Monday, December 1, 2008


Brunch isn't really my thing. I'm over egg-y attempts at the perfect fritatta and over-crisped bacon. The more excited I get about food the less excited I get about brunch. Because, let's face it: if brunch were a sandwich, it would be peanut butter and jelly with the crusts cut off, satisfying but not particularly adventurous.

That being said, I had heard great things about Back Forty's burger and they do serve said burger at brunch, so I found myself dining with other Bloody Maryied New Yorkers early Sunday afternoon.

I'll get to the burger in a second, but it should be noted first that Back Forty makes a mean Bloody Mary, adorned with pickled vegetables (fennel, wax beans) and served a little spicy. If I hadn't been driving, I would have indulged in the Voodoo Root Beer (house-spiced rum, stout) or the Honey Margartia (honey sourced from the rooftop apiary of the chef himself).

And still, before the arrival of that infamous burger, we had other treats to enjoy. First up, two perfect donuts, topped with a concord grape syrup. They were still warm. Following the donuts, three equally impressive pork jowl fritters arrived atop a lovely jalapeno jam that reminded me of something I couldn't quite place. It was both savory and sweet and more than a little spicy, which worked perfectly with those fried and fatty jowls of love. Had they posed no danger to my ability to fit into my pants, I would have chosen to eat those things all afternoon.

And then... the burgers. The ketchup arrived first, billed as a "spicy house-made ketchup." It was darker than the processed variety and, yes, it was a bit on the spicy side, but mostly it was rich and sweet and full of molasses. The burger itself--about a 6oz patty, if I had to guess--was grassfed beef served on a buttered sesame bun. With it came sliced pickles, red onion, and some beautiful Boston lettuce, along with a hearty helping of rosemary fries. No tomatoes with this burger until tomatoes hit the markets again next summer. Back Forty puts a clear and present emphasis on seasonal, local, and slow.

The burger was perfect and well-seasoned. I passed on the additions of heritage bacon and cheese, but those options are available. The only disappointment suffered with Back Forty had to do with their fries, which were overcooked and, for my taste, sliced far too thick. The rosemary imparted very little flavor and what remained were too crispy potatoes. I would have preferred a second helping of the jowls instead.

Back Forty
190 Avenue B
New York, NY 10009

Early in the day, my Back Forty friend and I decided that we'd have dinner at BLT Prime, an old favorite. But as the day (and the rain) wore on, we decided to head back to Astoria for a more local dinner. We had already spent the day dreaming of a steak dinner, so we decided to try Christos Steak House, which a friend had once lauded as completely reasonable and completely delicious.

Christos is an American steak house with Greek influence, but we were really looking for the traditional goodies, so we skipped the tzaziki dip and the veal sweetbreads sauteed in lemon in favor of clams casino. I'm not sure I've ever ordered clams casino in my life, but it was as predictable and yummy as I could have imagined, six Cherrystones stuffed with bread and minced peppers and topped with a squirt of lemon juice. Bread service included a grilled assortment and a black olive tapenade that was neither too oily nor too aggressive.

For dinner, we shared a 24oz bone-in rib eye, grilled asparagus, roasted mushrooms, and creamed spinach. The rib eye was perfect, charred on the outside and fatty inside. The meat was tender and well-rested and had definitely been dry-aged. I'm not sure if it was prime or not, but it certainly tasted so. The asparagus were thick-stemmed (my favorite) and came topped with a chiffonade of basil (an interesting touch, but completely unnecessary). The creamed spinach seemed to please my friend, the spinach connoisseur, and the roasted mushrooms (shitakes and oysters, mostly) were buttery and rich. At the end, I struggled not to pick the bone up and chew from it like the old ladies I always mocked during my steak house days.

For dessert I visited Greece, ordering a sheep's milk yogurt with walnuts, honey, and quince. Fine Greek yogurt has the consistency of sour cream and this was no exception. The honey cut the assertive tanginess of the yogurt and the walnuts offered crunch. I was not disappointed.

And neither was my friend, who finished every last bite of her apple crumble. It seems we've found a new spot for our iron-deprived Sundays in Astoria.

Christos Steak House
4106 23rd Avenue
Astoria, NY 11105

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