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Help! Where to Feed Dull Suburbanites?

Guys ...

I really need your help here.

Family members that I have not seen in twenty years are coming to visit from a suburban Midwestern city and they will want to go out to eat somewhere this weekend.

I am terrified.

History has shown again and again that all of my worst fears come true where family members are concerned.

What in the world do I do with these people? They are in their mid-fifties and are likely neither well-cultured nor well-traveled. I think it would be nice to show them something New York-y, but it can't be too unusual or authentic to the degree that will turn them off. Maybe something safe, non-threatening, something that evokes "New York" but doesn't challenge the comfort-level of people who are more comfortable walking around a shopping mall than an urban street.

I'm pretty sure that something like Katz's for lunch would be too "suspicious" and "weird" for them, even.

No Asian food ...

I was thinking maybe some place in Times Square where we can have better-than-average Italian food and enough liquor to "put me under" for the most painful parts of the entertaining experience. Unfortunately, I'm not familiar with any of these joints ... and I also want to make sure that we don't feel like we're being hurried along to make room for the schedules of theater-goers.

Also, probably better to go someplace "popular" rather than "obscure."

Any ideas?

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  1. I normally wouldn't recommend this first, but getting your picture, they would probably enjoy Shun Lee (across from Lincoln Center) because it is Noo Yawk visually and the Asian food is good.
    If they don't like Asian, I would suggest Vice Versa for Italian (my favorite anyway) or Esca for seafood.
    Both evoke the NY image but are not challenging to hesitant visitors.

    1 Reply
    1. re: idia

      I was going to recommend either Vice Versa or ectetera etcetera. http://www.etcrestaurant.com/index2.htm

      Etc Etc is very good, classy enough with traditional Italian food. But good enough that you will like it. I went here when I was in town last Christmas and really enjoyed the food...especially considering the other stuff in the area which can be very touristy or hit or miss.

      You really think Katz or Stage Deli would be too far out there for them? They could get just the normal turkey or tuna sandwich and not venture out to the "strange and bizarre" pastrami or chopped liver world.

      How about something like Shake Shack or one of the other excellent burger joints in NY? I mean you can't get any simpler then a damn fine burger. Unless of course they don't eat meat lol.

      Or you can try something neighborhoody like Clinton Street Bakery which has great comfort food and then you can walk around the Lower East Side.

      I would suggest Stanton Social Club since its very New York with great cuisine that's stylized but not too far out there but they might not get the whole twist and take on some of the foods if they are really far from being foodies.

      Another suggestion would just be a great NY steak restaurant. Very meat and potatoes middle america while still showing them a nice night on the town.

    2. I feel your pain. How about Bond 45 or Houston's both are basically what you are describing, big box places with decent food but aren't as bad as the large national chain places. My gut feeling is to ease them into a more new york scene with places like Les Halles (it is french but meat and potatos are universal) or a gastro pub or new american type place.

      1. Heck, take them for lunch at John's Pizzeria...Good pizza...Easy dining experience..

        1 Reply
        1. My frequent visitors from the Midwest are often put off by New York prices and the eccentricity of food here. So I was relatively unsurprised when my last visitors made a beeline for Becco off of Times Square. While I refused to eat there (stubbornly waiting at a bar down the street during their 2-hour feeding), they had a meal of unlimited pastas at a Lidia Bastianich restaurant, which they raved about endlessly. The ambience is classic, the prices are low and the food is familiar and unlimited! It's a Midwestern Night's Dream. For a step below, I know a few Jersey boys who celebrate life's special ocassions at Tony Di Napoli's or Carmine's, but I think of those places as nice Olive Gardens.

          355 West 46th Street, New York, NY 10010

          6 Replies
          1. re: JungMann

            Carmine's, maybe a Village Italian like Monte's or Villa Mosconi.

            1. re: JungMann

              I second everything Jungmann said about Becco.

              1. re: idia

                Actually Becco does sound pretty good ... I have no problem with unlimited pasta either, even if mediocre.

                1. re: foodmonk

                  Pasta at Becco is homemade and quite good. If they offer a ravioli as one of the 3 pastas -- pass on the others and stick with the ravioli! It's usually excellent especially around the fall when they sometimes have the butternut squash ravioli. The special at lunch is called Sinfonia di Pasta -- it also includes either the Caesar Salad or Antipasto --- I always choose the antipasto - it is quite good, usually comes with a small side of octopus salad and or a salt cod brandade (the Italian version of course!) Abundant bread basket with focaccia included. Desserts are also very good there as is the espresso.

