The best part of staying in town for President’s Day weekend was having brunch on a Monday — a quiet, low-key brunch at that. I met some friends at a Lower East Side cafe I’d never been to called Epistrophy. The setting proved adorable even in the rain. The awning and outdoor tables were cheerfully colored in pastels and invitingly accented with miniature vases. Beneath the exterior was an even more welcoming atmosphere. Epistrophy is spacious with a cozy, functional layout. A large room with a bar on one side and a bookshelf on the other, small tables are scattered in between for dining, and one large table comfortably accommodates book worms and study groups. Light jazz plays in the background low enough for conversation and couples sipped cappuccino’s around the bar on an assortment of second-hand stools.
The menu — a worn vintage booklet — is brief, but sufficient. The four of us ordered from the breakfast selection choosing scrambled eggs and salmon for the guys and fried eggs with asparagus for the girls. Each dish came with potatoes and greens, and the table shared a complementary bowl of soft garlic bread with olive oil. As my friend put it, the food is “unusually good.” She and her husband are regulars, and they were right to recommend the place. Everything was exceptional. The potatoes were warm and perfectly seasoned, the asparagus and mozzarella were fresh and the combined taste with the eggs was scrumptious.
Of course for me, brunch in a place that’s unique and too cute for words automatically tastes better, but this food is a must-have. We enjoyed a lovely, peaceful meal with great service and a warmly comforting ambiance. Epistrophy Cafe has distinctly satisfying and affordable food, a smooth jazzy vibe, and plenty of room for taking your time with friends. I highly recommend a lunch or brunch when you’re in the neighborhood. Who can resist a place where just the check is presented this adorably?
Location: 200 Mott St. (off Spring)
Price: $10 a plate
After living in Florence for a summer abroad, I’m always up for homemade Italian, specifically pasta. My boyfriend introduced me to Da Andrea on one of our first dates and we went back this weekend with some friends for a hearty Italian meal.
Both the ambiance and the food set this trattoria apart from all the others. The dining room is designed like a family’s table at home transcending comfort the moment you’re in the door. The décor is modest and traditional, and we got a cozy corner table against the front window. Most importantly, they make their own pasta from scratch right in the kitchen. You can’t get more fresh or homemade than that.
As would be expected, the wine selection’s vast and the server’s have great recommendations. We chose a Chardonnay del Salento, which accompanied all four pastas splendidly. Every meal comes with soft, thick bread with light garlic and olives on olive oil for dipping. We added a prosciutto appetizer, which came with light, warm English muffin-esque bread and was plenty for the group.
Each of us ordered a different pasta, though, and we sampled each others. I got homemade saffron fettuccine with fresh vegetables and black olive puree. I’m typically not a fan of red sauce and mushrooms aren’t my veggie of choice, but my dish was delightful. The sauce was rich and smooth, the combination was flavorful and satisfying, and the noodles were functional with my fork (you know it matters). The black olive puree added the perfect touch of sweetness. I particularly loved my boyfriend’s homemade cavatelli with shrimp, fresh salmon in a light pesto sauce, because of the unique noodles and green sauce. The shrimp and salmon were well proportioned, fresh and delicious. The whole creation had a crisp, almost zesty taste and wasn’t overwhelmingly filling.
To our surprise, the final bill came out to $106 for four pastas, a starter, a bottle of wine and two coffees: that’s unbeatable in the city. A $50 date at a cute, cultured place with great food is win-win-win. I highly recommend Da Andrea for a nice, semi-casual date, especially if you’re in the mood for some carbs. It’s a great experience all-around.
Location: 35 W 13th St.
Subways: 4/5/6, L, or N/R/Q to Union Square
Price: $25 a person
Okay, so while I may be long done with finals, I have been seeking shelter in local cafés and coffee shops with increasing frequency as the cruel death grip of winter tightens around my borough. The slush, salt and snow is just compounding at this point, making the memories of charming, freshly fallen snow seem all the more distant (despite the fact that fresh snow is indeed falling as I write). In desperate need of a break from the confines of my apartment, my second home has become Park Slope’s bevy of coffee shops.
While small and lacking in tables, my mainstay has become Cafe Régular. Oozing in European charm, this quaint Franco-Italiano hole in the wall transports me back to my semester abroad in Londontown where coffee culture (tea culture?) is a bit different than it is here in the states. Recently, NYT writer David Sax wrote a great monograph on laptop culture in Williamsburg, Brooklyn (I encourage you to read it here). While reading the article, I felt like I (along with the rest of my generation) was being cruelly mocked for our dedication to blog maintenance, lattes and quality baked goods.
