EMPIRE BISCUIT, EAST VILLAGE, MANHATTAN

I'll Eat This Any Time of Day! Photo Credit: Jesse Curti

I’ll Eat This Any Time of Day!

Photo Credit: Jesse Curti

The South Might Not Rise Again, But These Biscuits Will!

A few years back, I saw a video on Youtube about a four-year old preacher proclaiming the red hot revival to much applause. Now regardless of your thoughts on the veracity of the kid’s visions, you’ve got to admit that New York is in a country revival of its own. In the food world.

Barbecue has come to mean more than a flavor of potato chip at the local bodega. Independent fried chicken is less greasy but juicier than its chain counterpart. Southern cooking has come to mean more than just honky tonk and restaurant owners are taking chances.

Empire Biscuit stands at the front of the experiment as a 24-hour shop dedicated to biscuits with everything under $10. For a fast breakfast you can grab the house-made pork sausage patty and egg. For dessert you can opt for the banana pudding on a biscuit.

I was hungry, so I chose the Spiced Fried Chicken with Pickled Carrots and Sauce L’Orange. The chicken was fun and not too spicy while the carrots added a tangy crunch and there was mild sweetness from the sauce.

However, the support behind all of these dishes is the biscuit itself. These were very different than anything out of a Pillsbury popping canister. Instead of being puffed up with air, they were on the compact side with a texture that was more crumbly than flaky. They were tasty and I was even more encouraged when the baker had me try an experimental batch. I would love to see the new and improved version of something that’s already good.

LOCATION: 198 Avenue A Between East 12th and 13th, East Village, Manhattan

PHONE: (646) 682-9529

HOURS: 24 Hours

RESERVATIONS: Not Necessaary

WEBSITE: http://empirebiscuit.com/

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PRESS TEA, WEST VILLAGE, MANHATTAN

Sweet, Savory and Steamy! Photo Credit: Jesse Curti

Sweet, Savory and Steamy!

Photo Credit: Jesse Curti

No Coffee Allowed!

Ask for a good local coffee and people in most cities can point you in the right direction. Ask for a tasty tea spot and it’s a whole different story! I usually find that people direct me to a shop with dried dust in jars or a cafe that resembles Shady Acres Rest Home with doors that lock from the outside!

My friends tell me I should just settle for ordering tea at a coffee place, they’re everywhere. Never! Would you buy wine from a gas station? Of course not! Just because they have it doesn’t mean you’re going to enjoy it.

Thankfully, I found the premier “No Coffee Allowed” club in the West Village. Press Tea uses a fleet of retrofitted espresso machines to make coffee-style drinks for tea sippers. Meaning that you can get the capuccinos, lattes and macchiatos made with the good leaf! (Not that leaf!)

I opted for the Gingerbread Rooibos Teapuccino. The aroma of the red tea mixed nicely with the spice of the gingerbread and was neither too sweet nor watery. Some might balk at the $3.75 price tag, but that seems fair in New York. If they went any lower, you would either be way out in one of the boroughs or it would be a bag of packaged tea in a plastic cup of hot water.

You Don't Even Need Butter! Photo Credit: Jesse Curti

You Don’t Even Need Butter!

Photo Credit: Jesse Curti

Even if you’re not a tea maniac, the snacks are fantastic. Yes they are small and the price may elicit some eye rolls, but the taste really amazes. The Prosciutto Brie and Jam Scone (PB&J) for $2.50 had notes of both salty and sweet. Unlike most other scones I’ve had, this one was tender and moist and didn’t dry my mouth out like a bad biscuit. The cannelĂ© for $2.40 was a fantastic little treat from Bordeaux with a caramelized outside and custard center. But with its richness one was plenty! Thankfully, all the baked goods are “buy one, get one” after 6:00pm.

