Ain’t nothin’ sweeter, honey! September happens to be National Honey Month, dedicating an entire 30 days to the wonder of this natural, warm, gooey sweetener. As we all know, honey is a product made by honeybees by processing nectar from flowers. (Yep, that’s right, this delicious stuff is bee puke!) It’s been utilized by humans since prehistoric times as a sweetener and as flavoring, and was so revered that it holds spiritual and religious significance in a number of religions, both ancient and modern. Honey is used in nearly every culinary culture throughout history, from the ancient Egyptians to China, Mesoamerica, India, and Europe. Nowadays, honey is found in so many food products, from breads and cookies to sauces (like honey mustard) and beverages, like tea, coffee, and even beer! It’s rather amazing to think about all of the uses humans have found for honey, and how long it takes for honeybees to produce the product. (And how short of a time it takes for me to squeeze it into my morning chai!)
Nutritionally speaking…honey is sugar. It’s all sugar! Teaspoon for teaspoon, it has the same sweetening effect as granulated sugar. But the difference is that, whereas sugar has been refined and processed by humans, honey is the product of bees, and includes a number of antioxidants that can be helpful for the body. Honey is also antimicrobial in nature, not allowing any bacteria to live within its gooey grip, and has been used in treating a variety of ailments. There’s also a distinct taste to honey, rather than just a pure sweet flavor of sugar, that, while more expensive, makes it well sought-after by foodies and chefs looking for that earthy, mellow taste with their sweetener.
If I told you about all the foods and drinks you can make with honey–and then found the best places in New York City to try them all–we’d be sitting here all month reading these blog posts instead of getting out there and honey’ing it up! So instead I picked some of my favorite foods that involve honey that I think you all would love to try. Go out there and experiment, and you might find something sweet and new that you’ll love!
About a year ago, my friend Katie and I decided to go to Firebird on Restaurant Row during Restaurant Week. She loves the swanky Russian restaurant but can rarely afford to partake in their legendary Chicken Kiev. A $40 prix-fixe three-course meal was definitely up our alley, and I’m always willing to try something new. When I met her at the restaurant in freezing mid-February, she was already at the bar, sipping on the Firebird’s signature drink: their home-made honey-infused vodka. Sipping! On vodka! Even though I’m not a huge drinker, I had to try it…and ended up drinking two! (One while we were waiting for a table, another with dessert to warm up in the cold weather.) Their honey-infused vodka is impossibly smooth, so good you can sip it straight from its dainty serving flute–no need to down it like a shot here. The warmth of the honey really plays well with the potency of the liquor, and it warms you up in more ways than one. It felt so decadent and high-class, but without breaking the bank: since I’m a bit of a lightweight and the drink is so filling and good, the $10 per order wasn’t any sticker shock to me. Besides, I was saving on the prix-fixe menu, right? So I could splurge a little on the appertif 😉 The meal itself was fantastic–caviar on a blini, perfectly cooked salmon, and a chocolate lava cake to die for–but the honey vodkas we had at the start and end of the night were the perfect bookends to a Restaurant Week meal. It’s so good that, over a year distanced from the night, I still remember the warm tingle it gave me as I braved the harsh February night.
365 W 46th St (between 9th Ave & 8th Ave)
“Named after the landmark ballet performed by the Ballet Russe, FireBird Russian Restaurant captivates well-to-do tourists and theatergoers with its opulent décor and luxe czarist fare. Situated on Restaurant Row, FireBird recreates the splendors of a Romanov-era St. Petersburg mansion. Every inch of the three-floor eatery is bedecked with period antiques, samovars, books, gilded china, crystal, dramatic paintings, and photographs of nobles in full regalia. If you want to act aristocratic, order a flute of the restaurant’s honey-infused vodka and splurge on some caviar.”–New York Magazine
“Firebird restaurant was styled like a true Tzar’s manor, and Valentine has kept it true to the Russian culture’s roots. At first glance, guests will automatically turn their attention to the bar that houses more than 200 types of vodkas from around the world, including some house made infusions like the favorite Honey-infused vodka.”–Haute Living
“Start the service with the restaurant’s signature honey-infused vodka for a sweet start to the night. Patrons have traveled great distances just to try the unique liquor as the selection provides a golden caress of sweet and spice. The champagne and caviar lounge contains more than two hundred vodkas from around the world. The infused selections have visitors flocking to the lounge just to try a homemade vintage.”–Examiner
Some reviews from Yelp.com:
“We also had the pleasure of trying their honey infused vodka. I am going to preface this by saying that I am not a vodka drinker. That being said I thought it was delicious for what it was, sweet and spicy vodka. The presentation is adorable in these little shot sized champagne flutes. I highly recommend it for anyone who likes vodka but for those of you who like me can’t seem to shake the feeling you’re drinking rubbing alcohol when you drink vodka I would suggest just tasting your friends.”–Jessica B.
“After dinner, we saw we had extra time, and chose to have a seat at the bar. It is here that we were exposed to their house-brewed honey vodka. Let me be absolutely clear about what I am going to convey to you adult beverage sippers out there…If you do nothing else in this restaurant. If you just walk in for one thing only. If you step inside out of curiosity, and only have time for one moment of indulgence in this building….Try. The. Honey. Vodka! That is all.”–Kenneth M.
