Gratification over Gastronomy – a New York Food Tour

This is the second of my trilogy of blog posts that takes a look back at my recent trip to New York. Needless to say, I enjoyed myself in New York, but I felt that a single post would have been too monumental to produce, both in terms of effort on my part but also talent in my writing skills – the chances of convoluted tangents were all too real.

So, I decided to split my trip up into more manageable topics, the first being a look at the NHL game I went to (I do love watching Hockey) and can be read here.

This post, as you can probably tell is about the food I ate whilst out in New York.

Now as part of my pre-trip planning, myself and my girlfriend came up with a list of the sort of things we wanted to eat whilst on our trip.  These were more food group type decisions over specific restaurants, but this, over the planning phase turned into actual places to eat.  Curiously, steak didn’t make either of our lists, which is a little odd.

Fried stuff with cheese

From a personal point of view, I wasn’t fussed about seeing the finest New York had to offer in terms of gastronomy.  We were fortunate enough to be out there during restaurant week, which I was happy to take advantage of, but didn’t want to base all my evening dining around.

I was after the sort of crap that puts a smile on my face, in both the knowledge it’s satisfying taste buds at the same time it’s clogging arteries and ruining internal organs.  I’d made a vow to not care about the food choices I made out there, I was on holiday after-all.

A quick apology for any subsequent bad language, I get carried away when talking about the food I enjoy, just to warn the easily offended, you may want to stop reading now!

Also, I have given food in this article a Meg Ryan rating.  This refers to the orgasmic level of the food eaten, with 5 being the full Meg Ryan from her scene in “When Harry Met Sally”.

 

Breakfast

The most important meal of the day!

Everyone knows that American’s don’t really do breakfast very well.  The notion of lashing something sweet on the same plate as savoury items should be outlawed the world over and pancakes that aren’t the crepes style pancake us Brits are used to, but bread like stodge that sits in the gut like a brick are just examples of what is wrong with an American breakfast.

I am also wary through my travels of ordering a full English breakfast abroad.  From knuckle in the bacon in Greece, through to ‘hash browns’ consisting of large chunks of potato and onion coated in Hoi Sin sauce in Goa there is always something wrong in attempts made by others in recreating an English breakfast.  And, as we all know, an unsatisfactory English breakfast completely ruins your day!

So, I decided to steer clear of the full English style offerings at our breakfast stops during our stay.  I could also not bring myself to order a breakfast that included pancakes, I’m sorry America, they’re not for me.  So, what was left?

EGGS! I fucking love eggs! I don’t care in what guise they appear on my plate, but I gotta get me some eggs to eat! This was at the forefront of every breakfast decision I made during our time in New York.

So, Blue Nomad what did you fucking eat, just tell us!

My first breakfast in New York was in a classic U.S. chain, Denny’s.  This breakfast was setting me up for the day, a day of lots of walking, and walking the Brooklyn Bridge no less.  The Denny’s breakfast menu is vast and caters for almost every option to a potential customer. It took me all of 20 seconds after opening the menu to decide what I was going to order – The Grand Slamwich®! Two scrambled eggs, crumbled sausage, bacon, shaved ham and American cheese on potato bread grilled with a maple spice spread. Served with hash browns! FUCKING BOOM!! The menu even came with a warning telling me the salt content in this dish contained more than my daily recommended intake of salt, in this one dish! Yes, yes, yes!

dennys1
Ohh Yeah! The Grand Slamwich at Denny’s

It was sublime! I ate it with a smile on my face in complete denial over the nutritional impact this may have on my body.  It is also well priced for a New York breakfast, which I found to be completely overpriced.

Meg Ryan Rating: 4.0

 

Another breakfast spot that was found during research was Andrew’s Coffee Shop, they had a decent breakfast selection and it was really close to the hotel we were staying in which enabled me to fuel up locally before setting off on a new adventure somewhere else in the city.  Also, like Denny’s it was well priced compared to other venues selling sit down breakfast treats – not that I was doing NYC on the cheap, I just wanted value for money.  Most venues were doing breakfast options anywhere between £14-£15 before paying for drinks and I paid £9 for my breakfast at Andrew’s with a coffee/tea – that’s almost the price of a beer I saved!

