April 28, 2008

Smoke Joint

After a day of unusually good weather and wandering around the park, we decided we must have some barbecue. Odd craving considering where we currently reside, but we found a way. Smoke Joint was pretty busy but we waited in the ordering line and slobbered over the smells. They smoke their barbecue on site here, and they offer it a few different ways-- pork or beef ribs, "hacked and stacked" (pulled as we know it), and smoked chicken. They offer it in sandwich or plated form, along with lots of sides.

Jennifer and I both ordered hacked and stacked pork sandwiches and a couple of sides (mine included mac and cheese and barbecued beans), and our counterparts ordered roasted corn, barbecued hot wings and beef ribs. The sandwich was really very good-- the pork was piled high and moist. It had a nice smoky flavor, but definitely benefited from the kick of added barbecue sauce. The mac and cheese was pretty good, but I can't say I'd recommend the barbecued beans. They were a big mess of meat and beans and barbecue sauce that just didn't quite come together.

I will be back for the pork sandwich, and if you aren't extremely hungry it might be enough to fill you up. Don't order two sides unless you're ravenous, and the beer list is interesting. One nice thing was the owner was working and they were out of seating, so he sat us at his restaurant next door (Lil Pig) and brought our food to us there. -Laurel

This place is completely and totally 150% everything I miss about the South. The food is extraordinary - yummy sweet cornbread, pork sandwiches with mayonnaise slaw (and no one judging you for it for putting it on top of your sandwich except for one of your fellow dining companions...), perfect sweet tea, and some good old fashioned southern hospitality.

The place was packed, and considering our party was 5 people, it was hard to find a seat. The owner came over to me, without us even having to ask, and told us we could sit in his other restaurant. We went through a back adjoining hallway and came into the 'Lil Pig. This place was cute too, but much more New York. There were real plates and fancy looking food, rather than our huge portions and paper take out "baskets". Let's be honest - it was everything I liked about New York, too - including the overly snobby old ladies and gay men.

Either way - the food is perfection here (minus, of course, those unsightly baked beans. There was huge pieces of meat in them, which is fine, but they had no flavor.) Oh yeah! And one more thing I miss and love about the South, FREE REFILLS! GO and when you do, call me. I'm game. - Jennifer

87 S Elliot Place (Fort Greene, Brooklyn)

Payment: Cash, Cards

Take Out: Yes

Open Late: I couldn't find the hours anywhere.. possibly 9pm.

Delivery: no

Large Group Friendly: yes if they aren't too busy.

Bar/Happy Hour: serve beer.

Lyric Diner

I've been to this place about 1,000 times. I used to call it my favorite diner in New York, as when I went in November of '06, it was excellent. Now, however, it's slowly gotten terrible. And it was the perfect middle to a terrible night. Later in the night, I would be told I was, in essence, unattractive. The people who hang out around the Lyric Diner, at say, Rodeo Bar or Tonic, are basically white guys with a little bit of money, which, as I've learned, there's nothing worse.

I don't get it though. The same people work at Lyric, but for some reason their attitudes are jaded. They aren't very nice, and it's a little annoying. I didn't get any food this particular time, but I've always enjoyed it, so I really think they just suck now, for lack of a better word.

Also - Liz went back later in the night. She had had a terrible night as well, and just wanted a snack. They left the money on the table and walked out (you're supposed to pay at the counter if you want), the waiter - the same one in Laurel's story below - came outside and screamed that they didn't pay $3, when they did. Apparently, the busboy took it. The night ended with her throwing money in his face and telling him to f**k off. Let's just say the next day was MUCH better. - Jennifer

Lyric Diner is what you think of when you think of a diner. Open all the time, crazy old guy working there, an overly sized and ridiculously varied menu, etc. The prices are normal for New York-- more than I'd pay at a diner other places, but usually expected here. We came here for after-dinner dinner one night when we had a terrible experience at another place (we'll save that one for a later review).

I'm a person that, when faced with the option to order breakfast, I do it 95% of the time. I love breakfast/brunch, and how often can you eat french toast for dinner? So that's what I got. I ordered the challah french toast which was 7 or $8, sides were extra. When I got it, I received what you see above. I asked him where my challah was. He said that was challah. I said no it's not. He gave me some weird explanation about why it was challah, and I ate it and said to myself "that's no challah." I felt swindled for two reasons: 1. challah is tastier and more expensive. 2. They had regular french toast for less (which is what I ate), and came with 3 pieces instead of two.

