I ate at a number of wonderful places (most of which were recommended to me by my various hosts) during my time in New York City, the best of which I will elaborate upon here.
Ukranian Cafe: Veselka [East Village]
My situation with this café was unique in a thousand ways. Let’s just say that to start things off I walked in around lunchtime (to eat breakfast), soaked from head to toe, sans umbrella in the sporadic downpour, wearing my Pittsburgh Penguins jersey on the day the Pens would play the New York Rangers inside historic Madison Square Garden. I was wearing my scarf as a babushka to cover my hair and most of my face, trying to stay halfway put-together since I wouldn’t be going anywhere resembling “home” until the middle of the night. Table for one, please.
I ordered breakfast and coffee with soy milk. I love it when restaurants have soy milk.
The French toast was made from challah bread, which I knew as the traditional Jewish braided bread that was to represent the manna that fell from heaven in the Old Testament. I had no idea that this type of baking also had Ukrainian roots, but I later found that the Jewish influence in the Ukraine, dating back to the 18th century, had made it a part of cultural wedding ceremonies and holidays. Hm. Anyway, it had a light, fluffy texture and a subtle, sweet taste. Served with a link of kielbasa, it made a delightful and filling breakfast.
I stayed through the better part of lunchtime, reading books and magazines I had brought and eventually became hungry again. I had read online about this restaurant’s specialty in pierogies and thought I’d try them before I left to visit a number of bookstores (including the largest in the nation). Two meat, one spinach and cheese, and one potato pierogies left me very full and satisfied. The pierogies were soft and stuffed with tasty filling. Wonderful food and service at this quaint little café in East Village.
American Bar/Café: Fanelli Café [Soho]
I recognized the Soho neighborhood, only by name, because I had a friend who’d moved to New York and said he loved this area. It was where all the famous people milled about, and he was after a bit of fame himself, so his affinity didn’t surprise me. But it didn’t take me but a few blocks of wandering about in Soho to find that our tastes didn’t agree.
True, I enjoyed my ninety-second misfit tour in the Prada store and my ensuing interaction with the pair of employees who were liberally twirling, spinning, dancing across the wooden floors in their tailored suits and high heels, getting paid by the hour. And I enjoyed the Evolution store for its museum-like quality of displayed animal carcasses. But other than that, Soho doesn’t have anything I need. Generally, it’s entitled and I am not.
There was, however, a bustling little pub that called itself a café where we stopped for lunch. It was reasonably priced for the likes of this neighborhood and I was whisked away by the feeling that everything inside the doors was in fast-forward. I very much relished this feeling for the short time we were inside. I never felt rushed, only comfortable, but nothing ever stopped moving or slowed down. My chili over rice was warm, filling, not-too-spicy. And ordering chili was a risk for me, unnatural, but I was living on the edge, New York City-style, so why not, right?
Fanelli Café is a bit of gem in this Soho high society. I support this corner bar. In Soho, we call them cafe’s.
Greek Dinner: Uncle Nick’s [Hell’s Kitchen]
Times Square, where we were seeing Memphis on Broadway, was spilling over with gawking visitors, so we chose dinner a few blocks west in Hell’s Kitchen. The Greek restaurant had exposed brick walls and an open kitchen, a style that I love, especially for ethnically authentic eateries.
Eating anything non-American is always a bit of a challenge, because after ordering an entire meal, there’s the chance you won’t like it. But without taking the risk, you’ll eat hot dogs and hamburgers for the rest of time. I took some tips from my friends who had been here before and started narrowing down the menu to a few items I’d never heard of and one lamb dish that was my safety choice.
I ordered a dish with Greek sausage (so far, I’ve loved all types of sausage I’ve come across), some other meat with a very long name and something called “sweetbreads”, which I naturally thought was a sort of sweet bread. The dish was served with a white wine-based sauce and bit of cabbage. The sausage and the other meat were delicious beyond description. I mean, really. The tastes were explosive and rich, the meats were tender and juicy. It was a truly wonderful experience for the tastebuds.
The sweetbreads, however, surprised us all! They were not, in fact, bread at all. They were a meat that had the texture and consistency of chicken with a thin breading. The taste seemed very mild, adopting the sauce that it was cooked in, something like pieces of cooked tofu. The sweetbreads were not impressive alongside the other meats, but to say the least, they were a very interesting addition to the dish.
Overall, the experience was delightful. We were seated in a timely manner on a busy weekend evening. The Greek staff was friendly and accommodating, answering my foolish American questions with kindness and patience. And the food was well-prepared and authentic, as far as I knew. Tasty, for sure!
Brunch: Good Enough to Eat [Upper West Side]
Confession: Breakfast is my most favorite meal of them all. I would eat it constantly if it was easily available and I didn’t anticipate having to regularly define my eating habits. I enjoy the food selection at breakfast and the quantity and creativity of the food offered. So when we walked into the brunch establishment with the white picket fence outside, exposed brick walls (can you tell I adore this quality?) and country bookshelves with antique china on the shelves, I was already impressed and hadn’t even decided on my food yet.
At this restaurant, they make a homemade strawberry butter. At all costs, this is worth it. They serve it with warm biscuits instead of toast and this is a fantastic idea. Approved.
If the strawberry butter wasn’t the main course, I also had a sort of skillet that was called a turkey hash on the menu. Diced potatoes, vegetables, and meat browned in a bit of oil and served on a plate, the flavors having blended together with some salt, pepper, and maybe an allspice. Party in my mouth. The strawberry butter gave a sweet intermission between bites of the turkey hash, but the saltiness and portion size of the skillet dish reached near-perfection on my breakfast score card. Cheers – this place really was good enough to eat.