Comfort Food


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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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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