Despite being a hick from the heartland, I’ve never cared a lick for fried chicken. We didn’t eat it when I was growing up on the farm, because we were too busy enjoying the beef and pork we raised, and then I became a princess who liked all of her meat already off the bone. But after visiting California a few years ago and forcing myself to order the eponymous dish at Roscoe’s House of Chicken and Waffles, I realized that maybe it was worth a little bone to have a juicier, more flavorful chicken.
And then I became blogfriends with Han of Handi-Eats, whose every other blog post is about fried chicken in NYC. She recommended the year-old Bobwhite Lunch and Supper Counter most recently, and I couldn’t stop thinking about the pecan pie bread pudding the menu promised, so I fought against my natural desire to not leave the house before 8 p.m. on Saturdays and met my boyfriend and our friend Nik there for brunch.
My first impression of the place was all about relief. The reviews online had made it seem like some divey place with no tables and a wait that would make lesser women gnaw on their hands for nourishment. Instead, it was this rustic-looking open room with white walls, dark floors, plenty of sunlight, five or six tables lining one wall, and a counter for eight or ten diners in front of a bar on the other wall. And people, the bathroom smelled good. I was immediately in love and daydreamed about myself living in Alphabet City and coming every Saturday morning to sit by myself at the counter, eat some bird, and chat with the super-friendly waitress.
The three of us ordered the fried chicken supper for four with ginger ales and sweet teas all around, and here’s what we got:
Twelve pieces of white and dark meat spread across two platters that sort of overwhelmed us when they arrived at the table. The skin was so well-seasoned and crisp, and the meat underneath juiced all over my hands. The huge, perfect pieces of breast were my favourite; peeling the skin back and revealing the smooth white meat felt like unwrapping a gift, and even the very centers of them, so far from the bone, were still succulent.
For the three sides included in the meal, we (I) chose macaroni and cheese, potato salad, and cheddar grits. Each of them was better than expected, with little extras like the crunchy topping on the mac & cheese and the scallions on the grits that made them special. We all loved the potato salad with its chopped peppers, agreed that the tangy cole slaw was too good not to be mentioned on the menu itself, and couldn’t get enough of the warm biscuits with honey.
We were way too full for dessert (and had enough leftover chicken to feed a fourth person), but we bravely forged ahead and ordered the pecan pie bread pudding and the banana pudding. The bread pudding truly was reminiscent of pecan pie, right down to the nuts that don’t get stuck in your teeth and the sweet, sweet caramel drizzle. But truthfully, I liked the banana pudding even more. My boyfriend thought it was too thin and soupy, but even he couldn’t deny how delicious it was. Even the whipped cream on top was something special.
From what I saw of its uncrowded tables at prime brunchtime on a Saturday, Bobwhite Counter is one of those rare New York City restaurants that’s doing everything right without anyone noticing. Maybe it’s the Avenue C location far from the subway, or maybe it’s just that East Village kids can only go out at night, but whatever it is, I’m sorry for Bobwhite and happy for me. I’m going to take all of my friends here in groups of four until I’ve had every combination of fried chicken, sandwiches, sides, and desserts that exists. Your invitation is in the mail.
My friend Erin online-introduced me to her friend Lizzie back in 2008, and we quickly became Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and blogfriends. And by that I mean that we never actually met, despite living mere miles from each other. (Although one mile in Manhattan is like ten miles anywhere else.) But after four years, we finally forced a dinner a couple of weeks ago at Japadog in the East Village. And I’m not saying that eating a metric ton of wasabi mayo together makes people get along better, but it sure can’t hurt.
Like a sweet and sour pork belly, this meat seemed to consist of at least half chewy, melty fat. The cabbage added crunch and brightness.
Lizzie ordered hers with a veggie dog, which you can do with any of Japadog’s dogs. This is for people who scorn the idea that a meal shouldn’t be made up entirely of carbs.
Lizzie’s other veggie dog, which I believe was the Oroshi with grated daikon radish and “special” soy sauce. You get an idea of how huge and fluffy these buns are from this picture, but it still doesn’t convey exactly how hard they are to fit into your mouth.
This website says this one is “popular to all ages”, despite its suggestive name. This was easily my favourite of the two Japadogs I tried, because um, it’s covered in three inches of cheese. I loved the smoky flavor from the blackened cheese and the meat-on-meat of the thick coney sauce over the hot dog. The chili cheese dog is the archetypal hot dog in my book, and this one did not disappoint.
All of the dogs we tried were just right flavor-wise, and the never-before-seen toppings were so novel that a lesser restaurant might have skimped on the links themselves; these were cooked so that I felt that much-desired snap when I bit into them. My only complaints were with the price of each dog, which were sometimes twice as much as that of the Crif Dogs right down the street, and the fact that my butter and shoyu French fries were completely unflavored until the last quarter of the bag. However, the last quarter of the bag tasted like fries covered in movie theatre popcorn butter, so I can overlook that. Especially since the tables at Japadog are plenty, the staff is sweet and friendly, and the decor is casual but cute enough that you could take a date here and not look like a cheapskate. You’ll look like a fool with chili and cheese all over your face, but that’s totally charming.
