Skip to content

Uncle Sam’s Burgers

twoshovelClose to a year ago, Uncle Sam’s was being touted as a coming attraction. A burger chain rooted in Beijing? I was sold on concept yet not fully convinced since I couldn’t find any evidence of such a creature existing in China. It turns out, two did open in Beijing but not until six months after the announcement, which still makes me suspicious. (I would love it if the Australian rules footballs being used as a decor element in the Chinese shops instead of American pigskins was a brilliant faux-naive marketing ploy.) Would an impending NYC branch somehow make the restaurant seem more legit on its home turf?

uncle sam's duo

Uncle Sam’s opened to little fanfare in May, along a corridor of Fifth Avenue that’s home to other foreign imports like popular Korean fried chicken chain Bon Chon and lesser known Turkish cafe Simit Sarayi. It’s not particularly obvious that this isn’t a homegrown establishment. There are wacky Asian-tinged combinations like the 888 Burger (shumai patty, Canadian bacon, char-siu and Sriracha mayo) and K-Town (galbi beef, kimchi, white American cheese, spicy black bean mayo and pickled daikon) in the current more is more style, cold brew coffee from Kopi Trading Co., a kale side salad, and a soundtrack piping in Matt and Kim (followed by samba and reggae). This may as well be Brooklyn.

And that’s the genre it traffics in, at least from a price perspective. With the specialty burgers ranging from $7.95-$10.95, sides extra, it’s an expensive proposition for an unproven brand with beef of unknown origins. That said, it’s fun, and you can do worse in the tourist-heavy zone flanking the Empire State Building.

uncle sam's trio

I went with the relatively demure Signature, which is more or less a Swiss and mushroom burger with scallions and oyster sauce, because at 11:30am, still my breakfast time, and anything bolder seemed untoward. The burger was larger than a fast food version but still petite, and a total umami bomb with deep, concentrated double mushroom flavor and slight nuttiness from the soft blanket of melted cheese. You can spruce up as you like from the selection of Lee Kum Kee condiments, nearly all untouched, foil seals intact.

The Sichuan chili, pepper jack cheese, and sriracha mayo-topped tater tots and sesame miso caramel milkshakes will have to wait until a later hour.

Uncle Sam’s Burger * 307 Fifth Ave., New York, NY

Eaten, Barely Blogged: Taco Salad, Hot & Messy Sandwiches, Cheddar Bay Biscuits

el cortez duo

El Cortez. If you like piña coladas…then 2015 is a great time to be alive. Technically, this isn’t a piña colada but The Commodore (rum, coconut, pineapple, amaretto float) which only serves to remind that El Cortez is a clone-in-spirit of said Williamsburg bar but more tiki and ’80s-leaning (I refuse to let the ’90s claim this breed of suburban junk food Mex) hence the additional presence of the Orange Julio, a nod to everyone’s favorite Creamsicle-esque mall beverage. I don’t even like taco salad (I was so traumatized by a spell in the early ’80s where my mom made weekly taco salads with packet-seasoned ground beef, canned kidney beans, grated cheddar, shredded iceberg, Catalina dressing, and tortilla chips that turned to damp mush when we had to eat leftovers that it somehow made it into my 2011 Elle profile–pretty much my only food blog fame) but I couldn’t stop thinking about the taco salad after learning of its existence. It was totally a crush from afar. But it held up in reality, as well. It’s all about the fried shell, really. Ripping and dipping. If you just eat the beefy bean guts out, you may be saving calories and carbs but you may as well be dead inside. The taco salad, itself, is pure of form, with a base of beans and ground beef, heaving with all of the classic cheddar, lettuce, tomatoes, sour cream, and importantly sliced black olives, no overt twists or upgrades–that’s all in the condiments, a line-up of squeeze bottle salsas (the orange one packs serious throat-tickling heat). The finishing touch? A ramekin of dill ranch foam. I am so going back for the chimichanga.

union pizza works pie

Union Pizza Works. The thing about dining at 5pm is that by 10:30pm, it’s entirely possible to eat another meal. No regrets about sharing an onion and Gorgonzola pizza and a carafe of Chianti out on the cement patio. And if you’ve had enough to drink, you might hear biscuit pronounced with an Italian accent as Bisquick and order the chocolate dessert for the novelty.