Anyway, back to Andrew’s Coffee Shop.  Upon entering, you are immediately seated in a booth, it was always busy, but never too full you couldn’t be seated straight away. Rather boringly I went for a ham and cheese omelette for breakfast – yes more eggs, hurrah! But mostly because a lot of their breakfasts came with pancakes which was a little off-putting.  But I was happy, more eggs!

The omelette itself was decent, it’s a ham and cheese omelette, it was never going set my world alight as a dish, but it was filling enough with the side of sautéed potatoes and onion that accompany all their omelettes.  I will say though that the plastic cheese was used, you know, the kind you only every buy for shitty BBQ burgers because buying regular cheese is too good for the patty it will sit on. It wasn’t offensive, but it did stick to my gums and teeth which isn’t the best feeling.

Andrew’s will always be credited for giving me my first real New Yorker experience.  My companion and I had just sat down and ordered, when a guy was sat in the booth next to us.  A balding, slender man dressed like a modern football manager – picture a less tanned Pep Guardiola and you have the idea.  He’d sat down, laid out his paper and his laptop like a man ready to consume media as well as food and the waitress came over and we were treated to the following (off-menu) order: [stereotypical New Yorker Accent] “I want 3 eggs – scrambled well, no oil, no butter.  I want 3 rashers of turkey bacon – crispy, 2 slices of toast – no butter and a decaf coffee”. It felt like the order should have been accompanied by a mic drop, or at least a fist bump of acknowledgement, but the waitress just said thank you and went about her business.  YES! I have arrived, I am in New York I thought to myself.

Meg Ryan Rating: 2.0

 

Lunch

Lunch was a completely different kettle of fish. After a good hearty breakfast lunch was usually a means of filling the void, enough to see me through to dinner (most of the time).

I’m going to start with a quick shout out to a famous New York delicacy – the hot dog.  Like a trip up the Empire State Building or going to see Lady Liberty, getting a hot dog from a cart outside a significant place of interest was a must do.  I’m glad we partook in such a time-honoured tradition to say I’ve done it, but I was left feeling “what’s all the fuss about”? a standard frankfurter wedged into a bun half its size made difficult to eat as it’s smothered in far too much sauce. Disappointed, but happy.

Meg Ryan Rating: 0.5

 

Another lunch that didn’t get rock my world was a trip to Beer Authority. Now I know what you’re thinking “how can you not have a great lunch at the Beer Authority”?  It’s a fair question.  I think had I decided to make it a purely liquid lunch, sampling beers and nibbling on a few sides my experience would have completely different and my opinion of my time there would be improved.

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What I did do was try a couple of local beers, chosen from a list of 90 (yes, fucking ninety) beers and ordered the BA Founders Burger – Beef cooked in Founders Porter, bacon, swiss cheese and BA sauce.  I excluded the mushrooms as they’re vile things and this was going to be MY burger. Granted it was a big old burger, but I’d asked for it cooked medium and there was a slight whiff of raw beef mince which was off putting.  Also, like a lot of places serving burgers these days it was just too greasy, even for me. The fries were awesome though.

Meg Ryan Rating: 2.0

 

Stepping it up a notch, my last lunch was had on a visit the Chelsea Market.  The market at Chelsea is full of all types of cuisine: bratwurst; pastry; Japanese; pizza; farm foods; brownies; Korean; BBQ; sushi; Italian; Thai; tacos as well as other farmer market places and bars.  It is a wondrous place, probably a little hipster for someone like me, but given a huge appetite and a healthy wedge of dollars I could indulge my every whim and sample a lot more of the delights on offer here.  As it was, the thing that really captured my eye was a farm food place – part butcher, part sandwich shop.

