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Category Archives: new york

Have a Heart

I headed back home recently to celebrate my birthday with my parents. And celebrate I did by eating a burger in the heart of New York City: Times Square. We decided to check out Heartland Brewery’s HB Burger which touts itself as “the only full-service burger-oriented restaurant in the Times Square area”. I opted for their standard HB burger which uses fresh ground Pat LaFreida patties and tops them with aged NY cheddar, bacon, lettuce, tomato, an onion ring (!) and garlic aioli all on a brioche bun.

The burger came out medium as requested (and I should hope so if burgers are your business!). In typical LaFrieda fashion, the meat was juicy and delicious. Bacon was smoky and crisp, pairing nicely with the aged cheddar. My only complaint would be the bun. It’s no secret that brioche buns aren’t my first choice, but when done well they can be excellent. This bun was overly dry which totally threw off the great taste of all the other burger components. Oh sure, it came in handy sopping up all the meat juices, but having to take extra sips of my beer in between bites became tiresome. My mom order the crab cake burger and had the same complaint, eventually giving up on the bun entirely. Some of the other burgers are served on a potato bun, which I would have preferred but obviously wouldn’t have been able to contain all the toppings. In any case, this was still a solid burger that you can enjoy right in the middle of all the hustle and bustle of NYC (without any creepy costumed characters trying to steal your fries).

Burger rating: “B”


Pizza, Pizza!

As a New Yorker, I tend to take my pizza very seriously. I keep it simple with a regular slice – or sometimes a Sicilian, if I need some extra carbs. Some people put garlic powder or crushed red pepper, but I’m a pizza purist. There’s a saying that goes “Pizza is like sex, even when it’s bad, it’s good.” I completely disagree (on both counts). I’ve had some great pizza, some bad pizza, and some downright awful pizza that I don’t even know how it could be sold for human consumption.

(Photo credit:
 Live by the fold, die by the fold. Never utensils.
And don’t EVER sop up all the grease with 100 napkins!

Another thing about New Yorkers and Pizza is that we are extremely territorial when it comes to which borough has the best. I’m from the Bronx, so clearly, we’re the winners. One of my favorite spots is Crosby Pizza, right off the 6 train, Buhre Ave stop. It’s crispy, quick and delicious, with a perfect balance of sauce and cheese that is just greasy enough to give it the flavor it needs – just what you want in slice.(And I would like to point out that I’ve been to that so-called Famous Pizza place in Brooklyn and wasn’t impressed.)

The saddest, darkest point of my life was going away to college in Boston; not just because I was a Yankees fan in enemy territory, but because the pizza was atrocious! I don’t even know how anyone could call it pizza? (And I wonder even less that Canada could even operate a chain called Boston Pizza. Really? Of all the other places famous for pizza, you went with Boston?) The crust was too thick, it was doughy and chewy, the sauce was bland, and there was way too much cheese. I was at a keg party and wouldn’t even eat it, so that just goes to show how awful it really was, because you know when you’re drunk, you’ll eat just about anything. 

As for pizza in other famous cities in the US… Well, if you’ve been following, you know how my experience with Chicago Deep dish style went. But there’s also New Haven style pizza, made famous by Frank Pepe; a Neopolitan-style, wood-fired pie that’s been served up in the Northeast since 1925. When I was living in CT for a few years, I visited the original location on Wooster St in New Haven – and waited on a line for 30 minutes. (Just to get pizza – are you guys serious??) It came out on a big, rectangular tray and was just a little too burnt to be edible to me. I’m all for a well-done pie, but this was too much. It just didn’t even taste like anything to me at that point; that’s how overcooked it was. 

Recently, my parents and I ate at the Pepe’s Pizza in Mohegan Sun casino. I was skeptical because they’ve just recently started opening all these Pepe’s outposts in the past few years (Fairfield, CT and Empire City casino in Yonkers, just to name a few), and one of my former co-worker’s complaints was that, because the oven at the Fairfield location was so new and the Original Pepe’s oven has been well-seasoned over it’s 75+ year history, they tasted completely different. This pie was a little less ‘cajun-style’ than the previous pie, and maybe, sorta, kinda-if-I-closed-my-eyes, tasted like the pizza I was more familiar with.

 It’s like Pac-man. Nom Nom Nom!

The crusts were too crispy – heavily charred by the oven’s 650-degree temps – and I’m a crust fan. To me, that’s one of the key elements that makes a pizza. Anyone can throw sauce and cheese on some dough, but to have a perfectly, crunchy crust – that’s what does it for me.

