Monthly Archives: May 2016

Korilla BBQ

A bulgoli rice bowl from Korilla

Korilla, painted black and orange, is pretty hard to miss. I’ve been aware of its existence for years, and I’ve always wanted to try their food, but for some reason, I sort of just assumed I couldn’t. (I assume that of everywhere, really. Maybe I should knock it off.)

A few weeks ago, I finally got around to sending Korilla an email. The answer I received was as follows: “We don’t use any tree nuts in our food. The closest ingredient would be sesame seeds.” I sent back a few questions about potential cross-contaminants (as I always do), but I didn’t receive a reply (…I never do). Still, I’m usually down to try any place that can assure me there aren’t any nuts or nut products in anything on the menu—if with a little trepidation, in the case of places that can’t provide any further information—so to Korilla I went.

The first time I went, I ordered a bulgogi rice bowl with sticky rice, a fried egg, cheese, and Korilla sauce (pictured above)—and some Kimcheese Fries, which are basically waffle fries with cheese, pico de gallo, kimchi, scallions, and nori. I wanted to try the Tiger Balls, too (bacon kimchi fried rice balls in a Choux pastry, panko-breaded and deep-fried), but they were out—and they have been every time I’ve been by, actually. At this point, I’m convinced they don’t actually exist. Moving on, though…

The bowl was pretty good. The meat was tender and well-marinated, though it did taste as though it’d been sitting around for a little too long. The Korilla sauce—mildly spicy, but certainly not overwhelming—complemented the sweetness of the bulgogi nicely, and in all, everything went together pretty well. Truthfully, though: It was the fried egg that sealed the deal for me. I wished it could’ve been runnier, but you know what? It was good regardless, and certainly worth the extra $1. (Every time I’ve been since, I’ve asked for two eggs. So worth it.)

My biggest complaint, really, was that I didn’t have the option to add some scallions (and maybe some nori, too) to the bowl. They do have scallions on-site for the Kimcheese Fries, though—so I’ll usually ask them if they wouldn’t mind throwing some on, and more often than not, they’re happy to do so. In fact, I’ve only run into any sort of friction once. (I had asked whether “it would be possible to get some scallions on that,” and the guy behind the counter stared at me for a few beats before asking whether I had “any other special requests” in a tone that was…less than polite. Whatever—I still got my scallions. Worth it.)

Overall, I tend to like the bulgogi rice bowls. I’m not a huge fan of the Kimcheese Fries, though. They’re too cheese-soaked for my tastes—and truthfully, I’m not a huge fan of kimchi. Maybe they just aren’t for me. The waffle fries themselves were good though, and I really liked the scallions and nori on top. So in all, they were all right, I suppose.

I’m still in the process of perfecting my rice bowl order—so far I’ve dropped the cheese and swapped the Korilla sauce out for the Ko’grette—but I look forward to trying their noodle bowls and burritos, too. And the Tiger Balls. One day. Maybe.

In general, Korilla’s a pretty cool place—especially when you’re in the mood to customize a big bowl of something other than Chipotle. They have a ton of options, the ambiance is low-key and pleasant, and the employees are (usually) friendly and helpful. Not much more I can ask for, really, in the way of fast-casual.

Find Korilla at 23 3rd Avenue, between St. Marks Place and 9th Street. (They have trucks, too!)

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Kikoo Sushi: For when you’re feeling gluttonous

Shrimp tempura from Kikoo Sushi

I found out about Kikoo on Groupon, of all places. Whenever I’d search for sushi, Kikoo would be there, right at the top: “Up To 53% off All-You-Can-Eat Sushi, Sashimi, and Teriyaki with Drinks.” Honestly, all-you-can-eat sushi sounds like a terrible idea, so I was never really all that tempted to click the link. I guess it got to me, though, because—well, I just got back from my first Kikoo feast.

