“Wich”hunting and an Exploration of Craft Beer in NYC.

DSC_0144Last month I had the chance to head to New York City, after winning a contest through the New York sandwich chain ‘wichcraft. For their 10th anniversary they featured 10 signature items and ingredients, and asked for entrants to come up with sandwich concepts as well as pairing ideas. My first thought was that this contest had been designed specifically for me, which I actually wrote in my first email. The prize was a flight to NYC and a VIP day with ‘wichcraft followed by dinner at their sister restaurant Riverpark.photo (21)Founded by celebrity chef Tom Colicchio of Top Chef fame, chef Sisha Ortuzar and entrepreneur Jeffrey Zurofsky in 2003, ‘wichcraft was to be an innovative sandwich service like no other. After years of working together in fine dining restaurants like Gramercy Tavern and Craft, the three came up with the concept of creating finely crafted sandwiches using only the best artisan ingredients.DSC_0095Upon my arrival at ‘wichcraft’s commissary location in Chelsea I was greeted by Caki, ‘wichcraft’s PR and marketing person. My big sandwich day kicked off right away with their Croissant-wich, with bacon, two fried eggs and aged cheddar on a fresh twice baked croissant. Myself and the other contest winner Shannon then had the opportunity to sit and chat with co-owner Jeffrey, who was so awesome and such a great person to talk to about sandwiches and the restaurant industry in general. Caki then took us back to the kitchen to see the day to day operations of running a commissary kitchen for the 30 plus ‘wichcraft locations and meet with ‘wichcraft  Director of Food & Beverage Mike Barbera. Chef Mike let us sample the daily special, a fontina and trumpet mushroom sandwich with tallegia and truffle oil on grilled ploughman bread.IMG_5532He also gave us a quick crash course in ‘wichcraft sandwich making, explained the preparation of some of their prepared items and gave us the chance to create a few of our own sandwiches with some of ‘wichcraft’s signature ingredients. We then jumped in a cab and headed off to the Southwest Porch in Bryant Park for lunch.IMG_5535The Southwest Porch is a small little licensed deck area in the middle of the beautiful Bryant Park, located just a block or so from Times Square. They serve a small menu of burgers and sausages, as well as some other sharing friendly items, like the guacamole and chips that we all shared. I sipped on a few tasty beverages including the Peak Organic Summer Session Ale from Portland, Maine and the Brewery Ommegang Witte from Cooperstown, New York.IMG_5540I also tried to get through their Horseradish Cheddar burger, with Wrighteous Organics beef, aged cheddar, fried onions and horseradish cream on an English muffin. I say try because I’d had so much to eat at ‘wichcraft this proved to be a difficult task. But, the burger was really good, the patty had great flavour, the horseradish cream added a real nice bite and the English muffin was an interesting twist.IMG_5544Both beers I tried were also delicious, and perfect in the 40 plus degree weather that day. As this part of the day concluded, I decided to take a long walk down 5th avenue back my friend’s apartment to work off all the sandwiches before heading to dinner at ‘wichcraft’s sister restaurant Riverpark.DSC_0099I arrived at Riverpark just before 6pm to meet up with Shannon again for our tour of the Riverpark Farm by farmer Zach. Now, Riverpark is located right along the East River in Manhattan, and has a fully operating farm right outside its doors.IMG_5567The farm came to be at the time that Riverpark was opening in one of two towers being built on the location, but when the market crash happened right around that same time only one tower could afford to be built. So they asked the landlord if the plot of land that had been meant for the second tower could be converted into a farm as it wasn’t going to be built on for the time being but was still owned by the landlord. He agreed. The farm was such a success and the landlord was such a fan of the concept that when it came time a couple years later to build the second tower, the landlord allowed Riverpark to use the available land around the restaurant to keep the farm going. Zach gave us a great tour of the site and told us in detail about all the different things they grow and how the chef uses them in their signature dishes. Which conveniently enough we were about to dine on at the conclusion of the tour.

