Lots of new products were introduced on the exhibit floor of the NRA Show last week. A few stood out during my travels from booth to booth, and I also came across some cool things outside of McCormick Place:
Sid Wainer’s booth always seems like a welcome green oasis on the show floor, with its displays of fresh and often exotic produce. This year didn’t disappoint. What stood out were several varieties of herbs and micro-greens in small flowerpots. Not unusual in themselves, but they are packaged to come to the restaurant table, where the chef or server snips them fresh to order for each diner. Takes farm-to-table to the max.
Pizza a Metra: Caputo Double Zero Flour has developed a flour geared to American restaurant ovens. It’s called “pizza a metra” and it’s designed to create pizza dough that can be baked at 500° or 600°F, the typical temperature range of most pizza ovens in the U.S., instead of the 800° to 1000° favored by Italian pizzaioli. Pizzas made with this flour have the authentic, crisp, slightly chewy crusts and the blistered bottoms of those fired up in hotter ovens. It’s called pizza a metra because the pizzas are baked in oblongs and served by the inch instead of in triangular slices.
Gluten-free pasta has a hard time standing up to the original in taste, texture and mouthfeel. Barilla took several years to perfect its version, and we got a preview at the NRA Show. Their gluten-free pasta is a proprietary blend of rice and corn. Simply sauced with a marinara, the penne I tasted had the color, bite and flavor of traditional durum wheat pasta.
I like my burgers cooked on the grill, slightly charred on the outside and juicy inside, then served immediately. So I was very skeptical to taste the burgers offered by Winston Industries. They had been cooked hours before in the CVAP Cook and Hold Oven. Couldn’t imagine they would be anything but gray hockey pucks with a steamed beef taste. I was wrong—the burgers were juicy, medium-rare and very much like those I cook on my grill. Before serving, the chef seared them quickly to give them a charred appearance.
Chicago has a slew of new restaurants, and what struck me this spring were the design innovations. One example was The Tortoise Club, a classic supper club in the style of New York’s 21 Club but with modern touches. The décor is highlighted by rich mahogany paneling, widely spaced tables, subdued lighting and cushy furniture. On the walls are caricatures of Chicago personalities from the past, and in the corner of each piece of art is a QR code. When diners scan the codes, they get the backstory of the person portrayed. The restaurant also lists all the shows playing in the nearby theater district, each with its own QR code to scan for details. High-tech meets tradition.
Margarita Pizza: Caputo Double Zero Flour is the brand used in Italy by the master pizzaioli to make authentic Neapolitan pizza. It is now being imported to the U.S. and three pizzaioli were in the booth using the flour to make the dough and stretch it into round pizzas. The toppings were spare—just imported crushed Italian tomatoes, mozzarella and basil—but once baked in the 800° oven (also in the exhibit space), the pizza—with its thin, chewy, slightly blistered crust—was heaven.
Smoked Salmon: Honey Smoked Fish Co. offered four varieties of cold-smoked salmon. I sampled the one with peppercorns. It was exceptionally moist with a subtle smoked flavor—not at all overpowering. The exhibitor also flaked it into a refreshing seasonal salad—a tasty way to serve it.
Duroc Pork Loin: Compart Family Farms is a smaller producer that raises heritage breeds of pigs. Duroc is one of those breeds, and the pork they cooked up at the booth was succulent and rich in flavor. It even stayed juicy under the heat lamps.
Craft Ice Cream and Sorbet: This artisanal ice cream company was exhibiting under the umbrella of the Specialty Food Association. The flavors were outrageous, including the bourbon burnt sugar ice cream and sweet hibiscus ginger sorbet. And the texture was so creamy and sensuous. I could have eaten a whole pint!
Saxony Cheese: This producer’s signature cheese is named after the company: Saxony. It was one of many cheeses that tempted me in the Wisconsin exhibit area, but its nutty flavor really hooked me. Great consistency too—not too hard and not too soft. It would be great in an omelet or panini, but they were only sampling little cubes.