Upon completing Sax’s astute cultural critique, I was reminded that things are done differently across the pond where the British participate in lavish and social tea services, the Italians sip strong espresso while standing and the French imbibe caffeine with the requisite cigarette and butter croissant at miniature outdoor cafe tables. It’s all just so dignified over there; people know how to take a moment and enjoy their coffee break.
Dusting the crumbs off my MacBook Pro and wiping the grease off of my iPad, I avowed to mix up my routine.
Cafe Régular is just the place to do so as you would likely be shamed out the door by menacing cross glances if you dared brandish an iProduct in this intimate space. Rather, it’s a place to socialize or to just be quiet, enjoying the lavish interiors, with oneself. I could write for hours on the magnificent painting they feature prominently on east wall; speaking to my inner art historian, it is kind of like the hypothetical love child of Picasso, Calder and Matisse.
The lattes are consistent and hot, the coffee is solid and their tea selection is admirable. They also have some of the best chocolate croissants in the Slope. While the menu is small, it is focused and everything is totally delightful. And as an added bonus Co-Op members get an extra 10% off (if you’re from Park Slope, you’ll know what that means).
Before signing off, I want to mention that in baby-friendly Park Slope, this is one spot that–in all of its charming, European crampedness–is not. So mommies, please refrain from bringing your buggies, double strollers and baby baskets into my coffee haven.
Price: Under $5
Location: 158 Berkeley Pl., Park Slope, Brooklyn
Subway: B/Q at 7th Ave.
If cold and flu season has rocked your system like it has mine, twice, tea and crumpets may be just what you need. Last week, before sickness knocked me out of commission, my friend Lauren introduced me to Northern Spy Food Company. She’s a lover of London having lived there for a time, and what our server referred to as “[their] own little ex-Pat community” makes her feel right at home.
On Greenwich Ave. lies two unassuming, very small sister companies: A Salt and Battery, and Tea & Sympathy. Our lunches have a tendency to go hours so we made a whole day of our visit from fish ‘n’ chips to tea and crumpets next door. A Salt and Battery is a tiny kitchen with bar enough for six stools. Ordering is easy, you pick a fish and opt in or out for chips. The two Brit’s behind the counter fry up one of six fish options running $7-9. The chips come in a giant basket–we split and didn’t finish half, so order sparingly.
In the end this is a quick, casual meal, my first true fish ‘n’ chips, and it’s tasty. I’m not a fan of fried anything, but it might as well be polluck. I found you can just as easily peel the breading off and eat the fish plain. The polluck’s a simple white fish that tastes like cod and is just as soft and flaky, but can be farmed locally and sustainably, which is always a plus.
Despite how filling that meal alone was, we moved on to tea two doors down to outlast our conversation. Tea & Sympathy is adorable, but very small and can only fit 20 patrons or so. Like many NYC digs, there are a few rules. Most importantly, each guest has to order food with their tea and must spend at least $10, which is perfect for an accompaniment of crumpets. I have to say the entire experience is worth it. The tea is amazing: unique, flavorful and legitimate. There’s a diverse selection including herbal and decaf, and they each come in a small pot of their own, mine shaped like a house. My waitress recommended rose petal, which was pink, sweet and aromatic. The tea leaves are actually in the drink so a little strainer is provided.
The crumpets are soft, thick biscuits with delectable cream and jam. The combination is delightful, and filling, but a great compliment to the tea. Two are more than enough if you’ve already eaten, but worth a sampling. If you need tea therapy or miss the mother country, get to Greenwich Ave for a whole ex-Pat day. It’s a great combination for an afternoon catching up with a friend, and affordable for a change.
Location: 108-112 Greenwich Ave
Subways: F/M/L to 14th and 6th Ave
Prices: $10 fish n chips, $10 tea and crumpets
Contact: asaltandbattery.com, teaandsympathynewyork.com
When a coworker left my restaurant to work for 16 Handles I had no idea what she was referring to. Once I passed the new Upper East Side store under construction, I recalled the East Village location and heard great feedback when I asked around about it. I haven’t had frozen yogurt in about a decade, but with constant hype over Pinkberry I couldn’t believe they were opening two doors down from one. That is, until I visited today.
