What Do I Do With All These *&%# Tomatoes?

Oct 2, 2014

What do I do with all these EFFIN tomatoes?

If you’re like many Buffalonians you have an above ground garden in or around your back yard, which ultimately leaves you with a ton of effin tomatoes come September. In addition to our personal garden, this year we joined a CSA. Every Wednesday an area farm delivers me 20lbs of local organic produce. Great idea, I help support local growers who will in turn help support our restaurant. Unfortunately for me the great weather and growing conditions in my back yard which left me with so many effin tomatoes are the same great weather and growing conditions they had at my local farm, which in turn leaves me with EVEN more effin tomatoes.

Now if the restaurant were already open, I’d simply turn all my tomatoes into pizza sauce. Problem solved. Seeing how our opening is still a ways away, I had to opt for plan B: canning.

Canning, which people have been doing for generations to preserve their autumn bounty, is a hot and steamy affair. But the principles are pretty much the same for anything you’re planning on canning.

Step one: get a giant pot of water boiling, then sanitize your bottles, a quick dip into the hot tub of boiling water on your stove top should do the trick.

Step two: the product. I made traditional salsa: diced tomatoes, onion, cilantro, jalapeno, salt, pepper, and cumin. The recipe I used called for my salsa to be simmered for 15 minutes prior to filling my jars.

Step three: processing. After filling your bottles and placing the lids on them, you’ll need to place them back in your boiling pot of water for 10 minutes so that the bottle forms a vacuum which will seal it and preserve all your hard work.

Step four: removing your now hot, slippery, and steamy bottles of salsa from the vat of super heated water without giving yourself third degree burns.

Now that you’ve applied your aloe vera, nursed all your freshly acquired war wounds, and cleaned up the mess, you will find that you have enough fresh canned salsa to get you through the long Buffalo winter. Which will give you plenty of time to plan how you will deal with next years deluge of effin tomatoes.

-Rick Gazzo, Head Chef

 

 

Future Ghost Sign

Sep 25, 2014

A ghost sign is the worn out remnants of an old, usually hand-painted, sign from “back in the day”. They can be found all over Buffalo on old brick buildings. The hand-painted style looks so great on the brick, as the grout provides texture and creates an industrial feel. The designs off these signs were mostly utilitarian. Conveying the relevant details of the business clearly and concisely took precedence over design aesthetic, which of course, ironically, is what gives them there unique style and character today. Unfortunately, due to the expense and upkeep of paint, developers have mostly switched to vinyl signage. Personally, I love when the paint wears down; it creates a nostalgic mark of history and experience, a la “est. 19__”.

We had a large wall over-looking the future site of the beer garden begging for a mural of some sort, so we decided to create our own ghost sign as homage to our neighborhood’s industrial history. I called my friend Evan, who did the rest of our branding, and within minutes (another advantage of the, say…minimalist style) we had our design. Then I got recommended a local artist, Chuck Tingley, whose studio is just down Exchange Street. Here’s a photo Journal from the next couple weeks working together:

 

Chuck had never done quite this kind of work before, so he first put up a sample to test techniques and color scheme:

ghost-sign-sample-225x300

Looked great, but a little too pure black and white, so we added a splash of cream and felt good to proceed.

 

We went to the site and eyed out the size; one of those put your hands in a rectangle techniques. Then Chuck taped it out:

ghost-sign-border

Next the background:

ghost-sign-background-225x300

 

We rented a projector, a scissor lift, and outlined the font (and by “we”, I mean Chuck). Look closely:

ghost-sign-font-outline-225x300

Finish the font, add a boarder to really make it pop, and voila!:

ghost-sign-finished-e1411618007178

We were originally going to power wash it to give it the faded look, but upon completion we thought it better to start our own generation of signs that will wear naturally over time. These creative processes are the funnest part of working in this industry. We made a connection with a great artist who we are already working on other projects with, and a neighboring building owner liked the end result so much they are putting up there own in a similar style. The more the Merrier!

Check back in 40 years to see how they held up.

Beer Cocktails??

