On behalf of all New York transplants now living in Texas, I would like to take this opportunity to apologize: When it comes to foods from our hometown, we are an admittedly insufferable bunch.
Thirteen years after relocating to Fort Worth from my hometown of Staten Island, N.Y., I still complain constantly about how you can’t find truly New York-style pizza here, with that not-too-crispy thin crust and its precise balance of mozzarella, tomato sauce and grease.
When the conversation turns to bagels, I turn into an angry zealot, not unlike those street-corner preachers who stand on milk crates and shout that the apocalypse is nigh. “Einstein Bros bagels are NOT real bagels. Those bagels will be our damnation!”
But with Super Bowl Sunday upon us, we Texas-based New Yorkers have a unique opportunity — finally we can show our Southern friends what it means to eat like a true New Yorker. For the first time ever, the Super Bowl is being played in the New York metropolitan area. (Technically MetLife Stadium is in East Rutherford, N.J., but fuhgeddaboudit — New Yorkers have long been ignoring such technicalities when it comes to the location of their sports stadiums.)
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So instead of the usual fare of chips-and-salsa, chili or cheeseburgers, I’m proposing a Super Bowl Sunday party menu featuring New York’s most iconic foods: hot pastrami sandwiches, pizza, bagels, black-and-white cookies and egg creams. My approach mixes store-bought items with homemade ones to achieve a mostly authentic New York experience. Best of all: At no point in the planning of this party will you have to step onto an overcrowded, underventilated New York City subway car.
Caveat No. 1. For those wondering why I’m not proposing a Super Bowl party with foods from Seattle, in honor of the seemingly unstoppable Seahawks, all I can say is: What are you going to do, drink Starbucks coffee and throw whole fish at one another during your party? (And, by the way, does Denver have any food for which it is famous?)
Caveat No. 2. I left hot dogs off this menu, because New Yorkers themselves can’t agree on what constitutes the definitive New York-style hot dog. (Like most, I’m of the all-beef, natural-casing school, as exemplified by the Nathan’s Famous and Sabrett brands — but the grilling-versus-warm water bath debate goes on.) I also ignored Manhattan clam chowder, because, well, if you’re someone who thinks that monstrosity of a soup is real New York food, you don’t know nothing about New York.
Hot pastrami sandwiches
A staple of New York Jewish delis since the early 20th century, the classic pastrami sandwich — cured and smoked short plate beef, sliced and simmered in beef broth and then piled high between two slices of soft rye bread — is one of those menu items that’s actually a lot easier to make at home than you might think.
Central Market carries an excellent New York-style pastrami, made by the famous Carnegie Deli in New York ($12.99/pound), and the “cooking” involves little more than bringing a saucepan of beef broth to a boil and allowing it to simmer for a few minutes. (You can also eat your pastrami cold, but New Yorkers like me will sneer at you.)
As for condiments, in my mind the proper pastrami sandwich has no cheese — only red onion, pickles and a hearty smear of deli-style mustard (the kind that includes horseradish).
Your bigger concern should be finding the right rye bread — though pause before rushing off to a fancy bakery or attempting your own from rye flour. Indeed, these days the New York culinary scene is characterized by artisanal cooking and carefully sourced ingredients. But those of us who grew up in New York eating pastrami sandwiches remember them best served with store-bought, soft rye bread, either the Levy’s or Beefsteak brands.
Alas, Levy’s or Beefsteak, both now owned by Bimbo Bakeries USA, are not to be found in these parts. But after trying a few other varieties, I decided that Pepperidge Farm Seedless Jewish Rye (available at most area grocery stores) was closest to my childhood memories. The bread barely holds together against the warm, juicy pastrami and mustard — and that’s exactly as it should be.
Black and white cookies
“Look to the cookie,” Jerry Seinfeld famously intoned when he tasted one of these artfully designed confections, with its top divided evenly between chocolate and vanilla icing.
On Seinfeld, Jerry determines that the cookies are symbols of racial harmony, though whether that’s true in real life is hard to determine — no one is quite sure how or why these cookies became New York bakery staples. What is certain is that no New York-inspired menu should be complete without them, or without wrestling with that essential New York question: Do you bite into the black side or the white side first?
Home bakers can use Google to find any number of recipes for black and white cookies (most of the necessary ingredients should already be in your pantry). That said, there’s really no point in improving upon a masterpiece, especially if said masterpiece is available at Central Market. Head to the bakery section and grab a few containers of Lilly’s black and whites, from Lilly’s Homestyle Bakery Shop, in the Borough Park section of Brooklyn.
The texture of the cookie is perfectly pillowy, and the vanilla and fudge icings are spot-on. (Oh, every New Yorker knows you always bite into the vanilla side first.)
