Monthly Archives: December 2005

The best spicy fries in the world?

Today’s skiing excursion to Alta (officially and locally pronounced AL-tuh, not ALL-tuh, Spanish language be damned) required a serious meal afterwards.  No baloney and cream cheese sandwich for this guy; I needed protein in the form of a burger.  I had hoped to hit up B&D Burger – their pastrami burger is one of the premiere grease bombs in the known universe, and their peanut butter shake is possibly the least healthy thing imaginable (served together, it’s very nearly a heart attack in a cardboard box).  Unfortunately for me but great for their employees, they were closed for Christmas Eve.  So too was the frozen custard palace of Highland Drive, Nielsen’s, which puts the Shake Shack to shame.

Fortunately, a little further south on Highland (2000 East) was the very open and very perky art-deco burger hut known as Eat-A-Burger (just north of Murray-Holladay Road, about 4800 South).  To enter Eat-A-Burger is to be visually assaulted by kitsch – the 20’s, 30’s, 40’s and 50’s are well-represented on the walls and in the finishing of the building itself.  Heck, when I was a kid, they even served the kids meals in cardboard containers in the shape of a fin-era Cadillac.

If all of this bothers you, use the drive-through (are you surprised?), but it’s worth braving a trip inside and dodging a few mewling children to order at the counter and bask in the glow of the unlimited free refills.  Along with your gallon of soda, consider purchasing a cheeseburger or Utah’s specialty in the burger department, a pastrami burger.  FYI – this isn’t going to be Katz’s quality, but you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how well the greasy meat goes with the other greasy meat.  If you value your arteries, the cheese attaches itself to the thin-but-tasty burger equally well.  Lettuce, tomato, pickles, onions, and special sauce will come along for the ride on your sesame seed bun.

Whatever you do, however, don’t miss the fries.  Advertised on the menu as “Utah’s Best,” these fresh cut spud slices are best when tossed with Eat-A-Burger’s proprietary spice rub, for an extra 30 cents.  These aren’t just any nasty dining-hall-style “spicy” fries – there’s actual pepper in them thar bucket, amongst other things.  Grab plenty of napkins and proceed with reckless abandon.  Don’t forget Utah’s contribution to the condiment world, either: for an extra quarter per container, the “fry sauce” is a thick ketchup-mayo synthesis, basically, and Eat-A-Burger’s is among the better versions.

My cheeseburger, spicy fries with sauce and Diet Coke(s) totaled $6.26, including tax.  I’m so happy I can’t even feel my burning quads.  

Leave a comment

Filed under NYC

Fast and bulbous: drive-through burrito heaven.

Contrary to popular belief, not everything great under the sun exists in NYC – the burritos, in particular, are far behind their counterparts in other territories.  In the east, Boston may not have the unfrozen caveman outfielder any longer, but they still have Anna’s Taqueria (multiple locations, even) and El Pilon.  In the west, my sister claims that there are thousands of amazing burrito places dotting the greater Los Angeles landscape.

Not quite in the middle lies Lone Star Taqueria, on the north side of Fort Union Boulevard (7200 South) at 2300 East, in unincorporated Salt Lake County, Utah.  It is one of my favorite places to eat when I visit my mother.  Occupying what looks like a former burger stand, wedged between a bank and a public library, the parking lot was absolutely full when I arrived on the last day they were to be open before Christmas.  No matter – this was an occasion for drive-through.

“Drive-through burritos?” you ask, incredulously.  Why, yes – drive-through burritos.  Along with drive-through burger stands, coffee huts, drugstores, dry cleaners, and liquor stores (in Wyoming these really do exist, I’m not kidding).  It’s a car culture out here, folks, and if you can’t drive through – hell, who really feels like dealing with a strip mall parking lot, anyway?

Should you choose to park and eat inside or on the sunny porch, you’ll be able to take in more fully Lone Star’s décor – a trashed, sticker-encrusted station wagon haphazardly parked in the front yard and cowboy boots topping the fence posts.  The dining room itself is sheet-metal-chic embodied – burritos and chips may be served to you in pie tins, and the bar of sauces (from mild green to pretty effing hot red with seeds, with a decent pico de gallo to boot) and tables seem to be made of gleaming aluminum.

None of this mattered to me, of course.  I waited for an enormous truck to wedge its way into a parking space (I can scarcely imagine parallel parking such an enormous vehicle) and pulled next to the menu with a giant horn speaker attached.  I’m still a little confused as to how the poor schmuck with the headphones inside can hear me – no microphone is evident, but my order of one chile verde burrito ($5.79), one half chile verde burrito ($4.49), and a side of guacamole ($2.69) was received and processed correctly.

Once home, my mother and sister (having baked all day and snacked perhaps a bit too much) tackled the half burrito, while I jumped into my full-sized version.  Chile verde, for those unfamiliar, is a kind of spicy pork stew – not really that green in the Lone Star incarnation, actually.  I’m unsure as to its place in the authentic Mexican culinary culture, but it seems to be as ubiquitous in Salt Lake’s Tex-Mex restaurants as chicken or steak.  Tasty, nonetheless, particularly when paired in a soft flour tortilla with red beans, rice, lettuce, tomato, cilantro, onions, sour cream and cheese – I also dumped a bit of hot sauce into the mixture.

The guacamole was fairly forgettable – it was turning brownish despite a strong lemon flavor, and while it certainly didn’t taste bad, anyone with a sharp knife, a clean fork, and a ripe avocado or two can make better stuff at home.  I hear they have good fish tacos here, too – never tried ‘em.  The beer, while cheap ($2.50/bottle) is 3.2 percent, as is all beer outside of a state liquor store and a “private club for members” – Utah must have the most arcane liquor laws in the western world.

