Tuesday, September 4, 2012

A Laborless Labor Day

Happy awesome semi-random three-day weekend in September! Having a long weekend is one of the best kickoffs my favorite season could possibly have, and we welcomed autumn with a kick-ass itinerary of activities.

Our yard sale BBQ was a good time with great peeps, but my Ginger-Lime Teriyaki Chicken Kebabs were not what stole the show for this weekend food-wise. On actual Labor Day, after lounging around for hours, wondering what to do, what to eat, and how to go about these things, we finally hopped in the convertible in search of pie.

Now let me explain the culture of pie on Long Island real quick: everybody knows that the best pies come from "Out East." It doesn't matter as much how far out east, whether Manorville or Montauk -- only that the fruit that fills it comes from one of our lauded family-owned orchards and farms that grow seasonal goods in great bounty. Homemade jams, jellies, cheeses of all sorts attract many, but the showstoppers are the "grandma's recipe" pies that have been baked to oversized, crusty excellence generation after generation.

Usually, we just head in a general easterly direction until we find a farm (not difficult), but a designation as "Best of Long Island" by Long Island Press (a magazine I've had the privilege of writing for before) lent us a sense of exact direction. To Briermere Farms we went!

It was a beautiful day for cruising with the top down (the novelty on the new car hasn't yet worn off!) -- mid-70s and with only a slight trace of clouds. A scenic drive toward the North Fork wine country brought us through Long Island's iconic flat farmlands and a rush of greenery and fresh air. Past the Tanger Outlets, we arrived at the farm.

Bustling with activity, this lively farmstand is known for its pies and baked goods. Touting a "baked from scratch" attitude with ingredients sourced straight from the farm (Honeycrisp, Galas, Empires and more!), we were excited by the rainbow of beautiful, fresh produce that covered the front stand. It was simply rollicking with people running in and out, and we knew it was bound to be good.
Crunch, crunch, with a fine crisp

Our goal was apple pie, but we were sorely tempted by the Blackberry Apple version and interested in the Apple Rhubarb. However, the classic favorite won over, with the Dutch/crumb rendition (still hot from the oven!) as the winner over the double-crust faction of our household (me).

An elevated crown of brown, sugar-butter crumb rose over the sweet apple filling, with an air pocket between the apples and top crust, creating a collapsible dome that protected the finely-ground "crisp" of the apple crisp pie. The apples were a little bit on the mushier side (I prefer firmer) and I was disappointed by the lack of presence the bottom crust had, especially since Boy's last pie excursion brought home an apple pie that was as buttery rich on the bottom as it was thickly crusted with large crumbles as it was on top.

However, it was still delicious, and you could definitely taste the freshness. You could TELL that the ingredients were natural, and the sweetness was a natural one, born of sugar and apples, and not the cloying flavors of artificial preservatives and added sugars.

Look at the size of this thing!
As known for pies as Briermere Farms is, I truly believe it was the cookies that stole the show. Boy couldn't resist getting a giant chocolate chip pecan cookie, and after a few smuggled bites, taken after a brief scuffle, I had to get one of my own. Calorie count be damned; that cookie was GOOD!

Slightly crisp on the outside with chopped pecans throughout, subtly adding an earthy aroma to the sweet, buttery flavors of the cookie, it was hands down the best chocolate chip cookie I've ever had. The chips were still slightly warm, and generously dispersed throughout. Cinnamon and brown sugar sparkled through the layers of the cookie, every crumb offering the slight give of freshly baked, moist, baked-to-the-exact-second cookie perfection. OUTSTANDING.

The best part? This oversized treat was a mere $1.75 (no tax), and the apple pie with the crisp crust was only $16 (also no tax). Which was why when I heard a carful of loud New Jerseyans complain, "This is just another tourist trap," Boy and I were very confused. But then we saw their plates and realized, Ohhhhh, they must not understand that cookies at Long Island bakeries are easily $2-3 each. The produce wasn't unreasonable either! In fact, it was comparable to organic prices, and in some cases, less than Whole Foods rates.

Beautiful sear, with flavors reminiscent of Cochon in New Orleans
That wasn't the end of our lovely day, though. We went back to Bistro 25 in Sayville, a perfect fall restaurant destination with their elegantly hearty flavors and reasonable portions, for dinner to take advantage of what will probably be the last few weeks of their $19 and under special lobster menu.

We started with the braised pork belly appetizer, with pickled shallots and an apple demi-glace atop a small dollop of corn pudding. A perfect execution of New American technique and balance, the richness of the apple demi played off the slightly sweet but tangy pickled shallots, which the corn pudding offset with a more robust, buttery flavor reminiscent of Louisiana stone-ground grits. The pork belly was tender with a seared top layer of fat that created interest in terms of texture and flavor. Spot-on.

Gorgeous arugula salad, a great palate-cleanser
The arugula salad, which sounded so simple on the menu, was a refreshing delight as well. I could have scarfed down a bucket of the green stuff. The lemon vinaigrette was absolutely perfect, and the finely chopped red onion gave the peppery baby arugula a fresh burst, along with the grape tomatoes. A generous portion of shaved parmesan cheese brought it all back with a nutty finish, and the whole thing just came together flawlessly.

We both ordered the Lobster Risotto with chopped asparagus and corn, topped with frizzled leeks -- all things we love. The asparagus was delicious, perfectly cooked, and tender, since it was diced from the thinner, younger stalks rather than the bulky, woody ones that are super-sized. The corn added a fresh sweet element to the creamy, parmesan-and-butter-loaded al dente risotto, and the Maine lobster chunks were generous. I had four claws alone in my dish, and Boy couldn't even finish his bowl since it was so rich and filling. The only thing I'd change would be to chop the frizzled leeks into shorter strands, since everything else was bite-sized after you cut up the giant lobster pieces.

In all, an outstanding, perfect end to what was a beautiful and awesome summer.

It all just keeps getting better and better, doesn't it?

Happy fall!

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