I ordered the roast beef, horseradish and sauerkraut panini with a side of brussels sprouts. Firstly, the side.  They were epic sprouts, roasted with a slight burn on them, just how I like them they were sprinkled with parmesan cheese to elevate them to a new plain of sprouty-goodness! It’s fair to say our New York adventure lacked it’s 5-a-day and not even I will try to count the peach iced tea I drank copious amounts of.  But these sprouts were just the way to bring veg back into my life again – immense.

The panini was just as great – perfectly roasted beef, melt in the mouth, tender, thin cut slices of beef that had a wee bit of horseradish sauce and sauerkraut to bring the best out of the beef – every mouthful was pure joy!

Meg Ryan Rating 4.0

 

I have saved the best until last.  Visited during the middle of our stay this is place produced the second-best thing I ate on my trip.

How to describe Katz’s Deli? A slice of New York Life; Carnage; whirlwind; epic; amazing; taste sensation – all of the above.  The famous deli lived up to all the hype. I am glad I knew what I wanted as soon as I stepped in – the hot beef pastrami Reuben. If you’re a first timer to Katz’s there isn’t anything else you should be ordering. Also, first timers beware – don’t order fries as well, you won’t have room for them, I’m glad I didn’t bother, but I saw others struggle.

From the moment you step inside, you become part of the carnage until you’ve found your seat with your food.  After being handed a ticket stub at the door your job is to go to a cutter and order your sandwich – now this is where knowing your order is helpful, otherwise, like my girlfriend found out it’s like trying to jump onto a train not stopping at your station.  The panic of the situation set in and a cry of “two of those” came from her, beaten by the chaos and the noise of the cutting station and knowing I was ordering something epic – our orders were placed.

Stood at the counter, watching the artistry of the cutter at work we were given a sample. A quality check like a waiter at a fine dining establishment with the wine to make sure it’s up to standard. Pawing at the sample like Oliver Twist and two malnourished kids we tried what was about to enter our sandwich.

Oh. My. Fucking. God

Thick cut hot beef pastrami, melting in my mouth I swear I got a semi. It just served to heighten my anticipation for my sandwich. With what can only be described as a mound of meat, the sandwich was complied, a scraping of some sauce (not sure what it was in truth, I was just trying to stop myself from dribbling everywhere), the mound of meat, then a plate of hot sauerkraut and melted cheese is slid on top before the top slice of rye is pressed on top.

Skipping to the eating – every mouthful was absolutely beautiful. Thick cut pastrami, the vinegary sauerkraut and the cheese, what is not to love?!? Now, I ate mine fairly quickly, as it can be a little beast to hold, so once I found a grip that contained all the ingredients I didn’t let go and from hand to mouth it’s a short distance, so it didn’t last long.

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Just being there, eating alongside everyone else, I felt like a New Yorker and that this is what life in New York was all about.  In truth, if I ate that every day (and I could), it would have serious consequences on my body.  But this was a holiday and I cared not!

Meg Ryan Rating: 5.0 – coincidently, Katz’s Deli is where that famous scene from ‘When Harry Met Sally’ was filmed!

 

Dinner

A bit like breakfast, dinner was an opportunity to go big.  American’s love their mains and dinner is the perfect time to explore these delights.

As I mentioned briefly, I was out there during restaurant week.  This is when restaurants in New York, mostly stationed in and around Time Square offer a three-course dinning menu at a reduced, fixed price $42 (£34).  Now I wasn’t aware of this until my girlfriend was tasked with looking into restaurants for us to eat at in our planning and in truth I wasn’t fussed about it either.  I didn’t ever look at places that felt the need to offer a reduced prices version of their menu for a week to attract new customers, it wasn’t where I wanted to eat.  But we did pick one place, which I’ll get to in little bit.

Now, the first place we ate at for a proper evening meal was the heavily commercialised Bubba Gump Shrimp. I know what you’re thinking “what the fuck, why are you eating there of all places?”. It actually came down to a relatively simple set of decisions.  Both my girlfriend and I saw a lot on the menu we liked the sound of, it looked like a bit of fun as a place to be and it was somewhere both of us said yes to.  It was as simple as that.  Not pretentiousness, no harsh judging criticism before even crossing the pond, just “yeah, let’s go there”. I do think though, that my girlfriend started to regret the choice because from the moment we decided to visit here I have not stop quoting a couple of lines from the movie that made the restaurant famous, Forrest Gump.