16 Handles offers an entire experience around frozen yogurt, and it’s not as devastating for a diet as I thought. The new guy in town features 16 literal handles of frozen yogurt with nonfat, sugar-free, tart and low-fat options. Not to mention everything’s kosher and each flavor’s nutritional info is displayed above the handle. Upon entering customers are free to sample any of the handles with miniature paper cups. Once you choose a flavor you dispense as much as you’d like into a larger wafer-lined cup and move to the toppings bar, which has anything you can imagine. Everything is self-serve and you only pay for the amount your creation weighs.
I had the opportunity to try all 16 of today’s flavors, a selection which you can check ahead of time on 16 Handles’ facebook page. I was delighted with the low-fat red velvet cake and kiwi strawberry sorbet selections, but I chose a plain chocolate base when it came time for toppings. I scooped a little bit of a lot of options for a variety: strawberry slices, cookie dough drops, bananas, chocolate chips, and of course, sprinkles all around. The yogurt is smooth and flavors rich without overwhelming. Each addition complemented the yogurt scrumptiously, and my small portion was satisfyingly filling.
Most importantly, I heard the news of this store’s Grand Opening on Saturday from noon to 5 pm. The newest location’s reportedly been packed all month, but the grand opening is the prime time to try it if you haven’t been. Kids can look forward to face painting and airbrush tattoos and adults can have as much fun with a photo booth on site and raffles for iPads and iPods. Saturday is undoubtedly the day to go. If frozen yogurt’s not your thing and/or you’re freezing, you’ll be pleasantly surprised… about 16 times.
Location: 1569 2nd Ave, btw 81st and 82nd
Also in East Village at 159 2nd Ave
Subways: 4/5/6 to 86th St. or 6 to 77th
Price: $1 for the cup, $0.49 per ounce
After my month-long holiday break in the Midwest, I finally returned to my Brooklyn apartment this afternoon to a truly unnerving sight. As I was packing last night, an unshakable sense of foreboding washed over me as I pondered which food item I had forgotten to dispose of roughly 30 days prior. Dropping my luggage by the door, I feverishly scoured my small apartment to find that my fridge was pristinely empty, the trash had been taken out and the dates on the condiments were reassuringly far off.
Yet, upon opening my “pantry” (if you can call my bread-dedicated [breadicated?] cabinet that), I found the two menacing bread products that had slipped my mind: a loaf of generic, grocery store brand, whole wheat sandwich bread and a few organic whole wheat pita pockets from a local store. While the pitas were covered in a nauseating blanket of furry green mold (contained safely inside of a plastic bag), the sandwich bread (approximately a month and half old at this point…) looked as if it was fresh from the grocery store.
Now, while I find mold as gross as the next girl, I found the more disturbing of the two to be the “bakery fresh”-looking sandwich bread that was–according to traditional logic–way past its prime. Bread is supposed to get stale and moldy and inedible after a few days or at most a week. I mean, isn’t that why it’s so cheap? Why coffee shop bagels and muffins are a dollar for a whole bag the day after? Why bread boxes were invented?
Here is where I make a sweeping New Year’s resolution to swear off overly-preservative-packed food items: an easy thing to say, a harder thing to actually do since preservatives lurk unnoticed in even the most simplistic, wholesome and “natural” of foods. I don’t know about you, but living to be 157 because of the food I eat (a human science experiment in pickling) is not one of my long term life goals (ha!).
And here’s where the food reviewing comes in: by shopping and noshing at Brooklyn Larder *–a neighborhood newcomer between Prospect Heights and Park Slope–this resolution will be considerably easier to keep.
While I could write a short novel on all of the goodies the Larder carries (local sausage, coffee, tea, cheese, bread, condiments, chocolate, beer, wine, Euro sodas, oh my!), I’m going to focus on a single bowl of soup and a crunchy hunk of (undoubtedly) fresh bread. Concocting a new hearty soup daily, the Larder intermittently offers chicken noodles, tomato bisques and interesting stews. On the day I happened into the Larder, it was love at first sight as I noted that the daily special was a beer cheese soup–perfect for one of those bitterly crisp fall days.
Unlike traditional bar fare, this beer cheese soup was actually beer-based with chunks of tangy cheddar mingling with thin sliced onions in the thin beer broth–a dish in which the beer took center stage. Whipped together that morning, I took comfort in the fact that I could identify each of the soup’s ingredients just by sight.
