Skip to content

Williamsburg’s Most Eaten a.k.a. Goodbye To All That (Food)

In some ways I marvel at the kinds of people who remain friends with their exes. Either they’re highly evolved and easygoing or in denial and out of touch with their emotions. I take the opposite stance on most things including former neighborhoods where neat, tidy breaks also feel preferable. Even if it’s not on purpose, once I move, I’m gone.

I loathed Carroll Gardens and environs, a.k.a. food writer central, irrationally for probably seven of the eight years I spent there. I have not returned even once in the past two years despite curiosity about Dover, Take Root and the revamped Long Island Bar. Hometown BBQ doesn’t count, right?

Sunset Park has also failed to draw me back, I did dabble a bit in Clinton Hill, I’ll admit, and it was only this year, 14 years after I left, that I began softening on Ridgewood. Williamsburg? We’ll have to see.

My past year and a half in Williamsburg was just a blip, always meant to be temporary, and for all its ills I don’t hate it (as long as I stay on my side–the right side–of Metropolitan Ave.). I’m not saying I will miss it when I move this week, but it’s doubtful I’ll turn my back on it altogether (especially considering that a majority of my friends still live in North Brooklyn–at least until I can convince them to migrate to Queens). It’s a pretty good eating neighborhood. Here are some of my favorites.

qi thai grill spicy beef tendon salad

If someone ever hacked into my Seamless account, they would incorrectly assume I was a Qi Thai Grill fanatic since the duck salad is my most common Times Square office lunch order and the Brooklyn branch is occasionally responsible for my dinner. I never eat in; the glitz is weird. The food, if chosen carefully, is real, though: tendon salads, crazy spicy pork stir-fries, khao soi, and even those non-traditional Ovaltine ribs.

pasar malam nasi lemak

Pasar Malam also filled a void. I never thought I’d live to see the day when I could get laksa and rojak brought to my door. Good Malaysian food in this neighborhood makes no sense at all, but why question it?

Zizi limona chicken liver

I don’t go to Zizi Limona as often as I should even though I often have the urge for the pita stuffed full of kofta, charred vegetables and equally charcoal-ly black babaganoush. The food is creative, kind of Israeli, and Macedonian house wines are only $5 a glass. When someone asks for a restaurant recommendation in the neighborhood, this is often my suggestion but people see hummus on the menu and blow it off as run of the mill Middle Eastern. Don’t do that.

maison premiere oysters

Cheap oysters are a dime (or should I say a dollar?) a dozen in these parts–St. Mazie, Miller’s Tavern, Extra Fancy and Desnuda are all within 3 blocks of my apt. It’s Maison Premiere that wins, though, despite the rigmarole. The selection (roughly 18 varieties) and cocktails are incomparable.

saltie balmy

Because I tend to avoid overt bread (yet absorb carbs in a zillion other forms) I rarely eat sandwiches. You just can’t follow that thoughtless rule for life as long as Saltie exists, though. Whether the hearty, meatless Scuttlebutt or pate-rich Balmy, these are the focaccia-bound sandwiches to make allowances for even if it makes you want to take a nap when you still have work to get done.

peter luger cheeseburger

For burgers, Peter Luger is the master. Everyone must go at least once for lunch.

blue collar burger

Blue Collar, on the other hand, is a fine In-n-Out approximation but the mildly hostile counter service (even after using Seamless pickup to minimize interaction) is always off-putting. No matter how I articulate that I ordered online, I’m looked at like I’m simple-minded and met with an exasperated “What?” All I wanted was a double cheeseburger one evening, and ended up with someone else’s order of a single, fries, plus two hot dogs, which threw me into a rage. I hate hot dogs, which I realize makes me an un-American monster and was reinforced by social media reactions. I haven’t been back since.

pies n thighs fried chicken

Yes, the fried chicken at Pies ‘n’ Thighs is really that good. The pies aren’t so shabby either.