I will say, they’ve gone to town on the décor! They’ve included all they can ‘Forrest Gump’ inside, even down to the ‘newspaper’ food gets served in.  Tacky? Most certainly, but in a way that adds to the experience inside.  But there’s also a sweet charm about the place as a homage to what is an epic film.

The food unfortunately didn’t live up to the buzzing atmosphere inside. We both ordered the same – ‘Forrest’s Seafood Feast’.  What was a sea of beige on a plate everything was particularly standard, the breaded shrimp (scampi to us Brits), the large battered fish goujons (or small battered fish fillets, depending on if you’re a half full or half empty kinda person), the seafood hush puppies and finally the fries.

The best bit about the meal was the cocktail dipping sauce, it managed to add a good punch of flavour to an otherwise plate of beige.

Meg Ryan Rating: 1.0

 

During our trip, I had planned a bar crawl of dive bars, mostly around Times Square.  But in order to keep an air of civilisation about the crawl I had a planned a dinner stop after bar two at 5 Napkin Burger.

The place itself is a curious one.  It’s part craft ale house, part cocktail bar and part burger joint. They have a great selection of all three. From the menu, we ordered a special, the 1lb burger to share. It was a bigun’ a juicy, but not greasy wedge of meat that had good flavour.  Although we both enjoyed sharing the burger I think we both agree that we would probably have preferred our own burger each to order something more personalised.  The fries were absolutely immense though.  Exceptionally well-seasoned, crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside.

Meg Ryan Rating: 3.5

 

Now, is the only opportunity taken to go to a restaurant during restaurant week. From all available options the Glass House Tavern was selected.  This was going to be a late night meal after a trip to the theatre.  The restaurant itself was dark, as though someone had not changed a few light bulbs in a while.  The bar/restaurant downstairs had a few people occupying it, but I was taken upstairs to an even darker section of the restaurant with just a single other table occupied.  It wasn’t busy.

Starting with the shrimp risotto, it was a rich and creamy risotto well stocked with shrimp and topped with a decent layer of parmesan cheese.  Every mouthful felt opulent and was pure pleasure to eat.  The starter was possibly the nicest of the three courses as we moved onto the pork shank main.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my meat, and this was a good chuck of meat that fell off the bone.  But that was about the best thing about the dish.  It came with a herb Spaetzle – a type of German/Austrian short noodle with tiny cubes of apple. It was odd, mostly as when I’m eating good hunks of meat I enjoy some form of potato, maybe some veg and lashings of sauce or gravy.  This was not that, the meat on the plate was the only source of moisture, and it was moist but it sat on a comparatively dry side. Each mouthful was a pleasant mixture of sweet and savory, a perfect balance, but the dish as a whole didn’t blow my socks off.

Lastly came dessert.  Now in an effort to not copy my girlfriends choices I decided to go rogue on the pud.  Shouldn’t have.  On the face of it, for me it was a solid choice – bread pudding, yes please! White chocolate, ohhhhhh yeah! Bread pudding with white chocolate sauce, errrrmm no. The bread pudding element was reasonable, not like your nan or mum makes, but reasonable all the same. But the combination of the two on a plate should never be seen again, far too sickly.

Meg Ryan Rating: 3.5

 

The final destination for dinner was Dinosaur BBQ.  It was probably the first thing I wanted to go looking for in my search for food.  American’s know how to do BBQ, we’re starting to get a few examples of it over here in the UK, with Bodeans being one.  But we’re way behind on the cook it low and slow food groups.

After a short term searching I quickly found a short list of potentials. Dinosaur was picked because of a number of reasons – it was well situated for the ice hockey scheduled that evening, the menu contained a great selection of BBQ food instead of specialising in one thing in particular.  The menu also had a solid selection of beers that I liked the look of.