In short, the food was fine but I was disappointed in the value and the borderline dishonesty of it. Not a terrible place to go if you need food late at night in that part of town, but there are better--and why were you hanging out in that part of town late at night, anyway? -Laurel

Address: 283 3rd Ave (@ 22nd Street)

Payment: Cash, Cards

Take Out: Yes

Open Late: 24 hours

Delivery: no

Large Group Friendly: yes

Bar/Happy Hour: nope!

April 20, 2008

Kumquat Cupcakery

It's no secret I love cupcakes and eat them pretty much whenever the opportunity presents itself. I had heard good things about Kumquat Cupcakery, and just so happens I was also pumped about a new flea market that started in Fort Greene where these mini cupcakes were to be sold.

The cupcakes are bite-sized but only a dollar, and cheaper if you buy 6 or more. Kumquat is limited to 2 Brooklyn flea markets on weekends and special orders and deliveries. At the flea markets, different flavors are offered each week and announced ahead of time on their blog.

By the time we made our way past all of the interesting goodies at the flea market, the tiny stand had run out of red velvet, so we sampled the remaining varieties: peanut butter, banana and honey; coffee; and black and white. If you like the peanut butter/banana combo, this cupcake is a deliciously dense and flavorful treat. The cake was moist and the icing was creamy. The coffee cupcake was also tasty, but strong-- recommended for dedicated coffee-lovers only. The black and white was a great combo- moist chocolate cake with white chocolate filling.

I liked these enough that I stopped by the next week to try a couple more varieties. The strawberries and cream cupcakes were, well, gone before I even got home. They were simply put: borderline amazing. This is coming from a big strawberries and cream fan, and these flavors were perfectly encapsulated in a moist white cake with strawberries mixed in and a creamy vanilla frosting. I will be eating these again whenever I have the opportunity. I suggest you do the same. -Laurel

Bite sized cupcakes from a flea market? Sounds strange, I know, but it's absolutely fantastic. I only had a chance to try the honey and peanut butter one, but it was unbelievably delicious. Strawberry and cream cupcakes are my absolute favorite, but I opted to watch Forgetting Sarah Marshall instead of going to the flea market (btw - the movie is awesome!), but I KNOW I'll be back for those awesome cupcakes. They're just too cute to pass up!

Also - as a note, I love that these cupcakes are only available at flea markets. Especially the best flea market in New York, the Brooklyn Brownstoner Flea Market. And by the way, I know saying this is the best flea market in New York is a stretch because I've never been to any others. But this one does have an awesome vintage postcard stand, homemade charm necklaces (I got a cutsie whale), and some sweet furniture. However, what makes this one the best and makes me think you should 100 percent go, is that Kumquat is there. - Jennifer

Address: Brooklyn Flea Markets-- Artist and Fleas Market and Brooklyn Brownstoner Flea Market (weekends), OR you can place special orders.

Website: http://www.kumquatcupcakery.blogspot.com/

Payment: Cash

Take Out: that's the only option!

Open Late: flea market hours, or special order

Delivery: yes

Essex Restaurant

There's some things I've been missing since I moved up north. Sausage gravy and biscuits are definitely one of them. So when we were informed of the Essex Restaurant, I was elated. Not only was there "The Southern" which consisted of a bowl filled with eggs, biscuits and sausage gravy, but Laurel and I decided to split that and pancakes with chocolate chips and bananas. If you see the picture below and above, you should know that even though we split it, we almost fell over from the intense amount of food in our stomachs.

Top that off with up to three alcohol drinks, coffee or tea, and bread, and you've got one of the most delicious and filling meals I've ever had in New York. I suggest it a million times over you make a reservation, as they do get extremely busy. We accidentally made one for the wrong Saturday, but they were sweet enough to let us in on that particular Saturday and didn't try to rush us out.

And once again, in my unbelievable ability to attract gay men and men who want to make comments on my food...A group of gay men leaned over to check out my chocolate chip pancakes and I convinced them to buy some. I really have a pure love for this place. GO! - Jennifer

This is the kind of thing I think of when I think fondly of brunch. Yummy food that lovingly merges breakfast and lunch, a semi-classy atmosphere, and orange juice with alcohol in it. We decided to go here to discuss some book-reading with Davis and Amanda (kudos to them for picking the place), and we definitely enjoyed ourselves.

The brunch menu has a nice variety of favorites with fancy touches. We were all happy to eat actual BISCUITS with gravy that, by they way, tasted super great. Jennifer and I practically licked the plate after we ate "The Southern." The pancakes were super fluffy and sweet almost like cake and came with fresh fruit. Davis ordered the "Deep South," which was The Southern with a country-fried steak. Amanda got the French toast with bananas foster sauce. Both were heartily approved.

