Where We Traveled in February
From the open roads of Texas' border country to the tropical climes of Puerto Rico, here are all the ways we ate the world this month
Our editors are always going somewhere: to learn, to eat, and to bring that knowledge back to our test kitchen in New York City. From burritos in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico to Greek-inspired Southern in Birmingham, Alabama, here are all the ways we ate the world in February.
This weekend, I was in Birmingham, Alabama for the Southern Foodways Alliance southern media conference. A sleepy city that seems to be waking up after decades of urban hibernation, Birmingham is home to a large Greek population that journalist Eric Velasco documented for SFA. Since the 1940s, Greeks have been running food businesses, including hot dog stands and meat-and-threes, weaving together Southern classics with threads of Mediterranean flavors and techniques. One afternoon at lunch, we were treated to keftedes with grit cakes, cornbread, greens with chickpeas, and yogurt from Johnny’s, a local, Greek-owned stronghold that’s equally American as it is old-school Hellenic. — Leslie Pariseau, special projects editor
It was summer in Philadelphia…. in February. I enjoyed the 3-day stretch of terrifying and delightful balmy winter weather in down in Philly, balancing a frenzied excitement to drink outside in the sun with February’s still-lingering desire for savory, satisfying food. If you’re picturing cheesesteaks, think again. Try sexy Izakayas with warm, fried takoyaki (a dish of the recent James Beard nominee Jesse Ito); the modern Jewish comfort food of Abe Fischer; and steaming bowls of Pho soup in a strip mall in South Philly. I love the city for its ability to balance the contemporary with the down-to-earth. Corner gyro shops nestle easily nearby French bistros. Refined aperol spritzes in the sun could very well be followed by divey strip clubs and pounders of Miller High Life. The weekend embodied a city’s warm embrace of contradiction, diversity, and charm. — Allie Wist, associate art director
Snow, sleet, and schizophrenic New York weather be damned, I’ve been in southern Mexico in my mind this month. In anticipation of the launch of Nopalito—a Mexican cookbook I recently authored with Mexico-born chef Gonzalo Guzmán from San Francisco—I’ve been introducing the SAVEUR staff to the art of homemade masa, the foundation of much of Mexico’s cuisine, especially in the south. A full tutorial is coming in our April/May issue, but the the gist is this: To make masa, you boil dried corn in a solution of culinary lime, then let it soak overnight. Afterwards, you grind it in a handheld grinder called a molino de mano, which is a sturdy, satisfying machine with a hand crank that functions similarly to a pasta maker. (Purists also use a stone grinder for a finer consistency.) The result is so much more flavorful—and pride promoting—than buying sad store-bought tortillas, and the range of corn colors to choose from is overwhelmingly beautiful. It’s a way to connect with the food culture of Mexico, all too important in these strange times in our political landscape. — Stacy Adimando, test kitchen director
Every winter by the time February rolls around, I find myself desperately missing the beach. Staying cozy and warm inside is fun and all (to a point), but I basically spend the entire season plotting ways to make my way back into the sunshine. So my boyfriend and best friend and I took a trip to Culebra, a tiny island off the east coast of Puerto Rico where the entire perimeter is scalloped with breathtakingly beautiful beaches. After taking a plane to an hour-long taxi to a two-hour-long ferry ride, we arrived at our little beach house, outfitted with a view of the bay and a full kitchen, where could fix our own meals each day. Our first night we cooked black beans with grilled peppers and steak kebabs marinated in lime and garlic, which served as a perfect breakfast the next morning with eggs, and then as a salad with fresh greens for lunch. But the best part of the house was the blender, which meant daily smoothies made with the local tropical fruits, and strawberry-mint margaritas we could enjoy from the comfort of our own little porch. — Alex Testere, associate editor
There’s something that Philadelphia cuisine has that New York cuisine doesn’t. It might be that hometown element for me, or it might be the fact that it’s deliberately unassuming—sometimes, New York food feels like it’s all about the spotlight. While Philadelphia cooking isn’t traditionally viewed as “down home,” that’s exactly how I think of it. This cream cheese, banana stuffed French toast from Sabrina’s Café is the perfect example of that. It’s not posed or styled, or made to fit the food trends of Instagram. It’s just two thick cut slices of Challah bread, doused in sugary syrup and stuffed with creamy cheese. With a side of fresh black coffee and accompanied by my gossipy Italian grandmother, I couldn’t imagine a better brunch. — Alex Tringali, photo intern
