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Popcorn is having a moment
Here's where to get it.
I have to say, I don’t tend to give popcorn a lot of thought. Sure, some of those fun CPG start-ups like heirloom Pipcorn have made it fancy, so it is now even an appropriate snack to display on your raw slate cheeseboard with cider-washed, hay-wrapped cheeses and artisanal acorn-fed hams. And sure, I love watching the silver Jiffy Pop bag expand slowly as it becomes pregnant with all those just popped kernels. But mostly popcorn is just meh. I most often eat it at the movies, where it tastes like what I imagine styrofoam might taste like if I’d ever sampled those spongy box fillers. It’s vaguely better at the Alamo, where it seems to have been popped during this century, and comes in a big silver mixing bowl so it feels festive and indulgent.
But my ideas about popcorn have recently been challenged. Over the past month, I’ve been blown away by popcorn. This has happened not once, not twice, but three times. Three! Well, that’s a story if I’ve ever seen one. So, here we go.
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Crispy Ham Popcorn at Ruthie’s
At Ruthie’s, a natural wine bar on Smith Street owned by Marc St. Jacques and the team behind the beloved (and flawless) Barbete, the menu leans into midwestern Americana. Chef Chris Cote, who was previously at Colonie, Noma, Aska and most recently Pearl Supper Club is cooking up a lot of fun fare: Fluffy Campfire Biscuits served with peanut butter and pickled peanuts; Potato Skins loaded with sour cream onions and potato salad; Blackened Shrimp with huckleberry jam; and Cheese Fritters with ranch seasoning.
But one of the best things on the menu is his umami-dusted popcorn tossed with salty shards of crispy fried ham and topped with one big ham chip. This is possibly the best bar snack ever. You get the salty nutty popcorn and then the savory crunch of ham chips. Seriously, I will repeat this: fried ham chips and popcorn, in the same bowl. What are you waiting for, people?
Magic Dust Popcorn at Gair
Over at Gair, a gorgeous craft cocktail bar (try the Resting Spritz Face) and restaurant in DUMBO, consulting chef Hanna Kopitz has created a menu that includes one the best smash burgers in the city. But she’s not forgotten the ever important bar snack. Her popcorn comes in two sizes; the small is big enough for two, but once you get going you’ll wish you had the large. Just do it, this is not a time to skimp.
I know it doesn’t look all that interesting or special, but trust me. It is both. It’s tossed in coconut oil and dusted with “magic dust.” While the recipe for the dust is a vault-secured secret, I am thinking it’s some sort of brewer’s yeast concoction—it’s vaguely cheesy and salty and all together divine. When the bowl is done there’s a lot of magic dust in the bottom of the bowl. Tip it out into your pockets if you must. But take it home with you and put it on everything.
Popcorn Ice Cream Sundae at the Lamb’s Club
Finally, at The Lamb’s Club, which is by all means where you should dine if you’re ever going to the theater or have to be in Times Square area, the new owners — Jack Logue (Zagat 30 Under 30, Michelin stars at Betony and Clocktower), Chris Miller (Café Boulud, Atera), and noted restaurateur and nightlife guru David Rabin — are raising the bar on American fare. While it’s not really known as a steakhouse, I kind of think it should be. The steaks are terrific and it’s got the glamorous old New York steakhouse vibe; it’s a low-lit and intimate room, with black and white photographs lining the walls and deep red banquettes that call to mind a time of power lunches and the patriarchy.
I was in the other night with the kids and Craig, and we had a great meal, all of us tucked into a horseshoe shaped banquette. By the end of our dinner, which started with stunning cocktails and included a magnificent mac and cheese with braised oxtail (not light, but delicious), a perfect tuna tartare, seared scallops with bacon and leeks (also not light, but delicious), and a sizable New York Strip with a side of creamed spinach (see previous parenthetical), we did not need dessert. We needed several tablets of extra-strength Lipitor and a treadmill. But instead we had their sundae. Why would a sundae be in a story about popcorn? Glad you asked.
Jack’s sundae that’s like an edible carnival; it’s made from popcorn ice cream (sweet corn ice cream that’s slightly salted, delicious), topped with candied peanuts, salted caramel sauce, with a freshly baked milk chocolate chip cookie tucked into the side of the sundae, that can be used as an edible spoon. Silver spoons are overrated.