Before I bought the Groupon, I called Kikoo to ask about allergens, and after some initial confusion, the woman on the phone informed me that they are no tree nuts in anything on their menu, but that one roll—an avocado roll—comes topped with peanuts. I double-checked with the hostess when I arrived, too, and she confirmed what I was told on the phone, so I figured I was good to go.

When we sat down—I’d brought Sam along, as I wasn’t about to try to take on any sort of all-you-can-eat deal on my own—we were given an iPad with which to order. No need to flag down a server at Kikoo; you just throw what you want into a (digital) shopping cart of sorts and then hit the order button. You’re limited to 10 items at a time, but you can order as often as you’d like—and the food just keeps coming. And coming. And coming.

Now, let me make this clear: I think all-you-can-eat dining is inherently revolting. It’s gluttonous, greedy, and quintessentially American in that way that never fails to evoke a whole lot of shame—but it’s also kind of fun to be able to order whatever (and however much) you want without having to worry about over-spending. It’s nice to be able to sample widely, too, which was what I tried to do at Kikoo.

Three hand rolls from Kikoo Sushi

Unfortunately, nothing was all that great—but I didn’t really expect it to be, given that I was paying by the two-hour block. The rolls (both hand rolls—pictured above—and cut rolls) were probably the best thing I tried. Unlike the sushi and sashimi, the fish in the rolls wasn’t ice-cold—which did a lot for their cause—and unlike the fried dishes, they (obviously) weren’t super greasy, which was refreshing, at least. A few of the rolls, though, were filled with this sickeningly sweet rice; those were probably the worst thing I ate.

The salmon cut roll and the salmon hand roll were both decent, and the salmon-avocado hand roll was actually pretty good. I liked the shrimp tempura (pictured at the top of this post), too—but I’m pretty sure that’s at least partially due to the fact that I’ll probably enjoy any fried shrimp dish that’s put in front of me. The sweet potato tempura was a little worse (but still all right), and the soft-shell crab was awful. I wouldn’t have been surprised if our server had returned to tell us our crab was actually chicken, and that we’d received it because of a kitchen mix-up. But no, it was crab—and yes, it was bad.

An assortment of sushi and sashimi from Kikoo Sushi

As I mentioned, the sushi and sashimi (pictured immediately above) were both pretty much freezing—and the flavors weren’t all that, either. On top of that, the selection was pretty small: salmon, tuna, yellowtail, and snapper, when I was there. I guess it makes sense, though. Can’t really serve expensive fish in an all-you-can-eat setting. (But I can dream, can’t I?) Still, there was one problem I couldn’t quite get over: the all-around lack of flavor in all of the fish—and the soy sauce, too. Heartbreaking…and infuriating, when it came to the soy.

But for the most part, what Kikoo lacked in quality, it made up for in quantity, so I did end up leaving satisfied. Not so satisfied that I’m itching to go back, mind you—but pleasantly full nonetheless. (Who am I kidding? I’ll most likely be back within the next few months. You know, once I’ve forgotten just how cold the fish was. It was a safe meal, after all.)

If you, too, are in the mood to stuff your face with low-to-average-quality sushi, you can find Kikoo at 141 1st Avenue, between 8th and 9th. (And if you’re interested, there’s a Groupon available that’ll save you a decent amount of money.)

[Three or four months after I started eating at Kikoo—and believe me, I started—they added (cooked) salmon belly to the menu, and it’s awesome. I took down, like, four orders the other night. (I’m disgusting.) Anyway, I think I’ve figured out how best to approach Kikoo…for me, at least: some sashimi (salmon), a roll or two (…salmon), and a few—only a few—cooked dishes (tempura, katsu, salmon belly, whatever). I don’t know why their salmon sucks so much less than their other fish, but it does. And too many fried dishes make for a bad night indeed.]

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Empanadas, Son!

empanadas

[Edit from the future: Empanadas, Son! has permanently closed. Figured I’d just throw that in there before you read this post and get your hopes up.]

