Chewing the Fat with Christina Loiacono

When we originally launched Chewing the Fat, we had no idea how popular it would prove to be. We mostly just thought it would be fun to talk to some of our favorite travel bloggers about one of our favorite topics and the one thing that seems to unite us: food. It was our fiercest...

When we originally launched Chewing the Fat, we had no idea how popular it would prove to be. We mostly just thought it would be fun to talk to some of our favorite travel bloggers about one of our favorite topics and the one thing that seems to unite us: food. It was our fiercest hope that our readers would enjoy the series as much as we enjoyed putting it together, but never in our wildest dreams did we expect the outswelling of enthusiasm and support that it’s generated. Week after week we read comments from you guys letting us know not just how much you’re loving this feature but also that it’s helped turn you on to a bunch of great new blogs. It’s stuff like that makes the time and effort we (& our interviewees) put into Chewing the Fat feel totally worth it.

I’ll let you in on a little secret: you aren’t the only ones who are discovering great new people and blogs from this endeavor. We’ve had countless bloggers who are incredibly passionate about food reach out to us wanting to take part in the series, and some of them have been folks who had flown under our radar. Even more exciting, we’ve had readers who aren’t bloggers contact us asking whether they can take part, to which the answer is a resounding: YES! The only prerequisite to sitting down at the Chewing the Fat Table is that you have an interest in learning a little bit about the world through food. You don’t have to write about it professionally or even for fun, you don’t have to have quit your job and sold all of your possessions, you don’t have to have more stamps in your passport than there are weeks in the year… I think that if there’s one thing that can bring the world together, it’s food, and Chewing the Fat shows us this all the time. Whatever your story, we want to help you share it!

In the spirit of openness and sharing, today we’re chatting with Christina Loiacono. Originally from just outside of Plattsburgh, NY (though her friends might argue that this is basically Canada), Christina is obsessed with all things food and wine, a love affair that started when she moved to New York City back in 2008 to work in travel. After five years in the city, she is now on a path of indefinite travel as a military wife and can’t wait to discover new food in every place she passes through! Although Christina doesn’t have a blog of her own, she does contribute to the blog over at Zerve.

Today with Christina’s help, we take a big bite out of the Big Apple as we talk about best destinations in the city to enjoy a drink (or two!), why the best NY bagels are actually found in Long Island (scandalous!), and the best neighborhoods for international cuisine that won’t break the bank… or require a passport! It’s all here—and more—after the jump!

Christina Loiacono
Meet Christina!

We’re big fans of “foodcations”—on more than one occasion we’ve taken trips motivated solely by the desire to eat our way through our destination. If there was one place you could travel to in order to eat your way through it, where would it be and why?

So far, most of my travels have been within the U.S. and, out of all the places I’ve been, no place even comes close to the food of New York City. My favorite part about it is that you can explore the cuisines of so many different cultures right in the same place!

There are so many countries I hope to visit someday, but France is the one place I’d really like to go to for the food. I would absolutely love to plan an entire trip centered around taking a pastry course. I’m mostly a self-taught baker, and I would love to add some real French techniques to my skills. While there, I’d love to travel around to as many regions as possible, sampling the local wines, cheeses, stews and braised meats!

And the flipside: of all the places you’ve visited, which country had your least favorite food? Why was that and were you surprised?

I can actually step out of the country for this one and say Bermuda. It’s a beautiful destination with white sandy beaches and turquoise waters, but it’s a small island and they import a lot of their food. I found that this makes a lot of the food similar to what we have in the U.S., but more expensive. They do have some local specialties using locally sourced fish and vegetables, but I’m not that big into fish so those dishes didn’t really stand out to me.

What’s the most exotic/adventurous edible you’ve sampled and what did you think about it?

My dad hunts, so I’m going to go with bear. Bear can be a tough meat, but when you turn it into bear jerky it’s a really tasty treat!

Sometimes you don’t know a good thing until it’s gone! When you are traveling what’s the one food from back home that you always crave the most?

