Sunday, December 19, 2021

Best of 2021

New Beer: Master Shredder by The Veil

Words of the year: Languishing; Burnout

New BBQ: Lawrence BBQ

Local HVAC Mechanics: Boer Brothers

Food Pilgrimage. Jon G’s, Peachland, NC

Cheese: Jasper Hill Farm, VT

Swimming Hole (local): Turtle Hole

Swimming Hole Pilgrimage: Long Pond, Greensboro, VT

Beer Menu: Hutchins Garage

Dive Bar Struggling to Hold On and Stay True Amidst a Tornado of Gentrified Development: Accordion Club

Netflix: Squid Game; Sex, Love, and Goop

Restaurant: Rose's

Anticipated Opening: TNP FIT CLMBR Edition

Specialty Foods: Sundries at Locopops

Deli Sandwich: Old North Meats

Insider Political Analysis: NC Primer

Instagram Food Personality: Dan Pizzutillo at Pizzeria Ida

Hair From a Rock Star: Jenn Wasner, as shot by Jeremy Lange

Indie Track: Hard Way, Flock of Dimes

Festival: Merlefest

Ice Cream Pilgrimage: Emack and Bolio's, Cape Cod (try the frappes)

Local Instagram Influencer: The Doctorette

NSB Charitable Program: Durham Neighbors

New Opening: Ideal's

Album: Jenn Wasner, Head of Roses

Song: Essence, Wizkid

Rap Song: Wockesha, Moneybagg Yo

Bagels: Isaac's

Soups: Guanajuato (try the sopa de mariscos)

Dog: Jumanji (Black Newfie owned by Jordan)

Beer Study: Hill Farmstead

Factory-made Candy Bar: Pearson's Salted Nut Roll

In Memoriam: Downtown Durham

In Memoriam: Mary Beth Bishop

In Memoriam: Vernon Mitchell

Saturday, December 11, 2021

A Return to Hill Farmstead

After visiting Hill Farmstead in 2018, I thought I had reached the proverbial mountaintop. I had kept in touch with owner Shaun Hill since, and petitioned for a monthlong internship this past July, which I was lucky enough to land. As you could probably imagine, it was a holy grail, once in a lifetime moment for me, and was meant to be a respite as well from the burnout I had experienced through the pandemic. Hill Farmstead has been voted best brewery in the world eight times. Ostensibly, I was there to learn the craft and possibly start a brewery when I returned, or simply get more deep into homebrewing. What I came away with was much more.

Once I arrived in Greensboro (VT), I’m in there on the brew cellar floor where the magic happens and the first four or five days I’m just furtively asking questions like I might be able to take something away immediately, and by the fifth day or so I realize, oh my gd, how little I know.  In my diary, it literally reads, "I've learned just enough to learn how little I know." You could study beermaking for years and still feel like an amateur, a poser, upon landing at Hill Farmstead.

In breadmaking, I would say there are twenty-five critical control (process) points, whereby if you screw something up at any of those points, your resulting loaf will be suboptimal. For beer, I would say it's closer to one hundred. Shaun and his team are brewing, then fermenting, dry-hopping, transferring, conditioning in a fermenter, foudre, puncheon, or wine barrel, and then bottling, and bottle conditioning until finding the optimal time to open, market, and present the beer to the thirsty public. It's so fucking tough, and makes breadmaking look easy by comparison. Yes, you can make really mediocre beer really easily, just as one can make mediocre bread. But if you drink your way through the HF catalogue, you'll see this unrivaled attention to detail, to craft, that makes it just one of the best in the world. The quality of the beer is directly proportional to the sophistication and predilections of Shaun's palate, as well as his meticulous attention to detail. "There is no Shaun," he said once, his nut-brown eyes glinting, "I am the brewery." I told him he had a book, or several books in him, as the beer not only is great, but is often accompanied by his personal philosophy as it is rendered through ancient and modern philosophers, as well as his ancestors that worked the very land that he brews on and sources some of his ingredients and water.

The beauty of the land there swept me over. While learning to attach tri-clamps to giant fermenters in a land of no cell service, dirt roads, and copious ponds to swim, I fell in love with the Northeast Kingdom as it's known, the beer, and even the people, often curmudgeonly and terse as they are. Returning to Durham after a month away, I wondered who I would be if I lived there permanently.

Sunday, December 5, 2021

All Hail the Pep Cup (Review)

Some say the circle is the divine shape, but lovers of pizza know that the square is the true test of the pizzaiolo’s skill. I love pizza. Who doesn’t love pizza? But do we have opinions about it? Sure? Are they subjective? Yes. Who is this guy anyway? Also, fuck pizza, right? But shit, I will never stop eating it. 

Those thick, square slices (also known as Sicilian) can be topped with any number of options, but they’re best when teeming with pep cups—tiny, sliced, cured meats that, when exposed to high temperatures, flex concave, like seedlings yearning for the light. Unlike the thin bland pepperoni slices that typically top a pizza, they’re salty and spicy, full of garlic and umami, not to mention thicker and chewier than ordinary pepperoni. Little orbs of unctuous goodness. Little flying saucers of gold.


The Triangle happens to have two of the best pep cup slices in North Carolina (imo). Coronato and DiFara Pizza each swagger like two heavyweights in the ring for Sicilian pie dominance.


Coronato is crust-to-crust, wall-to-wall pep cups, all completely inverted as they should be, with a little bit of crispy char for flavor and texture balance. For DiFara, some pep cups are braised (mmm...braised cured meats) into the cheese and sauce, yielding a different meaty mouthfeel altogether, some charred inconsistently. A hot slice of Difara is swimming in a soupy delicious sauce, whereas Coronato covers their pie in generous grated Parm.


The way each restaurant sets up and handles their pie dough influences the final product. The piemakers at Difara press each piece into the mold prior to baking while the makers at Coronato set up the dough, chill it, and then slightly deflate it using their fingers prior to topping. 


The result is that DiFara is more like pizza, and Coronato is more like focaccia. It depends what you like, but one would have to say that DiFara is the more “authentic” (shit, I hate that word) pie.


And you wouldn’t think sauce would be the difference-maker, but the cooked San Marzano sauce at DiFara, surprisingly black-peppery, almost obscures the cheese. The shreds of basil scissored onto the pie that gives a slight hint of herbaceousness, cutting the lactose intensity of the browned mozz. 


Both pies go into very well seasoned (olive-oiled) pans, which yield the best fried toast crust you could ever imagine, cooked to perfection in a high temperature oven in a thick pan.

Like a momma choosing their favorite child, it’s hard to pick just one, but for my money, DiFara outlasts Coronato. The dough to sauce texture is superior, and the sauce is better— it doesn’t matter how many cups you load on there (and trust me, Coronato will go down swinging).