"The New York steak dinner, or "beefsteak," is a form of gluttony as stylized and regional as the riverbank fish fry, the hot-rock clambake, or the Texas barbecue." So begins Joseph Mitchell's "All You Can Hold for Five Bucks" from his classic compendium of New York stories Up in the Old Hotel. Pete has never been to a proper beefsteak, but at Two Toms at the intersection of Third Avenue and Union Street in Brooklyn--across from an Italian social club and catercorner from the Brooklyn Casket Company--where in the surrounding streets the old Italian woman linger the summer nights away in a circle of lawn chairs on the sidewalk and the men still signify success with shiny gold chains, Pete came pretty damn close. Pete joined 20 others at this anachronism of a restaurant that's been owned and operated by the same family, and relatively unchanged (the decor is no decor), since the 1940s. We sat at a 25-foot-long banquet table that had carafes of red and white situated every two to the three feet. The food is served family style; drinks are self-service--there's a cooler full of Bud, seltzer, Pepsi, etc., that you help yourself to (they don't even keep track as far as Pete can tell). First course: a cold seafood salad with shrimp, calamari, and conch; baked clams--breaded and drenched in a garlic butter sauce--and garlic bread. Second course: Penne pasta with red sauce and cheese ravioli. The first two courses are really just a warmup--and, to be honest, not necessarily all that great--to the third course, aka the meat course. The steak and mushrooms is okay, but the real reason to eat here is the Fred Flintstone-sized pork chops with roasted red peppers (pictures don't do them justice). Fourth course: chocolate cake, coffee, and a bottle of Anisette that's plopped down on the table by the owner Anthony. Pete thinks Mr. Wertheimer from Mitchell's story said it best, "When you go to a beefsteak, you got to figure on eating until it comes out your ears. Otherwise it would be bad manners."
Pete and his stylist both fear that they will end up here or on Vice's Dos and Don'ts--Pete's stylist has already appeared once--for getting a haircut on a bench in Tompkins Square Park (to the bemusement of many passerbyers). The best part of hobo haircuts is no clean-up; and as Pete's shorn locks rolled like tumbleweed down the pathways and joined forces with the pollen and stuck to passed out homeless people, Pete daydreamed that one of park's many birds would fortify their nests with his hair. Like all good tramps, Pete believes in the barter system, so in exchange for his haircut he took his stylist out for the quintessential hobo food: hot dogs. (Fuck you, Swine Flu!) Crif Dogs on St. Mark's Place is not a Hobo Baked Beans kind of joint though; they serve their dogs Jersey-style--deep-fried in vats of oil. Pete had the Crif Dog with grilled onions, sauerkraut, and mustard, and the chihuahua--a bacon-wrapped dog topped with avocado, sour cream, and salsa. (Pete couldn't help but wonder if a
vagabundo had ever had an actual chihuahua for supper
while riding the rails. (Sorry, Bo.)) Pete was slightly disappointed with the snap factor of the dogs themselves but with all of its toppings blending together nicely, the chihuahua tasted as good as a second serving at a soup kitchen, and the waffle cheese fries were as pleasant as finding an apple pie cooling on an open window sill. With all that greasy goodness in his belly, Pete threw his bindle over his shoulder and set off on a hobo stroll home.
Coke/Pepsi;Red Sox/Yankees;paper/plastic;to be/not to be;John/Paul;Jesus/Mohammed;tea/coffee; Easter Bunny/Santa Claus: many great rivalries exist, but few match the intensity of the O'Connor's-Freddy's softball games. Pete prepared for the first game of the season with a home-cooked meal of greenmarket goodness. Fried flounder on thick slices of toasted bread with sweet, BBQ-flavored fancy ketchup and hockey-puck-thick pickles; a lentil salad with parsley, squeezed lemon, and grapefruit zest; a pea shoot and sunflower salad with thin slices of carrots; iced tea with lemon wedges; and homemade peach ice cream. Considering Pete has been known to drink Bud and Jameson before games, Pete was prepared for his best game yet--and for eight innings... However, in the ninth, Pete Bucknered a ball--that nine times out of ten he would have handled easily--which would've ended the game and given O'C's a 10-9 victory (Freddy's ended up winning 11-10). You can read a fuller account here; Pete will post a photo link as soon as it is up as well. Pete doesn't know if the blame falls with being in the blazing sun all afternoon, getting lulled to distraction while playing behind the oldest-looking, slowest-pitching, least funny 54-year-old cab-driving pitcher of all-time, dancing to 60s/70s R&B/Soul 45s and a live performance by this guy till four in the morning the night before, or not--gasp--drinking; Pete does know that everyone had a blast and O'C's will get them next time. As a consolation prize: Pete was awarded the best-dressed award by his third-base counterpart's girlfriend.