streetbird trio

Streetbird. Surprisingly little chicken got eaten for being a restaurant supposedly specializing in rotisseried poultry. That’s because the Hot & Messy, an open-faced toasted cornbread sandwich smeared with peanut butter, and smothered with avocado, bacon scant pulled chicken, and runny-yolked egg jumped off the page with its excess. (Plus, I don’t know if I need to go all the way to Harlem for roasted chicken when I’m surrounded by Peruvian and Colombian renditions.) The notti greens, green beans pan-seared in a vaguely Asian manner with chiles and peanuts and a small bowl of wildly acidic pickles provided some counterbalance. The mac and cheese, of course, did not.

apollo red lobster quad

Red Lobster. It’s perfectly acceptable to linger over a Warm Chocolate Chip Lava Cookie and a margarita with a tequila sidecar at the Apollo-adjacent Red Lobster, afterward, or probably any time. It’s a big place. The best part is you’ll still get a basket of Cheddar Bay Biscuits with the menus before they realize you’re not ordering a full meal. Don’t feel bad about it.

Eaten, Barely Blogged: Hudson, NY

Hudson, New York, which I kept referring to generically as The Catskills despite being informed on Facebook that technically it’s not, is the type of bucolic, bougie paradise I’m not typically attracted to (if I’m leaving NYC, give me the suburbs) and yet I went up by myself on a near whim because that’s what you’re supposed to do in summer. Elsewhere, I’ve described it as if Red Hook was an entire Ikea-less town, the projects were ramshackle wood-clad homes with saggy porches, and Van Brunt was more densely packed with galleries and antique stores and perfumed with essential oils. I did not visit purely for food purposes, especially with my solo dining weirdness, but of course eating happened though not as much as one might think for four days.

I will say one thing about Hudson: the bread and butter is very good everywhere.

fish & game trio

Fish & Game recently went more a la carte, which is great if you’re not willing to fully commit to a tasting menu. Still, you will need two for the shared roast chicken, rack of lamb or whichever big meats are getting the wood-burning oven treatment that day. Oysters, eggs, both chicken and sturgeon, were playing a large role on the Thursday night I visited. I started with the shellfish, roasted, encrusted with a less-overpowering-than-it-sounds kimchi hollandaise to snack on with my Dr. Mephisto Swizzle (white rum, sherry, turmeric liqueur, husk cherry). I treated a hefty slab of smoked and grilled pork belly nearly hidden in a mound of thinly shaved Hakurei turnips and doused with the F&G house sauce that smelled strongly of fish sauce and was similar to a Vietnamese sweet-savory caramel yet also managed to taste like pizza as a main, along with a glass of orange wine (Franco Terpin Quinto Quinto Bianco) because that’s what one must drink at 2015’s midpoint. Really, though, the tartness was right on with the pork that would’ve been better split with another diner to free up stomach space for a third dish. Sitting at the bar, I had a view of a more granular demographic division than townie/”citidiot” (as I was later told interlopers were called by a retired NYPD libertarian who also relayed a Father’s Day sob story and wanted to talk guns with me) which boiled down to boisterous group-dining golf-shirted men in their 40s vs. the cocktail-sipping millennial topknot girls who probably harvest their own honey.

swoon kitchenbar duo

Swoon Kitchenbar is kind of the original upscale, locavore restaurant in town (founded in 2004). The kind of place we almost take for granted in every tier of city now. Once again, I was more of a snacker, trying the greaseless fried artichokes with black olive aioli and a roasted beet and goat cheese salad that swayed me with the inclusion of crispy onions because double fried vegetables for one meal is a sound decision. I appeared to be the only unknown entity dining at the bar. It’s also that kind of place. There was confusion about the lady at the end of the bar who’d ordered the beet salad. Both I and the older solo woman with short spiky silver hair, similarly toned statement jewelry, and funky glasses were brought the same dish at the same time and I had a vision of one possible future if I started making different life decisions. I don’t think I’m ready for that.

helsinki duck confit

Helsinki Hudson. I went twice, once just for a drink, because this restaurant/performance space was very close to my airbnb, and left with two very different impressions. At the bar on weeknight there’s a more casual menu and on the early side was province of solo-dining (there are a lot of solo diners in this town) men over 50 who appeared to make money in mysterious ways and have homes in town and elsewhere. On a weekend evening in the outdoor compound, I had Hudson Valley duck confit made Southern with collard greens and a slightly incongruous puck of blackberry cornbread, and the crowd was a hodgepodge of gay seniors, non-young moms with newborns, a plethora of Eileen Fisher and straw hats, plus a woman in a one-shoulder cocktail dress who looked like a vixen from an ’80s video but was a little too old to be ironic yet not old enough to be time-warped.

