Fall in love at a food cart this year

We may be known for dishing up authentic Florentine food, but did you know we also dish up romance?

Jordan and Kelsey had their first date at our food cart over a year ago, and these two adorable sweeties have been together ever since. Jordan worked with us during this past summer, and Kelsey danced her way through our recently-filmed music video. We are ready whenever they are to cater their wedding and baby showers! :-)

Ahhh, amore: there’s not a more fitting way to kick off the new year than by celebrating love. May your 2015 be brimming with it!

Best wishes from the Burrasca family: Paolo, Elizabeth, Giacomo & Gemma

Come help us make a music video!

For our upcoming Kickstarter project we will be asking for support in an upbeat, offbeat, feel-the-beat way: a music video filmed on location at the food cart.

WE NEED BODIES!

Don’t worry, we won’t ask you to do MC Hammer/Shakira/JLo moves–but you can if you want to!–it will essentially be a simple matter of waving and swaying to the song “Ciao Mamma” by Jovanotti, one of our favorite Italian artists (who gave us permission to use his song as long as we float him a free bowl of ribollita someday). Here’s a link to the song, which will give you an idea of what we have in mind:

WHEN:

Sunday, December 28–mark your calendars! Normal food service will end early, at about 1pm, at which point we’ll put out some FREE NIBBLES for our helpers and get the gig going with Stuff Your Face Productions. (We’ll also be getting some footage of folks eating and Paolo serving them earlier on).

WHO:

Our beloved customers and friends, of course! Bring your parents, your grandparents, your kids, your dogs, your cockatoos. Come as you are or wear your funky hats, lederhosen, Tigger costumes, unicorn heads. CAVEAT: NO LOGOS OF ANY KIND can be worn/visible, so no sports team hats/jackets, no Nike/Adidas t-shirts, no brewery garb, etc.

The song’s refrain is: “Hey Mom, look how much fun I’m having!” We want to show the world (and Paolo’s mamma ) how much Paolo gets a kick out of his job, which is why he wants to take it to the next level and open a restaurant.

HOLY CANNOLI: COME SEE PAOLO DANCE!

Please show us your support by coming over to the cart on the 28th and joining in the fun or at least lending us moral support We are counting on you!

If you think you can make it, please RSVP by leaving a comment or sending us an email–this will help us plan for food etc.

And please help spread the word. Grazie!

More details to follow as the date draws near…

2015: new year, new things in store for Burrasca

Change is afoot, friends.

First off: we will be closing the food cart as of January 1st. We love dishing up Tuscan fare for our cherished Portlanders and visitors from afar, but we need to focus our time and energies on locating (and setting up) a space for Burrasca, the restaurant. In looking ahead, we realized that Paolo cannot be in two places at once and that a brick & mortar incarnation calls for our full, undivided attention. Our projected opening is Spring 2015.

So please come out during this month and show us your support–and get your fill of Florentine goodies before the hiatus! We wouldn’t be able to even dream of opening a restaurant if it were not for the love and support our dear customers and friends have graciously bestowed upon us since we launched the cart in August of 2013. Your enthusiasm and appetite for Paolo’s food has overwhelmed and touched us deeply.

Speaking of support…. in the coming months, we will (hopefully) be launching a Kickstarter campaign to help us with some of the expenses involved in going brick & mortar. So watch for news regarding this here on the website or on our Facebook page or Twitter feed (follow us if you haven’t already!). A few friends have expressed interest in investing in the future Burrasca endeavor, and we are incredibly grateful. If any of you might like to become a private investor, please email us and let us know.

During our hiatus, we will host a few pop-up dinners–some of which may be in our (albeit tiny) home for small group family-style eating in an intimate setting. Again, look out for announcements coming in the months ahead.

Rent-a-Chef

Additionally, we are happy to offer Paolo’s culinary services–you need only inquire! On a few occasions over the past year he has cooked multi-course Tuscan meals for groups of 10-20 people in private homes. These were fun, intimate affairs and proved a smashing success.

Or how about a private Florentine cooking lesson in your home? We’ll arrange the shopping/supplies and teach you, your friends and family how to create memorable, authentic dishes–which you then get to eat. Now there’s a holiday gift idea!

