You Can't Eat Buzz: On the Brooklyn Hipster Snack Trail

Hipsters. Can’t live with ‘em. Can’t live without ‘em. That’s this week’s theme… I’d been seeing posts for weeks on Instagram for popular Taiwanese restaurant Win Son’s new pop-up bakery in August, opening for realz in September. Every week I was missing out on mochi donuts with black sesame sugar, something called milk-bread—a Taiwanese brioche—and dan bings, a cross between the Asian “bing” pancake and an omelette. Plus there were alluring pictures of a hot mess of fried chicken called a “chicken box.”

The Chef and I twice ate the excellent inventive Taiwanese fare at Win Son proper, so I was determined to grab me some Taiwanese baked goods. But first comes the pop-ups. Then comes the “soft-opening,” and then comes the “sold out.” The Chef and I arrived at Win Son Bakery at 12:30 one September Sunday only to see a sign on the door telling us they are now closed and to come back at 5:30. Aaaargh!! We let out a few expletives. “C’mon. What bakery worth its mochi donuts or pine seed rolls is sold out before brunchtime?” We decided it’s a cynical ploy to create buzz. We’d seen it before on our Paris Walk. Lydie and I waited in line with about 30 others outside trendy Parisian store Sézane, even though we could see there were very few customers in the store. Making customers wait and letting them in at timed intervals created hype, albeit artificial. At Win Son, the bakery was, at least, clearly packed, but the sign, not scrawled but printed, showed there was some forethought that had gone into this. Why sell more actual products when you can give that airy confection called “buzz” away for free.

Plan V, as in Vietnamese

We were hangry, and so I asked Siri, “Where is the nearest café?” Nam Nam was 500 ft away. A literally blank shopfront, this gritty little Vietnamese joint has about six seats and serves only two things: cold Bun salad with your choice of meat/ vegetarian option and Bahn mi with same. We went there directly, and within 15 minutes we picked up our plastic containers of bun and Bahn and were chowing down in the sun at a rickety outdoor table. There is no bathroom, but a coffee shop just down the block was friendly when I popped in to use theirs. I have never been a fan of bahn mi, but the Chef’s classic pork one ($7.25) looked so enticing, I almost ate half of it. The bread was crispy on the outside and soft on the inside, the pickled carrots are sooo num num at Nam Nam, and Yelpers unanimously say the “Classic” is the Bahn Mi to get. The pork tidbits in my bun ($8.25)—a  cold salad of pickled carrots, cucumber, and vermicelli noodles—were tender, fatty, and plentiful. What holds the elements of a good bun salad together is the sauce, a clear magical mixture of rice vinegar, sugar, lime, fish sauce, ginger, and garlic. Swirl everything together with a big squirt of Sriracha.

Following @Emorlow to Archestratus

Our plan to visit hipster outposts wasn’t entirely foiled, however, thanks to a tip from Emma Orlow’s instagram.  It was Emma’s post of her clutching a box of black sesame sugar mochi donuts that whetted my appetite for Win Son, and when I saw her post on Archestratus, an amazing Greenpoint food bookstore/event space/Sicilian snack shop, I knew we would have to explore! Emma is my sister-in-law’s niece who was blogging about food, culture and fashion while still in middle school (move over Tavi Gavinson)! Chosen as a class of ‘18 Brooklyn Magazine 30 Under 30, she has curated food/art events and  penned inventive food reviews and essays for funky little magazines titled Sprudge or Mold as well as for Grub Street and the New York Times. Now she is Associate Food Editor for TimeOut New York (expect that space to get more inventive with her involvement).  I tip my pork pie hat to her…and I follow her lead, which the Chef and I did last Sunday.

First, however, we had to walk through Williamsburg, something I can’t do without stopping at an old favorite, Bakeri. This heavenly place on Wythe and 8th with a branch in Greenpoint and a tinier outpost in the East Village is really something so special I want it to stay as under the radar as it seems to be. The Earl Grey tea is strong and the pots are generous, and the baked goods, based on recipes from San Francisco’s Tartine, are utter perfection, especially the lavender shortbread, early grey tea, and espresso cookies ($1.50/each). This is the place I come to gather the pieces of my soul when I feel scattered and anxious, to write in my journal in the scruffy outdoor garden or the coveted alcove loveseat. Bakeri is staffed by stalwart, cheery women dressed in blue jump suits with kerchiefs tied around their heads Rosie the Riveter-style. They occasionally put out a zine. The bill for three cookies, a pastry and a pot of tea came to $10.00! Bakeri: Don’t. Ever. Change.