Cafe le Perche is a French-ish bakery/bistro with scattered service and an assumption that reservations are required on a Monday morning. I’ll take my black coffee and almond croissant to go, though I should probably shouldn’t take it at all.

The Cascades, on the other hand, is not terribly fancy but where to go for solid American sandwiches named after mountains. Because I was starving, I didn’t even take a photo of my Mount Baker, roast beef and provolone on a hard roll, with shredded iceberg balanced out by vaguely chichi balsamic mayonnaise.

grazin' burger

Grazin’ Yes, there’s one in Tribeca, but this is the original. It’s the pseudo-diner to visit if you want hyper-local burgers (Grazin’ Angus Acres beef), cheese (Prodigal Farm bleu), and beer (I don’t remember) and to observe children trying their first tastes of gazpacho and attractive, middle-aged couples without wedding bands having quiet fights. When “Movin’ Out” started playing, I braced myself. There. “Heart attack-ack-ack-ack-ack-ack.” As if on cue, the dressed-down tortoiseshell frames finance guy confided to his bird-tattooed, age-appropriate girlfriend in expensive clogs and crowned with sun-streaked waves , “I used to be so into Billy Joel.”

relish blt

Relish. Maybe you have an hour (or more once you get an Amtrak text alert) to kill before your train back home? This is really the only daytime hangout in the vicinity of the station, directly across the street. Have a BLT on multi-grain bread, side of the day (a chickpea salad that I swear had wasabi in it) and a cucumber mint soda, and try to mentally will your train to arrive faster by staring at the Hudson sign in your line of vision.

american glory improved whiskey cocktail

American Glory. Just for drinks (like the improved whiskey cocktail above) and friendly bartenders, not the bbq. If you wear a Target dress, moderate heels, and lipstick, everyone will think you are up from the city for the weekend.

half moon

Half Moon. The good dive bar to go to if you need something open after midnight. I still feel guilty for under-tipping the bartender who gave me more free drinks than I realized.

melino's beer & shot

Melino’s Pub. The dive bar you go to before you realize Half Moon exists when you need something open after midnight and want to scare your beer-hating, skinny-jeans vegan Tinder date and make them drink Fireball shots against their will.






Ladies’ Night: Karen Hudes

Back CameraWelcome to Ladies’ Night, the first in a series of interviews I’m doing with women about aging, drinking in public, and generally being awesome in spite of having crossed over into so-called middle age.

First up is Karen Hudes, a 42-year-old editor who just took over the Front & Center blog for Rockefeller Center, in addition to freelancing for Zagat and Refinery29. She’s also the creator of the cooking game Menu Mash-Up, as well as an occasional jewelry designer (see her handiwork on my wrist).

We met near Williamsburg’s phantom White Castle at Harefield Road where both The Vaselines and Suicidal Tendencies, bands that would’ve put you into slightly different high school cliques three decades ago, were being played.

What made you choose this bar?

This bar’s been around for what feels like a long time now–at least ten years. The atmosphere is more like a neighborhood place. I don’t really go enough to be a regular but friends of mine are, and it’s a meet-up place. A couple of my friends got married at City Hall and we got a table here afterwards. It just feels comfortable.

How long have you lived in the neighborhood?

Since ’96. I feel like I’m lucky I got here when I did. I had just been out of college for a year and I grew up in Queens. Back then, there were only three places to go out in the neighborhood. Where I live between the Graham and Lorimer stops, just a few blocks from here, felt a little farther away at the time. Now I’m glad I have some distance from Bedford because this still feels like a real neighborhood. It still has its Italian roots, some of the Italian shops, and old neighborhood and the newer people have integrated pretty well. I just really feel connected to it, and if I tried to move here now I could never afford it.

Not to make this about me, but when I first moved to NYC at 25 I briefly lived in Williamsburg above what’s now The Richardson, then didn’t move back to until I was 40 and everything was different. I was like wow, I still like going out and doing things but everyone in this neighborhood is under 30. Do you feel like an old-timer?

