka San, before heading back on the red-eye.
When in Seattle I always stop by Book Larder to sign stock, catch up with Lara Hamilton, and load up on hard-to-find cookbooks and culinary magazines.
I had seen many photos of it online, but nothing beats a journey to the WC at Canon to see this tableau up close and personal.
I had some amazing amaro-forward cocktails at Essex, including the Safe Passage (Amaro Nardini, Aperol, Castelvetrano Olive Brine, Lemon, Sparkling Wine) and Man-About-Town (Bourbon, Campari, Lime, IPA Syrup).
It was an honor to have the opportunity to write the introduction to The American Antiquarian Cookbook Collection’s handsome new edition of Jerry Thomas’ classic How to Mix Drinks, published by Andrews McMeel Publishing.
And I ended the year with this, possibly the best Christmas gift ever. My Lego-enthusiast 12-year-old nephew Jack tracked down all of the individual pieces from various Lego fan sites online to recreate the BTP Lego Minifig created by Andrew Bohrer for my piece in PUNCH. Complete with sea captain’s jacket, leprechaun head, and the now discontinued Ron Weasley hair from a UK vendor.