American


Stand
24 East 12th Street
(btw’n 5th Ave. and University Pl.)
Union Square
(212) 488-5900

 

 

 

When I think about the hamburger renaissance taking place in New York at the moment I get emotionally crumpled. On the one hand I want to send up a little smile of thanks to the Fates for bringing me back home at the exact moment my favorite kind of food is finally getting the treatment it deserves. On the other hand I wonder if this spotlight is just taking all the fun out of it.

I’m simultaneously intrigued and repulsed by all these trendy burger joints. (You know it’s bad when “trendy burger joint” becomes a real, commonly used phrase around town. And it has.) As much as I want to try a burger made by Laurent Tourendel or someone like him I also know that these guys are missing the whole point of the burger joint culture. It’s not that it’s no frills. It’s not that it’s your high-falutin’ corruption of no-frills. It’s that it’s down-to-earth, cheap, and good. The ideal burger joint is the first place you think of when you want to just hang out for a little while, and let the day pass you by. This is a kind of atmosphere that can’t be manufactured — it’s an act of spontaneous evolution that happens when the right burgers meet the right neighborhood. Though I wasn’t expecting it, that’s exactly what I’ve found at Stand, trendiness and all.

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Beast
638 Bergen St.
(at Vanderbilt Ave.)
Prospect Heights
(718) 399-6855

 

 

In Brooklyn, we treat brunch as if it were a high holiday. In other parts of the country (even other parts of the city) brunch is kind of a novelty — maybe something to do on Mother’s Day or a pre- or post-birthday party. But here in America’s fourth-largest city it’s a birthright.

The basic tenets of the meal are just — sleep late, eat a big meal, maybe get a little tipsy, certainly work up a good caffeine buzz, read the paper slowly, talk loudly. It’s an elaborate and secular way to worship something we highly value: our day of rest.

But the execution of the meal fails often, probably because of the overkill. Though they shall remain nameless here, I’ve been burned by bad Brooklyn bruncheries who rush you along, skimp on the coffee, over-poach the eggs to the point where they fall off the plate and bounce, and generally treat the food like a no frills Restaurant Week version of their regular offerings.

This is all why I’m so attracted to Beast on the weekends. Not only do they offer up great food during brunch but they understand why we like brunch to begin with.

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Bus Stop Coffee Shop
542 Ninth Avenue
(at 40th Street)

Midtown West
(212) 560-9030

 

 

 

I spend so much time running around, beneath, and through the Port Authority Bus Terminal that I feel it is in some ways my third home (right after the office, which is right after my actual home if anyone is counting). In another era I might have said this with a certain amount of satisfied relish — transit hubs are truly magical places and I used to feel that I could measure my life’s success by how much time I spent at the start or end of some adventure on the road. But these days it’s hard to manage that point of view when the frequency of my visits there starts working on my nerves, exposing the truth that running for a bus is one of the roughest stresses life can offer. The fear of being late — hours late — and the self recrimination that inevitably follows is an anxiety that’s really hard to beat no matter how many deep breaths I take.

Another reason for this change in perspective — this hurry-up-and-wait kind of travel that hovers around the BT — is the fact that there really isn’t anywhere to sit back and relax. My favorite train stations of the world have that one particular bar or café down the block where you can sit and watch the bustle and wait for the whistle to blow while you think about where you’re going or where you’ve been. Even airports with their synthetic mall-like food courts have a few gems with a view out onto the tarmac. My best memories of being driven to the starting point of a trip as a kid were always that stop for a bite along the way.

There’s none of that here. At least, that’s what I thought until I showed up early one day and had the odd thought to go snooping around the back of the building.

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Eisenberg’s Sandwich Shop
174 Fifth Avenue
(betw’n 22nd and 23rd Streets)
Flatiron
(212) 675-5096

 

 

The first time I ever tried Eisenberg’s it was years ago and it was the kind of perfect accident that only happens when you’re on the road and openhearted. I wasn’t living here then, but passing through, killing time on my way to somewhere else, and I had this strange yearning for a tuna and egg salad sandwich.