Well, through my 30s I felt pretty young and I just didn’t notice it so much. It wasn’t like I was running in circles with the new people or I’d go to a bar and feel like oh, I’m so old. I could pass a little bit, though I definitely had friends who felt very conscious of it. I was on a kickball team which felt unique to the neighborhood at the time and seemed like a good way to meet people. Even then, I was a bit on the older side, in my early-to-mid 30s. That whole culture was strange because it’s almost like you’re revisiting junior high and it kind of lends itself to not growing up, which is the reputation the neighborhood has in general. But this area feels a little more mature–like the clientele at this bar is more 30s, 40s.

When I first moved here Teddy’s was one of the only bars. It’s really old and it has a really good burger and one time I was hanging out with Jessica [a mutual friend who’s lived on the same block as Teddy’s for 15 years] and I said maybe we could stop in and she said, “Oh, I’m afraid of that. I think that’s where you go when you’re really old.”

I think it’s been sold. Same with the dog bar. What’s left? Turkey’s Nest? Greenpoint Tavern?

There’s an old-school bar on Metropolitan but it feels very much closed off.

Joe Jr or whatever it’s called? [Editor’s note: Jr & Son]

Yes! I’ve lived here so long I should go. It would’ve been funny if I’d met you there. There are always guys out front that don’t make it feel like they want you there. Then again, it might like Moe’s and they’d be happy to see us.

Going back to what you said about “passing.” That’s kind of true for a lot of women I know, especially in Williamsburg, and maybe it’s a self-selecting group. A lot of my friends seem young for their age, but it might be because they don’t have kids and they’re not married. Is there something to this?

Because I’m petite I’ve always looked younger even when I didn’t want to, so I feel like that stayed with me. I think not having kids is the key. You take on a huge responsibility and you take on a different kind of stress. It’s joyful too, obviously, but there’s something about not having kids where you feel less like you’re transitioning to this other state.

Ok, I want to talk about Menu Mash-Up. Could you explain a little how the game works?

All the players have a hand of ingredient cards and prep cards (like “fried” or “roasted” or “sandwich”). The judge for each round is called the “diner” and picks a dish card like “midnight snack” or “romantic dinner,” and the other players use their cards to create menus to fill the order. Whichever menu the diner picks as the best one wins that round. So the dishes people come up with can go from totally delicious-sounding to really silly and funny.

When people think of food and media, board games probably aren’t the first thing they think of. How did you come to the idea?

Personally, I don’t feel like a natural with social media, and you know that since we’re friends on Facebook and I barely post. I want to be a part of the world, but it’s not a natural extension of my personality. I felt very aware of it being a growing force and in my profession as an editor. I’ve always written very precise things and headlines and I’m writing social media posts and and enjoy the craft of it, but it’s not what I gravitate towards, so I was seeking out another avenue.

When I was younger my family played a lot of board games. I really enjoyed having this structure where you have a challenge and you are participating with other people and relating in a different way. I had read something about this idea that in the past decade was the rise of social media and in the coming decade games would be on the rise. I thought oh, that feels natural to me. I was working at Zagat and ready to make a change, and if I left I wanted to have a project that I was working on.

Here’s the big question that I have a hard time even saying without feeling creepy–do you consider yourself to be middle-aged?

I never think in those terms. Well, my image of it definitely doesn’t match up with me. But it’s funny, I guess technically it makes sense. Everyone just seems younger now. If you look at old movies everyone seemed really old when they were in their 20s. They already seemed sort of middle-aged. Culturally, I think things have shifted so people are more youthful at our age.

Right. When my mom was 40, I was already in college. 

My mom got married at 25 and that was considered on the later side. The expectations were so different. Maybe it feels like an old-fashioned term because I have an image of it from when I’m younger that seemed so far away. There’s also something about the term that seems dowdy, not lively–ugh, lively even sounds like an old lady term. Middle-aged just feels like an inert phrase.

I’ve been starting with food and drink women because that’s sort of relevant to my blog’s original mission (whatever that was) but not everyone wants to talk about aging–or even say their age–in a public forum. They’ll talk about it, just not here. 

Food is an area where people can age really well. It’s been one of the great things for Williamsburg, since so much of the music scene moved here, but that can be tougher as you get older. Food goes across all ages–cooks and writers are respected. It’s an area that allows a big range. And your palate matures as you try different things.

