Tag Archives: Johnny Monis

Brick Farm Market’s Pulled Pork; Beard’s Top Mid-Atlantic Chef; DC Dining; More

Brick Farm Market & Chef Chase G. Make Their Debut

Chef Chase Gerstenbacher Courtesy of the Princeton Packet

Chef Chase Gerstenbacher Courtesy of the Princeton Packet

Chase Gerstenbacher, executive chef of Brick Farm Market, may have been born and raised in Philadelphia, but his ties to the Princeton area run long and deep. The group’s Hopewell projects include Double Brook Farm, Brick Farm Market – the much anticipated and soon to open retail store in Hopewell Borough – and, perhaps next year, Brick Farm Tavern. The market will feature mainly products grown or raised at Double Brook Farm and will include a butcher, a cheese maker, a produce section, bakery, and prepared foods. It will open its doors, temporarily, for Cruise Night on May 10th, and expects to be in business permanently soon thereafter.

Since he came aboard in February, Gerstenbacher has been working closely with the group’s butcher. “It has been good to get this time to see how everything runs,” he says. “I’ve been getting in practice and a feel for the products coming from the farm, especially the beef. It’s kind of amazing: as a chef I was used to ordering a case of filets. Here, we start with a 1,500 pound steer!”

Gerstenbacher has been making sausage using a recipe he developed while working with a chef familiar to Princeton-area restaurant patrons: Larry Robinson, who was the opening and longtime chef at Mediterra. The two men worked together there and then reunited at Robinson’s current business, Ceriello Marketplace in Medford, where they worked side by side for almost two years. It was, in fact, Robinson who put Gerstenbacher in touch with Double Brook Farm’s owners, Jon and Robin McConaughy. “Larry is very supportive,” Gerstenbacher says of his former boss, who taught him the art of butchering as well.

“Larry told me of a really big project up this way. I wasn’t familiar with Hopewell; I had only driven through it one time. So, I set my GPS for the center of town. When I got here, I asked around on the street if anyone knew where Double Brook Farm was,” he says, laughing. After the local postman gave him directions, he showed up unannounced at the farm. “As luck would have it, the staff was having a meeting, so I just passed around my resume.”

Gerstenbacher, 37, graduated in 1995 from the Philadelphia School, after which he worked at the famed Rittenhouse Hotel. After that, he led kitchens in Boca Raton and Las Vegas, returning to the Philadelphia area after the birth of his two sons, now ten and seven. He subsequently divorced, and just recently bought a home in Lawrenceville with his fiancée. The couple is planning to marry next May.

During his second stint in Philadelphia, Gerstenbacher worked with star chef Jose Garces at the groundbreaking Alma de Cuba. “As a chef you’re trying to push the limits. But at a market [like Brick Farm] you want people to come in every day,” he says. So his prepared foods will be “hyper-seasonal, changing daily.”  He mentions as an example the windfall of asparagus the farm is currently producing. “A ton is coming in everyday. If we were open, I’d be offering it five or six different ways!”

In addition to dishes featuring the many vegetables that Double  Brook  grows, he plans on featuring grain-based salads using quinoa, farro, and barley and will make his own scrapple and that Jersey classic, pork roll. There will, of course, be “standard dishes” that will be available day in and day out. Among those he mentions are chicken potpie, rotisserie chicken, chicken soup, and meatballs. “Accessibility is the focus,” Gerstenbacher says, “and food that is fun, easy, and exciting.”

Chase Gerstenbacher, Executive Chef, Brick Farm Group

“This salad can be eaten as is or you can toss this combination over your favorite lettuce. Use the liquid from the beets combined with a little olive oil to create the dressing.” – CG

4 medium red beets
1-1/4 cups distilled white vinegar
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
1 tablespoon yellow mustard seeds
2 cloves
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon whole peppercorns
1 Staymen-Winesap apple
5 or 6 French Breakfast radishes, quartered
1 medium red onion, sliced thin

  1. Wash, then roast the beets in a preheated 350 degree oven for about 1 1/2 hours or until tender. Let cool, then peel the skin with a paring knife. Cut into large dice.
  2. In a large pan bring the vinegar, sugar, water and spices to a boil and simmer for 5 min. Keep hot.
  3. Core and cut the apple into large dice, leaving the skin on.
  4. Toss the beets, apple, radishes, and onion in a large bowl. Pour the hot liquid over them and let cool.
    Serves 4 to 6.

Chase Gerstenbacher, Executive Chef, Brick Farm Group

4 pounds boneless pork shoulder
3 tablespoons kosher salt
3 tablespoons paprika
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon black pepper
2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
Olive oil
For the bourbon glaze:
1 cup whiskey, bourbon or Wild Turkey
1/2 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup brown sugar
Pinch cayenne pepper

  1. Make the glaze: Combine ingredients in a pan and cook them until they’re reduced to a glaze. Cover and set aside.
  2. Combine the salt, paprika, garlic, pepper, and thyme in a small mixing bowl and add just enough olive oil to create a paste.
  3. Split the pork shoulder in half lengthwise and rub both halves completely with the spice paste. Let stand at room temperature for about one hour.
  4. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Wrap each of the pork shoulders in aluminum foil so that they are completely covered. Bake for about 4-1/2 hours. Remove the aluminum foil and place the cooked pork on a large rimmed platter or in a large bowl. Using two forks, pull the pork into large shreds. Pour the glaze on the pork and serve.
    Serves 4 to 6.

