Although I’ve been reporting on the Summer Fancy Food Show for more years than I care to name, this year I was forced to cancel my plans to attend at the last moment. So I was delighted when, weeks after the show had departed New York’s Javits Center, a package showed up on my doorstep containing a sampling of the 2016 gold winners of the Specialty Food Association’s Sofi Awards. These are the products, across 32 categories, which stood out among the 3,200 products entered.
What surprised and impressed me most about the samples was not that they are tasty treats — that is virtually synonymous with the term “fancy food” — but that unlike in past years, the winners shun artificial or unhealthful ingredients (read: trans fats, high-fructose corn syrup, ridiculous amounts of sugar, and salt) and many of them turn out to be gluten and GMO-free.
Here are my top picks:
Aged Parmesan Crisps from Kitchen Table Bakers. How these bite-size wafers — think Italian frico, at room temperature — stay fresh tasting and crunchy I don’t know, because they are made of cheese and nothing more. They make the perfect accompaniment to cocktails and are free of wheat, gluten, and sugar (www.kitchentablebakers.com).
Dinner Tonight! Black Bean Tortilla Seasoning Mix. A cute little box containing a dry mix of masa, herbs, and spices should have represented the last thing I’d ever buy, since you have to add your own precooked chicken, onion, broth, corn, black beans, salsa, and heavy cream.
My thinking was, what’s the point? Well, the point turns out to be some of the tastiest (and certainly creamiest) chili I’ve ever had — and made in under 30 minutes with no fuss and no need to shop for special ingredients. (I actually had everything but the heavy cream on hand.) The mix is also all natural and gluten free (www.backyardsafarico.com).
If I hadn’t already glommed them down in virtually one sitting, I could have finished off my chili meal with Money on Honey from Droga Chocolates. These are wildflower honey caramels covered with dark chocolate and sprinkled with fleur de sel. They are gluten and trans fat-free and contain no corn syrup, though the chocolate does include soy lecithin (www.drogachocolates.com).
Midpoint Grill opens on Route 206
Talk about an identity crisis! Midpoint serves traditional American breakfast fare — eggs any style, omelets, pancakes, French toast, waffles, bagels — all day long.
But it also serves totally fresh, scratch-made Middle Eastern food, which the owners term “Mediterranean,” starting at lunch time and is open for eat-in and take-out until 8-ish in the evening. Plus, it’s virtually hidden in a strip mall off Route 206 in what is technically Princeton but most people would think of as Montgomery.
Midpoint opened in June at 421 Wall Street (across from Princeton Airport), in the space that some may remember as Carver’s Cafe. So just what is it midpoint between? I haven’t tried the breakfast fare, but the platters of kebabs, gyros, and kafta (lamb and beef meatballs) pleased even my pickiest Middle Eastern-American friends as well as myself. Sides such as tabbouleh, hummus, eggplant stew, and kidney beans are bright and flavorful, too.
The same proteins can also be had in pita, as a wrap, in a salad bowl, or with rice (white or brown) or bulgur. Owner Adam Secilmis and his wife, Sema, pride themselves on making everything fresh, every day — nothing canned or premade. Even the lemonade is scratch-made. The casual, light-filled space has been lovingly and cheerfully decorated, including with modern red metal stools and funky wallpapers. www.midpointgrill.com.
Two new venues for special events
The list of special events spaces in and around Princeton continues to grow.
Earlier this year I wrote in this space about Max Hansen’s forthcoming project at the Technology Center of Princeton (in Hopewell), and the Princeton Abbey on Mapleton Road includes event spaces in addition to its role as cemetery and sanctuary.
Now Crave Events, a division of the Jersey City group that owns the Logan Inn, Hotel du Village, Stone House at Stirling Ridge, and the Ryland Inn, has become the in-house caterer at the Boathouse at Mercer Lake (in Mercer County Park) and is also an approved caterer for events at Cherry Grove Farm in Lawrenceville. www.craveeventsgroup.com.
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