Friday, June 1, 2007

If I can make it there...

I couldn’t see much from the back of the bus; it was dark, and the tinted side-windows made it impossible to determine details from the world outside. My only clear view was about thirty or so feet away out the front windshield, and it was from this small sliver of clarity that I first saw it – the glow of New York City.

As I’d said before, it had been well over a decade since I had been in New York. Last time I was there I wore braces and sucked down Shirley Temples with the ferocity that only a ten year old can.

About thirteen years later things are strikingly different – a bus with friends instead of a car with family and Miller Lite instead of Shirley Temples; yet somehow the excitement was still there, my heart still beating as fast as it was when it entered the city years ago.

I could sit here and write ten pages on the past three days. In fact, on the bus ride home today I wrote a three page outline of all of the things that happened – from the moment we all met up in Chinatown in Washington DC, to the moment I unlocked my apartment back in Arlington and every slice of pizza, beer, and cigarette in between. However, this is a food blog, and while I had some amazing experiences that didn’t include food, most of them did, and I’d like to tell you about them.

Fado – Chinatown, Washington DC

One of the more ironic parts of the weekend is that the most authentic Irish pub that we ate/drank in was in Washington’s Chinatown. Fado, which I believe lies on 7th Street near the Verizon Center doesn’t exactly have the dank, dreary characteristics that I usually associate with a truly Irish pub, but the beer selection and quality fish and chips would provide some validity along with a very filling meal.

Knowing that I had a long bus ride ahead of me, I figured that a good plate of fish and chips would give me the energy to survive the treacherous four and a half hour bus ride to NYC, luckily it did the trick.

43rd Street Pizza – 43rd and 9th, New York City

It was there for us at 2am on Saturday morning when we needed it the most. To be honest, the pizza could have been horrible and I wouldn’t have noticed; luckily it was pretty decent.

They had a good variety of pizza, from pepperoni and jalapeño to various stuffed pies; it was just what the doctor ordered.

Some diner – 9th Ave between 43rd and 44th St, New York City

I can’t believe I don’t remember the name of this place, considering we went twice, and it was the venue for the best single moment of the entire trip (Steve doing a shot of cole slaw) but again, like the pizza place across the street, it did the job. I had a delicious challah French toast for breakfast on Saturday morning and a solid piece of apple pie for a 2am snack on Monday.

The crowd was interesting – it is definitely a cop diner, but it won a place in my heart when Boston Globe columnist and Sports Reporter regular Bob Ryan made an appearance.

Generic Bars– Various Places throughout New York City

I don’t know how many bars we went into throughout the city – probably between fourteen and twenty, and to reiterate a point Joe made throughout the trip, if you’ve seen one NYC bar, you’ve generally seen them all.

Narrow with at least one brick wall, four or five beers on tap, way too loud at night, and too many people shoved in to be even remotely safe.

The one thing worth mentioning about all of these places is that the prices weren’t as outrageous as I expected. Perhaps I built it up too much in my own mind, but I was expecting ten dollar Miller Lite’s. Instead, I found prices quite comparable to Washington DC, which was a welcome surprise (even though DC’s prices are still ridiculously high in many respects), and the service at all of them was decent at worst.

Lombardi’s – 32 Spring Street (Corner of Mott and Spring) – Little Italy, NYC

This is one of the major reasons I decided I wanted to come to NYC last weekend. I love pizza, and I felt that I was shortchanging myself by not have ever gone to the mother of all pizza joints.

Opened in 1905, Lombardi’s still uses an old coal fire oven to cook their pies, and the quality that made them famous still resides on Spring Street. The place was packed (very similar to 2 Amy’s on a given night) and we had to wait a half hour to be seated, yet the wait was well worth it.

Lombardi’s has two base pies – a standard margarita pie, and a clam pie. We got one of both. The margarita was fantastic – everything was incredibly fresh and well cooked. To be honest though, I still think 2 Amy’s is better (which really says something about 2 Amy’s)

The clam was something else all together – served with a whole lemon for flavor, I could eat one of these every day, and in addition to gaining several dozen pounds, I would be the happiest man on the face of the earth.

If I ever had to move to New York for some reason, I would find an apartment as close as possible to Mott and Spring – and they’d have to roll me out of the city.

Katz’s Deli – 205 East Houston Street – Lower East Side, NYC

Katz is to the Deli what Lombardi’s is to pizza – in the beginning there it was, and it was grand, and every deli that has come after must live up to its standard.

The question is though; would it live up to its own standard? The answer is sadly, no. The atmosphere is chaotic at best, and the prices are simply outrageous: $14 for a Rubin, $13 for a pastrami sandwich – and these aren’t the monsters of Carnegie either, these are fairly normal sized sandwiches.

Now they’re not bad, in fact they’re quite good. The corned beef and pastrami I had were the best of each meat I’ve ever had. But the Rubin I tried was on bread that was too thick and not toasted, and the sauerkraut was almost nonexistent.

I myself bought a hotdog which was fairly pedestrian, and not quite as good as the free hotdog I got at Rudy’s, a wonderful little bar in Hell’s Kitchen.

I’m sure it’s a fine deli, and in fact, I’d go there again if I lived in New York – but I wouldn’t go out of my way next time I visit to plop another six bucks down for a soda and hotdog.

The Grey Dog’s Coffee – 33 Carmine St. – Lower West Side, NYC

I probably will never get the opportunity to go back to Northampton, but it’s good to know that there are places in the world that can pretty closely replicate the experience without having to travel to the middle of Massachusetts.

The Grey Dog’s Coffee is a wonderful little coffee house that reminds me a lot of Woodstar – a large selection of coffee (which I don’t drink), which an incredible list of sandwiches and salads.

Looking at the menu before hand, I knew what I wanted before I got on the bus for the city - Proscuitto Press with Fresh Mozzarella, Roasted Tomato, Oil & Vinegar. How can you go wrong with that? The answer is – you can’t. One of the best sandwiches I’ve ever had, there was more proscuitto on that sandwich than I’ve ever had in my life. The mozzarella was incredibly fresh and the balsamic vinegar fantastically sweet.

The Grey Dog will be opening up a second location in NYC in a few weeks, and it’s easy to see why. With a sandwich like that, I can only hope they’ll be looking towards DC for their third branch.

That may not have been every little piece of food that we ate on the trip, but I hope that gives you a good idea of what eating and drinking your way through New York City is like. There were some busts, and there were some absolute successes, but the latter outweighed the former enough for me to warrant another trip some time soon, and another round of eating that’ll come with it.

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