Kitchen 79: Kua Kling Nuea Sub

kitchen 79 kua kling

It may not look like much (the photo certainly isn’t helping matters) or it may look like larb depending on your perspective, but that pile of ground meat in a plastic container is very much a something. It’s kua kling, a so- called dry curry from southern Thailand that I’d never noticed previously on the menu at Kitchen 79 and is relatively scarce in NYC. (Center Point has been known to serve it.) That’s reason enough to care.

This version, kua kling nuea sub, features irregular nubs of chopped beef, but chicken and pork are also available and all three are traditional. Lacking coconut milk, these curries aren’t sweet in the least so the aromatics like turmeric, lemongrass, and kaffir lime are all super pronounced (and though I’m certain Sichuan peppercorns are not an ingredient, there was a tingly undercurrent from something) with a rumble of heat from visibly pulverized red chiles and scattered inner seeds. It was spicy for a Thai dish ordered online with no particular heat specificity requested, though I’m pretty sure southern Thai curries on their home turf are punishing, which is what I wanted after a long weekend overdosing on Hudson Valley quaintness, but Kitchen 79 isn’t specifically a southern Thai restaurant and the clientele certainly isn’t either.

That said, be on the lookout for the yellow-tinged pile of meat masquerading as a curry. It’s a good dish to try when you’ve exhausted all the standards.

Kitchen 79 * 37-70 79th St., Jackson Heights, NY

Would You Rather? Ridgewood These Days or Those Days Drinking Edition

Because I just can’t stop keeping tabs on neighborhoods I haven’t lived in for 15 years.

Natalie Keyssar/New York Times

Natalie Keyssar/The New York Times



Or The Bad Old Days?

Eaten, Barely Blogged: Oleanders & Four Horsemen

Recently, I was having a discussion about how trends recycle so quickly that style has collapsed on itself to such a degree that now you can wear whatever you want and it doesn’t matter anymore. When the friend I was dining with last night asked where I got my butt-ugly white lug-soled sandals without calling them butt-ugly, it was totally conceivable they could be Alexander Wang, for example. Of course I bought them online for $15 at Target last summer. I’m not at a point where I could saunter into work in a crop top and harem pants, but that says more about my office than me.

The same lack of rules goes with neighborhoods, architecture and food. It’s a great time to be alive. Earlier, this same friend, a graphic designer, wanted me to see the jaunty font and signage being used at The Bean outpost that opened on Bedford in the ground floor of one of those new brick buildings that look like they belong in an upscale development in Denver. (Actually, I assume it’s the same font used at all four locations, but it’s really allowed to come into its own in this particular setting.) It’s so middlebrow, occupying the space between the character by virtue of age bodega awnings (not to be confused with deli grossery) and overly precious peak Brooklyn handwritten everything aesthetic.

This is a long-winded way of saying that a nouveau fern bar with an explanation of what a fern bar is (don’t make me link to wikipedia) on the menu and a wine bar opened by LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy in the former Foodswings space make perfect sense for right now even if neither objectively make sense.

oleanders quad

Oleanders. I, for one, am welcoming this weird shift. Bring on the rattan and potted plants. Dust off the Galliano. I knew fern bars were eventually coming and Williamsburg might be the epicenter. Reynard has been serving a Harvey Wallbanger. Donna has that awesome brancolada. Dark carved wood and damask has been giving way to Scandinavian lightness, warm metals and copious foliage on design blogs for some time. Restaurants are getting there. (Meanwhile, Bushwick gets the chimichangas. Who’s making the English muffin pizzas?)

Technically, Oleanders should be getting The Middle Ages treatment since I sat at the bar and didn’t eat a full-on meal but 5:30pm on a Monday isn’t exactly a meet/meat market in any era (though for the record, the one other female patron, solo, could’ve been a mature 38 or youthful 42, or maybe it was that she looked more tan and tailored generally than you see in Williamsburg and it made her look aged i.e. more grownup).

The thing about The Elm’s demise and total overhaul is that it’s not clear how people who were turned off by that too much for Williamsburg menu are going to be into beef wellington and lobster thermidor–poolside? In a girls with boyish figures neighborhood? Too highbrow even ironically for dadbods? I dunno. As the consensus arose on a Facebook discussion: “Too regal, not enough beagle.”

