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These aren’t just questions asked by Derek Zoolander (in-between conversations to god on his tiny cell phone), but they’re also questions one might ask when travelling to New York City for the primary purpose of eating ALL the food.
Is pizza-ness the meaning of life? Or chocolate-y-ness? Or burger-ness? Or cronut-ness? My response would have to be all of the above, so what does that make me? A privileged mammal I’d say, and one who is proud to be able to react to the deliciousness of food (sorry, naked mole rat, maybe in your next life…).
Full disclosure: eating “all the food things” wasn’t the initial reason for going to New York City. Instead it was an invite to speak on a writer’s panel at Wattpad’s annual convention. Hmm…a panel hosted by the biggest reading app in the world? Of course I was in — as well as honoured to be in the mix. It was a great afternoon of discussing different writing mediums while hopefully inspiring others.
And then there was the food.
I’ve been to New York City before, three times before in fact, but due to some distraction or another, food never played a starring role in the previous NYC jaunts (a lingering shame I carry with me to this day). This time however, with a best friend along for three days of the trip, the scene was entirely decadent.
This was best friend’s very first journey to New York, and as an equally obsessive maven in food consumption (did that sound classy or what?), she researched the million food blogs and together we formulated a food schedule. In Microsoft Word. To the tune of a three-page document. Single spaced.
Listen, this is totally normal and not excessive at all, okay? And why? Well it’s simple: timing, meal count, snack allowance, sweet/savoury balance, hunger estimates, and of course — geography. A lot of cities have a central nucleus where all the action is, but it’s not exactly like that in Manhattan (and the adjacent sprawling Brooklyn). Deliciousness is everywhere, so when you’re planning a NYC gluttony tour, you must bring out your best and most aggressive type-A personality to get shit done.
That brings us to our excessive meal plan organized by geographical progression, flowing as smoothly as a Carnegie Hall orchestra rendition of Robert Schumann’s “Scenes From Childhood Op. 15 VII Träumerei” (a composition which is liquid butter for the ears — check it out to confirm).
By mapping out where and when we’d be reporting to the feeding trough like salivating sows, we eliminated amateur-hour errors like strolling the Brooklyn bridge at noon, and then trying to have lunch on the Upper West Side before indulging at a bakery in Chelsea. No, we did not do that, because wasteful transit time would cut into eating time, and we’re not insane idiots.
Now that I’ve validated the legitimacy of our 3-page Word document (highlighted in different colours based on edits/weather-permitting updates — are you as turned on as I am?), we can move right along to the full-frontal food porn pictorial…
It all started with a cronut, and it set the tone for a food adventure to remember.
It’s in Soho where you’ll find the fabled cronut bursting with a juicy filling — at Dominique Ansel Bakery to be exact. Dreamed up by a French pastry chef who wanted donuts and croissants to live in harmony, it’s a fine example that we can all get along if we simply consume a donut thingy that feels like it weighs a pound. This particular rendition can only be described as a strawberry pistachio fusion so delicious, that you’ll never need basic bitch chocolate again (until you’re ready for another pastry three hours later). Bon appétit.
We worked off maybe 5% of the cronut calories with a casual stroll across the Brooklyn Bridge, and when we found ourselves on the other side in Brooklyn, it was time for some of the best pizza in the city.
Roberta’s doesn’t have a facade, but when you find yourself on a rough and tumble graffiti side street that slightly resembles “Crack House Row,” you’re there! Don’t be alarmed by the exterior, as inside you’ll find cozy coloured lights, communal tables, a weird painting of people’s faces made out of pizza ingredients (??), and some of the best, thin-crust, chewy flavourful pizza I’ve ever had. Bless.
It’s Friday night, it’s happy hour, but it’s too cold for a rooftop terrace with a view. Or is it? The Press Lounge cocktails in Hell’s Kitchen are expensive, but if Rockefeller Center can charge $36 USD for you to elevator up to their rooftop to take awkward windy selfies, then a $20 cocktail with an awesome view and blankets you can cozy up in are a steal.
