uy a decent bottle of wine for under $10
Warehouse Wine & Spirits
735 Broadway (betw. Astor Pl. & E. 8th St.)
We all know that wine is the blood of Christ, and Christ, like Marx, was for
the people. It follows that his blood should be affordable. And so Warehouse Wine & Spirits
was created. It’s not your fancy neighborhood wine store, but it is full of quality wines marked
anywhere from 20 percent to 45 percent less than you’d pay at your cozy local retailer. Although
it does feel something like a warehouse, it has an impressive assortment of wines from around the
world, including an excellent sake section. Warehouse’s near-NYU location keeps the atmosphere
unpretentious, while the clerks remain helpful and patient, without the usual condescension.
This is a place for the wine enthusiast who is also a bit of a wino.
So next Sunday instead of dropping by church drop a couple dollars on
a bottle of wine and remember: Christ is with you in spirit and expense.
Best Comfort Food
359 7th Ave. (betw. 10th St. & 11th St.), Brooklyn
Still ain’t nothin’ but a sandwich. Go to most any deli in town and order a hero,
and you know what you get: a stale, soggy bun dripping mayonnaise and packed with a cubic foot of shredded
lettuce. If you look closely—if you really look in there—you might eventually come
across a thin slice of fatty, gray meat or maybe some cheese. It’s pretty messy and depressing all
Now, Brooklyn’s Pizza Plus, to be honest, could easily be given a Best
Of for any number of things. The proprietress is a sweetheart. The pizza far outstrips almost anything
you’ll find in Manhattan. The salads are crisp and enormous. The spinach rolls are made fresh when
you order them; they haven’t been sitting in a case for three days.
But their heroes are really something else. They’re monsters, but comfortably
so. Although we’ve never actually weighed one, we’d guess they’re a good two pounds apiece, on average.
The small restaurant offers your typical meatball and chicken parm
and the other usuals.
They’re very simple—just meat, cheese lettuce, tomato, sometimes
roasted peppers and dressing. But here’s the clincher: The buns are always fresh, they pile the
meat on heavy and limit the lettuce to a single thin leaf. Better still, the dressing isn’t slopped
on the way it is in most places. It’s there, but it’s hardly dripping. Each costs about six dollars.
There’s something comforting about these sandwiches. Like nearly
everything else we’ve had at Pizza Plus, they obviously put some real care into them.
Best way to clog your arteries at lunch
154 W. 45th St. (7th Ave.)
The lunch and dinner entrees at Italian steakhouse Bond 45 are the same, down
to the price and portion sizes, and we’ve discovered that the carne misto isn’t something you really
want to order at lunch. It’s a massive plate that includes a lamb shank, short ribs, sausage, prime
rib and pork loin. And while this might seem like the perfect Atkins-feast, the side of risotto puts
the lie to that.
If you do decide to gorge on this at lunch, let’s just say we can see your
future. After eating it five times in two months, we can safely predict that your day will involve
stumbling back into work in a meat coma, falling asleep at your desk, logging onto fleshbot.com
and then going home five hours later, still full.
best choice for Cheap Gourmet
This fall: 140 E. 14th St. (betw. 3rd Ave. & 4th Ave.)
While Whole Foods makes us want to murder, visits to Trader Joe’s in other
cities inspire the opposite effect. Everybody is so happy to be getting cut rates on gourmet prepared
foods from a house brand that doesn’t suck that they chat madly with each other, mingling promiscuously
in line. An entire cheesecake is less than a slice at your average bistro, same with the quiche. Everything
is tasty and selection is plentiful. If you must, you can even get a Trader Joe’s meatless corn dog.
NYU has done some very bad things, most notably colonizing an entire neighborhood with non-disaffected
youth, but moving Trader Joe’s into the so-called NYU Palladium on 14th St., while ironical, is
a pretty good deal for the rest of us.
Best Restaurant We’ll Never Eat at Again
102 E. 25th St. (betw. Park Ave. & Lexington Ave.)
Time to put Baby in a corner. Although NYC can sustain any number of restaurants
serving obscure ethnic cuisines, our Cajun joints have roundly sucked. You could get better gumbo
in the New Orleans airport than anywhere between the Hudson and East Rivers. So when French Quarter
opened, flying its crawfish and tasso ham in from Louisiana, it was filling a spiritual need. Oysters
Bienville have a smoky, campfire musk under a bearnaise blanket. Crawfish etouffee is creamy,
not watery, with crawfish that are sweet, not skunky. But—not to get all Bruni on you—we
can never, ever eat there again, because the music drove us away.
In an almost empty restaurant, blasting the Dirty Dancing soundtrack
would be bad enough without the three skanky young waitresses—perma-tanned, fake bejeweled
and bleached—at the end of the bar singing “I’ve Had The Time of My Life” at top volume. Check
Best Crusty Waitstaff
J&J COFFEE SHOP
442 E. 14th St. (betw. 1st Ave. and Avenue A)
Can you keep a secret? You’re gonna get a better cup of coffee for under a dollar
at J&J than anywhere on nearby Avenue A, and somebody will even talk to you there. The other day
we ordered a seltzer, setting off the counterperson in charge: “They forgot to get the friggin’
lemons again!” she exclaimed, before treating us to the history of the defunct seltzer machine.
