For all you non-cavemen out there, I just wanted to tell you about all the non-caveman food I engorged on while in the NYC area. I know you fellow foodies get a kick out of that stuff. And for the converted, put your caveman clubs down for a moment, and remember what it was like to be a fat bastard. Every now and then you have to eat the old stuff, just to keep sane (especially when you’re in New York). None of the food I’m about to write about is caveman friendly, so proceed at your own risk of falling off the health wagon.
I landed on a Friday night at 5:30pm. By 6:30pm I was eating Chinese take-out. My fellow Los Angeles transplanted New Yorkers will understand this best. I’m still dumbfounded why, in a city with such a huge Chinese population like LA, that they cannot make a decent NY style wonton or egg roll! The LA egg rolls are what we call in NY spring rolls, and New Yorkers have no name for the crappy things LA passes off as wontons. I mean, you can even buy thick wonton skin in a grocery store, and yet the LA restaurants continue to use this flimsy dough for their below average food. In the NY area, you can literally get the good stuff at EVERY little take-out place, even if the rest of their food sucks.
Anyway, I needed some wonton soup in egg drop broth to take the edge off. This is also a classic NY way of eating wonton soup. The egg drop broth pushes it to a whole new level. I like to add hot Chinese mustard to my soup, and top it with those wonderful crunchy noodles they serve at every meal in NY. One of my death bed meals for sure. Then I’ve got my patented way of eating my NY egg roll. I cut it in half, and scoop out all the piping hot goodness. Careful, the temperature inside the egg roll is hotter than the planet surface of Mercury. Then I mix all the inside stuff with hot mustard and duck sauce (also something they rarely have in LA). This not only adds flavor, but also gives the inside a chance to cool to eatable temperatures. Once mixed I put the stuff back inside the egg roll shells, and enjoy. Try it next time, and thank me later. You’ll never burn your mouth on an egg roll again.
I hit Chinese food once again at the end of my trip at the famous Wo Hop in Chinatown. Most people go to the upstairs version at 15 Mott Street, but clever New Yorkers know the real deal is downstairs under the sidewalk at 17 Mott Street. Cash only folks, but they do have an ATM (I can only imagine the fee). Don’t look for decor, it’s all about the Cantonese style food. You’ll notice white people eating one kind of dish, and Chinese people eating completely different food (they even have two different menus, one in English, and one in Cantonese), but I grew up with the American style food, and it doesn’t make it any less delicious, so that’s what I get. They make their own wontons, as opposed to the factory made wontons that most take-out places get from a big food distributor (also delicious, but not as delicious as these). You can get them stuffed with many things, like duck, or veggies, or chicken, but I love the pork (what NY Jew doesn’t LOVE pork?! Even my kosher friends love pork in a Chinese restaurant!). Again, do yourself a favor, order the Wor Wonton Soup in the Egg Drop broth, and you will be transformed for life. Mustard, crunchy noodles, eat.
And now for the pizza (the life blood of any New Yorker)! John’s Brick Oven Pizza on Bleeker Street in Greenwich Village!! To me, the best in Manhattan. Lombardi’s in Little Italy was the first pizzeria in America, and the place I send friends who are visiting NY because of its history, but I like John’s slightly better. So good, you cannot stop eating it!
Now, you can visit all the pizzerias you want in Manhattan, and there’s some great pizza for sure. But if you want the best, you have to go to Brooklyn. You won’t find this place in a Zagat’s guide, or in a Yelp Top Ten for NY tourists. You have to live in this neighborhood to know about it. Luckily, I grew up here. Lenny & John’s on Flatbush Avenue. I will put this pizza up against the best in the world in a blind taste test, and I guarantee it finishes high in the rankings. I had two slices (I put a light sprinkling of garlic powder, crushed red pepper, and Parmesan cheese on mine). There’s no way to describe it, except heavenly. You do the Brooklyn fold (or as we called it in Hoboken, the Holland Funnel), and enjoy. Thin crust, but not crunchy, like a brick oven pizza. It’s just perfect. Chewy, cheesy, perfect sauce, perfect crust, perfect cheese. Usually when you find a good foodie place, you keep it a secret because you don’t want the place to get flooded with tourists (like DiFaro’s, the overrated place on Ave J, that City Search got a hold of and ruined). But I doubt anyone is going to make the trek into Flatbush, so I’m not worried. After my two slices I had my favorite, a sausage roll. Not even many NY places make the sausage roll anymore, but even when they did, it was rarely as good as Lenny & John’s. Italian sausage wrapped in pizza dough with a little caramelized onions. Maybe a drop of sauce and a touch of mozzarella too. It’s the best. I wasn’t hungry anymore, but I wanted to finish with the taste of pizza in my mouth, so I had another slice. You don’t need any toppings on this pizza folks, it’s good with just the cheese (same for John’s Brick oven and Lombardi’s). Plus, two people can feast for under $10 bucks. Usually I have a root beer from the fountain, but I didn’t want to fill up on soda. No room for dessert, but they do have the old fashioned soft Italian ices, and zeppole, which is just fried dough with powdered sugar. Crazy good. Okay, enough pizza, let’s move on to Deli.