I love a good empanada, so I was pretty excited when I read about this place. It’s called Empanadas, Son!—I’m going to omit the exclamation point from here on—and it specializes in (go figure) empanadas.

I looked through their menu, and they didn’t seem use any nuts in anything, but to be sure, I shot them a message on Facebook. The reply was as follows:

My wife is also allergic to tree nuts, so we’ve pretty much kept them off of the menu entirely. The only exception has been the nuttella and banana empanada that we had a few months ago, but that’s about it. As far as cross-contamination is concerned, well, tree nuts have pretty much only touched a few mixing bowls, sheet pans, and possibly some cooking tongs, all of which have been passed through our dishwasher several times since, so I’m pretty sure you’re good.

One of my favorite things to hear back is some form of “my [family member] has a nut allergy, so…” as an explanation for why a restaurant is nut-free (or close). Knowing someone who has food allergies and witnessing those allergies’ effects first-hand goes a long way to educate the un-allergic—so I always feel way safer when the person I’m talking to signals to me that they get it in this way.

Anyway, I ended up making my way to Empanadas, Son a few weeks ago. It’s pretty far east, on Delancey between Clinton and Attorney, only a few blocks from the Williamsburg Bridge, but it’d easily be worth the trip if the empanadas were good. (Also, their delivery range is absolutely enormous.) The empanadas are small, so I ordered 6 (for $15): Carne, Jamon y Queso, French Onion Fugazzeta, and two Caprese—and they ranged from nearly intolerable to “huh, that’s actually all right.”

The Caprese (tomato, mozzarella, parmesan, and basil) was probably the worst. The mozzarella didn’t taste fresh, nor was it fully melted—and the tomatoes, lukewarm, were unimpressive. My favorite—and the only one I really liked at all—was the Jamon y Queso (black forest ham and Swiss), but again, the cheese wasn’t fully melted. Come to think of it, none of the empanadas I ate were anywhere near warm enough, even though they’d been reheated right before they were given to me. Strange.

I was pretty disappointed, but I wasn’t quite ready to give up. So this past weekend, on one particularly lazy and desperate night, I decided to give Empanadas, Son another chance—but this time, I ordered takeout, figuring that I’d at least be able to bring the empanadas to a reasonable temperature in my own oven.

Turns out that’s the key, I guess. Re-reheated, the empanadas were way better. (Not good, but significantly more tolerable.) The Jamon y Queso went from just below average to solidly decent, and the Grilled Cheese was actually pretty good. So I suppose I’ve found the solutions: desperation, laziness, and access to an oven.

Find Empanadas, Son at 174 Delancey Street. Or order in, if you live pretty much anywhere in Lower Manhattan. (Bonus: They’re open until 4:20am.)

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Laiki Rice Crackers

laiki (1)

I found out about Laiki on Twitter, of all places. To tell you the truth, though, I was never all that interested. They looked pretty boring—and there are plenty of cracker brands I trust and love. It wasn’t until I happened upon a Laiki display at Westside Market that I decided it probably couldn’t hurt to give them a try. So I laid down the $5 (ouch) and brought a bag home.

Before I gave the crackers a try, I was absolutely convinced they’d suck. I mean, look at them—they look like bad Triscuits. Despite all their good press, I remained unexcited. But I’ll admit it: I was dead wrong. Laiki’s crackers aren’t boring, and they certainly don’t taste like bad Triscuits. They’re light, crispy, and salty; in fact, the taste almost exactly like Bugles (but less sickening, for sure). Plus, they’re not all that bad for you, especially as chips and crackers go. The only ingredients in Laiki’s crackers are rice, palm oil, and salt—nothing more, nothing less. Not bad.

It probably goes without saying, then, that Laiki’s crackers are free from the top 8 allergens (including tree nuts, of course). But they certainly don’t taste allergen-free—perhaps because it isn’t as if Laiki has to scramble to find substitute ingredients. They’re just rice crackers—no ingredient substitutions necessary.

