Tag Archives: Diners

Every week, I document another dish that impressed and satiated me during my food adventures around New York City

JOE JR. RESTAURANT, 167 Third Avenue (at 16th Street), Gramercy

Most people will be surprised that the city’s best burger might just be hiding at the counter of an ordinary looking old diner in the middle of well-to-do Gramercy.

But that’s where it is. Forget your Shake Shacks or your Burger Joints or your fancy Minetta Tavern. Sure, you can get a good burger at any of those places. And if they’re willing to fight the crowds, I even recommend those spots for some people I meet on my tours.

But now that I have finally tried the respected but under-hyped burger at Joe Junior, I will direct my recommendations over to Third Avenue.

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My search for the best cheesecake in New York continues….

JUNIOR'S, 386 Flatbush Avenue Extension (at Dekalb Avenue), Downtown Brooklyn

I could have chosen many NY-centric dishes for my next food journey, but I quickly decided on the classic cheesecake. And it’s not because I wanted to put on some weight for the summer. No, it’s really because I had never been to Junior’s and if I didn’t go soon, I might never have the chance.

News broke earlier this year that the downtown Brooklyn building that houses the 64-year old institution has been sold. That means in the coming months, Junior’s will close (or move elsewhere) and some high-end clothing store or fast food chain will probably take its place.

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Category: Cheesecake

I bring my sense of food adventure with me on the road, searching for the most authentic, iconic, and delicious dishes of a different region…

Indecisive in Rhode Island

For such a tiny little state (the tiniest, actually), I was amazed at how many local dishes I found in Rhode Island. There were so many different iconic foods that I really only got to taste one version of each on my long weekend between Providence and Newport.

What I have always loved about Rhode Island is how varied such a tiny state is – you have urban cities, you have artsy college towns, you have beautiful harbors, you have thriving farmland, you really have it all. And you have some really amazing food – both highbrow and lowbrow.

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Category: Travel

Once again Time Out New York released their Top 100 Dishes of the year and once again, I’m going to eat my way through every one. And no price point or subway delay will stop me. In no particular order, here’s my take on their Top 100.

The latest cuisine to descend on the hipsters of the New York food scene is Canadian food. Who’d have seen that coming?

In addition to one of my favorite new spots, Mile End, another Quebecois-style breakfast spot recently opened. M. Wells is in an old-school diner in the warehouse heavy neighborhood of Long Island City, Queens. I’ve been reading about this place for a while, but they’re currently only open for breakfast and brunch and it’s rare that I get out of the house much before noon. So I’m thankful it found its way onto Time Out’s list (although some regulars who had to wait longer than usual were not as thankful). The list finally motivated me to get up and go get some breakfast.

Everything sounded so good and all the other NY publications raved about something different (the burger, the meat pies, the tortilla). We sort of ignored them all (except Time Out) and went with the waiter’s suggestion of the gravlax. We also had a side of maple ploye (which are like a hybrid of crepes and pancakes).

It was a nice balanced breakfast (in flavor, not in nutrition). The buckwheat ploye were sticky and sweet and it was a great way to sample a little pancake-flavor without overdoing it. The gravlax was amazing! It’s cured in house and paired with crunchy sunchokes, earthy fennel, and some spiced up with some horseradish sauce. It was light and full of flavor.

But we can’t forget the thing that brought use here in the first place. The star of the show: the egg-sausage sandwich. There was a similar sandwich on last year’s list from Bark Hot Dogs, but M. Wells’ take on it is just outrageous.

The eggs are fluffed up in a microwave and then finished on the griddle. It’s sandwiched between a fresh and buttery housemade English muffin along with a gigantic homemade sage sausage patty (it’s practically a pork burger!), smoked Vermont cheddar cheese (one of the few things not made in the restaurant), tomatoes, a layer of mayonnaise (you guessed it – homemade), and pickled jalapeños. Whew!

