Bridging the gap

I have a confession to make. Though I suspect food and drink are my writerly calling, I sometimes dream of being an expert on my other, less comestible, passion: transportation. I’ve researched and written about many transportation issues for grad school, but I’ve never offered up my thoughts in a public forum like this blog. But now’s as good a time as any to get started on a theme that’s dogged me for my whole life. Ever since I was a tiny (okay, tinier) kindergartener with a somewhat-lengthy commute to school, I’ve been invested in transportation, a topic close to the hearts of all New Yorkers. I hope I’ll transport you with many a story in the future, but right now I want to call your attention to one specific cause: the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, glorious connector of Brooklyn and Staten Island.

Okay, now that you’ve thought about the Verrazano for a moment, consider some of NYC’s many other impressive bridges–the Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Williamsburg ones, for starters–and then think about how, if you’re like me, you’ve walked across them countless times. (Or at least you plan to–I’m ashamed to admit it, but I’d never walked a bridge until a college classmate suggested it not so many years ago. I like to think I’ve made up for lost time and ground in the intervening ten years or so.) But the Verrazano–so big and glorious that its engineers had to take the curvature of the Earth into account! (possibly my favorite factoid from Robert Caro’s marvelous The Power Broker about our local master builder and master monster Robert Moses)–boasts no such paths. The MTA has recently begun a pilot program for racks on buses so that two–two!–bikes can ride astride the prows of buses crossing the bridge. But other than that, if you want to cross that breathtaking span without a motor vehicle, you’d best train for the NYC marathon (or the Five Boro Bike Tour, thanks, Mark), ’cause that’s the only way you’ll manage.

So what if you, too, could walk or bike the Verrazano? What if you could satisfy your wanderlust, or visit your family, or do whatever else you’d like to do on Staten Island, without need of a car? That’s the dream put forth by Transportation Alternatives and the Harbor Ring Committee, and it’s been a dream of mine too, ever since I first got the bright idea to take the ferry from Manhattan to Staten Island and the bus back to Brooklyn, only to realize how frustrating–and hazardous for a pedestrian–it was. And so last Saturday I found myself volunteering for TransAlt’s rally to make a bike and pedestrian path a reality.

At the rally, Bay Ridge and Staten Island residents and elected officials, plus runners, cyclists, and curious and even initially skeptical passers-by, offered a broad base of support for crossing the Verrazano sans car. I suspect I’ll always remember one attendee saying that she’d been advocating for a pedestrian and bike path since before the bridge was even built–certainly more commitment than I could ever claim. And, perhaps even more excitingly, the rally’s organizers announced that the MTA is working on a feasibility study for the path. So keep your fingers crossed, and check out the advocates’ work, and maybe one day you can listen to me pontificate about transit and food as we walk across the dazzling height of the Verrazano.

(And maybe, while we take a stroll through scenic Bay Ridge on our way to or from the bridge, we can stop by my #1-all-time-favorite bakery Robicelli’s. Who knows, maybe you too would appreciate some warm pumpkin coffee cake and whiskey pecan pie for breakfast.)

Transportation Alternatives on the Harbor Ring

Robicelli’s, 9009 5th Avenue, Bay Ridge (stay tuned for more, including pictures of marvelous pies, cupcakes, and puddings)

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Footloose and fancy-free

Sometimes you get it into your head, for no very good reason, that there’s a bar or restaurant you’d like to try. And sometimes you’re lucky, ’cause you wind up at Fancy Nancy, and they’ve just changed their menu, and it’s resplendent with the fall flavors you’ve dreamed of all year.

I’m the first to admit that I’m intrigued by fancy cocktails with mysterious ingredients, sometimes to my detriment. (Just try one of the dead simple, extremely fantastic mixed drinks at Fort Defiance, which I want to write about soon, and you’ll see where straightforwardness can get you. And it’s much farther than most fancy drinks can.) As time’s gone by, I’ve become familiar with most bartenders’ tricks, but even I was mystified by “SF mix,” in Fancy Nancy’s Lost in SF cocktail. So I ordered the drink without asking for details–a first, apparently–and was rewarded: SF mix is a delicious combination of Fernet (which I am pleased to say I recognized), Chartreuse, and rum. Yes, please!