In Islam, they say every Muslim must make a pilgrimage to Mecca. In America, every Jew must make a pilgrimage to Katz’s Deli on the Lower East Side in Manhattan. This is by far, my favorite restaurant of all time. If you love corned beef, it’s the best. If you love hot dogs (or as we say in NY, franks, or frankfurters), it’s close to the best (there’s a NY debate between Katz’s, Nathan’s, and Grey’s Papaya, that may never be settled). Mothers used to “send a salami to their boys in the army,” during WWII. But the jewel of this place is the pastrami. Many articles have been written on this place, so I won’t go into it, but trust me, it’s the best pastrami in the world! The pastrami is so good, that if you eat their corned beef (which is the best) in the same meal, and then taste the pastrami, you will think the corned beef is just average. And they still hand carve it all! Plus, if you skip the waiter service, and go right to the counter, for a dollar tip, the carver will give you a taste of the meat for your sandwich, and for a $5 tip, you’ll be so full from the free samples you won’t be able to finish your sandwich! I have been craving Katz’s for months now, and one trip will not satisfy my craving. I made TWO trips to Katz’s during this NY visit, and to tell you the truth, I need a third to try it all. Because everything they serve is the best! Most places make one or two things good, but EVERYTHING they have is the best of that particular item! The best corned beef, best pastrami, best brisket, best salami (soft and hard), the best hot dogs, the best french fries (steak fries), the best creamy macaroni salad, potato salad and cole slaw, and the best pickles (sour and half sour)! You can see why you need three trips (or more) to try it all. Enjoy it all with a Dr. Brown’s Cream Soda, or Black Cherry, but if you want a real NY treat, try the Cel-Ray Tonic (celery soda!, sounds outrageous and gross, I know, but it’s delicious, and goes perfectly with deli meat)! Then if I have any room left (which I usually don’t), try an egg cream for dessert. Milk, seltzer, and Fox’s U-Bet chocolate syrup, a NY legendary beverage (no eggs, despite the name). Oh, and bring your mortgage broker to pay for it all, ‘cause it ain’t cheap if you eat all that food (about $15 a sandwich, but it’s cheap considering all the quality meat they pile on sky high). They say they only take cash, but if you’re in the know, you know where the credit card guy is (by the fries section). And folks, just get meat on your sandwich, please! Mustard is also allowable, but no “toppings.” I saw an Italian couple there (from Italy Italian, not “Jersey Shore” Italian) and they had two sandwiches (at least they ordered it on rye bread, although the “club bread,” which is like a french roll is also acceptable according to the Torah), and they both had lettuce and tomato on their sandwiches. The roast beef I can understand, but on the pastrami?! Sacrilege. By the way, I didn’t even know they had roast beef until I saw that sandwich. I bet they have turkey hidden somewhere in the basement as well. Still haven’t seen any mayonnaise, but they must keep some around for the tourists. However the mustard is the best!
Every time I passed Gray’s Papaya, I had a hot dog. Impossible not to. For less than $4 you get 2 dogs and a drink. I’m a New Yorker, so I get mustard, kraut, and those delicious onions stewed in tomato sauce. New York dogs SNAP when you bite into them, so that’s what you look for in a great frank. Get it with a papaya drink (sounds weird, but it’s great).
This is my last day in NY, and I’m already planning on an everything bagel (scallion cream cheese, red onion, and tomato), AND a bialy (a bagel like object worshipped by anyone who has ever uttered a word of Yiddish) with butter and munster cheese. And I’m guessing there’s some cold sesame noodles in my future for lunch (more on this in a future blog).
And I didn’t even mention my trip to visit my niece in Philadelphia, another amazing food town! When in the city of brotherly love, go to Reading Terminal Market, skip the cheesesteak places and hit up Tommy DiNic’s for a roast pork, pulled pork, or brisket sandwich that will blow your mind. You can get it with broccoli rabe right on the sandwich for an experience you’ll never forget! I also add provolone and sweet and hot peppers (the works). If you have any room for dessert (you won’t, but have dessert anyway), go across the terminal to Bassett’s Ice Cream stand, the oldest ice cream in America (since 1861).
Well, that’s it. Back to Los Angeles and caveman eating for me. I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving, and I want to wish all my readers a very happy holiday season, filled with wontons, egg rolls, and pastrami. Ugga-Bugga! (Hmm, maybe on the way to the airport I can get Sherilyn to take me back to Katz’s for one last pastrami sandwich…)