LOCATION: 167 7th Ave. S. Between Perry and Waverly, West Village, Manhattan

PHONE: (212) 888-6666

HOURS: Sunday – Thursday 7:00am – 9:00pm, Friday – Saturday 7:00am – 10:00pm

RESERVATIONS: N/A

WEBSITE: http://www.presstea.com/

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THE ICE PLANT, ST. AUGUSTINE, FLORIDA

When was the Last Time YOU had a Barrel-Aged Martinez?  Photo Credit: Jesse Curti

When was the Last Time YOU had a Barrel-Aged Martinez?

Photo Credit: Jesse Curti

A Great Place in the Sixth Borough, Florida!

There’s a New Yorker cover from the Seventies in which three quarters of the image is the West Side of Manhattan while the remaining fourth of the page is the highly compressed continental US, Pacific Ocean and Japan. In other words, perspective for some New Yorkers ends at the Hudson River!

This totally ignores the beautiful cycle of New York in that people from across the world come to New York because it’s diverse and New York is diverse because its filled with people from all backgrounds.

And back in St. Augustine, Florida , just 25 minutes away from my tiny hometown of Palm Coast, I found a place called The Ice Plant that made me say, “I feel like I’m in New York!” I’m not trying to be a snob, but there is a serious problem when there is genuine excitement over the opening of an Outback Steakhouse.

The F-Word Here Stands for Fernet Branca! Photo Credit: Jesse Curti

The F-Word Here Stands for Fernet Branca!

Photo Credit: Jesse Curti

At The Ice Plant I started with a barrel-aged Martinez which had gin, vermouth, maraschino liquor and bitters. With no ice or mixer, this was a STRONG drink to everyone that tasted it. However by aging all ingredients together in a wooden barrel, the mixologist added oak notes and softened the drink so it had all of the robustness but none of the liquory burn. My second cocktail was aptly titled “The F-Word” and it contained Fernet Branca, St. Germain, Dolin Genepy, house-made grenadine, cucumber and lime. Quite honestly, I had not tasted any of the liquors in that drink but it surprised me as an herbal soother that could easily sneak up on you.

Part of me regrets not going for the vodka and ginger Florida Mule that came with the deliciously refreshing pebbled ice or a bourbon cocktail that would come with an ice sphere, but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to have the drinks with those ingredients that I had never seen together.

Food is often an afterthought or a complete absence at many great bars, but here there’s something to balance your stomach after that third cocktail. I had the Bourbon BBQ Pulled Pork Sammy which was more vinegar and less glop on the barbecue sauce. Perfect acid for cutting through any drink!

With the most expensive single drink only $12, the only complaint people might have would be the lack of draft beer. But you’re not the person to order a burger at a steakhouse, are you?

LOCATION: 110 Riberia St., St. Augustine, Florida

PHONE: (904) 829-6553

HOURS: 5:00pm – 2:00am Daily

RESERVATIONS: First Come, First Serve

WEBSITE:
http://iceplantbar.com/

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THE COMMONS CHELSEA, CHELSEA, MANHATTAN

Beer and Sandwiches! What Could be Better? Photo Credit: Jesse Curti

Beer and Sandwiches! What Could be Better?

Photo Credit: Jesse Curti

Coffee or Beer? It’s Up to You!

We all get that feeling. It’s been a great day with a date or an old friend from out of town and you want to stop somewhere special. But the only thing around you for blocks is Starbucks. How can such a ubiquitous place be unique if you’ve literally passed five on your trip already?

Thankfully, there are places that thrive off of what Starbucks isn’t and The Commons Chelsea is not a regular coffeeshop. Located in the middle of a block in Chelsea, the tiny step-down storefront has the usual espresso machine with friendly staff, but wait, are those beer taps? Yes, as early as their 7:00am weekday, 9:00am weekend opening time, you can continue where you left off last night with an IPA while your buddy sobers up with a double espresso.