A Much-Needed Break

HornOKIndia

Paolo has been working the burners (almost entirely as a one-man show) and, save for a few brief get-aways, almost non-stop since July 2013. He typically puts in 11- to 12-hour days, which obviously means that time spent with our two children is very little. (In true Italian style, our cherished family time is typically around the dinner table; we eat at about 8pm, having waited for Babbo–that’s Tuscan for Daddy–to come home). And as many family- and partner-run food cart owners know, the stresses of being in business together as a couple can be fatiguing.

We’re not complaining. The decision to move to Portland and open a food cart was the best one we’ve ever made. But it’s time for some rest, recharging and reconnecting, especially since the demands of Burrasca the restaurant will preclude any significant time off for probably another two years or so. Thus, during our hiatus, we are taking a family vacation to a place we’ve been dreaming of (and saving our centesimi for) for years: India. Specifically South India. We’re going to take a huge leap away from all things Italian and embrace the chaos and culinary wonder that is India, and we are so excited! (Oh, wait–Italy is also full of chaos and culinary wonder. Guess it’s not such a leap. Plus ça change and all).

If all the years living in Italy taught me (Elizabeth) anything, it’s that health and well-being and slowing down for quality family time is a crucial part of living well and fully. Paolo and I also feel that it is key to the success of our (and any) business endeavor: you can’t build something and function at your highest level if you’re running on fumes and haven’t spent some solid time listening to your son’s corny jokes or seeing the impish grin on your daughter’s face when she rides her bike like the wind.

So we will return from India stoked and ready to make Burrasca the restaurant a special, unique place that will give you so much more than the food cart ever could: an expanded Tuscan menu, beer and wine, and shelter from the elements :-) And we’ll hold true to the essential food cart–and Italian family-style dining–philosophy and keep it all at an affordable price.

For the person on your holiday list who has everything: BUY OUR FOOD CART

If you or anyone you know wants to wallow in the glamor and grit of owning/running a food cart that’s in excellent, turn key condition (seriously, this baby’s good to go!) and in a great location (SE’s Pod 28), contact us. Check out our ad on Craigslist.

We are excited about what 2015 holds in store, and want to take this time to express our deep gratitude to all of you for your wonderful smiles and support. And for my part, as Burrasca wife, seeing Paolo come home every day exhausted but happy because he’s doing what he loves for so many appreciative folks is a gift you have given to me and my children.

Watch for news and above all come see us during this month of December!!!!!!

Grazie di cuore,

Paolo, Elizabeth, Giacomo and Gemma

5 & 5: The street food classic of Livorno

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Burrasca’s 5 e 5

Every time I sit down to write about Italian food, my research unceremoniously chucks me down a rabbit hole and I stumble out the other end, a drunken Alice, into an impossibly raucous, ancient and labyrinthine paese delle meraviglie. Surely Italy possesses the lion’s share of history: feuding city-states, warring republics, teeming ports flush with Far Eastern vice, savage families, greed-steeped consiglieri, nefarious popes, festering plagues, exploding volcanoes. Her scientists and philosophers deftly probed the dominion of God, while her artists littered the centuries with jaw-popping masterpieces. She presented the learned and civilized men of the world with an ermine-cloaked Latin and flung a far more richly-loomed vernacular on the groundlings. Her voice soars above the mutterings of other nations in spectacular song, her operas transform the dull ceaseless drone of human comedy into a sweet and sublime music. All of this from a country more or less the size of California—why, the lifespan of an entire continent appears to have been crammed into the confines of its diminutive borders.

A case in point is the story behind the Tuscan port town of Livorno and its classic two-nickel sandwich, the 5 e 5 (cinque e cinque, or five-and-five). It is made of a thin chick pea flour cake called torta di ceci—or simply torta—in Livorno (it’s called cecina in Tuscany’s Versilia, farinata in Ligurian Genoa, and socca in not-far-away Nice). The torta comes nestled into either focaccia (also called schiaccia in Livorno) or pane francese (a French-style roll), and nowadays is usually offered with melanzane sotto pesto, which in Livorno means eggplant marinated in abundant olive oil, parsley, garlic and chili pepper. The sandwich’s unusual moniker came about in the 1950’s, when hungry and frugal Livornese could get 5 lire’s worth of torta to tuck into a 5 lire roll, making for a nourishing snack or light meal. It became expedient to flick a couple of nickels over the counter and simply say “Gimme five-and-five!”

