New York city part 4: food, food, and more food

Tuesday the 28th of June was a day to be remembered by looking back at the food we ate. It was our first day in NY, and I had planned a host activities; eating, coffee, galleries, and museums. Things didn’t quite go as planned, but our day was fulfilling and very rewarding, especially from a foodie perspective.

It all started off with a breakfast at Pies and Thighs, a southern eatery in Williamsburg. Small and casual the restaurant gives the impression of being in someones small kitchen, where street signs are collected and hung from the walls, where kids and adults have fun with arts and crafts and where a counter of the most delicious and self indulgent looking pastries bring in locals and foreigners from far and wide for copious amounts of eating and pleasure. This is no holds barred eating: you’re not going for its healthy qualities; instead you go because the food in comforting and homey, perfectly executed and delicious.


***Picture courtesy of Me So Hungry.

My cousin Josh joined Carolina and I, and we each ordered a different item on the menu. I had the chicken and waffle breakfast, Carolina enjoyed the Hippie Banjo, while Josh ordered the chicken biscuit.

Chicken and waffles
the Hippie Banjo
the chicken biscuit

A bright and sunny day, Carolina and I were eager for some new experiences and Pies n Thighs did not disappoint. My chicken and waffles were one of the best things I’ve ever had. Personally, the secret to a great breakfast is a careful balance of sweet and savory elements, with both enhancing each others qualities and flavors. In this case, the salty element was none other than wonderfully deep fried chicken. Thick and crunchy, the batter wasn’t oily or soggy, and the chicken inside remained juicy and wasn’t too fatty. The blackberry waffles on the other hand were moist and flavorful, with a delicate paper thin crispy layer on the outside providing some textural support for the dough. Thankfully, this dish isn’t to be found in Montreal at the moment, cause it’s a dangerous one…

Carolina’s Hippie Banjo consisted of good cheddar cheese, eggs, avocado, tomatoes, sprouts and mayo on homemade Anadama bread. The sandwich was finished off in a buttered pan, and was a nice mix of decadence and simplicity. The bread was amazing.

Josh’s Chicken Biscuit, a popular item, was a crisp butter pastry with a fried breaded chicken breast and some hot sauce… oh boy. There’s nothing really to be said I guess, but here goes anyway, the pastry was light and dense in the way a good butter pastry is; deceiving you into believing that it’s not as bad for you as it really is, and the chicken was once again moist, and offered the requisite bread crumb crunch. The hot sauce finished it off, with a nice spicy kick, and the result was a heart clogging nightmare of a dish, in the best of ways…

The Strand Bookstore

We left more than satisfied and took the subway into town. We had planned on going to the New Museum, but it was closed. We made a stop instead at the Strand Bookstore, a jewel of place for anyone with any interest in reading or/and books. (2 pleasures that are not necessarily associated…) We spent some time perusing and reading the first lines of books we’d heard about, or had already read. I remember reading the first line of a Virginia Woolf book that was beautiful. I wish I remembered what book… Merde! I’ve never read her, but I’ll be buying some of her work next time I’m at a bookstore. Truman Capote once wrote that “From the point of view of ear, Virginia Woolf never wrote a bad sentence…” *The Paris Review.

After buying two Roberto Bolano books, we chose to walk to the High Line, an urban garden built on an old unused freight railroad spur. Almost 2 kilometers long, it weaves its way up the west side of the island, starting in the old meat packing district and going all the way up past 30th street. It’s an amazing example of creative urban planning. With numerous well kept plants and a walkway with benches and view points spread throughout the project, it’s become both a tourist attraction, a place for locals to read and relax, and a new green space in Manhattan.

Before getting there we walked through NYU’s spreading campus, Soho; which is lame as far as I’m concerned, but happened to be on our way; and some amazing townhouses in the lower west side. Somewhere along the way, we had lunch at a semi fancy Mexican restaurant.

habanero salsa-spicy, delicious.

Unfortunately, I can’t remember the name or location of the restaurant, but I do think that it was on Hudson st. The highlight was the Habanero sauce that came with the corn chips. Very spicy, very good. I can’t remember what exactly it was that I ate, but it involved enchiladas covered in an herb and cheese sauce. Carolina’s dish was stuffed with chicken and potatoes, but wasn’t as good as mine…

The high line
The High Line

We then walked down the High Line, got off in Chelsea, and did some gallery hopping.

Afterwords, we enjoyed very good espressos at a small chain called Joe. With 6 locations in NY, this is a good alternative to chain coffee such as Starbucks… The coffee was fruity, with a nice acidic finish an oily texture and “lasting crema”.

Tired after a long day of walking and stimulation we returned to my cousin’s apartment, relaxed and planned our evening…

Roberta’s:

hip and hidden

Amongst a row of industrial buildings is an unassuming facade with a window protected by metal grating, a small wooden bench, an ATM machine, and a door over which a red sign with the name Roberta’s is written. What hides within is one of Brooklyn’s hippest restaurants. Housed in a former garage, Roberta’s, a pizzeria, is a popular destination for locals and visitors alike; with a large outdoor waiting area where drinks can be had, and what appeared to be a radio station booth.

