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Posts from the ‘Downtown’ Category

Eaten, Barely Blogged: Shrimp Heads, Downtown Ramen, Bitters-Free Manhattans

Allswell trio

Allswell. Being open till 11pm is not late night dining, not
in NYC anyway, and it's always bothered me, especially on weeknights when maybe
you want to go out to eat at 10:45pm and the pickings are beyond slim.  Allswell serves real food until 3am, not
whole menu, but it's something.  These
hyper-crispy head-on shrimp in a Meyer lemon sauce and duck rillettes were
pre-midnight, normal menu items. The burger, fat and meaty (with cheddar and
bacon, both add-ons) and perfectly pink inside, can be had any time. The fries
were an abomination, though, if you hate wet and oily thick-cut fries like I
do. Steak fries are the bane of my existence. That's the worst part about pub
burgers, which this appears to be emulating.  Bring a friend who likes fat, mushy fries (they
exist!) and let them go wild.

Ganso trio

Ganso. With ramen I often give the same disclaimer I use
with barbecue: I'm neither a fanatic or expert. Obviously, I like both and have
opinions, but I can't speak to what a broth's correct flavor should be or the
specific pH of mineral water needed to produce the ultimate noodles. Frankly, I
just like that there is a ramen shop in that odd pocket of downtown Brooklyn
near the IHOP. The short rib buns weren't anything remarkable, and a little
mesclun-y (I did not try the short rib ramen pictured, but love the idea that
each broth receives a different noodle, subtle and thoughtful) but the spicy
miso ramen with thinly sliced pork belly, Chinese broccoli and a soft-boiled,
soy-infused egg was winsome, if not a little gut-busting (I always find that
Asian noodle soups of this size put me into a coma). I will be even more happy
about Ganso being there when it becomes cold enough to better appreciate the
ramen's warming and filling properties.

Mayflower. A miniscule moderately new bar affiliated with neighboring
Aita, a corner Italian restaurant I may never visit because I rarely eat
Italian food (unless you count pizza). Some might call it a speakeasy (signage
was recently added). Jonathan Ames was there on a date, at least I think so, I
don't like staring at people. The bartenders (who can get overwhelmed when at
capacity) are weird about bitters: on one visit none were used in a Manhattan,
on the other I was asked whether or not I wanted them used. Would it
be too hyperbolic to say that a Manhattan without bitters is not a Manhattan? Still like the place.

Along with Prospect, it's one of two new upscale restaurants to open
on Fulton Street. I figured I should try one of them, and the main reason The
Wallace won out because it was slightly less expensive (entrees in the low $20s
vs. high $20s–now that I live in new shiny condo, no complaints, I'm going
broke buying things like shades for ten-foot-high windows). There's nothing
radical going on, food-wise or with the decor (one might get the impression
this was another tin ceilings, Edison bulb joint, but the interior is oddly
generic like it could've been a suburban Italian restaurant in a previous
life–ok, it was Caribbean) just solid, well-seasoned New American dishes with French
foundations like crispy pork belly on a bed of lentils with braised greens, the
latter an unexpected slight Southern twist, and tilefish with a potato gratin and
beurre blanc tinged with saffron. Manhattans are on the cocktail list and bitters are used, no question.

Il Porto. When I was assigned to review this Italian/pizza
place for
after it opened a few years ago, I thought it was in the
middle of nowhere. I guess it still is, though now that I live down the street and
that the scary-seeming (not just to me) Navy Yard Cocktail Lounge has been
gutted and looks like any generic storefront for sale, the block seems less
isolated and off-putting. With that said, it's not a destination unless you're
already in Fort Greene or Clinton Hill. The wood-fired pizza is pretty good
(arugula, prosciutto and parmesan is popular) though the floury, barely charred
and nearly flaky crust that I happen to like probably isn't the pinnacle of
Neapolitan pie-making.

Arby’s Brooklyn

twoshovelWhat? So soon. I can’t believe an Arby’s couldn’t make it on the Fulton Mall. (8/12/10)

Some restaurant openings garner more fanfare than others. This week we had Colicchio & Sons, Carteles and Village Tart. But Brooklyn’s first Arby’s was the only newcomer that spurred me into action.

