Thursday, July 2, 2009


There was a time when the look of the high tech restaurant had spread through New York like kudzu.  You know the spot - a spacious place with white melamine chairs, orange seat cushions, bluish lighting, square plates of pad thai,  and a DJ in the corner spinning drum and bass.  Well, those days are over.  Unless you're in college.  College students find that sort of thing not only "exciting" but "exciting!"

For the last five years or so, Brooklyn cafes, bars, and restaurants have been on a frenzied pursuit buying old mirrors and sourcing hard to read fonts in an attempt to have their places feel like a cross between a depression era pharmacy and a shop in the 1880's that sells nothing but twine. 

Don't get me wrong - I like this look.  A little overdone, perhaps, but the tone on tone browns, caramel lighting, and strange meats on menus works for me, whether I order the strange meat or not.

So when a restaurant bears the moniker Buttermilk Channel, I'm thinking "buttermilk" is just another one of those old-fashiony historical buzzwords that keep popping up like apothecary, dry goods, larder, chattel, tap room, and speakeasy.  Maybe that's because I never use buttermilk.  To me it's something one of the Walton kids may have asked for in a glass and was then reprimanded for being so fancy.   Additionally, like vanilla extract, I think of buttermilk as a very bad tasting thing that has the power to makes something else taste very good.  That something else, of course, is either pancakes or fried chicken and that's about it.

Yeah, well, I was totally wrong.  Let me count the ways.

I Was Wrong Part 1: The Buttermilk Channel is a mile long tidal straight between Brooklyn and Govenor's island.  According to legend, the straight got it's name from the days when dairy farmers would cross the water and the currents were so strong that "it could churn milk into butter."  Or perhaps it's comes from the practice of walking the cows from Brooklyn to graze on the island when the tide was low. 

Historical map and photo of Buttermilk Channel.

I Was Wrong Part 2: Buttermilk Channel the restaurant has a calm, cozy, quiet feel that doesn't look totally modern nor like a general store.  Actually, it feels pretty timeless.  And to start the meal, they serve popovers  which were the very first recipe I ever tackled on my own!  

The scallops were divine.

I Was Wrong Part 3:  Buttermilk tastes mighty ice cream!  You knew I had to try it.  It gives the custard a perfectly lemony, sour taste that is similar to the cream cheese ice cream but not as sticky.  It's light, perfectly pairs with baked goods or fresh fruit, and yes, it does taste rather old fashioned.  
Being wrong never tasted so right!  

Buttermilk Ice Cream
1 cup heavy cream
6 egg yolks
3/4 cup sugar
2 cups buttermilk

  • Heat cream to nearly boiling in a small sauce pan. 
  • In a medium bowl, whisk the egg yolks and sugar togetherk.
  • Slowly pour heated cream into the egg and sugar mixture, whisking constantly. 
  • Return mixture to pot and cook, stirring constantly, over medium-low heat until thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.
  • Pour mixture into a clean bowl and stir in buttermilk. 
  • Cover and refrigerate until chilled, about an hour.
  • Prepare in ice cream maker per manufacturer's instructions. 

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