With 2 relatively large rooms, on Tuesday night when the 5 of us went out for dinner, the place was packed and we waited over 1 hour for a table. During that time, we drank, I shared some thoughts about the Quebec separation issue, and we wondered what alternative cities we’d like to live in.

Surrounded by the hippest of the hip, we looked forward to enjoying some food. Despite other interesting items on the menu, we decided to order 4 pizzas; the margherita, the cheeses christ, and 2 more that are not currently on the menu.

I remember not being that enthusiastic about the pizza toppings they proposed, but the crusts of the pizzas being served had black bubbles of burnt dough exactly the way I like it, and I remained excited about the prospect of biting into a slice of traditionally cooked pizza. We also ordered a plate of charcuteries and cheeses, as well as a salad. Unfortunately, the food was so so. The pizzas were good, with the margherita as our agreed favorite, but there was nothing that distinguished them from other good pizza places I’ve been to to warrant the kind of attention Roberta’s has been getting. The crust was good, but the sauces and toppings were a bit lifeless…

Don’t get me wrong,Roberta’s is a good restaurant, with above above average pizzas and a fantastic atmosphere. They have also initiated a fantastic project whereby they currently grow 20% of their produce in green houses behind the restaurant and in a backyard garden not too far away. This kind of progressive approach to owning a restaurant adds to its charm. The menu changes with the produce available, and as a customer it’s nice to know that some of what your eating comes from, literally, a few meters away. And so, Roberta’s, hidden away amongst poorly used industrial warehouses and garages, in an area yet to be developed, is in some ways a community project as well as an eatery, and through this, they’ve achieved a measure of popularity and appreciation that is deserved. I’d definitely return, but it wouldn’t really be for the food…

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FOOD CO-OP!

Miranda, with whom I’ve worked before making videos for her yoga and lifestyle “community group” Ahimsa, is a wonderfully positive and proactive young woman who tries to maintain a plastic free and environmentally friendly lifestyle, while also working on developing better communities through her activities at Ahimsa. Beyond running a yoga center, she organizes events such as Friday night potluck dinners, reading groups, conversation nights and so on. Last Sunday, I was lucky to attend a new event. Miranda, with some friends, has started a food co-op that will be taking place once a month.

What’s a food coop you ask? Well, in this case, Miranda and friends(sorry I don’t know their names), have contacted a food supplier and agreed on ordering bulk produce from them once a month. They have invited a large group of friends and Ahimsa participants to come together and bid on produce they would like to purchase from among a list of ingredients that are available from the supplier. Being a bulk supplier, certain restrictions exist that result in a need for careful organization. For example, kidney beans might only be available in large 50 pound bags, and thus would need a large group of people ordering various weights of the beans to fulfill the minimum order required for the purchase. And so, what will be happening once a month is that the co-op members will unite at Ahimsa, and bid on the produce they want for the following month while organizing themselves to make sure a minimum order is fulfilled. Following my earlier example, if 25 people want 2 pounds of kidney beans each, then the coop can proceed to order that product.

Miranda speaking about the coop
food item list

Not all produce is delivered in such large quantities and fulfilling the minimum requirements on Sunday, despite it being the first co-op meeting, was not too difficult. I ordered all kinds of grains, nuts, seeds, nut butters, beans, lentils, dates and other dried fruit. Also available were a variety of oils, such as sunflower oil and olive oil. Most of the produce is organic, and a lot of it is from local farms. The price difference between what you find in stores and what we were able to get through the co-op is staggering. Essentially, by organizing the coop, Miranda and the other organizers have cut out the middle man or woman, or store to be more exact…

It was organized simply: each of us given a number while someone went around the room asking each of us how much of a specific product we wanted. The amount was then inserted in a computer graph which calculated each number’s total purchase amount, the total of each ingredient bought, and so on. After going through each number, a total of the order was counted to make sure we could order the required amount, and if there were discrepancies, adjustments were made with people taking less or more than originally requested. In order to calculate this while making the orders, a projector was placed on one of the Ahimsa loft walls that detailed all the necessary information, such as the item name, cost per pound or kilo,amount ordered by a specific number and more.

someone showing their number to order an item on the list
looking at items on projection

I had originally been invited to take pictures of the event for the Ahimsa website, but ended up ordering a lot of food; perhaps too much… Nonetheless, the experience was fantastic, and I’m delighted to know someone who took the time to organize something like this. I’ll be saving money, meeting new people, and readjusting my eating to fit with what’s available locally. Soon, a fresh vegetable basket program will start with local farmers and when that happens, participants will be able to feed themselves almost entirely with local produce.

Good stuff.

http://ahimsayogamontreal.com/index.php