Anyway, these crackers have my full recommendation. Find Laiki’s crackers at Westside Market, Union Market, and various other health-minded stores around the city.

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Blue Smoke

Blue Smoke's cornbread Madeleines

If there’s one place the food-allergic community seems to love, it’s Blue Smoke. I’ve read lots about them, but it wasn’t until today that I decided (spur of the moment) to go. I typically don’t eat at restaurants that handle nuts, but I figured I’d take advantage of my recent restaurant-trying momentum and give this one a chance. They do have a reputation of being very allergy-aware, after all—so to Battery Park City I went.

To start, the atmosphere, in general, was not for me; it was dark, noisy, and decorated with lots of lumber (???), with loud country music and two too-bright flatscreens above the bar. But I’ve dealt with worse, so I figured I’d manage. (Hey, if they can handle my allergy, I can handle their atmosphere, right?)

As far as I know, only one item on the dinner menu at the Battery Park City location contains tree nuts: the sweet potato mash (it’s topped with pecans). A couple of desserts contain nuts, too, but I tend to stay away from those anyway. I was assured by my server, though, that I didn’t have to worry about any sort of cross-contamination—so all that was left to do was dig in and find out. (Well, that and decide what I wanted.)

I ended up going with the cornbread madeleines (pictured above) and the fried chicken & biscuits. Sam, along for the ride, ordered the pulled pork—they were out of ribs (?!?)—with a side of mac and cheese and a side of baked beans. Our server, after double-checking with the kitchen, assured me that all the dishes we’d chosen would arrive completely free from nuts—and to my delight, that they did.

The madeleines were definitely my favorite. They were warm and light, with that lovely cornbread texture, and they came with some sort of maple-butter sauce, which was what really sealed the deal. These things were so good that I seriously considered ordering another portion to take home with me and hoard, but (fortunately) our entrees arrived and redirected my attention before I could get the chance to do so.

The fried chicken was good, but it wasn’t out-of-this-world good. It came with slaw and a biscuit, and when I put the three together, the flavors played together nicely (duh), but nothing on that plate had me thinking, “hey, I’m really glad I spent $28 on this.” Sam’s pulled pork was equally decent (or so I’m told; I didn’t actually get around to trying it), but he didn’t feel it was particularly worth his $30, either.

Don’t get me wrong; nothing brought out to us was bad—but it’s tough to rally behind an average-quality plate of food when it comes at a not-so-average price. Still, I’d probably return to Blue Smoke, should I ever end up with a little extra money. As promised, the handled my allergies well…and those madeleines were delicious.

There were only two minor hiccups over the course of the entire meal. The first: I wasn’t given a nut-free menu (though it didn’t matter much, as it was the food that I needed to be nut-free, not the menu itself). Still, I was a little surprised, as I’d read a lot about Blue Smoke’s allergen-free menus. The second: a server (not our server, whom I’d told about my allergy) brought out a complimentary taste of something, with no word on whether it was safe. (It was, so it wasn’t a big deal—but I would have liked to have been told, if only for the level of allergy-awareness that would’ve shown me.)

Overall, though, I had a pretty good experience at Blue Smoke. The service was great, and neither the food nor the atmosphere killed me—so the night goes down as a success in my book (or would that be “on my blog”?). All things considered, I suppose I’d recommend Blue Smoke to a nut-allergic friend—but only if said nut-allergic friend were wealthy enough not to scoff at a $30 plate of fried chicken.

(Blue Smoke has two New York City locations: One in the Flatiron District [116 East 27th Street], and one in Battery Park City [255 Vesey Street]. I’ve only been to the latter—and only once, at that—but I suppose I’ll have to try the other, too. Maybe they’ll have ribs.)

