New year, New York! Actually, this trip was from last September, but as I am a procrastinator extraordinaire, I just now got around to compiling all my notes into an article – however it turned out to be so much content that I decided to break it down into a three-part series. Kiran and I went to visit my friend Matt in NYC, and naturally food was a big part of the trip – luckily for us, Matt had lived there for several months already and had a number of stellar recommendations for places to try.
Writing a full review about each of the places that I ate at would take an eternity, so I’ll try to keep things in bite-sized pieces! This first article covers all the classic American food joints that I had the joy of sampling – burgers, hot dogs, pizza, pastrami – all the greasy goodness that you could hope for, and more!
The Smith – My first dinner in NYC was at a place in the east village called The Smith – classic American food in a trendy setting. It seemed pretty busy for 9:30PM (though I would soon learn that this is the norm in NYC) but we were still able to grab a seat reasonably quickly. The short ribs were the fattest that I’d ever seen and were absolutely delicious – though unfortunately I only got a taste because Matt had ordered that (I had the “sticky ribs” – St. Louis style – which were pretty good but not mindblowing). The grits here are like eating pure butter with a bit of cornmeal thrown in (a bit rich for my taste), but the biscuit was really quite good (and I don’t even like biscuits normally). The waiter had no idea how to describe the Rare Vos beer that I ordered though – at least he could have told me that it was from Belgium!
[Sorry no pics! As if this page wasn’t long enough already…]
Luke’s Lobster – There’s not many times that I would be willing to put down 16 hard-earned bones for a sandwich the size of a hot dog, but the lobster roll from Luke’s convinced me to do it – twice! Even though they’re expensive as fuck, they are goddamn delicious – they pretty much fit an entire lobster’s worth of meat (though there’s no tail meat – so multiple lobsters worth of claws) into the nicely toasted bun. This place also introduced me to the wonders of pairing pickles with crab claws, as well as the sweet sweet taste of sarsaparilla (one of many Maine root sodas that they offer). Their Lower East Side location has a punk rock/maritime thing going for it, though they also have a food truck kicking around NYC that I saw but didn’t have adequate stomach space to try. Highly Recommend! (if you aren’t a dirt-poor student, a vegetarian, allergic to shellfish, or for some godforsaken reason someone who dislikes lobster)
Park – Just off the highline in the fashionable Chelsea district, this spacious place has a classy lounge atmosphere from eras gone by (except filled with hipsters). The Old Fashioned that I got at the bar wasn’t the greatest nor the cheapest, but helped kill the time while we waited for an actual seat (it seemed to be pretty understaffed, given that it seemed like 1/5 of the tables were empty yet it still took us 20 minutes to get a table). I greatly appreciated the fact that their free bread was banana bread, but wasn’t a huge fan of the degassed water that they had as the table water. I ordered some brisket and eggs, which wasn’t too bad and reminded me of Chinese-style anise-heavy braised brisket. The smoked salmon on bagels was really solid as well – perfect proportion of toppings (capers, arugula, cream cheese, onions) and the bagel itself was nicely toasted. I had a bite of Matt’s burger and was instantly converted to being a proponent of medium-rare burgers.
Papaya King – Apparently papaya joints are a big thing in NYC, with joints like Grey’s Papaya featuring in several shows. Papaya King claims to have started it all, and Kent said it was a must visit – so visit I did! Can’t say I’m the biggest fan – the papaya juice was pretty good, except for the tasteless, pasty dregs at the bottom, and the hot dogs were among the worst that I’ve ever had. I honestly think that I might have preferred the free cook-your-own hotdogs that you can get at paintball over these. The onions were in some kind of bizarre red sauce and the buns were “toasted” to the point of dryness. I quite liked the various motivational signs, nutritional information and propaganda that they had inside though.
Shake Shack – Can you get more American than burgers, fries and milkshakes? Shake Shack was one of the places that I received recommendations for from multiple people, and for good reason! We went to the original one in Madison Square Park, and while the 55+ person lineup looked a little concerning it moved at a pretty good pace (took about 30 minutes from entering the line to receiving our food). Worth it? HELLS YES. The meat is absolutely amazing – done a tender, juicy medium – though the buns are only alright. The ripple-cut fries were pretty solid too, with just the right crispiness – and though the shakes are rather pricey the creamsicle one is rather delicious. I’m not sure if it tasted so good because we had to wait so long for it, but if so maybe this is party of their strategy! Highly Recommend!
Katz’s Deli – Another one of those famous places where lineups are de rigueur – they got lots of neon signs and a strange “one per person only!” ticket ordering system for all your kitschy needs. When you look at their menu, you might think “$20 for a sandwich and a soda? You gotta be kiddin’ me!” But you should probably plan to split it or come with an athlete’s appetite, because the pastrami sandwich here comes loaded with what seems like a solid pound of succulent meat. Smooth, moist, thick-cut and perfectly salted – THIS is pastrami! Plus they give you an entire cucumber AND and entire pickle (quartered, of course) – so all in all it even turns out to be pretty decent value!
Crif Dogs – Brooklyn’s answer to Tubby Dog? Ok, I guess they’ve been open for longer than Tubby Dog, but sorry dudes this is one where I think YYC does it better. Not to say Tubby Dog is some sort of gourmet joint, but when it comes to the toppings Crif Dogs looks somewhat tame in comparison. We went to the Crif Dogs in Williamsburg (not sure if they’re all the same), which was all hip-hop and hot dogs (well plus the dozens of Star Wars figurines for which I must give major kudos) – seemed cool enough, but unfortunately the hot dogs are NYC style (read: tiny sausages). I ordered the BLT dog, which wasn’t bad but wasn’t anything special – basically, it was exactly what it sounds like, a hot dog with bacon, lettuce, tomato and mayo. The late 80’s/early 90’s videos that they were showing on their TV were kind of cute though.
Grimaldi’s Pizzeria – Unlike Kiran, I enjoy doing super-touristy things, so I dragged Matt along to check out this famous symbol of NY-style pizza. There was a pretty healthy-looking lineup when we arrived, but fortunately we cruised through in around 35 minutes – not too bad since I’ve heard people will often wait over an hour to get a seat. They really play up their Italian background here, with a seriously Sicilian-looking doorman and the motto “I’m gonna make you a pizza you can’t refuse.” As for the pizza – yep, it’s pretty damn good. Piping hot, delectable cheese and great crust – the only downside is the somewhat steep price. We ordered 2 toppings for each half of the pizza, though they charge you the same price for each topping whether it’s for the whole pizza or half, so the toppings cost almost as much as the base price of the pizza itself. Fortunately, they are reasonably generous with the toppings so perhaps they give you the same amount of toppings either way and just concentrate it on half of the pizza. Unfortunately, I didn’t get the chance to compare this to other coal-fired institutions such as Lombardi’s or Patsy’s, but regardless I’ll give Grimaldi’s a thumbs up (as long as you don’t mind tourists).
Whew! That’s it for this episode – tune in next week for part 2: Asian Invasion!