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The torta is traditionally, ideally baked in a shallow copper pan in a wood-burning oven, enhancing the flour’s natural smokiness. The batter, made of chick pea flour, olive oil and salt, ferments for hours beforehand and gets cooked at high heat in order to crisp nicely on top and bottom while remaining creamy in the middle. The oven-hot cake then gets dusted with abundant cracked black pepper before it’s served on its own or betrothed to a piece of bread: simple and nourishing. Ask any denizen of Livorno where to get the best 5 & 5 and the response will invariably be, “Va’ da Gagarin, dé!” A hole in the wall near the old port, Torteria Gagarin is an institution.

TorteriaGagarin

But if we really want to understand what makes this sandwich tick, we need to delve into the torta: how did the savory little wonder come into being? As legend would have it, the torta was born in 1284 out of the Battle of Meloria, a naval skirmish in the Ligurian sea between warring factions in the Genovese-Pisan War.

Genoa & Pisa engaged in their own personal West Side Story

The Pisan fleet was destroyed and their surviving sailors taken prisoner on a Genovese galleon. While trying to get back to port, the ship was caught in a fierce tempest that raged for days and days. Provisions ran perilously low. At the mercy of the storm-tossed sea, the ship rocked wildly and took on water; sacks of chick peas spilled their contents, a barrel of olive oil broke open, and the whole lot mixed with salty sea water, becoming essentially a fetid purée that continued to macerate in the hold. Finally, hunger gnawing at their ribs, the Genovese were reduced to eating the rather unappetizing mess. The Pisan prisoners, however, pigheadedly refused*.

Once the sea was calm, the slop was spread out in the sun to dry and it turned into something rather palatable: a sort of crisp chick pea flat bread, and the Genovese sailors gobbled it happily. Back on land in Genoa, it wasn’t long before the recipe was perfected and—with perfect irony—baptized as l’oro di Pisa (the gold of Pisa).

All of which brings up another vital organ in the seething belly of the Bel Paese: rivalry. In Italy, apparently, once you’ve established who your enemies are they’re your enemies for a lifetime. Hundreds of lifetimes. These rivalries are hard-wired into Italian DNA and manifest themselves to this day, usually in the form of good-natured ribbing but sometimes—particularly when it comes to soccer—in more crossbow-and-mace fashion. Genoa and Pisa–as we’ve seen–harbor an ancient animosity toward one another. Ditto Florence and Siena. But perhaps the most famous ongoing rivalry in the whole of the peninsula is the one between Livorno and Pisa. To the Livornese, Pisa is a moldering backwater of bungling half-wits whose buckets keep coming up bone-head dry from the intelligence well. Pisa ain’t exactly singing Livorno’s praises, either.

LivornoGraffiti

But Livorno has built this rivalry into a monument of brilliant, outrageous, dialect-riddled piss-taking: the ferociously satirical journal called Il Vernacoliere. For example, right after the Chernobyl disaster its headline read: “First effects of the radioactive cloud: a clever Pisan has been born.” Here are some other examples of headlines that leave Pisans–and politicians and popes–much the worse for wear (click on the images for my rough translations ;-) ):

 

IMG_1559See what I mean about a rabbit hole? Okay, history and enmity aside, the 5 & 5 is a seriously good sandwich. So make like a good Livornese and come on down and try it.

A big GRAZIE! goes out to our customer and friend, Manuel Cantone (“Mano”), for pestering us ceaselessly to bring this beloved hometown nosh to our Portland food cart. He’s at Burrasca pretty much every Sunday with his brood, so if you like the 5 & 5 you can give him your thanks. And if you hate it, we’ll give you his phone number.

—Elizabeth Petrosian

* Of course, a dyed-in-the-wool Livornese would say the Pisan sailors stupidly refused to eat, idiotically preferring death by starvation—though a few Pisans less wouldn’t be such a bad thing ;-)

 

 

Gnudi and other news

We’ve set off a sort of Spring molotov cocktail at the cart: ebulliently slinging a number of dishes to lighten the winter-encumbered spirit as well as the carb-weary waistline (well, kinda).

