The Bourgeois Pig
124 MacDougal St.
(btw’n Minetta Ln. and West 3rd St.)
West Village
(212) 254-0575

 

 

In high school, my friends and I wasted many a weekend afternoon wandering around Greenwich Village trying to be cool. I don’t think any of us knew what we were looking for, but we were sure that this neighborhood was, for one reason or another, cool. It never occurred to us that, being underage, much of what might have been cool at that point was beyond our reach. After enough Saturdays walking up and down Bleecker Street, stopping into the same bookstores and drinking the same lattes and sitting on the same benches in Washington Square, we moved on. The punchline came when we turned 21 and found only abject lameness behind the now unlocked doors of downtown.

It’s a shame that this storied corner of our city has become a sort of French Quarter of backwards baseball caps and halfhearted debauchery. Real debauchery, after all, would come with a nice sense of style.

Considering the fact that I largely stay away from these parts, I’m especially grateful for accidentally finding what I was always looking for — a blink-or-you’ll-miss-it wine bar in the middle of MacDougal Street’s chaos. It was an astonishing Happy Hour that brought me in, but it’s the snacks that keep The Bourgeois Pig alive in my workday-hardened heart.

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Amorina Cucina Rustica
624 Vanderbilt Avenue
(betw’n Prospect Pl. and Park Pl.)
Prospect Heights
(718) 230-3030

 

 

 

I found my one true love on Viale Trastevere a few years ago. She had all the main requirements — curvy, brunette, and holding a freshly baked pizza from the ancient brick oven beside her.

My lady adorned every box that came out of Pizzeria ai Marmi in that old and moody corner of Rome. Marmi (known as “the morgue” around town for its garish lighting and marble tables) was only one happy moment in a lifelong connoisseurship of Neapolitan pizza, but it was the most profound. The neighbors knew it well, and we bumped elbows every night as we crammed in for dinner. The wine was cheap. The pizza (as it often is in such places throughout Italy) was perfect. But it was the skill that captivated me. I ignored countless hours of conversation while watching the overstressed pizzaioli shape the dough, top the pizzas, load them in, and take them out, never missing a beat in their practiced rhythm. To eat something so fast and cheap yet so flavorfully nuanced seemed to typify life there — where simplicity breeds contentment and an attention to detail that elude us as we continue to evolve and automate.

When I moved back to New York a couple years ago I held out hope for the triumphant return of Neapolitan pizza to my weekly pleasures. I thought it would take some effort, some trial and error, and not a small number of Metrocards and wasted time. It turns out that all I had to do was look around the corner.

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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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It does seem like forever, but the holidays have finally died down and life in our fair city has resumed a relatively normal pace, and that means it’s time for us to resume waxing gastronomic for your reading pleasure. The staff has run out of holiday excuses for not turning in their essays on time and those will soon be appearing here. As for me, I’ve had a few days to unwind from the seemingly incessant bus travels, meeting people in bus stations, eating bus station food, and also the few odd days of working when neither I nor the rest of the world was on vacation.

During these weeks of trying to keep to deadlines, juggling credit cards, and making sure everything was just right on the days when everything needed to be just right, I never had a chance to stop and notice that I had lost track of time, and therefore lost track of myself. It’s a familiar feeling in this eat-pizza-in-the-cab-on-the-way-to-a-meeting culture — that anxious bug that drives people to incessantly jab at elevator buttons or huff and puff when caught behind a slow-moving person on the subway stairs. In overscheduled times, we lose sight of the reasons why we’re here to begin with, and life becomes strikingly less pleasurable. But I was thankfully reminded during a few special, almost imperceptible moments.

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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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All You Can Eat NYC took this week off to celebrate the best holiday of the year. I was going to leave this space blank, but on second thought, that would be a pretty conspicuous absence. Thanksgiving is the one nationally observed feast day we have in the U.S. and that makes it extra special and worthy of note. And since we’re in the business of noting these sorts of things, the crew prepared some food for thought for you on this grand holiday week. I hope you enjoy it despite our departure from strictly New York City environs.

First up is a little (well, maybe medium-sized) bit of journal muck that I wrote this week, reflecting on why I love this day so. Second is an oldie but goodie from Saucy Kate who loves dessert but especially loves it when made by mom. Her essay includes the highly valued recipe for the trifle she writes so eloquently about.

I know some of you may still be celebrating Thanksgiving, or wishing you were, so please dive in to these and post your own favorite Thanksgiving stories, from this or any other year.

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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