[SCAVENGER]: Market oddities you need to try

I’m a terrible, terrible sucker for foods I’ve never seen before. I creep around grocery stores in search of unfamiliar labels, I memorize the names of produce varietals online, and I try all the weird new flavors of chips when they come out (no, wait—I refuse to acknowledge cappuccino-flavored Lay’s as an acceptable food). Sometimes I get burned. Luckily, sometimes I strike ripe, delicious gold, and that’s what you’ll find on this list. —Bird Cox

Cotton candy grapes. When I was little, I would sit around dreaming up new and improved fruits (I’m an only child, lay off). I feel like I might have imported these into the world via my imagination, because they don’t taste like anything I’ve ever eaten before. They taste like healthy, juicy cotton candy. They might be a miracle. Where: Fresh Market.

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White Whale ‘Your Older Brother’ cocktail mixer. Organic lemon, Siberian fir and sweet orange. One of these things is not like the others… but boy, is it good with vodka. This is a date-impresser or anniversary-celebrator because it’s a bit pricey, but the completely unique flavor profile is so worth it. Where: Southern Season.

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Jasper Hill Harbison. Alright, this is less of an oddity and more of a dangerous cheese obsession, but I realized that I haven’t yet written about it and that has to happen now. It’s insanely creamy and funky and salty and sweet, all at once; it pairs beautifully with juicy fruits and hearty breads. The Harbison wheels are wrapped in spruce cambium (a tender inner bark layer) cut from the Vermont farm’s woodlot, which says a lot about the painstaking care they take with their cheeses. Where: Whole Foods.

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Crunch Dynasty. This is one of those products that makes you sound like a proselyte when you talk about it. “I put it on everything! It makes everything better! It rescued my dog!” It’s a perfect food, all crunch (obviously) and spice, with pops of garlic and sesame layered in. It inspired me to invent “summer green bean casserole”: blanched French beans tossed in creamy horseradish dressing with a thick layer of Crunch Dynasty on top. Where: Saison Market.

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Einkorn berries. One nod to health food, since even the grapes I put on the list are borderline carnival food. Einkorn! It’s an ancient grain with a much simpler, more digestible genetic structure than wheat—but still still gluten-y enough to make a robust, nutty loaf of bread. Or a risotto that won’t make you feel miserable post-meal. Where: Good Foods Stony Point, in bulk. (Note: if you haven’t indulged in Good Foods’ HUGE bulk section, go immediately.)

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Epicurean Caramel Sea Salt Butter. Ah! Look at that, an immediate answer to the question, “But how do I make my einkorn bread way less healthy?” Epicurean makes a whole line of special butters, and they all elicit the occasional straight-from-the-tub taste test. More dignified persons might put it on bagels, pancakes, muffins, etc. Where: Kroger.

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Mast Brothers Vanilla & Smoke Chocolate. The basic makeup of Mast Brothers chocolate is cacao and sugar. No cocoa butter, no lecithin. It’s the divine truth of chocolate. Of course, even the truth can be shaped into a more transcendent form (they smoke the cacao and add bourbon vanilla bean). IMAGINE THE S’MORES POSSIBILITIES. Where: For the Love of Chocolate.

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(Photo credit: frenchbroadchocolates.com)

[HIT LIST] - BANH MI / THE NAKED ONION

It’s a very nice thing to have a very special sandwich shop right around the corner. The Naked Onion (here) is a very special sandwich shop. The chef/owners Lauren and Greg are a) incredibly friendly and pleasant humans and b) super talented chefs.

But this is the most important part: their Banh Mi sandwich. As it reads on the menu, this is a pretty standard, Americanized banh mi as they go - pork, cilantro, pickled daikon+carrot, aioli, baguette. The delight in this sandwich comes from every part being so well done. The baguette has a chewy crumb and crackly crust, the pickled vegetables are broader and crisper than you’d expect, and then the pork. Damn, that pork. It’s just thick enough and just fatty enough and just seared enough and just mouth-melting enough. It’s firm so that it has a little bit of a bite to it, but at the same time just collapses itself into your mouth post-bite.

SO - here’s what you’re going to do next time you want a sandwich. You’re going to go into the Naked Onion, you’re going to order the banh mi (to go, it’s all takeout there), and when you get home and dig into that situation, you are going to make some for-real sex noises without the littlest bit of embarrassment. This is a really enjoyable sandwich. - Pete Cartwright

Also while you’re here: 

  • The Cuban is an excellent alternative if you’re sick of daikon but your pork levels are dangerously low.

  • I don’t love mixing a sweet with a cheese (I know I’m wrong) but everyone I know with a rational palate loves the apple + brie grilled cheese.