At a window seat, I lingered over my $5 bowl of soup, dipping hunks of their crusty French bread amongst the cheese chunks and onions, for an inordinate amount of time oogling over the menu and pondering what I would get on my next visit. A great supplement to your weekly grocery store shopping, the Larder also is just one of those nonchalant, local places that you want to be–its proximity automatically making you that much cooler.
Squelching dietary preservatives has never promised this much cultural capital.
Price: Varies, but their lunch special is $12 for a soup, sandwich, cookie and soda.
Location: 228 Flatbush Ave.
Subway: 2, 3, 4 at Bergen St.
*According to Wikipedia, a larder is a cool place to store food prior to use. They were common before the invention of the refrigerator.
I have three good reasons to try Penelope this weekend, and they all start with chicken: club, meatballs, and potpie.
I fell in love with this Murray Hill jewel the moment I walked in after a coworker recommended the spot for months. Penelope’s vibe is irresistible, especially for a Southerner. From the trademark striped canopy to the homey aprons to the adorable bakery, everything about the place is charming. The staff is friendly and casual, the décor is as comforting as a beach house, and the food is so good you could tell someone twice about it on accident.
As both a creature of habit and a childlike eater, I consistently order the three-grilled cheese with fries. This combo’s simple, tasty and filling with a house white wine or coffee after. This weekend though, I went out on a limb and tried something new after encouraging my sister and boyfriend to try things I’ve heard raved about. We were blown away.
I ordered the chicken club sandwich, which was more than enough portion-wise. The white meat chicken was moist and cooked to perfection with just the right condiments. The distinct, homemade French fries were delicious as always, and I took the second half of my sandwich home for later.
My boyfriend chose the chicken meatball sandwich, which every male I’ve eaten here with orders. I tried it for the first time and adored the combination of flavors. The meatballs were soft and rich in flavor, and the pesto sauce added a superb touch. The combination was divine enough to finish a whole sandwich myself.
I saved the best for last. My sister ordered Penelope’s widely acclaimed homemade chicken potpie after seeing one at the table next to us. This dish beats all the chicken potpies I’ve tried in the city, including a taste test of 16 store-bought varieties. The bowl is a large, generous portion covered with a thin layer of slightly sweet bread. The vegetables inside were fresh, soft and warm, and in a nice proportion with the chicken. The meat was fresh, cut into appropriately small pieces, and saturated in a thick, hearty broth.Altogether this dish was amazing, pleasing to the whole table.
I have to admit my favorite aspect of Penelope is its drink descriptions, which are articulate and witty, but the whole experience is a must-try. I highly recommend the spinach artichoke dip if you choose a starter or a local beer if you’re drinking. It’s the kind of place tourists buy a mug or t-shirt to commemorate their visit, and those are available at the front.
Location: 30th and Lexington
Subways: 4/5/6 to 33rd St
Price: About $10 a meal
We all have our go-to Mexican dig, and many of us know where to find the right margarita deals when we need a two-for-one, but rarely do either of these offer the atmosphere or entertainment you’ll find at Rosa Mexicano.
I originally discovered this Union Square hotspot on the shady-sounding group blind date where I met my boyfriend, and we recently threw his birthday fiesta there with close friends. This vibrantly decorated restaurant was made for group celebrations. The large, open room is divided into dinner seating and bar mingling with plenty of room for large parties. I was overwhelmed looking for the stranger I shared a cab with upon my first entrance here with all the noise, bright colors, festive music and crowds waiting. My second visit was made easier with a reservation, and the staff was welcoming and accommodating for our party, which arrived over a lengthy period.
Since this isn’t your everyday eatery, you have to try their specialties when you plan a visit: the pomegranate margarita and their famous guacamole. Rosa’s guacamole maker’s personally visit the table with their workshop, if you will, and make your guac fresh and live. You can choose from three levels of spicy, of which I safely pick medium. This giant starter is to-die-for and can comfortably appease a group of five or so. The dip is smooth and rich, unique enough to top my list of favorites.
The pomegranate margarita is Rosa’s best seller, and is only available frozen. The inviting pink slush is delicious, but strong, and should be taken down slowly, trust me. A sweet, cold marg pairs perfectly with any of the classic Mexican dishes and makes for a good time.
The menu has a huge selection, anything you could think of when you crave Mexican, and the happy hour prices at the bar are a steal. The staff is incredibly friendly and the patrons are loud, but fun and energetic. It was perfect for a birthday dinner.
Rosa Mexicano is priced accordingly for an upscale, big-night-out kind of place, pricey but typical for special NYC occasions. I highly recommend the spot for birthdays or tourist hosting if you’re looking for a fun, festive, filling dinner. The wait’s not bad with the bar, but I’d make a reservation if you have a large party.
