New York: Food

We were so busy when we were in New York that I’m going to have to keep coming back to it to cover all the things I want to remember.

We had some great food experiences in New York. I think that if you’re even slightly passionate about food (like most of the planet) and visiting places you may never, or only rarely, come back to, you need to put some thought into your eating plan. What kind of foods appeal most? What is in season? What is the area famous for? Then get recommendations from online, from friends, from tv shows, from cab drivers and work out how and where to spend your few precious meals.

If I was on a holiday for a couple of weeks I’d have breakfast, lunch, dinner and at least two snacks in between in order to try everything. But when you’re away for a long time, as we discovered with alcohol, you can’t live every day like it’s the weekend or things go pear-shaped. When I say ‘things’ I mean ‘my torso’. Everyone who comes to the states on holiday warns that weight gain is unavoidable – so many good things to eat and everything comes with fries and sides, drowned in dressing and deep fried.

New York definitely wasn’t like that.Healthy food was pretty easy to get. They have these great places there, a type of deli, where it’s a bit like a canteen with help-yourself bain maries and they charge by weight. Sure, some are mac and cheese or deep fried chicken, but you can also get a pile of steamed broccoli or fresh fruit and it’s not too expensive. This was a very appealing option when we needed a break from eating pizza and cooking for ourselves wasn’t an option.

Pizza is something you have to do in New York. Luke’s a big pizza fan and obviously I don’t mind it either because I have tastebuds. Luke read up on the subject and it seems people in New York take their pizza very seriously. The criteria for pizza here is different to home. The base is usually super thin, although most pizza places also offer Sicilian or ‘Grandma slice’ which have a thick base. Topping are scanty compared to home, the focus is on the crust, the sauce, and the cheese. People differ in what they think makes for the best pizza – so all you can do is get a few names and go out and compare for yourself.

Don’t forget to call it a pie.

Here’s a list of the places we tried, all were recommended as being among the top pizza places in New York – although about a hundred pizza places probably fill that bill so don’t think of this as definitive.

John’s Pizza on Bleecker St.

This place is old and looks it – people have carved their names into just about every surface. We got there at 6 and still had to wait a few minutes. Get there any later and you could wait quite a while, although the service is extremely fast. You can only buy whole pies here and they’re about $20 depending on toppings for a small. Small is still pretty big though and was enough for the two of us (although we’re not really big eaters). The pizza here was definitely good but I discovered that there’s about a five minute window between thin pizzas being the same temperature as the centre of the sun and the cheese congealing. You just have to bow to inevitability and cram it all into your mouth as quickly as possible.

Joe’s Pizza

Also in Greenwich, this take-away place was featured in one of the Spiderman movies – or so their advertising says. They sell pizza by the slice and whole. There’s a few stools to sit on but mainly people just stand around eating or take their pies away. We tried their Sicilian. Again, really good and the base was super fluffy and the very bottom had a great crunchiness to it. We had a slice of pepperoni as well, which was also good but I liked the thicker pizza better.

Arturo’s Pizza

Our last stop in Greenwich, I’m not sure if Arturo’s do take away, it’s a proper restaurant and has a piano and people singing in a kind of informal manner. The vibe is really nice and, despite being pretty crowded (we could hardly get into one of our chairs) I’m sure that if we hadn’t been sitting next to a table of shouters it wouldn’t have been too noisy. We ordered a cheese pie and arugula salad. I’ve been in love with rocket and pizza since forever and the salad here was perfect – small leaves dressed in olive oil with a little parmesan – perfect for piling on top of the pizza. Another place where it’s worth getting in early – a rule that pretty much stands for anywhere good in the city, although locals seem to prefer lining up rather than eating before 7.

Best Pizza.

This time in Williamsburg and on the same block as our accommodation, we couldn’t go past somewhere called ‘Best Pizza’. We actually ended up eating their pizza twice. The first time was on our ‘down’ day when we pretty much stayed in bed and gave our tired feet a rest. We got a whole pizza to take away – they only do one size, 20 inches. Which is huge. The box was the size of a small coffee table. Their pizza is super thin though, so really… it wasn’t *that* bad.

The next time we went was on our way home from a night out and we just bought a slice each and did some people watching. The cafe itself is interesting – patrons draw on paper plates and then the plates are stuck all over the walls and ceiling which makes for lots of things to look at while you wait for your pie.

We hid the box under the bed because it didn’t fit anywhere else.

Speaking of NY pizza terminology, the word ‘pizza’ is often used in signage and on menus, but when ordering you either want a whole pie, or a ‘slice’ – not a piece. White pie is pizza with sauce and white cheeses on it and usually nothing else. I asked for ‘a pepperoni pizza to take away’ when we were in Best Pizza. I should’ve asked for for ‘a pie with pepperoni to go’. ‘Pizza’ and ‘pie’ have the same roots as ‘pide’ and ‘pita’. They all essentially mean the same thing.

