Monday, January 15, 2007

New York's Top 10: Food!

Of course, the first list was going to be about food. What did you think?!

Actually, even as I was writing out this first list, I realized that it was going to be a tougher job that even I had anticipated. So this first post is only five of the ten eating places I was going to write about. Even with the truncated list, this is one long post (hence the smaller font), so be warned. The next post with the other five will probably be as long so be warned again.

Anyway, without further ado and in no particular order, here are the ten (or so!) absolute must-eats in New York and where to eat them:

Steaks: For the true carnivore, there is really only one place to eat steaks - Peter Luger's Steakhouse in Brooklyn (178 Broadway, Brooklyn, NY 11211). Things are really simple at Peter Luger's - they only serve porterhouse steaks for 2, 3 or 4 people and they only cook them up to a medium, if that (if you like your meat cooked more than that, you really shouldn't be eating steaks anyway!) and they only take cash. If you are dining there alone, they'll give you a steak for one, but why would you go alone to Peter Luger's?!

For those who want a little more variety and/ or a more traditional steakhouse, there is Keens Steakhouse (72nd West 36th St, New York, NY 10018). Keens has been around since 1885 and other than its steaks, is famous for its ‘legendary mutton chop’, which is actually a gargantuan 26 oz. lamb chop cooked to perfection (i.e. stuck over a candle for a minute). They even have a ‘pipe club’ and have pipes that once belonged to Babe Ruth and Teddy Roosevelt amongst others. Whatever.

All-You-Can-Eat Meat: A churrascaria is a Brazilian steakhouse with a concept as almost as simple, and as brilliant, as Peter Luger’s. Each diner gets a disc one side of which is red, the other green. As long as the green side of the disc is up, the servers keep bringing you meat – prime cuts of beef, pork, sausages, even the odd chicken or turkey – and carve it right at your table. When you are ready to give up, you flip the disc over to the red and they stop. When you get your second wind, you flip it over again – you see how it goes.

There are a number of churrascarias in New York but the Churrascaria Plataforma (316 West 49th Street, New York, NY 10019) has pretty much perfected the genre, as it were. You can wash down your food with a cool Guarana (a Brazilian soda sort of like a cream soda) or something stronger like a Caipirinha (any one of a variety of cachaca based cocktails). Your meal comes with sides like rice, mashed potatoes, vegetables, fried plantains, etc. and they even have a buffet salad and appetizer bar. But, really, who gives a damn?!

The one thing they don’t do well at Churrascaria Plataforma is feijoada, Brazil’s de facto national dish – a stew of any and every kind of meat you can think of and black beans. For this, you need to go to Via Brasil (34 West 46th St, New York 10036), where they make the best feijoada I’ve eaten in a restaurant. Both places have live music and atmosphere and whatnot, but like said before, who cares?!

Pizza at Lombardi’s: New Yorkers take their pizza very seriously and have very definite views about what it should and should not be. Not for us all the deep-dish nonsense. The quintessential New York pizza is street food, meant to be eaten on the go. As such, you want the crust to be crispy on the outside so that the toppings don’t seep through, chewy and soft on the inside so that the toppings don’t slide off and they have to be thin and large so that they can be folded vertically, like a sandwich. Et voila! (Or Mamma Mia! as the case may be), you have the famous ‘Brooklyn style pizza’. It’s all form following function, baby.

But, when you want to kick your pizza up a notch as Emeril Lagasse would say, you head on over to Lombardi’s (32 Spring St, New York, NY 10012). Opened in 1897, Lombardi’s is, by their own admission, the ‘best pizza on the planet’. They make only two kinds of pies – one with marinara sauce called the Original, and one with mozzarella called the White Pizza. There are only two sizes, you can’t buy slices, they don’t reservations and they only take cash (it seems like there is a theme developing here). They also have calzones but all the times I have been there, I’ve never actually seen someone order one. Their pizzas are sublime though, loaded with as many toppings as you want, perfectly foldable and the crust is almost graham cracker crunchy. Wash it down with some of their house Chianti and for about $50 two people can stuff themselves silly.

Hot-Dogs: When it comes to hot-dogs, there are two schools of thought – the Chicago school and the New York school. Not to disparage the Windy City but their hot-dogs come with a neon-green onion relish that tastes just like it looks. ‘nuff said.

In New York, we eat our hot-dogs with some mustard, a bit of relish and a dab of sauerkraut. Never ketchup! Even though the friendly guy at the hot-dog cart will have it, as soon as you ask for ketchup, it marks you as an outsider, a tourist! But getting a hot-dog ‘with everything’ from a street-cart is definitely on the must-do list, as is a visit to Gray’s Papaya (2090 Broadway, New York, NY 10023) where the hot dogs are nor the best in the world (but at 95 cents they’ll do) but the papaya drink is really the reason to go there. Then there is the Nathan’s Famous hot-dogs at Coney Island, which is where it all started in 1916 and which is the site of the famous hot-dg eating contest. But the king of all hot-dogs in New York is the ‘guaranteed 15-bite’ nearly one pound monster at The Brooklyn Diner (212 57th street, New York, NY 10019). At nearly $16, it is frikkin’ expensive for a hot dog but it is worth every penny. The hot-dogs come with a giant mound of onion rings and the hot-dogs themselves are really delicious – all-beef, kosher – and their sauerkraut has juniper berries in them. Take it from someone who has done a lot of primary research on hot-dogs, the Diner’s the real thing.

Burgers at the Burger Joint: The Burger Joint at the Park Meridien hotel used to be one of those insider places that only a few people knew about. Unfortunately, those days are long gone and now the lines and the wait for the burgers are long. Fortunately, the burgers are still the best in the City. The Burger Joint only serves two kinds of burgers (here we go again) – hamburgers and cheeseburgers, and the easiest way to order is to get one with ‘everything on it’. They also have awesome milkshakes and pitchers of beer (Sam Adams only). Definitely a place with attitude (what place in New York isn’t?), they proudly proclaim, “If you don’t see it, we don’t have it.” One of the few places that will still do a burger medium rare, the Burger Joint has extraordinarily succulent melt-in-your-mouth ½ lb patties and really good fries served the old-fashioned way in paper cones. If it’s burgers you want, and there is absolutely no reason why you shouldn’t, the Burger Joint is the place to go.

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