Arby's exterior

Their decision to take over the Gage & Tollner space (previously occupied by a short lived T.G.I. Friday’s) brought out Brooklyn’s finest NIMBYism even though Arby’s had to hew to historical preservation standards. No such considerations were given in 2005 when Niederstein’s, Queens’ oldest restaurant, was flat out razed for an Arby’s, oddly enough. Brooklyn has higher sense of self worth it seems.

Arby's counter

The end result being what might be the world’s classiest Arby’s. Spacious, with enough detailed dark wood, patina’d mirrors and near-steampunky light fixtures to be the envy every prefab speakeasy in the city. On day four, everything was still tidy, the staff uncharacteristically upbeat and polite for any fast food joint, suspiciously so for one in Brooklyn. If you do as directed by the sign behind the bell at the original revolving doors, “If your service was GREAT, please ring the bell,” the workers break into a song-cheer. This is so totally ripe for abuse.

Arby's great service bell

I’m fairly certain that I have not eaten at an Arby’s since I was in high school. Freshman year I’d get a Beef ‘n Cheddar and a Jamocha shake multiple times per week. The menu now includes salads, gyros, deli sandwiches and “Sidekickers” like southwestern egg rolls and mozzarella sticks. The core roast beef sandwiches now come in three sizes.

Arby's beef & cheddar

This was a regular. Ok, the Beef ‘n Cheddar fills a similar void as Taco Bell, a fun facsimile that can become crave-worthy in its own right. If you want a real roast beef sandwich (I’m picturing Baltimore-style  pit beef) Arby’s will not please you. The meat is thin and salty like Land ‘O Frost (I don’t think that brand exists in NYC) and the cheddar is orange and warm like nacho cheese. I happen to love processed cheese in all forms: plastic-wrapped, in a jar, spray can or foil-covered block.

Arby's condiments

In my day we had Horsey Sauce and Arby’s Sauce, a.k.a. sweet bbq in packets. That was all. Like someone who awakes from a twenty-year coma to givens like cell phones and thongs being standard underwear for women, I was dazzled by the condiment bar with self-pump service. Spicy Three Pepper Sauce? What else have I been missing out on?

Arby's jalapeno bits

Jalapeno Bites were new to me in this venue, but not new in the scheme of things. Poppers are right up there with crab Rangoon in my fried snack pantheon. These are served with a gooey candy apple red sauce called Bronco Berry. It’s like sweet and sour.

Arby's shake

Blogging has its privileges; a man who I suspect was the manager (green polo rather than red) brought me a vanilla shake when he saw me taking photos. My loyalties can absolutely be bought, and they come cheap.

Arby’s * 372 Fulton St., Brooklyn, NY

Chuck E. Cheese’s

I don't even want to think about the E. coli factor in the place, you'd be insane to do the salad bar. Babies in diapers and nothing else were crawling all over tables, the air conditioning appeared to be nonexistent. I'm not a germ freak at all, but this was a serious breeding ground. I could imagine the strep and pink eye brewing in the already filthy kiddie habitrail (it had only been open seven days and already looked sticky and worn out). I didn't dare brave the bathrooms (though I entertained the notion of leaving a big, messy dump somewhere inside it and preferably not in the toilet).

The fact that adults with children are given a different hand stamp than the childless grown ups is telling. I couldn't figure out the logic at first, how would that keep anyone from kidnapping? I don't think nabbing kids is the fear so much as parents will taking off without their children. I'd certainly be tempted. But to be fair, I have to admit that despite the madhouse atmosphere, both kids and parents were in surprisingly good spirits. It was kind of shocking. I didn't witness any yelling, spanking, threatening to spank, or general rudeness from any grown ups, and I while I saw lots of wrestling, kicking and hitting, I didn't see or hear a single crying child, which is pretty miraculous. I guess they were having a good fucking time, and who can blame them? Their tagline is "where a kid can be a kid," after all.

