As the co-founder and editorial director of Jarry — the biannual food magazine with a focus on queer culture — Lukas Volger spends his working days thinking about topics like the queer history of coffee shops, the overlap between coming out as queer and coming out as vegan, queer urban farmers, and — of course — guides for sexy pie crust. This week, Volger tested recipes for his upcoming cookbook, dreamt up all sorts of leftovers innovations, drank his way through Hudson Pride, and celebrated Jarry’s new directory of queer-owned restaurants and bars. Read all about it in this week’s Grub Street Diet.
Thursday, June 13
My alarm clock growing up was Dad blasting the espresso machine to make nonfat, no-foam lattés for himself and my mom. The gesture rubbed off on me, meaning that, while I could sleep in a little later, since I’m working from home all day, I get up at 6:30 a.m. while my boyfriend, Vincent, is in the shower and I make us coffee. Fresh-ground Stumptown beans (I’m not loyal to any particular bean — I buy what’s on sale, but fair-trade), pour over, with a splash of whole milk. A to-go cup for Vincent and a regular mug for me.
Breakfast is a few hours later, because I’m not hungry in the morning unless I’ve done some exercise. Two eggs scrambled with several chopped scallions and some cheddar cheese between slices of toasted sandwich bread. Shortly thereafter, I have a snack: the last bit from a tub of cottage cheese, dunked with olive oil and Maldon salt. I’ve seen this camp take shape of people who announce their love of cottage cheese, and how they’ve always loved it, and I am one of those people.
Working at home, I have either laptop days, where I write and edit and send emails and do administrative stuff, or kitchen days, where I develop recipes. Today is the former. My late lunch is a few slabs of tofu, pan-fried, glazed with maple syrup and soy sauce, and lots of black pepper. I put it over a big salad of arugula, cucumber, and chopped scallion, squeeze of lime, which creates something of a wilted situation.
I don’t think of myself as being a super-healthy eater, but when I cook at home, my style is, like, “sensible.” While I love to cook and am down for a big extravagant cooking project, the recipes that excite me most are the easy, I-happen-to-have-all-the-ingredients-already ones that feature some genius trick that I’d never thought of before.
An hour or so after lunch, I hear the siren song of a tub of ice cream that I’d forgotten was in the freezer. Mango Häagen-Dazs. Not the sorbet, the ice cream. Vincent picked it. I’d have chosen something with chunks of chocolate or praline or caramel in it, but it beckons me still, and I eat about a quarter of it.
After work, we meet for a drink at Sweet Polly. They have a 50-50 martini on tap (gin, dry vermouth, olive brine, orange bitters) that’s got to be one of the most perfect cocktails in existence. I love a vermouth-forward martini, and this one has a most judicious lick of salt. I really like salt a lot. The only thing that would make it better is nicer olives. Our second drink is a frozen one called a Cassini, a passion-fruit-y thing very sensibly served in a coupe.
I’m an upstanding member of the Rancho Gordo Bean Club. Four times a year, you get a box of six pounds of beans — it’s a little overwhelming. You’re never without beans, and I used to give them to my friends when they would come over. But once you get into the habit of having a pot of beans and then doing something with the leftovers, it’s pretty nice.
Vincent and I go home and have a bean dish for dinner: black beans from a pot I’d made yesterday, baby kale, and smears of that Aussie Greek yogurt that’s so thick you could use it to grout a bathtub.
Friday, June 14
We lurch from bed at 5:40 a.m. and must leave the apartment about ten minutes later. I used to do a lot of yoga and distance running, but in the ripeness of my gay mid-30s, I’ve followed the (well-worn, I know) path of becoming a gym person. First thing, four or five weekday mornings, I go to Brooklyn Athletic Club, a place I love very much because it’s so welcoming and non-judgmental, but also serious.
A year or so ago, I decided to see what could be done to bulk up my beanpole body (I’ve been a beanpole my whole life). I asked Paul Kostas, one of the trainers, what to do, and he told me that I needed to eat basically 500 percent more food. “Eat a dozen doughnuts right after you work out,” he said, “Just pound ’em before your body figures out what’s going on.” (I’m fascinated by this type of relationship with food, where it’s an artless, joyless fuel.) I tried that for a little while, but I couldn’t sustain it. My compromise is a 680-calorie smoothie on gym mornings: frozen blueberries, frozen spinach, flax seeds, chia seeds, yogurt, coconut water, a can of pineapple juice, two dates, juice of a lime.