When Pete lived in Ditmas Park, going-out-to-eat options were limited, and most of the good places--Bahar, Bagel Hole--were on Coney Island Avenue; however, Cortelyou Road is becoming somewhat of a restaurant row these days. A row of mediocre--at best--restaurants though, until now... Mimi's Hummus is clearly the class of the street. Pete strolled up there after a relaxing morning in the Brooklyn Botantic Garden and took a seat by the window of the 20-seat cafe, which is both BYOB and non-AC (for now); the incredibly cute waitress said the lack of AC would make the "...experience that much more authentic." Neither the suffocating heat nor Bob Marley on the stereo dampened the pleasure of Mimi's--full disclosure: Pete doesn't know if it's because he is getting older or because the association of frat boys and "Legend" no longer exists, but Pete actually enjoyed the reggae (shh, don't tell anyone). Pete and company shared the cold tahini hummus with pinenuts with both regular and whole wheat pita and fouk (a spicy puree of cilantro, spices, and peppers), a red beet soup with lamb meatballs (very borscht like), a cauliflower salad, and a red beet salad. Everything was super simple, just a few ingredients and spices, but really delicious, especially the hummus (of course) and the cauliflower salad. Pete finished up with Turkish coffee. Digression: Pete's grandfather--father's side--believed that you should drink hot beverages in the summer because the inevitable post-hot-drink sweating cools you down; Pete likes this theory, but he thinks it shouldn't necessarily be put into practice while on a date.
LaCock will never be confused with LaLanne; yet, lots of lunching leaves Pete looking for innovative ways to eat right-eously and still be ready to join the frat boys for shirtless fun and games in the park. Luckily, Pete stumbled onto just the workout program: bronchitis. Pete found that two weeks of consistent coughing was the equivalent of two hundred sit-ups a day; then, when Pete finally caved in and saw the doctor, he began taking such a cocktail of drugs--Pete's fave contains grain alcohol, slippery elm bark, apple cider vinegar, cayenne pepper, and butterbur, among other things--that he's lost his appetite for lunch altogether. Plus, Pete is not allowed to consume alcohol or dairy. Pete's planning on losing at least five pounds and attaining abs that you can bounce quarters off of while playing quarters in the park with the shirtless frat boys. Pete thinks he may be able to replace this guy as Oprah's personal trainer with the proper marketing approach. Pete is open to suggestions, but so far he's come up with: Sick Abs in 10 Days! or Cough Your Way to Weight Loss.
Despana on Broome between Cleveland and Lafayette invites you to "...experience a piece of Spain..." so Pete RSVPed "yes" on a beautiful spring day. Pete picked up Despana's namesake bocadillo ("sandwich"), the Despana (pictured), which has a thin layer of Serrano ham ("mountain ham"), creamy goat cheese ("creamy goat cheese"), and a tomato garlic spread ("tomato garlic spread"); the Verdinas con Jamon Serrano ("green beans and Serrano ham")--FYI: Verdinas is the brand name of the green beans, I guess it must be famous ("Amos") to get a shout out in the name of the dish--and a flan ("egg and milk custard goodness"). The food is amazing--Pete also recommends the boquerones ("marinated white anchovies") which he had on another visit; they were addictive ("Robert Palmer")--and the the flan was the best Pete ever tasted. The portions are very European ("reasonable") and the bocadillos are not jawbreakers like the fucking Godfather. In fact, the only thing that got lost in translation was the fact that Pete decided to eat lunch on a stoop in front of door with a sign that said, "Do not sit on steps. Active door." ("Pete got slammed in the back with a door").
After a long stroll up blossom blooming 5th Avenue--with a stop in Sunset Park: The Park for a short grass nap and to overhear a six-year-old call his friend a "pincha maricon" (fucking fag)--to 60th Street, Pete and PC headed down 4th Avenue looking for a new restaurant to try in their ever-continuing quest to eat at every restaurant in Sunset Park. Ended up at Star between 39th and 40th. Pete's been reeling from a double kick in the cojones of a spring cold and the onset of allergies, so he ordered the classic cold remedy: chicken soup and orange juice; however, this being a Mexican restaurant, he ordered the caldo de pollo--squash, carrots, potatoes, celery, and, of course, a big piece of chicken on the bone; it also comes with a side of cilantro, limes, and diced onions--and a morir sonando. The soup was a little bit salty but good, and even better with the addition of some of the salsas on the table. Pete and PC also shared a lengua (tongue) taco and al pastor--the menu states "Especialistas en al pastor" so that was a no brainer--quesadillas. The only drawback to this place--they even have a full bar which is pretty uncommon in Sunset Park--is that like ODB, they like to play their music loud.
