Eating Ourselves Stupid in the USA – Ess A Bagel, New York
One cannot go to New York without eating a bagel – or several. In fact eating a bagel in New York (and everywhere else in the USA) became a daily ritual for us. One of the most famous places to get a bagel in New York is at Ess A Bagel which luckily enough wasn’t too far from our humble abode at the Waldorf Astoria. I’m not too sure how I heard about it but it was on my ‘must do’ list of places to eat at and we were not disappointed despite waiting in line for well over thirty minutes. The line up for the bagels was snaked through the store and out the front door (I had a video but the damn thing won’t upload).
The bagel teams assembling the bagels at the front of the store were like a well oiled machine and there were so many different ingredients to get on your bagel including 18 different flavours of cream cheese with everything from raisin walnut cream cheese to jalapeno cream cheese to chocolate chip cream cheese. The choices of what you could have on your bagel were literally endless, so much so that I found it a little overwhelming. I tend to stick with tradition and can’t go past the Lox (Smoked Salmon as we call it) with Cream Cheese and Capers.Never had I heard of lox before and it took some secret Googling in the line to make sure that it was in fact Smoked Salmon. MS went for the cream cheese with turkey bacon option with extra cheese, another tried and true tradition for him because he’s a fatty. The bagels were so fresh out of the oven they were still steaming when our expert bagel maker Gavin and his buddy Mad Rican cut them open and yet some dumbasses in the customer line still wanted theirs toasted. WTF?! Because American’s love variety with their 18 flavours of cream cheese there are also 14 different types of bagel to choose from at Ess A Bagel. You can get plain, sesame, poppy, salt, onion, garlic, oat bran, cinnamon raisin, 9-grain, pumpernickel, pumpernickel raisin, everything, whole wheat everything and bialy’s (a pastry/bagel type thing). By the time Gavin was done there was that much cream cheese and lox on my bagel that it weighed half a pound! That’s a whole lot of bagel!!!! It was without a doubt the best bagel we had on our trip, and we ate a sh*tload of bagels, much to the dismay of my size 9 jeans that I’m still having trouble fitting into 2 months later. It was warm, crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside with the perfect blend of lox and cream cheese and you seriously can’t beat a poppy seed bagel. Sadly for us though we went to go back another day and the line was even longer and we had a Broadway show to catch so we couldn’t hang around and I never got to go back for another *insert sad face*. One thing’s for sure though Ess A Bagel will be high on our priority list when we do return to NYC and it should definitely be on yours!
Eating Ourselves Stupid in the USA – Momofuku Noodle Bar, New York
First opened in 2004 Momofuku Noodle Bar was one of the original restaurants on my ever-growing iPhone list of restaurants that I hope to visit in my life time (and yes I know iPhone hasn’t been around that long). Now one of 13 restaurants owned by David Chang, including one in Sydney Momofuku Seibo, Momofuku Noodle Bar is renowned for its signature pork buns and having the best ramen in New York. Forget the ramen – we came for the pork buns. Usually my skills of navigation are on point but this time around I led us in the exact wrong direction of where we wanted to go so we ended hailing a taxi to take us there.
When we arrived there was yet another large line – much to MS’ dismay because he was getting a little fed up with having to line up for food everywhere we went. In my defence all the good places I take him to are usually quite popular hence the hefty line up but I always assure him that it’s worth the wait. For Pete’s sake if he hadn’t met me he would still be eating dinner at Cock N Bull on a regular basis, now he’s dining at trendy restaurants in New York that he knows nothing about and doesn’t care for either ha! I was well aware from reviews that it could take up to an hour to get a seat but I played it down to MS telling him that I read the wait was usually only about 15 minutes – what he doesn’t know won’t hurt him. Inside the door it was hard to differentiate between exactly who’d had their name taken by the hostess and who was waiting to get their name taken by the hostess. Lucky for me a friendly local (surprisingly the only kind that we met in NY despite their gruff reputation) arrived straight after us and ushered me up to the front of the restaurant with him and within ten minutes MS and I were in!