But you need more than just a pastry (they have those too!) to sop up all that booze. The breaded chicken cutlet with poached egg sounded fantastic but I opted for the slow roasted pork with pickled carrot. Granted, these weren’t Subway “5 Dollar Footlongs” but they rang in at an affordable $10 for the pork and $11 for the chicken.

Cozy, Isn't It? Photo Credit: Jesse Curti

Cozy, Isn’t It?

Photo Credit: Jesse Curti

The only thing I wouldn’t suggest at this place is dinner. These quarters make the space shuttle capsule seem luxurious! When you pass the four two-seater tables, you are making contact with everyone. I was out with a friend and halfway through our beers were asked if we wanted another because people were waiting for the table. I get it because I’m only drinking a beer, but if I was eating a meal in a spot that’s already physically tight, I’d be frustrated if someone rushed me through my meal.

Good thing this place is absolutely awesome for breakfast and lunch!

LOCATION:
128 7th Ave. Between 17th and 18th, Chelsea, Manhattan

PHONE: 212-929-9333

HOURS: Monday – Wednesday 7:00am – 11:00pm, Thursday-Friday 7:00am – 1:00am, Saturday 9:00am – 1:00am, Sunday 9:00am – 6:00pm

RESERVATIONS: Not Accepted

WEBSITE: http://www.thecommonschelsea.com

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XI’AN FAMOUS FOODS, UPPER WEST SIDE, MANHATTAN

Hand Pulled Noodles, Like No Other!  Photo Credit: Jesse Curti

Hand Pulled Noodles, Like No Other!

Photo Credit: Jesse Curti

The Price of Fame? About $7.50 Uptown!

In New York we often chase the trends. We’ll go to Smorgasburg to try the elusive Ramen Burger and we’ll venture to Long Island City to tour the graffiti’d Five Pointz, but sometimes the coolest new thing comes to us.

I’ve heard that Flushing, Queens was the Mecca for authentic Chinese food but I never set aside a Saturday and rode the Seven Train that far out. After expansions in the East Village and Midtown, the Western Chinese fare of Xi’an Famous Foods has made its way to the Upper West Side.

And by Western that doesn’t mean the moo shoo pork will be wearing a cowboy hat. In fact, General Tso is officially Missing in Action! The dishes here are heavy on the lamb and the aromatic curry factor is straight out of your Indian grandmother’s kitchen!

One of the most defining factors at Xi’an Famous Foods is the affordability. The most expensive main dish rings in at $10, but the majority is in the six to eight dollar range. However, you can certainly see where they save money. There is no table service, so you order your food and wait for them to call your number. There are printed warnings advising you to eat in store as opposed to taking out because the noodles will become oily and bloated.

So heeding the advice, I sat down to eat, but not before wiping my area. It was shocking to see the level of oil residue leave a orange handprint on the paper towel. I’m not a stickler for simple decor but that level of grime in an eating area could earn them a “Bloomberg B” on their front window! All they would need is one busboy to keep the area tidy and I’m sure the prices wouldn’t increase that much.

But with that qualm out of the way, the meal was fantastic. I enjoyed the Mt. Qi pork hand-ripped noodles thoroughly. The greens were a fun crunch to the savory pork belly and the Sichuan peppercorns added a great herbal note to the spicy chili oil. The only downer is the early closing time, 9:00pm weekdays and 9:30pm weekends.

LOCATION: 2675 Broadway Between 102nd and 103rd St., Upper West Side, Manhattan

PHONE: N/A

HOURS: Sunday – Thursday 11:00am – 9:00am, Friday – Saturday 11:00am – 9:30pm

RESERVATIONS: Not accepted

WEBSITE: http://xianfoods.com/

NOTES: Six Other Locations in Greater NYC Area

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Bubby’s, TriBeCa, Manhattan

No Beef in this Hash! Photo Credit: Jesse Curti

No Beef in this Hash!

Photo Credit: Jesse Curti

Nona Knows Best!

