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Feb 7, 2002 02:35 AM

NYC Food Myths

  • j

Dave Feldman and I were commenting on how it's been a long, long time since NYC was full of great neighborhood pizzerias, and that gave me an idea.

What are other untrue/outdated NYC food reputations? I'll contribute a couple:

1. Astoria is a Greek Nabe with great Greek Restaurants (there are still some Greek people and eateries, but both in fast decline, and there are no "great" Greek restaurants there, IMO...the nabe is more thrivingly Bosnian/Egyptian/Moroccan/Brazilian/Mexican)

2. H&H are classic old-fashioned NYC bagels (those big puffy, bready pale things? A classic old-fashioned NYC bagel is dense, dark, jaw-breakingly chewy and substantial, with crunchy blistery bumps).

3. Manhattan has tons of great little Italian spots (not in my lifetime)

any others?

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  1. c
    Craig Bodine

    Another NYC enduring chow myth is that there are thousands of great "delis" in the city. The day of the
    real NYC kosher delicatessen is long over, and the word
    "deli" is so dumbed down as to be an emabrassment.

    3 Replies
    1. re: Craig Bodine
      Caitlin Wheeler

      Before I lived in NYC, I was in school in CT, and my dad would come visit from Los Angeles where I grew up and we'd go to New York for the day. He always insisted on going to these horrible delis in midtown -- because everyone KNOWS New York has the best delis! The Carnegie was always full, so we'd go to the awful ones nearby. Ugh. Last time my parents visited and insisted on deli, I took them to 2nd Ave., and made them wait.

      1. re: Caitlin Wheeler
        Josh Lichtman

        |Those terrible NYC hotdogs served with care on every Manhattan corner boiled lackluster served on a wonder bun.

        1. re: Josh Lichtman

          I'll concur they are not great.

          However, did anyone ever think they were? Ive heard paeans to all kinds of NYC food, some of which were justified and some not.

          But Ive never heard anyone tell me that I had to have one of the hot dogs from the carts.

          Speaking of carts, though, there is a cart that is usually stationed on 5th avenue between 22nd and 23rd (on the west side of the street) that does kebabs and so on, that often has a line. The guy running it seems to know his customers and is really friendly.

          My neighbor in the workplace cubefarm, raves about it....

    2. NYC has great steakhouses. BS! Even worse, most of them now have a "NY Strip". A real NY place never has that, they have a shell steak. Nick + Steffs, the joint on Greenwich + Laight, Smith + Wollensky the hall of shame goes on and on...

      1 Reply
      1. re: Ivan Stoler

        What about Peter Luger? I haven't been, but everyone who has swears up and down it's fabulous.

      2. j

        two things:

        I think New York Cheesecake being so great is a myth. Or it might just be that I'm spoiled by my mom's cheesecake. But you go to Juniors, and your cheesecake is dry and crumbly.

        Also, when I first moved here, one of my friends back home in Chicago raved about the black & white cookies. "You've got to try one!" She said. "You can only find them in New York." So I dutifully went to a bakery and bought one and found them to be bland, tasteless and otherwise unremarkable. Every so often, I'll try another one just to make sure, and always have the same result. Who the hell eats these cookies????

        23 Replies
        1. re: JessicaSophia

          Wholeheartedly agree about Junior's. Besides being dry and crumbly, they put peanuts on it - bleah. Not to speak of that "strawberry" red goo...

          But Veniero's or Ferarra's ricotta cheesecake - well, well... those are pretty tasty.

          1. re: Katerina

            There you have it, they're tasty 'cause they're not NY cheesecakes.

            1. re: guglhupf

              I don't know, I've had some pretty fantastic cheesecake at Peter Luger's, and i think maybe at Sparks or Ben Benson's. The black and white -- i agree with you, what a disappointment. But my suspicion with that is that those were NEVER good -- just pretty.

              1. re: Jason W.

                I've seen, but never tried, some beautiful looking black & whites at a bakery, take-out gourmet place on Hudson Street somewhere near Carmine, on the east side of the street. Anyone know this place? Tried the b&w's?

                1. re: Peter Cuce

                  Hi Chowhounds,
                  In williamsburg Fortunato brothers on manhattan ave makes awesome cheesecake.And a few blocks away you can pick up a killer slice of pizza
                  at San Marco Pizza on Lorimer St.My NY Food Myth is
                  you can get the best Italian food in Little Italy!