Then again, the fried chicken at The Commodore is pretty amazing too. Same pedigree. The nachos are also textbook awesome nachos. It fills me with deep shame to say that I’ve never had the cheeseburger.

motorino lunch special

I was on a Forcella bender, but then Motorino bounced back–and with a $12 pizza and a salad lunch special. Both have merits. Hmm, did everyone know there was a Motorino in the Philippines? Hong Kong, sure, but this is news to me. The menu looks exactly the same, with the addition of San Miguel beer.

best pizza

For slices, Best Pizza is kind of, yes, the best. The lemon zesty, sesame seeded white pizza covered in caramelized onions rules. This Seamless review always makes me laugh.

mable's ribs

BBQ-wise, BrisketTown probably gets the most attention, and rightly so. Mable’s (pictured) doesn’t elicit as much chatter, but it’s also respectable, refreshingly unpretentious and never painfully crowded.

First ever rajas hash

First ever rajas hash

Possibly the last ever rajas hash.

Possibly the last ever rajas hash. (First iPhone 6 food photo, however.)

Sometimes–often, in fact–it’s not about the food. The chilly January afternoon I was solo apartment-hunting for the first time in 13 years, I ended up on the next block at Taco Chulo having a mid-week brunch of rajas thick with melted cheese and chorizo grease. Neither Tex-Mex exactly nor Mexican, this heftiness is the definition of comfort food. And then at the bequest of a non-food-lover friend, I’ve ended up at Taco Chulo nearly every weekend since for sometimes the rajas hash, sometimes the queso benedict, occasionally the smothered burrito and at least one $6 double mimosa. Sometimes the playlist is horrible dad music, sometimes the Pastels and Exploding Hearts make me believe my dead iPod has been revived. There are no lines, it’s never crowded and will no doubt eventually fade away and be quietly mourned as a member of Old Williamsburg when it’s staunchly second wave.

late night san loco

San Loco is truly bottom of the barrel, but if you’re drunk and lazy enough to consider delivery at 2:45am, they come through–and quickly. It’s good to know they are there with nachos and quesadillas in desperate times.

elm

Notable, but not most eaten: Xixa, Onomea, The Elm, Bamonte’s, St. Anselm (I had a fantasy that I’d regularly dine at the bar but never got over my solo dining phobia). I feel like Diner belongs here too, but if I were being honest I’d have to admit that I haven’t been once during this stint. I’d go in a heartbeat, though, if anyone was game.

The ones that got away: Meadowsweet, Gwynett St turned Lachlan, non-brunch Hudson and Delaware, The Commodore’s burger, Meat Hook Sandwich, Reynard, Shalom Japan, Traif. I never once ate at Smorgasburg and regret it not a whit.

R.I.P. Dumont and White Castle.

 

 

The Week in International Intrigue: Bakeries, Breadsticks, Boerewors

The occasional Johnny Rockets popping up in Central America or Auntie Anne’s creeping into Eastern Europe isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, I realize. Recently, though, there’s been a bonanza of international intrigue that can’t go un-aggregated.

Japan is about more than just novelty burgers. Come on, Japanese also appreciate novelty pastries. Dominique Ansel will be opening a bakery in Tokyo next year and it’s hard to imagine Cronuts not coming along for the ride.

The West Coast will also be representing, in the form of a Tokyo outpost for Bar Tartine next spring. The novelty factor is still unknown, but the baked goods will incorporate local ingredients.

Despite Dubai’s fondness for all of America’s biggest brands, the lack of Olive Garden has always seemed like a glaring omission to me. Never mind all of the controversy at home–unsalted pasta water, wasted breadsticks that taste like hot dog buns, limp asparagus–and the countless resulting think pieces. Our middle class may be dead. The Emirates don’t really need one to enjoy a Tour of Italy. I am slightly concerned that the Gulf News’ attempt at Marilyn Hagerty-ing praised the “American-style chicken fingers” and unlimited soup, but made no mention of the breadsticks.

Pizza Hut is taking a second chance on South Africa, with the rest of the African continent in Yum! Brands’ sights.  Peri-peri sauce and boerewors (a beef-heavy sausage) will be local concessions. Biltong? Who knows, though I did just discover that NYC is home to more than one artisanal biltong maker. And yes, one has Brooklyn in its name.