In New York City, brunch is an institution, but I always have viewed it with disdain. I went (all the way out) to Crown Heights on a date last December for brunch at a Italian place called Basil, which was good, but it didn’t warrant anyone making a trip longer than fifteen minutes.

But for brunch anywhere, why would anyone want to go to a restaurant where they won’t take reservations? You’re forced to wait on line and then your server drops the check as soon as they can’t sell you anything else. Oh! I forgot, chicken Caesar salads are a rarity, better order that!

I’ve said it before, brunch can act as the equalizer to strike up the band and throw some coins in the coffers. But a smart chef knows that I can get a bacon, egg and cheese at my corner bodega and I don’t even have to change out of my bathrobe. It’s them versus the dollar menu.

Enter Bubby’s in TriBeCa. Yes, the prices will make you gulp ($22 for Eggs Benedict!) but then you realize that all their meats are butchered, cured and smoked in-house. Pretty good compared to the corner store that throws precooked bacon on your sandwich.

The name Bubby means Grandma in Yiddish and you get the feeling of a grandma’s house even if they serve very unkosher pork sausage! The ambiance is the perfect counter to most brunch free-for-alls. Sure the restaurant is busy, but it’s a warm feeling of people having a good time, rather than chaos.

I opted for the Thanksgiving week special of sweet potato and squash hash topped with two fried eggs. This sounded like the most bizarre dish on the menu and sometimes I order the unusual just to see how it will turn out. The preparation was a familiar concept but the unique flavor of the sweet potato played well off the juiciness of the squash and the richness of the eggs. I better rub my pennies together so I can make it back to Bubby’s.

LOCATION: 120 Hudson St. Between N Moore and Franklin, TriBeCa, Manhattan
(Other Location at Corner of Gansevoort and Washington near High Line in Manhattan)

PHONE: (212) 219-0666

HOURS: Almost 24 Hours
(Closed 11:00pm Monday – 7:00am Tuesday)

RESERVATIONS: Suggested

WEBSITE: http://www.bubbys.com/

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Mama Was a Rolling Stone!

Forget Hawaiian Pizza, Try a Hawaiian Empanada! Photo Credit: Jesse Curti

Forget Hawaiian Pizza, Try an Empanada!

Photo Credit: Jesse Curti

Just like cursing at taxis, New Yorkers love to moan about Midtown. Sure, people might work in the area, but say that you hang out there and you’ll be branded a tourist for life! Regardless of your take on the merits of midtown, sometimes we find ourselves hungry in the 40′s at 2:30am.

That’s where Empanada Mama comes in. Long after Shake Shack has churned out its final ShackBurger and Starbucks has turned off its free WiFi, Empanada Mama stays open.

Sure, it’s by no means peaceful and I doubt anyone goes there at any time of day for the atmosphere, but when you ask, “You still open?” the answer at this 24-hour joint is most likely a “Yeah, take a seat anywhere!”

But you can’t sleepwalk through the menu. With more than 25 empanadas ranging from the kielbasa with sauerkraut to the teriyaki beef with broccoli, you’re definitely going to have to make some decisions. I took a chance with the Hawaiian which had ham, pineapple and mozzarella cheese. The empanada won on all counts. The crust was light and flaky without ever feeling doughy. The filling was sweet and salty with the perfect chew from the pineapple. Even better was that it cost $2.70, meaning you can grab three, enough for a hearty snack for under ten dollars.

Just Say No to Arepas! Photo Credit: Jesse Curti

Just Say No to Arepas!

Photo Credit: Jesse Curti

Seeing arepas on the menu I thought of the delicious mozzarepas available at street fairs. Grainy corn patties filled with chunks of sweet corn and melted mozzarella cheese. Crash and burn for Mama! For something that cost more than double the two most expensive empanadas ($5.95) you get a weighed down patty with little flavor or texture. It’s a shame considering that the empanadas are so ethereal. A good lesson is that nobody’s perfect, but with empanadas this good, you make multiple visits trying all of the ones that sound interesting.

