A Light in September

So humor me here. Imagine that walking is your favorite thing. And imagine how frustrated you’d be if you hurt your #$^@#$ foot and couldn’t walk without feeling like it was going to break in the middle. And imagine how delighted you’d feel once your foot got a bit better and you managed to walk all the way across the Brooklyn Bridge again. And imagine that you wound up at a pretty sweet new bar for a rest at the end of your travels.

If you can imagine all that, you know what it’s like to be me this evening; and you know what it’s like to be pretty darn happy despite your appendage-related woes. Because not toooo far from the Brooklyn Bridge, you’d have found Fawkner, a nice new bar on Smith Street with an impressive happy hour–$8 house cocktails and $2 off (local, crafty) beer. While I opted for a cocktail, full of rum and vermouth, and it was perfectly fine, I think next time I’d choose one of the excellent beers–like Finback’s gingery, easy-drinking Double Sess, one of my favorites, which, if I recall correctly, costs the princely happy hour sum of $5. (At least in my (upscale, hipper-than-thou) NYC drinking experience, this is the equivalent of a unicorn sighting.)

Perhaps even more exciting than the drinks are Fawkner’s sandwiches. For an admittedly eyebrow-raising cost of $11, I got the huge fried chicken option. I was lured in by the promised corn pudding (which I only really tasted on half of my sandwich) but I am really here to tell you about the maple syrup dipping sauce. C’mon, guys, what could be better than delicious fried food dipped in maple syrup? If you know, please tell.

In addition to my food bounty, the service was super-friendly, particularly my bartender. (Don’t get me started on bad service … I’m trying to keep it positive on this blog since I wouldn’t feel right publicly denigrating restaurants and bars–I can only imagine how hard it must be to succeed in this town–but man, I hate me some rude service, and I love me some friendly bartenders and waiters who don’t judge me for wandering in solo with hobo hair. Fawkner more than delivers on this front.) After a hard day at work it’s nice to chat about booze and your job and your neighborhood in a friendly atmosphere like Fawkner’s.

In conclusion, get thee to this vaguely-literarily-titled bar (apparently it’s about falcons, not venerable southerners, but I hear what I hear). I promise you’ll find all sound, no fury. Plus a sweet dio-ram-a.

Fawkner, 191 Smith Street, Cobble Hill

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A restaurant, I think, is like a shark

I’ve often maintained that there are two satisfactions for foodies: discovering new places and having your good taste confirmed. Today, I had the pleasure of the first, and I’m sure the second is on the way: the Graffiti Room is pretty darn new and pretty darn tasty.

Located on Mott Street between Kenmare and Broome, in the area I can only really call “Little Italy” in scare quotes, the restaurant has an open, airy facade and a wacky interior–look no farther than the zeppelin-esque shark suspended from the ceiling. It serves an eclectic collection of ramen and sandwiches, as well as smoothies and other iced drinks, fitting neatly into the neighborhood’s mix of hipster hangouts and Asian-food mainstays.

While the other patrons’ ramen looked appetizing, I opted for a chicken salad sandwich, which arrived promptly, resplendent and messy with curry mayo. The variously textured and tasting toppings perfectly complimented the pulled chicken; in what was practically a first for me, I was even a fan of the cucumbers, which contributed just the right amount of crunch and freshness. My meal cut an imposing figure, but somehow I devoured it all–maybe thanks to the tall cool glass of barely-sweet iced tea I ordered to wash it down.

Overall, the Graffiti Room is airy and inviting–a perfect lunchtime escape from the office. Plus, the service was attentive and cheerful–to say nothing of speedy–“no rush unless you’re in a rush!” my server said, upon dropping off the check. I wasn’t in a rush today, but I might be in the future, and in any event, I think I’ll rush back to the Graffiti Room pretty soon.

The Graffiti Room, 184 Mott Street, Little Italy-ish

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Back to the drafting table

As I have grown up (in age; in height, not so much), many things have become more complicated. Coffee is not one of them.

When I was a teenager, I drank all the sugary confections you might expect (though I winced at the high school friend who dumped several packets of sugar in a Frappuccino). In my college years, I’d pretty much simplified to a splash of milk and a packet of Splenda. After a while, I temporarily gave up artificial sweeteners, and since the thought of coffee with milk and no sugar has always put me off for some reason (not milk-and-espresso drinks, though, who can say why) at some point, I just stopped adding milk.