Denny’s Manhattan

twoshovelNearly four years ago Denny’s rebranded itself as America’s Diner. That might ring false in parts of the country teeming with chrome, Formica, and counter stools, and I thought the tagline was a little silly at first. Growing up, though, the Denny’s across the street from my high school’s football field, did serve a diner-like function since it was one of the few places where you could kill time with friends drinking mug after mug of coffee, chain smoking (the cigarette machine in the lobby practically encouraged it) and ordering the occasional Super Bird, if you had the kind of uptight parents who wouldn’t let you go clubbing or hang out downtown after sunset.

Nobody would argue that New York needs a chain diner. It doesn’t. But at least from the outside, the city’s first Denny’s is fairly understated, housed on the ground floor of a landmarked stone building facing City Hall. Maybe it was the scaffolding obscuring the signage, which I don’t even recall being gold and red, but I wouldn’t think twice if I walked past it.

Inside, is another matter. As everyone’s heard by now, this isn’t a suburban Denny’s, no sir. The first thing you notice when walking up the ramp and through the door is the prominent bar featuring plenty of exposed brick and pressed copper ceilings with requisite Edison bulbs sprouting from them. The only thing missing was a chalkboard with an avocado toast special hand-written in a jaunty script. (Even KFC knows what’s up with the scrawls on the wall.) On a Friday afternoon, the bar seats were occupied by middle-aged European tourists drinking margaritas and beer. A young well-dressed man, possibly a Pace student, sat alone with a laptop.

denny's paloma

Keeping with the indie ethos, the cocktail menu is faux letter-pressed and touts a drink called The Fixed Gear. A $10 Manhattan, here the Lower Manhattan (meaning the addition of Cafe Lolita coffee liqueur), is a pretty good deal even if you’re brought a margarita first. (Service is wildly friendly, though still a little shaky in execution. If you want to rat them out–I did not–more than one manager will likely check in on you.) Palomas are better suited for day drinking anyway, if not a little gross with eggs.

The food menu is pure Denny’s, laminated with specials also encased in syrup-resistant plastic tucked inside. My old standby turkey club now has a cosmopolitan spin-off The Tuscan Super Bird that includes spinach and sun-dried tomato mayonnaise just like they do in Florence. They’ve also rebooted the Moons Over My Hammy and made it Baja (yes, that would be avocado).

denny's belgian slam

In comparison, my Belgian Waffle Slam, two eggs, said waffle and four pieces of bacon (even two breakfast sausage links is two too many for me) felt demure. There’s no arguing that this is diner fare and as good a rendition as any. You can also have Tabasco and Cholula.

The lower Manhattan Denny’s won’t be an aberration for long (it’s also not the chain’s first attempt at being on trend–let’s not forget Baconalia) as it’s just the beginning of a number of planned locations. Downtown Brooklyn and Harlem branches will supposedly be themed to fit the neighborhoods, whatever that means exactly, yet it will be areas that consider Denny’s gentrifying not cheapening receiving the chain first: East New York is already listed on the website and the building that will house a Jackson Heights branch is under construction. The odds of Dom Perignon popping alongside pancakes are likely slim to none.

Denny’s * 150 Nassau St. New York, NY

Localized: McDonald’s Italia McChicken

Like 9/11, the possibly goth (heshers get the black Indonesian chicken) Japanese Burger King “Kuro Burger” is something nearly everyone feels the need to weigh in on. I’ll say nothing on either subject except that it’s very sad that there’s a world out there where black cheese is considered palatable for the masses while Wendy’s slapping a slice of smoked gouda on brioche is intended to be upscale. (The last time I thought smoked gouda was classy was back in the early ’90s when I’d get my dad to drive me to Costco for big yellow cylinders of the stuff.)

Anyway, an entire Tumblr could be devoted to cataloging fast food quirks in Asia. It would be an exhausting endeavor (I tried once and gave up, as I’m wont to do). Our European and Latin American counterparts don’t generally go so wild, instead opting for more logical localization and more demure limited time offers.

In addition to serving pasta salads, snacky wedges of wrapped parmesan, and pizzarotto, tomato sauce and mozzarella-stuffed turnovers that we’d call calzones, McDonald’s Italia thinks McChicken is the new black, so there.