We need to talk about dinner at The Dutch, we really do. Think classic farm-to-table American comfort food with an upscale twist, and an endless sea of mouth-watering delights. It’s basically like Homer Simpson’s dream when he’s prancing around in “Chocolate World,” taking bites out of lamp posts and such, only instead, imagine a CRAZY huge domed rabbit stew pie, a crispy, bright apple/cheddar sweet/savoury salad that was SO good, all other salads will now taste like garbage forever, and epic fried chicken that…well, we need to talk about that. On a previous trip to New York I had some pretty amazing fried chicken in Harlem at Red Rooster, but what was happening here was a magical situation. Not only was the batter crunch-er-ific and flavourful, but when I forced my friend to consume a piece about thirty minutes into our dinner, a cloud of steam escaped from inside when she sliced it open, almost as if the fried crispy batter had been encasing eternal juiciness; it was unicorn fried chicken with the power to stay fresh on demand, and it filled our hearts with gluttony cheer. And those homemade biscuits? That sweet and salty glaze will enrobe you in bliss and you’ll wonder if it’s all a dream. Also: the caramel sauce on the freshly baked apple pie was poured onto the plate from the end of a candy apple soaked in caramel. Nice touch.
The conclusion of that meal had us cradling our bellies as we checked out the “facade porn” in Soho. Doing lots of walking and creeping townhouse exteriors? It’s the only way to survive a food adventure in New York City.
Some other highlights:
There had been so much hype about Shake Shack, that we thought this would be our first over-hyped let-down meal. It was not. It’s extremely hard to get a table at this bustling Times Square location, but aggressive prolonged eye contact with other customers who are eating can coerce them into finishing their meals faster than normal.
As for the famous “Shack Burger,” it definitely had a melt-in-your-mouth quality that will forever inhabit my dreams. Also, this was the first time since I was a teenager that I had a milkshake. Why did I ever stop? More milkshakes will henceforth be incorporated into adult life.
After Shake Shack, we burned off 4% of the calories by strolling around the beautiful New York Public Library and spending money on library swag, as book nerds do.
Dinner was an interesting situation of wanting fresh pasta, but not wanting to go to an old school Godfather style restaurant in Little Italy. There are actually some good Italian restaurants in Brooklyn, but excuse me — we’d already covered Brooklyn in the geographical progression of our 3-page document. Instead we found Bar Primi in Soho, which is a hip and cozy place with a wine bar feel, along with plenty of fresh pasta options to choose from. Super yum.
Cocktails later that night at Pegu Club were not only delicious, but the origin story written in their menu is the coolest one I’ve ever seen. This was way better than waiting in line at some of the West Village bars that have been so over-exposed in Thrillist type articles, the ones where people wait outside in stairwells just for a desperate shot to get in. We passed two of those on the way. No thank you.
On this night we burned a solid 6% of the calories by walking back to our hotel in Tribeca, while creeping some cool Soho galleries along the way.
Morning. Hungover. And Black Seed Bagels in Soho saved the day. I think I blacked out from Black Seed and it was totally worth it.
So about chocolate chip cookies. I’m obsessed. The monstrosity photographed here is what Levain Bakery in the Upper West Side is famous for. This bakery has definitely made the rounds of must-eat blog posts — not unlike the town whore of indulgent delights — and as a result there was a serious line-up at 2:30pm on a Sunday. I know I just said I won’t wait outside in stairwells for a speakeasy cocktail, but will I wait outside in line for a cookie? If you’ve ever met me, fill in the blanks. From the outside, this looked like a giant scone. From the inside, you can catch a glimpse of the endless chocolate chips. Peak “food porn ecstasy,” and we burned off 2% of the calories by strolling in Central Park.
