Recent New York City restaurant experiences

Oct 8th, 2009, 03:16 PM
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Recent New York City restaurant experiences

Went to some NYC restaurants not long ago that have been known to show up in guidebooks, and found them to be a mixed lot, with some significant disappointments among them. Details:

--Amy Ruth’s. Got fried chicken and waffles here, which were really good. Leg quarter of chicken was as good as I’ve had down south, with a thin but sufficient coating that was beautifully browned and chicken underneath ideally cooked. Good waffles, perfectly cooked with just the right amount of crispness. With this place and Mamie’s Spoonbread Too, these constitute the best Harlem soul food places I’ve eaten at thus far.

--Sylvia’s. Have seen some grumbles about this place, and sorry to report I’m with the naysayers here. Got a ribs and fried chicken combo with sides. Ribs were overcooked to the point that the meat at the top of the ribs was tough as leather – ribs were covered with a sauce that was really odd, quite sweet with noticeable overtones of lemon and vegetables. Chicken leg quarter was cooked underneath but coating was heavy and leaden. Collards were horribly salty and gumbo was pasty and dull.

--Patsy’s (Harlem, apparently not affiliated with the other Patsy’s locations downtown). A cheese slice was a serious disappointment, very thin crust with remarkably meager sauce and cheese. No there there, to paraphrase Gertrude Stein.

--Totonno’s (uptown Manhattan). Note that the original Coney Island location, allegedly the best of these, is now closed due to a fire. Cheese and sauce were really good, potentially in the same league as John’s and Grimaldi’s, both of which I count as my favorite New York pizza spots. But the pie was utterly ruined because the crust was unbelievably overcooked, to the point where the crust was dark brown and hard with much of the crust’s bottom flat-out burned. It wasn’t the only pizza I saw on surrounding tables that looked this way either, so it’s hard to think this was a mistake. Cook the crust right and this could be a really good pizza.

--EJ’s Luncheonette. Had breakfast here, a place that’s trying hard to be a classic Greek style diner. Coffee was good. A dish of sweet potato and turkey hash was just bizarre, essentially pureed sweet potato with turkey cubes mixed in – am guessing it’s wisest to stick to basics at a spot like this.

--Virgil’s Real BBQ. There were good, bad, and indifferent things about the food here. Pork ribs were actually pretty good despite a few of them being fatty, cooked respectably with a very good dry rub seasoning. Sides of collards and beans were just average, perfectly edible but nothing special. What was not good were the BBQ sauces, both of which came in bottles on the table – mild sauce had no character, hot sauce had a snarly kick but no substance beyond its spiciness.
bachslunch is offline  
Oct 8th, 2009, 03:19 PM
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Thanks for the info.
Judyrem is offline  
Oct 8th, 2009, 03:31 PM
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Patsy's, Totonno's and EJ's are basically neighborhood joints - nothing special. Sylvia's is a tourist trap, imo. Virgil's is near Time Square - as a local, that's says it all to me. I would never recommend these to a visitor. I'm not familiar with Amy Ruth's. How did you come up with this list?
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Oct 8th, 2009, 04:33 PM
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I've been to several New York restaurants over the past number of years. Several of these spots are in Frommer's NYC books and many also appear in Time Out, Lonely Planet, Rough Guide, and the like. Virgil's is in Fodor's.

Patsy's Harlem and Totonno's are NY pizza spots with supposed good reputations (this was the Patsy's from which Frank Sinatra would have frozen pies specially flown into Vegas) and the Totonno's at Coney Island was another legendary pizza spot before it was gutted by a recent fire. Have been to and very much liked John's and Grimaldi's, was lukewarm about Lombardi's, and have not been to DiFara's yet.

Lists of Harlem soul food spots worth a try that I've seen usually include Miss Mamie's Spoonbread and Spoonbread Too, Sylvia's, Charles's Southern Style Kitchen, Amy Ruth's, and Copeland's. Centralparkgirl, your observation about Sylvia's being a tourist trap is something I've seen before, but there are some dissenters out there who like it -- no idea what they ate, but it wasn't what I had, I'm guessing. Amy Ruth's apparently has a specialty in "fill in the blank" and waffles, from what I've read.

Until Dinosaur BBQ moved an outpost into Manhattan, Virgil's was often cited as one of the better NYC spots for 'cue. And their ribs were indeed pretty decent Yankee-style BBQ. They're also convenient to Port Authority, which is useful before a bus ride out of town.
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Oct 8th, 2009, 04:53 PM
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This was a sort of odd selection for New York - which is known neither for soul food nor BBQ.