  • If tomatoes are in season, you owe it to yourself to get the BLT - it’s a solid 3/4-inch slice of Hanover tomato with housemade bacon that’s just right - crispy enough to snap but not so brittle that it shatters. There’s an add-on of a couple slices of house-brined and roasted turkey for a couple bucks. Trust me, add that on.

Fire, Flour & Fork: It’s going to be the jam

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We don’t have to ask if you’ve heard about Fire, Flour & Fork, because we know that you have. It’s huge. Kinfolk Magazine, Todd Kliman (The Washingtonian), Christina Tosi (Momofuku Milk Bar), Travis Grimes (Husk) and the like will be dishing it out alongside the best-of-the-best in Richmond food and drink, and it’s going to be one big culinary fireworks show. We’re always stoked for October, but this takes our fuzzy fall feelings to another level entirely.

You should probably get tickets. Right now.

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/fire-flour-and-fork-speaker-series-registration-12176238457?ref=ebtn

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There are spectacular events happening from October 30th to November 2nd, but here’s our dream list of magical experiences to attend on Saturday, November 1st:

10am: Welp, we’re starting off with a crossroads. No way can we pick between Dave DeWitt’s hot pepper party and Alice Medrich’s dethroning of wheat flour as King of Baking.

The Pope of PeppersDave DeWittFiery Foods & Barbecue
Dave DeWitt is one of the foremost authorities in the world on chili peppers and spicy foods. His interest in chili peppers led to his writing numerous articles and books on the subject and he launched Fiery Foods & Barbecue Magazine, now a highly trafficked web site with thousands of recipes. He received the ultimate accolade when The New York Times declared him “The Pope of Peppers.” Sample and book signing.

Flavor FloursAlice Medrich
Alice Medrich is one of this country’s premier bakers and chocolate dessert chefs. She’s the author of the new cookbook, Flavor Flours, a teacher, James Beard Award-winning author, but we had you at chocolate dessert chef. She’ll demonstrate how teff, buckwheat, rice, oat, corn, chestnut, coconut and sorghum flours can, in her expert hands, add flavor rather than merely serve as lowly substitutes for wheat. Demo and book signing.

11:15am: Another tough one. James Beard history is fascinating, but we’re honestly only picking that one over Chris Fultz’s barbecue (ZZQ!) because we’ve eaten it and already know that it is, unequivocally, the absolute BEST IN RICHMOND. If you haven’t had it, run to him.

Chefs on Fire | Dale Reitzer, Lee Gregory and Justin Carlisle | Kendra Bailey Morris, Moderator | Acacia, The RooseveltArdent
Learn the history of the James Beard House and awards from our moderator, Kendra Bailey Morris, who has been a James Beard Foundation Awards judge, and listen to the career trajectories of these three nominated chefs, two from Richmond and one visiting from Milwaukee. Reitzer grew up in Virginia Beach, working in seafood restaurants. Carlisle grew up on a cattle farm in Wisconsin and Gregory grew up in South Carolina with a love of Low Country cuisine.

Lunch: No way are we missing the Day of the Dead Luncheon at Saison with chef Adam Hall, which benefits CenterStage.

2pm: In a cruel and unusual twist, they’re making us choose between T. Leggett (sheer cocktail brilliance), Travis Milton (a deep well of heirloom culinary wizardry) and Mike Isabella (uh, you might have seen him on a rather popular TV show). After way too much thought, Travis Milton’s great-grandma’s Apple Stack Cake recipe seems like the hardest-won treasure.

Apple Stack Cake | Travis Milton | Comfort
Travis Milton, chef de cuisine at Comfort, left his beloved Appalachia to cook and write, emerging as an authority on Appalachian food ways. Heirloom apples are just one of the treasures of Appalachia and Travis knows which varieties work best for making his trademark vinegars, applesauce, apple butter and of course, his version of his great-grandmother’s Apple Stack Cake. Only a few of the 1,600 known varieties of apples that once grew in the Appalachians and Southeastern U.S. have been conserved. Once you learn the secrets of Apple Stack Cake, you’ll want to plant your own heirloom apple tree. Demo

3:30pm: For variety, we’d switch it up and swing by Williams & Sherrill’s awesome table decor/design talk so that we can impress our friends at Thanksgiving.

Forks at the Ready | Jamie Coffey/Williams & Sherrill                         From Victorian oddities (ice cream forks, baked potato fork, baby food pusher) to modern sensibilities, we’ll talk silverware, ceramic-ware, flatware and table top design in this session focused on function and form led by Jamie Coffey, Creative Director of Williams & Sherrill. Get some inspired ideas for your upcoming holiday tables.

6pm: And lastly, dinner. DINNERRRRRR.

Heritage, Husk & Hogs: Travis Grimes of Charleston Husk, Clay Trainum of Autumn Olive Farm & Joe Sparatta. 6 p.m., 6:30 p.m., 8 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. Nonprofit Beneficiary: J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College Educational Foundation