I make the smoothie and put it in a blender bottle, as well as a double Nespresso (stretched with some hot water and a splash of milk) in a to-go cup that we share on our way to the gym. I suck down the smoothie before, during, and after the gym, diluting with water to make it a little less intense.
Afterward, we get breakfast at Cafe Alula in Greenpoint. We’re there by 8 a.m., which is something I love about being up really early. Cafe Alula is fantastic. The food is Lebanese-inspired — Tony, who owns and runs the place with his girlfriend, Chelsea, is Lebanese — and everything they make is colorful fresh, and really clever for being such an informal spot. I have the eggplant breakfast: smoky eggplant with cucumber, tomato, pickled onions, a bunch of parsley, boiled egg, some hummus and tahini, stuffed inside a pita. And another coffee.
Back at home is a kitchen day. I’m developing a recipe for sheet-pan frittatas, which means I’m snacking on egg squares all morning and afternoon. I also make a sweet-potato–sesame loaf from my new cookbook (out next February!).
I also make a pot of bean soup from the odds and ends that have accumulated over the week: half a can of tomatoes, the beans I cooked yesterday, carrots, onions, scallions. My proper lunch is a big bowl of that, decorated, as we bowl enthusiasts do, with some roasted sweet potato, avocado, spinach, and a plop of yogurt.
Dinner is at Shuka, a place I love. The food is wonderful and easy to enjoy, but what I like best is how nice it is to be there. There’s this feeling, as a patron, that everyone is genuinely pleased to see you. I don’t know anyone personally at Shuka. This is just how they do hospitality. It’s so noticeable and refreshing in this city.
There’s a halloumi dish that’s big cubes deep-fried and then served in a little pool of what the menu says is spiced yogurt. There’s only a teeny puddle of it, but it’s all you need. It’s outstanding, so salty and soft and good. And then the crispy fried cauliflower, which doesn’t look or sound like much but is incredible, just perfectly crisp, perfectly seasoned … cauliflower. We get both of those things, along with labneh, fried zucchini blossoms, and arctic-char kebabs, which come with a crunchy salad of gem lettuces that make me wish we’d ordered the market vegetable plate. We have olive-oil cake for dessert, all of it washed down with a bottle of Bordeaux blanc.
Saturday, June 15
I make us to-go coffees, and then we pick up egg-’n’-cheddar bagels from Bergen Bagels to eat as we drive up to my Jarry partner Steve Viksjo and his husband Dan Strassburger’s home outside Hudson. Upon arrival, Dan hands us glasses of bubbly, and that establishes the tone for the whole day. We throw together a lunch spread: yesterday’s frittata, avocado toasts on excellent bread, the sweet-potato loaf I’d made, a strawberry galette Dan had made. Then we head into Hudson for the Hudson Pride parade, standing in front of Back Bar on Warren Street, where I get a Pride-special rosé cider made by Nine Pin. The parade is fun: festive, uncorporatized, and quite queer. Then there’s a tea-dance-like party at Or Gallery, where I have another Pride-special sparkling-rosé drink. We also have a few drinks that we call TSGs: tequila, soda, splash of grapefruit.
Back to their place, all a bit “boozed,” we graze over more frittata, some bread, and a bowl of salt-and-vinegar potato chips, while Dan grills some hamburgers that we eat unadorned except for globs of ketchup and mustard. It’s all exactly right. A bottle of rosé, too. That is the end of our eating for the day, but not of our drinking.
They take us to their friends Tom and Christopher’s house nearby, where we sit around a bonfire drinking wine. Later, inside, there’s a Marie’s Crisis situation happening around a piano. Tom is a vocal coach and pianist and Christopher an actor and singer, and they perform this beautiful song from the sequel to Phantom of the Opera, which I had no idea existed. (The Phantom doesn’t die but sneaks off to Coney Island, where he continues to lust after Christine.) We go home smelling strongly of campfire. I love it.
Sunday, June 16
A bit heady. Steve makes strong coffee and then we leisurely prepare breakfast. I’d brought some smoked trout from Acme Smoked Fish in Greenpoint. We scramble eggs and fold in the smoked trout, and a little salad that has strawberries and goat cheese in it on the side, and the end (finally) of that frittata.