Sep 5, 2014

I came aboard Hydraulic Hearth for a number of reasons, not the least of which was that Community Beer Works would be brewing beer for the restaurant, in the restaurant. I’m a fan of their beer, and I’m excited knowing that four of our taps are dedicated to them (we consider the other eight to be our “guest taps”).

The more I contemplated the cocktail program at HH, the more convinced I became that beer must play an integral part; and this means…beer in cocktails. Now, the only problem with this is that most beer cocktails are terrible. My mission: fix this.

Beer and booze are normally like acquaintances that go to the same places, but probably wouldn’t dance together. But there are some exceptions. The Boilermaker, or classic “shot and a beer.” Usually served separately, what happens if you pour the shot into the beer? If the booze and the brew are well paired: delicious happens. Or the Shandy, the traditional English pub drink that is 1/2 beer and 1/2 lemonade (not to be confused with those “Shandy” bottled drinks some breweries are producing).

Moving beyond these classics I am looking to incorporate the flavors of beer in a way that compliments the drink. IPA in a grapefruit based drink, maybe a little porter in the bloody to add richness. A hop infused simple syrup will be featured, as well as using hops in some of the bitters.

But my favorite mix of beer and booze is something we’re calling “The Swan Dive.” The Swan Dive is named in honor of the building’s past as a dive bar that other dive bars aspire to be (I recently met a former paramedic who said of The Swan, ”Yeah, we got called there a lot.”). It will be an ever-changing choice between one excellent beer with a cheap shot of booze, or an excellent shot paired with a cheap beer.

I am looking forward to finding more ways to bridge the gap between beer and it’s distilled cousin, spirit. It will be an excellent challenge.

 

-Chris Guilmet, Bar Manager

OUR Style of Pizza

Sep 4, 2014

New York City: self-proclaimed pizza capital of the country. Upon hiring our head chef, a field trip was top priority, to share some of my favorite spots, and the standard I hoped to set us to. Manhattan is known for its thin crust, by the slice pizza, but Staten Island was the first place to introduce the brick oven, wood fired style. This winter I found a place I could stage (work for free for a limited amount of time) for a week. Half the experience was essentially “Dough 101”: just what I was looking for, complete with the duty of mixing and rolling 100 dough balls each morning. The other half was spent on the line making their self-proclaimed best pizza in the world (and I’m sure they’re the only ones in NYC to make such a claim).

 

There is no better way to get good at something than by doing it over and over hundreds of times. You build muscle memory, speed, and confidence; but less obviously, you grow to understand the minutiae that can affect one pizza to the other; the way different quantities and qualities of toppings can affect the final product and interact with each other. This experience was invaluable, and at the end of the “class”, low and behold! They sell the very oven model I was using all week. While the idea of falling victim to a weeklong sales pitch didn’t initially sit well, there was no denying the quality and user-friendliness of the oven. Normally in a wood fired oven you need to pay very close attention to not placing a pizza in the same spot too often, and too soon, or it will mess with the radiant heat. This model has a slowly rotating stone base, so it’s never something to worry about. So we have that going for us.

 

But, back to the field trip: I set Rick up in the same class in Staten Island by night, and we hit some of my favorite spots by day. He claimed it was impossible for him to ever get sick of pizza, but was eating his words by the end of day 2. We went to a few different brick oven spots, each delicious but with subtle differences that set them apart from one another. “American Flatbread” in Tribeca was on the heartier side, with a strong focus on various gourmet cheeses from Vermont, and local produce. I describe this style as “Farm Pizzas”. It reminds me more of my years spent living in Vermont, then an Italian export. Another great place was “Roberta’s” in Brooklyn. The place most commonly recommended to me, it lived up to the hype. Lighter, and simpler then Flatbread’s, their style lends itself more to personal pies. The slices went down smoother, different, but the one commonality was the freshness and cohesiveness of the flavors.

 

Throughout the weekend we got a great sense of the different directions we can take, and realized in the world of pizza, and food in general, there is no right or wrong style. Through hard work, experimentation, repetition, and sourcing the best ingredients we can find, our identity will evolve on its own.

