Saturday, February 2, 2019

Two Food Miracles in Peekskill, NY

Many of our most sublime foods stem from unappetizing, dirt-cheap ingredients. Cut down a few stalks of grain, grind it into a tasteless powder, combine with mineral scrapings from cave walls and a spoonful of minuscule wriggling cooties. Heat it a while, and, somehow, maxi pleasure ensues. If you're not astonished by this gift, you should spend some time stranded on an Arctic ice shelf or desert sand dune, resetting your baselines.

That said, bread's usually not sublime, due to the appalling meanness of our species. We observe this gaping headroom between price and quality, and deem it opportunity. People don't need "sublime", so let's make it even cheaper and easier, saving 1/4¢, at the cost of a mere 75% quality reduction! Throw in some additives to keep it fresher longer, to make the yeast work faster, and to create better color with less care, and still more to cover up those shortcuts, and...well, here we are in 2019. We're desperately trying to backtrack ourselves away from gratuitous meanness and avarice - and, ironically, charging even more for that. We're like double hostages.

Consider: there is no reason for a chocolate chip cookie to ever be less than stellar. Any earnest baker with an iota of talent can make reliably great ones. Yet how many are indeed great? And how shitty and mean and evil do you need to be to deliberately erode quality in something so intrinsically delicious and dirt-cheap? I don't add additives to my cookies, and they taste great. Yet all the ones I can buy are loaded with them, and they suck. "Pave paradise, put up a shitty chocolate chip cookie"!

The miracle of deliciousness perpetually awaits our rediscovery. It doesn't need to be expensive. In fact, that ruins the beauty - the intrinsic generosity - of it all. But it's out there, even if Yelp doesn't catalog it*.

I've been in dozens of Ecuadorian bakeries, and most are run by immigrants from Quito, the capital. Sabor Ambateño (630 Washington St, Peekskill, NY; 914-930-7160) is run by folks from Ambato, a city in the central Tungurahua region. It's all different stuff; they stock more than a dozen roll-sized, colorfully-named breads I've never heard of. To all appearances, it's all just the usual humble brown Hispanic pan. You'd expect either fluffy or chewy texture plus two notches more sweetness than seems necessary. You know the drill.

But try the stuff here, and experience miracles. It's the gift of bread, seldom seen these days. Their stuff may not be particularly natural, or fancy. In fact, I don't know how they arrived at greatness; only that I experienced the shock of taking a bite into something I thought I knew and being brought to new worlds; of recharging my expectations of what an entire class of food can be.

I bought three types of bread (polishing one off before taking this shot of the other two), all woozy-making. Not luxe, no secret ingredients, just a bittersweet reminder of what bread can be when people stop inhibiting quality via their meanness.

The cashier-in-training at Ty's Bread Basket (922 Main St, Peekskill, NY; 914-402-5135), in downtown Peekskill, is about six years old, and it looks like she designed the place, as well. It's a boxy, colorful, capriciously configured space with way too much seating, hopeful affirmations covering the walls (you'll wonder if you've wandered into a community center), and nary a single customer. Items for sale are sparsely displayed in unlit cases. There's good music playing in the back room, but you only hear glimpses of it when the door happens to swing open.

There's no salesmanship whatsoever in this guilelessly unpolished place, much less the usual bakery psy-ops. So it took quite a bit of work for me to ferret out a couple items that might be worth a try: a conventional-looking round tart filled with lots of cloying/gummy-looking cherry product (the sliced almonds - way too thickly cut - caught my eye), and unique-looking bagels, only eleven, total, on display (and it wasn't that they'd run out; it appears that they bake like a dozen per day; again, with a six-year-old mastermind, everything's a bit skewed).

It took the better part of five minutes for the clerk - who appears to exist in another time zone and who I suspect could cure major ailments by glancing at you - to gather, pack, and charge me for my tart and two bagels (16% of total stock). And, after reluctantly bringing my boring-looking tart to the car and taking a bite, I found myself lost in reverie for a very long time.

I tried and tried to pin down what was special, but my attempts to analyze were defied by cascading waves of overpowering consolation. It was reminiscent of the Medusa Gruel I'd tasted years ago in Oaxaca, Mexico (the only "11" I ever experienced). Forgive my shameful lack of specificity, but I am amnesiac of the worlds I encountered during the ingestion of that totally normal-seeming cherry tart, and of the lingering ecstasy that followed.
So ordinary looking. And, to be honest, ordinary tasting...on the surface. I lack words to describe what the cherry filling If The Lord is ever spotted descending in a golden chariot toward Main Street, Peekskill, please do whatever's necessary to keep Him the hell away from this place. If He ever tastes the cherry filling, I worry that he'll realize He’s been beat, and might, in a destructive pique, shut it all down.

