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Entries in Brisket (2)

Friday
Jun172011

Sad Farewell to Mara's Homemade

Sweet and Succulent Blue Crabs at Mara's Homemade

About a month ago, Mara's Homemade, a really wonderful and unique restaurant, closed its doors after 7 1/2 years. The owners of Mara's lost their lease, no longer able to afford the rent at their space on 6th Street between 1st and 2nd.

Brisket, Cornbread and Fried OkraMara's was an amazing place. It was a family restaurant, with Mara (the Chef) and her daughter serving and taking orders, Mara's husband acting as Maitre D at the front door, and Mara's son behind the bar (making some mighty strong Hurricanes). The food was delicious: authentic New Orleans and Southern fare with ingredients often shipped directly from Louisiana. There was a crawfish boil, smoked brisket, spicy blue crab, Louisiana oysters on the half shell and jambalaya. This was the real deal. And it wasn't only the food that made this place special--when you walked in the door, you became a part of the Mara's homemade family. We had many big, drunken celebration dinners at Mara's. There was really no place like it.

I went to Mara's for one last time a few days before the closing. As always, Mara's husband greeted me at the door and Mara's daughter led me to the table. I ordered the special of Blue Crabs in Spicy Boil with Stewed Collard Greens. 

The crabs arrived on a big serving tray. I tore off the legs and cracked them open, pulling out the long strands of sweet, tender meat. It was so delicious. After about 20 minutes, I was left with 4 large crab bodies and a graveyard of pulverized crab legs. I stared blankly at the bodies as a terrifying realization swept over me: I had no idea what to do with the rest of the crab! Was there anything to eat in the heads? And if so, how do I get to it?

Very timidly, I whispered over to Mara's daughter as she walked by: "Um, excuse me. I know this is so embarrassing. But is there anything to EAT in there?" 

"Of course!" She exclaimed. She pointed out a little flap conveniently located on the belly. I pulled it up and tugged--the bottom of the crab pulled off like a trap door, revealing a treasure trove of snowy white meat. I almost hugged Mara's daughter. Then I dug in.

Deliciously Demolished Blue Crabs

Halfway through my second crab, I noticed that one of the people at the table next to ours was staring at me. I thought for sure it was because I was covered in crab. I was eating like a 2 year old. I sheepishly wiped my mouth with the back of my crab covered hand. 

But then the guy spoke, laughing: "I see you're having trouble with that crab. Do you want me to show you how to eat it?" 

He was just about to demonstrate the art of crab-destruction when Mara's daughter walked by again. "I'm sorry!" she said, "I didn't realize you were so new at this! Why don't you let me help you." Before I knew it, Mara's daughter had plunged her hands into my plate, picking up each crab (including the ones I had already dealt with) and expertly opening the trap door and exposing that dense and delicious pocket of meat. In seconds, she had opened every single one, leaving me a feast in her wake. 

That's what Mara's homemade was all about. Eating delicious blue crab, hand cracked by your waitress, drinking a lethal Hurricane out of a gigantic glass, dousing collard greens with tangy vinegar, listening to awesome New Orleans jazz music. Mara's Homemade was one of a kind. I miss it already. (Luckily, they have since reopened in Syosset, NY. It may be a trek to get there. But believe me, it's worth it.)

 

 

Tuesday
Sep222009

Jewish New Year at Bubbe's House

Where: Bubbe and Poppa's House in Monsey, New York
What: Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year)

Bubbe and Poppa relaxing before the holiday feast

This Search for Delicious brought me back to my roots, to my Grandparent's home in Monsey, New York. I have been coming to this house for my entire life. The smells are so familiar, so comforting. When I walk in, it smells like my grandmother's roast chicken and potatoes, like being a kid and stealing a slice of turkey as it is being sliced by my grandfather (ok, I still do this). Every room is always exactly the same, preserved in time exactly as it was when I was a child. It feels like a big hug every time I step foot in the door. I don't build legos sitting crosslegged on the floor anymore, or race miniature cars down the linoleum floors, but as soon as we get there, my sister, brother and I still ritualistically rush downstairs to play with my grandfather's huge 1940s cash register, and ruffle through old photo albums with faded pictures while sitting on their well worn velvety couch.
Roasted turkey. Perfection.
This time, we had come to celebrate Rosh Hashanah--the Jewish New Year. My Grandparents (known to me as Bubbe and Poppa), are Orthodox Jews, and this is a very important holiday. One of the "High Holy Days." It is a holiday to celebrate life, and to pray for a sweet and happy year.

