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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.

 

The Middle Ages: Sophie’s

When: Saturday, 10:07pm

Even with Saturday night kicking into gear in the East Village, the crowd at Sophie’s, perpetually post-college, was shockingly civilized. As if by magic a four-seater opened up as soon as my party of three entered the once-familiar threshold.

Maybe it was the work of the older gent (one of two) with a cane, not a staff, but who came to be called Dust Bowl Gandalf nonetheless for his crumple-peaked Depression-era hat and white whiskers.

One thing I don’t understand is how the jukebox–The Smiths, Stone Roses–remains in the ’80s yet the bar’s average age always hovers around 26, now just with more beards and man buns. If it were up to me, the Violent Femmes song playing would be updated to “Gone Dadbod Gone.” As if on cue, a young, mildly schlubby dude in a flannel appeared as the tune came on, looked around for something or someone, and left. Bye. Gone.

Sophie’s is where in 1998, five months into being a New Yorker, I told Henry Thomas, Elliott from E.T., to meet me. And he did. Later, he would stop returning my calls and invited others to Sophie’s casually and familiarly as if it was his regular haunt and hadn’t just been introduced to it by me. Such is the way of grown child stars.

If I weren’t with my friend Jane on this particular night, the same friend who happened to be with me at Sophie’s that fated evening 16-and-a-half years ago (along with her boyfriend at the time who now co-owns Abraço three blocks away) I might not believe any of it transpired.

Was I carded? Yes, at the door. Before I arrived, the third member of my party was waiting outside and chatting with the doorman who told her people were always embarrassed about their age but were never older than he was. He didn’t look that old.

Age appropriate? Not for women on a weekend night, no. The last time I stopped into Sophie’s was nearly four years ago when I was feeling sorry for myself on my 39th birthday because a last-minute call for company at HiFi only turned up two friends. (Actually that still doesn’t sit right with me and is inducing the annual anxiety that makes me leave town if possible when the date arrives.) On the earlier side, sun still out, it was locals scene, including a few middle-aged couples.

Not Lovin’ It

Staged or not (I kind of think not), being driven to non-joyful tears by an engagement ring in a McDonald’s chicken sandwich is the only rational reaction I’ve ever seen to such an uncalled for food-based proposal.

Mom On Mom Crime

vulgar

As you may know, though I wouldn’t necessarily expect you to, I’m kind of obsessed with both 40-year-old New Jersey mom posing as Williamsburger of 26 fable Younger and chain restaurants generally, especially if they serve Cheddar Bay Biscuits (not to mention one of the nation’s most caloric meals) . So, the latest hate campaign by One Million Moms cuts very close to home.

This easily riled group made up of a few hundred at best wants Red Lobster to stop advertising during the show (and have claimed dubious victory over a recent lack of IHOP commercials) because of the “s-xual innuendos” and “almost impossible to describe the depth of depravity” and then go on to try and describe said depravity.

Highlights include:

  • Pixelated n-dity
  • Excessive alcohol consumption
  • Pervert meets woman to buy underwear but scams her by sniffing them and then running off

That’s really just one episode. There’s also homosexuality, drug use, Jewishness, removing a friend’s stuck menstrual cup–and to bring this back to food, a Meatball Shop reference. Ban it all.

Millard really puts it best. What’s next, indeed?

El Original

twoshovelOuch. El Original had better watch its back after Javelina’s evisceration. Honestly, the primary reason I visited the former and not the latter is because you can reserve a table between 6pm and 9pm on Open Table. Less importantly to the world at large, I can also walk to it from work.

A couple years ago I was trying to sell a story about how kind of once gross and embarrassing regional cuisines were emerging in NYC with pride, using examples like Tex-Mex night at Goat Town, non-kitschy Hawaiian at Lani Kai, Burnside, the Midwestern bar serving fried cheese curds, and kolaches showing up in Bed Stuy, of all places. No one was interested. I still think there was potential in this but couldn’t get anyone to care about it as is often the case with my ideas. I’m probably sitting on ten equally genius pitches right now–anyone want one?

el original queso

Goat Town and Lani Kai may be dead yet we live in a city newly flush with queso and Spam.

And so, 2015 Tex-Mex in NYC. I don’t know. Seriously, I don’t. All I know is that I love processed cheese–melted, semi-congealed, even with a skin forming on top–all of it.  I got my queso, here the classic called chile con queso, as opposed to the other available style with guacamole, black beans and picadillo dubbed queso El Original.  The salsa was mild and nothing special, though the chips were warm and I’d like to believe were freshly made.

My non-drinking dining companion a.k.a. “baby palate” who’s my go-to for  BBQ, Italian-American, Tex-Mex, pizza and burgers even though she would insist she’s more versatile, made of point of saying the food wasn’t spicy. That’s saying something. You can ask for hot sauce. It’s Valentina. I don’t think of Tex-Mex as fiery so this wasn’t a disappointment, just a caveat.

