Scouting: SP Nuts & Candy Co.

SP Nuts & Candy Co.  | Image:  Laura Messersmith

SP Nuts & Candy Co. | Image: Laura Messersmith

My trip to Tribeca to visit SP Nuts & Candy Co. was inspired in a round about fashion. I was watching that old Meg Ryan/Tom Hanks classic You’ve Got Mail engaging in one of my favorite past times: trying to spot the locations used in Manhattan-centric films. In this case, the scene takes place as Meg walks up Broadway passes a shop called (appropriately) the “Broadway Nut Shop.”

My eagle eye noticed a sign for W80th in the background and yet I couldn’t recall ever seeing this store on a stretch of pavement I know well, which led me to Google which led me to these two links: RIP Broadway Nut Shop on Chowhound and a piece on the New York Times entitled Plenty of Nuts for Sale, but the Roasters Are Vanishing.

SP Nuts & Candy Co.   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

SP Nuts & Candy Co. | Image: Laura Messersmith

I had no idea that in the early 20th Century people would regularly shop for roasted nuts in the same way they might visit a butcher or baker, or that there was a whole category of shops that have nearly disappeared from the modern street. The Times article mentioned SP Nuts as one of (if not the only) holdout in Manhattan that still roasts some of their stock on site.

I knew I had to visit and see this piece of Old New York for myself. What I found was a bright, well organized shop with a rows of nuts, legumes, candy, dried fruit, and chocolates contained in clear glass jars with a vintage roaster turning away in the front window. The sign declares "We Are Nuts About Nuts" and it's clear that their customers are too. One of the shop assistants, Gustavo, explained that many of SP’s customers come in just after Noon because the almonds and cashews will be freshly roasted and still warm. Luckily I was there at this magic hour and Gustavo was kind enough to offer a taste test. Now I understand why folks arrive right on time – a freshly roasted cashew is delicious!

SP Nuts & Candy Co.   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

SP Nuts & Candy Co. | Image: Laura Messersmith

SP Nuts & Candy Co.   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

SP Nuts & Candy Co. | Image: Laura Messersmith

I had a recipe in mind, so I had to skip the house specialties and bring home a bag of pecans instead to whip up a batch of for Sugar and Spice Candied Pecans, but my visit to SP Nuts has me pondering ways to incorporate almonds, cashews and pistachios. And, you can bet that I’ll definitely show up at Noon!

SP Nuts & Candy Co. | 166 Church St; New York, NY | Mon – Fri 9:00 am – 7:00 pm; Sat 10:00 am – 6:00 pm

Scouting: Levain Bakery

Chocolate Chip Walnut Cookie by Levain Bakery  | Image:  Laura Messersmith

Chocolate Chip Walnut Cookie by Levain Bakery | Image: Laura Messersmith

I’m taking a food photography class this weekend - more on that next week! – and the first assignment is to “shoot a well composed photograph of either a single piece of fruit or a vegetable, or shoot a cup of tea and cookie, muffin, or accompanying sweet.”

Well, a vegetable or a piece of fruit is great and all, but I immediately saw that the best course of action was a trip Levain Bakery in search of a suitable, ahem “companion” to the subject of this masterpiece of photography. Conveniently, the bakery is right in our neighborhood, so swinging by for a cookie or a loaf of their wonderful bread is easy. Excellent.

Chocolate Chip Walnut Cookie by Levain Bakery   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Chocolate Chip Walnut Cookie by Levain Bakery | Image: Laura Messersmith

When I went into the cozy little shop on Wednesday afternoon it was surprisingly empty – most days there’s a line of at least half a dozen people up the steep staircase and along the railing – so I took advantage of the opportunity to linger. Visiting Levain is like stepping into a warm cocoon of vanilla, baked bread, and sugar.

It’s a little ironic to me that the name of the bakery refers to the French word for bread leavening when it’s the cookies that seem to get all the attention. The four options: Chocolate Chip Walnut, Dark Chocolate Chocolate Chip, Oatmeal Raisin, and Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Chip. I was momentarily side-tracked by the Whole Grain Loaf and Chocolate Brioche before I re-focused on my true target; Levain’s bestselling cookie: Chocolate Chip Walnut.

Chocolate Chip Walnut Cookie by Levain Bakery   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Chocolate Chip Walnut Cookie by Levain Bakery | Image: Laura Messersmith

These babies are substantial - New York Magazine calls them “scone-sized” - and with their rustic, irregular, domed exterior and dense chewy interior it’s a pretty apt description. Even with an appetite for cookies like mine I can never finish one in one sitting, not such a bad thing since it means enjoying it over a day or so.

The interior is just a little under-baked allowing the eater to enjoy the sweet stickiness of cookie dough stuffed full of semi-sweet chocolate chips and gently bitter acidic chopped walnuts.

Chocolate Chip Walnut Cookie by Levain Bakery   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Chocolate Chip Walnut Cookie by Levain Bakery | Image: Laura Messersmith

As you can see the deliciousness of the cookie immediately upstaged the cup of coffee that was supposed to be the star, but that was probably to be expected. I present to you my four favorite shots, no filter, no retouching, no cropping. If this is learning food photography I may need more than one class….

