"Yeah, this started back in February," Lachlan explains when I catch him on the phone in his kitchen, just ahead of another fully committed night. "People were freaking out. They wanted to know what else it could go with, how they could serve it. Everyone wanted to know if they could take some home, so we started packing some up for people. You know, just like vacuum-packing it or sealing it in a little sterilized jar."
The jelly, which is served as a condiment on Frasca's cheese plates, is amazing. It has a haunting flavor -- sweet, peppery, sharp, astringent, salty all at the same time, tasting vaguely of the egg roll sauce at a good Chinese restaurant, a little like expensive port wine jelly, and solidly of red bell peppers. Once you start eating it, it's difficult to stop; you want it for breakfast, lunch and dinner, forever.
On the menu since day one, the jelly comes from a recipe that Lachlan got from his grandmother, Betty Mackinnon, and he remembers eating it every day of his life, with everything from cheese to sandwiches to turkey. And after they opened Frasca last year, it didn't take long for the guys to decide it might be a good idea to provide something that their customers could take home -- a little taste of Frasca for the road, as it were.
An even better idea: They could charge for it.
So Grandma's jelly is now available at Frasca for $9.95 a jar, and if that seems a little steep for nine ounces, it isn't. I'd pay double that if I had to, and the price certainly isn't keeping the stuff from flying off the shelves. It's only been on sale for a couple of weeks, but Frasca is already selling five, six, sometimes ten jars a night.
A bit closer at hand, chef Ian Kleinman has come up with a homegrown line of soups fashioned after the award-winning work he did at Golden's Hilltop Cafe, where rich, surprising, comforting soups were pretty much his stock in trade. "Soup has always been my passion," Kleinman says. "A few months ago, a friend called me up -- someone who knew me from my soups back at the Hilltop--and asked if I could do some for him. After that, word got out."
Word got out, and Kleinman went from making a couple gallons in his kitchen at home to producing a hundred gallons a week through Food Concepts, a production kitchen out in Lakewood that's using his recipes to do large-batch cooking for Kleinman's new company.
The company, called My Soup Bowl, already has a website (mysoupbowl.com) and a greatest-hits list of Kleinman's favorites, including pot-roast stew and pineapple-scallion soup, sweet-potato chowder and English pea with rosemary. Kleinman's also offering custom soups on request and working on new recipes all the time.
"This is a whole different ballgame," Kleinman tells me, way different from cooking for friends, and even from cooking for a restaurant. In four months, he's gone from a back-burner operation in his house to worrying about distributors and outlets and what he's going to do when his client list jumps from ten buyers to fifty and his production from a hundred gallons to a thousand.
Meanwhile, he's still on the roster as chef-patissière over at Emogene Patisserie, 2415 East Second Avenue. He also gets over to Nine75, another one of Jim Sullivan's restaurants, at 975 Lincoln Street, to work the line every once in a while, and he'll be helping out when a second Emogene opens in Lakewood's Belmar complex. When I ask how he does it all, he just laughs. "I had to do something, brother," he says. "Something for myself. I'm hoping this will be the nest egg that sends my kids to college."
Leftovers: While Frank Bonanno works out the kinks at Milagro Taco Bar (see review), he and partner Mark Haber have already opened the space next door as Harry's Chop House. Bonanno is doing classic Americana here, with a menu topping out in the twenty-dollar range and offering clams casino, oysters Rockefeller with Gruyère, creamed spinach and parmesan, an iceberg wedge salad, French onion soup, simple spaghetti and a deconstructed chicken pot pie. He's also got a choose-your-own-adventure thing going at the grill, with proteins (double-cut pork chops, fourteen-ounce rib-eye, ten-ounce filet, homemade meatloaf, burgers and some fish), sides (everything from goat-cheese creamed spinach to fontina mac-and-cheese to Lyonnaise potatoes) and six different sauces, including a truffled demi-glace that sounds wonderful.