The flavor of wood was once a fundamental part of our eating and drinking lives, with everyday staples like beer, wine, salt beef, and pickled vegetables having commonly been pulled from casks. Often, we cooked our dinner over wood and preserved our catch in its smoke. Wood was fuel, preservative and storage vessel, and it leant its subtle flavor whenever it was used.
Yet the gradual advent of cleaner fuels, refrigeration and steel storage vessels meant that the flavor of wood became relegated to special occasions like Sunday cookouts and marshmallow roasts. Nowadays, those rented tanks of easy, flavor-neutral propane are further cutting into wood’s action, making the primal flavor of wood practically esoteric.
The Westchester food and beverage community has responded to this crisis with new ways to reintroduce diners to wood. Here are a few:
Captain Lawrence Brewing Company’s “Smoke From the Oak” is a quintet of smoked porters that have been aged in oak casks that had been previously used to store different beverages. The oak imparts its woody character along with the flavor of each barrel’s former contents: look for porter infused with wood and the flavors of bourbon, wine, apple brandy, port, and rum.
Bedford Post’s outdoor kitchen has a beehive oven and two adjustable grills. It’s fueled by wood and was modeled on the Basque restaurant icon, Asador Etxebarri. Look for rustic deliciousness in simply dressed quail, asparagus, and branzino—the last of which whose crackling skin and creamy flesh are ever so subtly perfumed by woodsmoke.
Restaurant North’s Chef Eric Gabrynowicz is no equipment snob. While he does invest in super-efficient hickory pellets, he snagged his offset smoker for about $160 at Costco. Chef Gabrynowicz employs his smoker all over the menu—even in North’s roster of seasonal, house-made sodas. In summer, look for North’s non-alcoholic, smoked watermelon-basil soda, which gets upgraded with tequila into the Melon Baller.
Village Social Kitchen & Bar’s mixologist/GM Sean Maloney has been cask-aging cocktails for six months in small oak barrels that are nestled behind his bar. Look for a velvet-smooth Manhattan (Michter’s Rye, Carpano Antica, and Cherry Heering) and the Soul Power (Hendrick’s Gin, Yellow Chartreuse, Poire Williams, and Crème Yvette), a 19th-century liqueur made from violet petals, berries, and other flavorings.
Pizza and wood have been partners since pizza’s inception. Soon, you’ll be able to get it on the road: Look for The Cookery’s Chef David DiBari to debut his mobile, wood-fueled pizza oven at the Dobbs Ferry station.