So now I drink black coffee with an occasional break for (mostly unsweetened) espresso drinks. It’s weird; as you will know if you’ve read even a few posts here, I don’t shy away from sweets. But coffee is so complete in itself that adulterating it just feels wrong. And everything I’ve just said goes ten times more for iced coffee. Is there anything more perfect than a cold-brewed coffee on a hot summer day? (Or a cloudy fall day, or a snowy winter day, or … )

And so it was with dismay that I discovered that La Colombe’s regular iced coffee, for which I waited on a long line, is, in my opinion, pretty much undrinkable. It tastes burned and acidic and pretty much every flavor I dislike. And I had high hopes for La Colombe because of my soft spot for everything Philly-related.

Luckily, my opinion has turned around with the introduction of La Colombe’s draft lattes and cold brew on tap. Granted, I’m a sucker for these sorts of things (I may have tried every nitro cold brew ever; go ahead, laugh), but La Colombe really delivers. If you feel like a chump for ordering a $4ish shot of espresso over cold milk (aka an iced latte), you’ll appreciate the added value of La Colombe’s already frothy on-tap version. Plus, the cold-pressed coffee itself is pretty darn good. And if you want true perfection, you will order the black and tan, which is (unsurprisingly) cold-pressed coffee topped off with the perfect amount of draft latte to drink up before all the carbonation bubbles away.

No more regular La Colombe iced coffee for me. Now if I could just convince everyone that drinking iced coffee all year round is the only sensible choice…

La Colombe, 420 Lafayette Street, NoHo (et al)

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A Confederacy of Lunches

My holy grail of lunchtime is a meal that’s healthy, cheap, and–most important of all–delicious. The trendy Dimes doesn’t exactly qualify as inexpensive, but it’s definitely healthy and tasty, plus its atmosphere is a glamorous world away from everyday office life.

While Dimes’s salads score very high on the tastiness and deliciousness fronts (squash, concord grapes, and brussels sprouts! … for $13) today I opted for the comparative bargain of the summer tacos. For $8, you get two tacos with scrambled eggs, avocado, cheddar, tomatillo, mango, and hot sauce. While the result isn’t especially complex–and calling it spicy is a stretch even for a wimp like me–it’s comforting and satisfying (especially the huge chunks of avocado nestled at the bottom of the tortillas). Paired with a fennel-garnished lemonade, it’s a nice tribute to the summer that’s going to end soon.

Of course, another benefit of Dimes is that it’s practically next door to an outpost of one of the best biscuit and dessert destinations, Pies ‘n’ Thighs. Since you’ve eaten a relatively virtuous lunch, who could blame you for picking up a slice of the special, candy bar pie? And if you eat half of it at your desk, well, it’s Friday and the office is quiet and no one is there to judge.

Dimes, 49 Canal Street, Lower East Side

Pies ‘n’ Thighs, 43 Canal Street, Lower East Side

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Girl Fryday

Back before I even really enjoyed drinking alcohol, I was drawn to the welcoming Christmas lights adorning the front of the Double Windsor. I still remember going there with friends on a chilly night not long after it opened, drinking a delicious apple cider with rum, and thinking life as a grown-up was pretty sweet.

Happily, my palate has expanded and I can now take advantage of the DW’s outstanding selection of beer. I have tried many a beer at this point in my life (just ask to see my list and weep); the DW’s birthday parties full of extremely-high-ABV, extremely-delicious tap options are always exciting. Last night’s winner in the best-tasting beer contest was probably the Firestone Walker 14, a syrupy, rich barrel-aged blend clocking in at a mildly-absurd 12.5%. And other options on the menu were nothing to sneeze at, either; Dogfish Head 120 Minute is always a pleasure, for instance. (Interestingly, my companion thought it reminded him of gin, which is a comparison I hadn’t considered before. Clearly, more research into beers that taste like spirits is warranted.)

But possibly the best thing about the DW is its food, especially its superlative FRIES. On more than one night I have eaten a happy dinner of a fancy-beer flight and a heaping plate of fries, damn the consequences and the arteries. With mayo and ketchup, those glorious potatoes are the perfect way to sop up some top-notch beer.

And compared to many fancypants bars, it’s not even too arduous for me to get home afterwards; just a quick hop onto the B68 (yep, a bus again; stay tuned for a post on that).

Double Windsor, 210 Prospect Park West, Windsor Terrace
Firestone Walker 14

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The Young Lady and the B

If you’re like me, a bar that serves desserts is pretty much your dream spot. And so you’d probably await the opening of dessert bar Butter & Scotch with bated breath. And when it finally opened, you’d do your best to check in from time to time on its top-notch roster of desserts, cocktails, guest chef dinners, and … Tiki Tuesdays.

