Noir at the Bar NYC: June 3rd.

 
Crime writers Todd “Big Daddy Thug” Robinson, former editor of ThugLit, and Glenn G. Gray, author of unforgettable medical tales that make your innards squirm, are throwing a Noir at the Bar shindig in NYC on June 3rd. I’ll be there, and you should be too. There will be story readings, revelry, and prizes. Because these guys are a real prize.

It will be held from 6pm to 9pm on Sunday June 3rd 2012 at Shade NYC, right off Washington Square in Greenwich Village. Address is 241 Sullivan Street.

If you’re planning on coming or would like to read, contact me via the “Kontactr” button to the right, and I’ll hook you up with Todd and Dr. G.

Let’s do this thing- we can’t let sunny CA and St. Louis have all the fun. 

© 2012 Thomas Pluck
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Island Burgers & Shakes – not a desert island meal.

You can’t go home again, says Thomas Wolfe. Either home changes, or you change. I returned to Island Burgers & Shakes after seeing The Colbert Report this week, and I’m not sure which of us has changed, but I couldn’t go home again.

They make a decent burger, but it pales in comparison with many in the city, including cheaper fare like the legendary Shake Shack and HB Burger, or the nearby Five Napkin Burger. They still shine in their selection of toppings, excellent pickles, and soothing, decadent shakes, but after sampling more of what the city has to offer in the burger department, they are decidedly middling.

The issue is not the size- they make a hefty patty, and put a good sear on it. But the meat is so bland that it fades into the crowd of toppings. This time I had a Top & Pop’s with Thai peanut sauce, raw jalapenos and roasted peppers on a ciabatta roll. Last time the sourdough bread and sesame seed buns disintegrated around the juicy burger so I opted for a more robust roll; the bottom still got so soaked it was threatening to fall apart, so I ate it upside down.

A burger ought to be juicy, but the meat needs flavor to carry the meal, and this was lacking. I tried Firecracker’s in case mine was a fluke, but no. Drossarian tried the Napalm Burger with habanero sauce, and liked his. Beast had a chicken churasco which she loved, and it did look good. Oddly enough, Island Burgers may be a better destination for a chicken churasco and a milkshake than a burger. If I go again, I’ll have the chicken. As you can see, it was Beast approved:

I compared the flavor with similarly priced burgers like HB Burger– who use Pat LaFrieda beef- and there’s no contest. Island Burger needs a better meat mix to stay in the running. Game over man, game over.

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© 2010 Thomas Pluck.

Friedman’s Lunch and the High Line

A friend of Firecracker’s is in town and we met her for lunch at the Chelsea Market. I hadn’t been there before, but it’s everything you’d expect in a high end market- fresh vegetables, multiple butchers offering everything from goat to prime beef and fresh seafood, bakeries and bistros, wholesale barware, salons. It’s also home to a luncheonette called Friedman’s, serving wine and beer and a nice brunch with a varied menu. Not too big, but a nice selection of omelets and pancakes plus Southern style food such as shrimp and grits, fried green tomatoes, biscuits, and so on.
Normally I’m on a biscuit like cotton on a lamb, but we’d just had Popeye’s chicken after a hike, so I decided to try their beef brisket burger, medium rare. It was quite good- lots of flavor, not too big, but lacking crust or sear. Other than that and the sweet brioche-type bun it was delicious, juicy, and cooked to order. The meat was loosely packed and felt hand-formed. The fries were dusted with flour or cornmeal to make them extra crispy, which they were. Tender inside mostly, on the larger pieces. I like some crunch, so I didn’t mind the crisper pieces. The pickle was forgettable, odd because they sell Gus’s in a barrel outside. I would’ve preferred a half-sour, this was a bland dill.
The burger will set you back $13, not bad for Chelsea and good brisket, but if there were a Shake Shack in the market I’d never go here for a burger. It’s probably the same LaFrieda brisket mix, just done differently. The shrimp and grits was very good, surprisingly with egg on top of the grits. A bit scant on the shrimp for the price, as expected in tony-town. The pancakes were fluffy and magnanimous in serving size. The fried tomatoes were alright, floured and not as crispy as let’s say, Dinosaur Barbecue’s, who makes the best in NYC I’ve had so far. So, Friedman’s is nice, but nothing spectacular. They don’t serve liquor, so no Bloody Marys, but they do have pomegranate bellinis and serve a great beer selection; I had Lagunitas “Censored” Copper Red Ale, which was originally called “The Kronik” until the Feds made them change it. Crisp, hoppy red with a good malt backbone. Worth a try.
Christin reminded us that the High Line park was nearby and we walked it back toward the PATH trains. It was enjoyable even in the misty rain. You get a lovely view of the city and a leisurely walk without worrying about traffic lights and oblivious yuppies pinballing off of you as they bumble down the street typing on their smartphones. There’s some interesting art displayed in spots, and the original railroad tracks- with the old arsenic-laced pressure-treated railroad ties replaced by new- run some of the length. The design is pretty cool, with the benches rising like bent rail tracks made of concrete. Go enjoy it sometime, whether you want some shrimp & grits or not.