Italian blogger Homo de Panza only gives the curry version a 6 out of 10, but gets points from me for using palate correctly (of course, palate and palette are not homophones in Italian) or as Google Translate said, “The proof of the palate, however, has upset the cards.”

Wild News

Some very important Middlesex, New Jersey chain restaurant intel has come to light . The combo Bonefish Grill/Cheeseburger in Paradise on Route 1 that has been Cheeseburger in Paradise-less since being bought by Luby’s in December 2012 finally has a new tenant. Only eight CIP branches survive in the U.S., some transformed into Fuddrucker’s.

Not so, in Woodbridge* where a Buffalo Wild Wings opened today at 11am. The first 100 people in line, starting at 10pm last night, received free wings for a year. And yes, even in the suburbs, people–or at least teenaged boys–will line up for food.

*It’s also possible to get pedantic about non-NYC neighborhood names–or in this case, townships. The Bonefish Grill housed in the same structure considers itself to be in Iselin, and as an outside observer I always assumed it was Route 1 that split Iselin from Woodbridge. Claiming to be in Woodbridge is yet another bold move by Buffalo Wild Wings.

Surprise, Surprise

Not so long ago, The New York Times ran an article with the subhead “10 of New York City’s Most Surprising Wine Lists.” I mean, I guess. Are we surprised by Má Pêche or Roberta’s?

I’m that person who orders a bottle of wine at Bonefish Grill, so obviously I prefer The Wall Street Journal’s “The Pleasant Surprise of Chain-Restaurant Wines,” which ran the day after. So much wine surprise for one week. Included was an odd mix of restaurants, heavy on steakhouses, with P.F. Chang’s thrown in. It really could’ve used a little Seasons 52.

The overall takeaway wasn’t so positive, despite the promising title. Fleming’s list was overpriced, Morton’s was boring and overpriced, Legal Sea Foods poured the wrong year, and the server at the White Plains P.F. Chang’s had never opened a bottle of wine before, including the 2010 Renato Ratti Ochetti Nebbiolo D’Alba that was supposed to be a 2011.

This isn’t the first time a legit, i.e. non-bloggy, publication tackled this topic. In 2011 Food & Wine did a round-up with many of the same characters–and the surprise addition of Olive Garden.

And now I’m having the strangest urge for Chateau Ste. Michelle Riesling.

 

 

 

The Middle Ages: The Flat

When: Friday, 8:08pm

I blindly took a seat at the bar while a friend’s band set up and happened to sit next to the only other woman by herself who looked mature. She was probably 37 because whenever I think someone is my age they turn out to be 37. “I never go out,” she told me, having made the trek from Bed-Stuy. She and her boyfriend, who wasn’t there, don’t really drink. The friend she was waiting for was lost on her way from the East Village and didn’t arrive until after the music started. It was loud; they moved to the back. The friend looked more like 47, though it may have been the fault of her short, sensible haircut that signaled mom hair, but mom hair from the ’80s.

I wondered if I had mom hair, decided I might, then ordered another Sixpoint.

Being oblivious to your looks also made me think of a Middle Ages sub-genre: grandmas at the club. I’ve not experienced this insult (maybe that’s the difference between Atlanta and Brooklyn) though when I saw The Fresh & Onlys at Glasslands last month I made a point of surveying the scene, and not only were there definitely not any women over 40, there were barely any women not in the company of men (most who just use shows as an excuse to rub their dates’ backs sensually in public).

Age appropriate? Sort of. I mean, no one’s going to call you a grandma.

Top 5 Food-Related Sanrio Characters

The news that Hello Kitty isn’t actually a cat hit the world pretty hard. Frankly, it’s made me question my lifelong relationship with Sanrio (which can never be severed tidily since I have a small, two-decade-old, blurring non-cat inked on my upper arm). Ignoring problems and focusing on something else instead is always a great way to deal with them.

