We’re still a little groggy after the New Year’s holiday, so apologies we didn’t bring this great Daily News story and video on The Friday Night Pilgrims to your attention more quickly. Led by none other than the honorable judge Mike Pesce–whose homemade limoncello we covered in our current winter issue–the self-proclaimed Pilgrims are a group of bold-faced Brooklyn names (a few judges, council member, an assemblywoman, for example, plus yours truly on the night the Daily News came by) that get together each week to cook a multi-multi-multi course feast in a Cobble Hill brownstone ground floor kitchen.
The Friday night crowd around the long dining table varies depending on who’s in town and who’s been asked for dinner (bring a bottle to share, should you be so lucky to score an invite). The menu is also ever-changing, though it’s always set by Pesce, a wonderful and creative cook who is the Pilgrims’ literal head chef. He usually plans the menu of 12- to 20-odd courses a few days previous based around what’s at market–beet greens or sea scallops, say–or what he wants to try his hand at making. (That leans toward Italian, but bounces around the world when Pesce feels so inspired.)
Everyone else, they’ll happily admit, just follows orders, and that goes not just for cooking but for the eating, too. After a first-time attendee rings a bell to call the diners to the table (funnily enough, that would be me in the video segment that accompanies the Daily News piece) it’s officially time to dig in, but only after Judge Pesce announces each course and how to eat it: Dig in to the bottom with your spoon, maybe, or take one and pass it around. Violators naturally receive a Brooklyn-style ribbing, while newbies get the lemon and olive oil-dressed cheek of the weekly whole fish that’s caught by an attendee’s brother near Breezy Point and grilled by Pesce’s crew. To earn the said cheek, however, you must first eat the eyeball in front of the applauding crowd.
On my visit, the courses topped two dozen and included halibut crudo, anchovy and caper-stuffed peppadew peppers, eggplant mousse served in a Champagne flute, two kinds of pasta, prosciutto-wrapped dates, a coil of grilled chicken sausage, roasted vegetable salad, tomatoes and cucumbers in vinegar, a bowl of jalapeno peppers and seasoned bread crumbs that’s become a weekly ritual (thanks in part to the guessing game of its level of spice) shrimp crostini, roasted beets, roasted beet greens, the whole fish (a two-foot long grilled bluefish), three kinds of bread, Pesce’s own homemade wine, tiramisu, nearly a dozen kinds of Italian cookies, almond brickle and a chocolate-chocolate cake topped with candles. “We’re always celebrating someone’s birthday,” shrugged Pesce.