Though you’ll have to put up with hearing aging hipsters sigh, “I don’t think I have the energy to reinvent myself,” and clever 7-year olds tell their parents that “reverse psychology doesn’t work these days.” If you like posting to Overheard in NYC, it’s a good area for people watching.

© 2010 Thomas Pluck.

In honor of Black History month…

I ate this choucroutes de Royale at Les Halles. That’s blood sausage, it’s always excellent. Their frankfurter is blah- for shame, Tony. I hope Hiram’s Roadstand smacks some sense into you. The salami and smoked bacon are good, the beer-cooked sauerkraut was good. It should have come with house-made mustard, you crumb-bum!

Your restaurant does so well with many things, but it never hits the ball out of the park. The brie & honey appetizer is great, but the crawfish Creole pastry was too peppery and lacked much depth. I was hoping the bacon would be tastier. How do you make bacon boring? I don’t care if that’s how brasseries have done it for ages, boiled bacon is not palatable. Next time I’ll stick to what you do very well: sausages, mussels, burgers and frites, and the grilled meats. The beef bourgogne was well received, but skimpy. You’ve been a go-to place for me way downtown, but I’m thinking the cab ride to DBGB may be worth it.

Don’t let your restaurants fizzle now that you’re a TV celebrity.

© 2010 Thomas Pluck.

Sumo Soup

MMA fighters agree: chankonabe, otherwise known as “sumo wrestler’s soup,” is good eats. We had some after viewing the Art of the Samurai exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC a few weekends back. It’s now moved on. They were exhibiting many swords and sets of armor that had never left Japan before. I got to see a Masamune, a Muramasa, some rare older tachi swords that were not shortened after katana came into style, and some other huge and rare blades including double-edged swords based on Chinese styles. Afterward, Suzanne (shown here with her daughter Nina) suggested we go to Menchanko-Tei in midtown.
It’s a great noodle house that I hadn’t been to in years. They serve ramen and udon, but they also serve the infamous sumo soup- loaded with protein and made without the ubiquitous dashi broth of Japanese soups, because fish ain’t got arms and legs, and a wrestler needs them to win! It is most often made with chicken because they are always on two legs as a sumo wrestler should be. You can order them with slices of beef, chicken or pork. The spicy chige miso menchanko was my choice, with pork slices. It comes with fish balls, tofu and head-on shrimp by default, and the miso broth with bonito flakes is delicious on its own.
Firecracker opted for the Sara-Udon, which came with crispy noodles and lots of veggies. Everything was delicious, and there are vegetarian options depending on the broth you like. We didn’t order their ramen this time, but I’ve had it and it is on par with what I had in Japan. The sumo soup, or as close as you can get in NYC, was excellent. Very filling, intensely flavorful and generally healthy unless you add slabs of their delectable roast pork like I did! Their gyoza (dumplings) made with Berkshire pork are the best I’ve had- not counting soup dumplings. It was the perfect filling meal for a bitter windy winter day.
There are two locations, one on 45th just east of Grand Central Station, and another on 55th. At Grand Central, we stopped at the great little coffee shop Joe’s Art of Coffee, which makes a great cup. They had donuts by the Donut Plant- which were good but didn’t live up to expectations. I don’t eat a lot of sweets, and they all taste similar to me unless they are very rich. The chocolate donut had the flavor of good cocoa, and the apple fritter was better. Maybe they weren’t fresh. I only go out of my way for burgers, hot dogs and the occasional BBQ, so until I’m checking out burgers in the Lower East Side, donuts will have to wait.

