You know what they say about tough jobs. We set out to create a simple but special summer meal without leaving our Wi-Fi-enabled kitchen. You'll pay for the convenience — alas, this food does not come cheap — but you'll get spectacular quality.
Allen Brothers, the venerable Chicago butcher, offers dry-aged, prime New York strips that cook up to a velvety, melt-in-your-mouth consistency. Seasoned with just salt and pepper and grilled to a succulent medium rare, this will be the best steak-house experience you've ever had — at home. ($224.95 for four 2-inch-thick 16-ounce boneless strips; allenbrothers.com)
2. Heirloom Tomatoes
Sweet tomatoes in funky colors and odd shapes signal the height of the edible summer, and a fuss-free salad of sliced heirlooms is the perfect counterpoint to a steak. We don't need a taste test to tell you that your tastiest results will come via your local farmers market or roadside stand. Failing that, California's Happy Boy Farms, one of the country's most respected organic growers, sells heirlooms in season through diamondorganics.com. And remember: Tomatoes and refrigerators do not mix.
3. Ice Cream
When the days are hot, nothing finishes an evening meal like a cool dish of ice cream. The winner of a Fast Company taste test of some of the nation's finest, if priciest, artisanal ice creams: The Bent Spoon, a six-year-old shop in Princeton, New Jersey. Its blood orange sorbet/vanilla ice cream combo is an upscale Creamsicle-in-a-cup, while its chocolate hazelnut, strawberry mascarpone, and fresh ricotta with cinnamon and orange make for an outstanding new-style Neapolitan. ($60 for six pints, plus shipping, thebentspoon.com)
Here are the full results of our mail-order steak and ice cream taste tests:
The music’s on the stereo, the G&T’s have been poured, and steaks are sizzling on the grill: That’s summer.
Prime meat (just 1% of all beef and much of it allocated to high-end steakhouses and restaurants) is relatively easy to find in big cities, but without a Whole Foods or high-end grocer or butcher near you, you need to turn to the Internet. Our cook-off featured two old-school, big-city butchers—Chicago’s Allen Brothers and New York’s Lobel’s—and two new-school, big-sky-country ranches: Snake River Farms in Idaho and Meyer Natural Angus of Colorado. We prepared each dry-aged prime New York strip steak simply, seasoning each with just salt and pepper, and searing them over high heat before cooking them to a medium-rare temperature over indirect fire. The goal: to focus on the taste of the meat.
New York strips, also known as shell steaks, are already one of the most expensive cuts of meat you can buy, and shopping via the Internet doesn’t mean you’re going to get bargains. The steaks we tested averaged between $60 and $90 a pound. But let us tell you: This is a splurge that’s worth it. (And the 16-oz steaks are easily sharable by two, if not four, people.) Basically you can’t go wrong with any of these steaks. If we had only tried our "fourth favorite," we would have felt that this is one of the best steaks we’ve ever had.
That said, we had to pick, and as we said above, it was a tough job, but we were somehow up to the task.
1. Allen Brothers. This Chicago butcher and family business that dates back to 1893 is the supplier to some of the country’s best steakhouses—and with good reason. We’ve never had a steak with that kind of luscious texture. "Like good sushi," Jeff said. Excellent marbling produced a sirloin with the mouth-feel of a filet mignon. No mean feat.
2. Snake River Farms. This Idaho farm specializes in American Wagyu beef, our version of Japan’s famed Kobe beef. The cattle are fed a sustainable diet of Idaho potatoes, wheat, corn, and alfalfa hay, and that pays off on the plate. This steak was "super juicy," with a "rich, round flavor," perhaps a bit more of that mineral tang that’s part of the best beef than the Allen Brothers steak. Arguably the best balance of beef flavor and smooth texture.
3. Lobel’s of New York. The fifth-generation meat purveyor in Manhattan came through with a steak featuring excellent mineral flavor. Unfortunately, it was a bit tougher than the Allen Brothers or Snake River Farms offerings and that lack of a smooth "butter knife" texture hurt it in our judging.
4. Meyer Natural Angus. For 20 years, this Colorado ranch has been an innovator in sustainable, humanely-raised beef. It simply was "chewier" than the other steaks. If you like a steak that bites back a bit, the Meyer is for you.
Summer tastes like ice cream, dribbling down a waffle cone and onto your ever-stickier hand. In preparation for those gluttonous days, 30 Fast Company staffers took on a major assignment: What’s the best artisanal ice cream that you can get delivered to your door by mail order?