                  Happy Eatin
                  Phil D.

                  1. re: Peter Cuce

                    Yes, there is a little bakery on Carmin Street, in between the two Joe's Pizzas, that has excellent black and whites.
                    Pick-A-Bagel also makes an outstanding b&w.

                2. re: guglhupf

                  But then again, check out the raves about Helen's Fabulous Cheesecake below on this thread. Maybe it isn't "New York"... but it IS in New York City.

                  Excuse my ignorance, I thought that the cheesecake was kind of invented in NY, didn't realize that there is a particular variety distinct from others (am not from around here, you see...) I thought the ricotta cheesecake was something thought up by Italian immigrants as a variation on the theme.

                  What's the story? Is cheesecake universal?

                3. re: Katerina

                  PEANUTS? My god, man, what is the world coming to? Do they put peanuts in their plain cheesecake, too?

                  1. re: Lindsay B.

                    I don't know... I went to a friend's party in Park Slope and she had ordered two strawberry cheesecakes from Junior's to represent, you know, "the ultimate" in cheesecake to her guests. They were topped with that red (fake-tasting) stuff and sprinkled with peanuts around the base and on top, which to me was just disgusting. (I'm not allergic, just hate the "surprise" taste of peanuts in dishes where they shouldn't be.) This was enough to turn me off their stuff for good. I mean, who in their right mind...

                    1. re: Katerina

                      Peanuts on cheesecake is a truly horrifying concept.

                      What I liked about Junior's was the style of their cheesecake. It's the only restaurant that I know of that makes the same kind of cheesecake as my great grandmother.

                      The red-good was a bit of a drawback, but there seemed to be a lot of real strawberries in there too.

                    2. re: Lindsay B.
                      The Turtle (Bay) Dove

                      No - they don't put peanuts on their plain cheesecake. What a scary scary thought. The strawberry and chocolate cheesecakes are pretty god-awful, but I'm still partial to the plain. I've only gotten a single slice once, but I also felt that the one slice, for whatever reason, was not as creamy as a whole cake. Before dismissing Junior's completely, I would suggest getting a whole plain cake - and a lot of people to share it with! Now that I'm on the subject, I think the one I have in my freezer is about to be eaten . . .

                  2. re: JessicaSophia

                    Though every "deli" seems to sell black and whites now(in plastic), when you go to a bakery that knows how to make them, they are fantastic. Still a favorite for everyone in my family.

                    As for cheesecakes, I do agree that most are overrated, including Juniors. However, Cascon Cheesecake in Whitestone, Queens is still great.

                    1. re: JessicaSophia

                      I do. I love them. The best B+W cookies, in my opinion, are at the Greek Diner type of place on 10th Avenue across the side street from St.Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital. (Stavros?? may be the name of the place)

                      1. re: Zephyr

                        The only good store bought black and whites, and I have tried about 7 different brands, are Beigel's.

                        Zaro's black and whites have really failed me. Everytime I am disappointed.

                        Or if you want to go out to Long Beach, try Country Boy Bakery. I was weaned on those pups.

                        1. re: RachelMolly
                          Stephanie L.

                          I have never had anything good from Zaro's--it's a mystery to me as to their popularity.

                          1. re: Stephanie L.

                            I enjoy the black and whites at Cake Box bakery in Bay Terrace.

                            1. re: Scott K

                              I was going to say the same thing -
                              Cake Box in Bay Terrace. Grew up there and remember eating B&Ws as a kid.

                      2. re: JessicaSophia

                        Junior's was good, back when neighborhood pizza was good. It's a pale shadow of what it used to be.

                        I'd have agreed about cheesecake EXCEPT some very reliable hounds are raving passionately about Helen's Cheesecake, in brooklyn across from Ferdinando's. There's a thread on this board.

                        (note: if you missed it, you're missing lots of OTHER good stuff, too. That's why we're publishing ChowNews....which distills the best tips and info and presents them in extensive, highly-organized weekly emails complete with all sorts of look-up info. It's a great thing we're totally proud of. See sample issue via link below)



                        1. re: JessicaSophia

                          I think nostalgia is what sells many of the B&W cookies. I remember the bakery cookies from when I was little in Syracuse and get suckered into buying one now and then. Then I vow to make them at home again (from the Polish church ladies' cookbook). Nothing beats those. Gotta make 'em with sour milk or buttermilk for the right flavor.

