Friday, October 16, 2009

Sandwich Obsession Deconstructed: Marlow & Sons (& Daughters)

My sandwich kick went strong for awhile, and now here I am at what I consider stage 2 of sandwichiritis: the deconstruction. Cured meats and cheeses are now best enjoyed separately, so as to enjoy the subtle differences that come with preparing the same foods in different ways. And restaurants always throw in some chewy bread, so you still get the sandwichy effect. It's a happy disease.

A few weekends ago Rob and I finally went to Marlowe & Sons in Williamsburg. It's gotten so much hype but I never really felt like going. Their specialties of charcuterie, oysters and soup just seemed like a boring way to spend the evening. I was so, so wrong and I'm glad. It was one of the most memorable meals Rob and I have had in a long time.

We went on a Saturday night and they don't take reservations, so we had to wait at the crowded bar for quite awhile. It was annoying being right in the servers' way but as soon as we got a stool at the bar, we were treated well during our wait. They asked if we wanted to start with any appetizers on the house, so we went with the olives. Two minutes later we were presented with a huge bowl of all sorts of shiny and briny olives in all shades and shapes. They were some of the meatiest olives I've ever had. In a good way. The perfect accompanyment to our 1/3 bottle of wine.

After waiting a little over an hour we get a seat, and luckily its towards the back of the room. Lots of people are sitting about four feet away from the bar. There's not a whole lot of room for personal space here.

Marlow & Sons switches up their menu every day based on what's fresh in their kitchen that day. I think there are a few constants, like the brick chicken. We decided against the idea of getting any of the three entrees and went for a little bit of everything else. First, a meat plate and two kinds of cheeses. The memorable cheese was a Point Reyes from California. We savored this stuff like it was the last thing we were ever going to eat. It was a little smokey with a familiar aftertaste that neither of us could identify. We would alternate taking bites, trying to nail down what it reminded us of. We couldn't come up with anything. The other cheese was good but not nearly as mystifying, so I guess it lost out on the allure of its brother cheese.

The meat plate was made up of five kinds of cured porky wonder: toscano, soppressata, finnochiona, nostrano and prosciutto. Finnochiona is a salami with fennel, or finnochio (one of the few Italian words I actually know and use!) Each and every type of meat blew me away with its lush spices and meltiness.

To finish our deconstructed sandwich, we ordered the crostini of the day. On this particular day the crostini was topped with housemade butter, goat cheese and Concord grape compote. Before we tried it, we were thinking "Bread and butter with a little cheese and a little jelly, sounds kind of boring and maybe a little weird." The crostini was neither of these things by a long shot. After one bite, both of our eyes shot up. First the warm, sweet housemade butter runs down your throat. Then the strong, acidic taste of the supergrape fills your mouth. You crunch on the grape seeds while the taste of the goat cheese comes through, a bit overpowered but still present. It was truly amazing. The idea that these simple ingredients can form into something so powerful was nothing less than inspiring. I almost cried a little.

But we're not done yet. We had read pretty stellar reviews of the Parmesan soup, another constant on the menu. We were expecting a rich, cream-based soup, but it was actually cloudy broth with housemade croutons and greens, though I don't remember what those greens were. The soup wasn't much to look at but it was light, salty, cheesy, buttery. Score.

And since we were there, we might as well try their oysters. We tried one kind from New York and another from North Carolina. I've never been too fond of oysters but this place has converted me into a full-on oyster believer. The New York oyster was a bit overpowering in its briny punch but I found the North Carolina ones to be just right.

At this point we were both too full for dessert. But this didn't stop us from getting the chocolate tart with sea salt and caramel to go. I think it may have lost something in the way of texture (and temperature) after a day in the fridge, but the flavors were still there. They definitely did not skimp on the sea salt, making for a sharp contrast with the rich chocolate and smooth caramel. Even non-sweet toothed Rob enjoyed this one. Well, at least the bites that I let him have.

I can't wait to go back so I can try the pork belly, the brick chicken, the fried corn and chicken liver pate. That is, on top of everything else that we have already tried.

Until our next visit, there is always Marlow & Daughters, the small grocery store/butcher next door. Like Marlow & Sons, the prices are a little steep at the store devoted to the female of the Marlow offspring, but I bet it's worth it.

Marlow & Sons
81 Broadway
Brooklyn, NY 11211
(718) 384-1441

Marlow & Daughters
95 Broadway (between Bedford Ave & Berry St)
Brooklyn, NY 11211
(718) 388-5700

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