Naked ravioli

Gnudi (gnudo meaning nude) are little balls** of ravioli filling that are unashamed to be unadorned; they’re a naturalist primo rebelling against the chafe of fresh pasta, refusing to be swathed in anything but a light veil of sauce, a modest sprinkle of parmigiano. Ours are made as they typically are in Tuscany: with fresh spinach and ricotta, and we offer them with either a tangy tomato sauce or–for purists–a simple dressing of butter and sage. (In Tuscan trattorias, you’ll also often find them topped with meat ragù). Either way you go, our gnudi are vegetarian and you’ll find them as a daily special this season.

Oh, and because around here we geek out on food facts, here’s an interesting one for you: gnudi go back centuries; they actually pre-date pasta. As is typical of the origins of many Italian recipes, it’s a humble, poor-man’s dish born out of the contadino tradition: whatever seasonal, inexpensive vegetables were at hand got shaped into small rounds along with a bit of cheese or egg, and were topped sparingly with whatever sauce could be mustered out of the family larder.

Sformato: a taste of ancient Greece and Rome

Many folks approach the cart, read “sformato” on the menu and are stumped: “How sweet is it?” “Is it a dessert?”

Actually, the sformato has various linguistic guises: it’s called flan in France and Spain (this word is often used, perhaps confusingly, in Italy too, and thus it appears in our menu description), and pudding in English. Note that a sweet pudding is a budino in Italian. Technically, all of these can be classified as “pudding” in terms of their basic ingredients (see below), however the sformatoin reality, is pudding’s oldest form–and it is always savory (salato–i.e. NOT sweet).

It was the savory version (as a vehicle for life-giving eggs) that was deemed most salubrious by the health-conscious ancient Greeks and the predominant way they consumed their “pudding”. The ancient Romans, however, in their penchant for wanton excess, preferred to make theirs sweet, using eggs, cream, milk and honey in abundance–thus giving birth to the concept of dessert pudding (as well as, inadvertently, to Weight Watchers). All of these old versions of pudding have two common elements: eggs, and a cream of some sort to bind it up nicely. As the pudding plodded on down through antiquity, different countries gave it their own imprimatur, be it savory or sweet.

The word sformato in Italian means literally “un-molded”, and refers to the cooking preparation wherein small molds are filled with a mixture of seasonal vegetables, egg, béchamel and cheese, baked in a bagnomaria, and then turned out, or unmolded, onto a plate. The sformato is sometimes likened to a soufflée, but this is misleading as it is somewhat heavier and denser, while still remaining delicate and refined.

In winter we offered a lovely sformato of cauliflower, Italian kale, béchamel and parmigiano. Currently, in keeping with the season, we’re serving up a delicious artichoke version.

Quintessentially Spring

Paolo’s father has a gigantic orto (vegetable garden), and one of the things he grows–to the great satisfaction of the entire family–is bacelli (fava beans). When he was very young, our son would simply toddle out and eat them right off the vine, shucking them deftly and scattering the gaping pods about him till he had a small green mountain at his feet. In Tuscany, fava beans are traditionally eaten this time of year raw (because they’re so tender), along with a young, fresh pecorino cheese. For a simple family meal at home the washed pods are piled up in the center of the table along with a platter of cheese and a big basket of bread, and everyone shucks their own till the table–in the end–is a great chaos of thick green husks, bread crumbs, spilled red wine and crumpled napkins.

Alternatively, you can shell the beans, cube the pecorino, and toss them in olive oil and vinegar as a wonderful salad–fresh, vibrant, singing with flavor. This is how we’ve been serving pecorino e fave lately at the cart as a special.

Pecorino toscano & fava beans - photo Nico Galoppo

Pecorino toscano & fava beans – photo Wolf & Bear’s

 

Inzimino lovers, take heart!

We’ve been running the squidalicious inzimino as a (practically every) Friday special, so if you’ve a hankering just check us out on the Twitters or Facebook for updates.

As always, thank you for your support and appetites!

** We understand that the proximity of the words “nude” and “balls” is somewhat disconcerting. It couldn’t be helped.

Arista and the best sandwich this side of the Arno

In a town like Portland filled with excellent sandwich slingers, to crown any one as the best is a fool’s game, a folly of personal opinion and pure zeitgeist between two pieces of bread. But we like to think we’ve got a serious contender.

