Bar (Food) Crawl
There was a time, not so long ago, when a bar crawl was a bar crawl. All it required from its participants was an inclination to stagger from one boozy establishment to another, and all it required from its boozy establishments was plenty of something to drink, usually beer, more often than not served in a frosty mug. Times have changed. Among today’s cheap-eats sophisticates, a bar crawl is just as likely to require good food as it is drink. If you want to experience the latest version of the New York bar-food crawl, begin in the East Village at Terroir (413 E. 12th St.; 646-602-1300), the closet-size bacchanal where chef-partner Marco Canora has resurrected a few ghosts from his Craftbar past, including his ethereal veal-ricotta meatballs ($17) and crisp panino of duck ham, Taleggio, and hen-of-the-woods mushrooms ($9). From 5 to 6 p.m., there’s a $6 wine-by-the-glass special—and your best chance of securing a seat for the night. It’s just as tight a squeeze at El Quinto Pino (401 W. 24th St.; 212-206-6900), home of the famous Korean-mustard-oil-enhanced uni panini ($15), the best use of sea-urchin roe that doesn’t require silverware. We also recommend the pimentón-seasoned chickpea-and-spinach stew ($6), and the ginger-infused garlic shrimp ($9), both of which were made for unabashed bread dunking. With these snacks you might indulge in a rum-spiked horchata, one of those sweet, deceptively strong frozen drinks that go down like Slurpees. You’ll find more of the same at the Rusty Knot (425 West St.; 212-645-5668), the nautical “dive bar” in those notorious dockworker hinterlands abutting the Richard Meier towers. Go at lunchtime, when it’s less of a scene, the pool table might be open, and you can linger over chef Joaquin Baca’s toothsome meat pies ($4), artisanal pretzel dogs ($4), and a chicken-liver-and-bacon sandwich ($9). From there, you’ll want to drop in at the cocktail lounge PDT (113 St. Marks Pl.; 212-614-0386). Actually, you’ll want to drop in only after having had the foresight to make a same-day reservation after 3 p.m. and conduct a celebrity-chef-hot-dog taste test between the bacon-wrapped Chang Dog and the deep-fried, mayo-enhanced Wylie Dog—both a bargain at $5. The crawl continues apace to Gottino (52 Greenwich Ave.; 212-633-2590), Jody Williams’s immensely pleasing gastroteca, for a rustic mason jar full of olive-oil-whipped salt-cod purée ($7), and perhaps a seasonal crostini ($5) or two; we’re partial, at the moment, to a mint-dappled fava-and-ricotta number. Unless, that is, you’re rationing your bread-and-cheese allotment for Bridge Urban Winery (20 Broadway, Williamsburg; 718-384-2800), the atmospheric shop and tasting room dedicated to New York State wines and foods, where the locavore oenophile can order up a tasting flight of four decent whites ($16) and a pressed panino of Ewe’s Blue and fig paste with radish-kohlrabi slaw ($12). Not too far away, at a newfangled gin joint called Huckleberry Bar (588 Grand St., Williamsburg; 718-218-8555), a dexterous chef dispenses sophisticated snacks like gin-pickled beets with Stilton and pecans ($7.50) from a makeshift kitchen amid the hooch. If all this small-plate business seems a bit precious, you might consider an old-fashioned Brooklyn beer-bar detour. Join the scrum of bonhomous Central European he-men knocking back steins of Staropramen at Eurotrip (667 Fifth Ave., South Slope; 718-285-9425), and order up a platter of halušky, the boiled Slovakian potato dumplings that are drenched in a creamy sheep’s-milk-cheese sauce, zapped with lardons, and showered with herbs and chive oil ($5). For a nightcap, in our dyspeptic experience, nothing beats a grilled bratwurst with sauerkraut and horseradish. Get yours fresh off the grill at Williamsburg’s Radegast Hall & Biergarten (113 N. 3rd St.; 718-963-3973), among the communal tables of merrymaking bar-food crawlers, and call it a night.