I’ve been to Texas exactly once, just last year, briefly, under emotionally strained circumstances. But I know enough that they just call it Mexican (Mex Mexican is called interior Mexican), combos are where it’s at, ground beef and yellow cheese never tasted so good, and it can all be had with a strong margarita for $20. That’s not going to happen in Manhattan. Here, the combo plates, which sound like properly gut-busting, alone will put you two dollars north of that figure.

el orginal tacos

The shredded beef, which could be called brisket, was demurely portioned in the soft tacos.  The flour tortillas are made with lard from Dickson’s Farmstand, a detail I didn’t notice until after the fact online and speaks to a sort of identity crisis. The refried beans and rice just seemed like beans and rice. Are we meant to care about the source of lard making the beans silky? Is the food pricey because it’s elevated Tex-Mex or because it’s Manhattan Tex-Mex? Can you even take Tex-Mex out of context without asking for trouble? Transplants complain about pizza or bagels outside of NYC but those are translatable.  I will give the restaurant points for being big and cheerful–if you didn’t peer outside to see it was attached to the Skyline Hotel, you could be tricked into thinking you were in nice, modern strip mall.

El Original * 735 Tenth Ave. New York, NY

Eaten, Barely Blogged: Oldies, a Goodie

 

ny noodletown crabs

Great NY Noodletown I know this old-timer has detractors, but I’m still a fan and it’s not all driven by nostalgia (or even poor late-night decision-making–I’m quite capable of that at 8:30pm on weeknight). Get a group and over-order hacked-up duck, glazed roast pork, a heaping pile of pea shoots, crispy pan-fried noodles topped with squid and scallops, and a few lightly battered soft-shell crabs sprinkled with what I swear are jalapeños (my personal nostalgia since this was the first place I ever had crabs, shells and all, which is hard to believe in the Northeast in 2015). Manhattan’s Chinatown can be touristy and a little down at its heels and maybe each dish isn’t exemplary of its form, but the whole spread taken together with the right company–plus a few drinks–can be a can be a reminder that this part of the city still has charm. Here is every time I’ve mentioned Noodletown over the years, though definitely not every time I’ve eaten there.

tangra masala trio

Tangra Masala Remember when everyone was excited about Indian Chinese food even though a lot of it is fried and sometimes involves ketchup? The smaller, original, alcohol-free location across Queens Boulevard from Target is still a decent pit stop for paneer-stuffed wontons with a minty vinegar dip, lollipop chicken with a thousand island-esque chile sauce, and bright orange chow mein that tastes like Doritos (seriously).

lui's panang curry

Lui’s Thai Food is not the worst idea if you’re looking for a BYOB spot in the East Village on a Saturday night (and possibly trying to escape a group dinner after a memorial at HiFi because group dinners are stressful 90% of the time even though I was just singing the praises of commandeering a round table at Noodletown). I didn’t have the highest hopes and was pleasantly surprised. No, it’s not Queens Thai. It’s not Zabb Elee either. But the crispy basil duck and shrimp panang curry were right on–and intentional–dishes are dishes, none of this pick a protein nonsense. There was a tight selection of entrees to choose from like the above medium-spiced panang curry thickened with ground shrimp and featuring plump fried shrimp and garnished with a hard-boiled egg. You can be an NYU kid with a bottle of Woodbridge Chardonnay and it’s fine or pop around the corner to Urban Wines for something a little nicer. (If it’s Friday or Saturday night, my friend Lindsay is likely working–ask for a recommendation like the off-dry Mosel Riesling we had from a producer whose name I’ve already forgotten.)

The Middle Ages On Screen: “The Returned”

 

I don’t reject American remakes sight unseen (though I also can’t think of a successful example off the top of my head). The only thing saved the first few episodes of The Returned was that it stuck to Les Revenants’ script faithfully, language and geography aside. But if it hadn’t gone all American and expository and created unnecessary conflicts, we wouldn’t have been treated to this scene where Michelle Forbes (50 in real life–I have no idea how old she was supposed to be when a flood struck her mental institution in the ’80s) drinks tequila shots and slow dances at what appears to be the only bar in town, the Dog Star, with Glenn, an indignant dam engineer played by the “Swagger Wagon” dad.

 

 

The Week That Pique Macho Got Two Shoutouts in Two Days

Cocha Bomba

World’s most macho pique via Cocha Bomba

Munchies tackled the South American poutine on the ground in La Paz.

Eater touched on the pile of beef, cheese, wieners, and fries, among other dishes, at Bolivian restaurant Cumbre in Woodside.

I noticed that Cumbre appeared on Seamless last month, got a little excited, then promptly forgot about its existence, as I often do. (It’s not new, though.) I wouldn’t say Bolivian food has the best reputation–if it has one at all considering its scarcity in NYC. Traditional Mi Bolivia still exists in Sunnyside, and at the other end of the spectrum–though with the Smorgasburg Queens announcement, lines are blurring like it or not–Bolivian Llama Party does stuff like salteñas and sandwiches at Brooklyn Night Bazaar, the Rockaways, and obviously Smorgasburg.

Would You Rather? Indie-ish Darlings Edition

Bar-Luce-page

Photo: Attilio Maranzano/Fondazione Prada

Snack at Bar Luce, the Wes Anderson-designed cafe that’s opening in Milan.

Or

Dine at Agrikol, Arcade Fire’s Haitian restaurant that will be “more of an art project.” (Not actual footage of Agrikol.)