[Edit: I’ve since eaten at Blue Smoke a bunch more times, and I’ve decided that this post was terribly unfair. Since its writing, I’ve tried the spare ribs, the baby back ribs, the brisket, and the biscuits, and I’m now 100% prepared to declare that I was wrong, and that Blue Smoke is actually pretty damn awesome. All of their servers are extremely friendly and helpful—and what I like best about them is that they’ll never, ever give you an answer they aren’t sure of. They’re the kings and queens of “let me check on that for you,” which goes such a long way in making me feel safe.

Also, the restaurant’s way more affordable than I’d realized. For under $50 (including tax and tip), Sam and I get a big plate of Blue Smoke’s three best meats (baby back ribs, spare ribs, and brisket), along with two sides of our choosing. It’s more than enough to feed two—and for the portion (and quality of service), I’d say the price is pretty reasonable. I prefer the baby back ribs to the spare ribs, but both are great (better than the fried chicken, no doubt), and the brisket, absurdly tender, is straight-up delicious, too. Also, their biscuits—which count as a side, though they aren’t listed with the rest of the sides—are perhaps the best biscuits I’ve ever eaten.

Plus, they now give me an allergen menu (without prompting!) as soon as I sit down—and I’m hardly a regular. Incredible. The end.]

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Gunbae Tribeca

IMG_3039

A few weeks ago, I decided that it’s been way, way too long since I’ve gorged myself on Korean barbecue, and that my dry streak needed to end as soon as I could (safely) manage. Immediately, it became an urgent matter—and so commenced a long evening of Googling, menu-reading, and emailing. I must’ve gone through 30 menus and sent out 10 or 15 emails, all to receive only one (yes, one) reply.

That reply was from Gunbae, a year-old restaurant which happens to be within walking distance of my apartment. It was a short email, and it certainly didn’t address all of my questions, but it told me what I wanted to hear: “We don’t have any nuts in our menu. And we use Sesame oil for some sauce and sesame seed for topping the food.” As far as I can tell, though, Gunbae isn’t the type of restaurant that ensures its ingredients are all free from cross-contamination—so I’ve categorized them as “technically not nut-free.” Still, no nuts in the kitchen is usually good enough for me, so I decided to Gunbae a try.

I brought my mom and my boyfriend along for the ride, because, well, who doesn’t love Korean barbecue? To start, we ordered the seafood pancake, and our server brought out a number of side dishes, too: steamed egg, kimchi, lotus root, seasoned broccoli, and…macaroni salad? Sure. And when it came time to barbecue, we decided on the wagyu kalbi (which is a boneless short rib) and the yang nyum kalbi (another boneless short rib, pictured below).

Gunbae's yang nyum kalbi, cooking on the grill

The seafood pancake and the sides came out immediately after we ordered. I didn’t get around to trying most of the sides—Sam and my mom took care of those—but I did try the egg (pictured at the top of this post), and I was glad I did. Our server had put a pot of something on our table’s burner when he brought out the rest of the sides, and honestly, none of us had any idea what it was until he came back to stir it and we got the chance to ask. He told us it was a Korean egg dish and encouraged us to just try it as he spooned it into our plates—and so we did. It was really tasty: light, fluffy, and sweet, with a distinct sesame flavor.

Next was the seafood pancake, which was probably my favorite dish of the night. It was wonderfully crispy, but the real draw was how absolutely packed it was with seafood. The squid was perfectly cooked—chewy, but not unpleasantly so—and even the scallops had a lovely texture. (I’m a scallop-hater. I’m sorry.) We lost the dipping sauce in all the hubbub—there must have been 15 plates on our table—but even without it, the pancake was delightful.

But onto the real reason we’d come: the meat. First came the wagyu, at a frightening $44.95 for 5 small pieces. (I couldn’t get a picture, but it looked a whole lot like this.) Our server cooked it for us—he didn’t give us the option to do it ourselves—and it wasn’t bad at all, but it certainly wasn’t as flavorful as I’d have liked. We ate it rare, and it was well-cooked and tender, but the flavor (or lack thereof) left us all wanting. So in the hopes of finding something tastier, we ordered a marinated cut of beef: the yang nyum kalbi (pictured at the top of this post).