                          1. re: JessicaSophia

                            IMO, cheesecake should be just-this-side-of-crumbly. Not dry, of course, but not smooth either. I want some evidence that the dish was made with cottage cheese. It's all about the texture. I like mine fairly airy, rather than creamy and mousselike. I really hate those "New York Style" cheesecakes with the layer of sweetened sour cream on top. Ugh.

                            I haven't had Junior's cheesecake since 1996, but I thought it was the bomb at the time.

                            1. re: JessicaSophia

                              Leske's, that old Scandanavian bakery in Bay Ridge makes great back & whites, not to mention great danishes.

                              1. re: JessicaSophia

                                I have friends that live in "other parts" of the country. They all crave me sending them a "NYCheesecake". I try, very hard to explain to them that, in the nicest way, that NYCheesecake, well, sucks, at best. Try a good place that will bake to order and ask for it "slightly UNdercooked" that way it will remain moist rich and dense. NYCheesecake has a crust, that alone ranks it at the bottom of every list.

                                1. re: JessicaSophia

                                  The very best Black and white cookies are made by a wholesale bakery called JMJ baking corp. in LIC, NY. Cakey and soft with a soft glaze on top.

                                  Its not one of those hard cookies with cracked hard glaze on top.

                                2. Nathan's are good (the best even) hot dogs. Haven't been here long enough to know whether they were ever good. They're not now.

                                  5 Replies
                                  1. re: guglhupf

                                    I'm with you-- they make me queasy, or that might just be watching them slop those greasy red-tinged onions on them, and seeing the people back there sweating on a hot day.

                                    I think the best hot dogs are Gray's Papaya. I've always thought that if I became really poor I would live on Gray's Papaya's recession special, supplemented with pork buns and sesame balls from Chinatown. (eat a sesame ball and you're not hungry for about 2 days!)

                                    1. re: JessicaSophia

                                      Toujours la politesse!

                                      1. re: JessicaSophia

                                        Well, I recently got to try Gray's and thought they weren't as good as Papaya King but the price was nice. Also went back to try the dogs at Katz's and they are far superior to both Gray's and Papaya King but way too expensive. Also they slopped so much juice from the sauerkraut on, that the buns turned to mush.

                                        1. re: Brian W

                                          i don't speak from personal knowledge, but i've seen it posted numerous times that gray's papaya, papaya king AND katz's all use sabrett's dogs.

                                      2. re: guglhupf

                                        I grew up very close to Nathan's and always enjoyed their dogs..and fries...hadn't had them in a more than a few years..funny this thread came up..I was changing planes in Charlotte Airport last week and saw a Nathans!! were the dogs as good as I remember? no...but still better than most of the alternatives at the moment..and I enjoyed it if only for the nostalgia..sadly the fries were nothing like they used to they used much fresher and less tasty oil to fry them in.

                                      3. I agree about the cheesecake and the delis, but c'mon -- you can find really good pizza in practically every neighborhood in New York, especially compared with every other city in the U.S. DiFara's, after all, is a neighborhood pizzeria. Leonardos in Carrol Gardens is good. There's a place in Windsor Terrace that I would travel a bit for. Same with Bay Ridge. I mean, let's not get absurd, here. (As happened in series Chowhound posts I remember from around a year ago, in which a bunch of food intelligencia basically concluded that there is no good Indian food in NYC, that anyone who thinks there is is sadly mistaken, and that the only REALLY spectacular Indian food is prepared by at home by Julie Sahni. Pity the poor shmucks who don't get an invite. Following this logic, you could argue that it's a myth that New York has good food at all -- that the only place to bother eating is Jean Georges, and only when Chef V. himself is in the kitchen.)

                                        17 Replies
                                        1. re: Denise

                                          Pray tell where is the Windsor Terrace Pizzeria, and what it's name?

                                          1. re: Denise

                                            I share your sentiment. "There's no good XYZ in NYC" presumes familiarity with a standard of quality that many, many New Yorkers have probably never come into contact with. What exactly are we comparing with over here?

                                            I mean, it does seem extreme to bemoan a lack of neighborhood Italian places in NYC. As opposed to WHERE? Italy? OK, I should make that Italian-American places. But at least where I live (Carroll Gardens, Bklyn) there are *quite* a few. Ferdinando's, Mamma Maria, Marco Polo, even that loved and hated Sam's, and I'm not even counting the pizza joints. Are they all *great*? No. Were they ever? Maybe - probably before my time. Too bad, but I'm not going to lose sleep over that. After all, what IS the way it used to be? Not even men are.