The fantasy fern bar of my childhood totally would’ve served potato skins (crème fraîche and roe just an added bonus) and grasshoppers. The clams casino never would’ve crossed my mind but they are the perfect bridge between T.G.I. Friday’s (which is not only a native New Yorker but as some claim the O.G. fern bar) and 1970s continental cuisine. Honestly, I can’t think of any better place to drink an elevated shot (I tried both, including the Alabama Slammer, which crams Medley Brothers bourbon, Southern Comfort Reserve, Plymouth sloe gin, Caffo amaretto, cranberry, orange juice and Morris Kitchen grenadine into one tiny glass and results in fruit punch) while listening to Bob Seeger and ELO.

Also, that name. I do appreciate the extra S in Oleanders, though it doesn’t read preppy (I’m more of the west coast school anyway where you can have wicker and wine spritzers and not be all Ivy about it). It’s a flourish I affectionately call “the white trash S,” since it’s a written and verbal tic I’ve fought to repress on many an occasion. At least it’s not an apostrophe S.

But back to business, there’s a real opportunity here as Wegmans (no apostrophe) the beloved upstate grocery store coming to the Navy Yards in 2017, adds in-store pubs with Tiffany-style lamps and high-backed tapestry booths, to tap into this zeitgeist. In two years all of the cool kids will be eating prime rib and Tuscan fries in a Fort Greene grocery store and no one will remember what Tinder was.

four horsemen quad

Four Horsemen. Would you like some orange wine to go with your kale crostini? Sure, why not. I’ll take it over a vegan milkshake and chick’n cordon bleu made from mock poultry, soy ham and Daiya mozzarella. Say goodbye to the second-wave of Williamsburg gentrification (as much as I loved my local lazy brunches, Taco Chulo, your days are numbered too, I’m afraid).

I had a few wines by the glass like the aforementioned ‘Coenobium’ Field Blend Monastero Suore Cistercensi, a slightly nutty unfiltered blend that I have to admit went pretty well with that kale toast spread with fresh sheep’s milk cheese and garnished with pickled golden raisins. Nothing is crazily priced and all of the wines are natural, which is the angle, far simpler in concept than a retro revival. There’s room for that, as easy as it is to poke fun of anything new and veering toward earnestness.

The food was better than I expected for a newly opened Williamsburg wine bar, emphasis sort of on the bar. A terrine with tiny florets of fermented cauliflower, beef tartare speckled with seeds, and carrots roasted to nearly maduros-like texture and sweetness with Thai peppercorns and bound together by gooey ribbons of stracciatella all packed strong flavors but nothing that would compete with a light, biodynamic Gamay.

And for the record, the pink and green (mine was just brown and I didn’t feel right swapping) Opinel knives were pretty sweet–and I managed to not even Instagram the cutlery.

The Middle Ages: Bierleichen and Onderdonk & Sons

When: Sunday, 6:51pm and 9:04pm

My notes from the new (at the time I actually went–I’ve been busy the past few months) Ridgewood heavy metal beerhall, Bierleichen, read “Awesomely mixed. Is metal the great equalizer?” by which I meant tribally diverse, not age-wise. On an early Sunday there were Latino dudes, a mixed gender rockabilly crew, man bun hipsters, generic young white people like you see in Astoria and could either be Midwest transplants or children of immigrants who haven’t moved to the suburbs yet, and an errant older gentleman I assumed to be Eastern European because all Ridgewood bars, even the upstarts, are required by law to accommodate at least one hold out.

Bierleichen, to its credit, is going for something different than a lot of new drinking establishments. Beer corpse, the name’s translation, is funny, for one. It’s not super polished. It looks like it set up in an old garage (and I think it may have been) with a lot of rough wood ceiling beams, raw cement floors and walls, glossy black subway tile for a little class, softened by skylights and hanging plants. There’s a random upright piano, picnic tables and those glass beer stein boots. And yes, Judas Priest, Scorpions and Danzig all got play on my visit. This might also be the only place in the  neighborhood–a pretty good sausage neighborhood–where vegans can participate in sausage-eating.

* * *

Onderdonk & Sons, on the other hand, is sticking with the established tin ceiling, exposed brick and rich, dark woods aesthetic. I mean, it looks good and the booths are comfy. There is also no hard liquor despite screaming cocktail den. The fries are way better than average, by the way.

This crowd was younger, more male, more foreign (Brazilian? Russian?) and more neck-tattooed. I arbitrarily decided it was for overpaying airbnb guests. And probably Okcupid (not Tinder) dates.

* * *

Third stop was the previously blogged Queens Tavern where we encountered a number of the same people who had been at the aforementioned two bars as if there were only three neighborhood bars to choose from and this was the logical order in which to visit them.

