Condiments this fancy haven’t been made in factories this hip since the days of Andy Warhol.
Toppings are on top of the food chain in Brooklyn with a fleet of local producers selling — and squeezing — new types of mustard, mayonnaise, ketchup, relish and the like onto the borough’s plates. And one of the main motivations behind the spread of the spreads is economic, some sauce-makers say.
“With the economy being low, people are looking for simple ways to dress up a simple meal,” said Elizabeth Valleau, who is about a month away from opening Empire Mayo, a tony mayonnaise shop in Prospect Heights that will sell varieties of egg yolk spread like smoked paprika, lime pickle, and black garlic. “A fancy condiment is a good way to make people excited about the everyday foods they’re eating.”
Brooklynites can now choose from an astounding selection of borough-made toppings to dress up their food, like mustard from the Navy Yard by the spice sellers Tin, Mexican chip toppings from Bushwick’s Brooklyn Salsa, and jam from the preservationists at Anarchy in a Jar.
The borough’s foodies are relishing all this, well, relish, because the stuff that’s getting made in Brooklyn tops Heinz and Hellman’s best offerings, according to Matt Burns, whose Brooklyn Salsa Company makes preservative-free dip from heirloom tomatoes.
“It’s pretty obvious that what everyone is doing is better than what exists,” said Burns, whose company dubs itself the “leaders of condimovement.” “People are tired of what’s out there. The system is corrupt and the ingredients that are being used in condiments make them kind of like vegetable junk food — there’s a much more pure way to do it.”
Even restaurants are catching onto the condiment craze, with eateries like Ox Cart Tavern in Ditmas Park drawing regulars with its homemade ketchup. And in some cases these simple spreads are even becoming main courses, like the “horseradish sandwich” at the new Prospect Heights restaurant 606 R&D.
It might sound Spartan, but the $6 meal — which features just horseradish, sourdough bread, butter and onion — is perfect as is, according to its maker.
“The sandwich needs not a single more thing — no one has really asked for anything else added to it,” said Ilene Rosen, the chef and co-owner of 606 R&D. “I very much enjoy creating something for nothing.”
(The eatery will serve topped with bacon for an additional $2).
Condiments are ubiquitous in fridges across the country, but these utilitarian sauces and seasonings are not a distinctly American phenomenon — they actually extend far back into the reaches of history.
One of the world’s first condiments was a sauce made from fermented fish innards that was a staple of nearly every Roman dinner table, says Tom Nealon, a food historian who wrote a twelve-part series on the spreads for the website HiLoBrow.com and argues that one can divine the prevailing ethos of a culture through its condiments — or lack thereof.
“Condiments represent and encourage the democratic power of the individual to decide how to eat,” said Nealon.
In fact, toppings have long been a food of the people, he told this publication.
“If you look at the history of cookery, ‘bourgeois cookery’ was full of condiments while ‘royal cookery’ has none.”
Perhaps the borough’s high-end condiment craze isn’t as luxurious as it sounds, but the fact that Brooklynites are going out of their way for fancy toppings says something about our tastes — and ourselves.
“People intuit condiments as the basis of choice in food and control over their diets,” Nealon said. “People have a yearning to control their food destiny.”