Lenny’s NY Pizza Co., Ormond Beach

Lennys NY Pizza Co, Ormond Beach

Thank you, Urbanspoon.

We were road-tripping it down around Daytona Beach a few weeks ago. As we’re coming into civilization out of the swamps into the strip malls, a desperate hunger popped out of nowhere. My job as navigator means I have to magically find the best place to eat (with vegetarian options) within a short distance from wherever we happen to be. So I start flipping through my phone for my Urbanspoon app, while The Man kindly tells some of the snowbirds and early spring-breakers what he thinks of their ability to maneuver their vehicles on a roadway.

The Ormond Beach/Daytona area is packed with tourists and college youths, and local restaurants can get away with murder when it comes to what passes for food. But The Man wanted food. Possibly pizza. Okay, definitely pizza. So… Okay Urbanspoon, nothing? Another mile up the beach and resetting the location offered Lenny’s NY Pizza. Yeah, because people are always honest about their “New York Style Pizza”.

But it got a rating in the mid-90%, and it was not far away. So out of desperation we stopped to give it a whirl. Reluctantly. It was in a strip of store fronts like all of the others that face the condos on the beach. To look at, it was nothing special. But we stood there to look at the menu for a minute. The staff were yelling at each other. And the customers. Pizza ovens were slamming open and closed. It smelled amazing.

We ordered a few slices of cheese pizza, and soda, and took a table at the window to wait. There was one guy who seemed to be running the place. Probably the infamous Lenny. It became obvious quickly that this place was for locals, and Lenny kept them coming back.

“Only one stromboli today?” he nagged one customer. “You always get two. One for dinner. You want two!” The regular nodded agreement finally and waited for his two strombolis.

Lenny craned over the counter at a group laughing on the side. A woman was trying to lift a huge sandwich with cheese falling off the side. “You can fit that in your mouth. It’s not too big,” he laughed, stopping just short of suggesting she had oral skills. She blushed and tried to open her jaw like a boa constrictor swallowing a small boar.

Our pizza came up, still sizzling from the oven. Each slice the size of a legal pad of paper. Exactly right. Thin crust that actually was hand tossed. Cheese that acted and tasted like actual cheese. Sauce could have been a bit zippier but was great anyway. Real pizza. Oh. My. Crap. It was good!

We left with a cannoli in a to-go box because we obviously were working up an appetite from sitting in the car. Lenny’s would be added to our list of places to come back to next time we were down this way. (Vittoria’s pastry shop and Anna’s Trattoria in Daytona are worth the drive on their own, and this is right up the shore.) It reminded me of Lisa Pizza in the mall back in the ‘90s. I had my learner’s permit and had to drive my sister and her friends to the mall for hours. I would get pizza and hide up in the balcony area, reading a book and avoiding the kids throwing cheese. Okay, that makes me feel old now.

Lenny’s NY Pizza Co.
1456 Ocean Shore Blvd
Ormond Beach, FL 32176
(386) 441-8811


Authentic Red, Gnarly Head

Gnarly Head is kind of one of our standards at the house. It’s reliable, nicely priced, and tends to be gentle on the non-aficionado palate. It’s a favorite for my book club ladies, or a random dinner party. I usually grab an Old Vine Zin, or Merlot. Even a Pinot Noir.

We picked up a few bottles of wine last time we were mooching around Ward’s, including two different Gnarly Heads. At my most recent book club gathering, I accidentally pulled out the Authentic Red instead of the Merlot because I was in a hurry. But when we opened it and poured it around, I actually had a “Whoa, what is this?” moment in the madness of female discussion. (The Man often comments about how we all seem to talk at the same time, at the top of our voices, and he can’t understand how we call it a conversation.)

The Man was quite put out that we drank the Red before he got to it, so when we were at Ward’s today he grabbed two bottles. Just to be safe. While we waited for his tomatoes to roast down for a red sauce, we opened the Authentic Red. Which, can I say–if you are making red sauce that takes several hours, have something to eat in the mean time to offset the alcohol intake.

Anyhow, we opened the Authentic Red with some high expectations because of my “hold the phone” experience in the midst of female insanity. Honestly, we were not disappointed. Initially there’s this low, mellow rolling flavor that bursts out into this high, grassy sensation. There are lovely earthy notes of raisins and dates rooting it deeply in the caramel zone, but then you get these big, loopy, rolling spirals of flavor that open up delicious fruit and sunshine flavors.

The high alcohol content (14.5% ABV) gives it some phenomenally long legs (and again, not something for an empty stomach while cooking). It’s mostly a zinfandel, with some merlot and cabernet sauvignon blended in. Even on the bottle, Gnarly Head recommends the wine is paired with big flavor dishes. They’re not kidding. Big flavors. You know when you’re listening to a Maria Callas aria and she just opens up and lays into you with that voice. Huge rolling loops of intensity.

The nice thing was that as we drank this bottle (waiting for the red sauce to cook), the wine breathed out the sharp grassy flavors, leaving a rich, lush velvety flavor curve. Like a true redhead, it was big and bold and loud. Now I’m kind of glad we have a second bottle. I definitely want another taste of the Authentic Red.

Gnarly Head
Authentic Red
Vintage 2010
Lodi, California
About $6-8


Basmati Rice is Easy

Easy Basmati Rice

Seeing the U-Haul logo still makes me twitch sometimes. We grew up moving a lot, and we always rented a U-Haul trailer to pack everything we owned for our schlep across the country. Everything a family of five needed was somehow crammed into a 5’x8’ box trailer and hooked up behind the station wagon. Suffice it to say, we were experts on things you need vs. things you want.