That’s right, it looks like tiki’s a trend that’s here to stay, with several venerable bars resplendent with tiki drinks and tiki nights. If you’re like me, you admire Ravi DeRossi’s bars (especially Amor y Amargo) but the idea of a $15-and-up tiki menu makes you die a little on the inside. (Nope, Mother of Pearl, no plans to visit until I get a pretty substantial salary upgrade, and maybe not even then.) Luckily, while some cocktail prices are ludicrous, I’ve found that there’s also been a resurgence of affordable options. Like Butter & Scotch, whose tiki offerings weigh in at an appealing $8-10 or so.

Since the morning chill reminds you that summer’s not going to last forever, you’d better get your frozen drinks in while you can. (You’ve gotta concede you’ve been known to enjoy a frozen drink or two, after you finally learned to check your snobbery at the door.) So you’d best start out with with the Ariel’s Song, a concoction of numerous rums, Frangelico, triple sec, lime, and (it gets you every time) house-made orgeat. Served in a serious tiki mug, topped with orange, lime, and cherry, Ariel’s Song lets you breathe in summer for a few extra beats.

And since it’s an impromptu Tuesday vacation, you might want to follow it up with a Hemingway daiquiri, which you may have noticed is the perfect classic drink: rum, maraschino, grapefruit, and lime play perfectly together, with no need for extra gimmicks. Though Butter & Scotch’s version might not be quite as good as the one at the Daq Shaq (located in the Owney’s Rum’s distillery up in the nebulous border of East Williamsburg/Bushwick) it’s pretty damn good, plus you can get it with a perfect triple chocolate brownie, served melting with chocolate chips. (And did I mention it costs a staggeringly reasonable $8?)

If you’re like me you’ll be pretty damn happy at the bar at Butter & Scotch. Especially if you’re finishing up the last few pages of Delancey, whose author Molly Wizenberg may have inspired you to get back into food writing (and pizza eating) again, and if the photographer sitting next to you at the bar tells you just how delicious Delancey’s pizza is. And if you, like me, take the bus (I guess you probably don’t, but that’s a rant for another post) you’ll be delighted to step out of the bar, promptly nab a B48 to Prospect Park, and be home in about 20 minutes. It’s a good life, friends.

Butter & Scotch, 818 Franklin Avenue, Crown Heights

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We must cultivate our spumoni garden

My pickiness about pistachio ice cream is a family legend. For as long as I can remember, I loved the artificially green Baskin-Robbins version of the flavor. One fatal day, an imposter came to call. Here’s your pistachio ice cream, my parents said. NO, I yelled, refusing to even taste the all-natural Ben & Jerry’s pale imitation of my glorious green.

The spumoni at L&B Spumoni Gardens would’ve delighted my four-year-old self. Though it does contain real nuts, the pistachio spumoni has a nice vibrant green color, intermixed with the more humdrum vanilla and chocolate. But I’ve grown up just a little in the intervening years, and that green, green ice cream is not what makes Spumoni Gardens so great.

Nope. It’s the pizza. Now, I should admit that I’ve been known to offend friends and enemies with the assertion that there are no truly bad pizzas, and no truly great ones either. I mean, I don’t dream of pizza from Domino’s, but I wouldn’t turn it down. And on the other hand, I’ve sometimes disparaged illustrious pies, as I will perhaps detail here one day. (Sorry, Di Fara, Franny’s: I really appreciate you guys now, I swear.) But I do have to concede that some pizza is much better than others. And Spumoni Gardens’s Sicilian slice falls squarely (yep, that’s right) into the “better” category.

If you find yourself leaving work pretty early on a crisp fall day, hop on the N train and ride to 86th Street, almost all the way down at the end of the line. Enjoy the scenic pre-renovation open-cut train tracks then walk back the few blocks to Spumoni Gardens. Make your way through the screaming kids getting in their last licks of summer, and gaze upon the beauty of a square pie just out of the oven. Get an edge slice with some crust, head over to a picnic table, and pause just long enough to take a half-assed insufferable foodie iPhone photo before you dig in. While the pizza lacks the complexity (and price tag) of a Di Fara slice, its bready, saucy, cheesy goodness is just the thing as the weather shifts toward fall. It’s the best of all possible worlds.

L&B Spumoni Gardens, 2725 86th Street, Bensonhurst

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Introduction

Greetings, friends!

After one too many laments about how I used to be creative, I’m going to try to reclaim my lost artistic youth. But with less angsty poetry and more thoughts about food, transportation, and the rest of the city life.

If you know a food I should eat, a beverage I should drink, or a transportation issue you’d like me to expound upon, let me know in the comments.