We didn’t just eat pizza in NYC though. We ate a few times at a place called The Olive Tree in Greenwich. It did great mac and cheese and there were always tables free. We ate hot dogs from street vendors (not bad.. not great) and we also tried some hip bbq food in Williamsburg on the recommendation of two friends.

Fette Sau

One of Williamsburg’s most hip restaurants, Fette Sau does bbq food – you buy as much meat as you want (by weight), it gets heaped on a tray with the sides you choose and you sit at a long bench table with strangers. A tv on one wall shows a fire… I think it’s supposed to be ironic.

Our pork belly, pulled pork, rolls and broccoli. The cornbread was a new experience – tasted a lot like cake so we ate it for dessert.

Katz’s Deli

If one eating experience shouts ‘New York’ louder than any other, it’s Katz’s deli. The scene from When Harry Met Sally – you know the one – was shot here. The walls are lined with photos of famous clients and there is a protocol here that can’t be denied. You get precisely two seconds, once you get to the front of the line, to shout your order ‘pastrami on rye’ (if you choose) to one of the extremely beefy guys behind the counter and they carve about a pound of meat and slap it between two pieces of bread. I got the pickles too, which made a nice crunchy accompaniment to the sandwich.

The pieces of bread aren’t out of the ordinary – it’s the meat that blows your mind.

A trip to Katz’s is a must do (for the non vegetarians, anyhow) but do not go right on meal times. They’re open 24 hours on the weekends so a late night trip would probably make the experience less hectic.

Luke looking fearfully at the decor.

So essentially, there’s a whole lot of great food to eat in New York. We ate lots of it and barely scratched the surface. If you’re reading this and you’ve been to New York I’d love to hear about your best dining experiences. Tell me!

New York: Days 1 and 2.

Our first morning in New York we wandered out into the street feeling, as we’ve said many times now, like we’d wandered onto a movie set. Yellow cabs! Yellow buses! Brand names we recognised but have never eaten/shopped at! People in Halloween costumes! It was all so new and yet so familiar. Actually, apart from the iconic stuff, the area where we’re staying looks a lot like Melbourne – hipster cafes, vegetarian restaurants… it’s like a giant Fitzroy but with stoops and subway stations.

Beep beep!

Our apartment even has one of these retro/racist dime-store Indian statues out the front. Reminds me of Seinfeld every time we arrive home.

We had breakfast at an old-style deli, replete with an entire staff of old men. Since that meal I’m yet to see a woman doing anything more than cashiering at a deli. What’s with that? The meal we had was ok and the establishment was charming – swivel seats along the chrome counter, booths etc. Next we acquired a phone card. This was probably the highlight of our service experience in the first three days. All the staff were smiling and having fun and were very polite and pleasant. I cannot say the same for most other places, particularly eateries. You’d think smiling at customers cost money here. Then we walked north. We found the Flatiron Building, which looked great but the sun was in the wrong spot to get a decent photo. Then we walked through the library. We got up to Times Square, which was pleasingly gaudy and over the top. So many flashing signs – it was more Tokyo than Tokyo.

We bought comedy tickets from a guy on the street as seeing a comedy show was pretty high on our list of things to do. After escaping the rain in a slightly grotty deli we walked back down to Greenwich. Lots of people were on the streets dressed in their Halloween costumes. I had a secret hope that this was actually a normal New York day but sadly it was not, and the following day everyone was back to their all black uniforms. A bit like Melbourne, really. Anyone with a bit of colour really stands out in the crowd.

This lady is out to prove even New Yorkers aren’t immune to fashion faux pas. Double denim? Sister, please!


That evening we met up with Luke’s friend Sean, who has come down from Montreal to see the city and hang out with us a bit. We had a drink at the bar downstairs from our apartment and then walked a few blocks over to watch the Halloween parade. It was not at all what I expected. I’d thought, this being America, that it would be all glitz and glam and big budget. But it was quite the opposite. There wasn’t even much co-ordinating of dance or costumes. Mainly the parade consisted of people in their home made stuff walking along between floats sponsored by radio stations or local businesses. The best group was the first lot, who had done a Pink Floyd arrangement of mechanical rabbits and flying clocks.

One of the less blurry photos.

After an hour and a half and a whole lot of blurry, hand-held photos, we fought our way through the crowds and found a table at a nice restaurant and had a chat over dinner. Then Sean made his way home and we collapsed into bed.

The first thing we did the next day was meet up with my friend Robert who was, fortuitously, in NY for a couple of days, visiting from Oakland (and hopefully we’ll get to hang out some more there). I’d never met Robert in person before but we’re friends through blogging and other mutual friends… it’s a long story. It’s hard to explain to people who don’t have friends online how you manage to stay in contact with people for over a decade and yet never meet in person – you’ve either done it or you haven’t. Robert turned out to be just as lovely in person as online and we all got on very well. We had breakfast at a place he’d found and I tried ‘corned beef hash and eggs’. Corned beef hash is basically chopped up silverside that is then fried in a big mess. It tasted fine but looked kind of like it’d already been chewed. We were given complimentary orange juices but they were the tiniest juices I’ve ever seen – only slightly larger than shot glasses. It was weird.

