DIVE BARS AND CHEAP GREAT FOOD-THE REPORT
We had a fabulous almost 4 full days in your wonderful City. We tried quite a few of the recommendations on this board in answer to my query, and also those of a former chef friend transplanted to San Francisco who lived in Brooklyn for a time. This trip was all about being frugal yet tasty.
We arrived very early Sat. morning and ate at a random diner in our Murray Hill nabe. Was fine, nothing to write home about, but we were just off the red-eye and tired. Took a quick nap, walked out of hotel and found ourselves in the midst of a gigantic Sikh rally, with thousands of people, and orange-garbed men offering plate after plate of FREE great indian food - curries and garbanzos and palak and samosas and a snack made of some type of crispy savory almost dried noodle-like thing mixed with chunks of a yellow chewy sweet substance. my BF snacked on that all weekend, making sure to leave himself enough for the trip home. Great lunch. we walked toward Chelsea and ran into a neighborhood street fair, with the usual street fair grub - repeated again every couple of blocks. Still full from indian food, we only snacked on a couple of small pan fried veggie dumplings, which were just ok. Late in the afternoon we had a beer at Hairy Monk's - big mistake - not our type of place at all, but we just needed a cool spot to sit in with a beer after hours of gallery hopping in Chelsea. Baoguette was just around the corner from our hotel, thank goodness! We took home a pork terrine, pate, & pulled pork sandwich, and a BBQ chicken, as well as the green papaya salad with shrimp. The pork sandwich was one of the better versions I've had, and I grew up near Little Saigon in Westminster, CA. The chicken was not that great, but the papaya salad was excellent - spicy and fresh and crispy and juicy. Lot of flavors going on.
On recommendation of LES_crawler, and I think others, we headed over to Grass Roots for our dive bar fix. Fit the bill perfectly. Even on a warm Saturday night when the East Village was hopping, it was not too crazy, we got a table right away, and the drinks ended up being cheaper there than anywhere else we went all weekend. Only one frat boy to spoil the ambiance (our neighborhood was crawling with them. Couldn’t bring ourselves to drink there except for that one happy hour beer - which was NOT at happy hour prices! We discovered too late that the pub across the street was serving happy hour beers and was nice and quiet. Oh well.) So, Grass Roots was a winner.
We snacked on a slice of cheese pizza from Two Brothers Pizza, right near Grass Roots. I don’t know if it’s typical NY pizza, but we liked it. Good sauce, didn’t need much doctoring up, crispy crust but still had bendability. Not quite sated with that, however, we wondered over to Crif Dogs and had a truly great dog - nice pop at the bite, good deep flavor, and we put only mustard on it to make sure we could actually judge the dog. Good dog.
Sunday we started out splitting an arepa from the street fair that had now migrated to our neighborhood. A tad tough from sitting on the griddle but a nice sweet corn flavor. Headed over to what I think was Soho and hit Yogurt Place on Sullivan for the excellent plain Greek yogurt with a fig compote and almonds. This was like eating cool silky butter but better. So rich and fatty and yet refreshing. It was like breakfast and dessert all at once. Next door at Granddaisy Bakery we bought two flatbreads: One was gruyere and cauliflower and was to die for. The other was fennel and something, can’t remember, and almost as excellent. Great light lunch. Especially after two scoops each of Il Laboratorio Gelateria ice cream - passion fruit sorbet and avocado ice cream for me, and dark chocolate ice cream and honeydew melon sorbet for him. I’ve had better honeydew melon sorbet (in Italy) but my passion fruit was as good as the one I had in Paris’s Berthillon - really tart and fruity and juicy. The avocado was smooth and delicate.
We then headed over to Brooklyn (seeing a play there that night) and walked around 5th Street in P??? I forget the area now! Cute restaurant row. We couldn’t decide and also wanted a place to sit outside that wasn’t packed and finally, in desperation because it was getting late, sat at Candela Candela. We knew not to order anything we would really expect to get a better version of in California (you can’t find better Mexican than in L.A. or San Francisco’s Mission District), but just ordered a simple guac and chips and a carne asada quesadilla. Guac was not spicy at all, though they asked us if we wanted it that way, but it was lime-y and made a fine snack. We then hopped on the metro and headed to St. Anne’s Warehouse. Had I known there were some cute places to eat there we might not have stopped at Candela’s. I did know that Jacques Torres’ place was there, but by the time we got there it was closed. After the play we walked to Prospect Park and took in the gorgeous view of the two bridges. Awesome site/sight.
Back in Manhattan, we tried playing pool in a billiards hall (you all don’t seem to have a lot of just little bars with a pool table or two in them) but found our game suffered greatly due to the larger tables and the white ball being the same size as all the others. Drinks were expensive and we played miserably, so we left after two games. Tried to go to Katz’ Deli but found it was closed. Ended up having a pretty poor dinner due to just plain bad planning. I can’t even remember the name of the place, but it wasn’t on my list - it was just some place that looked inviting (outdoor patio seating, enough clientele to make you think it was good.) Menu was Italian/Cuban, which intrigued, but did not pay off. Had a really lackluster bruschetta with goat cheese - basically foccacia with a smear of cheese on top, and a very bland salad. My BF had a chicken roulade with prosciutto in a gorgonzola cream sauce with mashed potatoes. The sauce was actually pretty good. We tried Karma bar but found it really dead and rather depressing. Left after one drink. Ended up making it an early night, around 1:30 a.m.