After a nationwide search, we selected three finalists: the Bent Spoon of Princeton, New Jersey; Humphry Slocombe of San Francisco; and Jeni’s of Columbus, Ohio.
In all, we tested 21 flavors from these shops. The winning ice creamery—with the highest average scores across all its flavors—was the Bent Spoon, a six-year-old shop that sits on Princeton’s charming, colonial-era Palmer Square. Its offerings include twists on old favorites: We can imagine an amazing new-school Neapolitan that combines its chocolate hazelnut, strawberry mascarpone, and fresh ricotta flecked with cinnamon and orange (all three of which placed in the taste test’s top five).
The tasters‚ single favorite ice cream? Humphry Slocombe’s exemplary chocolate with smoked sea salt, which was really multiple flavors in one—rich, just-sweet-enough chocolate; a hint of smoke; a flash of salt.
Alas, such treats will not come to your home cheap: A standard minimum order of six pints, with packing in dry ice and overnight shipping, will typically cost at least $90. (Alternatively, you could join Fast Company’s staff.) After the rousing success of this ice cream tasting, we’re committed to greater coverage of the sector. As one of our colleagues said, with her belly full of ice cream, "Best workday ever."
1. Chocolate with smoked sea salt (Humphry Slocombe): "No. 1," declared one fan definitively. She was right. The richness and complexity delighted most of the tasters, who appreciated how the touch of salt enlivened the flavor.
2. Chocolate hazelnut (The Bent Spoon): Several judges noted happily that this flavor, which barely lost out to Humphry Slocombe’s chocolate for the top spot, tastes like Nutella. "A ripoff, but YUM."
3. Strawberry mascarpone (The Bent Spoon): The clever addition of the creamy cheese raises the decadence level, making this a "very good strawberry ice cream."
4. Riesling poached-pear sorbet (Jeni’s): "If you like pears, you will love this." Lots of pear with a little Riesling, this smooth, well-rounded fruit flavor was the top-scoring sorbet.
5. Fresh ricotta with cinnamon and orange (The Bent Spoon): The tasters were mostly positive about the "surprising flavors." "The spice stays with you." One judge imagined it in another incarnation: "I wish it was in a cannoli."
6. Alphonso mango and organic raspberry sorbet (The Bent Spoon): "A tropical treat."
7. Blood orange sorbet and vanilla ice cream (The Bent Spoon): The Creamsicle-like combination took our tasters back to childhood.
8. Salty caramel (Jeni’s): Some tasters found this flavor "surprising," "creative," and even "sublime." One said it tasted like an ice cream version of Werther’s Originals, while another said it could use a touch more salt.
9. Dark chocolate ice cream/sorbet blend (The Bent Spoon): "A chocolate for chocoholics," this "intense" flavor was lauded by one fan for being "super creamy."
10. Brown butter almond brittle (Jeni’s): Those who liked this rich, decadent flavor praised its crunch. Those who didn’t said it was too sweet.
1. Dark chocolate (Jeni’s): If the tasters had a bias in favor of chocolate, they also punished Jeni’s for delivering what they felt was the worst chocolate—and the overall worst flavor of the tasting. There was no consensus on what went wrong, but when half a dozen judges note a beefy undertone and another says that it "tastes like sweat," well, it’s no surprise when others note that Jeni’s dark chocolate is "not chocolatey" and "something’s off" and the ever simple "yuck!"
2. Kona stout (Jeni’s): "Nasty coffee," said one judge of this coffee/beer blend. The consensus take? Too much stout and not enough Kona. Another: "I should love this," but she didn’t.
3. Pepper and mint chocolate chip (Humphry Slocombe): While one judge said this was "unexpected" in a good way, most tasters agreed with the one who deemed it "GROSS." Added one: "Someone dumped ice cream into a spice cabinet."
4. Cherry lambic sorbet (Jeni’s): Several tasters deemed this a frozen version of cough syrup. One more charitably described it as a fancy Slurpee.
5. Saffron mascarpone (The Bent Spoon): One of the most divisive flavors, this drew raves from some—"smooth and delicious"—but also demerits. A lot of (very) faint praise of the "definitely an acquired taste" and "not for dessert" variety. Finally: "Ugh."
A version of this article appeared in the July/August 2010 issue of Fast Company magazine.