The bagels currently sit on my kitchen counter. I can hear a low hum from upstairs. I'll report back once I've worked up the fortitude to try them. [Update: charming but weirdly over-yeasty]

Not gluten free.

* - Neither place is listed in Yelp. Yelp sucks for many reasons, but its perpetual disregard for non-white-facing immigrant places like Sabor Ambateño, and humble beneath-radar operations like Ty's Bread Basket, is not only a shame, but defies Yelp's founding mission of covering the whole Long Tail.


Display Name said...

I keep coming back to this and re-reading this Jim. Yum!

jeff davidson said...

stopped by Sabor Ambateño today, while it much, much better than the run-of-the-mill Ecuadorian bakery, angels didn't sing for me. I do want to try more stuff at Ambateño and look forward to your other recommendation.

For similar caloric consumption, I prefer the jelly donuts, cinnamon rolls and glazed donuts at the Ossining bakery. Perhaps it's the Portuguese influence but to my palate, everything tastes just a little different/better than a generic bakery. On weekends they have good chorizo bread and Pastéis de Nata (but they do leave the weekend stuff out too long, so get there early)

btw peeskill and ossining there must be at least 30 latin American restaurants and delis. I've been thinking about a blog where I try every one over the course of a year or so. Maybe you're already doing this?

Jim Leff said...

We're in agreement re: Ambateño, with the caveat that even slightly-better-than-run-of-the-mill Hispanic bakeries are rare causes for celebration. That's what startled me so at Ambatenõ, but angels only sang over that danish at the other place.

Haven't had enough stuff at Ossining Bakery. Will try, thanks.

btw peeskill and ossining there must be at least 30 latin American restaurants and delis. I've been thinking about a blog where I try every one over the course of a year or so. Maybe you're already doing this?

Way more. A lot of times they buy old Italian/German delis and don't change the name, sign, anything, and you walk in and it's like Quito. Most promising obscure byway was Spring St, but nothing new has opened in a year or so and the quality is plummeting (weird how places flock). Probably best right now in Ossining is Parrillada Las Americas, but it's good-not-great. Peekskill is better, check out Deli El Brujo for ecuadoran and Clara’s Deli and Catering for Salvadoran. Beware that these places sink fast in quality after opening. You'd do best to just jump on new places.

Owner of Parillada La Americas opened a place in the Peekskill area last year, but I lost the info. I think there's a poster on the door of the Ossining branch.

Hot tip: great Mexico-city style taqueria in white plains/Hartsdale: La Frontera, on Battle Ave near Trader Joe/H-Mart. Do not miss pambazos, Wednesdays only (more on pambazos, and all the other holy grails, in my smartphone app

jeff davidson said...

thanks for the tip, we're going to be away for a bit but we do a tj/h-mart run every couple of weeks, will check it out when we return. It's always seemed to me that stretch of central ave. should have some good eats but my natural hunting ground is closer to Ossining/Peekskill. It's funny you mention Deli El Brujo, that's the place that got me thinking about a blog.

It's a sad, sad state of affairs around croissant in our area (mt kisco's la tulipe is a hike just for a croissant), First Village coffee in Ossining recently started baking their own and the two I've had to date were credible. Down the street I like the stewed/curry dishes at cravin Jamaican (though the jerk chicken is a bad joke), used to be able to add freshly fried chicken for $1/piece (!).

Jim Leff said...

Only good things on Central corridor: Dante’s Italian Deli (panini and oddball provisions), Ruth’s Jamaican on Battle (good not great) and the aforementioned La Frontera. The Armenian grocery (Yaranush) is pretty good, and unexpected, but the owner can be unpleasant. Nothing else worthwhile over there.

Re: Jamaican, I’m awaiting the new location of Hummingbird Grill next to Dunkin Donuts near the new Peekskill firehouse. Not a huge fan of Cravin but it’s ok. Never order jerk unless you smell actual smoke from oil cans outside.

jeff davidson said...

interesting, I'd always thought cravin > hummingbird, I'll have to give it another try when they open.

>>Never order jerk unless you smell actual smoke from oil cans outside.
agreed, which is why I eat it so rarely.

In ossining the other day, noticed Ambatenõ has a bakery on spring st. we still eat Churrasqueira Ribatejo occasionally for their chicken.


Jim Leff said...

I missed your latest comment at the time. Thanks for the tip on Ambateño's Ossining location. I also like Ribatejo (at bar, only. Portuguese ONLY at the bar, always).

I never tried hummingbird, I just said I was awaiting their reopenning! Never happened, btw

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