I was doing some volunteer work in Morningside Heights near Columbia University recently when I saw Ollie’s Noodle Shop. It was late in the afternoon, and I didn’t have lunch yet so I decided to head in. I haven’t been to this establishment since I worked over in the Times Square area over six years ago. There was an Ollie’s in the heart of the hustle and bustle of The Square. When I saw Ollie’s I recalled one of my favorite appetizers that I haven’t had in a long while, the scallion pancake. This was really my main reason for stopping in Ollie’s. You ever have a craving for something but you can’t get it when you want it; so when you finally have access to satisfy this craving you just go for it, hungry or not!
I enjoy viewing the Chow.com chronicles of “Cooking With Grandma.” In the semiotics of eating, this is a perfect example of cooking and eating to build a bond with your relatives and connect to your ancestry. I never got the chance to cook with my grandma. As a child, however, I was able to help grandma clean up the kitchen. Well, at least I tried. I remember standing on a stool and washing the dishes. After I broke the second plate, or maybe the first one, grandma quickly removed me from the kitchen. Even though I never had a chance to sit down with my grandma and discuss her childhood and life experiences, these “Cooking with Grandma” episodes are a good way to reminisce through others’ experiences of that bond we all have with grandma.
One morning on my way to work I spotted the Van Leeuwen truck. Now, I know they have great artisan ice cream (Palm Sugar, Red Currant, Roasted Banana, Earl Grey), but I thought it was odd that they were out so early. When I stopped at the truck, it was then that I realized Van Leeuwen is also a bakery. Along with that great ice cream, the truck also had rich ground coffee and a variety of pastries and cookies. I decided to grab an orange muffin and couple of cookies (chocolate and ginger). If you never had their ice cream, it’s truly something special. Their pastries are on a par with the ice cream. The guy working in the truck told me that they have different pastries each day.
I’m sure when most people think about Spanish food, they think Mexican or just ‘Spanish’ as if it were some generic blend of food. But when you live in New York City, you quickly come to realize the true range of Spanish cuisine. I had dinner at Sazon, a Puerto Rican hot spot, in the middle of TriBeCa. I was surprised at how busy this restaurant was on such an unassuming block in the city. One thing I can say about Sazon, it’s a good time! It seems like on that particular night I was there, every other table was celebrating a birthday, which was serenaded loudly by the staff with great banter from the in-house DJ. By the way, if you’re looking to have a quiet, romantic dinner, this place would not be the best choice. The noise level requires some yelling across the table. I found that a majority of the noise followed through from the bar area, which follows into the main dining area.
Traveling through my old neighborhood in Brooklyn, Clinton Hill, I had to stop for some of the best pizza in New York City. Luigi’s Pizzeria is a small hole-in-the-wall spot near Pratt Institute – you can grab a slice to go or stand around and enjoy it. I was there once when some old patrons were ordering pies to freeze and take back to Florida – there’s nothing like NYC pizza!
Some people say it the crust that makes the pizza and others think it’s the cheese, but at Luigi’s it’s definitely the sauce. There’s something special in the sauce that makes this pizza stands out amongst the rest. The only downside, as the neighborhood is being gentrified, prices tend to go up but $2.45 for a regular slice?! Ouch!!! I can’t say it wasn’t worth it, but it’s steep for Brooklyn…a new Brooklyn, I guess.
Luigi Pizzeria, 326 Dekalb Avenue @ St. James Place 718-783-2430
When I think of Dominican food my thoughts go straight to the green plantain classic, mangú. When it comes to desserts, it’s one of my favorites, the tres leche cake. While in my old neighborhood in the Castle Hill section of the Bronx, I found out there’s more to Dominican desserts than cake at Vladimir Bakeshop. This Dominican bakery gives you all the island flavors in their pastries. One of my favorite tropical fruits is the guava and with items like guava empanadas and guava tres leche cake, I wasn’t disappointed. Some other pastries to mention were the passion fruit bite size cakes – sticky and finger licking good, and the almond cake with its fruit filling. And, of course, Vladimir Bakeshop had the tres leche cakes in a variety of flavors, aside from guava: pineapples, chocolate, chocolate mouse and vanilla. The bakery also has a variety of cake slices, but unfortunately I found the ones I tried lacking any kind of flavor and rather on the bland side. One saving grace for the bakery is its popular homemade hot chocolate – it’s rich and creamy. Vladimir Bakeshop also sells a variety of good, made to order sandwiches served on fresh bread baked on the premises.
Vladimir Bakeshop, 1166 Castle Hill Avenue @ Powell Avenue, 718-684-1166
Italian-American home cooking in a small but cozy spot, that’s how to best describe Parm. It’s a popular and, as expected, noisy space but the noise adds to the ambiance in some strange way. The plates are small but the bites are big – there are layers of flavors! I had the chicken parmesan platter with some baked ziti – the most incredibly creamy ziti I’ve ever had. And I topped off the meal with a slice of ice cream cake, more layers – pistachio, strawberry and chocolate, to be exact. The presentation reminded me of a Carvel cake, but one that had to be made by a pastry chef.
One thing that’s been trending in the food industry is the reduction of portion size, lately. I have no complaints; I always say, “eat, but eat less.” I enjoy having smaller portions; it leaves room for more food – later. Sliders do just this for me, especially when it’s really juicy and full of flavor, and when you can do that with a turkey slider, now that’s amazing! Pop Burger is hitting homeruns with its mini burgers. Unfortunately, their French fries were overcooked making them a little greasy for my taste.
I’ve noticed the chain of 99₵ Pizza shops growing throughout NYC over the last couple of years. With the economic slump we’ve had since 2007, there’s great need for this iconic NYC meal but on the cheap. And the long lines at lunch made me wonder: just how good can a 99₵ slice of pizza be? It’s not uncommon to go into your local pizzeria and get charged $2.50 for a slice of pizza (and that price doesn’t include toppings…that’s extra).
I remember this bakery was called Lulu’s Cake Boutique several months ago. Actually, I didn’t realize the name had changed until after I left the store! I thought, “Wow, they left everything the same except for the name.” I found out later that the bakery only changed their name so that explained the initial confusion.
Empire Cake offers the old with the new in a bakery, and all their items are made fresh on the premises. You’ll find their version of some old Hostess cake favorites. No, the Twinkie is not dead! But it’s back with a twist with flavors like: lemon, passion fruit with coconut and blackout chocolate (chocolate cake dipped in chocolate with chocolate pudding filling). They’ve also remade the snowball snack cake, and my old childhood favorite, the Chocodile (chocolate covered Twinkie). Empire, also, has a great variety of cookies. I was just in time to get a few of the last chocolate chip cookies – they cookies go pretty fast!