I arrive in Brooklyn on the afternoon train, and we head for the Brooklyn Flea, an indoor market at the site of the former Williamsburg Savings Bank building. Ford looks dapper in a weekend uniform of denim jeans and black leather jacket. We are joined by my de-cluttering consultant Rosemary. Several years ago, she famously revamped my kitchen cabinets, but has yet to figure out the best way to sweep out the cobwebs in my brain. Always stylish, today she looks a bit like Catherine Denueve with a touch of retro bling and her blonde hair swept back in a leopard print scarf. We fit in perfectly with the Brooklyn hipster crowd, assuming nobody asks for ID.
There have been sightings of a mysterious “Milk Truck” that serves grilled cheese sandwiches at the Flea. I scan the surrounding streets, but there’s no truck in sight. Ford suggests we enter the Flea, but my stubborn streak is showing. “What good is going inside?" I say. "A food truck would be on the street.”
We wander the vendor booths, eying the range of antiques, crafts, funky sunglasses and artisanal pickles. I quickly make a purchase of several retro Pyrex mixing bowls. Rosemary thinks I have too much kitchenware, but she gives me a free pass on this one.
We follow the signs that read “Food Court This Way” and eventually find ourselves deep within the basement vault of the bank. There, we discover a collection of tables covered with red-and-white checkered tablecloths, kids in strollers, Gen X and Gen Y, dogs, fry tables, and the distinctive aroma of grilled cheese. In one corner of the vault, the Milk Truck has set up shop with a several tables and a griddle.
“There’s no truck. It’s still a concept,” explains Ford. “He’s working here while he renovates a truck and gets the permits, and then he’ll go mobile.”
I’m having a little trouble accepting the fact that I can’t even smell a hint of 10W-40 or axle grease in the air, although the scent of melted cheese is starting to win me over. Rosemary wastes no time, consults the chalkboard menu and gets on line to place an order. She requests “The Classic,” because as she puts it, “I’m a classic.” It’s made with aged Wisconsin Gruyere and cultured butter on Levain Pullman bread. I select “The Classic with a Twist” – aged Wisconsin Gruyere on rye with champagne-pickled onions and mustard.
Ever the iconoclast, Ford chooses a “Ham & Cheese” made with Applewood smoked ham, Vermont aged cheddar and Coleman’s Mustard on Rosemary Pullman bread. Fearing that we might still be slightly dairy-deprived, we order two milk shakes – Vanilla Bean and Bittersweet Chocolate.
The meal is udderly brilliant. Imagine the best Saturday afternoon childhood lunch you’ve ever had and then quadruple the pleasure. The sandwiches arrive in grease-stained paper wraps and are crisp, hot and supremely savory, dripping with stringy melted cheese. I consume quite a bit of the shakes – because bittersweet chocolate is good for you – and become transfixed by the swirls of vanilla beans in the vanilla shake. We are flush with the love of lactose, and I must admit I’m feeling a little better.
For something completely different, our next stop is Bushwick. The landscape is industrial, and we wander the street for a bit, searching for some sign of the Kings County Distillery. The business was established about 11 months ago by partners whose hobby was making whiskey. Word-of-mouth spread rapidly, and now there is a seven-day-a-week operation in a renovated Bushwick warehouse. The owners are part of the burgeoning food and drink culture in Brooklyn – people in their early thirties who are crafting the kind of products they want to enjoy.
There is a decidedly no-frills approach. The walls are painted the color of butternut squash, and everywhere we look there are white plastic buckets filled with bubbling corn porridge – the fermenting mash that will eventually deliver a crystal-clear (and legally-produced) “Moonshine” or a slightly-more-aged bourbon whiskey. The finished product is bottled in flasks, and slapped with a label that looks like it was typed on an antique Underwood typewriter.
So what’s the process for aging quality whiskey? Surprisingly (or maybe not) Ford has the answer: “Good scotch is aged ten years or more. Bourbon and rye are aged one-to-six years. Moonshine is aged the amount of time it sits in the back seat of your car during the trip from the still to your house.”
The Kings County Distillery Moonshine is, well, edgy. But isn’t that what life in Bushwick is all about? The master distiller Colin Spoelman describes the taste of the bourbon whiskey “like a wet twig with cinnamon and vanilla spicy notes.” The description is dead on. I buy a bottle, because I need at least one more bottle of bourbon in my liquor cabinet.
Zany would have loved the Kings County Distillery. Mad Me-Shell would have signed a lease and moved right in.
Before departing for home, Ford decides he has a craving for Sicilian fried rice balls. Don’t ask me. My craving meter is set precisely on M&Ms. We park just around the corner from Arancini Bros. on Flushing Street. Their slogan is “We’ve got balls.” (I’m serious. Do you think I make this stuff up?) The guy at the counter gives us a "Frequent Baller Card" for future purchases. The fried rice balls are made with Arborio rice and contain a variety of fillings. They are the size of baseballs, and make for a substantial supper. One never goes hungry in the company of Ford McKenzie.
Night falls, and when I arrive home, a giant Super Moon is beaming over my humble abode. A celestial event? Or is it the moonshine?
No Zany? Food trucks without wheels? Urban moonshine? How will I survive this Brave New World? At least there will always be longtime friends (I didn’t say old), the comfort of grilled cheese and people with balls to help navigate any uncertainties that lie ahead.
©2011 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved