HOME-GROWN IN THE PARKING LOT

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Eight years ago, when the Red Bank Farmers’ Market opened in the Galleria parking lot, it had only two vendors.

Today, there are 30, and every week more merchants ask to be let in, some hoping to hawk goods that have nothing to do with the market’s self-defined mission: to promote locally-grown produce. “I had a guy come here once wanting to sell rain gutters,” says Jim Sourlis, who manages the market. “He was so insistent, I had to call the police to get rid of him.”

The gutter guy probably couldn’t have cared less about the origins of the market, where the corn and tomatoes come from, or the feeling of community that springs to life on the blacktop here every Sunday in the summer. But Sourlis, whose family owns the Galleria mall, does. He says the market came into being to help support small farmers, who get first consideration in terms of space allotment. That’s what Jim’s mother, Elaine Sourlis, intended when she dreamed the place up, he says. (Elaine was vacationing in Europe until recently and was unavailable for an interview.)

“We pride ourselves on being a farmers’ market first,” Sourlis says. “The number-one thing is New Jersey farmers. It has to be from here.”

In addition to its weekly crop of vegetable and flower growers, the market features purveyors of honey, organic foods, fresh eggs, handcrafted jewelry, ravioli, a chiropractor, Lithuanian baked goods, stained-glass mobiles, tea, soap, frozen treats and hurly-burly paintings.

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A POUND OF COLTRANE, PLEASE

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‘To roam the two narrow aisles of Johnny’s Jazz Market for the first time is to wonder what in hell kind of phantasmagoria one has wandered into. This may be the only grocery store in the world that, simply by walking in, you get an unimpeded view into the head of its proprietor. Except that Johnny Jazz would tell you that it’s the contents of his heart, not his cranium, that are on display.’

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HALF THE MAN

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Steve Bidgood, a co-owner of the Salt Creek Grille in Rumson, is featured in a story about gastric bypass surgery in today’s Asbury Park Press.

Gastic bypass operations shrink the stomach to the size of a golf ball and re-route the digestive plumbing. Two years after the minimally-invasive gastric bypass procedure Bidgood opted for, which included the insertion of an adjustable cinch around his stomach, he’s close to 200 pounds under his pre-surgical weight of 422 pounds.

Press writer Michael Riley notes that weight-loss surgery is only for the morbidly obese, carries serious risks, and requires psychological screening to determine if a patient is up for the lifestyle changes that the surgery demands. Riley also cites data on the long-term effectiveness of the operations.

The American Society of Bariatric Surgery (ASBS) says weight loss usually reaches a maximum between 18 and 24 months postoperatively. But what about the ability to keep the weight off?

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The ASBS states the after five years the loss of the excess weight ranged from 48 to 74 percent for gastric bypass and from 50 to 60 percent for banding procedures. What that means, according to [Dr. Frank Borao, of Monmouth Medical Center], is that on average, a patient who needs to lose 100 pounds will have lost anywhere from 50 to 75 pounds…

In a study of more than 600 patients following gastric bypass, the amount of excess weight loss still still exceeds 50 percent at 14 years.

Bidgood tells the Press that he used to be on his feet all day, in pain, popping up to 10 Aleve a day. He’s got no regrets about the surgery. “I see the operation as a tool to help me maintain this lifestyle change,” he told Riley.

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LEDGER PACKAGES RED BANK

Today’s Star-Ledger has an eight-page pullout guide to Red Bank in its “Ticket” section, and a more extensive version at its website.

The section doesn’t aim for depth (thus we’re reminded, repeatedly, that 20 years ago the town was known as “Dead Bank”). But it does have overviews of the arts, dining, nightlife and shopping scenes that visitors will find helpful.

Noteworthy is an interactive map that shows the locations of art galleries, restaurants and other attractions. Kudos to the Ledger for making the map so big and for encompassing everything from Two If By Sea and The Little Kraut on the West Side to Design Front on the east. (Rok+Lola, just few doors east of Design Front, may have a differing opinion.)

The package also includes a terrific slideshow of pictures by staff photographer Aristide Economopoulos. They’re not included the dead-trees version.

ORGANICALLY ORGANIC

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Admit it: There was a time, maybe not so long ago, when someone would bring up the subject of organic food and you’d start looking around for the nearest exit. Not because you think there’s anything wrong with getting pesticides and other horrors out of our food stream, but because of the mix of moral superiority and harmony-of-the-spheres loopiness that often serves as the verbal packing for such good-sense ideas.

It’s hard enough being reminded of your bad dietary choices, especially when the person doing the reminding is a weird-beard or earth mother who tells you that his or her VW bus runs on your French-fry grease. But when the purported benefits of free-range chicken or meatless diets start ranging out beyond the travel limits of the Space Shuttle to the distant galaxies of the universe, you may be tempted to speed-dial Cluck U for a bucket of wings as you as you tear home in your SUV.

Given the millions of Americans who have begun to rethink what goes onto their foods and into the earth, the stereotype of the vegan proselytizer is probably no longer operative. Still, the organic-Prius-herbal-holistic crowd might benefit from a wholesale image makeover, one that replaces some lingering out-there-isms with simple pragmatism.

In that sense, Marcia Blackwell is a compelling ambassador of sorts for the organics movement.

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DASHBOARD CUISINE

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It took five-plus hours, and the end result was more shriveled than shirred. But yesterday was hot enough to cook an egg on a dashboard, as redbankgreen‘s adventurous crew proved in a Saturn station wagon.

Coming soon: August bacon.

MAKING THE ROUNDS

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Ten quick questions for Gail Mayr of Lena’s Bagels and Deli, 441 Broad Street, Shrewsbury.

We understand you’re quite well-traveled on the local bagel circuit. So where have you worked?
I started at the Bagel Station on Monmouth Street, where I worked for 11 years. Then I was at the Windward Deli, on Maple Avenue for four years. I went to Grandma’s Bagels in Little Silver, but it changed hands, and it just wasn’t for me. I worked there about eight months. I’ve been at Lena’s about four months now. I’ve known Lena (Maddalena Caruso) for probably 30 years, and she kept asking me to come work with her, but I wasn’t too sure about working for a friend. But then I figured, if I’m gonna bust my butt, it might as well be for somebody I like.

Have you had other food-industry jobs?
Oh god, yeah! I worked at the Willow Deli in Little Silver; I was there for nine years. Then the owners started the Cherry Street Deli (in Tinton Falls) and they asked me to help start that up, so I was there for a little while. Then I got TMJ and couldn’t work for a year, and after that, they were starting a Dom’s Deli in Fair Haven, and so I went there for a while. When that got a little slow, I went to the Bagel Station. Actually, it was the Bagel Deli part I worked in.

Why so many stops along the deli & bagel trail?
You know, it’s the funniest thing. I was at the Bagel Deli for 11 years, and I’m really more of a deli person—Dominick Melicia and his wife, Joan, taught me everything I know—catering, lunches, everything. But I’ve baked bagels—I used to do it one day a week at the Bagel Station. I can do everything with bagels except hand-rolling. It looks easy, but it takes a knack. Anybody can do it, but the bagels have to be uniform in size, and that’s hard to do.

What’s the most important step in making bagels?
The most important step is proofing the bagel. After they roll the bagels, the dough is at room temperature. You put a vinyl cover over the bagels and the heat from the dough makes it proof. If they’re not proofed they’re going to come out very small and almost hard.

What is it about bagels that people love so much?
Well, in the ‘80s, the bagels were very big. They just really caught on, because there was no sugar in them—they used malt. That went on for I betcha eight years. But now all of a sudden it’s wraps. People don’t come in and buy dozens of bagels anymore. Really. People would come in, buy a dozen, two dozen, cream cheese, butter and take them to the office. People don’t do that anymore.

So do customers follow you from one store to another?
Oh my god, yeah. ‘OHMYGOD! I FOUND YOU!’ You know what it is? I was at the Bagel Station for so long, and people knew that I wouldn’t sell them anything that I thought was bad. If I wouldn’t eat it myself, I wouldn’t sell it to you. That’s another thing that Dominck taught me. He said, ‘If you want a thriving business, you never sell anything you wouldn’t eat yourself.’ Plus, I’m very friendly. I always remember people’s names, ask about their families. I must have that kind of face people confide in. Sometimes, you get a new customer who’s just nasty, and I pour it on being nice, and the next time they come in, you’d think I was their best friend in the world.

When you say ‘things I wouldn’t eat,’ you’re not talking about things that are just a matter of preference, I presume.
When I worked for (IDENTITY OF A FORMER EMPLOYER WITHHELD TO KEEP redbankgreen FROM GETTING SUED INTO OBLIVION), if he thought something was bad, he’d tell you to just wash it off. Somebody would ask for egg salad, and if I knew it was sitting there for two days, I’d say, ‘No, you don’t want that.’ So that was their clue.

What’s your favorite bagel?
My favorite bagel is the everything bagel, with butter. I’m not a cream cheese person.

What’s your least favorite?
Cinnamon raisin. I just don’t know what it is—I don’t like it.

Which is more important to human happiness, bagels or comfortable shoes?
Oh, jeez. Human happiness? I’m going to have to say the shoes.

WHERE HAVE I SEEN THIS?

We’re not sure what to make of the responses to last week’s WHERE HAVE I SEEN THIS, mainly because, well, there weren’t any. Not a one.

So does that mean we totally stumped everyone, even the dueling Steins, Dayna & Larry, winners of the first two WHERE contests? Has a strain of summer-onset lethargy taken hold of our readers? Has the Stein domination of the game intimidated potential challengers? Is everyone waiting for a tangible prize to be introduced, like an I WON AT WHERE t-shirt? We await your comments.

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Meanwhile, undaunted, we WHERE on. Please send your answers to this week’s contest to us by e-mail, not the comment function, to help us maintain whatever scintilla of suspense this exercise may generate.

And, drum roll… last week’s image, showing a concrete pillar with the words ‘Monmouth Terrace’ embedded in bronze, is located on Spring Street, right at the point where it meets Branch Avenue, in Red Bank LITTLE SILVER. (Corrected June 23. Thanks to Alicia for pointing out the error.)

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‘SMOKED EEL WITH A BOW ON IT’

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Ten quick questions for “Chef Kevin” Lynch, executive chef and manager of the cheese, dairy and bakery departments at Sickle’s Market, Little Silver.

Are you a ‘foodie’? Yes.

Which is more important, quality food or comfortable shoes? Tough question. You gotta remember that chefs are on their feet a lot. But I’m going with food.

What’s your earliest food memory? Having my grandfather come down from Jersey City and give me and my brother $100 to go to Leroy’s Fish Market on Route 36 in Middletown. He’d have us buy shrimp, crabs, lobster tails and a smoked eel. He liked smoked eel—every Christmas we’d give him one with a bow on it. This was around 1970, when I was 10. A hundred dollars was a lot of money back then.

Who was the biggest influence on your life, foodwise? My mother. She would cook something different every week—she always liked to look at recipes. I’d always make the salad when I was a kid.

What was your first cookbook? I think it was Betty Crocker. My mother still has it.

What’s your favorite cooking show on TV? I liked the PBS series, ‘The Great Chefs,’ because I thought that was very knowledgeable—it got into the nuts and bolts of it. Currently, I watch “Behind the Scenes” and “Best Of,” but once in a while for laughs I’’ll watch Emeril, or sometimes, Rachel Ray. Sara Moulton’s show I like too. She’s the executive chef for Gourmet magazine.

What’s one ingredient you couldn’t live without? Garlic!

Have you had formal training? No. I went to school for computer science down at Stockton College, and became kitchen manager and then chef at the Smithville Inn.

What’s the one junk food you can’t say no to? Pretzels.

Where do you go when you eat out? Indigo Moon in Atlantic Highlands. I know the chef there, and the owner, Janet, used to work with me at Readie’s Fine Foods in Red Bank.