Usually our whole kitchen fit into three cardboard boxes. Maybe four if we were feeling luxurious and rented a 5’x10’ trailer. Dishes, pots, pans, flatware, dry goods, spice collection, towels, etc. Two of the things that absolutely always made it into the trailer were my mom’s cast iron skillet, and the pot my mom made rice in. To this day, I remember these two things with an awed sense of reverence.

By now you’ve picked up that I had a non-standard childhood, so when I say we had rice at almost every dinner until I grew up and moved out, you probably aren’t surprised. I’m not Chinese or India, which is usually the assumption people jump to. The truth is: Hippies. Vegetarian hippies.

Rice is a very popular option around the world because it’s affordable, versatile, and half of a complete protein. Combine rice with almost any kind of legume (beans, peas, etc), and you don’t have to worry about not wanting to eat meat, or not being able to afford it. There is an amazing variety of types of rice grown around the world. You’re more than welcome to read up on rice in general on Wikipedia, which is where I found out too much myself, such as what ratooning is and that there actually is an International Rice Research Institute.

I am only going to talk about my favorite rice right now. Basmati rice. With so many varieties of rice to choose from, why is this my standard go-to rice? It’s a long grained, fragrant rice (basmati often translates to “fragrant one”), and it gets fluffy rather than sticky when cooked properly. It also has a lower glycemic rating, so when you’re diabetic (or just watching your diet), this is one of the “whites” you don’t have to cut out of your meals.

Growing up, I watched my mom make rice a million times. It’s not difficult. I always felt like I had a rice handicap though because whenever I tried to make it, I ended up with a mess in a pot. Now I know. After all of these years of stubbornly trying and trying and trying. So now when people tell me they just can’t make rice, I can do more than shriek “I know! Me either!” back at them.

And now I know the secret of my mom’s rice pot.

Okay, that’s easy. It’s just a pot. But it was the SAME pot for all of those years. You see, the two things you need to know about making good basmati rice are 1) good rice, and 2) temperature.

Good rice is easy. Frankly, you don’t need to find a good Indian grocery store and buy it there, but I would recommend it. Personally I’ve resorted to buying it at Publix with the rest of my groceries, even though it’s pricier and only available in one-pound bags. You’ll be able to find Mahatma or Vigo brand in most grocery stores. The good stuff is imported from India, and I’m not going to get into how some suppliers mix other long grain rice in with Basmati to keep the cost down. You get what you pay for, and you have to be a bit savvy about what you buy. That’s a blanket statement for everything you do.

So the second thing is temperature. You’re not going to get this down perfectly the first time, but I promise that if you try a few times, and pay attention to your pot, your stove, and your rice, you’ll get the Tao of Rice Cooking. When I moved and had to switch from gas to electric stove, I had to seriously adjust my rice rhythm because, I am not kidding, temperature is key.

I have a rice pot now. It’s a one-quart, stainless steel, copper bottom sauce pan. And now that I’ve adjusted for my electric stove, I’m back to being a rice ninja. I never look at the clock for timing this process either. You know everything by looking at the rice, smelling it, and even listening to it.

So this is it. Rice pot on stove. Turn on burner to medium heat. One cup of Basmati rice and 1 and ¾ cup of water into pot. Stir up so it’s all wet. The rice will settle to the bottom. Put lid on pot at a little angle so steam gets out. If not, you’ll boil over and it’s more mess to clean up.

Yes, yes, yes… I know recipes ask you to start with salt, butter, oil, ghee, spices, bouillion, and whatnot here. You can do this. But learn how to cook rice before you try to do fancy stuff to it. Rice and water on the stove. Keep it simple.

After a while the rice pot will begin to steam, and you’ll hear it bubbling once it finally reaches a boil. Don’t be impatient. Don’t harass your rice. Peek into the pot once in a while if you have to. But I cannot say this strongly enough–do NOT stir your rice. You’re not going to actually do anything to your rice until it’s done. Just don’t.

Once your rice water is boiling, take the pot off the burner and turn the heat down as low as it will go. Put the rice back on the burner only when the burner has cooled down to the lowest heat. With a gas stove, I would give it a minute to let the metal grate cool. Electric stoves are more annoying because they cool slower. Please let it cool off though. Really.

When the burner is actually cooled to the very low temperature, put your rice pot back on the burner, lid slightly cocked still, and leave it alone. It’ll need about 15 minutes for the water to cook off completely. If it takes longer than this, consider turning your burner temperature up a hair.

You can tell your rice is done because the top layer of grains actually will curve a little and start standing upright. I kid you not. Or if you want to be sure without disturbing the rice, you can slide a butter knife down the inside of the pot and gently wedge a little gap so you can see down to the bottom. The water should be gone but the rice might still look moist.

Take your pot off the burner. Gently fluff your rice with a fork. And done.

No? What went wrong? Is it kind of crunchy or gritty? You cooked it too fast, so reduce your temperature next time. Is it mushy and sticky? Try using a little less water next time. Too much water and the rice soaks up too much moisture. Did you get a crusty, dry layer of rice at the bottom of the pot but the rest is fine? Check it sooner and take it off the burner as soon as it’s done. The grains all stick together like glue? You’re probably letting it boil too long, or you’ve stirred it when you should just leave it alone. Only give it a minute or less to actually boil, and take it off the burner completely while the burner cools to low. And don’t stir it. Both of these options bring out the starches which is why it gets gluey.

As I said, there’re more types of rice, and more rice recipes, than I could possibly begin to cover in a blog. Basmati is my go-to rice for meals, and we eat it at least once a week. It goes well with a lot of different dishes, and when your meal includes beans or lentils, you’re getting a complete protein and your belly will love you.

Now that I think about it, we lived in the wilds for a few months and my mom cooked on a two-burner propane camp stove, and she still made rice almost every freaking night. Maybe it was a magical rice pot.