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DBGB – Delicious Beer Great Burger

I have a new favorite burger in NYC. HB Burger nearly grabbed this crown a few weeks ago, but its patty, while flavorful, was a little too thin. DBGB Kitchen & Bar, Daniel Boulud’s retaurant on the Bowery by 2nd, makes a burger as beefy and flavorful, moister than Les Halles grilled-to-order sirloin, and with artful toppings that compliment and exponentially amplify its signature flavors. We have a winner. There’s always a burger contender on the block; but Les Halles was the Matt Hughes of my burger world, to use a UFC analogy. It’s been there for a year. I’ll have to go back and see if they’ve improved, now that DBGB has stolen the jester’s thorny crown.

Sorry it’s blurry. My hands were greasy with bone marrow!

DBGB is a charcuterie, a French style sausage fest with an excellent beer selection. It is a bit pricey. After 3 beers a piece, two apps, burgers and desserts we were set back $170. But goodness were we sated. We both semi-starved because it was our 3rd anniversary, and I took Firecracker to Element Beauty Lounge for a massage and mani-pedi. I just got a massage. And the masseuse was a masseur. He was Korean, but didn’t look enough like Rain to made me want a happy ending. Anyway. The food! DBGB is a busy place, and even with 9:30 reservations it took us about 10 minutes to be seated at a cozy table by a pillar. The bartenders were friendly and knowledgeable, and when FC ordered a berliner-weisse, they offered a shot of creme de cassis to compliment its crisp champagne-like flavor. My first beer was Harviestoun Brewery’s “Old Engine Oil” porter, which is a perfect winter brew. Smooth but rich and malty, with toasty coffee and chocolate notes.

We waited long enough to have a second round, with the ‘Cracker having that classic Scheider Weisse, and I grabbing Six Point’s Mason Black Wheat. That was a lot like a Black Lager in concoction, with a smooth fruity wheat beer start and a snappy malty finish. Six Points is rising to the top of my new favorites- their Sweet Action, which I had at the Brooklyn Ale House, was superb. After being seated, our apps came out quickly. We ordered the bone marrow plate with toast triangles, and one of their house-made sausages- the Vermont cheddar wurst. Both were fantastic. I was expecting more marrow, but it is so rich, I’m glad there was just enough to dab each tiny bit of toast. They slathered some homemade stoneground mustard on the bone, and it came with a single slice of Katz’s pastrami twirled with watercress. For $17, you can put two on the plate for sharing, guys. But it was delicious. The sausage was a juicy, cheesy pork explosion. You can easily make a meal out of picking different sausages here, and you wouldn’t be disappointed.

But you know me. As much as I like a big meaty sausage, burgers are my true calling. And what was so good that it knocked Bourdain’s burger from the gold to the silver? We ordered two, the Piggie (topped with pulled pork) and the Frenchie (with thin, crisped pork belly). they are 6oz burgers, just the right size. Plump and juicy. They lean toward rare- Firecracker wasn’t thrilled with her “medium” being so pink, but I loved my “medium rare” leaning to rare. It was cooked and didn’t have the metallic tartare flavor of a too-rare burger. It was beefy bliss. The crust on the seared meat lent salty char to the flavor, and the note of well-marbled beef was uninterrupted throughout. The pork belly was thin enough to not overwhelm, and came off as rich bacon that wasn’t chewy enough to interfere with mouth feel. The bun, a mild and buttery round, just fit the burger and also complimented, without getting in the way.
One caveat. The pulled pork was amazing. Some of the best I’ve had. But it smacked you like Tony Danza, and made you wish you got a pulled pork sandwich instead of a burger. It’s really that good. They both come with excellent fries, crisp and tasty. I think Bourdain has the edge in the frites department, but it’s been a while. Another reason to go check. The Frenchie comes with some house-pickled, tart cornichons and the piggie is topped with a likewise pickled jalapeno, which packs more fire than many habaneros I’ve eaten. I’m no stranger to hot food. But from experience, let me warn you, if you eat this pepper wash your hands BEFORE you go to the bathroom. Sweet baby James, I was smiling like a Cheshire cat with Vap-o-rub in his jock strap through dessert.