                  1. re: Jill Brazil

                    A lot of the non-pasta dishes at Becco are OK too. Often quite a bit better than the pasta (the quality of which can vary widely, and is often dependent on your distance from the kitchen). It's not a great restaurant by any means, and it is cramped and loud in true NYC style, but it's hardly Olive Garden (or Carmine's) and is pretty good and reasonable for the theater district, so I'm not at all sure why one would refuse to eat there unless one was so put off by Lidia's Food Network stardom that they would pass up a decent meal. The $25 wine list is also a comfort to folks scared by big NYC wine lists at big NYC prices. The one caveat is that it's much more an Italian restaurant than an Italian-American one, and I've been with Italian-Americans from the suburbs who found the food difficult and overly fancy and would have really preferred a Carmine's or Tony DiNapoli's type experience.

              2. re: JungMann

                Bravo to you for refusing to eat at Becco, and stubbornly waiting at a bar down the street during their two hour feeding! And where do they get these crazy ideas about eccentricity? You tool. : )

              3. Houstons would be perfect. Tons of good American fare to choose from, lots of booze for you.

                1. I guess some of the steakouses too if you are willing to spend some cash.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: tautog

                    This is always my solution to hosting well-off but food-cautious Midwestern relatives. Gives me a chance to score a nice steak too. I find that a place like Keen's always goes over best.

                  2. How about bringing them to Grimaldi's and Brooklyn Ice Cream? Totally not intimating (may be except for the line...), and you can all walk across the Brooklyn Bridge which would be a great experience for out of towners. For simple Italian, may be Malatesta Trattoria or Via Emilia. Again, simple menu without any fuss. If they want to Little Italy which is New Yorky, there are one or two restaurants that other hounds mentioned to be quite good. I don't frequent Little Italy, but if you seach this board you will find a number of thread with great recommendations.

                    I don't know Balthazar is considered too "threatening" to them, if not, it is a pretty standard NY bistro experience that I think out of towners may enjoy.

                    1. I. Feel. Your. Pain. I've done Carmines with tons of dull relatives. They always seem to love it (why, why??). I think Shun Lee is a great idea, too. Another idea, what about Artie's on the upper west side for that "deli" experience at lunch? PJ Clarke's, too, maybe?

                      1. I would take them to Tony's Di Napoli or Carmine's. The food is passable (better at Tony's, I think) and everyone loves Italian. The family-style atmosphere is fun. They will be impressed. And Tony's even has some acceptable, inexpensive red wines for you. It's a win-win.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: lisette

                          My family always talks about Tony DiNaploi's. Very good choice- reasonable price, family style.

                          1. re: lisette

                            I had to deal with this problem with my ex's relatives. We took them to Tony's, Carmine's, McSorley's for burgers --> they loved these places. I think the steakhouse, red sauce Italian and Irish pubs are primo options

                          2. My parents are just like the people you described. In NYC, they love to go to Houston's. They ate their twice on their last visit!

                            3 Replies
                            1. re: Honey Bee

                              But there are Houston's and Olive Gardens all over, surely they are coming to New York for something different from chains! There are lots of stalwart NY restaurants that aren't going to be too adventurous for them, all the steakhouses (Keen's they'd love), delis (Katz/Carnegie etc.), Oyster Bar at Grand Central for the NY experience. I'm a firm believer in expanding horizons too, being "safe" is not an option!

                              1. re: bronwen

                                I know Houston's is a chain, buy it is not widely available. My parents live in San Antonio and they do not have acess to one. I would guess that the visiting relatives do not have a Houston's in their Midwest suburban city.
                                Trust me, I am not advocating for chains over independent places, but am sharing what was a happy ending to my similar problem. (And Houston's is at least worlds above the dreadeed OG!)

                              2. re: Honey Bee

                                If Chinese food or a deli sandwich is considered threatening, then I give up, but Italian seems safe. Most places could scare up plain pasta or chicken or fish for a picky eater. Frankly, I don't get traveling half-way across the country just to eat at a chain restaurant, but there is not much you can do. What about a barbecue/rib place?

                              3. Hey, foodmonk,

                                Do you know for a fact that these suburban Midwestern relatives are "uncultured" and "untraveled"? They'll be pretty insulted if you treat them like hicks from the sticks if they are not. But even if they don't have sophisticated palates, it doesn't mean you should completely dumb down their NYC food experiences.