 

-lead image: “Roberta’s” in Brooklyn, NY

Nothing To Do With Pizza: How To Raise Tough Chicks

Aug 26, 2014

As a chef who works ungodly hours as well as every holiday and weekend I’m also the father of two gorgeous daughters. Since their birth I’ve been on a mission. A mission to turn them into tough take charge, take no crap alpha females. To ensure them continued success in all their ventures as well as keep myself from having to beat up a 17 yr. old boy, or from having a heart attack at 40. I’ve taught them the usual’s, not to be bullied, self-worth, & self-confidence, as well as how to throw a punch and land a perfect kick to the groin. They’re already proficient archers so I thought it was time to move on to fire arms. Now, I’m no hunter, as a matter of fact the first time I went camping I was half way through my twenties. My fire arm experience was limited to self-defense, from growing up in a rather unsavory neighborhood.

Discussing firearm safety and respect at the dinner table was very alien to me, but I covered all the basics, proper handling, form, never pointing a weapon at anything you’re not willing to destroy, and how anything you kill you have to eat, life is sacred and not to be frivolously wasted for target practice.

They took all my information to heart. After our talk their first question was when we could go hunting for alligator, “because it’s delicious and there are way too many of them in Florida”. Unfortunately there aren’t many alligators or for that matter bayous in Buffalo. So after some convincing we settled on target shooting on our land in the southern tier.

They were little snipers right out the gate. Exploding water bottles at 30 yards with a 22 cal rifle like it was their job, with proper form and technique to boot. After they’d fired several dozen rounds at poor unsuspecting Poland springs bottles they were thirsty for blood, begging to go hunting for squirrels. “We’ll scare them away trapesing though all the fallen leaves and loam in the woods” I thought “they’ll never follow through with it or even be able to hit a moving target” I thought.

10 minutes and a single shot later I find myself showing my daughters how to field dress their kill. Luckily I was able to talk her out of saving the tail to wear to school in her hair on Monday. But being a man of my word and trying to teach them a valuable lesson as well as possibly disway them from hunting for sport we headed back to the cabin to transform our catch into lunch. They’ve seen Andrew Zimmern eat some very odd things on national television so not even an eyelash was batted as we proceeded to make cornmeal battered Cajun squirrel fritters a recipe I picked up from one too many late night duck dynasty binges. As it turns out they weren’t bad, especially with a remoulade dipping sauce. The meats surprisingly sweet albeit not nearly as sweet as knowing that this self-admitted city kid is raising some tough little hunter gatherers. Don’t get me wrong, they will not be making an appearance on my restaurant’s specials menu, but; if you’re interested in a western New York safari I know a 9 year old who’ll happily be your guide.

Rick Gazzo, Head Chef 

(photo not of the actual fritters.. unfortunately)

What Makes A Craft Cocktail Special?

Jul 31, 2014

Bitters are the heart and soul of a great cocktail. Like the seasoning in an excellently prepared meal, bitters should subtly add dimension and balance. A Manhattan without Angostura bitters is simply a glass of whiskey and sweet vermouth, and not worth drinking, and if you’ve never had a Martini with a couple dashes of orange bitters you are seriously missing out.

For many years after the end of Prohibition there were only two types of readily available bitters: Angostura and Peychaud’s. Angostura is the classic image of a bottle of bitters, with the bright yellow cap and the oversized paper label. This was the bottle of bitters you would find buried deep inside your grandparent’s liquor cabinet. (Fun fact! Even though Angostura is 43% alcohol, you can not buy it in a liquor store in New York State, because it was classified as a food during the dark years of Prohibition. That’s also one of the reasons it survived). Peychaud’s is less common, but easy to spot with its bright red color. A Sazarac (or as I like to call it: The Cocktail That Will Change Your Life) is simply impossible without it.

Now that America is engulfed in a Cocktail Renaissance there is a vast array of bitters available practically anywhere (unless you’re in a liquor store and you want Ango…). Orange, lemon, grapefruit, celery, cardamon, chocolate, rhubarb. The list gets longer every day. But, in much the same way that a craft cocktail bartender will fashion their own cordial or simple syrup, at Hydraulic Hearth we will be making our own cocktail bitters.