Cider Donuts
Cider Donuts. Photo courtesy of Banker Orchards.

Since we’re in the middle of autumn right now, I can’t help but think of the fresh apple cider donuts from the apple orchards near my hometown in Upstate New York. They’re made fresh every day, and they are soft on the inside, crisp on the outside and topped with a cinnamon sugar mixture. The orchards are only open in the fall and winter, so it’s a tasty family tradition to pick some of these up each year when the weather starts cooling down.

Many travelers mention succumbing to McDonald’s or other fastfood cravings while on the road… what is the guilty pleasure food that you indulge in when traveling?

I have a major sweet tooth. When I’m traveling I really like gummy candy – the sour worms in particular. They are especially great for road trips because all the sugar they have provides extra energy for staying awake and shamelessly singing at the top of my lungs to whatever happens to be on the radio.

If you knew we were coming to visit you in your hometown, what would be the one food you would make sure we tried?

You’d have to try a Michigan. It’s a hot dog topped with a tomato-based meat sauce and chopped onions, very similar to the Coney Dog. It’s a staple of summers where I come from. Every summer we have family cook-outs where we grill the hot dogs before topping them with sauce. You can also get them made for you at Ronnie’s Michigan Stand in the summer or at Gus’ Red Hots year round.

Gus' Red Hots
Michigans from Gus’ Red Hots © flickr user goodiesfirst

You’ve shared a food secret that many travelers probably don’t know and that some New Yorkers would probably take issue with: the best bagels and delis are found in Long Island not Manhattan or Brooklyn. In your opinion, what makes the bagels in Long Island worth the trip? And what separates a great deli from one that is merely good? Do you have a go-to dish that you turn to in order to judge the quality of a deli?

For any bagel to be good, it should be hand rolled and boiled, resulting in a bagel that is relatively dense and chewy. Good bagels don’t have any preservatives and should not be good if you wait overnight to eat them. I consider myself a bagel snob, and I cannot tolerate packaged bagels from the grocery store.

I’m going to flip this question around and tell you my go-to bagel variety for judging the quality of a bagel shop and why you should head to Long Island for the delis. The bagel that I judge a shop off of is the everything bagel. For me, a good everything bagel has to have a bit of coarse ground salt in its seasoning. To really stand out, it should be dipped in the everything seasoning on both sides, because not skimping makes all the difference. Whether Manhattan, Brooklyn or Long Island has the best bagels is somewhat of a personal preference that I find it hard to take sides on. Bagels on Long Island tend to be a bit larger and have more variation to traditional flavors. One of my favorites is the french toast bagel bites from Bageltown in Levittown. Those are worth the trip!

Switching over to the topic of delis. Pretty much every town on Long Island has it’s own go-to deli. They are all good because they use fresh ingredients and pile on the toppings, but they are hard to compare because they all have unique menus. In my opinion, this is part of what makes them stand out because you can go to each and try whatever they are known for! For example, the Se-port Deli in Setauket has a sandwich called The Gasm, which is a garlic hero with breaded chicken, bacon, melted mozzarella, cole slaw and russian dressing. The only word I can possibly think of to describe it is epic!

One of your great culinary loves is baking and pastries. We know that New York is the birthplace of some of the most spectacular culinary mashups, the most recent of which is the infamous cronut. In a perfect world, if you could create your own hybrid dessert, what would it be?

Wow, tough one. I haven’t yet got to try that infamous cronut, but it looks divine. It’s on my list for sure. Two of my favorite treats are cinnamon rolls and marzipan candies. I wonder if I could combine them? Perhaps I’ll try…

Grapefruit Cake
Not a pastry frankenstein, but delicious nonetheless: A grapefruit cake baked by Christina!

During your time living in New York, you’ve done several neighborhood food tours. Which region provided your favorite dining experience in the city and what would you eat? What is one neighborhood that most tourists might not know about that you’d recommend foodies who like to get off the beaten track make time to visit?