Over the course of this long, dark winter, and equally depressing damp, dank spring, Pete has relied on one cheap, go-to food more than all others: the dumpling. However, Pete has finally OD--over dumpling-ed. While Pete will still stop by the dumpling houses for sesame pancakes, kimchi, and spicy cucumbers--and maybe an occasional pork bun; Pete is going to say good-bye to dumplings for awhile. But Pete still wants to pay tribute for all they have done for him over the past few months, so... a little song to the tune of John Mellencamp's "Jack & Diane."
Little ditty about pork and chive and
dumpling dough sizzling in a hot pan.
Five for a dollar makes the price a star
it's a filling meal that's gonna go far.
Snacking on pork dumplings inside the Tastee Deeze
paperback on my lap
napkin on my knees.
Pete says, "Hey dumpling lady let's run off
and get five more for me."
I'll nibble on those crispy nooks
first; Pete will eat as he please.
And say a
Oh yeah lunch goes on
Long after the thrill of cheap dumplings is gone.
Say oh yeah lunch goes on
Long after the thrill of cheap dumplings is gone, now eat on.
Even though it may seem as though Pete thinks he's too good to consume fast food, there is no denying that Pete has more than a passing resemblance to the Burger King--Pete added a crown of thorns to a Burger King crown and was the Burger King of Jews for Halloween recently. Pete also loves Sir Mix-a-Lot's "Baby Got Back," especially while karaoke-ing-- REM's "End of the World as We Know It" is plan B. Pete also loves doing half-splits; though, not the morning after. Pete also collected Chick tracts for a time. Why mention all of these autobiographical tidbits about Pete? Because in the Chick tract "This Was Your Life," a man dies and is forced to watch his life--everything was recorded! Pete has always thought this is the definition of hell. Pete couldn't imagine watching his mistakes be replayed over and over on what he imagines would be a big, clunky 70s TV--God doesn't need to upgrade if you know what Pete's saying. Thus, the reason Pete finds this new Burger King commercial so disturbing. Lenny Bruce might not be afraid, but Pete is worried that Crispin Porter + Bogusky is secretly filming--and mocking--his life.
Pete's been brown-bagging as of late. Today: Black olive tapenade and sharp cheddar on a ciabatta, and a zucchini and carrot salad with a wildcatted horseradish mustard, black pepper, and orange juice dressing. But a break in the depressing weather forced Pete to fly the coop for a Watermelon Sorbet--refreshing, but still haven't found a flavor that matches their pumpkin pie ice cream--from the Chinatown Ice Cream Factory. and nest in Columbus Park (whose daily scene Pete briefly documented here previously) while watching the cherry blossoms float like feathers in the air and listen to the birds--caged and uncaged--sing their spring songs. Pete loves parks. Pete also thinks American's should come up with creative ways to use parks the way people in other countries do. For example, in China, people bring their caged birds and caged crickets(!) and hang the cages from the trees; and in Korea, there are outlets in the ground so people (mostly old men) can plug in their portable karaoke--translation: empty orchestra--machines. Pete did once attend an illegal dance party in a rose garden--the DJ plugged in a boom box and Pete and friends shook to "Paul's Boutique" all night long, well, until the cops showed up, so Pete is doing his part.
Pete and friend had high hopes for the Cubana Cafe in SoHo; the online reviews were mostly positive and the downstairs space was kitschy but comfortable, pero... The hangar steak sandwich with avocado, tomato, swiss cheese, and chipotle mayo on toasted, pressed Cuban bread seemed to have all the ingredients of a delicious sandwich--but it was more like a blandwich--it was improved slightly by a heavy dose of the on-the-table red salsa (peppery but not too hot). The salsas, the other is a mango salsa, were the best part of the meal. The chicken soup with avocado, tomato, cilantro, and yuca came highly recommended by the waiter but Pete thinks if you did a blind taste against a chicken broth, Pete's not sure which would win. Even the pineapple batido--pineapple, milk, sugar, and ice blended together--was punchless; how can you fuck up a sugar-based fruit shake that is your country's national drink?!?!? Pete thinks Fidel would think that the food here is more American anti-Cuba propaganda.
Pete spent the day strolling the Coney Island boardwalk, riding the Cyclone, and dining at one of the boardwalk cafes in Brighton Beach. Pete and friends shared smoked fish (tuna, whitefish, salmon) served with brown bread, herring in oil and red onions, green borscht, dill and garlic French fries, potato dumplings with grilled onions, salad, and a big pitcher of pilsner. It was a long, chill lunch and Pete was content to just sit there, feeling the sun on his face while watching the ocean and staring at people. And the Russian waiter was even moderately friendly. One to grow on though: Russians don't like Russian jokes.