*Goddammit! Why didn’t I take more photos?!*
We took a seat near the end of a long communal table next to a group of three that were high up in the corporate sector of Starbucks. They had come together in Manhattan from various parts of the USA to inspect a few of the Starbucks stores and make sure things were up to scratch. MS and I ordered our meals and chatted to them about the terrible coffee that we had encountered on our trip so far with the worst of all being at bustling LAX diner LA Roadhouse Route 66 – the food was also terrible. We told them how Starbucks had become a beacon of light and hope on our six day road trip from Columbia, SC to New York City and that it was our ‘go to destination’ for a decent cup of coffee in the USA. Although he worked for Starbucks one of the men of the trio told us to go to Blue Bottle Coffee shop for a decent cup of coffee when we were in San Francisco much to the dislike of the other guy and girl in the group.
I’m 90% sure I saw that kid (now grown man) from Billy Elliot standing inconspicuously in the corner at Momofuku but either no one else recognised him or they are just so conditioned to seeing famous people in New York that no one gives a f*ck. I pride myself on my uncanny ability to pick random D grade celebrities out of a crowd and know exactly what obscure movie they were in back in 1996. Kind of like this one time back in 2007 when I served the kid from the 1st Jurassic Park movie at the Cairns airport. He’s been completely ‘not famous’ since starring in Jurassic Park except for a run with Meryl Streep down the Kootenai in The River Wild and man did he get ugly but I knew exactly who he was from the moment I spotted him. A true talent that I could really go places with I’m sure.The seating conditions at Momofuku are practically elbow to elbow and you have to shout to speak to the person you are dining with but despite how busy the restaurant was the kitchen was absolutely pumping out dishes and our bun entrée took no more than about 10 minutes to arrive. We had ordered two each of the Shitake Buns with Hoisin, Scallion and Cucumber (US$10 each) and two each of the Brisket Buns with Horseradish, Pickled Red Onion and Cucumber (US$12 each). The buns were actually quite filling and the Shitake Buns were a clear winner for both of us. Anything with Hoisin Sauce is normally a winner for me. MS enjoyed them so much that he ordered himself two more (he is a fatty though). Not long after we polished off our buns our bowls of ramen arrived.
Momofuku’s signature ramen is your typical ramen with Pork Belly, Pork Shoulder and a Poached Egg (US$16) but they also have a yummy sounding Chilled Spicy Noodle on the menu with Sichuan Sausage, Spinach and Cashews, only thing is that it was a little too cold out to have chilled noodles. The hearty bowls of pork broth were huge and we struggled to finish them especially since we’d already had entrees. Purported by many to be the best ramen in all of New York City it certainly may well be because we didn’t have any other ramen to compare it to while we were there. The ramen at Momofuku Noodle Bar was delicious but, well, not to brag but MS and I were not that long ago eating ramen from some of the best ramen joints in Japan so our tastebuds have been a little spoiled of late. In the end I think I had hyped the place up a little too much in my head but the buns alone were worth walking in the wrong direction for. I just looked at photos of the inside of the restaurant online and I didn’t even recognise it because when we went there were that many people there you couldn’t even make out the walls and furniture. Don’t let that deter you though. If the crowds are anything to go by then even after 11 years as one of the most popular eateries in New York City, Momofuku Noodle Bar has still go it.