The sandwich was really good.  My only problem was that all the flavors were so bold and rich that it almost got to be too much. Yet I just couldn’t stop eating it. I also wish I got a bit more of the jalapeños. I sensed a briny spice in one particular bite which got my heart racing. But then I couldn’t seem to find that experience again. Imagine that – the jalapeño flavor got overwhelmed! This is not your typical diner egg sandwich.

But, of course, M. Wells is not your typical diner. Other things on the menu include foie gras, bone marrow, and escargots. And everything I tasted was pretty darn delicious. I can’t wait to get back and work my way down their constantly changing menu. If this is the way they do things in Canada, I may look into immigrating.

Would M. Wells’ Egg Sausage Sandwich make my Top 100 of the year? Most likely. It’s a great portion in a great new diner with great familiar and new flavors all together at once. It gets a 9 out of 10.

M. WELLS
21-17 49th Avenue (at 21st Street)
Long Island City, Queens
(718) 425-6917
mwellsdiner.com

If Time Out New York can do it, so can I. I’ve been inspired and satiated by Time Out’s 2009 Top 100 list and look forward to conquering their 2010 list very soon. But from now until the end of the year, I present my own Top 100 Dishes of the year in reverse order. Look for another five dishes every few days.

45. CHOPPED LIVER at SAMMY’S ROUMANIAN STEAK HOUSE

I remember (as every good Jewish boy does) growing up having chopped liver out on the table with the veggies and potato chips at family gatherings. Now ours was most likely store bought (sorry Mom!) and I remember eating it on some Ritz crackers. And although I had difficulty stomaching that metallic, livery flavor, I was hungry (dinner was still cooking) and it was there, so I ate it.

If it wasn’t for Time Out’s list, I probably wouldn’t have tried the chopped liver at Sammy’s Roumanian, a New York institution, with live music, dancing and rich Jewish food. It’s like a Long Island Bar Mitzvah in the ’70’s. Seriously!

I may have been converted because that chopped liver was creamy and rich and didn’t have that overwhelming metallic bite. Maybe it was the schmaltz (chicken fat) that balanced the flavors. It was crunchy from the fried radishes and onions and it worked so well on the warm bread. I’m not sure if it’s because my palate has matured or because Sammy’s knows how to sweeten a previously daunting dish, but I loved this stuff. Not that I really need to find a reason to eat it – it’s not like these are lima beans. Price: $19.95

SAMMY’S ROUMANIAN STEAK HOUSE
157 Chrystie Street (between Delancey and Rivington Street)
Lower East Side
(212) 673-0330

44. OYSTER PAN ROAST at GRAND CENTRAL OYSTER BAR

There are just a handful of restaurant and bars left that are authentically old school New York. Sure, we have tons of speakeasies and old fashioned public houses, but most of them are recent spots that are a throwback to an older, more glamorous time.

The 21 Club, Katz’s, McSorley’s, and of course, the Grand Central Oyster Bar all feel like a thing of the past because they truly are. Except they are still here and thankfully don’t seem to be going anywhere.

When you walk into the Oyster Bar, located on the lower level of the beautiful Grand Central Terminal, you’re transported to a time of high vaulted ceilings, lunch counters, and tucked away lounges.

The famous oyster pan roast is as classic as dishes get. And it still amazes me how simply delicious it is. It’s a rich bisque of freshly shucked oysters in a gutbomb stew of cream, tomato, spices, and a soon to be dunked slice of bread. It’s buttery, creamy, and slightly spicy. I think the sharpness of the briny oysters (which have a wonderful half cooked consistency) gives the whole thing a bite that is unexpected but as pleasurable as sharp cheese.