After thanking Zach and heading back into the restaurant, we were sat at a table on the patio looking towards Long Island City across the East River. We were greeted by our server for the evening, and started to look over the menus.IMG_5574IMG_5576I began my dinner by ordering a Brooklyn Brewing Silver Anniversary Lager, to pair up with our starters of braised baby octopus with lime, chile oil, Manila clams, and baby bock choy and the crispy sweetbreads with strawberries and bronze fennel. This was my first experience trying sweetbreads, and I loved them. The braised octopus was also amazing, so soft that you could cut it with your fork. The Silver Anniversary Lager was perfect with the starters, is was crisp and clean with a subtle flavour that matched up really nice with both the sweetbreads and the octopus. The second beer I had was a real special one, the Duvel Single, a single fermented version of the classic Belgian favourite, which is normally only tasted by the brewmaster and his staff during the brewing process. The single was made available to the public only recently and can only be tried on draft at a handful of select locations in North America. I felt extremely lucky to get the chance to try it and it didn’t disappoint. After enjoying the starters as well as a couple salads it came time for the main course, and that decision was pretty easy once I saw the rack of lamb with okra, eggplant, capers, golden raisins, sweet peppers and oregano. The lamb was amazing, beautifully rich and gamey and so tender. The eggplant was soft and buttery in texture, with that great earthiness not lost at all. The okra, capers, golden raisins and sweet pepper hash burst with flavour with each bite, a spectacular complement to the lamb. I chose to pair up the lamb with the Heavy Seas Loose Cannon IPA, a full flavoured super hoppy New York state India Pale Ale. I loved the pairing as the bitterness from the hops combated the lamb’s gaminess just right. I concluded my meal with a decadent cloumage cheesecake with brandied cherries, graham streusel and cherry ice cream for dessert, before my friend and I headed to Brooklyn to hit up Torst for a few beers.

After a late night in Brooklyn, I awoke mid-morning and head out to great café called La Colombe for a very strong and much needed coffee before venturing out for the day in search of sandwiches and craft beer. The first place on our agenda was a little spot called Rocket Pig in Chelsea that had been recommended to us the previous night in Brooklyn, and good thing because it was unreal. Rocket Pig does one sandwich and they do it right! Smoked spice-rubbed pork on a ciabatta roll with red onion jam, mustard sauce, house-made pickle with a side of rocket pig hot sauce.DSC_0101That sandwich paired up with a Sly Fox Pikeland Pils was exactly what I needed to get me going for the day. Next stop was Colicchio & Sons, a craft beer bar opened by ‘wichcraft founder Tom Colicchio, featuring a well curated taplist of about 20 craft beers.DSC_0125I had a flight featuring an Empire Brewing Company Rauchbier, a Brewery Ommegang Belgian Blonde Ale and a Belgian Wit from Kelso Beer Co.All were delicious and firsts for me, the rauchbier was really interesting and true to the style with lots of smoke on the nose and a subtle smoke flavour. The Belgian blonde was nice and crisp with a clean finish, and the wit was bright with orange and chamomile notes. We finished our beers there and then jumped on the train to head back to Brooklyn for more discovering.DSC_0114

We got off the train in Williamsburg and headed towards to the river to check out the Brooklyn Flea that had been recommended as cool spot to check some local artists. At this point that we made a spectacular discovery, the New York State Food and Beer Expo featuring 20 plus breweries all from New York state.DSC_0146How amazing is that? As I was in New York specifically for sandwiches and craft beer, just happening upon a craft beer festival felt like destiny to me. The breweries on hand included a few I had tried before like Brewery Ommegang, Brooklyn Brewery and Schmaltz Brewing Company. The rest were all new to me and included a few standouts such as Sixpoint Brewery, Radiant Pig Craft Beers, Empire Brewing, Captain Lawrence Brewing, Kelso Beer Company, Rockaway Brewing Company, Newburgh Brewing and Port Jeff Brewing Company.DSC_0149DSC_0161DSC_0162DSC_0163DSC_0165Favourite’s of the day were Newburgh’s Newburton IPA and Radiant Pig’s Junior IPA, and most original went to Kelso’s Fuku, a rauchbier/witbier/gose hybrid brewed for the Momofuku restaurant group. The festival was great, packed with craft beer lovers and people exploring the world of craft beer for the first time. The best part was I no longer needed to run all over NYC, searching for local craft beer, because I’d found it all in one amazing place!DSC_0157After chatting with a few of the brewers and trying a bunch of beers that were being readily offered once I mentioned I was a beer blogger from Vancouver we headed towards Bushwick for a huge block party that was going on. By the time we got there the lineup was 4 blocks long so we took a pass. Instead a friend met us a sweet metal bar with awesome craft beer, where we hung out for the night.DSC_0139The next morning I packed my bag, thanked my friend for letting me crash on his couch for a few nights and jumped in a cab to Laguardia. I loved New York and will definitely have to get back soon, as there are so many more sandwiches to eat and beers to drink!