“It was a real moneymaker, but now everything comes out smellin’ like mold!”
J&J is supposed to be open 24 hours from Wednesday to Sunday, but
it often can’t manage that. Everyone on the staff seems to be a heavy smoker, a habit that leaves them
all with deep, scratchy voices. The refreshing lack of ambience brings out the loyalty in the lingering
neighborhood regulars: “J&J tries to do its best with what little it has,” says Melody J. Doves.
“There are decorations around the holidays, and the waitresses try to act cheerful!” What more
could we ask for with our moldy seltzer?
Best (and perhaps only) Tex-Mex restaurant
188 5th Ave. (betw. Sackett St. & DeGraw St.), Brooklyn
218 Court St. (Warren St., Brooklyn)
Cheez, glorious cheez. We’ve spent the better part of five years looking
for authentic Tex-Mex food, craving a very specific taste: processed cheese. Basically, good
Tex-Mex food should involve something that resembles melted Velveeta, and for the longest time,
our search was for naught. Then Lobo, like an angel from heaven, opened, first in Cobble Hill and
then in Park Slope, serving up real Texas-worthy chili with no beans, great catfish sandwiches
and gut-busting entrees.
At $10 or less for almost everything, all the food is a huge bargain, which
makes up for the $8 margaritas. And we’ll forgive this price gouge because we’ve finally found the
cheese we were looking for. We must toast you and thank you, Lobo, for making us whole.
Best Japanese Bread
10 Stuyvesant St. (betw. 3rd Ave. and E. 9 St.)
The Japanese have taken over large swathes of East Ninth Street and used them
to show us how to live. The bread at Panya is bright white, puffy and, our friend Kensuke assures us,
perfectly baked. Native Japanese find our unstable fluctuations—from wildly sweet cake
to throat burning spice—untenable, and are desperately homesick for this bland and wonderful
variety of baked goods. If you doubt their wisdom, just remember: We are fat, and they are not… Yet.
Best burgers for Drunks
91 Avenue A (betw. 5th St. & 6th St.)
It took a couple of former bar owners to come up with the perfect formula. Lucky
Burger, open until 5 a.m., has bright lighting that won’t make you look too bad. The counter is kind
of high up, subtly conveying authority, a flat-screen TV is usually on, so you can just sit there,
quietly drooling between bites of just about the best burger and fries you’ve ever had. On a recent
predawn visit, a beggar was treated with finesse, nonviolence and some fries. Plus, the milkshakes
are genuine and amazing. This is what we really need late at night, and apparently we will behave
ourselves while enjoying well-rendered comfort food. Turns out it’s all we ever really wanted.
BEST NACHOS for Drunks
111 Stanton St. (betw. Essex St. & Ludlow St.)
The first year we ate there, we thought the restaurant was called Wacky Taco.
To our drunken ears, that sounded perfectly plausible. Wacky Taco. Wacky Taco!
We always went with friends, who escorted us to our faux-Mexican manna.
One night, however, we tried to visit Wacky Taco on our own. It proved as elusive as Atlantis. “Where’s
Wacky Taco?” we asked random Lower East Side dwellers. They looked at us like we drank a bad batch
of bleach. After much confusion, we called the friend who had introduced us to this wonderful place.
“How come no one knows where Wacky Taco is?” we asked.
“It’s called San Loco,” she answered. Our riddle was solved. Though
there are several other San Locos downtown, the best nachos are still found on Stanton Street. Try
the beef (not the chili beef), a perfect antidote for post-drinking binges. The restaurant is open
until 5 am, catering to drunkards not too drunk to find their way to San Loco.
Best Mouth-Incinerating Taco Served on 10th Avenue
Tehuitzingo Deli Grocery
695 10th Ave. (betw. W. 47th St. and W. 48th St.)
Behold our Buddha-belly, peeking mouse-like out the bottom of our too-tight
T-shirts, and you’ll know we’re never ones for moderation. Flambés, soufflés,
snickers: We’re halfway to the fat American cliché. A dollop of moderation, however, might
serve us well at Tehuitzingo.
Located on a feisty stretch of Tenth Avenue, Tehuitzingo is a Mexican
deli selling Jarritos and cactus leaves. However, past the soda-stocked refrigerators sits a
tiny window where intrepid gourmands can order tacos and quesadillas. This is not a run for the border:
Tehuitzingo’s chefs are schooled in obscure treats like sweet, pumpkin-flower quesadillas and
crispy, pork-skin tacos. The damage? About two bucks.
We always order two spicy pork enchiladas. They arrive on a paper plate
inside a double-tortilla layer, as red as a fire truck and sprinkled with cilantro. To this we add
smoky red salsa, offered gratis alongside chopped jalapeño and onions. We overload on
the fiery mixture, adding carrot discs from a jar of pickled peppers. The first bite is revelatory;
the second, ulcerating. But we don’t admit weakness, licking the paper plate until it disintegrates
on our happily blistered lips.
