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Another Bitter, Boozy, Food-Filled Year Under My Belt

Photo: Brad Thomas Parsons

Photo: Brad Thomas Parsons

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.

Photo: Heidi Brown

Photo: Heidi Brown

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.

BTP-PR-Magna-Beer

Photo: Brad Thomas Parsons

I returned to the Brooklyn Kitchen to teach a class on making your own bitters and mix up some Old Fashioneds.

Photo: Neilly Robinson

Photo: Neilly Robinson

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.

Photo: Brad Thomas Parsons

Photo: Brad Thomas Parsons

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.

BTP-museum-natural-history

Photo: Brad Thomas Parsons

My friend Damon Boelte, the Beverage Director at Brooklyn restaurants Prime Meats and Frankies, was my bitter wingman, mixing up three bitters-spiked drinks on stage with me during the presentation.

BTP-museum-damon-boelte

Photo: Brad Thomas Parsons

We ended the night—as we always do—with Underberg. Underberg for all.

BTP-museum-underberg

Photo: Brad Thomas Parsons

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.

Photo: Brad Thomas Parsons

Photo: Brad Thomas Parsons

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.

Photo: Brad Thomas Parsons

Photo: Brad Thomas Parsons

Then over to Black’s (my favorite stop) for beef ribs and smoked turkey.

Photo: Brad Thomas Parsons

Photo: Brad Thomas Parsons

And then Kreuz Market for a hot link.

Photo: Brad Thomas Parsons

Photo: Brad Thomas Parsons

Back in Austin, Tex-Mex at Chuy’s with some off-the-menu Boom Boom Sauce.

Photo: Brad Thomas Parsons

Photo: Brad Thomas Parsons

And every morning on my way to the Convention Center there were breakfast tacos.

Photo: Brad Thomas Parsons

Photo: Brad Thomas Parsons

I waited nearly two hours for a solo seat at the counter at Barley Swine.

Photo: Brad Thomas Parsons

Photo: Brad Thomas Parsons

A memorable meal at the sushi bar of Uchiko.

Photo: Brad Thomas Parsons

Photo: Brad Thomas Parsons

Fried chicken and stellar sweet-tea chess pie from Lucy’s Fried Chicken.

Photo: Brad Thomas Parsons

Photo: Brad Thomas Parsons

I stopped by Bar Congress for a drink and the bartender turned out to be Jason Stevens, proprietor of Austin’s Bad Dog Bar Craft Bitters.

Photo: Brad Thomas Parsons

Photo: Brad Thomas Parsons

Back in New York, Pouring Ribbons proved to be one of my favorite new bars in the city.

Photo: Brad Thomas Parsons

Photo: Brad Thomas Parsons

And The Dead Rabbit is definitely a bar I plan to add to my regular rotation.

Photo: Brad Thomas Parsons

Photo: Brad Thomas Parsons

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.

Photo: Brad Thomas Parsons

Photo: Brad Thomas Parsons

Zahav’s Michael Solomonov and Momofuku Ssäm Bar Chef de Cuisine Matthew Rudofker taking a well-deserved break from service.

BTP-zahav-momo-pop-up

Photo: Brad Thomas Parsons

Red Hook distiller Daric Schlesselman had me in for a tour and talk at his Van Brunt Stillhouse.

BTP-vanbrunt-stillhouse

Photo: Brad Thomas Parsons

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.

Photo: Brad Thomas Parsons

Photo: Brad Thomas Parsons

Loading up on Angostura minis is a must when you’re at the Manhattan Cocktail Classic.

BTP-angostura

Photo: Brad Thomas Parsons

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.

Photo: Brad Thomas Parsons

Photo: Brad Thomas Parsons

I made two trips to Keens and sat under the gaze of the tiger both times.

Photo: Brad Thomas Parsons

Photo: Brad Thomas Parsons

An annual dinner at Keens among some meat-loving publishing cohorts remains an annual tradition.

Photo: Brad Thomas Parsons

Photo: Brad Thomas Parsons

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.

Photo: Heidi Brown

Photo: Heidi Brown

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.

Photo: Brad Thomas Parsons

Photo: Brad Thomas Parsons

Fletcher’s Brooklyn Barbecue opened in Gowanus.