Let’s look at Sanrio’s best food-related characters, which may or may not actually be food.

strawberry king

5. Strawberry King

Ok, this boy (?) with a strawberry on his head isn’t top five objectively. However, props must be given because this is old-school Sanrio circa 1975 and likely the brand’s first food character. The genre had not been perfected yet.

yutakun_g

4. Yutakun

The ’80s were a strange time. I couldn’t decide between this watermelon chomper or this plate of eggs and indeterminate vegetables called Party a la Cart. Either way, party on.

Sanrio Wiki

3. Dokidoki Yummychums

This whole collection wins at Sanrio-ness. Dokidoki Burger is the ringleader, as anthropomorphic burgers tend to be. There are also some chicken nuggets a.k.a. chums, a shake, a hot dog, and the above girly box of fries. Doikidoki Yummychums might not be high in name recognition, and yet that has not prevented at least one tattoo from appearing in the world.

Sanrio

2. Kirimi

Leave it to the anthropomorphic salmon filet to take top honors in a 2013 Sanrio contest to choose new characters based on Japanese food.

Sanrio

1. Gudetama

It’s hard to believe that a lazy egg with distinct buttocks would only make it to first runner-up in the above mentioned contest, but really it’s kind of brilliant since losing is staying true to the character’s unmotivated persona. Gudetama does not even appear on the American Sanrio site. Luckily, there is an active Twitter account that doesn’t really demand knowledge of the Japanese language to appreciate.

Bonus Gudetama video that will nearly make you forget about the existence of Hello Kitty.

Honorable Mentions:
Boo Gey Woo
Chocopanda
Pom Pom Purin
Cinnamoangels
Tenorikuma
Nyokki & Penne

 

The Best Lazy (Not Quite) End of Summer Friday Afternoon Snack

Everyone’s on vacation and away from their computers, right? I’m not. Fine. So, on the cusp of this who-cares-about-blogs-three-and-a-half-day weekend, I’m going to share a snack. It’s kind of a desperation snack because the only other food in my apartment, minus dried goods and condiments, is a bag of soft celery and carrots with growths sprouting from their tops.

Take a container of Liberté coconut yogurt, which is slightly sweet and pretty rich and dessert-like (it has the same calories as a bag of M&Ms) and add a pinch of salt and another of cayenne, then add maybe four or five roughly chopped cashews. That’s it. There’s a great balance between the sweet and the savory, kind of like you’ve had a meal and dessert in one go.

Photo: Fage

Photo: Fage

Another variation is doing the same with full-fat Fage with the cherry or strawberry jam on the side and substituting almonds for cashews. Use 2% if you must, but please don’t mess with nonfat yogurt. I’m always saddened when I open my office fridge and it’s teeming with 0% dairy products. (I thought the whole reason why ladies glommed onto the Greek yogurt thing was because the higher protein makes it more filling, and fyi you don’t get that effect without some of the fat.) On the upside, no one will ever steal my yogurt.

Happy Labor Day. Go eat some real food, please.

Sizzler Forest Hills

oneshovelSizzler is a tricky beast. I’ve been talking it up all summer (and f.y.i., there’s still more than three weeks left). I am one of its only 48 Instagram followers. I also became debilitatingly sick immediately after eating there. And yet even with a dull headache four days later, I still don’t want to snark on Sizzler.

Photo: Sizzler

Photo: Sizzler

Not only is the Forest Hills location just past the never crowded Trader Joe’s that no one ever talks about the only remaining example of this fading heritage brand in NYC, it’s the only sad reminder of the once mighty chain east of Nebraska (if you don’t count the three in Florida, which I don’t). Somehow, though, the America’s Favorite Flavors promotion explicitly mentions the East Coast, represented by steak and shrimp scampi linguine.

It’s also kind of a fun bus ride if you happen to be in Williamsburg and enjoy seeing long inter-borough thoroughfares shift character from starting point to near-terminus and keeping tabs on the one other rider with even more staying power. For $2.50 the Q54 provides a magical sightseeing tour of many of the city’s super-scarce chains. Sizzler, obviously, but also NYC’s only Chili’s, hidden in Glendale’s upscale and underwhelming Atlas Park Mall, and one of only two Arby’s, plopped in the lot that used to be occupied by Niederstein’s in Middle Village’s cemetery country.