After food we walked across the Brooklyn Bridge.

All the perspective lines!

Somehow, after drinking more coffee than I thought was possible, Robert seemed to grow increasingly tired. Then after we had a sit by a fountain and a chat and said goodbye, Luke also felt really tired. He’d had four coffees, so obviously he’d gone through the point of super awakeness and out the other side. He did say he felt NQR.

We caught the subway back and had a rest. It’s a bit sad that I need so much rest time but I feel that it’s better to just face it and have lie downs rather than burn out. Besides, we had a comedy show to get to that evening.

We walked up to the comedy show, getting a bit confused by the directions the guy who’d sold the tickets had given us. He’d pointed north west from his spot in Times Square and saying ‘just over there’. In actual fact it was 10 blocks further north. We’re staying further south than 1st Street and the comedy show was on 53rd street. It was quite a walk. Fortunately the north-south blocks are pretty short but it was still about 5kms away.

Before the show we met Sean for dinner. He’d been ticking off the sights he wanted to see but warned us against the Guggenheim, saying it was pretty boring. He wanted to spend the evening planning and declined a free ticket to the show – possibly a good idea as it was not at all what we’d been led to believe. The guy we’d bought the tickets from had said it was a taping for Comedy Central but it turned out to be four stand up comedians who were ok – one was pretty funny and looked kind of familiar. One of his best bits was about toilets. I laughed a lot but I’m starting to think I’m developing some kind of weird toilet obsession because everywhere we go the toilets are the thing I want to write blog entries about. I wished I’d been tagging all the posts where toilets are mentioned so I could check on whether it’s getting to a disturbing level.

Anyhow, the show! It was a small stage in a basement and you had to buy two drinks, which were pretty expensive. The ticket to get in gave you an extra entry for free but with drinks it worked out to be about $30 each. We looked online afterwards and the reviews for ‘Broadway Comedy Club’ weren’t great. We’re going to try to find somewhere different and hopefully see something better. Annoyingly, it’s ‘Comedy Week’ here right now but we didn’t know so we didn’t buy tickets to any of the really great shows that are on. D’oh!

We caught the subway home. It was packed – I stood next to two guys who’d just been to see an MIA concert and were covered in coloured powder. They were very friendly, unlike the people who sounded like they were about to punch on at the other end of the carriage. Despite the subway stations here looking like entrances to hell’s prison (bare concrete, everything looks dirty and there’s bars up to the ceilings to stop people getting on for free) it seems like a pretty easy system to navigate, even if the numbered and lettered lines are a bit sad after the elegant (Angel, Victoria) and hilarious (Cockfosters, Mudchute) names of the London underground stations. Plus here you don’t have to swipe your card upon exiting the station. How eminently sensible. We tumbled into bed, once again exhausted.

Greenwich, New York.

Whoah. Since we got here I feel as though we’ve barely stopped moving. New York is probably supposed to be like that. But before I start a long and envy-inducing list of what we’ve been doing and my first impressions, let me tell you what happened in London.

We spent a last morning shopping in Camden (when I say ‘we’ I mean I shopped and Luke watched – he’s good like that) and I bought a couple of last piecess of funky clothing. I also had a heart-stopping moment where I tried on a skirt that was labelled ‘Large’ and it didn’t fit over my knees. The shop guy and I then held it up against some smaller sized clothes and realised it was mis-labelled. Whew.

Then we went back to our adorable English pub, grabbed our bags and got to the airport about 4 hours before our flight was due to take off. Sometimes being a super early person has its advantages – when we got to the counter the lady said our flight had been delayed by 4.5 hours but the earlier flight, departing in 40 minutes, had space and we could jump on that. Win! So we half ran through the airport after Luke got stuck in security for no reason apart from his bag being full of electrical cables, and were the last ones on the plane.

We flew United, which I’d heard bad things about but it was actually a nice flight, apart from the alcohol costing money (in retrospect this was probably a good thing) and the food was nice, there were lots of films to choose from and, my favourite, the window rows had only two seats, so no being jammed in with a smelly stranger.

The plane even arrived half an hour early and we found that scary US customs involves some guy asking what’s in our bags, me saying ‘wine’ and him waving us through without even looking. We didn’t even get asked how long we were staying for, whether we had visas or were planning on working… nothing! UK customs are waaaay more intense.

We caught a bus into the city and found our accommodation pretty easily. We’re staying in a 4th floor walk up (blurgh) apartment in Greenwich, one of the more bohemian areas of NYC, for one week then we’re off to Brooklyn for a week. I might save first impressions of New York, and our catch up with friends for the next post. Right now I need to rub my sore feet and work out where to buy some more yarn for my crocheting. I made 6 squares while on the flight over – it’s so addictive. I just wish I’d started out with colours that matched anything in my house.

More tomorrow!