Best Bar to Drink a Dollar PBR and Head-Bang With the Ghosts of Alcoholics
28 N. 3rd St. (Kent Ave.), Brooklyn
At the millennium’s dawn, any headbanger worth his spiked collar headed
to the Port Authority’s urine-soaked shadow. There, near Sterno-sipping lifers, sat Hell’s Kitchen’s
Bellevue, a be-careful-where-you-sit dive with horror-movie décor (including a coffin)
and copious amounts of pre-irony Pabst. Metal veterans like Pantera and Rob Zombie often snagged
stools and watched tooth-deficient septuagenarian Dancin’ Dominick hoofing it to Danzig like
“your grandfather on crack,” says Jimmy Duff, Bellevue’s former co-owner.
Six years later, Bellevue and Dancin’ Dominick are both dead. (Well,
Bellevue chugs along with less horror and more yuppies, which means it’s kaput in our book.) Blessedly,
Duff has resuscitated both Bellevue and Dominick at Williamsburg’s heavy-metal outpost named,
Until 9 pm, cram inside the former check-cashing shop, sit on a cow-print
stool and down a dollar Pabst. Ogle the Jesus memorabilia and concert posters and, perhaps, spin
some Sepultura. If you visit on weekends, grab a free wiener grilled on the outdoor deck. Then bow
your head: Dancin’ Dominick’s satin jacket is encased in glass on the wall and, on the TV, there’s
grainy footage of the infamous postal worker, boogying eternally to his own peculiar beat.
Best caffeinated ex-lax substitute
97 5th Ave. (Park Pl.), Brooklyn
When we’re, ahem, backed up after another week of our pizza-and-fried-food
diet, we trek to Park Slope for a cheap, effective and foolproof remedy: a large cup of Gorilla Coffee’s
Sure, the large might be overdoing it—akin to ingesting a dozen
aspirin for a paper cut—but when we get down to business, we get down to business, if you know
what we mean. First, we double-check to make sure the bathroom is available. Then we dump the house-roasted,
Fair Trade fuel down our throat and grab the table.
The coffee cuts through our GI tract like an irate general, urging decomposing
food to march onward. Soon we’re sweating. Then our stomachs rumble. Then we’re hobbling, bowlegged,
to the toilet, which greets us cool and welcoming, like a lover we’ve missed for far too long.
Best SZECHUAN Pickle Noodle Soup Served Near the Diamond District
48 W. 48th St. (betw. 5th Ave. & 6th Ave.)
Diamond District dining always leaves us in a pickle. Should we eat falafel
or, well, falafel? Luckily, Hing Won is an unlikely savior. At first glance, it’s a cookie-cutter
Chinese dive with a glassed-in buffet loaded with General Tso’s and rice glop. Yet a peek at the menu
reveals an atypical array of roasted Cantonese meats (try the duck) and blistering delicacies
like double-sautéed pork with cabbage.
During the lunch rush, the line stretches 20-deep. But don’t worry:
Chefs slice and stir-fry with the efficiency of a methed-up assembly line. Bide your time by watching
office workers suck meat off bones, then order one of the fantastic Mandarin noodle soups. The beef
with noodles in broth is a safe bet, but we push the culinary envelope with the shredded pork with
Chinese pickles soup.
It arrives, steaming, with a layer of needle-thin yellow noodles. On
top sit chewy pork slivers, zucchini and tart pickles. Snag a mouthful with chopsticks and hold
a tissue close: The broth is fiery enough to unleash a stream of tears. Consider them tears of joy.
Best Deal for Wannabe Bourgeois Winos
The Bourgeois Pig
122 E. 7th (betw. 1st Ave. & Ave. A)
We have never been winos, because we can’t afford wine. Forty ounces of malt
liquor, tall boys of crack-fuel Sparks, sure, but wine, well, that’s always fallen outside of our
Utz chips budget. Then along came a little piggie. The Bourgeois Pig, to be exact.
During the daylight hours, this antique-y eatery (hello, grandma’s
floral furniture and massive mirrors) fries up crispy beignets—owner Ravi DeRossi’s mother’s
recipe. When the sun dips, however, the specials begin. Every day until 8 pm, you can stain your teeth
on a bottle of house red Le Snoot for about eight bucks. On Mondays, the same deal lasts all night long—or
until you stumble outside, spewing red wine on the sidewalk like a fountain of inebriation. But
live it up, bucko: for tonight, you’re drinking like a pig.
Best OUT-OF-CONTROL KOSHER Feast under $20
1419 Coney Island Ave. (betw. Ave. J & Ave. K), Brooklyn
Venture out on the Q Train to Midwood and enter a land of parve delight. Nestled
amid kosher bakeries, pizza shops and cafés is a place where God and Zeus hook up to offer
one of the city’s greatest bargains, Olympic Pita.