There are a ton of good pizza places, excellent Italian, French, lost of good asian/fusion places. A couple of good Mexican - but not tex mex - and a broad variety of good places of more exotic cuisines - and the best bagels lox and deli in the country if not the world.

What you did was the equivalent of going to Atlanta and complaining the bagels and nova were no good. Of course not - they're not local specialties - and nobody there knows how to make them properly. (What they call bagels are in fact wonder donuts.)

It's always best to stick to the specialties of the area. And yes, a couple of the places you went to were local coffee shops - the equivalents of a random diner by the side of some highway.
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Oct 8th, 2009, 05:29 PM
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nytraveler said: "What you did was the equivalent of going to Atlanta and complaining the bagels and nova were no good."

Actually, no -- it's not. Several things:

--NY style pizza is indeed something the city is known for. As I clearly said above (did you not read this?), I've been to Grimaldi's and John's and Lombardi's. Loved the first two of these, less the last. Of the six places I reported on, two were pizza places of supposed noteworthy reputation where I hadn't been yet. And I'm sorry, but I was profoundly unimpressed with both despite their reputation. And you very specifically mentioned pizza places above. So play fair already.

--how many threads about Greek diners in NYC have been posted here recently? EJ's is apparently an attempt to buy into that, as is Empire Diner and a few other spots. Clearly in some quarters, this is considered something worthwhile in NYC. I'm unsure about that, myself. I've also been to Veselka, which is a Ukrainian diner, and for my money much more worth going back to. But I didn't happen to go there this time.

--there are sources (Wikipedia mentions this, for one) which say that chicken and waffles was a dish in fact first concocted in Harlem at the Wells Supper Club. Not down south. In Harlem.

--I went to a BBQ joint in Manhattan. So sue me already. Virgil's shows up in Fodor's and Frommer's NYC books as someplace worth going to. It's not like I picked some crappy wanna-be here. And like I've said twice now, the ribs weren't bad.

--I've in fact been to several places that dish up what are considered NYC strengths. Many major deli spots like Katz's, the Carnegie, Stage Deli, Second Avenue Deli, Artie's, Barney Greengrass, and Ben's Kosher Deli (haven't been to Pastrami Queen or Sarge's yet -- another trip). Kossar's Bialys. Russ and Daughter's. Asian spots such as Big Wong King and Mandoo Bar and Sapporo and (sort of) Flor de Mayo. Been there, done those, liked all but Flor de Mayo and Ben's, didn't happen to go to these this time. You think I should clear with you where I go? Sorry, not gonna happen.

Really makes me wonder why I bother.
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Oct 8th, 2009, 06:57 PM
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I like Totonno's amd to me Grimaldi's is hit and miss and John's is good but not in the category of Lombardi's.

The list is growing for NY places that serve whole pies from either wood burning or coal burning. Some of my upscale favorites are Luzzo's and Pizza Fresca while there is the old style of Gruppo.

There is a very good slice place on 14th Street called Artichoke. There is always a line becasue it is popular and it is run like a horse's ass.
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Oct 9th, 2009, 05:20 AM
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And actually nytraveler, there has been quite a boom in NY BBQ places in the last 5 years that have gotten very good reviews from BBQ mavens - Hill Country, Blue Smoke, RUB, Fette Sau just to name 4 off the top of my head.

And I understand OP's point - it is interesting to check out places that do show up in the guide books, you never know where a reputation comes from.

Adu - it is said that Artichoke will open a West Side branch in the old biker bar Red Rock West space on 10th and 16th Street. So the ravenous hordes can troop off pollution spouting tour busses parked under the High Line and wait for pizza there, too.
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Oct 9th, 2009, 05:38 AM
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Artichoke is also opening a bakery next door to the 14th Street store. It is caled Led Zeppole. No kidding.
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Oct 9th, 2009, 05:40 AM
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bachs - Noting that Frommer and Fodor ( dare I say this here?) are considered reliable sources for restaurant recommendations is a bit questionable. I would say that if you are looking for places that tourists frequent - ok - you'll find them listed therein. But this town has too many good places with top food and service to limit yourself to those recs. BTW - Yonah Shimmel comes up frequently re knishes. I have to say that when we were there not too long ago and tried the knishes - let's just say I've had better. Of course, my standard is Mrs. Stahl at the foot of Brighton Beach Ave. - every type was delicious - light, fluffy, dough - just right -- potato, kashe, cabbage. Gone.
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Oct 9th, 2009, 05:44 AM
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Mrs. Stahl's is now a Subway.
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Oct 9th, 2009, 05:58 AM
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Adu - really? that's a drag, I didn't know that. Mrs. Stahl's were great. In a previous century, I served Mrs. Stahl's cocktail knishes at my 30th birthday party - people called me for days after, asking where I got them . . .
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Oct 9th, 2009, 07:23 AM
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I'll only comment on Virgil's here. I've recommended it many times to friends and have gone relatively frequently because I like BBQ, but it's really inconsistent and has definite ups and downs. Right now, it's almost on a downward death spiral in terms of general quality ... aside from those ribs, which are still pretty good. But I went a couple of months ago and was generally disappointed in everything else, even the surly rushed service. Sides were actually horrible, not passable.