What strikes me about experiences like this is the demographics, and how uniquely NYC it all is. I don't understand how white people know not to go there, and why black people do. There's always been a bit of the same at NYC area Red Lobsters too. Certainly, there arent any hard and fast rules, anyone can go anywhere, they just don't. It's not so much of a race thing as a culture issue, like there's a strata of people who think they're above chain restaurants (I'm fascinated by Trading Spouses. So far they're only swapped two moms, but both of the richer families eat out at Japanese restaurants, and shun carbs, of course. The lower income moms are freaked out by sushi [this has also been recently employed as a look-at-the-differences device on Amish in the City. The Amish, and of course, the one non-Amish black girl have never eaten sushi.] Low fat and exotic equal classy, didn't you know? Lowbrow people love fried food and starch! Heck, I do.) and taste tends to align with income and perceived notions about what they're supposed to enjoy and disdain. And high taste people have strong ideas about what's good for children, and Chuck E. Cheese's probably doesn't align with their values.

And its not a simple matter of people living closest to this Chuck E. Cheese's being black because that's not true at all. The Atlantic Terminal mall is in a part of Brooklyn that falls under Community District 2. That district includes a variety of neighborhoods: Brooklyn Heights, Fulton Mall, Boerum Hill, Fort Greene, Brooklyn Navy Yard, Fulton Ferry, Clinton Hill (I have no idea what Fulton Ferry is, I'm just going by what NYC Gov tells me). The composition of that district is: 34. 4% white, 40.5% black, and 16.8% Hispanic. The minor 6% white/black difference certainly isn't reflected by Chuck E. Cheese's clientele. So, where are all the white families going on Saturday nights? Probably somewhere precocious in my neighborhood. When it comes down to it, I think I prefer my children penned-up and concentrated in mall spaces.


No, its not video installation art. We managed to snag a few seconds on Chuck E. Cheeses creepy TV camera toy before hordes of tiny riff raff commandeered it again.

Chuck E. Cheese's * 139 Flatbush Ave., Brooklyn, NY


The first time I visited this Brooklyn institution was quite an experience.
I naively chose the smoking section at 1 am on a Friday night and ended up
being seated in thug central. O.k., I don't really know if the room was
filled with actual gangsters or not, but I felt pretty out of place. I was
most impressed with how the waitstaff left your half-smoked butt in the
ashtray when they dumped out the ashes. Classy. Clearly, they had been
reprimanded for tossing out still smokeable cigarettes before.

On my most recent visit at 5:30 on a Sunday it was a different scene
altogether–families galore and no apparent smoking section in sight. This
was o.k. too. The setting isn't as important as stuffing yourself to the

A reuben sandwich and side order of fries was just the ticket. But
Junior's is famous for their cheesecake so I couldn't leave without a slice.
However, I veered from the standards and opted for the black forest
cheesecake, which may not have been the wisest choice. It wasn't bad, but it
wasn't cheesecake. I'd liken the taste to a dense, creamy crunchberry a la
Captain Crunch. I suppose one should stick to the basics when it comes to
diner food. (11/19/00)

Junior's is fun. Though it was more fun when you could smoke in the back
room late at night surrounded by sketched-out characters. It sort of felt
like when you were in high school and would hang out smoking and drinking
coffee at Denny's because there wasn't anything better to do. Maybe the
cheesecake isn't what it used to be, but I'm no old-school Brooklynite, no
nostalgia for me. I just get a kick out of the place and the way it's
changed with the neighborhood. The cocktail menu (I love it when places
actually list choices of drinks) has this retro design, I think they've
re-branded themselves in a slightly knowing kitschy way, though it's by no
means a hip haunt. And there are things like sidecars and brandy Alexander
listed, but you know it's downtown Brooklyn by classics like sex on the
beach, screaming orgasm, and my favorite: thug passion. What the heck is in
a thug passion? I wonder what will happen to Junior's clientele when the new
T.G.I.Friday's opens down the street in the old Gage & Tollner space. Ghetto
mudslides will have to be concocted to keep up. (3/5/04)

I don't recall Junior's having bathroom attendants before. But then,
maybe I never used the facilities in the past. It's a weird bathroom scene
(and hardly the freshest smelling) for sure. Clearly the attendant is more
security guard than social marker. (1/29/05)

Junior's * 386
Flatbush Ave., Brooklyn, NY