Having lived in Manhattan for seven years (yes, I’m spoiled), I rarely leave the comfort of Chinatown (but not too spoiled), what with all its cheap markets and budget-friendly Vietnamese food. When I do venture to Brooklyn, it’s usually Bushwick for the bars and warehouse parties. So getting me to “travel” to Greenpoint for dinner is no small feat. That being said, I’d venture out here any day for Sauvage, the French gastropub charmer from the acclaimed Maison Premiere team. Beyond the seriously on-point decor and beverage selection by Will Elliott, the approachable French small plates menu by chef-partner Damon Wise makes the restaurant worth a stop on its own. The standouts? Veal sweetbreads nestling chestnuts and maitake mushrooms, a butternut squash agnolotti flecked with duck ‘prosciutto,’ and rabbit, presented in a most approachable manner, with roasted turnip, mustard seed, and honey broth. — Dan Q. Dao, deputy digital editor
Whenever I’m craving a city escape I tend to hop on Metro North to visit friends in Beacon. A quick and easy commute from our midtown office, it’s completely doable for a little weeknight trivia at one of my favorite local breweries, 2 Way Brewing Company. They’re known for their Confusion beer which is similar to a Belgian pale, and produced with a proprietary yeast isolated from Hudson Valley black raspberries. By morning I grabbed a scrumptious cinnamon bun from Ella’s Bella’s and a latte from Bank Square Coffee House before hopping the train back to city life. — Michelle Heimerman, photo editor
I was in west Texas last week for the magazine. My fellow SAVEUR staffer Katie Whittaker and I spent the week eating and drinking our way around west Texas and the border. We got some sun and discovered the origins of burritos (from Juarez) and I (a native Texan) got to teach Katie about mountain lions and scorpions. It was a real hoot. But my favorite part of the trip was a lunch we had at The Capri in Marfa, Texas. We ate a lot of good things but the thing that stuck with me was the epazote-infused gin martini. Epazote is a traditional herb used in Mexican cooking, I would never think of throwing it in with some gin! Rocky, the chef at the Capri, had just started the infusion process, but the epazote had already added an earthy, mustardy, mild minty flavor to the cocktail that mixed with the warm Texas sun and dry desert air was real. — Matt Taylor-Gross, staff photographer
When my friend from Florida was visiting, what began as a search for ice cream resulted in a trek around the streets of SoHo and the discovery of…rice pudding at Rice to Riches. Having never tried it, we didn’t know if we would like it. As it turns out, we’re both a little obsessed now, specifically with the cookies and cream flavor. The texture is so weird and different, but strangely addicting. Now, every time she comes to visit, we make sure to stop at Rice to Riches. — Emma Goodnough, social media intern
Dinner at the James Beard House brings the food of top chefs from around the U.S. right here to New York City. In this case, I got to go on an Italian olive oil road trip curated by chef Teddy Diggs of Il Palio in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, without needing to hop on a plane. Chef Diggs featured extra-virgin olive oils from Italy’s top five producing regions in thoughtful dishes accompanied by wines from those regions.
The standout hors d’oeuvre for me was a crisp fried artichoke with anchovy mayonnaise, but my favorite course was the simplest of all: sweetly hay-smoked crushed potatoes made with Ligurian taggiasca olive oil, topped with an extravagant scoop of Calvisius sturgeon caviar beside a dab of whipped crème fraîche, paired with La Valle Primum Franciacorta Brut sparkling wine. We were also treated to Il Palio’s amazing smoked sea salt and rosemary focaccia, pillowy and smoky and herbaceous and in no need of dipping oil, as the chef already incorporates 2.5 liters of his own house blend of olive oil in each loaf. On second thought, I would absolutely fly to Chapel Hill just to have that bread again. — Donna L. Ng, copy chief
My most recent trip to Texas and Mexico has me obsessed with a good tortilla. I ate more tacos and burritos than I can count, and while the fillings were always different (and often quite spicy), the tortilla was what hit me in the face the hardest. In Juarez, I watched a food truck of women roll them out on tiny counters, and in Marfa, I ate hand-ground masa tortillas plain, or sometimes with a swoop of mole. Even the chain Burrito Crisostomo‘s tortillas were made in-house and totally amazing. Now that I’m back home, I’m thinking it’s time to make everything into a burrito. — Katie Whittaker, assistant digital editor
Stacy and I have been working with Marie C., of My Life in Sourdough, to put together a pop-up fundraiser at Haven’s Kitchen benefitting the ACLU. An amazing group of ladies in food media joined us and contributed baked goods, art, ceramics, and so many other items! These stamped RESIST & PERSIST cookies—and the idea behind them—by Maggie Ruggiero were a favorite. — Kristy Mucci, test kitchen associate