Eating Ourselves Stupid in the USA – Chelsea Market, New York
We ended up at Chelsea Market on the first afternoon after we arrived in New York from Philadelphia. It had taken us (MS not me) about 2 hours to drive from Philly to our rental car drop off point in the middle of Manhattan. Driving through New York was something that I had been nervous about for weeks leading up to the actual event but MS did an absolutely stellar job. Not only was he met with absolute wall to wall traffic when we arrived in Manhattan after a long drive through the Lincoln Tunnel but he drove straight through tourist mecca Times Square and didn’t even get honked at once in our Corolla with Florida plates. I was so proud, and extremely relieved!Chelsea Market was somewhere that I had penned in to go and was close to the High Line – another famous New York attraction which is a disused railway line that has been turned into a public space. It’s a pretty cool and popular place to walk along but the wind whipping through there was frigin freezing and we were a little unprepared in terms of winter gear so we didn’t stay too long. Chelsea Market is open 7 days a week from 7am till 9pm. Apparently it was known as one of the greatest food halls in the world so I was more than excited to check it out. Despite the accolade of being one of the greatest food halls I found it to be one of the most disappointing food halls I have been to of late. With only 35 food vendors I guess I was expecting a little bit more – that’s not to say that we didn’t eat anything there.
One shop that stuck out to me was a busy place called Beyond Sushi – an all vegan sushi restaurant. Now anyone that pays attention to my blog knows that I couldn’t give a rats a** about whether food is gluten free, dairy free, vegetarian, vegan, paleo or whatever the hell other food trend is going on these days. All I really care about is that it tastes good and Beyond Sushi more than delivered in the taste department! If there’s one thing Westerner’s know how to do it’s take one of the oldest forms of traditional food and completely destroy it so it has little to no resemblance to traditional sushi. Hey I’m all for tasty delicious sushi but if you have ever been to Japan sushi is a very different affair – they don’t even use avocado!
I ordered a roll of the Spicy Mang with Black Rice, Avocado, Mango, English Cucumber and Spicy Veggie Sauce and the Pickle Me with Six Grain Rice with Gobo, Carrot, Pickled Daikon, Avocado and Carrot and Ginger Sauce. I was blown away by the presentation and also the flavour these little rolls packed. Even better was what I thought was a one off shop in Chelsea Market actually had a couple more shops scattered across New York which MS and I visited a few days later.On our way out we spotted the Cull and Pistol Oyster Bar which looked like a fab place to sip vino and eat a plate of oysters (my favourite thing to do) but alas the wait to get in was well over 45 minutes so we didn’t hang around. Instead MS had a soft shell beef brisket taco from the Los Taco’s No.1 stall which was bustling with people hungry for Mexican food and also managed to squeeze in a Nutella and Strawberry Crepe from Bar Suzette Creperie while I happily ate my non-traditional, super Westernised vegan sushi.
There was a cool bakery called the Fat Witch, a Seafood Market called The Lobster Place that was full of Chinese but seemed a little pricey to me and even an Aussie inspired stall called Tuck Shop which served Australian meat pies, sausage rolls and strangely enough brussel sprouts and kale salads. I don’t know it just seemed like half of the market was either closed or under construction to me. Would I go back to Chelsea Market? Probably not – for the distance we travelled to get there it just seemed a little tired, touristy and lacking of the kind of food we both wanted to eat. If you’re headed to the Meatpacking District then sure, check it out but don’t make it your ultimate dinner destination like we did.
Eating Ourselves Stupid in the USA – Katz Delicatessen, New York
For MS and I Katz Delicatessen was kind of the crème de la crème of places we wanted to go in New York because if there’s one type of food we can agree on it’s a pastrami sandwich aka The Reuben. The place that made Reuben Sandwiches famous Katz’s Deli is still the talk of the town in New York even after over 125 years in operation (it was first founded in 1888) and is hugely popular for its pastrami sandwiches and hot dogs. Some of you might remember it from the famous scene in Where Harry Met Sally where Meg Ryan fakes an orgasm but me, nah I just remember it for the sandwiches.
MS and I figured eating a Reuben Sandwich on a Friday night was the way to go so we took a taxi down to the Lower East Side and made our way along the busy street to Katz’s. As we entered the door we were handed a ticket by the door attendant. I had read many a review about Katz’s and the one thing that stuck in my mind was that we must hang onto that ticket for dear life because if we were to lose it then it’s a lost ticket fee of US$50. A bit steep but neither of us planned to lose that damn ticket. You have the choice of sitting in a particular section where you can get table service or go straight up to the servery. The huge deli is absolutely pumping with restaurant workers, tourists and New Yorkers alike – so much so that it’s a bit of a spectacle.