When you look up “banh mi” in the Midtown East MenuPages listings, you find Num Pang, a tiny Cambodian sandwich shop started by two friends that’s distinctly not-banh-mi yet nonetheless satisfies every spicy sandwich desire I have.
The menu is about fifteen sandwiches long and four side dishes deep (plus a bunch of soups and salads that I barely notice the existence of due to their health benefits), and my boyfriend and I haven’t tried anything yet that hasn’t left us wishing for one more sandwich to eat and one more side to hold onto like a little family pet that we bathe and take on a walk from time to time.
Here’s a sampling of one of our many orders:
It begins with the bread from NYC’s Parisi Bakery, which has that perfect crusty exterior yet doesn’t flake away all over your best shirt like a traditional banh mi does. Even when the first bite doesn’t yield any meat, the spicy-sweet chili mayo on the bread is a treat on its own. But the meat–whether it’s the spare ribs or the pork belly or the veal meatballs or the sausage–is always seared on the outside and tender on the inside and made all the more spicy and mouth-watering by the complimentary Sriracha sauce. And if you love a banh mi like I do, you’ll appreciate the familiar cucumber, carrots, and cilantro on every sandwich. Every bite is rich but also bright, familiar yet also distinctly Asian-influenced.
The corn was a complete shock to us, because we were expecting the flavors of Mexican corn-on-the-cob: lime, chili, and cotija cheese. The lime is there, and the chili mayo, but what looks like shredded cheese is actually shredded coconut. Shenanigans! I love cheese, but the sweet with the spicy and the tart is enough goodness to make me change factions.
The fruit salad is whole lychees, slices of pineapple, papaya, and mango, and cubes of young coconut in a lemongrass and mint juice. A few bites of this and a few sips of the blood orange lemonade is the perfect sweet-sour way to counteract the spiciness of the sandwiches. My boyfriend thinks the watermelon juice is better, but don’t listen to him.
I originally planned to give Num Pang 4.5 donuts out of 5 but started to reconsider it once I accidentally saw that both locations get 4 stars when you search for them on Google Maps. I thought through the menu and the meals I’ve had, trying to convince myself of a reason to drop its rating. Is too expensive? No, it’s exactly what I’m used to paying for banh mi. Is it not as flavorful as I expect? No, it’s actually more flavorful than most (if not all) comparable sandwiches. Can I think of anything that would make it better? More meat!, but that’s just me being greedy. I asked my boyfriend for his opinion, and he said, “One word: corn.” And then it became clear that I’m right and Google is wrong. 4.5 donuts it is.
21 East 12th Street
New York, NY 10003 (map)
I know it’s awful to talk about dieting on a gluttonous food blog, but the truth is that when I’m not shoveling sweets into my piehole at fancy restaurants, I’m trying to avoid carbs at home. Not being much of a cook, it can be rough trying to find anything for lunch, so I was pumped to randomly type “low-carb” into Seamless.com‘s search function and find Muscle Maker Grill. With a menu full of items made from lean meats and low-fat cheeses and served on low-carb and whole wheat wraps, this is the kind of place that makes me feel guilty about the food I’m eating until I remember that it actually fits into my diet.
With grilled chicken breast, turkey meatballs, reduced-fat mozzarella, and marinara, this is like a pizza in a wrap. And pizza is the thing I miss most while low-carbing, so this is one of my favourite items. I would never guess that the cheese is low-fat, and the marinara is present enough to flavor the wrap but not so obvious that I feel like I’m eating a bunch of sugary tomatoes.
I ordered this on my friend Ash‘s recommendation and found it to be a great substitution for the bready meatball parm sandwiches I love so much. It was so gooey-cheesy and well-seasoned, and they didn’t skimp on the meat at all. I actually didn’t like this as much as the Rocky Balboa nor the XXL Cheeseburger wrap, though, because both of those have two different kinds of meat, so every bite is diverse. (The XXL Cheeseburger with its turkey bacon and BBQ-esque sauce is my very favourite thing to order.)
All of the wraps come with a side of baked potato, brown rice, cucumber salad (cucumbers with herbs, Ash says), steamed broccoli, pasta salad, rice & beans ($1 extra), turkey meatballs ($1 extra), or turkey bacon ($1 extra). I love the option of broccoli but sometimes don’t feel like being quite so healthy, so the meatballs are a favourite. They’re well-seasoned, a little spicy, and a lot better than most of the meatballs I’ve had from non-healthy restaurants downtown.
Muscle Maker Grill is one of those places where you eat the food and think, “Why am I paying $10 for this? I could make it at home for much cheaper!” But you can’t, and you won’t. All of the ingredients are much more flavorful than you’d make them, and you’d never know that the cheese is low-fat nor the bacon is turkey here. On a scale with every restaurant everywhere, I’d obviously want to eat at the places with more butter and more sugar, but I have to give this place four donuts for making healthy food craveable.
