Alright guys. I’m just going to brush past the fact that I’ve more or less ABANDONED YOU ALL for…well, an entire year, and get right back into the swing of things.
As some of you may know, Matthew and I recently took a jaunt over the border and graced America with our presence, and our meaningless Canadian dollar.
First we hit up New York City, for about 3.5 days, and then we jetted over to Chicago for about 4 days. Let me tell you: that is not enough time for either of those cities. But, alas, we are not MILLIONAIRES, and so our time was limited. We did fit an admirable amount of dining into our trip, however, and I am here to tell you all about it! Today, I present with a summary of our culinary adventures in NYC, and Chicago’s adventures with follow shortly after. (Or a year from now…we’ll see).
Anyway, LET’S GET STARTED THEN.
Our first day in the city, I don’t think we had any notable dining experiences. We got to our hotel in Chinatown and went in search of a CVS for some essentials we hadn’t packed, and then off to find a T-Mobile store so that we could purchase a precious data plan (which I blew through before we even left New York). Eventually after some wandering we found ourselves in Tribeca, which seemed a bit reminiscent of The distillery/Esplanade area in Toronto to me. By this point we were starving and there was nowhere nearby on my list of places to hit up. So we did the good old fashioned “How about this place?”…”No, let’s keep walking”, until we eventually settled for a place whose name I can’t even remember. It was perfectly passable, and at least had a decent beer selection, but otherwise failed to woo me. I determined not to let this happen again. There are only so many meals you can fit into a day, and in a city like New York, TOO MANY FOODS TO TRY. We couldn’t be wasting meals on random places that “look good enough”.
Our second day was more of a success.
We walked into Kat’z Deli on a Sunday morning and it was SWAMPED. We were ushered in and immediately overwhelmed. Clearly time is money in this place and we had about a minute to figure out the menu over the counter before someone was shouting at us for our order.
I got half a pastrami sandwich and a bowl of chicken noodle soup. Matt got a whole Pastrami sandwich. Next we had to find a table. This was also a challenge. Eventually we found a dirty table that we had to share with two other diners, but it would make do. This place is clearly a tourist attraction, but from what I can gather, New Yorkers still go here too. The pastrami is THAT GOOD. The sandwich fell apart in my hands, which to me, has always been the sign of a delicious sandwich. The meat is SO MOIST and just falls apart. On par with the Main Deli’s smoked meat in Montreal. The pickles are ace. The soup was nothing special in exactly the way you want it to be. Your grandmother could have made it. Overflowing with noodles and big chunks of carrot and white meat. I, of course, took exactly zero pictures of the food. (I hadn’t yet officially made the decision to blog about the trip).
At Katz’ they give you a ticket when you enter the door and warn DON’T LOSE THE TICKET OR ELSE. You eat your meal, and pay on your way out when you present your ticket to the cashier. Even if someone else orders for you and you don’t use your ticket, you GOTTA return yours, or there is A PRICE TO PAY (literally, apparently). By some good grace of god, I managed not to lose mine.
We emerged from Katz’ chaos into a relatively calm New York morning. We then proceeded to basically walk for like 6 hours straight.
We found ourselves in the vicinity of Times Square which we pointedly avoided in order to grab a meal at Becco, which was recommended to us, and immediately made it onto our list because ALL YOU CAN EAT PASTA. This restaurant is owned by Lidia Bastianich and her son. For $24 you get an antipasto and then three daily kinds of ALL YOU CAN EAT PASTA. However, you may be surprised to find that it is difficult to eat all that much pasta. Apparently pasta is like, heavy or something? When we were there, there was an artichoke ravioli in a cream sauce, fettuccine with lamb ragu and a simple penne in marinara. Surprisingly, the penne in marinara turned out to be my favourite. The sauce was sweet and tangy and fresh tasting, and just the right amount of chunky, and each table gets their own generous bowl of parmesan. The antipasto was also quite tasty, with a variety of pickled veggies, some mortadella, calamari and a wee bocconcini. This was probably one of the best deals we found while we were in NYC. It was good, homey pasta in a bustling atmosphere. It didn’t blow me away, but it was good and fresh. Again. I got no photos. (WHAT IS EVEN THE POINT THEN, JULIE!?).
Before dinner at Becco, we found ourselves in the area with some time to kill. One of Matt`s coworkers, who used to live in New York, had recommended a bar that was nearby, so we decided to check that out, and have a few drinks before dinner. (A piece of advice: beers before all you can eat pasta is not the wisest choice!). As we were so close to Times Square, I must admit, I didn’t have super high hopes for this bar. I was expecting something large, possibly catering to tourists, loud, and rowdy. What we found when we walked into Beer Culture, was in fact quite the opposite. It was small, dim and cozy, with maybe 5-10 other people there. The walls were lined with beer fridges, filled with bottles and cans of various American craft beers. You made your selection, brought your beer to the bartender and he opened and poured it for you. The first thing I tried was Coney Island Brewing Co.’s Hard Root Beer. You guys. It tastes JUST LIKE REGULAR ROOT BEER. AND THIS IS NOT A BAD THING. It’s 5.8% ABV and I COULDN’T EVEN TELL. This is dangerous stuff, you guys. It was delicious. I was expecting something more beer-y, but it was, quite literally, rootbeer.