Being National Honey Month is quite timely for the Jewish tradition, because earlier this week we also celebrated Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. One of the culinary traditions I used to have at Rosh Hashanah dinner as a kid–and still have as an adult–is honey cake, a rich, dense bread loaf that’s baked with nuts and a ton of honey, making it sticky-sweet. You can try a modernized, single-serve version of this yummy honey cake at Bee Desserts in Greenwich Villages. The little loaves are baked using only honey, making them super moist and almost dripping when you take them out of their individual packages. To add their own flair, Bee Dessers coat the cakes in a thin shell of dark chocolate for an extra-sweet topping. So many honey cakes you get in a kosher bakery these days are lackluster, using too little of the expensive honey, making them bland and bone-dry. Perhaps it’s time to upgrade our Rosh Hashanah desserts with a little modern flair on an old classic!
94 Greenwich Ave (between 12th St & Jane St)
“These honey cakes ($4) baked by Bee Desserts in the West Village have quickly become a favorite of mine. Coated in a crackly thin shell of dark chocolate, the cakes have not a grain of sugar, but instead have honey as the key sweetener. Ingredients are straightforward: mainly wheat flour, milk, honey, condensed milk, chocolate, and spices. Ideal for little gifts, they present quite nicely. Slice the cake in half to reveal the crumb, golden and tender, with every pore oozing sweet honey. At room temperature it practically drips honey, though it’s equally wonderful when served very cold for a slightly firmer texture.”–Serious Eats
“When broken in half, the cake (we tried the original) displays a golden-brown crumb so moist it could almost be used as a sponge. Neither the chocolate shell nor honeyed interior is overly sweet, but will stick to your fingers in an pleasing way, making you feel you’re consuming something much higher on the glycemic index. Because the cakes are both relatively light and palm-sized, they register at the lower end of the Fat Pants scale, rating a pair of skinny jeans. Unless, of course, you decide to scarf the whole product line in one go, which is tempting.”–The Village Voice
“Little moist, chocolate-covered honey cakes wrapped in foil are the signatures at Bee Desserts, a cafe and bakery that Claudia Steves opened a few weeks ago. It replaced La Palette, a spot she owned for several years. The Ring Ding-size honey cakes, right, come in plain as well as with marshmallow, almonds or liqueur inside.”–The New York Times
Some reviews from Yelp.com:
“What a cute little cafe in the West Village! You’d never know it was there at night, since the area is pretty dark and the lighting in there is, too…but we thought that the chocolate-marshmallow honey cake was pretty delicious. Just the right amount of honey flavor, and well-balanced by the not-dark but not-milk chocolate.”–MichLee A.
“Once open, it revealed a snow-white, gooey, marshmallow and the famous honey cake. Although acclaimed that the very moist cake was made from honey, and only honey as sweetener, the taste of honey was completely taken over by the chocolate and marshmallow. As far as food combinations are concerned, I do think chocolate and honey are that good a marriage – e.g. apple and cinnamon and chocolate and coffee; therefore, I personally prefer that the honey’s primary contribution to the cake was as a moisturizer to the cake. This doubly sweet cake was refined for children – age twenty-one and up – and even, saved by, the shell of smooth, dark chocolate (70% cacao). Now, I only hope for the youthful reckless indulgence to return with the accompanying vigorous metabolism.”–Au G.
And while honey is typically used as a sweetener to liven up a bland honey cake, or to mellow out the harsh bite of a vodka, it can also be found in the most surprising of places…like in a bucket of hot wings! Honey mustard and honey barbecue are just two variations of savory sauces where the tangy, spicy edge is tempered a bit by the sweetness of honey. They go great with an order of chicken wings, fried and slathered in sauce, to be enjoyed by a big group at a sports bar, watching the Yankees-Athletics game tonight. Try the wings at Croxley Ales in the East Village (or any of their locations dotted along the island): a great sports bar with an accommodating menu, their wings just can’t be beat. Although we’ve missed the early weekday specials this week (10 cents per wing! Best bargain in the Village!), it’s still worth it to check out their Honey BBQ wings while you’re watching the game and toasting with (as they claim) the largest selection of craft beers in the tri-state area. Try their seasonal pumpkin spiced ale, served in a glass rimmed with cinnamon sugar–to add to your honey-sweetened wing evening!
28 Ave B
“This Alphabet City sports bar serves up an impressive selection of beers to go along with some of the city’s best wings. Their mild, medium, hot, and barbeque wings are only 10 cents each on Monday and Wednesday after 5 PM and 20 cents on the weekends. We suggest trying their honey wings as well, which are an additional 10 cents each. Get all of the details about Croxley’s wing specials. They have 31 ales on tap and serve more than 100 bottles from around the world. Don’t even bother trying to order a Bud, Coors, or Miller. They don’t serve any of them.”–About.com
Some reviews from Yelp.com:
“The 5 of us ordered a total of 60 wings. 20 bbq, 20 honey bbq and 20 spicy. We also ordered a plate of celery sticks and carrot sticks. Each person must order a drink worth at least $4 to do the 10 cent wing deal. I really like the honey bbq wings. And when it comes to spicy food, I am a total weak sauce. However the spicy wings were not too spicy for me to handle, so that’s a plus for me.”–Sandy C.
“You have to order in batches of 20 per flavor. We ordered 60 and made it hot, BBQ, and honey BBQ. You could add honey to any flavor (exp: honey+ BBQ, honey+hot) for 10 more cents each. Yeah, it’s a little more money but it’s so worth it. Honey BBQ was the best of the bunch and it was still only $4 for 20. Trust me, pay a little extra and stop being that cheap. Your taste buds will thank you.”–Wing L.
Make sure you check out the updated NYC Food Holidays Map to find this most recent holiday!