I think we will be going back to this place, whether we have a book to discuss or not, and you should give it a try as well. -Laurel

120 Essex St (Essex & Rivington)

Website: http://www.essexnyc.com

Payment: Cash, Cards (**cash only at brunch)

Take Out: ?

Open Late: 1 on the weekends

Delivery: no

Large Group Friendly: yes, and they take reservations.

Bar/Happy Hour: yes bar, happy hour Tues-Thurs 6-9pm

April 12, 2008

Cafetasia w/ Guest Reviewer Ryan

While finding cheap Asian food isn't difficult in New York, or pretty much any city for that matter, finding value in your purchase can be quite a challenge. Any time I can get an appetizer, entree, and drink for $20 is money well spent. It helps too when the food is good, and the eclectic, possibly trendy atmosphere make it feel like a bargain.

On my two separate trips to Cafetasia I sampled several different dishes. Their menu offers items sized small to extra large, priced accordingly. Having the option of a sampler platter of the small dishes (3 for $10) is a great way to try a few different items, or share an appetizer with friends. The calamari fritters and beef, mushroom, and pepper teriyaki skewers were particular standouts of the small dishes.

The medium dishes on the menu are primarily salads. The grilled shrimp and grapefruit salad had some great flavors - unfortunately they were over powered on my palate by the intense spicy heat. When the menu says the dish is hot, it's hot. On the large size, the pad thai is an obvious choice that doesn't disappoint. While not the best version of the classic dish, it is well portioned and satisfying.

On the alcohol front, the wine list is small and reasonably priced, as are the specialty cocktails. Don't look for anything too crazy, but you'll be sure to find something to quench your thirst, which you may need when your water glass empties. While service is not the best, it's easy to forgive as you sit at communal tables and stare at the bizarrely floating candles that illuminate the dining room. The dim uni-sex bathroom also gives you something to talk about as you wait for your food.

On the whole, the good food, low price point, and unique surroundings make Cafetasia a worthwhile destination. The service leaves something to be desired, but exercise a bit of patience with your server and you'll be rewarded with a reasonably priced, memorable dining experience. -Ryan

I first attended Cafetasia one night with Ryan and a group of other hooligans and a ravenous appetite. We were seated after a short wait- they were busy and most of their seating is dining hall-style. I had the tasting menu from the "small" portion of the menu-- three choices for $10. It was a nice way to sample a few different things and (as Ryan mentioned) the skewers were especially good. David got (and let me eat some of) the Beef Pad Se Ew from the "large" part of the menu ($9). It was a nice-sized bowl of tasty noodles, bok choy and beef.

I ended up at Cafetasia again about a week later with Amy. We went for lunch, which was also busy. The lunch deal is exactly that--a deal. Their prix fixe menu is $7.50 and includes an appetizer (choice of 8) or soup of the day and an entree. Amy had the Massaman Curry (pictured) and I had the Virgin Veggies (also pictures) with chicken. Amy said the curry was "well seasoned" and mine was full of very fresh veggies. Only downside with my dish was a slight lack of flavor.

The menu is the best part about this place. You can choose your food according to the portion size or try a few different things.. and it is all affordable. Definitely a nice variety and good even-if-not-spectacular food. I'd go here again on occasion especially to take someone from out-of-town. But the restrooms are creepy. -Laurel

38 east 8th street (b/t Greene and University)


Open Late:
12am on the weekends

Delivery: yes, guaranteed in 30 minutes

Take Out:

Bar/Happy Hour:
yes and not sure. drinks are pretty reasonable, however.

April 4, 2008

Arriba, Arriba (w/ Guest Reviewer Davis Cox)

After a groggy Saturday morning filled with my typical Saturday morning rituals - cartoons, Guitar Hero, and general laziness - I met the ladies at Arriba Arriba for a bit of Mexican brunch. I’ll have to preface this by saying that I’m allergic to eggs, so reviewing brunch isn’t exactly my forte. I do, however, enjoy any excuse to have a drink or two before noon on a weekend, so take that as you will.

Through rigorous testing, Amanda and I have found one of the simplest methods to deciding if a Mexican restaurant is going to be worth your time and money. If the name of the place is easily translatable for your average gringo, or if it’s a catchphrase from a cartoon character, it’s most likely not going to be good. While Arriba Arriba didn’t completely shatter The Rule, it did show it’s not an absolute.

