Actually Pretty Awesome: Fried Milk-Braised Celery Hearts at Hard Water

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And those would be the lightly vinegar-marinated cucumbers in back. Photo: J. Barmann/Grub Street

A dish that immediately jumped out at us at the new Hard Water (Pier 5) and one that's pretty impossible not to like are these breaded and fried celery hearts served with Old Bay aioli. They make for a terrific drinking snack to go with one of the well crafted, unfussy whiskey cocktails from Erik Adkins and his team, and they reminded us of fried cardoons, only more tender.

They're braised in milk before they're well breaded and pan-fried to a dark golden color and panini crispness, and they're served in wedges with that tangy aioli for dipping — just acidic enough to compliment the fattiness from the frying. And the meat of the celery inside becomes something totally new in this form, richer and complex like braised fennel.

We were told by a staff member that the idea for the dish came about because of how much celery the kitchen goes through — sort of a "whole vegetable" approach to avoid wasting these celery cores. But there is also an old New Orleans tradition, in keeping with the NoLa theme of the Hard Water menu, of frying celery hearts like this. (And a version of the dish, with the addition of squid, has been served at Zuni over the years as part of their "piccolo fritto.")

Also not to be missed on the menu are the delicious baked oysters, which come topped in three ways — de maison with bacon, bourbon, and citrus; bienville with a creamy mushroom sauce and breadcrumbs; and Saint Charles with cayenne butter and shallots.

Earlier on Actually Pretty Awesome:
The Meatloaf Sandwich at Hi-Lo
Snap Peas and Short Ribs at Hutong
Rainbow Trout at Rich Table
Crispy Chicken and Yuca Fries at Pica Pica Castro
Dungeness Crab Soup at Canteen
The Trick Dog at Trick Dog
The Fried Chicken Sandwich at Hi Tops
The Dungeness Crab Salad at Haven
Chicken Drums at Rickybobby
The Doc Hopper at Absinthe
The Burger at KronnerBurger
Bang Bang Chicken Wings at M.Y. China
'Fruit Loops' at Chambers Eat + Drink
Smoked Pulled Goat at Southpaw
Manti Dumplings at Troya Fillmore
Flaming Sea Bass Roll at Elephant Sushi
Black Risotto With Uni and Egg at Prospect
Seared Salmon and Mussel Mashed Potatoes at Bisou
The Meatloaf at Jamber
Carrots at Commonwealth
Turducken at Honor Bar
Beggar's Chicken at Betelnut
Lobster Bread Pudding and Smoked Cod at Maverick
Green Farro-Sausage Risotto at RN74
Vegan Charctuerie at Gather
Pickled Eggs at St. Vincent
Beef Tongue at Namu Gaji
Peruvian Rotisserie Chicken at Brasa
Green Garlic Bread at State Bird Provisions
A Dinner of Small Plates and the Duck Confit Salad at Frances
Duck Fat Chex Mix at Truck Stop Café
The Lamb Tongue Salad at Txoko
The Branzino and the Cucumber and Scallops at AQ
Dinner at Local Mission Eatery
Suckling Pig Sandwich at Sweet Woodruff
Crudités at Saison
The Roasted Broccoli Sandwich at Split Pea Seduction
The Buffalo Burger at Double Decker
Alicia's Tamales Los Mayas
The Cocktails at Outerlands
The Meatball Gigante and the Honey Pie at Tony’s Pizza
Three New Gins from St. George Spirits
The Fried-Chicken Sliders at The Lookout
The Tripe and the Pickles at Bar Tartine
Fried Chicken and Cornmeal Doughnuts at Beast & the Hare