We both got a bit of a shock when we realised that it was almost US$20 for a Reuben Sandwich which going by the Aussie Dollar these days is about AU$30 – that’s one bloody exy sandwich – and we wanted two! If all the hype was to be believe then it was definitely worth it right? We ordered two Reuben’s from our friendly server, a small middle aged man – one with corned beef and one with pastrami. He promptly took out two enormous slabs of freshly cured corned beef and pastrami and proceeded to expertly slice pieces off for our sandwiches. He even cut us a few extra pieces for us to try whilst we were waiting.
What makes Katz’s pastrami and corned beef so special is that it’s cured using a ‘slower method which best flavours the meat, without injecting chemicals, water or other additives. Their finished product can take up to 30 days to cure whereas most commercial prepared corned beef is often cured in 36 hours (from the Katz Deli website). What the hell is the difference between corned beef and pastrami anyway? Well corned beef is brined whereas pastrami is rubbed in spices and smoked. The corned beef and pastrami is seriously unlike any that I have ever tasted before. So juicy, so succulent and a hell of a lot better than the sh*tty corned beef and pastrami that you get from the deli at Woolies or Coles. There’s just no comparison. When he was done making our sandwiches the man handed us back our precious tickets and we parked ourselves at a table smack bang in the middle of the restaurant.
Photos ensued and MS was finally allowed to take a bite of the most expensive sandwich he had ever bought. After the first bite we both agreed that the Reuben sandwiches with Swiss cheese, Russian dressing and sauerkraut were well worth their US$20 price tag. No orgasms were faked during the making or eating of the sandwich but I may have been close to having a real one whilst eating my Reuben.
There had to be close to 300g of meat on each of the sandwiches and the rye bread was deliciously soft. It was a mean feat to finish a whole sandwich because of the sheer size but I more than managed. Seriously on my top 10 list of the best things I have ever eaten. Believe all the hype you have heard about this place – it’s well worth going to not only for the delicious Reuben sandwiches but also for the atmosphere and spectacle of Katz’s Deli.
Eating Ourselves Stupid in The USA – Smorgasburg, Brooklyn
New York was such an epic part of our trip that it would take me a million years to detail what we got up to over there and since this is essentially a blog about food I figured I would just include the most important part of our trip – the food. I have taken it upon myself to just write solely about the most memorable food spots that we visited starting with Smorgasburg in Brooklyn…
Smorgasburg: I had been following the mouth watering Instagram page of this outdoor food market for quite some time now. Suffice to say that Cairns is severely lacking in the outdoor food market department so anytime I see or hear about a food truck or food market I make a beeline straight for it. At the time of writing Smorgasburg is held outdoors every Saturday in Williamsburg and every Sunday at Brooklyn Bridge Park Pier 5. I had planned for us to do the Brooklyn Bridge walk on our one and only Sunday in New York and then onward to Smorgasburg at Pier 5 on the waterfront to fill our bellies.
The walk across the bridge only took us about 20 minutes and it gives you fantastic views of the city. Only problem is that it’s quite a popular pastime for tourists and New Yorkers alike so you can expect to spend the walk with literally hundreds of people which can get a little annoying because everyone is constantly stopping to get photos. Be careful of the bike riders going past because they aren’t going slow and some of them definitely aren’t friendly. Never mind that Brooklyn Bridge was the first steel-wire suspension bridge constructed, all MS cared about was that Jay Z had taken a photo on it and we spent a significant portion of our trip across attempting to recreate said photo.
On the otherside in Brooklyn we found ourselves walking amongst beautiful old buildings and warehouses on our way to Smorgasburg. Brooklyn is clearly the more family friendly and affordable part of New York judging by the amount of young couples and families we saw going about their business and if you’re a Sex and The City fan then you would know that Miranda was horrified when she realised she had to move to Brooklyn to raise her family. Seemed like a pretty nice place to me!