There are no shortage of Ridgewood bars for newcomers and they just keep coming. I recently met a young man who is somehow involved with a bar being Kickstarted called The Bad Old Days…which I can’t even. Like the ’70s when white folks were lobbying for Ridgewood to get its own zip code to split from Bushwick? The late ’90s when I thought I lived an hour from civilization and area bars were patronized by neo-nazis not neu-metalheads? The dark ages before cafes served single-origin coffee and Vietnamese food could be found at all, let alone using grass-fed beef?

Was I carded? At both places, no.

Age appropriate? At both places, no, not literally, but it’s still Queens so who cares really.

Dani’s House of Pizza

threeshovelDani’s is one of those institutions that also happens to be located in one of those Tudor buildings that still thrive in Forest Hills and Kew Gardens, lending it just that extra veneer of Queens charm. Brooklyn has classic pizza, too, obviously but not served in a corner Snow White cottage.

I’ve only come to know it recently after I’ve started getting my hair cut across the street at the suggestion of a young Montenegrin (or Macedonian? I always confuse the two) woman I met at a party last year when she learned I was moving to Jackson Heights. It’s great—the cut is only $25 (it’s double with a blowout, which is maybe more standard for ladies, but I don’t like them) and you can have a mimosa or cappuccino. It’s a salon not a barber shop.


dani's house of pizza slice

The plain slice is substantial. I originally thought I might wait it out for the pesto style I keep hearing about that wasn’t on display and never appeared in the 20 minutes or so I occupied a seat, but one slice was filling enough. The sauce is sweet, maybe too sweet for some tastes (counterbalance with an aggressive shake of chile flakes) and the mozzarella is laid on thick and melty, like kid pizza, you know, as if a grade school served pizza that actually tasted good.

dani's house of pizza beers

Pizza isn’t allowed in the dining room and the pizza operation itself isn’t more than a narrow takeout counter that happens to have six diner-style stools bolted down at the far end near the kitchen. The upside of snagging a seat is having more than soda with your slice. A pair of older women were nursing glasses of red wine, but beer is where it’s at. There’s a whole refrigerator filled with beers, most more exciting than what you’ll find at your local Queens bodega. A Gose brewed with coriander and sea salt from the Oregon coast? Sure, why not.

I wasn’t paying attention, but I’m pretty sure the slice and beer were $6. It’s hard to argue with that.

Now, I just need to go back and get that pesto slice. As soon as my hair needs a trim…

dani's house of pizza pete the dog

I referred to this handsome canine (that’s saying a lot coming from a cat lady) on Instagram as a pizza dog. It turns out his name is Pete. I don’t imagine his last name is Za, however.

Dani’s House of Pizza * 81-28 Lefferts Blvd., Kew Gardens, NY

And Then There Was One

sizzler for rent

I didn’t want to believe the rumors were true, but now I’ve seen the the proof with my own eyes. Sadly, the only remaining Sizzler on the east coast (ok, there is still one in Florida but does that really count?) served its last plate of Malibu Chicken last week.

sizzler map

Even though the past-its-prime chain likely wouldn’t top anyone’s list of favorites–or even crack the top 25–it has carved out a place of honor for me since childhood and took on a new level of prominence after re-experiencing my first Sizzler in decades last August. I talked about it a lot. I still did up until this weekend. I am right now.

Maybe Sizzler just isn’t compatible with the east coast and has nothing to do with changing tastes. After all, it was kind of the original fast casual, the restaurant sector that’s been driving sales year after year. Maybe Sizzler should reposition itself as a heritage brand a la Pendleton or Madewell but you know, for food.

Not even the recent burst of unexpected viral fame was enough to save the brand (though Sizzler’s Instagram followers did jump to 378 from the 48 it had pre-1991 commercial fervor).

It felt like my little secret, not a secret at all, of course, but being located in that quiet, residential patch of Forest Hills not easily accessible by subway, you can almost imagine you’re not in New York City. As I walked down Metropolitan Avenue yesterday, fueled by a daiquiri and negroni (where no one knew it was its namesake week) chased by a tequila shot (all that was missing was whiskey), I decided that a true test of someone’s character would be if they would come to this part of Queens without complaint. It’s as good as a barometer as any, a love of taco, pasta and  Jello-laden salad bars no longer necessary.