I really enjoyed the food tour I took in Greenwich Village. I was shocked by the number of things (both food and history-wise) I didn’t know about a neighborhood I already frequently visited in my daily life. Not to mention that I could go for a cannoli from Rocco’s Pastry Shop pretty much any day at any time! I’ve heard wonderful things about food tours in neighborhoods all over the city, so my advice would be to take one in a neighborhood you’ve never been to before – whether it be Greenwich Village or perhaps the Lower East Side, Nolita or even Harlem!

From Eric Ripert to Daniel Boulud to David Chang to countless others, many of the world’s culinary giants now call New York City home or have a restaurant in the city. If you could sit down to dinner with any of the city’s heavy hitters, who would you choose (and why!) and what would you order?

This one is easy. Sticking to my love of French cuisine, I would love to meet Daniel Boulud and dine at his flagship restaurant Daniel. I would order their “off the menu” item, Canard a la Presse, or pressed duck that is prepared tableside. I learned about this dish while watching the Last Supper episode of The Best Thing I Ever Ate on Food Network. Ted Allen ordered this dish, and I’ve never been able to get it out of my head.

For those who’d like to try a quintessential New York baked good but want to try something other than a bagel (those are better in Long Island anyway, right?) or the staid black & white cookie, what would you recommend and where should we get it?

I’d recommend getting a cupcake from Magnolias. Though they are now branching out into more locations, their original shop in the West Village is worth the visit. If you’re not a fan of cupcakes, they also have a banana pudding to rave about!

Magnolia Cupcakes
Cupcakes from Magnolia Bakery © flickr user loop_oh

You’re also something of an oenophile, so let’s talk wine pairings! I’ll give you a few scenarios, you tell us where in New York City you would go and what you’d recommend drinking.

1) A lazy weekend afternoon following a trip to a museum: Go to Hundred Acres for brunch. Brunch runs through 3pm both weekend days, and the restaurant takes reservations (which is not common for brunch). They have an impressive wine list, and they serve all the classic brunch cocktails. For a twist I recommend their Grapefruit Cooler.

2) A picnic in a park: I’d recommend getting your picnic goods from Citarella on 75th Street and Broadway. Upstairs they have a wonderful selection of meats, cheeses and olives. From there, you can take your picnic to Sheeps Meadow in Central Park, which is just a short walk away. I cannot recommend a wine pairing here because unfortunately drinking alcohol in Central Park (and I believe all other city parks) is not allowed. However, the picnic experience is worth it even without the wine.

3) Stepping back in time to another decade: I’d send you back to the 20s’ at Flûte Midtown. This champagne lounge was once a real speakeasy. I’d recommend getting one of their tasting flights to compare different champagnes.

4) A romantic night out, preferably with a killer view: I’d arrange go out on a sailboat at sunset, many of which I’ve found offer wine on board!

5) A place to live out your “I’m a trendy New Yorker” fantasies: I’d go to Corkbuzz in Union Square. I recommend chatting with your server to pick your wine. Everyone has different taste in wine, and the servers at Corkbuzz are fantastic at figuring out what types of wine suit each palate.

Sheeps Meadow
Christina enjoying a picnic with friends in Sheeps Meadow. Wonder what’s in the cup…

Thank you so much to Christina for taking the time to make us endlessly envious of her New York City life and for reminding us that there is more to food than Asian cuisine! I mean, hotdogs? Oh how we’ve missed thee! At least we can get cupcakes here in Ho Chi Minh City!

ATTENTION FELLOW FOODIES! Want to be featured in a future installment of Chewing the Fat? Great! We’re looking for new people to dish about dining with! As I said above, you don’t have to be a long-term traveler, or even have your own blog to participate; all you need is a healthy appetite and an appreciation for food. Contact Us letting us know that you’re interested in taking part in this series, and we’ll get back to you with all the information you need to get started.