Monday headed over to Katz’ Deli and found myself waylaid by Russ & Daughters right next door! In my childish enthusiasm I ordered the sturgeon on a plain bagel with scallion cream cheese, and had it wrapped up nice and tight, BEFORE we went to Katz! No matter, that nice thick wax paper they use kept that delicious morsel fresh for the next 24 hours - I kid you not - in my purse - and I snacked on it intermittently. The sturgeon was gorgeous and velvety, and the bagel so nice and thick and chewy, never wilted on me, even tho we had 85+ temps that weekend. I heart Russ & Daughters very much.
Katz was awesome, as expected. Had the pastrami on rye and a chocolate egg cream. BF had a corned beef Reuben. Not the best Reuben I’ve ever had, but the pastrami was wonderful. I do like a little more fat on mine (I did remember to ask him to make it juicy and fatty) but it was still really, really good. And the place itself is so great, so iconic. Loved the whole experience.
Late in the afternoon, after I'd nibbled at my sturgeon and bagel some more, BF succumbed to a random fast food place that displayed all these weird hot dogs - bulgogee dog, kimchee dog, etc. I encouraged him because he never splurges on himself, and he got the bulgogee wrap with kimchee and rice. Ordered it spicy. It was simply awful - bland and not spicy at all. Enough said, lesson learned.
We found a bar in Chelsea that totally satisfied - Cubbyhole (lesbian bar with a very nice inviting vibe) although it was a bit pricey. Since we had such a good time there, of course, we spent quite a pretty penny. Good music and microwave popcorn, tho, which is delicious after your fourth gin and tonic.
Oh, by the way, we like your tap water. It’s cool, refreshing, and has no funky aftertaste.
(Know what’s really expensive? Your cigarettes! How do you all not just quit the habit after paying from $7 to $10 dollars a pack? Jeez!)
On our way home that night we finally got to try a lamb shwarma at our neighborhood food truck, right by Baruch College. It was delightful, very flavorful and spicy hot - absolutely loved it. Possibly one of the top two or three things we ate this weekend.
Tuesday: Shopsins!!! I’ve been so excited to try this place, ever since watching I Like Killing Flies. Kenny Shopsin was sitting right there, larger than life. We sat ourselves down and spent an hour in his magical company. Really had a nice time, chatting with him, hearing him cuss his son out, another customer, and us occasionally. I had the macaroni and cheese pancakes, which I LOVED, and ordered an over-easy egg with that, and a side of bacon. That egg got Kenny and his son into a screaming match - apparently it is a “special request” and Kenny doesn’t usually do special requests. A more delightful bfast I’ve never had. BF had the egg mini cheese burgers (Castle I, I believe.) Totally satisfying experience in every way.
On the way to catch our plane back home we had a slice each of pepperoni at Mike’s Due, which was next door to our hotel. Ok, again, is it typical NY? I don’t know. I don’t care. It had just enough grease and enough drippy cheese, yet a nice crisp crust. Had to doctor it up a tad but I left NY very happy and full.
My only BIG regret is we didn't get to Momofuku for the legendary pork belly pork rolls and crudo. I REALLY regret that, but I can just save it for next time! Thanks everyone, for all the recs.
Glad you managed to make it around town and have at least a few good experiences. But I do have to quibble with one of your points--we have a ton of little bars with pool tables in them--I didn't see your original post, but if you come our way again, make sure to include a request for reccos for good bars that also have pool tables--we can inundate you, I promise!
I've been in NY for many years now, and I don't know if I could tell you what "NY pizza" is--there are a number of different variations I've loved in different ways for different (sometimes wholly expedient) reasons all over the city, from the filling and cheap at Koronet to the purist pie at Una Pizza Napoletana to the lovely sausage and onion square pie at Adrienne's--more or less cheese, coal-fired or not, square or round...there are a lot of pies out there that I haven't eaten the like of elsewhere, so I consider them "NY pizzas." Everything except deep dish (even the much-maligned pasta slice, which knows no equal for soaking up alcohol).
Really appreciate the report! I'm all in favor of "frugal yet tasty."
I wonder, though, if there's some confusion about Candela Candela. There's a place by that name in Manhattan (not Brooklyn, as far as I know), which you might have chanced upon if you wandered north after your first pass at Katz's. Its menu is Cuban/Italian, and it includes a chicken entree that sounds like the one you guys liked.
As for your Mexican stop in Brooklyn, there are a number of possible suspects. If you were on 5th Ave. in Park Slope, I'll guess Lobo, a Tex-Mex joint with outdoor seating, which gets little hound love.