Edible Jersey’s Summer 2013 Issue

Edible Jersey Summer 2013

It’s just out, it’s free, and it includes fantastic stories. Including one of my favorite interview subjects of all time:  the inimitable Bill Meyer (“The Professional”), who is in his fifth decade as a server in NJ restaurants. Currently a captain at Restaurant Nicholas, Meyer reminisces about past regulars like Frank Sinatra and Phil Rizzuto and the time a goodfella held a knife to his throat when lunch wasn’t coming fast enough. Click here for where to pick up a copy.

Beard Awards: Since a NJ Chef Wasn’t in the Running…

I am pleased that Johnny Monis, my favorite DC chef, took the award as best chef in the Mid-Atlantic region at the 2013 James Beard Awards. He won for Komi, his modern Greek/Mediterranean restaurant that I first wrote about (read: waxed poetic about) in 2007. My visit last year to his latest effort, Little Serow, for his interpretation of Thai food only sealed the deal, as I wrote in a previous blog.

King Salmon at Little Serow

King Salmon at Little Serow

While We’re on the Subject of DC Dining…

My latest foray there yielded up 2 winners: Bandolero in Georgetown and Pure Pasty Co., a short car ride away in Vienna VA.

Bandolero‘s modern interpretations of Mexican fare are the work of Jersey boy Mike Isabella, the Top Chef contestant who built his reputation at Graffiato, his Italian spot. My skepticism about whether he could pull off Mexican was quickly dispatched by these tuna taquitos with ginger, sesame, and sweet potato in shells made of malanga:


and these sopes with lamb picadillo, pickled jalapeno, and crema:


Not to mention the libations in the background, nor the unforgettable guacamole with masa chips and chicharrones and the lobster quesadilla. The restaurant is apparently embroiled in legal disputes – although not involving Isabella. Whatever.  The food is so good that even murky legal shenanigans and the restaurant’s dark, macho decor and vibe are not enough to keep me away.

Mike Isabella

Mike Isabella

btw: Isabella is planning to shortly open a Jersey-style sandwich shop/eatery in Edison, called G Grab and Go, which will feature his own pork roll.
Bandolero on Urbanspoon

Be honest now: Have you ever eaten a Cornish pasty in this country that didn’t have too-thick, dry, leaden pastry and/or flavorless filling? I hadn’t – although I hear Rocky’s in Wharton and Montclair’s The Pie Store are worth checking out.

Traditional Pasties at Pure Pasty, Vienna VA

Traditional Pasties at Pure Pasty, Vienna VA

Meantime, I’ve fallen for those at Pure Pasty, a small, sweet shop in the DC suburb of Vienna, run by English expat Michael Burgess. His are authentic, yet somehow the pastry is light, flaky, and flavorful and you can taste every lip-smacking ingredient in the pitch-perfect fillings.

You don’t have to take my word for how good these pasties are. Accompanying me was an actual Brit, who raved even more than I did about not only the pasties but also the authentic sausage roll. Partly what accounts for their deliciosity are high quality ingredients – often organically grown and locally sourced – and an American chef who worked at Jose Andres’ erstwhile Cafe Atlantico. Here’s the cutaway view of the above (note the elderflower soda in the background):


Here’s the standard menu, which is augmented by daily specials. The soup the day I visited was Scotch broth:


The shop offers 2-day mail order delivery of frozen pies, and also carries shelves of groceries only a Brit could love, like these tins of mushy peas:


Pure Pasty Co. on Urbanspoon

Anyone Else Remember The A Kitchen Chinese Restaurant in South Brunswick?

If, like me, you lived in Central NJ in the 1970s you dined at – and worshiped – the Chinese restaurant, A Kitchen which, by the time I discovered it, had relocated from a gas station on Route 1 to a modest space on Route 27. Until now, I never knew that the NY Times had anything to do with its popularity. And, I regret to say, I completely forgot about the existence of the man who brought it to light, Raymond Sokolov, who had the misfortune to follow Craig Claiborne as restaurant critic. Here’s the excerpt from Sokolov’s new book, Steal the Menu, that talks about A Kitchen.  

Restaurant Reviews from Bernardsville (Italian) to DC (Thai)

While I was in DC this past weekend for the Fancy Food Show (more on that in a later post) I dined at Little Serow, the newest restaurant from Johnny Monis. I have been a fan of this Beard-nominated chef since the early days of Komi, his modern Greek restaurant. A Thai place – and one focusing on the cooking of the Isaan region in the north, near Laos – was the last thing I expected of this Greek-American chef. But he pulls it off – with typical quirkiness and (as far as I can tell) authenticity.

little serow

little serow (Photo credit: cristinabe)

Both the quirks and the cuisine warrant a few cautions. Little Serow (which, as the website explains, rhymes with arrow and is a kind of goat) accepts no reservations for its 28 stools in a dim, bare-bones but cool space that features brick walls painted sea green and a rippled metal ceiling. There’s no phone. Parties larger than four are not allowed. Diners line up outside the basement space (next door to Komi, in Dupont Circle East) and wait for seats to open up. The restaurant will text you when they become available, so going for a drink nearby makes this a non-issue.