BTP-BBQ-fletchers

Photo: Brad Thomas Parsons

And just down the street in Red Hook, Hometown Bar-B-Que opened their doors (after a year-long delay caused by Hurricane Sandy).

BTP-BBQ-hometown

Photo: Brad Thomas Parsons

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.

Photo: Brad Thomas Parsons

Photo: Brad Thomas Parsons

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!”

Photo: Brad Thomas Parsons

Photo: Brad Thomas Parsons

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.

BTP-sam-jones

Photo: Brad Thomas Parsons

Cleaver-chopped whole hog flecked with crispy bits of skin. Cornbread. Coleslaw. That’s all you need.

Photo: Brad Thomas Parsons

Photo: Brad Thomas Parsons

And I had time to visit Crook’s Corner in Chapel Hill to visit my friend chef Bill Smith on his home turf.

Photo: Brad Thomas Parsons

Photo: Brad Thomas Parsons

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).

Photo: Brad Thomas Parsons

Photo: Brad Thomas Parsons

And amidst these culinary highlights I made my first excursion to Waffle House.

BTP-waffle-house

Photo: Brad Thomas Parsons

I finally made it to Swan Oyster Depot in San Francisco. The late Monday morning wait was bearable, and worth every minute.

BTP-swan-oyster-depot

Photo: Brad Thomas Parsons

Cold beer, crab Louis, prawn cocktail, and oysters.

BTP-swan-oyster-depot-menu

Photo: Brad Thomas Parsons

I ate a lot of oysters in 2013. These are from Island Creek Oysters in Boston.

Photo: Brad Thomas Parsons

Photo: Brad Thomas Parsons

From Taylor Shellfish in Seattle.

Photo: Brad Thomas Parsons

Photo: Brad Thomas Parsons

More Boston oysters.

Photo: Brad Thomas Parsons

Photo: Brad Thomas Parsons

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.

Photo: Brad Thomas Parsons

Photo: Brad Thomas Parsons

There was an overnight trip to Philadelphia for dinner at Zahav and Federal Donuts fried chicken for the train ride home.

BTP-zahav

Photo: Brad Thomas Parsons

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.

Photo: Brad Thomas Parsons

Photo: Brad Thomas Parsons

Named in honor of Ed Anderson, the Lil Red Ed pizza: spicy peppers, speck, fontina cheese, tomato sauce, olives.

Photo: Brad Thomas Parsons

Photo: Brad Thomas Parsons

And this incredible Chocolate Malt Pie.

Photo: Brad Thomas Parsons

Photo: Brad Thomas Parsons

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.

Photo: Brad Thomas Parsons

Photo: Brad Thomas Parsons

One of the many gatherings around the table at the Southern Foodways Alliance Symposium in Oxford, Mississippi.

Photo: Brad Thomas Parsons

Photo: Brad Thomas Parsons

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.

BTP-taylor

Photo: Brad Thomas Parsons

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.

Photo: Brad Thomas Parsons

Photo: Brad Thomas Parsons

How can you not start your day with a Caramel Apple Old-Fashioned doughnut from Top Pot?

BTP-top-pot

Photo: Brad Thomas Parsons

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.

Photo: Brad Thomas Parsons

Photo: Brad Thomas Parsons

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.

Photo: Kristin Feret Ford

Photo: Kristin Feret Ford

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.

Photo: Brad Thomas Parsons

Photo: Brad Thomas Parsons

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).

Photo: Brad Thomas Parsons

Photo: Brad Thomas Parsons

Passed time over a two-hour wait for a seat at the oyster bar at The Walrus and the Carpenter with a Nocino Old Fashioned and a wall of amaro next door at Barnacle.

Photo: Brad Thomas Parsons

Photo: Brad Thomas Parsons

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.

Photo: Brad Thomas Parsons

Photo: Brad Thomas Parsons

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.

Photo: Brad Thomas Parsons

Photo: Brad Thomas Parsons

One Comment

  1. Jim Archer 02/16/2014

    Hey Brad. My wife and I (in our 60’s) are food/drink enthusiasts. Just made a batch of “Sweet & Spicy Bitter Bar Nuts”. Mixing ‘test’ cocktails now looking for a fit to my nuts. Suggestion (s)?

    Really enjoy the nuts.

    Thanks
    Jim

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