Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Bits and Morsels looks to 2010

A latte with some chocolate at Max Brenner.

Writing the year-end column can be a little tricky. As much as I enjoy the perennial “year in review” columns, I prefer to look ahead, so upward and onward to 2010. I wish you dear readers (and dear droolers) health, happiness and only good things. I will accept nothing less.

This past week I got to thinking about New Year’s resolutions and how they are usually food-related. Is there anyone who does not have a resolution to lose weight or eat healthier? Didn't think so. So, before you fulfill any vow to eat better, you might as well eat something on the unhealthy side. With that in mind I went to dinner at John’s Pizzeria on 64th Street between First and York. John’s is nothing more than a casual place to go for pizza, cheesy garlic bread and pitchers of soda. There aren't enough it is what it is restaurants like John's and it's one of the reasons I like eating there. My pie of choice is topped with mushrooms, onions and extra garlic. The pizza at Johns is good, not on par with New York's best, but it certainly does the trick.

John’s Pizzeria
408 East 64th Street
John's Pizzeria, 408 East 64th Street, 212.935.2895.
Salad with way too many croutons to be healthy.
Cheesy garlic bread.
Pizza with garlic, mushrooms and onions.
I’m a big fan of Max Brenner. His restaurants are a unique experience, suitable for any occasion, and immediately welcome you into its sweet chocolate culture (you can actually get a chocolate fix from a chocolate-filled syringe). Max is wired and inspired, passionate about everything he does. He is surprisingly health conscious which can't be easy when surrounded by delicious treats all day long. He was actually in the middle of doing a juice cleanse when I met up with him.

Chocolate: A Love Story is his stylish new book filled with recipes and illustrations. It’s the kind of book that you will like even if you don't cook (wink, wink).

So, is this your first time doing the juice cleanse?

No, I do it every second month.

Does it get any easier?

It’s not hard for me. It just depends, if you are home and reading then it’s easy. If you are at work, it's difficult because you need to focus.
Max Brenner.
How long has this store been here?

3 and 1/2 years.

What’s the best selling item on the menu?

We have a new menu so we will see how it goes. Normally it’s the chocolate pizza and the fondues. These are things that people are familiar with. People are more afraid to try new items like the chocolate egg rolls.
Max Brenner on Broadway between 13th and 14th Streets.
Inside Max Brenner, "Creating a New Chocolate Culture."
What's the time frame between signing the lease to opening the store?

Half a year.

How many stores do you have?

In the states, we have two. This store and one in Philly. We have 20 in Australia, 6 in Israel, 2 in Singapore, and 2 in the Philippines. We are opening next year in Vegas and Boston.

How different is it opening stores in new locations?

It’s a little different from country to country but not very. I want to believe that even in different cultures we approach chocolate in a straightforward way. The way people are looking to eat chocolate crosses all borders and cultures.
Chocolate cocktails.
The chocolate culture now includes chocolate egg rolls.
How long have you been in the chocolate business?

Almost twenty years. My first chocolate store opened in 1996. It was a retail store and did not have a restaurant.

How has the business changed since you started?

There are a lot of changes. A lot more design is involved now. 15 years ago it was very traditional. It had that old fashioned European style with golden boxes and ribbons. It was a traditional way of packaging and serving the chocolate. Today you see much more trendy design. It is more attuned to modern times with colors and patterns.

Also, like you see in wine and coffee, people are talking more about the origins of the product and how it’s made. They want to hear stories about the manufacturer. It’s like what you see in coffee people who want to know how you roast it and what you do with it.
Chicken skewers.
Waffle fries dusted with chili and cocoa powder.
What restaurants do you like to go to?

It depends; I’m very much on the pulse. First of all I like to go out as much as possible. I want to go to interesting restaurants. Right now one of my favorites is L’Artusi. It’s Italian, which is great for vegetarians ... I’m vegetarian ... a lot of it is about the experience and the vibe.

What’s your routine everyday?

I wake up quite early. I’m [trying to be] on a strict diet because of my trainer and work outs. I normally eat the same thing in the morning. I have a yogurt bowl with oatmeal and an apple. Then I have phone calls with Israel. Some of our main offices are there and because of the time difference, it’s the afternoon there while it’s the morning here. Then it depends, I might have some meetings, but it is never a hectic day.
Chocolate pizza and hot chocolate in a hug mug.
A basket of waffles.
Chocolate syringe.
You don’t seem like a hectic kind of guy. You are very laid back.

I’m laid back because after doing this for many years most of my time is devoted to writing, walking around, looking at and thinking about things. I talk a lot to the people that I have been working with for many years. Here and there I have meetings in the corporate office, but because I’m not dealing with the everyday business, the details — which are what you really need a lot of time for — I have time for thinking. I think up all the creative ideas about the concept, the menu and how we grow. For me you really don’t need a lot of time for it. The real time is for when I think of something and need to make it happen.

Max Brenner
841 Broadway (between 13th and 14th Streets)
Cake and shake from Max Brenner.
Here are some realistic resolutions from Dr. Oz: Instead of committing to working out for an hour a day, commit to seven minutes of yoga. Before you give up, just try to stick to it for two weeks. You may surprise yourself with the big differences small changes can make. [NY Times]

I love coffee and it’s becoming a new health food. Many recent studies show that coffee may have actual health benefits. In one said study, people who drank 3-4 cups of coffee a day were 25% less likely to develop diabetes than those who drank less or no coffee at all. If you are an avid coffee drinker or now think you should become one, read this article from the Wall Street Journal. [WSJ]

Until we eat again,
Jordana Z.

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