In other wood-fired pizza news, the Pitruco Pizza truck has been roaming the streets of Philadelphia, taking up residency during the week at Love Park or popping up in South Philly.The overall concept is pretty cool. I mean, it’s a wood-fired oven on wheels – and who hasn’t just wanted the pizza place to come to them instead of vice versa?

Pitruco’s Margherita pie.

Their margherita pie is decent: I’m not a fan of the $8 price tag or the fact that they tear these little slivers of basil and sprinkle them on your pizza. A real margherita pie should have big, fresh leaves of basil to give you that sweet, summery taste to mix with the saltiness of the buffalo mozzarella. 

The most surprising place I’ve actually had great pizza was a small little Italian restaurant in the Akita prefecture of Japan, about 400 miles from Tokyo. Now, if you’re not aware, pizza is not really a big menu item in Japan. (Although they are nuts about KFC!) Domino’s and Pizza Hut do exist – but be prepared to shell out close to ¥3,000 (roughly $38 US) for a Large pie. Dairy products in general are pretty scarce due to the fact that most of the land is used for rice farming; milk is usually pretty watered down and cheese is big ticket item and usually only available in limited varieties. So imagine my surprise when my friend and I wandered into this tiny little restaurant and were given an amazing looking pizza.

 Don’t mind the Engrish-y Italian.

Pizza Margherita, Japanese style.
We didn’t talk to the owner, but from the decor and the rest of the menu, we got the sense that he had probably either visited or lived in Italy at some point in time, and loved it so much that he learned to cook and decided to open this restaurant in the middle of the mountains and serve up some of the best Italian food in Japan. My friend ordered spaghetti arrabiata, which was cooked perfectly al dente – compared to other Japanese places I’d been to where the pasta is still hard and crunchy and they think that it’s al dente – and full of flavors of fresh garlic & chilli peppers, which gave it a nice little kick. The pizza’s crust was nice and thin, airy and crisp without tasting like a cracker. And the owner had to have gotten the cheese imported because it was that perfectly salted buffalo mozzarella that should be on a pizza and I know he didn’t find that at the local Aeon

This definitely won’t be the last you hear from me about pizza (and definitely not the last time I start a post with ‘As a New Yorker…’), so feel free to share your thoughts and your pizza snobbery with me as well! Because, honestly, the only thing better than sex might very well be great pizza.

If this Shack’s a rockin’

If you’re unfamiliar with Shake Shack, it’s a rapidly growing chain of fast-casual burger joints with origins beginning in NYC’s Madison Square Park, where there was literally just a shack that served burgers, shakes and fries. It has since amassed 6 NY locations (Including the Mets’ own Citi Field), South Beach/Miami, 2 locations in the DC area, Westport, CT and even overseas in Dubai and Kuwait!  

Most recently, Philadelphia got it’s very first on the corner of 20th and Sansom, leading to long lines of eager Philadelphians looking to get their very first taste of a Shackburger. (The comparable option up until this point had been Squareburger in Franklin Square, which you’ll recall I was not happy with upon my visit.) Seating was limited when I went, but they are supposed to be opening up outdoor, cafe style seating soon!

I myself braved the line on a Saturday afternoon after their opening, a line which surprisingly moved pretty quickly. Of course, once you’ve ordered, you still have to actually wait for your food, and so each patron is given a little buzzer device that vibrates and flashes to let them know to come on up to the Shack! 

I saved you guys the trouble of going and ate all the things!

Normally, I wouldn’t be such a glutton, but on Saturdays, the special custard of the day “Coffee & Donuts” contains donuts from Federal Donuts – so I basically had to do it, right? 

“MMMMM – Donut.” – Homer Simpson
Another Philly exclusive for Shake Shack is the Smoke Shack Burger, the first burger at any of the Shake Shack locations to ever be topped with applewood bacon! (Also comes topped with cherry pepper relish and shack sauce.) I thought the peppers gave it a nice little kick & the bacon was delicious!
Peppers playing Peek-a-Boo!
But this wasn’t my only Shake Shack visit in recent weeks; I’d also stopped at the Westport, CT location on my way home. It’s HUGE compared to the Philly location! (But I guess that’s one of the benefits of being in the middle of Suburban CT) 
  Plus this awesome sign out front gives it the ol’ road side burger joint feel.
I just stuck with the basics. I don’t recall the shack sauce being quite as ZINGY! on my first visit to the UES location, and not even so much present on the Smoke Shack burger, but BOY OH BOY! My allergies had been stuffing me up all week and this really cleared me up! They must’ve put extra horseradish or something because it was a doozy! 

Oh yeah, you can totally see all that sauce!

Now if Philly can just get a few better pizza & bagel joints, a more extensive subway system, a baseball team with a higher payroll and a Uniqlo, I might never wanna move! 
( Just Kidding.)
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