Again, it was well-cooked, and the texture was great, but the flavor wasn’t all I’d hoped for. It tasted like a slightly better version of the Bool Kogi from Trader Joe’s—which isn’t quite a compliment. The most accurate word I can apply to the marinade is “vague”; it was vaguely garlicky, vaguely sweet, vaguely…vague, without any of that strong, pointed flavor I’ve come to expect of Korean barbecue. In all, I was pretty disappointed.

Still, it’s not as if I’ll never go back. The egg was good, the pancake was great, and I’m already eyeing a few dishes I’d like to try: the fried pork dumplings, the wagyu kimchi fried rice, and the mandu guk (a hot pot with beef broth, pork dumplings, scallion, and egg). Unfortunately, though, my search for Korean barbecue that’s both safe and good is not over.

Find Gunbae at 67 Murray Street, just off of West Broadway. (Oh, and there are private karaoke rooms downstairs, if you’re into that sort of thing.)

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Free2b Foods

A pack of Free2b caramel cups

Another day, another Whole Foods discovery. This time, it’s Free2b, a company that makes dark and milk chocolate sun(-butter) cups, mint cups, and caramel cups. Think Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, but with better chocolate—and, you know, without all the allergens.

As far as I know, Free2b only makes cups, but they’re all free from tree nuts, peanuts, gluten, soy, egg, fish, shellfish, corn, sesame, coconut, mustard, and pea. Note that their products aren’t free from dairy—though apparently they will be soon (and in all honesty, I’m really dreading the transition, as I’ve never had a decent piece of dairy-free milk chocolate). For the time being, though, their cups are really tasty. They don’t have that free-from taste, and I’d probably never have guessed they were so allergy-friendly if I hadn’t read the label. (Yeah, right. When was the last time I had the luxury of not reading a label? Probably right around the time I learned to read.)

Anyway. The chocolate is smooth and creamy, and the caramel, though a bit runny, is surprisingly good. I’m not a huge fan of dark chocolate, so I’ve avoided the mint and the dark chocolate sun cups—but honestly, the caramel alone was enough to sell me on Free2b. Flavor-wise, it reminds me of Vermont Nut Free’s boxed caramels, which is a pretty high compliment in the world of nut-free chocolate. Certainly, they taste much better than I’d expected from a knockoff Reese’s cup.

I tried the milk chocolate sun cups, too, which were also way better than I’d expected. The last time I ate sunflower-seed butter was in my peanut-free elementary school cafeteria, and at that point, I absolutely hated the stuff. But I’ve since found that if you go into the first bite expecting a creamy sunflower-seed flavor (as opposed to a flavor that’s supposed to be similar to peanut butter’s), sunflower-seed butter is actually pretty great. Especially with chocolate.

Hopefully, Free2b’s cups will remain delicious throughout and beyond their split with dairy. For now, though, they have my full recommendation. Find them at Whole Foods or (in large quantities) on Free2b’s own website. But hurry up and get ’em while they’re milky. Unless you’re lactose intolerant or allergic to dairy. Then…well, I guess you should probably wait a little while.

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Smorgasburg, Part II: Duck Season

Duck Season's duck fat fries

As you probably already know, I recently ventured to Smorgasburg to try the famed ramen burger—but that wasn’t the only thing I tried on my trip. In fact, before we made our way to Ramen Burger, we stopped at Duck Season, a stand that specializes in—you guessed it—duck and only duck. Heaven.

I knew I had to try it—but before I did, I sent an email to make sure they’d be a safe option. The next day, I received the following reply:

There are no nuts in anything we make in house. However, we do use some products (mostly in sandwich and wing sauces) that *may* contain tree nut traces. To be completely safe, I suggest you stick with the duck confit, sliced duckbreast, duck rinds and duck fat fries. (Avoid sandwiches.) Our bakery makes some stuff with nuts so there’s always and chance for cross contamination. We isolate wheat based products on site and they never go on/in cooking equipment. If you have concerns I will be on site at Smorgasburg and can walk you through choices that are safe.