Legend has it that back in 1439*, Cosimo de’ Medici convinced Pope Eugenio IV to shift the Greek and Roman Catholic ecumenical council from plague-ridden Ferrara to Florence and allow the Medici bank to host the guests. While in Florence, the Greek cardinal Basilios Bessarion tasted some Tuscan-style roast pork that really tickled his cassock: he promptly declared it aristos!, using the Greek word for “the best.” Apparently the Florentines thought he was using a name for that particular cut of pork; they found it simpatico and adopted the moniker themselves–and thus the word arista strolled amiably into the Tuscan lexicon. However, I’d wager that there was also a certain appeal in the idea that the Florentine way of cooking pork trumped all others.

For our arista sandwich, we use Carlton Farms pork loin which is encrusted with herbs (including foraged fennel pollen) and roasted. The bread is homemade schiacciata (Florentine-style flat bread–think flatter foccaccia), liberally slathered with an incredibly zesty and tangy salsa verde (a heavenly concoction of parsley, garlic, capers, egg and anchovies), drizzled with sughino–the pork’s pan juices–and cracked black pepper, and topped with fresh watercress. It just might make you bust out the superlatives in Greek, too.

*The charm of legend notwithstanding, evidence of the use of the word arista in Tuscany goes back to even 1287.

April fish: a story

 

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Holy mackerel

Some years back, I (Burrasca wife Elizabeth) was working at the bookstore in Florence, when a package arrived. Thinking it to be books, I opened it and was puzzled to find a heavy, terra cotta-colored brick wrapped shoddily in bubble wrap.

The (Italian) owner walked up, saw the brick, and went ash white. “What? What’s the matter?” I asked. He told me in grave, measured tones that sending a brick is mafia code–meaning, specifically, that if a business owner doesn’t cough up the pizzo (extortion money) he’ll likely find a brick or two through his plate-glass windows in the near future.

Holy sh**, well zero-to-thirty the place revved into panic mode. Before long, the quiet little book shop was swarming with carabinieri (including a swaggering, slim jeans-wearing Commandante who looked like a sexy Latin version of Kojak, only with way-cool facial hair), phones were ringing like church bells on Sunday and I was giving a deposition as to the delivery guy’s description and what was said, etc. I pondered the prospect of continuing to work in a place that might wind up a charred pile of bomb-blasted rubble–a little monument to the far-reaching tentacles of the Camorra or ‘Ndrangeta.

By the way, the date was April 1.

Only a few hours later did we find out that one of the courier company’s employees took it upon himself to play a little prank on us all. In Italy, there isn’t such a thing as an April “Fool”–rather, there’s an April “Fish” (pesce d’aprile).

Or in this instance, an April Asshat.

Le novità: new on the menu & such

Cari amici, head on over to the menu page to see what Paolo’s been up to at the cart! Inzimino fans: don’t fret, even though we’ve phased it out for the moment, it’ll make a cameo appearance from time to time :-) And be on the lookout for pasta specials and other goodies. (Apropos of this, if you haven’t already, do follow us on Facebook and/or Twitter in order to keep up with the shenanigans).

Ciao – a presto!

 

Simplicity

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The Beaneater (Il Mangiafagioli), by Annibale Carracci, 1583-84

Anyone who thinks Italian food is all about pasta hasn’t been to Tuscany. In this region abundantly blessed by the Goddess of Culinary Awesomeness, beans and bread are the humble staples and Immortal Beloved of its denizens. Just consider the ways in which stale bread gets put to use, a glorious instance of lean mean frugality breeding inspired ingenuity: in soups like ribollita and pappa al pomodoro, or the even humbler, bare-bones pan molle. But it is beans–the locals being referred to as mangiafagioli (beaneaters), and not always kindly, by other Italians–that claim pride of place in the inner chambers of Tuscan hearts. There are so many delicious varieties, too, in addition to the well-known cannellini, and they merit seeking out and tucking into your suitcase on your next trip to this patch of the Bel Paese: di Sorana, tondini, zolfini, cicerchie, et al. Whisperingly toothsome on the outside, creamy on the inside, these diminutive Mediterranean beauties are to hungry toscani what flush fat-cats are to high-priced hookers.