Little Serow serves a seven-course dinner of small shared plates, for $45. The menu changes weekly; no substitutions are allowed. If you have allergies, forget about it. Don’t like fresh cilantro? You’ll encounter it often. Can’t tolerate spicy chile heat? You are hereby warned. As for myself, I love cilantro but have my limits on firepower. The food here did not exceed them, and the abundant fresh chilies add such depth of flavor, such soulful resonance, it’s impossible to imagine the dishes without them.

My party of four opted to go with matching beverages for a reasonable $35 additional. These proved as intriguing as the food, and ridiculously well thought out. Here are brief descriptions of all (just assume chilies feature in everything but dessert):

First to arrive was a basket of light, airy, crisp, grease-free but immensely flavorful pork rinds with an addictive dipping condiment (naam phrik ong) of minced pork, shrimp paste, and tomato. Paired with this was a cocktail from a section of the wine and beer list labeled “wine on ice.” Ours was a combination of Riesling with house-made Armagnac (I could have sworn our personable and informative server said Carmagnac, but that doesn’t seem to exist), plus a good dose of coriander, which gave it a pleasing herbal quality, and cinnamon (not enough to be noticeable).

Next came these irresistible lettuce cups (miang kham), each with a dollop of a mixture of dried shrimp, fermented cabbage, tamarind, ginger, chilies, and peanuts in light dressing the flavor of which conjured hoisin sauce. A dry Riesling was the perfect accompaniment.

Below is a lush, spicy salad of king salmon (yum bla mamuang), featuring slabs of moist, silky, flavorful fish with green mango, fresh turmeric, and lots of cilantro.

Next up was a dish of wonderfully crispy shredded ingredients (laap meuang) – pork, shallots, and fresh green sawtooth (an herb sometimes called culantro), and this and the following dish went beautifully with our first beer, a hoppy but not overly hoppy IPA.

The next, fifth, dish was perhaps my favorite: a mound of chunks of what the menu called crispy rice (khad tod) – and was probably chunks of crisp-cooked sticky rice but tasted for all the world like rice cakes coated with a tasty spicy sauce and tossed with tons of fresh mint sprigs, cilantro, and peanuts. With it: a sweet Riesling – like, dessert-sweet – that played off beautifully against the formidable heat.

Next came a supposedly less fire-filled mix of greens (yum phak), including fava leaves (!), and spring pea pods tossed in a tamarind sauce with crunchy shallots on top. Here was the only drink none of the four of us in my party liked: a French hard cider – usually a favorite! – but really funky. My group’s tasting notes include “Band-aids” and “sports body spray.” Oh dear.

After that, the dish that became everyone else’s favorite, and with good reason: pork ribs the size of fat thumbs (si krong muu). They come on the bone but the meat just about falls off. These showstoppers are drier rather than wet, and deeply flavored with Mekhong whiskey and dill. To accompany: smoked beer. That’s right, smoked…beer. So smoky only a cigar aficionado could love it. (But I see where Monis was going with this.)

Dessert is not listed on the menu, but we got these not-too-sweet cubes, with a bottom layer of creamy sticky rice and a top layer of the smoothest coconut custard ever.

This was one of the most memorable meals I’ve had in a long time. My only complaint is that the food and drink came too fast – I would have liked to have savored each a bit more. On the other hand, we did not feel pressured to leave. (My thanks to Jennifer Haskins for the food photos. She managed to take good shots even after we were asked not to use flash.)
Little Serow on Urbanspoon

Osteria Morini, Bernardsville

For a dining experience closer to home, check out my review of Osteria Morini, the Bernardsville outpost of Michael White’s famed SoHo eatery. (The print version appears in the July issue of New Jersey Monthly.) Osteria Morini took over the space that had been Due Terre – another property of White’s Altamarea Group. Among the veterans producing White’s signature takes on rustic Italian fare at Osteria Morini are Bill Dorrler (formerly at Due Mari in New Brunswick, another White property), Kevin Knevals (chef de cuisine here), and Francois Rousseau (one of the managers, also from Due Mari).

Now that I have you hankering to dine out…..

It’s just about time for the first NJ-based Eat Drink Local Week! To help celebrate its fifth anniversary, Edible Jersey magazine is inaugurating this festival, for which more than 30 of the state’s top restaurants will celebrate farm-fresh ingredients with special seasonal menus at special prices, from June 23 to June 30. Among the offers: elements in Princeton is featuring a 3-course dinner for $39 and New Brunswick’s Frog & Peach has a prix fixe menu for $35. For the full list of restaurants, from A (A Toute Heure, Cranford) to V (Via 45, Red Bank) click here.