                                            1. re: Katerina

                                              I realize my post makes me sound like someone all too happy to accept whatever dumbed-down food is pushed in front of them. That ain't quite so; but I tend to look for the best of what there IS, and not pine after something that isn't.

                                              1. re: Katerina

                                                Sometimes it seems, reading these boards from afar, that there are an awful lot of people in NYC who can't find anything worth eating.

                                                1. re: ironmom

                                                  I'll eat my words.

                                            2. re: Denise

                                              I really can't agree about the pizza. I've tried a good thirty places in Manhattan and Brooklyn and with a few exceptions the pizza ranges from bad to unbelievably horrible. I live on 15th St near 5th Ave in Brooklyn, and I've tried every single place for many blocks around. Lenny's is ok in a pinch, but truthfully, it's not very good. Without a car or a willingness to commute a fair distance, I wouldn't be able to enjoy good pizza. What's the place in Windsor Terrace that you like?

                                              1. re: Peter Cuce

                                                I suspect that the place in Windsor Terrace is Laura's Gourmet Kitchen (1235 Prospect Ave--718-436-3715). I haven't been for three years, when I lived in South Slope and was perhaps less discriminating, but I remember her pizzas being outstanding, and I also usually loved her pastas and tiramisu. Part of the fun was feeling like you'd been invited to Laura's home or maybe to the set of a dysfunctional Italian sitcom. Lots of yelling coming from the open kitchen... Anyone knkow if this place still exists?

                                                1. re: Tom Meg

                                                  Laura's pizza is better than ever. I'm not a big fan of the pastas or even the restaurant itself, but a pizza and a good Italian salad delivered from Laura's never disappoints. My vote for best pie in Park slope + neighborhood.

                                                2. re: Peter Cuce

                                                  Nino's on 3rd Ave between 91st & 92nd Street in Bay ridge is good pizzerira.
                                                  try the eggplant slice & grandma's thin crust.


                                                3. re: Denise

                                                  Denise, I'm not mocking or ridiculing your opinion, though I disagree with it. Please show me the same consideration. We're all entitled to an opinion here....even me.

                                                  I envy you if you enjoy a lot of pizza and Indian food in NY. I would prefer to find easier enjoyment. But a few things:

                                                  I'm having trouble understanding the logic of your conclusion that, since Difara's and a couple of others are good neighborhood pizzerias, that means that neighborhood pizza in NY is good.

                                                  In any case, I personally find 95% of pizza in NY utterly inedible, and of the remaining 5%, 4% is one step up from inedible. 99% of area slice pizzerias use ingredients from one single supplier. The one-step-from-inedible ones skillfully doctor those lame supplies. The 1% standouts manage to work outside the mainstream supply system. I've heard rumors (and my palate agrees) that the supplier is the same outfit supplying school lunchroom pizza supplies. Indeed, 95% of NY pizza does taste like school lunchroom pizza. Twenty five years ago, nearly all neighborhood pizza was at least edible, and you could find dozens of standout neighborhood spots. NY still maintains its pizza reputation from this long-gone period.

                                                  Just my opinion.

                                                  And it's a good analogy: Julie Sahni indeed represents the Jean Georges of Indian cookery (though you don't need an invite...her cookbooks are awesome, and while you can't equal her skill, your results will far surpass what you'd be served in most local restaurants). The problem is that there is very very little in the vast middle terrain between--to extend the analogy--Jean Georges and Benningtons when it comes to Indian restaurants (I'm talking quality, not price). The few exceptions (Punjabi Diner, Dosa Hutt, Mavali Palace, etc) have been extensively discussed on these boards. In fact, the purpose of these boards is to suss out exceptions to ANY prevalent mediocrity. That's what we're HERE for. Chowhounding is ABOUT being finicky, that's the whole POINT.

                                                  1. re: Jim Leff

                                                    Finding good pizza is the most extreme example for me: when out-of-town friends come around, I have to drag them out to Brooklyn and in my heart I know that there are only a handful of pies worth a damn in this town.

                                                    Any other myth can at least be held in abeyance: it's easier to show a Britisher what a real bagel should taste like (or knock their socks off with a bialy) or show off the handful of decent chinese (or surpass that with malaysian or vietnamese restaurants), than to find a good slice of pizza.