                                I don't think you should presume they would find Katz's "weird." Midwesterners do eat meat! And I think they'd enjoy that quintessential NY deli experience. Plus, it would give them an opportunity to see a neighborhood other than the Times Square area. You could suggest taking my (in)famous LES eating "tour." Who knows? The might enjoy it! lol

                                I can't imagine they wouldn't enjoy a steakhouse, especially a place like Keens, which has been in its 36th St. location, b/t 5th & 6th Avs., since 1885. So, in addition to excellent food, there is incomparable old NY ambiance. I'm sure your relatives would be fascinated by the memorabilia filling the walls, the rows of old clay smoking pipes suspended from the ceiling, and the pipes of famous people displayed in cases in the vestibule.


                                In the Times Square area, I'd avoid Becco. The pastas are mediocre, seating is uncomfortably cramped, and the noise level is so insanely high that conversation is impossible without shouting.

                                If you want to do Italian in that area, Trattoria Trecolori, on 47th St., b/t B'way & 47th St., is a favorite of mine and many other Hounds. The homestyle food served there is well-prepared and delicious, especially the pastas. Service is both friendly and capable. The large space has attractive decor, nicely-spaced tables, and comfortable seats. They never rush you out, but to avoid the pre-theater crowd, reserve after 7:30 p.m.


                                3 Replies
                                1. re: RGR

                                  Hmm ... I will consider your warning about Becco. However, it does seem ideal to me because of the Lidia connection and after all, "she is on TV." As far as my relatives being uncultured, well ... My family is of fairly humble origin and these are quite conservative, religious folks from the Heartland of America. I'd love to dream that in fact they have open minds and palates, but somehow ... Heh. I know it's not going to turn out that way. I will take your Tre Colori recommendation for another time, however!

                                  1. re: foodmonk

                                    That explanation about your relatives is helpful.

                                    I do still think that a steakhouse would work for them though, in this particular case, Keens may not be such a good idea because in order to get to the rest rooms, they would have to walk through the bar room where the oil portrait of Miss Keens in all her glory! hangs above the bar. lol

                                    Perhaps Del Frisco's or Ruth's Chris would be more their speed.

                                    Woodside Al mentions that the pastas at Becco may be too "Italian" for some palates. And it is true that if your relatives' idea of Italian food is lasagna and baked ziti, they'll not find those there. That go me thinking about Campanile, on 29th St., b/t Madison & Park Av. S. -- a wonderful neighborhood "hidden gem." The traditional Italian/American food they serve is well-prepared and delicious, and the dining room, with its nicely-spaced tables and conversation-friendly noise level, has an old-fashioned feel without being cheesy. It may not be owned by someone famous, but I think your relatives would really enjoy it.


                                  2. re: RGR

                                    I have not met a lot of people from the Midwest who are willing to pay $50 for a steak. This may be a generalization, but I think this may be way out of context for them

                                  3. My in-laws are from Kentucky. I have had great success with Korean BBQ (c'mon - it's grilled meat), Chinese, steakhouses, NY delis (Carnegie Deli is a huge hit), and Italian. Kum Gang San or Dae Dong are nice clean places near Macy's - KGS has a good lunch special of grilled bulgogi over rice so the investment is minimal.

                                    1. Having entertained dull visiting Midwesterners in my homes in various cities around the Northeast for years now, if there's one thing I've learned it's... not to give it a second thought. Why should the host fret over where to take them, if they don't even care about food? Why spend time on the subway travelling to an interesting neighborhood, when they don't care about neighborhoods? Having lived in several large red states, I can attest that for the most part there isn't even a frame of reference for New York quality and selection. So, this puts you on Easy Street. Why don't you take them to someplace serving dull penne-with-red-sauce Italian (doesn't have to be good, of course!), like Carmine's, or a standard brasserie operation, as others have mentioned, and have good conversation and fugheddaboutit. Pizza might be a good option, too. I remember a visitor from a certain squarish state being utterly thrilled by the pizza at Patsy's. (We ducked in there during heavy rain, not wanting to walk further. Problem solved. Cheap, too.) I'd pass on the delis. And the seafood. Think EASY.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: Dedicated Fresser

                                        This whole post is delightfully hilarious. I'm afraid I have to concur with Dedicated Fresser -- I now regret the time I tried to steer a friend away from the Olive Garden. (Although Becco does seem actually expensive, loud, and crowded to me -- but what do I know.)

                                      2. Try Bubba Gump shrimp Co on Times Square, it's a crowd pleaser, safe food, not too expensive and a great conversation piece to avoid awkward silences.

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: AgentRed

                                          I assume you are talking about lunch. Dinner reservations for this weekend might be a problem. If you are willing to spend the money, I think that the steakhouse idea is the best. Either Keens or Peter Luger (but you must go by cab or car service). Another idea is Il Cortille. It's Little Italy with good (but expensive food). Or if you you are lucky and can get a lunch reservation, what about the River Café? All of these places are New York; and are "safe" without being insulting if your relatives are more cultured than you think.