Bitter are ridiculously easy to make. All you need are some flavor ingredients, high proof alcohol, and time. The result is that the bar will have it’s own spin on our cocktails, a unique flavor profile.

Angostura and Peychaud’s are impossible to replicate, and why would we want to? We are in the middle of testing out several bitters: Orange, Grapefruit, Lemon, Cherry, Lavender, Sassafras, and Aromatic. The Aromatic bitters were a long time in coming together – something like two years – and are quite delicious. Our Old Fashioned will feature the house Aromatic and Orange bitters. Several other planned cocktails will have house bitters playing a prominent role: The Root will be heavily flavored with Sassafras.

We will be adding other bitters to the line over time: Hot Pepper, Cranberry, Chocolate to name a few. As long as they are interesting and delicious.

-Chris Guilmet, Bar Manager

Brick Oven Pizza. How did we get here?

Our menu concept is simple: A wide variety of brick oven pizzas complimented by an eclectic mix of “small bites”. We limited our entrees to solely pizza for a handful of reasons:

–       Concentrate on doing 1 thing great than too many things OK. By focusing all our energy on pizza, we can offer more offerings, specials, different sauces, etc..

–       Build a stronger brand identity as a pizza place, as opposed to reducing it to a section of the menu.

–       Reduce labor by simplifying the menu. This helps the health of our business, and reduces wait times for our customers.

–       Small Bites: if pizza isn’t your thing, a salad and an app will more than fill you up. We are also dedicated to having an excellent beverage program, and these 2 things go hand in hand during happy hour.

Also, since we’re not giving complimentary pre-pizza bread, we’ve decided to offer a free post-pizza cup of coffee from our friends at “Public”.

Dreaming up a menu is one thing, bring it to life is a completely different, and much greater challenge. We started with a draft menu, and have since been testing recipes every Wednesday and Thursday until we are satisfied with the end result.

Brick Oven. Beer Garden. Collaboration.

Opening a restaurant starts with a concept. Before beginning work its important to create a clear identity in your head and do your best to stay within that identity as you come up with, and get pitched, more and more ideas along the way. The original concept for the “Hydraulic Hearth”, or as we were going to call it, the “Hydraulic Hotel” was a lot different than it is now. We wanted to bring everything we loved form the burgeoning LES of NYC restaurant scene through our doors. We also wanted to be casual, and accessible to the broad demographic of people who frequent Larkin Square- our built in audience. But, as we started to implement more of these “trendy” ideas, our identity went in the other direction, and the size of our operation grew- a scary thought for a new restaurant in a “destination” location.

Enter the beer garden. Upon conception, this idea fit right into what we wanted to achieve. A chance to create a microcosm of our success with Larkin Square; a smaller scale, meandering layout, that feels more like a public park, than a private patio. Shuffleboard courts as our recreation, and of course a bar outside. A natural compliment to this seemed to be brick oven pizzas, a core fare that allows for culinary creativity while maintaining our casual identity. And by limiting our menu entrees to only pizzas, we not only strengthen this identity, but also allow ourselves to focus on doing one thing great while keeping the operation manageable.

Emulating Larkin Square has also helped grow our mission statement revolved around collaboration with other small businesses. We proved the strength of this concept with “Food Truck Tuesdays”, so we decided to place a food truck dock right in the beer garden. Yes, we serve food too, but doing this gives us the option to do more programming without stretching our kitchen staff thin (brunch for example), shoulder the work load on busy nights- to retain goodwill with our customers, and add to a small businesses’ bottom line while exposing their core customers to a new place.

Also, Community Beer Works. We are setting up as their first satellite brewery. On the one hand, we provide them a fully operational brewery, allowing them to brew more beer and add to their bottom line. On the other, we get a great product you can’t find anywhere else, and a respected local brand name to help launch our own.

These are just a couple examples that show the natural evolution of our mission and identity as a restaurant. We will also offer free coffee from one of our Larkin Market vendors- Public Espresso + Coffee, live podcast recordings– giving others a chance to promote their own endeavors, and a miniature art gallery out of a vintage phone booth. Any idea that aligns itself with our core mission and identity we will take on, and we can’t wait to see what exciting new ideas come our way.