When pizza aficionados speak of New York-style, this is what they mean: It should be light on the tomato sauce but generous on the mozzarella — and God forbid you put any of those trendy toppings on there, like sun-dried tomatoes or squash blossoms. The crust should be thin, with puffy air bubbles around the edges, but not too crispy, so that it can easily be folded in half and eaten while standing. It should be baked in a gas deck oven, not, as some New Yorkers may try to argue, a coal- or wood-burning oven. Cornmeal must never enter the equation.
Alas, such pizza is easier described than achieved. Even the best New York-style pizza in North Texas feels not quite of New York, with crusts that are usually either too crispy (Fireside Pies) or too doughy (the ubiquitous Joe’s Pizza and Pasta shops). And while New York-style pizza can actually be reasonably approximated in the home kitchen — provided you have a pizza stone and use a quality, high-gluten bread flour like King Arthur brand — I’ve learned from bitter experience that homemade pizza for a large party is impossible, especially if you have any hope of ever escaping the kitchen.
My solution is to accept that compromise is necessary, even for New Yorkers, and order your Super Bowl Sunday pies from one my three favorite New York-style pizza spots: Grimaldi’s (which has locations in Grapevine and Dallas; www.grimaldis pizzeria.com), where the tomato sauce is especially piquant and the sauce-to-cheese ratio is exact (I’m willing to forgive the coal-burning oven); Hysen’s Nizza Pizza (with locations in Fort Worth and Colleyville; www.hysen snizzapizza .com), which originated in Manhattan and has good prices if you’re ordering multiple pies (I’m willing to overlook the slightly chewy crust); and Joe’s Italian Restaurant (1601 Park Place Ave., Fort Worth, 817-927-8695 ), which for this New Yorker is the best of the many Joe’s pizzas in town.
It is the bane of every New Yorker’s existence in Texas: Where the heck are you supposed to get a good bagel here? In a pinch, I recommend Boopa’s Bagel Deli (6513 N. Beach St., Fort Worth; http://boopas bagel fortworth.com), which makes traditional water-boiled and then baked, uber-doughy bagels. (Even if a few of the flavors, like cranberry orange and jalapeño cheddar, would get it instantly banished from the five boroughs.)
But after years of griping about the problem, I decided to take matters into my own hands and attempt to bake my own New York bagels at home. After trying out a couple of recipes, I settled on one adapted from the Sophisticated Gourmet website and the book Ultimate Bread by Eric Treuille and Ursula Ferrigno. And while the result isn’t a perfect New York bagel — I couldn’t quite replicate the hard exterior crust I love on New York bagels, and the holes I drove into the center kept disappearing during the baking process — they have a far more yeasty-doughy bagel flavor that anything at Einstein Bros or Panera.
A couple of things to note if you attempt the recipe for your own Super Bowl party: You’ll need to start early in the day, since the recipe will take about three hours to complete. You may also have a difficult time finding malt syrup (I had to order mine off Amazon.com), though I didn’t discern a huge difference between the batch of bagels I made with the syrup and the batch without.
The best part of all is the “wow” factor. When you present your tray of homemade bagels — perhaps accompanied by smoked salmon, red onion, capers and cream cheese — your guests will regard you as the ultimate New York gourmand. (Second-best part: These bagels freeze beautifully, so you can store the leftovers and enjoy them during the week.)
A few things you should know about egg creams, purportedly invented by Nathan Herman and Jack Witt in Brooklyn in the early 20th century. First, they contain neither egg nor cream. Second, once you introduce newcomers to this frothy, milkshakelike concoction, they are destined to gain at least 5 pounds — especially once they find out how simple they are to make.
Just three ingredients: milk, chocolate syrup and soda water — though of course there are countless debates and variations. Some insist upon using sodium-free sparkling water (though I’m a stickler for club soda or seltzer with sodium). A New York friend now living in California insists that, back when she worked at a Friendly’s in Westchester County, she discovered that the secret to the perfect egg cream is to use light cream instead of whole milk. Others will say that a true egg cream uses Fox’s U-Bet chocolate syrup ( available on Amazon), though the more easily obtainable Hershey’s brand has always worked for me.
My own recipe mixes milk and half-and-half. But this one is hard to screw up, so my best advice is to mix and match until you find your preferred combination. Your calcium-starved bones will thank you, even if your waistline begins to expand uncontrollably.
This is a Super Bowl party, so forget about serving Manhattans or sidecars or any other such Gatsby-esque cocktail. Football should only be enjoyed with beer.
That said, you can continue the theme with craft beers from the New York City area. Two you’ll find at Central Market, World Market, Spec’s and other area beer sellers: Brooklyn Brewery and Sixpoint Brewery, also from Brooklyn.