Sat on Union Street, it’s a neighbourhood BBQ joint surrounded by run-down buildings.  On the way in we were passed by a couple, with the large lady exclaiming “oh my God I am so full” and I thought to myself “YES!” I am going to look forward to it.

The neighbourhood feel continued inside with a bustling noise of patrons enjoying their food and servers working diligently but happily.

Poutine to start.  A Canadian dish I know, not usually something found on a BBQ menu.  But this was Dinosaur poutine – Hand-cut fries, beef gravy, house pimento cheese, pulled pork, pickled jalapeno, crispy belly cracklings. FUCK ME! Every mouthful was pure joy, in all honesty I could have had a larger portion on its own and call it a main. This dish just had it all, pulled pork, crackling, gravy, heat from the jalapenos, cheese all sat on top a mound of fries.

The starter just elevated my expectation levels for my main.  The combo BBQ of pork belly, St Louis ribs and beef brisket.  I also chose mash and gravy and coleslaw as my sides.  The missus decided I knew what I was talking about so chose the same meal type with the combination of pork belly, St Louis ribs and spicy prawns with sides of mac and cheese and BBQ fried rice. The plan was to share the four sides amongst us, but in all honesty we didn’t get to more than sample them.

The portions were that generous we could not eat all the sides.  But my lord, the meat was so good. The ribs were simply perfection, fantastic flavour, fall off the bone meaty goodness. The brisket was melt-in-your-mouth and I could have cried it was that good. The slightly sticky slices of pork belly were like the cherry on top the meaty, fatty cake.  Fucking Amazing!

Meg Ryan Rating: 5.0

 

Pizza

Pizza gets its own special little mention.

New Yorkers love their pizza, FACT! Well, mainstream media pedalled fact at least!  There are a lot of cheap pizza outlets that allow patrons to quickly grab a slice or 2 on the corner of a lot of streets as well as the bigger, more well-known chains.

It’s also fair to say the missus loves pizza, so much so that there are times I know I would lose in an ultimatum between me and pizza. Although these day’s pizza is a treat for the Blue Nomad household it still the go to option if we’re going to indulge ourselves.

So, with all that in mind, pizza was very much on the agenda as a must have item in our food tour of New York.

After a long day travelling to New York, and after dropping our bags off in our hotel room we needed a little late night pick-me-up and pizza was it.  Littlemore than a hole-in-the-wall fast food pizza was the choice and we found somewhere that sold per the slice for a few bucks (beneath the hotel coincidentally) and we tucked in.

I’m no pizza connoisseur, but it hit the spot at the time. My only gripes are that the base takes real effort in the jaw to chew and we were effectively eating reheated pizza.

But then, our final day, our final meal in New York, specifically chosen by the girlfriend – Bleecker Street Pizza. Sat on an intersection with 6 exits this pizza joint looks wedged into an uncomfortably narrow space to tell everyone where they are. From the outside, you expect to enter the narrow front into an opened restaurant with bustling tables being served by Italian teens in their Bleecker Street uniforms.

The reality is that you step through the narrow front into a narrow counter where to place orders and with 5 small tables to sit at with food if you’re one of the few that decides to eat in.

Known as the place to spot any celeb wanting pizza, the Bleecker Street Pizza is adorned with all the famous faces that enjoy their wares and having won the title ‘Best Pizza in New York’ hopes were high on the taste front.

We wanted a blow out – “one pepperoni pie to eat in please” was the order and some 25-30 minutes later (they were inundated with Super Bowl takeout orders) our freshly made pizza pie was ready to eat.

 

Now, I have no real idea of what makes a good pizza – is it the crust? The tomato sauce? The quality of the ingredients? A mix of all 3? What distinguishes between good tomato sauce over bad, or worse, ordinary? Not a clue! What I do know, is that it was an enjoyable pizza, the girlfriend was really happy with it, so it’s thumbs up all round for Bleecker Street Pizza.

Meg Ryan Rating: 2.0

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