There’s no getting around it. This was the year that fro-yo ate New York. And whether or not you consider that tart, pale tangy stuff cheap, dessert is probably the one category where the most tightfisted, sweet-toothed New Yorker is willing to splurge (especially if, as in the case of the most devoted fro-yo fiends, dessert actually is dinner). If you want to know how deeply frozen yogurt has infiltrated the culinary scene, look no further than Momofuku Noodle Bar (171 First Ave.; 212-777-7773), where wily empire builder David Chang has, somewhat improbably, installed a soft-serve ice-cream machine, and includes fro-yo as a rotating flavor. The $4 small, topped with pretzel bits and available to go, is just big enough to last us a few blocks, until we reach Dessert Club, ChikaLicious (203 E. 10th St.; 212-995-9511), the takeout outpost of Chika Tillman’s sleek dessert bar across the street. Although the shop sells sophisticated puddings and an array of cupcakes, of which the ganache-filled, toasted-marshmallow-topped s’mores is the standout ($2.25), we tend to ignore these tempting distractions. We refrain from Dessert Club’s fro-yo, too, in favor of a simple unadorned cone of the superior vanilla-bean soft-serve ice cream ($2.90), whose pure, unalloyed flavor might be the best in town.
You don’t need to be vegan or lactose-intolerant to appreciate Kyotofu’s (705 Ninth Ave.; 212-974-6012) soy-milk soft-serve, an inexplicably creamy substance that’s available in such exotic flavors as white sesame, black sesame, and miso (the two daily flavors change every Tuesday). A small dish comes with a topping of your choice for $3.85, and we have found, through an exhaustive program of trial and error, that the very best match is the chocolate-black-soybean soft serve with fruit compote, a concoction that tastes far, far less virtuous than it sounds.
Speaking of virtuous frozen desserts, there’s a veritable bonanza at the moment. Van Leeuwen Artisan Ice Cream (Greene St. at Prince St., afternoons; University Pl. nr. 11th St., evenings), the latest dessert truck to roll into town, appeals equally to the impulsive tot who dashes out into traffic after the Good Humor man and the politically correct environmentalist who applauds the biodegradable cups and spoons, the hormone-free milk sourced from pasture-raised cows on an upstate farm, and the organic cones ($3.50 for a small). The cones at the Odeon’s (145 W. Broadway; 212-233-0507) brand-new ice-cream cart are organic, too, not to mention crisp and wafer-light, and the ice creams, in flavors like peanut-fudge ripple and peppermint chocolate chip, are made in-house ($4). The fact that you can combine two flavors for the same price is a plus in our book. But don’t attempt to mix the refreshing lemon with zesty apricot-ginger or any other flavors at the recently reborn NYC Icy (628 Tenth Ave.; 212-977-3939) unless you’re willing to spring for a large ($3.50), as the counter curmudgeon will shoot you down, muttering something about the principle of “economy of scale.” Over in Boerum Hill, Blue Marble (420 Atlantic Ave.; 718-858-1100) describes itself as an “Earth-friendly eatery,” which means, among other things, that the ice cream is made with organic milk from a collective of Pennsylvania dairy farmers. Whether adding locavorism, green building materials, and Fair Trade coffee to the mix makes the ice cream taste any better is a matter of heated debate, which will no doubt be waged this summer over as many scoops, malteds, and sundaes as diet and decorum allow.
Visitors to Fort Greene’s weekly Brooklyn Flea (Bishop Loughlin Memorial High School, Lafayette Ave. at Clermont Ave.) will find a Blue Marble kiosk tucked away amid the arty T-shirts and vintage settees. The Flea, in fact, should not be overlooked as a cheap-sweets hub. There’s the excellent cannoli stuffed to order with Salvatore Bklyn’s ricotta ($3), Calmer Sutra Tea’s silky smooth soy-milk chai with vanilla ice cream ($3), and the chilled chocolate-covered half-banana on a stick ($2) from Nunu Chocolates, a Brooklyn–via–South Africa confectioner that also turns out some mighty fine sea-salted caramels. On non-Flea days, the Underground Gourmet has been known to make pilgrimages to Almondine Bakery (85 Water St., Dumbo; 718- 797-5026) for a superb weekends-only raspberry doughnut ($3.50) or to Sullivan St Bakery (533 W. 47th St.; 212-265-5580) for one filled with vanilla pastry cream ($2.50), and to alight at Pichet Ong’s Batch (150B W. 10th St.; 212-929-0250) for a fat wedge of raisin-studded Vietnamese coffee cake ($3). And if you’re curious which of the proliferating fro-yo parlors we like best, we would have to pick Berrywild (427 Third Ave.; 212-686-5848) in Murray Hill, where the Caribbean Coffee and the Berry Smooth plain are not only creamy and delicious, but, according to the rabbinical document posted by the toppings display, certified kosher.