My Bubbe is an amazing cook. She just has a way with food. She cooks the same things everytime we go and she has perfected each and every dish. I have eaten all over the world, in some of the greatest restaurants on the planet. But still I find that eating my Bubbe's food satisfies my ultimate Search for Delicious like nothing else can. It is Delicious food, seasoned with history, with memories. It's indescribably Delicious.

Chicken soup with noodles and Matzoh ballsWe arrived Friday night. Bubbe lit the candles in observation of the Sabbath, and the New Year. It is always a very meaningful moment. Bubbe leans over the candles, silently praying and sobbing for all of the people she has lost over the years. Bubbe has had a difficult life and has seen a lot of tragedy. In fact, my mom wrote a book about her amazing life story called "Sala's Gift." (Amazon Link)

And then, there is the feast. Seriously, dinner was so good that night that I kept moaning with each bite. My mother told me I had to cut it out. The highlight, and probably one of my top 10 Most Delicious Things to Eat was the giant turkey neck, fresh from the oven. Rubbed with garlic powder, paprika, salt, and whatever other magic powders Bubbe sprinkles on her turkey, the neck is so tender and flavorful you can't believe it. I almost cried eating it. Long, thick strands of meat pull off the bone like some kind of meat Polly-O string cheese. If you haven't had a turkey neck in your life, you are making a BIG mistake. Best part of the turkey, by far.

Turkey neck, in all of it's glory
Turkey with potato kugel, cucumber salad, roasted string beansThe meal was accompanied by thick slices of Challah drizzled with honey (traditional to encourage a sweet New Year), cucumber salad, potato kugel (a sort of potato pie made with hand grated potatoes and onions, egg and flour), roasted string beans and Bubbe's cole slaw which is, in my opinion, the best and most unique cole slaw around. I really don't know how she makes it, though I've gotten the recipe many times, and attempted to make it myself over and over again. No matter how many times I've tried, it never comes out like Bubbe's. Her recipe is simple: cabbage, carrot, lemon juice, mayo, water, light olive oil, sugar and salt. How does she do it?? I think it's all in her hands. Magic hands.

We go to Synagogue (temple) for a while on Saturday, and when we get home, another unbelievable meal awaits us. This afternoon, it is

Bubbe's Magical colemy mother's legendary beef brisket, a sacred dish in my family. It is a relatively simple thing to make, but the combination of the meaty brisket, crushed tomatoes, beef stock, carrots and onions transforms the brisket into something other-worldly. It is a stunning dish. I made it for a client recently, and she emailed me that she "dreams about that brisket."  Really, it's that good. I have gotten my mother's blessing to post the recipe. Try making it and let me know what you think. I guarantee you will love it.

Accompanying the succulent brisket was Noodle Kugel (same concept as the potato kugel but made with well cooked egg noodles and sweetened with cinnamon and sugar), roast zucchini and of course, more cucumber salad and cole slaw. Mmm, mmm good.

Brisket, noodle kugel, zucchini and cole slaw. A light lunch.Going to Bubbe and Poppa's house is a  treasured experience for me. It is deeply engrained in my memories of childhood and it is such a powerful, memorable part of my life. So much of that is because of the unforgettable meals I have shared with my family and my extraordinary Bubbe and Poppa through the years. There is nothing more delicious than an outstanding meal, cooked lovingly by your grandmother, shared with your family as part of a meaningful family tradition, carried out year after year.