Full of cookies and tea, I thought, ruefully, I’d ruined my appetite and a chance to sample the Sicilian snacks at Archestratus. “How much more can you eat?” the Chef said, a little too incredulously, I thought! But I’m still on steroids from my Crohn’s Disease flare, and they do happen to make me ravenously hungry most of the time. What luck, because the vegan arancini at Archestratus was sublime. But first: books. Partial to Manhattan’s grand dame of food bookstores, Kitchen Arts and Letters, I’d assumed Archestratus would be a twee place offering food biblioarcana, but there were books in every possible category including vintage recipe books from food companies and a well stocked section of food fiction, containing titles like Aimee Bender’s The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake. Food prints! Even beaded jewelry of food items!

Then, in the back of Archestratus, there’s a Sicilian snack shop serving lunch from recipes by Archestratus  owner Paige Lipari’s Sicilian “Nonna.” In fact Lipari’s grandparents owned an Italian grocery store on Troutman and Knickerbocker: Lipari & Sons Latticini. You can taste the authenticity in the arancini, Sicilian fried rice balls ($4.50/ea). On offer that day there were Sausage, cabbage and cheese; cabbage, sweet onion and mozzarella; vegan eggplant amogghio; and a sweet one made of bread pudding, honey and marsala. I surprised myself by ordering the vegan one (how do they make the rice adhere without egg??), because I was intrigued by “amogghio,” which I now know is a Sicilian salsa, of which the stealth ingredient is marjoram long simmered with tomatoes, garlic and maybe a spritz of lemon. The Chef and I shared the slickery eggplant and tangy amogghio arancino, a perfect combo, and I knew I’d come back to sample more items. In my snack budget there is Enza ($9.00) in which you make your own plate from a varied menu of sides like the wonderful eggplant and amogghio, olives and oranges, escarole and olive or—this is intriguing—cabbage and mint. There is a Boy GIUSSEPE ($10.00), eggplant, primu sale Sicilian goat’s milk cheese and amogghio. And people are really, really passionate about the cookies, especially the rainbow sprinkle cookies ($4.00/ea) and the pistachio lace ($4.00).

After the visit to Archestratus, which was pretty quiet when we visited, I got worried about whether it would stay in business. How can a food bookstore and Sicilian snack shop out on Huron Avenue in Greenpoint draw enough people? The arancini and rainbow sprinkle cookies are popular with Yelpers, but I was pleased to see, after doing some Internet sleuthing around, that the store’s events seem to be the main draw—from a cookbook book club (free) to “a Lebanese mezze feast with YAYA” ($75), “A very Kim-Joy happy hour with KIM-JOY ($60-80), and “Dinner at the Saltwater Table with Chef Otawka” ($50). In their intro to their events page, the store/eventspace/snack shop says it has conjured this “offbeat meeting space,” from muse Archestratus, the ancient Greek gourmand, comic, rebel, and mystery. I was curious, and so here is a sample of his extant writings, which, I understand, are mainly to do with his finickiness about fish!

“The bonito [Ed. tuna], in autumn when the Pleiades set, you can prepare in any way you please. . . . But here is the very best way for you to deal with this fish. You need fig leaves and oregano (not very much), no cheese, no nonsense. Just wrap it up nicely in fig leaves fastened with string, then hide it under hot ashes and keep a watch on the time: don’t overcook it. Get it from Byzantium, if you want it to be good. . . .” 

— Archestratus, fragments 59 to 62. Olson and Sens translation.

Nam Nam
109 Montrose Ave. (Williamsburg, Brooklyn)
*Note: all prices on their website are WAY out of date! My prices are accurate.

Win Son Bakery
164 Graham Avenue (Williamsburg, Brooklyn)

150 Wythe Street (Williamsburg, Brooklyn)

160 Huron Street (Greenpoint, Brooklyn)