It’s the kind of sandwich that, if you’re me, grandma would put out with the deli platter when we had company. It’s also the kind of sandwich that, if you’re anyone else but me, makes you wrinkle your face up in disgust at the mere mention of the thing. Because of that problem, no one ever made it for me (or at least, no one ever made it right). And right at that moment when I rounded Madison Park and stepped into the shadow of the Flatiron Building, the craving hit and it wouldn’t let go. Maybe it was the turn-of-the-century flair of the skyscraper, or maybe I was just feeling sentimental, but I wanted that kind of regular food you used to be able to get on every street corner in New York in the heyday of my grandparents. A few seconds later I was peering through the window of Eisenberg’s, and there it was, printed up as matter-of-fact as can be on the miraculous wooden board hanging over the lunch counter. That day — and the hundreds of times I’ve returned ever since — I regained something lost.

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FOAF-Omelettes2Friend of a Farmer
77 Irving Place
(betw’n 18th and 19th Streets)
Gramercy Park
(212) 477-2188

 

 

The city is as brutal as it is beautiful.

They say that New Yorkers are resilient but they rarely describe what it is that we withstand; New York’s friendliness, camaraderie, and excitement are countered by its hard edges, the paradoxical isolation, the struggle to keep our heads above water. It’s easy, and common, to imagine an easier pace of life elsewhere, either in our memories or our imagination.

The battle weariness that comes from life in this odd and thrilling and ridiculous place is offset by the fun and the daily chores, but on that particular day the cold just made it all impossible to ignore. Eating breakfast is a great way to answer that, so there we were, in the back of Friend of a Farmer near the fireplace, where life slows to a manageable crawl.

Friend of a Farmer is designed to recall what a country inn is supposed to look like, which accounts for the long lines outside. It also accounts for a common refrain among the restaurant’s many detractors: that the décor is kitschy faux-cozy. But those people are wrong, and probably not from New England. [Full Disclosure: I am.] The dining room with its bell jars and dark wood is actually right on, contrary to popular belief, and could easily be in Portsmouth or Bangor or Brattleboro. This makes for a unique experience in its simplicity; and the fact that they also bring you dependable, perfectly made food while you slough off your day sure helps.

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ABistro-JennaA Bistro
154 Carlton Avenue
(btw’n Myrtle and Willoughby Avenues)
Fort Greene
(718) 855-9455

 

 

As old as New York is, it refreshes itself every day. No matter how long you’ve lived on that street, something will surprise you today — that’s a promise. And that’s why perfect, cool, sunny New York afternoons are made for walking.

Fort Greene was abuzz with discovery a few weeks ago when construction workers digging a new sewer line on Vanderbilt Avenue pulled a remarkable boulder out of the ground. Not only was it huge but it was somehow otherwise alluring — enough to inspire a local resident to call the Environmental Protection Agency to see if they could prevent it from being hauled off to the dump.

When a geologist arrived on the scene to chip off a small piece, he confirmed the neighborhood’s suspicions: their rock was awesome, a 400,000,000-year-old gift from Wyoming via the last glacier to crash through this area.

So new discoveries are often simply old yet previously invisible, which is just fine, especially if it involves something to eat. While the rock was certainly inedible we still had plenty more neighborhood to explore.

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Tribeca-Light Tribeca Grill
375 Greenwich St.
(at the corner of Franklin St)
Tribeca
(212) 941-3900

 

 

 

When New York was young it was an engine and each neighborhood did its part to keep it running. Its fuel was the constant stream of goods from all over the world, arriving on ships in the excellent harbor to supply the growing millions. The middle step between the ships and the dinner tables was the little triangle-shaped parcel of land below Canal Street that we call Tribeca today.

The Washington Market sprawled along the river and the streets around it bustled with the secondary needs of industry — the warehouses, icehouses, mills, and food companies. Restaurateurs and regular New Yorkers wound through those narrow, cobbled streets to haggle and forage and prepare for each busy day of keeping everyone alive, and the whole neighborhood became known simply as “the market.” That was its purpose.

Everything always in flux, years tumble away and the city relentlessly reincarnates — some cities can’t weather the change that basic evolution brings but New York is always, sometimes defiantly, New York. Tribeca is very different now, but any evening’s walk to the Tribeca Grill, passing the loading docks where horse-drawn carriages once lined up to unload their wares and the steel awnings that once kept the rain off the piles of grain, reveals that this neighborhood, brand new and steeped in history, still speaks to the nature of the city — an eternal, clockwork system of business and life.

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