Heading out of town, we stop at Suarez Family Brewery to sample beers, which are right up my alley. Light and crisp. They also have these sandwiches with pimento cheese and a handful of whole parsley leaves on a split bialy. Has a better bar snack ever existed?
Driving back, we stop at a college-hippie café called the Enchanted Café in Red Hook, where a woman offers tarot readings next to the bar. I don’t do a reading, but we get hummus and avocado sandwiches and eat them on the road.
Back at home, dinner is that bean soup from Friday. I gussy it up with poached eggs and avocado, dollops of yogurt that I stirred with garlic paste, a handful of chopped cilantro, and many shakes of hot sauce.
Monday, June 17
Double Nespresso in a to-go cup, smoothie in a blender bottle, off to the gym. I refill my coffee after the gym, from Cafe Madeleine nearish to where I live, then make a tofu scramble at home. I never liked tofu scrambles until recently. The turmeric component that’s so pervasive in them has never made sense to me, so I make one with sweet potatoes, scallions, a few handfuls of greens, avocado, and season it in the pan with Sriracha and maple syrup. It’s sweet-spicy-salty.
Instead of making lunch, I snack: cottage cheese again, mixed with some chopped tarragon loitering in the fridge. Lunch, I’m afraid to admit, is the end of the bean soup. This time, I have it with some cheddar cheese, pickled onions, and a handful of chopped baby kale. An hour or so later, I eat a few Castelvetrano olives, my favorite olives.
Dinner is special: We go to the opening night of PrideTable, a wonderful new theatrical experience by StoryCourse. It’s hard to explain. It’s not just dinner, or just theater, and it’s definitely not dinner theater. It’s an “immersive storytelling experience” where the food, in all its sensory forms, is integral to the story. We, at Jarry, have been chronicling and documenting the evolution of this production for several months, and it is quite moving to see it in its fully realized form.
Queer chefs Charlie Monlouie-Anderle, Dima King, Woldy Reyes, Mellissa Santiago, and Martin Boyce all developed dishes that represent their personal stories, and those stories are brought to life by a team of actor-storytellers who perform each chef’s “chapter.” The food is unique and delicious: Charlie’s oyster on the half-shell, with a coconut-shallot mignonette and drops of a rose-dulse tincture; Dima’s excellent, punchy borscht, with both cooked and raw beet in it; Woldy’s Kaldereta Kambing — a spicy braised goat dish — topped with this shingle of flash-fried rice paper; Mellissa’s cinnamon-spiced chicken wings; and Martin, a Stonewall veteran, presents “broken glass pudding”: crème caramel topped with shattered caramel-sugar “glass.”
I’m so impressed. What an undertaking.
Tuesday, June 18
6:30 a.m., double Nespresso, smoothie, gym. Afterward, a refill coffee from Upstate Stock — a coffee shop and purveyor of manly, tasteful, cabin décor — and a Big Spoon Roasters apricot-pepita granola bar.
Back at home, I test that sheet-pan frittata one last time, and lunch is, of course, a frittata sandwich. Just toast some bread, cover it with a thick slice of frittata, and a handful of arugula, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Really it’s kind of an ideal egg sandwich. For me, this is a reality of recipe testing, just eating the same thing for what seems like forever, but the fact is I really like frittata and eat them a lot anyway.
This evening is exciting because we have a small dinner celebrating the launch of our new Jarry project, EAT QUEER, a directory of queer food and drink establishments. (Please! Share your fave queer spot!) The dinner is at 701West inside the Times Square Edition hotel. Andrea Franchini, the director of cultural programming, generously offered to host us there. The weather is crap, but inside is such a cozy and soft little sanctuary. And dinner is incredibly elegant and delicious. First course, my favorite, is very thin slices of beet layered almost four inches high and then sliced into little rectangles. It looks exactly like a hunk of ahi tuna, but tastes very purely of, like, beets and sunshine. It’s the kind of beet dish that makes you reconsider beets and comes with this leek-rhubarb crêpe that’s stuffed with ricotta and pistachios.
For my main course, I get the silent vegetarian dish, which arrives as rounds of very, very creamy sweet potato that had been baked in seaweed bread with truffles shaved on top. I hardly ever get to eat truffles and almost don’t recognize the smell or flavor. For dessert: a gleaming tube of “milk chocolate cream” that’s about the size and shape of a Twinkie, filled with hazelnut praline, and topped with a black-truffle gastrique. It’s wild, and it casts a good, long silent spell when it lands at the table.