                                        2. My parents from Wisconsin LOVED Churrascaria Plataforma so much we had to eat there twice in one week. Everytime they come with friends they go back, and all of their 60 something friends love it too. I think they all were entertained with the skewers of different meats that kept coming out and felt at home with the wonderful salad bar (hello midwest! salad bar!) - This place never fails in this situation.

                                          3 Replies
                                          1. re: ellenb

                                            Good call. A churrascaria could TOTALLY work for this crew.

                                            1. re: ellenb

                                              Churrascaria Plataforma also appeals to my Midwestern love of meat, meat and more meat. So it occured to me to recommend, but considering that sides are made from plantains and cassava, with weird names like pao de queijo, not to mention the fact that the only thing with legs in the salad bar is octopus, I thought this place would totally NOT work for this crew if they lack a sense of adventure. But if they're open to gauchos walking around with meat on spears, then Plataforma is a real (if expensive) treat!

                                              1. re: JungMann

                                                Trust me, dad is from rural WI, old, cranky, stubborn, and as unadventurous as they come. He only liked one other restaurant in NYC and that was McHales. (*Sigh* we miss you McHales)

                                            2. For another steakhouse option, Knickerbockers has a great old New York feel. The food is good with lots of options and it is a comfortable room that is well suited for various ages.

                                              1. Some years ago, we had took some friends from California to Zabar's, let them wander around and make a few selections, and then we took our purchases a few blocks to Central Park and had a picnic. They had a great time; it turned out to be the highlight of the trip.

                                                You may also want to find out what sort of free entertainment is happening this weekend. We used to enjoy finding a good deli or market somewhere near an event, and then dining al fresco while enjoying some free jazz or something.

                                                Oh, and the churrascaria idea is a sure hit. Also Shake Shack, Blue Smoke, Virgil's, or any good pizza joint.

                                                1. How about Baldoria for Italian fare, it is certainly better than Becco! Also like Vice Versa. Orso or Joe Allen? Or the Palm on the West Side?

                                                  1. what about BBQ? they have to like BBQ if they are from the Midwest. Maybe Rub or Dinosaur BBQ.

                                                    1. Junior's in Times Square, on 44th St. between 7th and 8th Avenues. It's like a safe "Olde Brooklyn" theme park for tourists with a familiar menu (burgers, chops, glorified diner-type food) and desserts than can be excellent, in their way, and "big" the way Midwesterners like 'em. They'll like it.

                                                      1 Reply
                                                      1. re: Nina_P

                                                        Yeah, a steakhouse -- easy! Peter Luger would be great for the out-of-towners. A twofer: entertainment plus a filling meal. The trip on the J over the bridge would give 'em a great view, too. Virgil's would be good, too. Middle of the road, not bad, safe food. Or perhaps Schlotzky's Deli on Sixth Avenue in the 50s. (Just kidding.)

                                                      2. Why not just pretend to be out when they call? They sound simply tiresome, these family members that you have not seen for 20 (twenty) years.
                                                        Coming down from my high-horse for a second, I'd say they will love becco. i was there tonight and it was good. not great, but good. Unsophisticated people will love the place. I know I do.

                                                        1. Did you have any luck? Where did you go? Was there enough liquor to "put you under"?

                                                          1. friends who have transplanted from the midwest routinely take their visitors to the stage or carnegie deli. They're happily impressed by the oversized portions, and they can choose the corned beef or pastrami if they're adventurous and want a "real" NY experience or stick to plainer fare if they aren't.

                                                            1. Docks for seafood always pleased my folks. (although they complained it was too noisy).

                                                              Virgils is good if they like Barbque.

                                                              John's of 44th always good.

                                                              If they are up for something famous and more expensive, perhaps the 21 club?

                                                              1. How about the Brooklyn Diner on W. 57th? Plenty of options for the unadventurous, but much better than you'd get in a chain. And more variety than an Italian restaurant or some other specialized place.

                                                                2 Replies
                                                                1. re: bklynite

                                                                  agree with the majority here. go with a steakhouse such as knickerbocker or angelo and maxies. not the greatest but not too expensive either. dont go to katz's, i dont think they will understand what the heck is going on there even if its the best in the city.

                                                                  btw, sounds like you are really thrilled to be taking them out. lets us know where you end up.

                                                                  1. re: ricky7

                                                                    I second the villa mosconi suggestion. you could also try something bistro-ish like French Roast (6th & 11th). There's something for everyone there and open 24/7 -- very NY. good coffee and desserts too.