Back to the food – Smorgasburg kicks off every Sunday at 11am and we arrived there at about 11.45am. By that time a reasonable sized crowd had gathered so we lined up at the first stall that was selling Bao’s. A bao is kind of like a Chinese style pork bun if you haven’t had one before – you know those heavenly sweet buns filled with delicious pork and MSG? We ordered two share for US$9 – a Red Coconut Curry Chicken Bao with Peanuts, Cilantro, Fried Garlic and Shallots and a Braised Pork Belly Bao with Cucumber, Scallions, Hoisin Sauce and Jalapeno’s. Neither of them particularly floated my boat and they didn’t seem to be very fresh. The accolade for Best Bao still goes to the wondrous hidden gem Wonderbao in Melbourne IMO (if you’re in Melbourne it’s an absolute must!)Next up MS was chomping at the bit to get his chompers on his own bit of meat from popular stall Carnal. He had seen other big manly men wandering the markets with big bits of meat on the bone and needed one of his own so we joined the line for a Beef Short Rib with Bone Marrow, Ramps and Black Pepper for US$13. Carnal was easily one of the most popular stalls out of the more than 100 at Smorgasburg that day so the wait was a little longer than anywhere else but by the end we were met with a freshly grilled and extremely juicy beef rib that MS sprinkled with a mixture of fried garlic and chicken skin. Yep you heard it here. That salty/fatty goodness. Onward we wandered to the next stall – another one that I already had pegged from Instagram the Ramen Co. Stall for a Ramen Burger while MS stood off to the side in a state of bliss as he navigated his enormous piece of juicy meat on the bone. While waiting in line at the ramen burger place I chatted to a friendly Chinese guy who was originally from San Francisco but had moved to New York to start a job in IT. I told him that we were going to SF so he gave me a few tips on where to go to get good food over there – namely egg tarts. The Ramen Burger was essentially a bit of meat between two ‘burger’ patties that were made out of fried ramen noodles and Kewpie mayonnaise. It does sound kind of amazing but it was just so fatty that all I could taste was oil. It failed miserably against my very high expectations. Whilst waiting for my ramen burger MS had gnawed the last remaining piece of meat of his rib and already cased the next stall he wanted to try – the Scotch Eggs stall so aptly named The Imperial Egg. Much to the delight of my London friend SS who is a connoisseur of Scotch Eggs (or so she says) this was to be my first ever Scotch Egg. Since it was MS’ baby he chose the Lamb Merguez Scotch Egg which was so expertly cooked that when they cut it open the golden yolk was still oozing and just perfect! They must have a technique after cooking hundreds if not thousands of scotch eggs and I can safely say they have it down pat. I will go as far to declare the Scotch Egg the best thing we ate at Smorgasburg that day. After that we were pretty much stuffed and knowing full well that I still had plans for us to go to a famous Brooklyn pizza joint for ‘afternoon tea’ we called it there – ok after we ate some Red Velvet Cupcakes.
So many food stalls, so little time but there were so many more that I wanted to try like the lobster rolls, the ice cream sandwich and all the other flavours of Scotch Eggs. One stall that I did find particularly interesting was the Von Kava stall with a three course tasting menu that they call ‘Flash Fine Dining’ for only $15. Pretty cool idea if you ask me! Would I recommend the Smorgasburg food market? Hell yeah! Just make sure you get there early because by the time we were leaving at about 1pm the place was absolutely packed with people and lines were enormous with some places selling out of food. Places that we missed out on in Brooklyn because we just didn’t have enough time (or room in our stomachs were):
Brennan and Carr – another Man Vs Food gem famous for it’s French dipped Roast Beef Sandwiches (pretty much a sandwich dipped in gravy). Sounds kinda foul but apparently it’s amazing.
Roberta’s – a pizza joint that has been named as one of America’s top 15 pizzeria’s.
Brisket Town – A bbq joint that well, the name speaks for itself really.
Till next time x