Impressively, my second drink, Gator Bate, was even better. I’m a sucker for concord grape concoctions (and straight-up concord grapes fresh from the farm share, yum) and I’ll always order a drink that features them, but I’m almost invariably disappointed. Not this time–Gator Bate managed an intense concord grape taste without sacrificing its other tastes, yuzu and fennel. My bartender said it was her favorite of the current cocktails, and I can see why.

Though the drinks were the star of the show here, I’d be remiss not to mention my butternut risotto, which, costing no more than a cocktail, provided a reasonably filling and very tasty counterpoint to my libations. Almonds imparted crunch to an otherwise smooth and comforting dish, while greens provided a welcome hint of saltiness.

For dessert, my (wise) bartender suggested an horchata-based drink (which I–sadly–wound up declining) or a gin, cranberry, and egg-white one. Much like concord grapes, egg white cocktails are my kryptonite, so I opted for the Sloppy Seconds (or I guess thirds at this point), a nice fizz to finish the evening, though it lacked the striking balance of the Gator Bate. Next time, I’ll have to try the horchata-ey Havana Nights for sure.

All in all, my food and drink were delicious, the service was super-friendly, and I look forward to trying all of the other almost as tempting cocktails on offer. (Maybe especially the on-tap concoction–boozy, herbal, fruity, dark–that my bartender offered me in a tiny glass for a nightcap.) The crisp evening, and my walk back to the train–you guys, I can kinda walk normally these days!–didn’t hurt either. Fancy, indeed.

Fancy Nancy, 1038 Bedford Ave, Bedford-Stuyvesant

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The Mast-ers and Pina Colada

I am the biggest supporter of public transportation you could possibly meet. (Not the tallest one, quite, but anyway.) However, even I sometimes dread the sardine crush of rush hour, particularly on the L train to Williamsburg. And so I might get the bright idea of taking the J train and walking a bit instead, or even of just … walking to Williamsburg entirely. Hey, why not. Yeah, let’s do this.

After passing an hour, fifteen or so CitiBikers, and approximately every Orthodox Jewish teenager ever, I touched down in the ‘burg. After a quick stop by Grand Ferry Park (NYC’s best semi-secret outdoor space? I think it’s a contender), I thought, hey, it’s been a while since I went to Mast Brothers. Though I don’t really love the brothers’ chocolate–a little too citrusy for my taste–I do generally enjoy their baked goods. So, upon catching sight of the lone stack of cookies on offer, I said, I think I’d like a cookie. I think you would! the woman behind the counter replied. And right she was–the cookie was warm (this, despite the fact that it was around 6:45 in the evening, surely not the time that most bakers are churning out batches), and somehow the citrus note in the chocolate played perfectly with the cookie’s batter and the sprinkled sea salt topping to make a dessert that wasn’t too rich or too weak, but just right.

And eventually I made it to my ultimate destination, Australian bar and restaurant Northern Territory. Located on the nebulous border of Williamsburg and Greenpoint, the bar was spacious and somewhat sparsely populated. Despite that advantage, I found the service pretty slow (though friendly). The drinks delivered, though. A peanut-butter and jelly old fashioned may not be your jam (see what I did there?) but it was mine: too often, I find that supposedly flavored old fashioneds don’t taste much different from a regular one (and cost more), but this one had a strong taste of both peanut butter and raspberry, though it wasn’t at all overpoweringly sweet. A pina colada was also pretty good–much heavier on the coconut than the pineapple, a sort of comforting fall rendition of a classic. I do wish the service had been a bit more attentive–I just want to give you my money! Please, already!–but I will keep Northern Territory in mind as a a chill and tasty meetup spot.

Unsurprisingly, riding the L back into Manhattan around 8:30 is much more palatable than taking it out at rush hour, probably especially after a couple of drinks. Long live the L train.

Mast Brothers, 111 N 3rd Street, Williamsburg

Northern Territory, 12 Franklin Street, (slightly) Greenpoint

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Everything 2.0 Is Illuminated

Since I am a Jewish New Yorker, it will not surprise you to know that I have Some! Opinions! About! Bagels! While most bagels are our friends, some are certainly better than others. And classics are usually best. (Ess-a-Bagel, I’m looking at you.) But at the same time, I have an apparently endless need to try out new restaurants, so I have a love-hate relationship with all the upscale bagelries sprouting up in this town. (Do we really need an $8 bagel? A Montreal-style blasphemy? Monstrously fruit flavored cream cheese? But what if it’s delicious?)

