In the Kitchen With John Flansburgh of They Might Be Giants

A rambling voyage through a Brooklynite’s kitchen

john flansburghHalf of the whimsical and witty rock duo They Might Be Giants, John Flansburgh moved to Brooklyn twenty-two years ago to attend Pratt and stayed. TMBG first came to national attention through their Dial-A-Song service (still busy at 718.387.6962) and a series of ground-breaking low-budget videos for MTV. In 2002, as TMBG entered its third decade in music, the band released “No!” the first of several highly successful children’s albums. They are currently working on a “regular” TMBG album with legendary producers the Dust Brothers.

When asked if Edible Brooklyn‘s launch issue could photograph behind closed (refrigerator) doors, Flansburgh replied, “Sure, as long as it’s not Oedipal Brooklyn.” We didn’t find any paternal limbs in his kitchen and as far as we could tell his wife, musician and playwright Robin “Goldie” Goldwasser, is not his mother. They live in what Flansburgh calls “now-fashionable Williamsburg.”

Then and Now
When I moved here twenty-two years ago the only restaurants were breakfast places for guys loading trucks at the beef slaughterhouses on North 6th and the few remaining heavy industries. My favorite was a truck stop called Doc’s Sugarbowl, which was only open 4 am to 10 am. I don’t think there was a way to get a cup of coffee in the neighborhood after 10 am on this side of the BQE. Back then on Bedford there were a couple of bodegas, a locksmith, a cobbler, and a store that only sold potatoes and onions. It was the culinary equivalent of the Middle Ages. There was a restaurant called the Bedford, but it was really dark. I was too scared to go in.

Williamsburg is completely changing. It’s changed more in the last five years I’ve lived here than in the first seventeen. It couldn’t be more different now. In those days the slaughterhouses would boil the beef bones, and then take them away in open dump trucks. They looked so fake, like a fantasy truckload of dinosaur bones driving through the neighborhood. Now the slaughterhouses are gone, in their places are art galleries and t-shirt shops.

Everything’s possible in Brooklyn. The first time I had a Jamaican meat pie it was so delicious I thought; “I wanna have these every day for the rest of my life!” I still like ’em but the thrill has cooled a bit. You don’t get tired of the taste, but after a while you do get tired of the mysterious quality of ingredients!

Sometimes when we go to restaurants with foodie friends it feels like a final exam. Eating out has become a whole subculture. If you’re interested in cooking, that’s one thing. But if you’re just consuming… I think that’s a strange thing to know so much about.

Glass Cheese Keeper
You put vinegar and salt in the bottom, and it keeps the cheese fresh at room temperature. You have to burp it every day. See it says right here: “Remove lid daily.” We have another one for butter. The cheese itself we bought at Bedford Cheese Shop.

Ceramic NYC Coffee Cups
We got these at this cool super overpriced design store two blocks away. This is the only thing they sell for under a grand and the only thing we’ve ever purchased there. We got two.

Peter Luger Steak Sauce
I love it. It’s controversial among my relatives. It’s sweet and strange. People don’t understand it’s not steak sauce. It’s dressing for tomatoes and onions, part of the Peter Luger experience. I love Peter Luger’s. We used to have band meetings there. Around ’85 the band manager got us a Peter Luger credit card. They only take cash and the Peter Luger credit card. What do I eat there? Um…, steak?

Black Egg in Fridge
That’s a percussion device. I should have it cleaned.

Oatmeal
I’ve done very little cooking in the past few years as Robin’s really gotten into it, but this is one thing I’ve discovered: the joys of making myself steel cut Irish oatmeal. My mom told me about this stuff. It takes twice as long. It sounds drab but it’s a fantastic food. If you’ve got a good pan you can’t ruin it. You don’t have to think, the water just goes away. And it’s good for your cholesterol levels.

Ronnybrook Milk
I like the bottle as much as anything about the milk. Have you ever had raw milk? It’s insane. When I lived in Ohio I could get it. You can really taste when the seasons change. It just doesn’t taste synthesized. I wish I could get it now.

Fair Trade
I think Fair Trade is a brilliant idea. Unfortunately it’s gotten hard to find Fair Trade coffee locally. I get it at a health food store near my place in the Catskills, upstate. I hope the trend isn’t waning. It’s strange to think of that as a trend. To me it’s progress. It’s a way to have a positive political effect just be doing what you do already. I don’t think we have enough opportunities to do that with our food choices. On the other hand sometimes I have to wonder if the “organic” labels on some stuff is just a hoax to hike up the price.

Greek Yogurt
I was really obsessed with Greek yogurt, then I found out the calories are the same as ice cream. I had no idea. I thought it was like eating Dannon only it tasted better. I gotta cool it with this stuff.

Manhattan Special Coffee Soda
As they say in England, “It does what it says on the can.” It’s soda that tastes like espresso. Until I moved here I assumed it was made in Manhattan. I was surprised to find it is made in Brooklyn, on Manhattan Avenue!

Frozen Wedding Cake
We just had our ten-year anniversary. We’ll never eat this. It lives under the duck fat. We use that for hash browns.

No Microwave
I can’t have one. I can’t have one. They’re too fast. The heat is weird. I do use the one on the tour bus. I should demand a wood-fired oven.

The Juicer
We only use that when blood oranges are in season.

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