                                                    In fact, typing this brings me to a realization: I more often bait-and-switch to impress...when they ask me to fulfill New York Myth X, I often find myself in the position of offering a new and improved alternative - want good Cantonese? How about trying Fujianese instead?

                                                    In fact that’s why living in New York is better than the myth…it’s epic and changing and challenging...the variety of it all...Jim’s website reads like an ideal for living in New York...for a Chowhound who is paying attention there is always some secret deliciousness [tm] to sniff out, just around the curve of diminishing results.

                                                    1. re: Jim Leff

                                                      sure, whoever wrote this did so years ago, but I just signed up. So cut me a little slack. Anyway, I can't help but disagree so incredibly much with the comment of almost all NY pizza being bad. I've lived here my whole life and eaten pizza at hundreds of places. And the best pizza really is here. Not the chains like Ray Bari and Sbarro and the Ray clones. Nothing where a tourist would bother going. Just some poor shlub's place on some random corner where the guy works until 3am every day. Like Tony's on First Avenue or Sorisi in Forest Hills. The whole point of NY pizza is that it's big and generic. Greasy and cheesy and something you can eat when you got off the subway and you're hungry and just want to go to bed and it's 8pm and you don't want to cook. And you want to eat it walking home. And if it doesn't taste good cold or scald the roof of your mouth hot, it didn't do it's job. Fancy, trendy pizza is another animal. It's touch and go. Usually go. Like I said, I now live in Forest Hills and am fortunate enough to be able to say that two of the best pizza places in the city (from a fancy pizza point of view) are here. Dee's Brick Oven on metropolitan, and Nick's on Ascan. These are great pizza places. I think that everyone's aggravating "myths" are based on nothing but some form of faux nostalgia for the good old days. But in those days, people made similar comments about the world falling apart. So I guess that if we actually listen to these complainers, the farther back in time you go, the better. And one day, we'll find a point in time where the food was so good that if you dared eat it, you'd have an orgasm so powerful that your heart would rupture and you'd die.

                                                      1. re: molace

                                                        The expectations are definitely high, as a rule. Whether that "foodgasm", as you put it, ever existed as a state of being or not, NY Pizza lovers are kind of like Yankee fans. Nothing short of a championship will suffice.

                                                        That said, in your vast NYC pizza experience as you describe it, I can only hope that you've frequented workingman slice joints far better than Sorisi's. I wouldn't go as far as to say it's bad pizza. In a pinch, I would consider it passable at best. But there's far better out there, regardless of the true state of the NYC pizza scene.

                                                        1. re: Polecat

                                                          "I can only hope that you've frequented workingman slice joints far better than Sorisi's. I wouldn't go as far as to say it's bad pizza. In a pinch, I would consider it passable at best"

                                                          True. But while I wouldn't invite friends over to sample their haute cuisine, when I get off the subway and I want a slice on the way home, for whatever reason I want them.

                                                        2. re: molace

                                                          "I think that everyone's aggravating "myths" are based on nothing but some form of faux nostalgia for the good old days. But in those days, people made similar comments about the world falling apart. So I guess that if we actually listen to these complainers, the farther back in time you go, the better. And one day, we'll find a point in time where the food was so good that if you dared eat it, you'd have an orgasm so powerful that your heart would rupture and you'd die. "

                                                          Perfectly stated.

                                                          Look, things change. Maybe pizza was better in the old days but maybe memory plays tricks. It's not like we can get into the Wayback machine and do a slice to slice comparison.

                                                          I do know that the overall quality and depth of restaurants in NYC far exceeds what was available 30 years ago. In place of the chow mein joints we have Chinese restaurants covering 5 or 6 different regions. Mexican places abound - try getting Mexican food in 1976. The same with Indian. Central Asian places are in Queens and Brooklyn. There are plenty of good Thai places out there along with the jewel in the crown, Sri.

                                                          Italian food in NYC 30 years ago was almost invariably the standard red sauce stuff - now you've got dozens of choices.

                                                          New York is a better restaurant city now than in those good old days.

                                                          1. re: molace

                                                            i happen to like dee's also, but people give a lot of flack for saying so. A&J on austin is also good, as is arianna and if you
                                                            go down to main street, alba is also great. i think some people
                                                            are afraid to try someplace new.