Drinks, Meats, and Sweat Treats: Choice Eats 2013

by Dan Catinella
Courtesy of Tina Wong of TheWanderingEater.com
March 2013

A 150-year old building packed with Google+, Blink Fitness, and 79 of New York City's best restaurants enjoying hefty pours of Abita Beer. This was the latest installation of The Village Voice's Sixth Annual Choice Eats event—a mouthwatering event bringing together over 35 cuisines, craft beers, wine varietals and spirits under one huge roof.

The 69th Armory played host again to this year's culinary extravaganza. Located at 26th and Park, the building boasts one of the cities largest column-free spaces. The 38,000 square-foot space contained numerous tables and booths and enough elbow room for hungry eaters to scramble and savor every delectable bite—which they did. At a modestly priced $50 per ticket, the event was neither elite nor sparse and guests left satisfied

StarChefs.com was fortunate enough to attend the pre-event gathering and we kicked off the evening downstairs in the VIP lounge, where event newcomer and 2013 StarChefs.com New York Rising Star Leah Cohen of Pig and Khao was dishing out finger-licking good Pork Ribs with P&K BBQ Sauce, Crispy Garlic, Scallion and Cilantro. Tender and full of spice, this dish was the perfect nosh for a cold winter day. Remaining in our Southeast Asian frame of mind, we stopped next at Qi Thai Grill and tasted Pork Satay with Toasted Bread wrapped in Peanut Sauce and cooled with Cucumber Chutney. Qi Thai Grill's Consulting and 2002 StarChefs.com Rising Star Chef Pichet Ong was on-hand, so we took the opportunity to get the scoop on his upcoming projects: an ice cream fountain shop “nearby” and a Ramen joint in Texas.

Italian-style Braised Beef Sandwich with Giardiniera by Home by the Range
Italian-style Braised Beef Sandwich with Giardiniera by Home by the Range

We jettisoned our Asian gustation and hopped over to Germany (carbon-foot print friendly—it was only a short walk back upstairs) at the Parish Hall table, which was adorned by plates of Smoked Kielbasa, Fermented Savoy Cabbage, and Beer Mustard. Sourced from Adirondack Grazers, the meat was luxuriously smoked, and the cabbage and mustard balanced the fattiness of the sausage. Since we first experienced Evan Hanczor's cuisine, we come to expect a lot from Parish Hall and this exceeded our expectations.

Our carnivorous cravings were not yet sated and we continued onward to The Meatball Shop to fill our protein quotient for the evening. This was our favorite savory taste of the evening where we gorged on a Buffalo Chicken Meatball with Blue Cheese Sauce, Chopped Celery, and a dash of Frank's Red Hot. The flavors were top-notch and we caught ourselves trying to sneak seconds. Owners Michael Chernow and Daniel Holzman were on hand to help their team and represent the rapidly expanding empire. Co-winners of our 2013 New York Rising Star Community award, Chernow was very positive and vocally supportive of the Village Voice's Choice Eats's mission and simply happy to be a part of the event.

Buffalo Chicken Balls with Blue Cheese Sauce and Frank's Red Hot by The Meatball Shop
Buffalo Chicken Balls with Blue Cheese Sauce and Frank's Red Hot by The Meatball Shop

And as if we hadn't had our daily calories of meat we stumbled across Michelin recommended Resto serving Country Pâtè meatloaf with Dry-aged Beef Fat, Spicy Tomato Jam, and Crispy Pig Ears, lathered on a house-made Ritz cracker. The short line hinted that the European flavors had been lost in translation. We, however, delighted in its cool, creamy, earthy, and rich, flavors, which we followed with No. 7 Subs's own interesting flavor combinations in a Double Decker Broccoli Taco, Peanuts, Feta and Black Beans. Home by the Range gave us the Jersey Cow Sandwich—a rendition of the Chicago Italian Beef, with slowly braised beef and seasonal jardinière that made us wonder why this sandwich hasn't taken over the Jersey/New York area as it has the Windy City.

By 8pm the VIP lounge had been reorganized into a feast for sugar fiends so it was time to return. Confectionaries like Joe Dough, Liddabit Sweets, Fay Da Bakery, Zucker Bakery and the rather famous Carlo's Bakery brought their candies, laminated dough, cakes, and cookies to the table. Ovenly, the Brooklyn based bakery offered three choices: Salted Chocolate Chip Cookies; Espresso and Burnt Sugar Shortbread; and Honey Chocolate Blondies. Brooklyn relative The Blue Stove had me stumbling with its Drunken Monkey Pie; a wide cordial glass layered with vanilla-bourbon crust, caramelized bananas, and chocolate ganache. Rich, creamy and lightly spiked, the small portion of this potent decadent dessert after a long venture of food and alcohol was just right. But we couldn't stop there—Liddabit Sweets gave us Rice Pudding with Fruit Compote and BITEME brought an array of mini cheesecakes including Signature Classic, Strawberry Balsamic, Clustered Nuts,and Limoncello Mirengue. La Newyorkina could have easily taken home an award for drawing the longest line for its ice pops, which came in several flavors: Passion Mango Chile, Grapefruit, and Hibiscus. As the evening progressed lines became longer, but that did not diminish our resolve to navigate our way through them.

Double Decker Broccoli Tacos with Peanuts, Feta and Black Beans by No. 7 Subs
Double Decker Broccoli Tacos with Peanuts, Feta and Black Beans by No. 7 Subs

The 6th iteration of Choice Eats was clearly a success, made all the more so by DJs Vito and Druzzi, best known members of The Rapture, who were keeping the energy alive with their hipster melodies wrapped in electronica blasting from the speaker stands. Participants of the event were handpicked by Tejal Rao and Robert Sietsema, food critics for The Village Voice. And for the third year in a row, the charitable partner of the event was Slow Food NYC—who received a portion of the Choice Eats ticket sales to support its Urban Harvest Program. The Urban Harvest Initiative helps New York City children learn about the effects of good food on their health and well-being, the health of their communities, and the health of the planet. The blend of exceptional food and drink and charity made Choice Eats 2013 a notable event. We are already counting the days till Choice Eats 2014.