My only problems with it are that they charge extra for low-carb wraps ($.79) and delivery ($1.50). I know that neither of those amounts is significant, but I find it pretty audacious to charge for delivery when I can only name one other restaurant in the city that does. It bothers me enough that I only let myself order from Muscle Maker once a week; I wouldn’t order from them at all on principle usually, but the food is just too good.
92 8th Avenue #1
New York, NY 10011 (map)
After our 1 hour, 42 minute wait for a souvlaki earlier this year at a similar event, I was understandably a little hesitant about last weekend’s Great Hot Dog Cookoff. Not only do New Yorkers notoriously flock to food happenings like that, but it was also supposed to be the second-hottest day of the year. Luckily, there were a few factors working in my favor:
1) Only 600 tickets were being sold.
2) There were 23 different hot dog concoctions to choose from.
3) It was the best-organized food function I’ve ever been to in NYC.
After showing our IDs to a first line of volunteers, we were then shown to a series of tables where we could check in by last name. We donned our wristbands, grabbed our souvenir cups, met up with our friends Eric and Christine, and went to town. The entire block was filled with tented tables, two kinds of hot dogs to a table, with the respective chefs doing all of the dirty work–from grilling to bunning to dressing–right there:
We picked a table at random to start, and wouldn’t you know it–it ended up being my second-favourite dog of the day: the Snap, Crackle, Dog!, which was mole poblano with “a super-special bun” that turned out to be a Rice Krispies treat! Of course the one that doubles as dessert would be tops for me:
Next to that was Crepes! Doggie Style that used a crepe instead of a bun:
The Early Riser, with cheese and bacon on a muffin:
Dr. Boyfriend clearly has no idea what to do with this thing, which is how we felt about most of the well-appointed dogs. But we weren’t complaining!:
The Conquistadog on Portuguese sweet bread with manchego and a cherry and port wine reduction:
The Cracker Jack Daniel’s Dog, with whiskey caramel peanuts on a pretzel bun:
The Hot Dog Experiment, a chili cheese dog with a side of melon juice:
The Panuchos Perros, with pickled onions wrapped in a tortilla with black beans and avocado:
The Frat Boy Dog, with potato chips, onions, jalapenos, and . . . Easy Cheese?:
The Soul Slider, with baked beans, collard greens, pulled pork, and a pickle:
The Fat Hog, with pulled pork, relish, and Fritos:
Corn Dog Mini Jack Muffins with Sweet Heat, with shredded jack and sweet/spicy mustard:
This is the one I actually voted for to win the whole shebang. The 8 Fat Fat 8 Lucky Dog, with garlic, ginger, onion, cilantro, hoisin, and daikon:
Perros Banditos, with cheesy Frito pie (although mine only had one Frito chunk):
There was also a table making Sodastream beverages on demand in ginger, hibiscus, cream soda, and lime. They saw a lot of me, but it was their fault for using the tiniest plastic cups instead of letting us fill the large cups we got with our wristbands at the entrance. It was also their fault for being delicious:
There were shockingly tiny samples of ice cream from SoCo Creamery (It was 100 degrees, SoCo! Give me at least a spoonful!):
and raffle prizes that these hopefuls didn’t even come close to winning:
Mostly, it was like a giant block party with way better food, and a DJ, and a totally-famous host we recognized but couldn’t name, and a sprinkler:
Since it was held at the Kelso of Brooklyn brewing company, unlimited beer was also included, and they were more than happy to fill our big plastic cups aaaaall the way full of pilsner or ale, yet there was so much to do that somehow, I never saw more than a handful of people waiting in line:
The line for the two portable toilets was always just as short, and at the end of the day, there were still plenty of hot dogs to be had (Except, of course for the one that ultimately won, the hot dog with lobster on top! Learn from our mistake and show up right when the event starts.):
See what a good time this young Ph.D. was having?
Overall, and despite the heat that made me just want to gobble up a bunch of dogs and leave, it was an awesome experience. I tried 13 different dogs, two kinds of beer, four kinds of soda, and one pitiful spoonful of ice cream and never had to wait for any of it. I had thought the $45 price tag might be a little steep at first, but just the sheer joy of being able to walk up to a tent and have a full tray of hot dogs waiting for me was well worth that. I’ll definitely be returning next year, and in fact, I wish there was another round this year!
5 donuts: transcendent experiences
4.5 donuts: extremely awesome meals
3.5 donuts: good eats
2.5 donuts: food I could have made
1 donuts: dinners not fit for the dogs
• Daniel (2)
• Eleven Madison Park
• Eleven Madison Park (2)
• Eleven Madison Park (3)
• Le Bernardin
• Per Se
• Per Se (2) (extended tasting)
• Per Se (3) (vegetarian tasting)
• Per Se (4)