Despite Sizzler searing itself into my consciousness as a child, it’s not a young person’s game. In fact, one member of the crew I convinced to join me had previously been to this exact Sizzler in grade school after her grandmother’s funeral. On this visit I witnessed a septuagenarian’s birthday, as well as waist-high toilet handles, presumably to prevent the need to bend. There are most certainly senior specials, even with the already modestly priced menu.

sizzler spread

I mean, $12.49 for steak and chicken? There was no way I wasn’t going to get the Malibu Chicken. I loved Malibu Chicken so much as a teen that I Todd Wilbur’ed it. My sister and I would allocate part of our $20 weekly grocery budget for frozen, breaded chicken patties, Swiss cheese, packets of Land O’Frost ham and powdered hollandaise sauce–just add milk and margarine. We were processed food geniuses.

sizzler steak & malibu chicken combo

I’m not sure if my tastes have changed or the recipe did, but the sauce currently being served is definitely not hollandaise. The predominant flavor was mustard, not lemon. I do now recall the appeal of this dish, though, and it’s the fried, fatty, creamy trifecta. That cheese is a solid molten mass, no lacy holes remain. I would probably add a spicy component if I were an R&D consulting chef. I don’t think Sizzler is at Sriracha level yet, so I might start them off with a mayonnaise-based chipotle sauce. In reality, pepper jack swapped for Swiss might be as much change as anyone could handle.

sizzler salad bar plate

I barely touched my medium-rare steak that sadly didn’t come skewered with a little plastic doneness indicator because the salad bar is more important than sirloin topped with sautéed mushrooms and onions (an upsell). And you’re insane if you don’t get the salad bar–a $4.95 add-on–because incorporating hard shell tacos, krab salad, onion rings, corn fritters, and chicken wings is kind of the whole point.

sizzler taco bar

Nacho cheese, of course. Mild, naturally. No shredded cheddar here.

sizzler green peppers

I didn’t see evidence of the kale mentioned on Sizzler’s site, but apparently green bell peppers are so out they’re back in. That pile of sauteed beef and peppers is exactly the type of dish that caused so much teen angst that my mom gave up cooking for us.

sizzler pasta salads

In another fit of Sizzler synergy, The New York Times also featured a pasta salad in its cooking newsletter last week.

sizzler dessert bar

The soft serve machine may have been broken, but there was no shortage of other soft desserts.

sizzler dessert plate

Green Jell-O, of course, plus ambrosia, chocolate pudding, and pound cake hidden beneath an avalanche of mini chocolate chips.

bangkok sizzler duo

I was going to say that I haven’t been to a Sizzler since the ’80s, but that’s about as accurate as saying the Queens Sizzler is the only one remaining on the East Coast. I must admit I hit one up for lunch when I was in Bangkok two visits ago. Yes, there’s a salad bar. And yes, the portions are completely un-American. You call that Texas toast for two? More like Rhode Island toast, amirite?

The leftovers: sadder than the HBO show

The leftovers: sadder than the HBO show

I may have been the only person depraved enough to drink beer at Sizzler. I was also the only one in my group who took home leftovers–steak and Texas toast that got forgotten in my ride half-way home–because I’m just that cheap (and didn’t even pay for my own meal). I’m well on my way to becoming an “Honored Guest.”  I only made it down Metropolitan Avenue as far as Ridgewood before hopping out of the car to head off a friend who’d been biking up to meet us for a Forest Hills bar crawl. Too dizzy and sweaty for drinks at this point, I ended up laying down in her spare room, and eventually the bathroom where everything I’d ingested five hours earlier came up for the next 20 minutes.

sizzler salad bar

It was only last night that I deduced I had a migraine, not food poisoning–are Jell-O and processed cheese triggers? I got made fun of on Facebook for saying I didn’t want to blame Sizzler, the true mark of an abusive relationship. I can’t have Malibu Chicken to be the source of my malady, and I’m not convinced that it was because no one else who ate it had any distress. Maybe my brain just shorted out from sensory overload–it’s a lot of nostalgia for a body to contain.

Sizzler * 100-27 Metropolitan Ave., Forest Hills, NY