LOCATION: 763 9th Ave. Between 51st and 52nd, Hell’s Kitchen, Manhattan

PHONE: (212) 698-9008

HOURS: 24 Hours

RESERVATIONS:
Not Necessary

WEBSITE:
http://www.empmamanyc.com/

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Cheesy Isn’t Always a Bad Thing!

Porky Pig Hops Aboard Grilled Cheese! Photo Credit: Jesse Curti

Porky Pig Hops Aboard Grilled Cheese!

Photo Credit: Jesse Curti

I’ve heard when you go to jail they give you a phone call and a baloney sandwich. Not much variety, but you’ve got to consider what you did to earn that meal.

I feel the same way when I see a grilled cheese sandwich on a menu at a restaurant. If you’re not going to use an artisan cheddar, twelve-grain loaf or throw on some applewood smoked bacon, I might as well make the dish at home!

So in order to get us out of our own kitchens and into theirs, proprietors have created restaurants with bizarre variations on familiar foods.

Not Just a Great Grilled Cheese, A Great Sandwich! Photo Credit: Jesse Curti

Not Just a Great Grilled Cheese, A Great Sandwich!

Photo Credit: Jesse Curti

Grilled cheese receives this treatment at Melt Shop in Midtown East. However, with options like the pulled pork with aged cheddar and buttermilk fried chicken with pepper jack, the cheese is no longer the only star. Sure, you can get a classic American cheese on white bread but why limit yourself? The chicken and pork options aren’t just great grilled cheese, they’re great sandwiches.

And living in New York, we don’t only expect high prices for everything, we excuse it! Five dollar ice cream, six dollar fresh juice, twenty dollar pasta, these prices are ridiculous. But we’re the first ones to justify it by asking, “Can you guess what their rent is?”

Melt Shop doesn’t face this issue. Each sandwich, large enough for a significant lunch, was under ten dollars. A side salad with zero iceberg runs three dollars ninety five cents. These are practically McDonald’s prices!

The only issue is you can see where they’re saving. The food is delicious and made to order, but the Midtown East location is crummy. It’s a walk-up window in a corporate courtyard that we’ve all seen examples of in Midtown. So although the food is great, you’re surrounded by gray when eating. I haven’t been to the Chelsea location but it is a storefront and the prices are the same, which sounds more appealing. However, if you are stuck in Midtown, Central Park is six blocks up and three avenues over and a great place to enjoy one of the best grilled cheese sandwiches in New York.

LOCATION: 601 Lexington Ave. Between 53rd St. and 54th St., Midtown East, Manhattan
(Second Location in Chelsea at 55 W 26th St. Between Broadway and 8th Ave.)

PHONE: (212) 759-6358

HOURS: Monday – Friday 8:00am – 9:00pm, Saturday – Sunday 11:30am – 8:00pm
(Chelsea Hours: Monday – Tuesday 9:00am – 9:00pm Wednesday – Friday 9:00am – 10:30pm Saturday 10:30am – 10:30pm Sunday 10:30am – 9:00pm)

RESERVATIONS: Not Necessary

WEBSITE: http://meltshopnyc.com

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A Fair of the Heart

They Didn't Skimp on the Fish! Photo Credit: Jesse Curti

They Didn’t Skimp on the Fish!

Photo Credit: Jesse Curti

It always happens on the Saturday when your out-of-state buddies come to visit. You wake up late and have brunch downtown in 20 minutes, so you hop in a cab. But after three blocks you know you’re not making that 11:00am reservation. Stopped in traffic, all you can see are huge signs advertising gyros, sausage and peppers and Thai food. The bane of anyone with anything to do on a weekend, these street fairs shut down swaths of the city and offer heartburn-inducing food and sunglasses that “look” like the leading designer brands.