And yes, we had dessert. They make a fantastic sundae. The mocha variety has tiny brownies and cookies in it, and manages to be airy enough to make finishing it seem possible. I had a pear ice cream sandwich, which had pear compote in it. It had great crust. Then again I prefer mild desserts that cleanse the palate and keep your gut from exploding, and this hit the spot. The final beers were Kiuchi, a Japanese white ale with spicy cardamom and lemon notes, and a Belgian pumpkin ale that tasted too much like a tripel to go with dessert. I wish our waiter was as beer-smart as the bar gal was. Overall, it was an excellent dining experience of the gastro-pub variety. Easier to get into than The Spotted Pig, but not as cozy and rustic. The food is a notch above, though I like the simplicity of a fried pig ear. So we’ll be back to the Pig sometime as well. Their roquefort burger is a contender worthy of battling DBGB’s excellent Frenchie. Until then, I tell Daniel Boulud:

MMM-hmm! That IS a tasty burger!!

HB Burger – Times Square gets a good burger

Last night was Hamburgers & Hamlet night for Firecracker and I. We went to see Jude Law play the melancholy Dane, and I realized that a block over was HB Burger, which slider scientist Nick Solares of A Hamburger Today gave a rave review. So we had to go. I don’t often brave Times Square, because there are few good eateries due to the tourist trade. House of Brews on 46th is a favorite, and the Heartland Brewery & Chophouse is a decent franchise that makes good beer and above average food. So when I realized that HB Burger is a burger-only annex of the chophouse, I was a bit wary.

We have a winner

There was a short wait for a table and they seem to be running a bit slow, probably due to sharing kitchens with the bigger place, but the service was alright. It took us a while to order and get our beers- a Bavarian Black Lager for me, and a Rooster Red Ale for Firecracker- and she ordered a Red Nose Ale. Oops. The Red was a fine specimen of an Irish Red Ale, one of my favorite varieties, and the Black lager was a bit too malty and heavy for the style, but had a great smooth finish. It was almost like an oatmeal stout, but lighter. Both very good brews!

House made tater tots

They offer some fancy burgers- a filet mignon, a Kobe, a prime aged ground steak burger- but we opted for a free range Bison, and their standard HB. Firecracker had the bison with avocado, caramelized onions, cheddar and mayo; I had the HB medium rare with bacon, pepper jack, and their onion marmalade. We both had wheat buns; their standard is a potato roll. In retrospect, I’d recommend the potato roll, and getting the bison rare. The avocado was… half an avocado, which keeps slices from falling off, but makes it harder to eat. The burgers are cheap for the area- $7.50 for an HB- but fries are extra. The fancy burgers start at $14 and come with fries. You can also get sashimi grade tuna, a crab cake burger, turkey or veggie; I was hoping for lamb, but maybe another time.
We also ordered tater tots, which are fried mashed potato balls with a hint of cheese and bacon. But on to the burgers! Firecracker’s bison burger was expectedly drier than the beef burger, but it was still juicy enough and full of flavor. But the real winner here is the HB burger, which as promised, was incredibly juicy and flavorful with a thin salty crust of sear on the outside. I’ve had more flavor, but this is one of the juiciest I’ve had in a long time. Island Burgers and 5 Napkin might be able to compete, but this is a nice compact package of flavor. I’d compare it to a Ray’s Hell Burger, but you have to go to D.C. for those. So we’ve got a new contender in the Top 5 Burger list, because I liked how juicy this was without being humongous, like the Island and 5 Napkin are. And you can’t beat the price.

You can’t handle the juice!

Times Square does have a few good spots nearby to eat- the aforementioned House of Brews, Sake Bar Hagi, and now HB Burger jumps into the fray. You won’t be disappointed, and it will assuage the disgust of being in a tourist hell hole.
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