Location: 9 E 18th St, btw 5th Ave and Broadway
Subways: 1,2,3,L, F, M to 14th St or 4,5,6, N, R, W to Union Sq
Prices: $14 signature margarita, $28 giant pot of guacamole
Contact: 212-533-3350, www.rosamexicano.com
After months of calming vicious customers who couldn’t believe my restaurant’s turkey burger was only served one night a week, I’ve finally given the infamous alternative to red meat a try. Of course, now I’m determined to find the best one in town, and I began at The Grey Dog.
Grey Dog’s a simple, casual neighborhood dig close to Union Square. It’s a popular spot for NYU students and West Villager’s grabbing a quick bite or joining a group for coffee. The menu’s short and sweet featuring a few salads, appetizer’s, sandwiches and burgers. They offer three or four soups a day and late night snacks as well. But best of all, is their turkey burger.
The burger’s an ideal portion, not overly thick, and just moist enough. I add swiss cheese for a little something extra, but the flavor is rich and satisfying. I’m a light eater, so I use half the bun, but I devour the fries. Note: you get more when you take it to-go. The Grey Dog’s interior is raw wooden with tables that represent different places to travel. It’s dimly lit and moderately loud, but has proven a great place for a long conversation.
The soups are warm and comforting, the sandwiches are ample in size and consistently delicious, and the quesadillas and nachos are scrumptious for splurging. The Grey Dog also features delivery, catering, and breakfast. The servers are social and welcoming, and the crowd’s young and hip. It’s enough steps away from Union Square for a little peace, but central enough in the NYU hood for traffic.
I highly recommend this stop if you’re a turkey burg fanatic or leisurely exploring the area. If you live nearby it’s great for an easy night out. This is my go-to when I’m in the West Village, and I’m too awake to eat in but too tired to eat nice. Every offering’s pleasing, and you’ll leave full and contented.
Location: 90 University Place
Subways: 4/5, 6, L or N/R/Q to Union Square
Prices: Affordable, $10 a person (even for the turkey burger)
I have completely lost my appetite–in all of its entirety. It is a terrible affliction to befall an unpaid, amateurish food blogger that I believe to be directly correlated with my ever-mounting, grad school-induced stress. And on that note, I promise to quit complaining about my student status after December 15, but until then, it’s making for pretty great food fodder, no?
Anyway, I think it was a wee bit of an overstatement to say that I’ve completely lost my appetite. I do crave one thing, and that thing is bagels. Specifically, everything bagels with scallion cream cheese. I think I’ve eaten one every day this week…
The first time I ordered this clever combination was actually during my first weekend in Park Slope . A bageltique amateur, I didn’t realize what a potent combination people thought this to be as the bagel boy proceeded to exclaim, “Scallion and everything!? You ain’t f*ck*ng around, lady!”
At the time, I didn’t realize what a lucky Lucy I was to have a La Bagel Delight directly around the corner from my humble abode as I slinked off with my savory-to-the-max breakfast. From what I’ve gathered, this shop (like many others I’ve reviewed) is a Brooklyn institution. Oozing with BK charm, the employees are crass, the coffee is strong and the bagels are gigantic.
While everything+scallion=delicious, for the weak of heart, they also have a tamer variety of homemade (!) cream cheeses (among them, strawberry, blueberry, veggie, pumpkin, sun-dried tomato and basil, tofu blends, etc.) and bagels (pumpernickel, regular, whole wheat, onion, cinnamon-raisin, etc.). Their bagels are perhaps the most perfect I’ve ever had. Not only are they meals in themselves, but they are crunchy and tough on the outside and irresistibly chewy on the inside; I have no idea how they do it. With their rapid turnover, you are almost guaranteed to get a warm bagel every time, making toasting totally unnecessary. But the thing that makes La Bagel so special is the fact that they put toppings on both the top and bottom–a key determinant of a good NY bagel.
While they are delicious, the immense amount of cream cheese they top their circular delights with is enough to schmear about 4 or 5 bagels. Thus, I kind of need my appetite depression to pass soon because I might have my own bagel around my midsection before all is said and done.
Bagel Price: $3.25
Location: 252 7th Ave., Park Slope (others are listed on their website)
Nearest Train: B/Q at 7th ave., 2/3 at Grand Army Plaza
Phone: (718) 768-6107