Consistently mobbed with a mix of in-the-know locals and kosher connoisseurs,
Olympic Pita specializes in Israeli-style cuisine, offering up succulent shwarma, falafel and
other Middle Eastern delicacies. The enormous shwarma plate is best complemented by the salads
sampler, which is a baker’s dozen of small plates of eggplant, hummus, tahini and the like, all intended
to be consumed with the accompanying tray of pita. The price for this feast, which leaves us gasping
for air, making false proclamations never to eat again? Just under $20. Hoooray Jews!
Best Idea for a Web site That We Thought of Years Ago, But Were Too Lazy to Do
Once upon a poorer time, we sussed out the city’s finest free-drinking deals.
We’d log onto the nyhappenings Yahoo group, and, after sifting through 40-odd pleas of bands desperate
to attract ten fans to the Continental, locate gratis vodka or Bud at some hole like the East Village’s
“Wouldn’t it be great,” we’d think, double-fisting Rheingold, “if
someone had a list of every open bar every night of the week?”
Yes, it was a great idea, would be our reply. Why don’t you do it?
“Because we’re drunk,” was the invariable answer.
The idea percolated, off and on, in more lucid moments. But like many
liquor-conceived ideas, this one died before being born. So imagine our delighted surprise when
the Internet unveiled myopenbar.com. Published by self-proclaimed drunken-hipster Jews Rob
Hitt and Seva Granik, the site’s a clearinghouse for complimentary cocktails and beer. From the
L.E.S. to Carroll Gardens, nightly options abound for no-wallet inebriation. You can sign up for
a weekly mailing list and plan your carousing accordingly. Or log on daily for the liquid carrot
that will lead you through the 9–5 trudge.
Best Banh Mi Sandwich Where You No Longer Expect It
Saigon Banh Mi
138-01 Mott St. (Grand St.)
We don’t like swatting Chinese women’s hands, but that’s what it took to grab
the city’s best three-buck banh mi: a Vietnamese creation featuring crusty French bread, pickled
carrots and crispy pork. The sandwiches were lovingly wrought by a perpetually harried trio in
a most unfortunate locale: a toilet-sized shop near the Chinatown bus nexus.
Whenever the banh mi urge bit, we steeled our nerves and sliced a swath
through ticket-waving Chinese women, who cried, “Phil-a-del-fee-a!” like banshees doomed to
“No, no, banh mi!” we’d say, sweeping hands off our arms. We’d point to
the faded maroon awning advertising our swine-and-bread meal. The women would nod and smile. They
understood: These were good fucking sandwiches, man.
One day, we strutted to the shop. “No, no, banh…oh my!” we said,
shocked. The metal grate was drawn, a white handwritten sign with the dreaded words—We’ve
Closed… and relocated to Mott Street.
Blessed be, gods of budget eating! Saigon Banh Mi simply moved into roomier
digs in the back of a Mott Street jewelry shop near Grand. We visited and we’re happy to report that
the sandwiches remain toasty crisp and the price a three-dollar steal. Plus, we’re inflicting
far less bodily harm on defenseless Chinese women, which is a win-win proposition for all.
Best stuck-in-the-1940s italian restaurant
73 W. 11th St. (6th Ave.)
Gene’s is the Chuck E. Cheese of the octogenarian set. On one crowded weekend
visit, three sets of families were celebrating birthdays for grandma or grandpa.
Such are the joys of a restaurant founded in 1914 and stuck in the 1940s.
The menu hearkens back to a time of simple Italian and Continental cuisine, frog legs sautéed
provencale. On Sundays, you can score a roast prime rib of beef (ask your waiter—who has never had a headshot—about the price). And when you are seated, the waiters bring bread and butter—plus
a tray of olives, carrots and celery on a bed of ice—a classic trope of 1940s and 1950s
“nice” restaurant service. Just ask Grandma.
BEST BUTT-NAKED EMPEROR OF NEW YORK
401 Bleecker St. (W. 11th St.)
Ah, the bakery of Sex and the City fame. It blows our tiny mind that
shark-eyed idiots will wait even two minutes for cupcakes that are little more than finely frosted
Duncan Hines. In an act of mind control, this bakery convinced the gullible public that it produces
We recall standing on Bleecker Street once while a space-pirate couple
in the traditional designer-for-designer’s-sake-not-cause-it-looks-good clothing and matching
cowboy hats drifted past. The woman, with a thick Valley-Girl accent, said something like, “Magnolia
has this banana pudding that’s, like, sooo…” She paused, clearly searching for the word to express
her intense feelings. We began, irrationally, to expect something Scrabble worthy. The silence
continued for another beat, raising hopes. Finally, she concluded, “…good.” This woman needs
a damn helmet if she hasn’t already walked into traffic.
If you can afford to eat Magnolia’s product, you probably have an oven.
Our advice: Pick up a box of Duncan Hines “Butter Recipe Golden.” Melt some quality chocolate into
a small quantity of heavy cream in a makeshift double boiler. Have a real double boiler? Even better.
Pour the mixture evenly over the cake and allow it to cool at room temperature. Cover and refrigerate
for maximum freshness. Eat better cake! Help restore New York!
Best-Kept East Village Secret
The Garden at Neptune Café
194 1st Ave. (betw. 11th St. & 12th St.)
Octopuski’s garden. As Corporate rigor mortis continues its creep into
the blocks just south of the First Avenue L stop, this low-key Polish-American g-spoon only grows
in our epicurean esteem. Newly triangulated by Dunkin’ Donuts, Popeye’s and Pizza Hut, down-homey
Neptune can’t help but look the poor but proud, threatened immigrant, destined to fall victim to
some looming Pizza Hut pincer maneuver. But that day is not yet, and until it comes, you will find
us during the cold months sitting by Neptune’s large windows reading by the winter sun, slurping
cabbage soup and nursing coffee out of a chipped ceramic mug.
Cozy though it may be, the upfront space isn’t what lands Neptune in these
pages; it’s the open-air oasis out back. From early spring to deep Indian summer, we encourage you
to find the plastic car-wash curtain by the kitchen, beyond which is a shaded, leafy, L-shaped garden
unspoiled by gabbing tourists, students or day-trippers. Here we find regular refuge with a frosty
stein and a bowl of delicious cold beet soup. It’s the best idyll to be found within ten blocks in any
To justify your lingering presence, choose from a menu of Polish staples
like pierogies, kielbasa and stuffed cabbage, which share the list with American diner fare, including
cheap and tasty hamburgers, sandwiches, omelets, blintzes, potato pancakes and salads. As for
piwo, like the cute fresh-off-the-plane waitress says, “If you like drink, you’ll have a drink
the best Polish beer!” We recommend Okocim.
Best New Bar/Cafe in East Williamsburg
766 Grand St. (betw. Avenue of Puerto Rico & Humboldt St.), Brooklyn
We lived three short blocks from this place for three long months before we
realized it was even there. And while we have on occasion been accused of space-shot behavior, it
turns out we weren’t the only ones to overlook the place while walking right past it. An informal
survey quickly revealed that few of our neighbors knew it was there, either. Sandwiched on a gritty
stretch of dollar stores, laundry joints and hole-in-the-wall greasy Sino-Mexican cuisine,
Stain might as well be half a world away from the nearby tree-lined yupster thoroughfare Graham
Ave., with its health food shops and A Tree Grows In Brooklyn–era family Italian
eateries. It is here, on nearby Avenue of Puerto Rico, where Pheobe’s reigns as the café of choice, sucking away most of Stain’s morning business.
At least for now. If it can survive its two-block geographical purgatory
long enough for the East Williamsburg/Bushwick gentrification wave to catch up, Stain should
become a successful neighborhood fixture. Comfortable, smartly designed with vintage furniture
and overflowing into a large garden out back, it offers free wi-fi and regular tastings of local
libations like Harlem’s Sugar Hill beer and Long Island’s Gristina wine. The calendar, meanwhile,
is dense (perhaps overly so) with readings and performances by Brooklyn artists.
A perfectly and lovingly realized neighborhood café/bar,
this is one stain that deserves to remain in the neighborhood’s underwear, if only people could
Best Retort Heard at a Brooklyn Bagel Store
The Kosher Bagel Hole
1431 Coney Island Ave. (Avenue K)
Shalom. It means peace, and there’s no better way to foster inner harmony
and enjoy a Saturday morning breakfast than with a traditional Brooklyn bagel. And one of our old
standby spots is the Bagel Hole, replete with all the spreads, lox and tuna salads for which we could
On a recent visit, our mom (we love you, Mom) ventured in to buy some bagels
and found herself familiarly elbow to elbow with a crowd of Orthodox Jewish folks trying to do the
same thing. It’s Brooklyn and it’s every man for himself, and the bagel store is no exception.
One man was particularly aggressive in his quest to reach the counter
for six light sesames. He was a portly fellow, and seemed unconcerned with the elbows he was throwing
all over the place to clear out his space. It just so happened that Mom was none too amused by these
aggressive tactics. After all, it’s a day of rest. Peace in the Middle East, baby, or at least at the
She tolerated a few jabs, but after several more forceful pushes, she
turned to him and blurted out, “Jesus Christ!“
Taken aback, he turned to her and, mouth ajar, retorted, “Madam, he has nothing to do with this.”
A Jewish girl herself, she replied, “That’s what you think.”
best pre-game for a broadway musical
Russian Vodka Room
265 W. 52nd St. (betw. 8th Ave. and Broadway)
We made a mistake. A bad one. The kind of boyfriend blunder that merits foot
massages, face-losing and a wallet spread wider than the Atlantic Ocean.
“You’re going to have to take us to Broadway,” our girlfriend said—”Hairspray.
I want to see Hairspray.”
We have long thought Broadway musicals the eighth circle of hell, the
purgatory Dante would have envisioned if he lived in the era of Cats and Chorus Line.
We’d much rather succumb to a hot-water colonic than an evening spent watching whale-lunged women
sing and Silly Putty–limbed men prance. It’s the type of activity that requires drinking.
Lots of drinking.
Which is why, pre-musical, we pony up at the Russian Vodka Room. Across
the street from the Neil Simon Theater, the RVR is where livers die. Dozens of clear vats of house-flavored
vodka line the walls. Until 8 pm, you can purchase a double shot for three dollars. Go crazy with ginger
vodka. Lick up the lemon. Sing along to the piano player tapping out American standards, or grab
a blintz topped with caviar. Or not. Perhaps it’s best to conserve your cash and do as we do: Drink
so that we pass out just as the curtain drops.
Best Rep-Worthy Cupcake
359 Van Brunt St. (Wolcott St.), Brooklyn
The Great Cupcake Rush of 2004 has slowed to a frosting-covered halt, giving
way to the Year of Barbecue. The media’s attention has turned to hulking men with guts approximating
globes, fingers stained with tangy, vinegary sauce. Consider this good news, sweet fiends, because
stellar new cupcakeries now fly under the foodie radar.
On that list, Baked. It’s located on Red Hook’s burgeoning Van Brunt
strip (which includes French bistro 360, Pioneer Bar and real-estate mogul Barbara Corcoran’s
new home), a sorta-desolate block slowly springing to life. Baked is a Swiss ski chalet gone 2005:
blond wood and metal patio furniture sit beneath a sparkling crystal chandelier. But enough about
The $1.50 cupcakes are the size of baby palms and covered with whipped,
creamy goodness that’ll make you lick every errant dollop like it’s the answer to the universe.
Baked is a bit of a subway hike, so we grease up our 10-speeds and pedal to the Hook. It’s just far enough
away to keep our sugar levels in the three digits.
Best restaurant bench
500 6th Ave. (betw. W. 12th St. & W. 13th St.)
We’re all animals. People-watching is one of those terms that makes tourism
seem like a perversion. It implies clinical observation of some other species, and Greenwich Village—groaning
under history and “Sex and the City” locations—attracts more than its share of tourists.
From this ash-wood bench outside a damn-fine bagelry, bebopping BlackBerry-beating West Village
walkers move among dowagers and pampered students. All very colorful. But swivel to your right
on the southern bench and you can stare at puppies scampering in the sawdust-strewn window of the
pet shop next door. Shifting perspective between captive animals and sauntering humans makes
you feel lucky to have your own lease, your own calendar, your own sapience. Sip your coffee; it’s
stronger than you’d expect from a takeout joint. And feel a renewed solidarity with the humanoids
Best Food Court to Incite Panic Attacks and Paralysis
10 Columbus Circle
America may be the land of endless choices, but on our lunch break, we revisit
our sex life as a 17-year-old: in and out, quickly. We prefer pizzerias, dumpling stalls, gyro shops:
finite options, not the world on a plate. Unlike Whole Foods.
We’re not badmouthing the organic-food giant’s pricing scheme, which
entails signing over your first-born’s stem cells to afford the heirloom tomatoes. Who buys groceries,
anyway? Rather, we’re centering on the Columbus Circle food court. Here is where the indecisive
Located near Central Park, this lunch court attracts buffalo stampedes
of European tourists and harried salary men alike. As tenured subway riders, we can handle overcrowding.
However, we can’t handle Whole Foods’ overwhelming lunch buffet. Sushi, samosas and spaghetti;
walnut salad, warm black beans and watery melons. Minestrone, mini-egg rolls and moussaka—the
options paralyze us, causing us to spin around in circles. We twirl like this, dizzy, hungry, disoriented,
until we stumble toward Central Park for a simpler, less complex lunch: a street-cart hot dog.
CAFE LA FORTUNA
W. 71st St. (Columbus Ave.)
We enjoy espresso very mu-mu-much and find that it ha-ha-hardly makes us
ji-ji-ji—excuse us—ji-ttery. But beyond the buzz, some demitasses have better
flavor, better texture and a richer aroma than others.
La Fortuna’s beverage is particularly dark, its flavor is toward the
bitter end of the spectrum, but it is not acrid. The roast has bite, and you’ll want to drink it in small
sips, savoring its strength. The texture is smooth, with a thin layer of froth at the surface.
The café is the oldest in Manhattan, which is quite a boast. Opera
plays romantically in the background; signed pictures of stars line the walls. Small lamps of colored
glass hang low over the ceilings, and, if you find your espresso warrants a snack, the display case
is full of pies, biscotti, gelato and other Italian desserts. The sweets are brought in from the
Little Pie Co. and Veniero’s, among others—but the espresso is homemade and worth the trip.
Best Mullet-Minded barkeep
5724 Roosevelt Ave (58th St.). Woodside, Queens.
Woodside is a 15-minute subway ride from Manhattan on the 7 train so don’t
moan about this best bartender in New York working too far away. Chris Santangelo is worth the trip.
And to those who know him he is called “The Mullet Man.” His day job is as an actor and if you play a memorable
role in a “Sopranos” episode, you’re pretty much stuck with the Mullet Man name.
Chris Santangelo, 35, was born and raised in Woodside, Queens. He caught
the acting bug and knew he had to move into Manhattan. But every Thursday through Saturday he returns
to Woodside to tend bar at Donovan’s. Donovan’s has one of New York’s best burgers for a mere six bucks.
And when Santangelo is behind the stick, they have the best bartender in New York. He’s funny, quick
and attentive, and if you meet him once he’ll remember you and what your drink is months later.
Over a cold beer we met Santangelo at Donovan’s and talked about his dual
“My main goal in life is to be an actor but tending bar is great because
I get to watch people. I deal with all these different personalities. It pays the rent, and is entertainment
and an education on human behavior.”
He is good with the buyback, and he has patience and listens to every patron
like a father confessor.
As we talk a regular at the bar comes over and growls, “You know the difference
between a bartender and a proctologist?”
“What?”We bite at the joke.
“A proctologist only has to deal with one asshole at a time.”
Santangelo goes on to tell us his fascination with acting. He teaches
scene study at the Deena Levy Theatre Studio and has appeared in countless plays and has scored TV
work on “Sex and the City,” “Law & Order,” and “Third Watch.” But it never got him out of Donovan’s.
He’s not bitter about it. “Love Woodside,” he tells us. “I think it is
one of the best neighborhoods in New York, and Donovan’s has been here 37 years. The people here might
be crazy but they would do anything for you.”
We asked about his Mullet Man nickname.
“I went into The Sopranos’ casting office. They offered me a job but told
me I would have to wear my hair in a mullet.”
Santangelo thought he had caught a break. A spot on the hot HBO show was
what he needed. It was the episode where Adriana, Chris-ta-fer’s fiancée, gets whacked
for turning on the mob.
“The scene is me with my mullet walking with a nagging wife and annoying
kids toward a beat up car. Christopher watches me like the poor sap I am, and he realizes that if he
joins Adriana in the Witness Protection Program that will be his life so she has to go.”
Santangelo tells us that after the episode aired people would yell at
him on the street: “Yo, Mullet Man, you got Adriana whacked.”
“It was nice to be recognized for the role. The Mullet was my lucky break.
I had no idea it would be such a pivotal point in a memorable episode.”
Best Spot to Shun Modern Technology (OrHave It Shunned For You)
119 MacDougal St. (betw. Bleecker St. & Minetta Lane)
Opened in 1927, Macdougal Street’s Caffe Reggio has a history that reads
like a laundry list of prereqs for membership in the inner circle of institutional New York establishments.
1) Remain open and relatively prosperous for 75-plus years. Check. 2) Play host to literary personalities—in
this case, Kerouac, Burroughs and Ginsberg. Check. 3) Secure status as New York institution by
making cameo (playing self, of course) in incontestably New York movies such as Shaft,
Serpico and The Godfather II. Check. Oh, yeah, and 4) Claim to have introduced cappuccino
to America. (That can’t hurt either.) Check plus.
However, Reggio might be the first city institution to realize that
maintaining its legacy means asking its more modern-minded customers to step back in time. Plenty
of spots around the city uphold (thank god) a cell phone ban to prevent the kind of hairpulling tussles
that can result from hearing a woman with frosted lipstick tell her dronish beau she loves him for
the umpteenth time.
But banning laptops at a café so obviously exploitative of its
history as a Mecca for writers, poets and people in need of outlets for their very deep thoughts?
Short of curbing the potential noise pollution caused by the call-and-response bleeps of an IM
junkie, we can’t see Caffe Reggio’s rationale for this unofficial rule. Unless, of course, Caffe
Reggio aspires to be Manhattan’s version of Colonial Williamsburg, where instead of milkmaid
costumes and tricorner hats, visitors are asked to don the technologically-naïve, rustic
glow that surrounds those forced to dispense of their thoughts with pen and ink. The resulting tableau—the
studious regular scrawling away in the corner, a young woman reading under the Caravaggio, a waiter
shuttling drinks from the Garden of Capuccino Eden—is artificial. But the effect, while
not quite as gratifying as a Renn Faire jousting competition, is downright vintage.
Best Chiang Yee Moment
Devon & Blakely
461 5th Ave. (40th St.)
The gong show. In one of Dr. Chiang Yee’s twelve Silent Traveler books—The
Silent Traveler in San Francisco—he describes the art of what he calls “listening receptively.”
The three sounds he never tired of hearing in that city were the mournful
foghorn at Golden Gate; the ring-a-ding-ding of the cable cars (a noise meant not to sound a warning,
says Yee, but to announce the arrival and departure of the cable car), and the barking of the California
sea lions on Seal Rock.
We think of the dearly departed Silent Traveler whenever we find ourselves
at the tossed-to-order salad bar at one of the Devon & Blakely stores on Fifth Avenue (there’s
another one further up). We love that moment when the keyed-up salad maker has our greens in the mixing
bowl and starts the business of adding the toppings with metal tongs like a prosthetic third hand.
After each pickup and throw of a new topping, a gong sounds from behind the counter as the tongs come
down on the rim of the bowl to shake off any loose bits from their claws. The gong as such is merely incidental,
but its rousing quality is so appealing, we can’t imagine the show without it. We suspect the salad
makers feel the same way, and strike their bowls slightly harder than necessary. We sometimes order
one more topping just to hear the gong a final time. Dr. Yee would have understood.
Best Mexican Food, period
Don Paco Lopez Panaderia
4703 4th Ave. (Betw. 47th St. & 48th St.), Brooklyn718-492-7443
Only a special brand of masochistic curiosity would compel us to eat at so-called
Mexican restaurants on this island. After all, nothing can ever be as good as our dear Mamacita’s
cooking; all other pretend victuals from “South of the Border” carry out an attack upon the soul,
a Montezuma’s Revenge upon the spirit, if you will. Thus, we roll our eyes at the very suggestion
to try out the latest trendy chalupa joint or corner fonda run by disgruntled Dominicans on coke
(though we must admit the highly illegal take-out margaritas are genius!).
There is only one place in the whole five boroughs that can satisfy our
deeply ingrained cravings for the real thing: Sunset Park, Brooklyn. We are comforted by the knowledge
that Saturday or Sunday (though, sadly, only Saturday and Sunday) we can head east over that wretched
river and find a true gustatory paradise.
Don Paco Lopez Panaderia is our favorite establishment; the owner and
his wife, natives of Puebla—one of the culinary capitals of Mexico—work magic into
their traditional home cooking. Thanks to them we can procure our vital dose of vitamin T (tacos,
torta sandwiches, tostadas, tamales, etc.), mole and other essentials such as quesadillas and
huaraches (oval-shaped tortillas covered with fresh cheese and especially delicious salsa).
Best of all, we can feast for under ten dollars.
Best Pizzeria Name
218 W. 72nd St. (betw. Broadway & West End Ave.)
Someone get them a Teenage Caveman poster! The food’s pretty good, even if
their specials are decidedly overrated. (A free drink isn’t a real deal unless you’re pitching
a 20-ouncer.) We also like how Pizza Cave continually strikes us as the only Jewish pizza establishment
in town. You’ll find a lot more yarmulkes than baseball caps in the joint. And be sure to try their
The vegetarian pepperoni is also surprisingly good. Above all, though,
Pizza Cave is really appealing because we like the idea of telling people to meet us at the Pizza Cave.
Nobody in the East Village ever thought to cop a name that cool—and if they had, they’d turn
the lights down too low and have a jukebox playing crappy old rock tunes way too loud.
Best game of chance involving fresh fruit
closing time at Chinatown fruit stands
Yes, we have too many bananas today. Over by the B/D Grand Street stop, aggressive
and vigilant vendors watch over racks of produce broader and cheaper than anything you can scare
up at your food co-op. Families from as far east as the public housing on the river come to inspect
and haul home durians, papaya, purple eggplant and greens with frond-size leaves. As it gets dark,
though, the lightning round begins. With cries of “One dollar! One dollar!” the stand managers
unload the tropicals that won’t last til morning. You can stock up on bananas for a steep discount
this way—but you can also get a lot of mush. If the guy wants to stick you with ten bananas, he
will. What are you going to do, throw them out?
Best Dunkin’ Donuts
166 2nd Ave. (E. 11th St.)
Now that reporting on city politics requires posting witty factoids every
single minute (thanks again Ben!), weary reporters need a place to blog. The always-tempting combination
of Internet porn and Game Cube (we’re one hand each pros!) makes working at home impossible for even
us sometimes. Luckily, there’s free wi-fi at our favorite Dunkin’ Donuts. It’s 24 hours, has plenty
of electrical outlets, and there’s a low ratio of homeless to homed folks inside. And just when writing
about the sexually charged world of talking heads, polling and dimpled chads have us ready to burst,
there’s a college dorm next door. At 2 am, any student body will do.
Best Oatmeal cookie
The Read Café
158 Bedford Ave. (N. 8 St.), Brooklyn
We love cookies. And we’ve had the best in town. But there’s one cookie that
just blew us away. For us, this cookie is like slow-motion in a Sam Peckinpah movie—the high
mark just prior to the heroic death.
But Manhattanites know not of our epic sojourn to the county of Kings
to sate our kingly repast. Onward, to Billyburg and let none call this irony lest they dare to challenge
the steel, yo.
Best late-night Turkish eats on Orchard Street
Kebab House II
144 Orchard St. (Rivington St.)
It’s a pleasure to meat cha. Lower East Side families, passers-through and
dedicated late-night sots know to walk two blocks south of Bereket for fresh Turkish grub. But they
barely know the half of it. One night we ordered the adana platter, a mound of meat and rice roughly
the size of a half-watermelon. We asked for a chicken and lamb mix. When we got only lamb, we approached
the counter. “You said nothing, brother, I hear only lamb!” Well, the lamb was as moist and densely
spicy as anything we’d eaten in Istanbul, so who wants to be a prick? We sat down and started sopping
up the gravy with the perforated Turkish bread they toss into every take-out order. Then the diminutive
waiter appeared, squinting, sweating under his paper hat, dispensing an equally tall Mt. Chicken
Adana. No hard feelings. No need to buy lunch the next two days. No going back to Bereket. Ever.
Best Milkshake at a Place You’d Never Guess Offered Milkshakes
Juan Valdez Coffee
140 E. 57th St. (Lexington Ave.)
Yeah, you remember those goofy