I really appreciated the level of detail in this reply. Usually, the emails I get are pretty curt: “Yes, we have nuts” or “No, we don’t have nuts,” with no consideration of possible cross-contaminants, even though I’m always sure to ask. But Duck Season demonstrated an impressive level of allergy awareness, so I was pretty confident that their food would be safe for me to eat.

Duck breast from Duck Season

When I arrived, I followed up with the (incredibly friendly and helpful) guy I’d spoken to via email. As I’d expected, he was exceedingly competent, and I felt 100% comfortable ordering whatever he suggested. He pointed me toward the duck breast, the duck-fat fries, and the duck wings—they were out of the confit, unfortunately—and advised me again to steer clear of the sandwiches, which I’d planned to do anyway. Easy enough. I went with the breast and the fries, and both ended up being pretty damn delicious.

To start, the fries (pictured at the top of this post) were great. Imagine Five Guys fries, if Five Guys fries weren’t so abysmally disappointing—and if they were cooked in duck fat and served with some sort of duck-based gravy-like sauce. Simply put, these fries were divine. The breast (pictured above) was really good, too, even though I probably let it cool for way too long while looking for a place to sit. Still, it was perfectly cooked and seasoned—tender, salty, and delicious, overall—and I’m genuinely excited to go back and try the confit.

Like Ramen Burger, you can find Duck Season’s tent at Smorgasburg—in Williamsburg (90 Kent Avenue) on Saturdays, and in Prospect Park (near the entrance on Lincoln Road) on Sundays. And unlike Ramen Burger, they do take cards. Definite plus.

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Smorgasburg, Part I: Ramen Burger

Ramen burgers, mid-assembly

If you’ve been on the Internet at any point in the last few years, you’ve probably already heard of Keiko Shimamoto’s Ramen Burger. Every weekend, his stand opens at Smorgasburg to sell a single signature product: you guessed it, the ramen burger—a beef patty, arugula, scallions, and a whole lot of sauce, all between two ramen buns. And although they’re gimmicky as hell and probably super overhyped, I’ve been curious about these monstrosities for a while now.

For some reason, I sort of just assumed I wouldn’t be able to eat at Ramen Burger—or at any Smorgasburg stand, for that matter. I tried making my own ramen burger (no small feat), but it turned out to be a pretty boring meal for the amount of effort it took. So I forgot all about noodle buns for a while—that is, until I got the idea to contact Ramen Burger with a few allergy-related questions. Within a few days, I received the following reply:

Our food is safe to eat for people with nut allergies. There are no tree nuts (or any other nut allergens) in the ramen burger. We do use sesame oil though. There is no cross contamination of tree nuts either.

Good news! I can’t quite categorize Ramen Burger as truly nut-free, as I can’t imagine they’re in a position to make any sort of guarantees, but they’re a workable alternative—for me, at least. So onto my list it went.

This past Saturday, Sam and I took the ferry to Williamsburg, where we met up with my dad and ventured into Smorgasburg in search of Ramen Burger’s stand. It didn’t take long for us to find it—the stand drew a huge crowd, as it tends to—but it did take long for us to make our way to the front of the line. 30 minutes and $10 (each!) later, though, we had our burgers—and that was all that mattered.

Ramen buns on the griddle

There’s no denying that the ramen burger is good. It’s greasy, but not overly so—and it’s absolutely packed with flavor. Sesame oil, soy, and some sort of super-sugary Sriracha-ketchup hybrid kind of dominate the whole thing, as the ramen bun itself it pretty bland, but the noodles do add a nice texture. Definitely more interesting than your average bread-based bun. The patty was thin and definitely overcooked, though—and I feel obligated to say so to anyone who’s considering making the trek to Smorgasburg and, you know, getting in line to pay $10 for a burger.

