City Potluck

City Potluck

A few Saturdays ago I was waiting my turn at the deli counter at Zabar's on Manhattan's Upper West Side. In another store I might call it the charcuterie counter, but this, after all, was the fabled Zabar's -- and this is deli.

I clutched a paper number that assured my place in the crowded queue, and prepared for my turn by studying the stacks of hams, salamis, patés, smoked meats and bacons. Behind the counter paced the white-hatted deli men, some who have been slicing Zabar's cured meats for decades, as they took patient care of other customers.

The line moved slowly. Next to me was a man placing a big order and with each selection, he'd ask for a sample. I had a good spot because every time he got handed something to try, so did I; if you're standing in front of a stack of pork products it's assumed you won't refuse a glistening slice of Serrano ham cut thin as to be like a piece of stained red glass in the window of a Spanish cathedral.

Watching his purchase of chorizo, salamis, and hams, I had to ask my neighbor what he was planning. It turned out he was going to a friend's for a potluck dinner. The host had assigned him something to start the meal that could double as a casual hors d'oeuvre with cocktails. His contribution would be a platter of sliced meats that could be eaten with fingers. Some bread. No cheese.

I asked what else was on the menu and he recounted a splendid selection of dishes, including a mole that the host was cooking. It would clearly be a generous meal, but this being potluck, all the work -- and the cost -- would be shared.

Potluck Comes to The City

Potluck dinners conjure an image of church suppers or school picnics where everyone brings something they like to cook, and eat, which means you're relying on luck for what you'll find on the communal table.

The potluck tradition has received some updating thanks to these economic times because let's face it -- it can be costly to host a dinner. Sharing the cooking not only saves money, it also lets everyone who likes to cook share in the pleasure of making the meal; if no one has to do all the cooking, it can make it easier to spend more time and attention on their one dish.

Hosting A City Potluck

Modern potluck doesn't need any luck. Instead the host takes charge, plans the meal, and gives assignments, if only to ensure that you don't face a dinner entirely comprised of warm artichoke dips.

While menu planning eliminates potluck's traditional "make and bring what you want" democracy, this doesn't mean handing out recipe printouts. Instead it's about giving everyone guidelines. Here are some tips for the host:

Potluck Recipes: What's Best To Bring

City Potluck Transport

If you get around by car it's not such a big deal to set a covered dish on the floor of its back seat. As long as you avoid any sudden stops, you and your lasagna will be fine.

But cooking in a city kitchen and then using public transit to carry a finished dish to someone else's apartment can be a challenge. Since not everything travels well on the subway, how you're going to move the food should influence what you're going to make.

As a car-less New Yorker who favors transit over taxis, I've learned some ways to carry food from kitchen to kitchen:

No matter what's on the menu, there is a uniquely generous pleasure in a meal that has been shared in its making. So give a toast to one another, regardless who brought the wine. . . .





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