We took a road trip this summer and experienced a lobster funeral (see my last blog post), a chocolate factory tour, and a trip to Niagara Falls. My brother’s wedding in Brooklyn, New York, was also one of our stops.
My brother Ted married his sweetheart, Tomoko, in the backyard of their Park Slope apartment. Surrounded by sun and flowers, we waited for the tell-tale crunch of glass under his mighty shoe as a signal that the festivities had begun. Sangria flowed. Various wedding-type delicacies, offered up by young servers, sifted through the small, informal gathering. The children—ok, my children—slinked into the background to gorge on the untended trays of cookies. We ate and drank late into the evening, eventually deciding it was time to head to my dad’s place in Manhattan. I didn’t know it then, but we were in for some late night food fun in New York.
My St. Paul-native, I-don’t-eat-at-parties wife Julie piped up and told me she was starving and hadn’t eaten a thing all day. I asked her why, upon leaving my family’s Jewish wedding (read: food frenzy) she was still “starving.” No answer. Instead she gave me a brown-eyed sultry stare. Looks like it was time to find some food.
We stopped near Washington Square Park at one of my old after-the-late-shift favorites, Mamoun’s, a tiny falafel stand with great sandwiches, thin yellow lentil soup, and awesomely pungent hot sauce. Squeezed between tourist cafes, wannabe punk rock bars, and off-off-Broadway theatres, Mamoun’s is a popular spot. The line ran out the door and down the street. We decided not to wait.
Discouraged, we inched into traffic, and drove around the block to Gray’s Papaya for hot dogs. Julie isn’t typically the biggest fan of emulsified sausage, but even she couldn’t resist these beauties. (For those of you who have never made hot dogs, they comprise a small amount of sodium-nitrate-cured meat, ground fine into a paste, to which copious amount of cubed pork fat is slowly added, forming a thick emulsion.) The hot dogs were fresh off the griddle and smothered in mysteriously orange-colored stewed onions. Julie shared her hot dog with our barely-awake older daughter Sonia, finished the last few bites, then promptly asked, “Ok, where to next?”
Further down 6th Avenue, we drove to the pizzeria of my childhood, The Famous Ray’s Pizza—one of the innumerable Ray’s in New York City. (There are over 40 individually-owned Ray’s pizzerias in the city, all contentiously borrowing the name from the original in Soho. Sadly, the Soho location is closing this month, according to the New York Times.)
Ray’s offers the type of pizza for which New York has become famous. That is to say, they make the dough daily, practice questionable sanitation, use reasonably good tomato sauce, pile the mozzarella cheese high, and serve it quickly, by the slice, piping hot on a flimsy white paper plate. Oregano, red pepper flakes, and garlic powder are available near the window (along with a stack of napkins). When asked for the secret to making good pizza, the owner of the original Ray’s said, “What do you mean? You buy top-grade flour. You buy very good mozzarella. What else?”
We ate the pizza in the car with the motor running. Julie, now awake and buzzing with New York City excitement, asked Sonia if she liked New York food, to which Sonia could not muster the energy to respond. (Her younger sister was already fast asleep.) We decided it was time for us to get to bed after a long day.
We could have continued, block after block, sampling fun authentic foods. On a food research trip for Cheeky Monkey a few years ago, I ate at over 30 of New York’s best delis in one day. I remember thinking, “We have better stuff back home, like Bewiched Deli in Minneapolis.”
To be honest, this night was no different. Neither the almost-eaten falafel, the pizza, nor the hot dogs, were better than their counterparts in the Twin Cities. We have high levels of quality here. Holy Land, Foxy Falafel, Pizzeria Lola, Black Sheep, Magic Bus, and the Weinery all have better offerings than what we had that night. But what is truly amazing about New York is the variety and accessability.
Tired, we headed west toward the Hudson River, got a parking space and unloaded our bags, and gingerly rang the doorbell, feeling bad about waking my dad and his wife. My dad opened the door, gave us all a hearty hug and asked, “What took you guys so long? We made snacks!” then handed me a rare and fine Irish whiskey.