As we were eating, a group of men approached us and asked whether the burger was really worth the wait. They seemed to really not want to spend their Saturday afternoon waiting in line for a hyped-up GimmickBurger, if that was all it was going to be—and who could blame them?  I was busy trying (and failing) to get a decent photo of the thing, so my dad—forever on the lookout for a chance to talk about food—answered immediately: “No.”

His explanation was fair: The ramen burger is good, but it’s not wait-a-half-hour-to-spend-$10 good. Still, it certainly is interesting—and perhaps worth a try, but not because it’s anything special, culinarily speaking. For better or worse, the ramen burger is iconic—and that’s why it’s worth finding out what it’s like for yourself. And for me, there’s that added bonus of being able to actually try one of those strange delicacies everyone’s always talking about. Overhyped or not, that process is pretty exciting.

And that was my favorite part, I think: the excitement that comes with being able to partake. As those with food allergies know, it can be really gratifying to finally be able get in on something food-related ritual that most others can get in on without a second thought. Ramen Burger offers the opportunity to partake—and that, to me, is worth the wait. (Oh, and there’s that whole bit about it tasting good, too.)

Anyway, if you, too, would like to partake—and if Ramen Burger’s incidental lack of nuts is enough to make you feel safe—you can do so at Smorgasburg, in Williamsburg (90 Kent Avenue) on Saturdays, and in Prospect Park (near the entrance on Lincoln Road) on Sundays. Bring cash, though—and maybe a snack or two.

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Mary’s Gone Crackers

Mary's Gone Crackers

You know that weird-ass commercial where the guy says he’d eat a piece of bark if you put Sabra hummus on it (…and then starts croaking about “MEAT”)? Well, I think I’ve found him a snack. Hummus and MEAT not included.

I won’t lie: I never (ever) would have bought these crackers if I’d had to trade actual money for them. In fact, I passed on them at Whole Foods last week. And the week before. But the other day, I came upon them once more at NYU’s Sidestein Market, and I have a decent amount of leftover Dining Dollars (an on-campus currency that you pay for along with your meal swipes) that’ll disappear in a few weeks if I don’t spend them, so I figured I might as well give the crackers a try. How bad could they be?

Bad. Really bad. That’s the answer. They could be really, really bad—and I’m not sure whether they are, but I am sure that I could only get through a single bite of a single cracker before I started looking around for something to get its flavor out of my mouth. Alas, it was too late; I was already on the train, with nothing but a pint of ice cream (sans spoon) and, of course, more Mary’s. Shit.

I’d chosen the original crackers over the Super Seed (because I’m not a masochist) but boy, were they packed with seeds. Overall, the cracker tasted a whole lot like burnt seaweed, which definitely isn’t my thing, but which may be yours. You never know, right?

Honestly, I’m probably being a little harsh. In the interest of full disclosure: I’m the type of person who likes Funyuns and Ben & Jerry’s and gummy candies and string cheese and these are…well, they’re whole grain, gluten-free, vegan crackers made with brown rice, quinoa, and flax seeds. So maybe they don’t suck as much as I’d have you believe. Maybe these crackers and I just aren’t compatible. But the fact remains: I’m not going to be eating them.

But in case you’re still interested, Mary’s are safe. According to their various product pages, their products are “manufactured in [their] own dedicated gluten free, dairy free, nut free (except coconuts) facility.” As far as I can tell, this only applies to the crackers, pretzels, and cookies. The MiNiS Graham Bites and THINS Crackers aren’t labeled as nut-free, and the granola bars either contain nuts or come with may-contain warnings. Oh well.

If this post has you drooling—and how could it not?—I have some good news: You can find Mary’s Gone Crackers all over, at Whole Foods, Stop & Shop, Food Emporium, and a whole bunch of health food stores.

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