Italian food, in its true form–its real-deal incarnation–is essentially only about two things: simplicity and quality ingredients. In other words, use the best ingredients you can find–keeping in mind everything has its season–and don’t f*** around with them too much. Let their flavors sing on your tongue.

Which brings us to our new menu item, a celebration of the bean–and aria-worthy simplicity–if ever there was one: pasta e fagioli, a soothing, protein-packed soup lively with fresh herbs and a good manciata of handmade pasta. [Aside: I, Elizabeth, grew up in Detroit eating Campbell’s Bean & Bacon; Paolo got this. Geography is a cruel mistress, indeed.]

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Burrasca’s pasta e fagioli.

Another super-Tuscan soup that we often enjoy at home and which features beans in all their earnest forthrightness is the zuppa lombarda. (Don’t let the name fool you; this poor-man’s dish was born near Florence as cantine-fare for hungry railway workers from Lombardy).  This easy-to-prepare, inexpensive, tasty and nourishing soup should be in everyone’s short-order repertoire; it’s one of those dishes whose near-angelic purity of intention has the power to deeply satisfy even the most hunger-mongering soul. And maybe even achieve world peace.

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a frequent Burrasca family supper: zuppa lombarda, made with tondini from our Italian stash

Paolo says there are three cardinal rules to keep in mind when making this soup: you need good beans, good bread, and good olive oil. Here’s the recipe:

Ingredients:

– as many dried (never canned) cannellini beans (or other small Italian varietal) as you think you want to eat, soaked overnight

– a clove or two of garlic, peeled

– a few fresh sage leaves

– a few slices of rustic, hearty bread (stale is fine)

– extra virgin olive oil, for drizzling

It’ll be quicker if you cook the beans in a pressure cooker, but you can certainly do the stove-top/low heat option if you want (depending on type of bean, it takes about an hour and a half, but keep checking). Cook beans (after a post-soak draining and rinsing) with the garlic cloves and sage until done, in abundant water (which will serve as the broth). And by done we mean a slight intact firmness that segues into creaminess, not mush. Salt to taste.

Get out some roomy individual bowls. Toast thick slices of your favorite crusty bread. While the bread is still warm from the toaster, rub as liberally as you like with a raw clove of garlic. Place a generous slice (or two if they’re small) in each bowl. Ladle some beans with the hot broth over the bread, drizzle with good olive oil, and crack some fresh black pepper over the whole lot. *

Serve this humble dish like we do at home with some equally simple greens such as kale, chard or dandelion sautéed in garlic and olive oil, or with a big green salad, some more bread if you want, and a no-frills, honest glass of earthy red.

You’ll be an avid beaneater, too, before you know it.

–Elizabeth Petrosian

* Obviously, you can render this gluten-free by simply forgoing the bread. And it will be equally glorious and nutritious.

The Burrasca year in review

Because you can’t possibly have gotten enough of them, we too are jumping on the year-end wrap-up hurdy-gurdy and offering up a summation of 2013 – or, as we like to think of it, the Year of Lunatic Change – to appease the demanding New Years’ Eve Gods. Here goes.

The event of greatest moment was of course the big move from Italy to the States. 2013 was the year in which we quit our jobs, sold our house and (many of our) belongings and hightailed it out of Florence, only to land happily in Portland, OR.

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All our crap arrives in PDX

It was also the Year of Fiendish Bureaucracy (if you’re uncomfortably familiar with life in Italy you’ll understand that this is not hyperbole): we survived, just barely, all the paperwork entailed in selling a house in the Bel Paese, paying taxes, and officially divesting ourselves of Italian residency, securing Paolo’s immigrant visa, and starting a business in the U.S., etc. etc.

2013 saw us logging some travel miles: Paolo’s wooing of U.S. Immigration officials required two trips to incredible Naples (read: food orgy), proving that every bureaucratic cloud has a savory lining. We also journeyed to our beloved Val Gardena in the Dolomites for some much-needed R & R and canederli before crossing an ocean to open a food cart.

It was also the year we got robbed. That sucked.

And it was the year we opened Burrasca, the little yellow cart that could.

Tutto sommato, 2013 was a pretty voracious year in terms of our energy and patience, but an exciting one nonetheless. Looking forward to what 2014 has in store – here’s to new horizons, new friendships and a tall-timbered city full of good cheer and wonderful things to eat and discover!