Levain Bakery | UWS, Harlem, Hamptons | Hours Vary by Location

Scouting: Maille New York

Maille New York   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Maille New York | Image: Laura Messersmith

A few weeks ago, just before Christmas, I was walking along Broadway when I spotted an advertisement on a bus shelter. I probably walk past a dozen or more a day, but this one caught my attention because it was announcing the opening of a new Maille boutique – the only one in the U.S. - on the Upper West Side.

I use Maille’s Old Style Whole Grain Mustard in a lot of my cooking – great texture and that perfect amount of spicy zing – so I was definitely intrigued to find out about some of their other products. An entire boutique devoted to mustard right in my neighborhood? It was a scouting no brainer.

Maille New York   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Maille New York | Image: Laura Messersmith

When I arrived at the Columbus Avenue location – a shiny black and gold jewel box that truly lives up to the term “boutique” – I met the shop manager, Mike. I explained that I was planning to make Granny Smith Cheddar Handpies and was looking for something that would not only compliment the ingredients, but also really shine on its own. Mike was really helpful and immediately offered to lead me through a tasting of Maille’s gourmet mustards to find just the right one.

We started wine-tasting style with some of the milder, sweeter options before moving on to some of the spicier, more aggressive mustards. I particularly liked the Mustard with White Wine, Candied Orange Peel and Ginger; the Mustard with Sauternes White Wine; and of course, the Mustard with White Wine, Apricot and Curry Spices. Honestly, I could have walked out with half a dozen jars and made my husband think I was starting a mustard collection!

Maille New York   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Maille New York | Image: Laura Messersmith

Maille New York   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Maille New York | Image: Laura Messersmith

In the end, my trusty mustard advisor and I decided that the classic combination of sharp cheddar and tart granny smith apples with the sweet spiciness of the apricot-curry mustard would be perfect (spoiler alert: it was!)

If you’re in the market for some special additions to a cheese plate or to jazz up a recipe the shop is a great place to stop in for the fresh mustards on tap - pricey, but delicious - infused vinegars, and gherkins. I feel pretty confident trusting Maille - the company has been making mustard since 1747 and is seriously the Mustard of Kings - I figure if it’s good enough for Louis XV and Queen Victoria it’s probably good enough for me.

Maille New York  | Image:  Laura Messersmith

Maille New York | Image: Laura Messersmith

Maille New York | 185 Columbus Avenue; New York, NY 10023 | Monday - Saturday 10:00 am – 8:00 pm; Sunday 11:00 am – 7:00 pm

Scouting: Urban Space Holiday Markets

Urban Space Holiday Market @ Columbus Circle  | Image:  Laura Messersmith

Urban Space Holiday Market @ Columbus Circle | Image: Laura Messersmith

Christmas is almost here, Hanukkah is in full swing, and there are a whole host of gift-giving occasions to plan for in the New Year. One thing New York does so well at this time of year is put on the holiday glitz including the markets Urban Space organizes in several parks across the city. I love wandering through them with a cup of hot cider in hand and looking for new treasures.

They’re open until December 24th, so I took a walk down to 59th Street to scout the Columbus Circle location and help narrow the gifting options for your favorite foodie, home cook, or gourmand. So if you’re a little stumped and looking for inspiration here’s your guide to the vendors that caught my eye.

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Kitchen Equipment:
Brooklyn Slate Co. – What better way to showcase and serve cheese than a slate board? Slate serving boards perfectly balance the tactile rustic texture of stone with sleek clean lines. I’d looove a large one in classic black and I’m honestly wondering how many people I could reasonably buy one for without it being weird.

Tree to Art - I’m a sucker for a good wooden cutting board or serving platter and these pieces are gorgeous! I particularly like the cutting boards that retain their natural shape, bark and all.

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NY Cruet – I don’t normally go in for specialty serve ware pieces, but these cruets for oil and vinegar look so cool. Still, simplicity is the name of the game in my house – so the elegant curves of the La Mancha design top my list.

Natural Olivewood – More wood beautifully polished into bowls and utensils. Personally I use wooden spoons and spatulas all the time to protect my pots and pans from scratches and these are pretty enough to migrate from the stovetop to the tabletop.

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Specialty Food:
The Truffelist – Full Disclosure: I can’t stand truffles, too over-powering for this palate, but that doesn’t mean these products don’t make great gifts for the truffle lover in your life. Even knowing my preference, I was still tempted by the truffle honey – if anything could convert me to the funk, it’s sweets.

Raaka Chocolate – You know my love of chocolate, so I was excited to discover another local producer during my visit to the market. Raaka has a different take than the Mast Bros. but same attention to detail and design. They even have a factory tour too, so guess who's going to have to visit soon…

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Spices and Tease – If you have a tea drinker in your life, or someone who likes to spice things up this is the booth to pick up a house blend of loose leaf tea - apricot peach hibiscus sounds awesome - or a jar of specialty seasonings. If this is the mobile version of this New York shop I can’t wait to see the full array.

No Chewing Allowed – Fun fact: chocolate truffles intentionally echo the appearance of the fungi(?) and with these confections the name says it all, you’re going to want to savor as long as possible. A package of these French truffles would be a great gift for any sweet tooth who loves retro-cool style.

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Miscellaneous:
Pop Chart Lab – Maybe your foodie is less hands on, or s/he has a particular love of deep-tracks knowledge. This is the place to find a cool new piece of décor or some housewares that chart the intricacies of whiskey, coffee, beer, or kitchen knives. Teaching through design!