Monday, April 11, 2011

The Milk Truck and Moonshine

It is not an exaggeration to say that with Zany’s untimely departure, I fall into a deep depression and lose my appetite. Food has lost its flavor, and I subsist for days on nothing but peanut butter and Fluff sandwiches. My college roommate Ford McKenzie decides an intervention is needed and summons me to Brooklyn for a serious meal and a stiff drink – in that order.
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.

“But, where are the wheels?” I demand to know. “Food trucks are supposed to have wheels.”

“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


Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) said...

Ever thought about leading food tours of NYC? I'd follow you in a heartbeat! Plus, I'm a sucker for grilled cheese and chocolate milkshakes, too.

Julia said...

Lydia - that's a brilliant idea! Let's drive down together.

Those grilled cheeses look amazing. Sadly, not enough places let them toast long enough to get the cheese properly gooey.

Kat said...

Awesome post. I could almost taste the grilled cheese! What a great way to get out of your "funk."

Ford M said...

What TWB didn't mention is that in Bushwick we also stumbled upon the Brooklyn Jerky Co., two guys who make beef jerky using grass-fed beef out of a sparkling warehouse kitchen. TWB bought a bag. We concluded that we needed something to wash down the jerky and stopped into a local bar for a few micro brews (btw, there is--almost--nothing better than being in a bar at 3 in the afternoon, particularly after a bourbon tasting). Who wouldn't crave Sicilian rice balls after that? And, TWB, I am sure you one has balls like GCR

Unknown said...

Will be chewing my chilly turkey on whole wheat with considerably less gusto (and considerably more envy) this afternoon, thanks to the typically vivid descriptions of your savory sandwich therapy.

Mad Me-Shell said...

Grilled cheese, jerky and moonshine all in the same day?! I could weep I'm so jealous! Now, if the grilled cheese people would just team up with the jerky people -- I can practically taste the jerky-filled grilled cheese now.....

Zany said...

You are right - Mad would've signed a lease at the distillery. We met Friday for tapas to plan our next culinary adventure. I've dug up a little info on the Chicago Doughnut Vault - that's right, a hidden vault...if we break in, we may need you to come bail us out.

Barbara said...

Lord, I shouldn't have been reading this at noon! And hungry. Sheer heaven. Well, I could pass on the moonshine, but not the grilled cheese (gruyere and rye would have been my choice too) milkshakes and the rice balls. I'm thinking I made something similar with leftover risotto a while back...a killer recipe.
Anyway, I do love your constant search for quality junk food. :) I dearly wish I still had the metabolism to join you.

Deana Sidney said...

Be still my heart... I must find this milk truck. Do they really make sandwiches that look like that? I thought I was dreaming. QUality like that... oh my. Must get to the Brooklyn Flea. I can see why it took you out of your doldrums. Whoa!

Mary Bergfeld said...

The first few weeks of loss are tough. The girls never would have left had they known how hard this would be for you. Thank goodness for other friends who live in strange places:-). Your grilled cheese sounds like a thing of beauty and to think it came from wheeless truck. Imagine what they'll be able to do when they go mobile. Have a great evening. Blessings...Mary

~~louise~~ said...

Happy National Grilled Cheese Day, T.W! And, a great big thank you to Ford for dragging you down to Brooklyn. Oh how I miss Brooklyn...

Nothing like a GREAT Grilled Cheese Sandwich to get one out of the doldrums. They look positively sinful! I just went to the Milk Truck site, All Day Breakfast Sandwich sounds right up my alley.

As for those rice balls, oh good heavens, I haven't had a "real" rice ball in ages. Wouldn't mind downing it with a quick glass of bourbon right about now and it's not even 10AM

Thanks for sharing, T.W. Cheer-up, we love your virtual food tours...

tasteofbeirut said...

I am still laughing! Sorry I should be commiserating but your writing is just too funny; you remind me of Art Buchwald, the only man who used to make me laugh consistently ( no stale jokes with Art); can't say that i wish I could eat all of these hmm concoctions but I was totally engrossed in the literary recounting of this little adventure in Brooklyn. *Hey, I would have split and headed to Atlantic Ave to get some Arab food!". Cheers.

Sam Hoffer / My Carolina Kitchen said...

There's probably nothing better on earth than a good grilled cheese sandwich. That was an awfully lot of choices to make without Zany by your side.

I'm so glad Ford came to your rescue. I'm somewhat embarrassed to admit it, but I've tasted real moonshine in the south when I was in college and crazy friends suggested we go to the "local" dealer. Moonshine is scary stuff.

Jane said...

I especially liked the part about the cheese sandwiches and milk shakes. Isn't lactose tolerance a blessed thing? Something to be thankful for, even when we're otherwise feeling a little down. :)

Keith said...

reading your post just got me out of my funk. thanks also for your perseverance despite your (completely justified) reservations about the truck no truck conundrum. rest assured, the truck is on its way. i have the receipts!

thanks again,

Milk Truck

T.W. Barritt at Culinary Types said...

Keith - we will find you again, and can't wait for the wheels! Thanks for visiting - your food is awesome!