The room opened along with Grand Central itself in 1913 (the oyster pan roast recipe dates even further back). But fortunately for us, the oysters are not as old as the room. And while the dishes remain classic, they still are surprising and can compete with all the modern fancy, over-priced small plates on any retro speakeasy’s menu. Price: $11.95

GRAND CENTRAL OYSTER BAR
89 East 42nd Street (between Vanderbilt Avenue and Park Avenue)
Inside Grand Central Station
Midtown East
(212) 490-6650
oysterbarny.com

43. CORNED BEEF/PASTRAMI COMBO at KATZ’S DELICATESSEN

Katz’s is the oldest delicatessen in the city (dating from 1888) and it just reeks of New York history (and cured meat). It’s a must-stop for any visiting friends or family members and I’m always eager to take them there.

I predictably crowned it the best corned beef/pastrami sandwich in the city on my official journey this past year. And anybody who’s been there can understand why. Ordering a sandwich at Katz’s is more than just lunch, it’s an entire show. First the waiting in line with your ticket, then the excitement of watching the carvers slice up the meat, and finally basking in the comfort of the perfect deli sandwich.

It’s not too big, but big enough so that if you’re disciplined, you might have leftovers. The corned beef is tender, salty, and hearty. The pastrami also falls apart and has a deeper spice and smoke flavor than most of the other big delis in the city. Even when I don’t order it extra lean, I find the fat is cut just perfectly and the marbling runs deep enough to add lots of flavor but not overwhelm you with grease.

It’s the most exciting corned beef/pastrami combo in the city. Trust me, I’ve done the research. Price: $15.90

KATZ’S DELICATESSEN
205 East Houston Street (at Ludlow Street)
Lower East Side
(212) 254-2246
katzdeli.com

42. MATZOH BALL SOUP at CAFE EDISON

I’m just not a fan of diners. Although I think most of my family would choose to eat at one every day, if possible. Other than a craving for a grilled cheese sandwich or an omlette, I’d never choose to go to a diner over a proper restaurant. Unless it was Cafe Edison.

I first learned about this old-school hotel cafe (it’s inside Hotel Edison) in the middle of Times Square when I saw Neil Simon’s Broadway flop 45 Seconds to Broadway. The play was rather forgettable, but it was all about this magical diner where Broadway legends hung out, wrote plays, did deals, and ate Russian comfort food. Shortly thereafter I learned this place actually existed and it has since become my Times Square breakfast spot (if I’m ever up early enough) or cheap lunch destination when running late for the theater.

Or my place to stop to get a quick bowl of matzoh ball soup. It practically arrives before I order it and the broth is usually spilling out of the bowl. One gigantic matzoh ball is fluffy and filling with lots of dill flavor. The hot chicken broth is rich and comforting, bursting with seasonings and aromas. The noodles are soft and fatty. And the best part is that you also get chunks of dark chicken meat floating around.

I come here when it’s cold out, when it’s warm out, when I’m sick, when I’m healthy, basically whenever I’m hungry for a little taste of home comfort. Price: $3.95

CAFE EDISON
228 West 47th Street (between Seventh and Eighth Avenue)
Theater District
(212) 840-5000

41. PIZZA at DI FARA

After my official search for the best pizza in NY, people always ask me what I discovered. And while it’s hard to crown a best (it depends what you like), I always mention Di Fara as my favorite pizza experience.

Dom DeMarco is a legend in the pizza world and he’s been making all the pies at his little take-out joint DiFara in Midwood, Brooklyn for over 40 years. The experience of taking the Q train all the way out to Midwood, waiting to order your pizza, and watching Dom take his sweet time in composing the beast is all part of the fun. And I haven’t even gotten to the best part: tasting the damn thing.

The pies are a bit more expensive than most New York pizzerias, but it’s so worth it. De Marco uses three different types of mozzarella, fresh parmesan, sweet homemade tomato sauce, and snips fresh basil. The pizza is miraculously cooked in a gas oven, but still gets an incredibly complex char and crust.

It’s the perfect combination of ingredients to make what is definitely one of the best pizzas in New York. Price: $5 (slice), $25 (pie)

DI FARA
1424 Avenue J (between East 14th and East 15th Street)
Midwood, Brooklyn
(718) 258-1367
difara.com

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