They charge $11.95 for an entrĂ©e and a drink (screwdriver, mimosa, or bloody mary) for brunch, which isn’t cheapest you’ll find in the city, but it’s certainly not a bad deal. Also, free chips and salsa is a major bonus in New York; it seems most Mexican places just skip out on the free appetizer. It was incredibly fresh and was a great start to the meal.

I had the Mexican Sandwich - a well-seasoned breaded chicken breast with potatoes and a small salad. The breast was well cooked, generously sized (I’m pretty sure only about 3/4ths of the thing was actually covered by the bun), and all around pretty tasty. The potatoes were kind of an afterthought, and the salad served its purpose well enough – that is, to give me something other than just the sandwich.

I won’t say I loved Arriba Arriba, but it was pretty good food at a reasonable enough price for brunch. If your brunch needs some spicing up, give it a shot and you’ll be pleasantly satisfied. - Davis

I found this place ages ago, when Laurel and I ended up just going to Vynl, so I was glad to finally give it a try. I've never enjoyed Latin/Mexican breakfast, as I'm not terribly keen on pico de gallo in eggs, but I was way excited about trying something else. At the prix fixe price of $11.95, my Arriba quesadilla with chorizo and screwdriver were pretty tasty. I will say, however, it wasn't the best I've ever had. The company, however, was great, as usual. Forcing Davis to spend time with the ladies is always worth the effort.

The waiter was extremely attentive, and I felt like we were the only table in the joint. In fact, to be fair, we were only one of a few, but he had pretty much all of them. By the way, I'm watching Pulp Fiction right now, and Travolta's really high, so I'm a tad distracted in this entree (er, entry, see what I mean?).

Arriba, Arriba is worth it and I suggest a visit. A bad note, though - the one drink that is included with the meal is tiny and it's unfortunate if you want to get a little drunk in order to improve (ruin?) your day. I suggest that you drink more, because we simply didn't do it up right. Apparently (and from what we could see), their drinks are GIGANTIC, but the ones that come with the prix fixe simply don't cut it. I was definitely full, but I wasn't drunk enough. Oops, now Uma's high, too. - Jennifer

Address: 762 9th Ave (@51st Street)

Open Late: 1am on weekends

Delivery: yes, 42nd to 59th st (11th ave to 6th ave)

Take Out: yes, yes

Bar/Happy Hour: yes and yes, 4pm-7pm drinks are buy one get one half off, and on Mondays 4pm-close Margaritas are buy one, get one half off

April 3, 2008

Chelsea Grill of Hell's Kitchen

This time when my parents came to visit me, they didn't want to see the sights. They had seen them all at least five times, and were finally aware that they never change. So instead, we went to my favorite neighborhoods - Soho, Lower East Side, Astoria (I love my neighborhood), Brooklyn Heights, Upper West Side, and Hell's Kitchen. Notice, I did not put Chelsea on that list. I love Chelsea, don't get me wrong, but I've spent far too much time around there since I first moved here that I'm much better off staying away. However, a Chelsea Grill in Hell's Kitchen? Sure.

We had just watched Spamalot and they were tired and just wanted something delicious. The only problem is that my father doesn't really like to step outside the box. He doesn't want Greek, Indian, Thai and the like. That's a problem in New York. That's why when we found the Chelsea Grill, it was heaven sent. Not overly expensive comfort food that's yummy.

For $16.95, my father and I enjoyed two one-inch thick thyme and pepper spiced porkchops, garlic mashed potatoes and sauteed asparagus. My mother chose the chicken with a barbeque glaze and vegetables with rice - I didn't try it but it looked really good. Overall, we were all satisfied. My mother, however, hated the vodka pomegranate concoction she was served, and was absolutely appalled at the price, simply because she thought it was disgusting ($10). But then again, my mother doesn't really drink.

Either way, if you want a little bit of fancy without all the fuss, go for it. Just keep in mind it's in Hell's Kitchen, not Chelsea, and as a suggestion, don't take the porkchops home with you. They start to stink really bad if they sit out too long. - Jennifer

Address: 675 9th Avenue (between 46th St & 47th St)
Website: n/a (http://www.yelp.com/biz/chelsea-grill-of-hells-kitchen-new-york)
Payment: Cash, Cards
Take Out: yes
Open Late: yes, til 3am
Delivery: yes, but not after 5pm
Large Group Friendly: it's possible, but you'd have get there at a non-rush time
Bar/Happy Hour: bar, yes. happy hour, not sure
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