Once upon a time there was a shop called Charcuterie, it had dusty, sparsely stocked shelves of imported speciality products; it also made some of the best damn sandwiches in NYC. You could grab a beer and eat your sandwich with a cold beer at one of the oak tables in the back and watch the people pass by on Flatbush Avenue. Then, one day, they closed, but they promised to open back up in a bigger, better space across the street. Two years later, Mitchell's opened up. Pete and company excitedly went when it first opened but were shocked to learn that instead of sandwich spot with more space, it was a jazz club/sports bar/hookah bar/night club/restaurant as well as a deli. It's kind of like the mafia, they were really good at extortion and rackets, but the allure of big money in the drug trade was too much--and it led to their downfall. Somehow, someway, Mitchell's has managed to stay in business despite the fact Pete never sees anyone in any area other than the deli--but, they still make some of the best damn sandwiches in NYC. Pete got the Godfather--stacks of Italian meats, provolone, mozzarella, sweet peppers, black olive tapenade, lettuce, tomato, and balsamic vinegar on homemade baked bread--it was so big, Pete could barely get his mouth around it. The two brothers that run the place have a certain resemblance to Marlon Brando and they are consistently trying to make you offers that you can't refuse, i.e. you have to have the cheesecake, you need to try the spare ribs, etc. Pete recommends picking up a sandwich and having it with a beer at either Freddy's or O'Connor's.
In Pete's carefree college days, he rented a couch in an old Victorian from a strange man who referred to all animals other than cats--since cats were the original inhabitants of earth--with the adjective "moo" in front of them. For example, a cow was a Moo Kitty and a Yeti was Never-Been-Seen Kitty. With that in mind, Pete refers to breakfast as first lunch; dinner is third lunch; and brunch is not lunch. Pete participated in a beer pairing for third lunch yesterday evening--or, third afternoon. Thick slices of ham and black olives so briny they looked like grapes and snappy, tart cornichon; big wheels of cheese; and a bowl of greenmarket pretzels--all matched with the appropriate (really expensive) beer. The highlight was eating a piece of salted caramel chocolate then sipping on a Three Philosophers Belgian then popping a dark cherry. Fantastic stuff, and free too! This all went down at Jimmy's No. 43 in the Eat (sic) Village. Pete must admit that based on the exterior he always assumed this place was a douchey sports bar; it's not though. It's interior has that ethereal quality the Japanese refer to as yugen. Pete and company took a nice stroll over the Brooklyn Bridge in the foggy spring evening ("The fog makes all the lights on the buildings look glowy.") to Blue Marble for some ice cream. Pete's Divine Mocha Chip was just that--divine--70% Stumptown coffee and 30% chocolate with big chocolate chips.
It's not as if not ordering dumplings at Vanessa's Dumpling House is akin to ordering a roast beef with cheddar cheese on it at a kosher deli (which Pete once did at Jay & Lloyd's Kosher Deli out in Sheepshead Bay; sadly, this is not even a top-five ordering faux paux for Pete), but it nevertheless felt strange to Pete to deny himself the porky goodness. But Pete just didn't feel like filling his belly with fried pork and dough on a warm spring day so he got the sesame pancake with egg, kimchi, a steamed red bean bun, and a soy bean milk. Pete lamented not getting a second soy bean milk because the kimchi--which now has slices of Asian pear in it--was not for the faint of tongue. Luckily for Pete, the red bean bun--the beans tasted vaguely like Heinz Baked Beans (which isn't a bad thing, especially considering how much the Who liked them)--helped keep Pete from getting too overheated. Now, the SoHo women of spring in sundresses... Pete's lucky he knows lots of places to get soy bean milk and red bean buns.
Pete and Sled Dog set off on a sunny Saturday afternoon for food and drinks--alas, they forgot about the food for a bit too long. After multiple rounds of beers and much discussion of metal bands like Mastodon at the Gate, we met up with Big Red and headed to 4th Avenue Pub. At this point, Pete and Sled Dog were feeling a bit tipsy, so they decided the proper thing to do was to get tattoos. Watch an artistically licensed recreation of how that turned out here. Eventually Pete and Sled Dog picked up one of Layla Jones's thin, square Sicilian-ish pies with black olives--it's definitely no DiFara's, but that late, late afternoon, it tasted just as good. And it sobered Pete and Sled up enough to do a little more drinking with Levon Kirkland later on that night.
Late-night lunch tip: The original El Idolo taco truck is parked on 14th and 8th in the city until closing time; Pete picked up a cemita there recently: he recommends it. Flannery's down the street lets you bring food into the bar; not a spot Pete would recommend but also not the worst spot in the world--the Northern Irish bartender seemed very friendly, too, but to be honest Pete couldn't understand a word he said.