There are now better choices for visitors, and I expect in future Fodor's editions we'll see other BBQ places being recommended. Guidebooks (like many tourists) tend to fixate on old standbys at the expense of the new and different because that's safer. It's very true that the options for BBQ in Manhattan were limited to Virgil's, but even though it's a Times Square spot, that doesn't necessarily mean it's not worth going to or just a tourist spot. As I said, I've enjoyed it for years.

I really prefer Blue Smoke now (but it's also convenient for where I live). And there are now several other credible BBQ places in Manhattan. So I no longer recommend Virgil's, and it doesn't give me any pleasure in saying that.
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Oct 9th, 2009, 08:41 AM
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"Really makes me wonder why I bother" so, why do you bother? What was the point of the post? To say mediocre restaurants are in fact mediocre and are popular because they show up in guide books?


Like many have said there are lots of options in NYC most don't show up tourist guide books, I guess that's why these forums are so popular.

I don't understand the whole Greek diner thing either-I think they are great for delivery, who else will deliver my $2 cup of coffee to my apt for free? But as an experience, I guess it's the same as eating a crepe on the streets of Paris, something to do to feel like a "local"

I've always wondered about Amy Ruths and with your review, I think I might make the trek up to Harlem to try it. Any tips on time of day to go to avoid long lines? What to order?
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Oct 9th, 2009, 08:54 AM
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bachslunch, let me say that we who travel to NY as "tourists" (even though I grew up there, I only get there annually now) appreciate posts like yours. What's wrong with a few specific restaurant reviews? (K_brklyn, your post is a little schizoid - first you as "what was the point of your post?" and then you say "with your review, I think I might make the trek" --- well, THAT was the point of the post!!)
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Oct 9th, 2009, 09:17 AM
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really, that was the point of the post?
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Oct 9th, 2009, 09:30 AM
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Geez, K_brklyn, she was giving her own personal opinions of some NYC restaurants. You apparently read her reviews and decided to visit one of the restaurants she liked. Enough said.
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Oct 9th, 2009, 10:47 AM
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I know there have been posts on Greek diners - which IMHO aren't different from any other sort of diner - and are basic diner food. Very casuale, very cheap and good for a burger or an omelet. Can't imagine why anyone would eat anything else at any of them or walk more a couple of steps to get to one. (Diners are places where local people go for a quick cheao bite - or college stuents go for breakfast at 3 or 4 am after a night out.)

As for BBQ - yes, there have been some places opened in the last few years - but NYC does NOT have a tradition of good - or any - BBQ.

Naturally you can eat wherever you want and whatever type of food you want.

It's just that the places you picked are - IMHO - mostly nothing special. Nor would I expect anything special at most of them. (And chicken and waffles is just WEIRD.)

And I wouldn;t consider any of the guide books - except Zagat's - a deent guide to restaurants.
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Oct 9th, 2009, 10:59 AM
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Adu - really? that's a drag, I didn't know that. Mrs. Stahl's were great. In a previous century, I served Mrs. Stahl's cocktail knishes at my 30th birthday party - people called me for days after, asking where I got them

Both of grandmothers lived in Brighton Beach. I remember the original owners and then the cranky Weinberg brothers. They were wonderful knishes.

Zabar's makes pretty good store made knishes. Yonah Schinnel's is OK but I love the fact they haven't cleaned the windows in 75 years or changed the light bulbs,
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Oct 9th, 2009, 11:02 AM
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There was a Greek diner in Brooklyn that made deep fried challah French toast. It wasn't French or toast, it wasn;t anything but delicious and worthy of a state fair.

There is a diner in Jersey where people who weigh 265 are called "Slim." I think they start eating in the parking lot where their cars need re-inforced struts.
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