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14 comments Leave a comment

  1. I love this series so much. I’ve always wanted to go to New York, and I’m pretty sure 99% of the reason I want to go is to eat all the things.

    Mar. 7 2014 @ 10:57 am
    1. Christina
      Rika | Cubicle Throwdown

      I’m glad you enjoyed my suggestions Rika! Even though I’ve spent a ton of time in New York, I find new and amazing things to eat every time I am there!

      Mar. 7 2014 @ 12:32 pm
  2. Chewing the fat is great. Whenever I go to new areas, I enjoy trying all the local culinary delights. The best pizza that I have ever eaten was in a small pizza joint run by Italians in China town, New York City.

    When I go to the Philippines, I like eating the hot fried banana Qs. I buy them from street vendors for just a few pennies each. Banana Qs are cooking bananas fried in oil laced with sugar. No doubt these are horrible for you.

    Has anyone ever tried durian? It’s a creamy fruit grown in Thailand, The Philippines, and other tropical areas. It tastes so good. Just be warned that is sort of stinks. Some upscale hotels ban eating durian.

    Mar. 7 2014 @ 5:47 pm
    1. Christina

      Love NYC pizza! And it’s also true that the best pizza is not necessarily in Little Italy… but I guess that’s a topic for another day 🙂 I do think I know the place you’re speaking of in Chinatown!

      Mar. 10 2014 @ 9:47 am
  3. I could not agree more about New York being the top foodie destination of the U.S! Usually when I go to a city I have a long list of things I want “to do.” We try and make it to the East Coast every year and all I have is an even longer list of things “to eat.” I’d have to add that the cookies at Levain bakery are quite possibly the BEST cookies in the entire world. Granted I have not tried all the cookies in the world yet, it’s a problem that i’m constantly working towards rectifying.

    Mar. 7 2014 @ 8:10 pm
    1. Christina
      Jenny @ Till The Money Runs Out

      Thanks for the tip on the cookies! I cannot believe I’ve never had them because that’s not too far from my family’s place – I’ll have to try them!

      Mar. 10 2014 @ 9:33 am
  4. Thanks for this great “chew”! You’ve inspired me to go to New York to try the bagels (in Long Island of course!!)

    Mar. 8 2014 @ 7:07 pm
  5. Now I know where to go chomping about when I am in NY!! I love this foodie series, a fan of this really!

    Mar. 9 2014 @ 9:54 am
  6. Ooh, I second the banana pudding at Magnolia’s! I thought it was much better than their cupcakes. (I’m a Crumbs kind of girl.) I also agree that some of the best food in the world is found in NYC. With so much competition, the bad restaurants never last. And of all the bagels I’ve tried, Ess-A-Bagel has the best. I always get a dozen everything bagels from there every time I visit the city.

    PS – Steph, I’d love the Chew the Fat with you guys!!

    Mar. 9 2014 @ 5:46 pm
    1. Heather

      seriously, right? NYC was just too good to be true. The food alone would have clinched it, it being NYC was just a bonus.

      Mar. 9 2014 @ 7:36 pm
    2. Christina

      If you like Crumbs, you should try Sweet Revenge in the West Village! They aren’t as large as Crumbs, but they’re super creative. Plus they serve wine!

      Mar. 10 2014 @ 10:11 am
  7. Ahhhh NY delis. I die.

    I would give up a LOT to have one of those open up in Auckland.

    Mar. 9 2014 @ 7:33 pm
  8. Mmmm..I love when travel blogs include stuff about food, so entire posts about food are fantastic! We are both vegan and love to find different food to eat everywhere we travel! If you’re ever interested in hosting a vegan edition of Chewing the Fat, feel free to contact us! 🙂

    Mar. 12 2014 @ 9:10 pm
    1. Lauren & Justin author

      So happy to hear that you enjoyed the interview—we’re always looking for new people to feature who are passionate about food, and we’ve not featured any vegans yet. I’ll certainly be in touch!

      Mar. 14 2014 @ 3:26 am

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