That cookie was the final hurrah before best friend got on a plane to head back to Toronto. I would miss her, but did that mean it was time to halt the food adventure? Not as long as there was breath in my lungs and a stomach in my skeletal cavity (there was).
That night I met a dear friend and we had an amazing dinner in Noho, at Michelin-starred vegetarian restaurant NIX. She’s vegan and gluten-free, and the staff ever so kindly provided her with a modified menu. That pineapple dessert will inhabit my dreams forever along with the burger.
The next day I strolled around Union Square, creeped a Farmer’s Market, and decided my body needed this amazing, twisted roll thingy from Breads Bakery. That looks like chocolate but it’s actually a million poppy seeds. I was replenished.
Soon after that, I decided to burn more than 6% of the calories by heading to the Upper East Side. I went to the Guggenheim to feed my brain — Hilma af Klint, you talented Swede — did some shopping, and strolled the other side of Central Park. I burned so many calories that it was definitely a top priority to eat more food as soon as possible.
This food adventure had already been filled with so many highlights, that I was starting to wonder if lunch at Refinery Rooftop in Midtown with another dear friend would be “basic.” It was not. The only time I’ve had more flavourful and vibrant tacos was when they were made by a best friend who is Mexican, uses Mexican ingredients, and is a very talented cook.
Later that day, I ate the legendary brownie from Fat Witch Bakery in the comfort of my hotel room, since I was, after all, becoming thy namesake.
That night it was off to Greenwich Village, to meet a new acquaintance for some fancy Korean BBQ at Do Hwa. I’d never had cocktails made with rice wine before, and after three of them and nearly three hours of scintillating conversation, I can safely say that those cocktails were like the sweet, sweet nectar squeezed out of candy that was stolen from the clutches of screaming children. Amazing.
For the rest of my trip I covered the important things left on my food adventure to-do list: a great slice of pizza, and an amazing cupcake.
When it comes to pizza, on a previous trip I’d had John’s Pizza on Bleecker Street, and it was absolutely delicious. So this time I needed to try Joe’s. Joe’s Pizza in Greenwich Village is a no nonsense $3-a-slice situation. You must fold it and you must fold it good. I ate it in a quiet little square on a sunny day with the autumn leaves in full bloom. I also spilled a blob of tomato sauce on my jeans. It felt like a rite of passage.
As for the cupcakes, I am a major snob a.k.a., there’s nothing I hate more than overly sweet one-note frosting, and a shitty dry cake underneath. Why are the cupcakes so dry? Do you not know about putting milk and oil in the batter you wretched fool?! (this is also my biggest pet peeve with bakeries in Paris that attempt to make cupcakes. Please stick to your expertise of amazing croissants. Merci).
I’ve had Magnolia Bakery’s cupcakes before, made famous in that season 3 episode of Sex and the City, and if you ask me, it’s a classic case of over-hyped. But I had an alternative. I wanted to check out the Chelsea High Line, and on my way I ran into Michael C. Hall a.k.a. Dexter. He was wearing a baseball cap and we locked eyes for a soulful exchange. This has nothing to do with the cupcakes. On the way back I checked my map and noticed something called Molly’s Cupcakes in Greenwich Village. It wasn’t a busy establishment, but the cupcakes were AMAZING. It was a well executed cake with diverse frosting qualities, and so many interesting flavours. This particular one was based on the “Samoa cookie,” and I must say, there was a lot of chocolate, coconut, and caramel things happening with that frosting. Thanks Molly, top-notch and underrated.
Afterwards I creeped more townhouse facades, as Greenwich Village has the best of them, particularly around Perry Street (which is coincidentally where you’ll find the fictional Carrie Bradshaw’s place of residence).
And thus concludes a whirlwind food adventure in New York City. I mostly wrote this for myself so I can always have a meticulous record of the food consumed and the joy experienced. If you yourself actually made it through this 2,200-word post, you are a rare soul and I hope you drooled a little along the way.
Live to eat,