While I would not go so far as to say that we need Sadelle’s (a statement I have actually seen in print), it doesn’t hurt to have a new bagel, pastry, appetizing option in SoHo, particularly when it’s pretty darn tasty. I’d been hearing the hype about Sadelle’s for a while: it is, after all, run by the fancier-than-thou Major Food Group, with its overcrowded restaurants (I’m looking at you, tasty but claustrophobia-inducing Parm) and cocktails not priced for the likes of mortal man. ($20? Seriously? I try not to even read ZZ Clam’s menu since I’m afraid that probably costs a few bucks, though now I’ve dredged it up and, man, the pain I go through for you guys when I do research for these pieces. Perfect-sounding coffee cocktail, I hardly knew ye.) And in addition to the hype, I’d tried a pre-Sadelle’s bagel myself at last year’s San Gennaro festival, and it filled me with optimism (and calories).  So I figured it was probably gonna be good. And it was probably gonna be crowded. So I’d better hit it up right away. (This same strategy is how I managed to have a cronut once upon a long time ago.)

So the first time I went to Sadelle’s, about eight minutes after it opened for its first full day of operations, I was in a line more than ten people deep. And, bleary eyed, said yes when they asked if I wanted my bagel toasted. Well, that was a mistake. (And one excoriated by those more learned than I–look to Gothamist’s Jake Dobkin, for one recent and pretty nuanced example. In general, if you want to toast your bagel, I actually won’t shriek bloody murder, much to the despair of many of my judgmental compatriots. After all (see above), I’ve done it. Though only if asked; I don’t think I have ever requested a toasted bagel of my own volition, or even knew one existed for quite some time, since Ess-a-Bagel, holy god of bagels, would never do such a thing. Blasphemy!)

Anyway, toasting the Sadelle’s bagel was the wrong choice. Despite its ostensible freshness (the poor staff had to yell “fresh bagels!” every time a new bagel-impaled pike came out to the counter, like an upscale version of Coldstone, festooned with strangely bulbous narwhal horns), the bagel was crusty and stale-tasting. Also, I got whitefish, which set me back something like $12, and the resulting bagel sandwich was the size of a quarter. (Buying a quarter pound of whitefish and a bagel and dredging up a knife from someplace would’ve been even cheaper, relatively, than is usual for a bagel place. And it would’ve avoided the whole toasting fiasco. You live, you learn.) Plus, to make matters more pathetic, I had to wait about half an hour for it–while I got my pastries (more on that in a sec) quite quickly, my one puny bagel was trapped behind the dozen complicated sandwiches belonging to the man ahead of me (#12, his ticket said) in line. Come on, guys. Can’t we have a bagel express lane or something?

It turned out my pastries were quite good–a squishy, crusty, cheesy, berry-ey danish slice was particularly outstanding. And I picked a whole chocolate-coated babka, resplendent in its own fancy box, so my officemates were quite pleased with me that day. But the whole experience seemed like it might be overrated, when I could get a perfectly all right bagel (a perfectly better bagel?) at a lot of places.

But today I found myself up near Sadelle’s and figured I might as well stop by, if only for a quick pastry. And there was only one person in line, so I stepped in, ordered an everything 2.0 (that is a fancy Sadelle invention; don’t ask me what the 2.0 is made of) with cream cheese, plus a sticky bun, and asked the woman behind the counter which loaf cake she preferred. The chocolate chip, turned out, so I went with that. My bagel was ready promptly (maybe they heard my cries about express-lane bagelitude after all) and my bill was a suspiciously low $5. Turned out my server had given me the (very last, lonely) sticky bun for free. And the bagel was still warm (not toasty) and the sticky bun–a creation of Melissa Weller’s which I have happily had at Roberta’s many a time–was perfect, a rare occasion where the outside, crackling with caramel and sea salt, tasted even better than the tender interior.

I would’ve taken you a picture, but a fresh bagel and a sticky bun are ephemeral things.

Sadelle’s, 463 West Broadway, SoHo
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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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