However, there are some festivals with the diversity and personality to warrant a street shutdown. This Sunday’s Pickle Day in the Lower East Side was definitely worth it. Pickle purveyors from Dallas to Long Island lined up their barrels of pickled mango, pickled relish and horseradish pickles. In a New York City moment, one of the staffers doling out samples had to constantly remind enthusiasts to not put their hand in the barrel.

Even more surprisingly, the cuisine wasn’t limited to just the Jewish delicatessen tradition of the Lower East Side. Meatball Shop offered meatballs with pickled cherry peppers, Mrs. Kim’s Kimchi served up pickled daikon and kimchi of all intensities, but the most unique dish came from Grey Lady.

The line for the short rib and whatever from the adjacent booth grew too long, so I opted for Grey Lady’s Long Island Fluke po’ boy with pickle and bacon relish. New York may have grown sick of the $20 lobster roll, but its bayou cousin the po’ boy should always find welcome in this town. The fluke was extremely fresh and fried right before my eyes. The five dollar sandwich came with two crispy chunks of fish that were falling off the deliciously sweet Martin’s Potato Roll slider bun. And like any good spread, the tartar sauce blended with the flavor of the fish but was in no way obtrusive.

Restaurants are always worried about how to get more hineys in the seats and giving out inexpensive samples at community events is one of the best ways to do it. I know I’m hooked!

LOCATION: 77 Delancey Between Allen and Orchard, Lower East Side, Manhattan

PHONE: (646) 580-5239

HOURS: Sunday 12:00pm – 12:00am Monday 6:00pm – 12:00am Tuesday – Wednesday 12:00pm – 2:00am Thursday 12:00pm – 3:00am Friday – Saturday 12:00pm – 4:00am

RESERVATIONS: Suggested

WEBSITE: http://www.greyladynyc.com/

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Ya Know Where I Can Get A Good Slice?

Pizza, New York's International Superstar Photo Credit: Jesse Curti

Pizza, New York’s International Superstar

Photo Credit: Jesse Curti

Although these foods originated overseas, tourists always have to have pretzels, hot dogs and pizza when they come to New York. Something about a stale twist of bread with white flecks of salt on it or a rubbery piece of meat with smelly cabbage lets visitors feel like they’ve had the complete New York experience.

But what about pizza? That guy who works for JP Morgan isn’t going to head down to the streetcart to pick up a pretzel on his lunch break. Even though you might see travelers incorrectly enjoying this dish with a fork and knife, New Yorkers will be right behind them in line waiting for a slice.

Pizza thrives because it has none of the limitations of other common foods. Ever try eating a burrito on the subway? It’s filthy and the rice and beans fly everywhere while the sour cream and juice from the tomatoes runs all over your hand. Pizza you can easily fold in half and the crust at the edge magically holds all the oil and liquid inside allowing you to chow down on the 3 express uptown! It’s also convenient. Pizza places are like hospitals. Somewhere in New York, one of them is open and can get you what you need at 3:00am.

But with all of these options, there are a ton of imposters. Some places have mushy crust or sauce so sweet it should be in a cherry pie, not a pizza pie. With knucklehead business owners seeing the equation (bread + sauce + cheese = money) it doesn’t take knowing the order of operations to realize that somewhere there’s going to be a drop-off in quality.

So, skip the dollar slices and eggplant pineapple chorizo whatever and just go to the West Village for Joe’s Pizza. It’s been there since 1975 and the options are basic. Regular cheese for $2.75 and fresh mozzarella slice for $3.50. The crust is thin, crisp and lightweight, while the sauce is tangy but not overpowering. Two pieces is the perfect pit stop whether its morning noon or night.

LOCATION: 7 Carmine St. Between Bleecker and Ave. of the Americas, Greenwich Village, Manhattan
Another location at 150 East 14th Street Between 3rd Ave. and 4th Ave.

PHONE: (212) 366-1182

HOURS: I’ve Never Seen It Closed!

RESERVATIONS: Not Accepted

WEBSITE: http://www.joespizzanyc.com/

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