Then I had this Headless Heron Barrel Aged Pumpkin Ale from Central Waters, a Wisconsin based brewery, which they had on tap, and DAMN. THIS WAS DIVINE. It was deep, and dark, and spicy, and essentially tasted like an alcoholic molasses cake straight outta the oven. 10/10 would drink again. Matt had two beers as well, I don’t remember what they were, but he’s on a sour kick, so probably something very tart!
The next morning, for breakfast, we headed to one of the places I was most anticipating: the Russ and Daughter’s cafe. I`d heard so much about this place before coming to New York, that I knew I wanted to check it out. Their deli has been open since 1914 and it’s still family owned. At some point they opened this cafe location, and you guys, it`s beautiful. I appreciate attention to design in a restaurant and this place doesn’t disappoint. (Just look at those marble chevron floor tiles!). Happily, the food also did not disappoint. I got potato latkes, eggs, and smoked salmon, and Matthew and I shared a potato knish with mustard, and I wiggled delightedly in my seat the entire time I ate. I was very sad once the meal was over, and I wish I could have gone here many more times in order to truly exhaust their menu choices, but other restaurants called my name!
That day we headed to Williamsberg and explored brooklyn for a bit. Checked out a restaurant that was on my list that, ultimately ended up being relatively forgettable.
The next morning for breakfast, we decided to check out a corner diner on the edge of Chinatown that we’d walked by every morning so far, called the Cup and Saucer. This tiny little place has counter service and a few seats along the window, super friendly service, and it was everything we wanted from a breakfast. Cheap and good. They also had a case of mighty fine looking donuts that I didn’t end up trying, but might be worth looking into if we ever find ourselves there again.
This was our last full day in New York and there was STILL SO MUCH TO EAT. I was determined to get my hands on a great Chocolate Babka, as well as some other jewish favourites such as rugelach, and hamentaschen, and the iconic Black and white cookie!
For the babka, we went to Breads Bakery near Union square. Rumoured to have some of best Babka in Manhattan. Apparently they make babkas at least three times a day! They also had Nutella babkas, but we went traditional for our first time. We didn’t even eat the Babka until the next day, when we were in Chicago, but NOT A SINGLE DAY HAS PASSED SINCE THEN WHERE I DIDN’T THINK ABOUT THAT BABKA. You guys. BABKA. I’m now obsessed with making my own babka. I NEED TO. This babka, apparently, was too good to even take pictures of. Because I have none. Babkas are beautiful though.
My hunt for the rugelach, hamentaschen and black and white cookies brought me back to Russ and Daughters, but this time, we went to the original deli location. One side is the fish counter and other savoury items, and the other side is all baked items and candies and sodas. I got a few of everything I came in search of. I think the hamentaschen were my favourite, and may be the inspiration for some of my Christmas baking this year. The Black and white cookie was breakfast on our early morning flight to Chicago the next morning. A+.
As our last day in New York came to a close, we went on one final food related hunt. Before we left, we needed pizza. NEEDED. My understanding is that “best pizza” can be somewhat of a contentious topic in NYC, and that very few people agree on one place. My first choice was Di Fara pizza, in Brooklyn, whose reputation is lauded by many. However, as it turns out, they are closed on Monday and Tuesday, the only days I’d set aside for pizza-eating. So, unfortunately, it evaded me and I had to search elsewhere. This brought us to Joe’s Pizza in Greenwhich Village. A small place with standing room only. We got there just in time, the second we ordered a crowd came in the door behind us. We each got a piece of cheese pizza, and pepperoni, the classics. But then we made a mistake. We headed back to our hotel room in Chinatown before chowing down. We were POOPED, there was nowhere inside Joe’s to eat, and…I had to pee. So, by the time we dug in, it wasn’t as hot and gooey as it ideally should have been. And that’s how I know it’s good pizza, because it was STILL DELICIOUS. I mean, when ISN’T pizza delicious, really though? I preferred the pepperoni to the cheese. I folded in half to eat it, and it was in fact, even better that way.
Before I wrap this up, there is one other item I want to talk about. And that item is Cel-ray Soda.
This is a celery soda. Apparently it is fairly hard to find outside of NYC, but fairly commonplace in many NYC delis and restaurants. Apparently it’s best paired with salty meats, such as a pastrami Sandwich. I had mine with the Pizza we got. I do not like celery. I was not expecting to like this. BUT I DID. It basically tastes like celery salt, in a soda. It’s sweet too. But somehow it works! I would buy and drink these if they were available in Toronto. I really don’t know how to describe this…kind of like a sweet, tomato-less, fizzy caesar? I dunno, but I like it!
There’s a lot of things we didn’t get around to. Our hotel was IN Chinatown and we didn’t have ONE single meal there, despite our best efforts. (Our plan was always to have a late night meal in Chinatown, but we consistently fell asleep too early). We never tried out any street meat of soft pretzels, or anything from one of the Halal food carts that are everywhere. Next time I’d love also love to go out for cocktails, which we never did! But there is no denying that we ate well, and plenty.
A theme which continued over the next couple of days in Chicago…