By the way, those prices are accurate.  I have the receipt right next to me – $12.97 plus 99 cents tax for a burrito and a half, plus guac.  It boggles the mind, no?  Lone Star puts Burritoville and all the rest of the cheapish Tex-Mex crapola in NYC to shame.  For that, I’ll always visit it when I come home.


Filed under NYC

I’ve entered a junk food coma – thanks, TWU!

Anyone else see SNL on Saturday? Or, like my girlfriend and I did, TIVO it and catch it later? Sweet jesus, what a good episode – and a good theme for today. I’m not drinking Mr. Pibb and eating red vines while telecommuting, but coffee, Pocky, and One Girl Cookies are close, right? I wanted to make t-shirts from my bad photoshop work, shown at left, but CafePress wouldn’t allow it, alas. Perhaps I’ll concentrate on “I survived the strike” shirts instead – or, if I’m smart, steal a livery van and start driving the B61 route.

Tomorrow’s a travel day (going to mom’s for x-mas). Updates will be sporadic until after Christmas (and possibly until after New Year’s), but I promise to review at least my favorite burrito place in SLC.

Have fun and be safe!

1 Comment

Filed under NYC

Super Taste and super-cheap.

Coming back after a few reviews of places that are out of my grasp both financially and longitudinally, Sietsema graced us last week with a review of Super Taste Restaurant on Eldridge St. – his column suggests that the noodles might be the best you’ll have in your life.  Not sure I’ve been alive long enough to formulate an opinion of that nature, but I was certainly going to check the place out.  Having done so, I feel comfortable predicting Super Taste’s inclusion on Sietsema’s 2006 Cheap List, should he produce one in a format similar to this year’s.

Super Taste is certainly a lot more humble than my other favorite noodle places – just a few Formica tables in a ground-level tenement space, kitchen in the semi-separated rear.  I think there’s good reason for a redesign – beyond the abysmal (check out the truly bizarre musical clock) décor, the noodle-making process is fascinating.  Check out how the dough is stretched (or, if you prefer to stick to menu terminology, hand-pulled), slapped to the table in a puff of flour and folded or twisted – repeated until noodle shapes appear.  I don’t completely understand how the noodles are generated – I guess the flour eventually reduces how much the dough will stick together?  Regardless, the process is well worth watching, at least until the waitress shoos you back to your table – it’s like making a bizarro pie crust, kinda.

As Sietsema suggests, this description only applies to the left side of the menu, advertising hand-pull noodles.  I’ve tried the spicy and non-spicy beef varieties, as well as the dumpling soup (all $4).  The spicy version differs only in the application of chili oil to the bottom of the bowl before the soup is ladled in.  For both, the beef that’s included is riddled with fat, but is extremely tasty and non-gristly.  The soup itself is extremely flavorful, putting the average beef broth to shame – you’re not signing up for a bland meal by skipping the chili oil.

The noodles are irregular in diameter, but have a consistently fresh, well-cooked-but-not-soggy texture.  As to the flavor – they don’t, to me, taste specifically of anything besides their broth.  I can easily see these noodles in any context, though – they’d make a great accompaniment to homemade meatballs and ragu, for example, or as a dessert noodle with some sugar/butter combination.

On my most recent visit, the dumplings were not as good an accompaniment as the meat – they suffered a bit for sitting in the soup, I think.  Given their fresh and slippery noodle layer, they were tough to grab with the chopsticks without damaging.  For those on a budget who can’t decide between noodles and a plate of dumplings ($3), or for those who aren’t wild about fatty beef, the dumpling soup works nicely.

Far better than the nearby Hong Kong Station and at a relatively similar price, Super Taste is open daily from 11am to 10pm (unfortunately unlike the bakery on Canal just east of Eldridge, which has amazing yellow pound cake, but seems to close at 7).  Does it compare to spendier Rai Rai Ken or Minca?  Minca’s kim chi ramen, my new favorite there, is a swirling red-orange stew of noodles-in-broth, with Minca’s typical accoutrements – it’s damn good, but it’s twelve bucks!  Super Taste’s entry into the spicy category is far more humble, but at a far more pleasing price.  And I actually like the non-spicy beef soup at Super Taste better than the rest of Minca’s menu.  Score one for the cheapwads!


Filed under NYC

You’ll definitely have what she’s having.

I recently took my girlfriend to Katz’s for her first taste of pastrami.  Personally, having grown up with mediocre deli pastrami, corned beef, etc, I can’t even imagine having the luxury of beginning one’s pastrami experience with Katz’s.  The stuff is SO DAMN GOOD.  I don’t claim that Katz’s is the best – I’ve only eaten at one other NYC “institutional” deli (Carnegie, and I had the tongue), and worthy contenders like the 2nd Ave. deli and Sarge’s must also be investigated.  Again, though – Katz’s is SO DAMN GOOD that it’s hard to imagine the formula improved upon.

First of all, the place – on the corner of Houston and Ludlow since the dawn of time and somewhat dilapidated both outside and in, the Katz’s facility is integral to the Katz’s experience.  You can see the sign from the moment you ascend from 2nd Ave. subway hell, and it guides you seductively past a doner kebap pretender and the most overpriced Tasti-D in the city (which used to be a frites place, sadly).  I can only imagine what it must have been like to make a pilgrimage (by car?) back when the surrounding nabe was scary.

Katz’s has a few infamous idiosyncrasies that, in the genuine NYC fashion, seem to be continued mostly for the benefit of the tourists.  For instance, they hand you a ticket when you walk in – don’t lose it.  According to the posted rules, you’ll be charged an exorbitant sum on ticket-less exit.  The reasons for this are several-fold, I’m guessing, and the more draconian reasons probably date back to the afore-mentioned scary times, but, I mean…sheesh.  A ticket?  For a restaurant?  I don’t even care that it doubles as your check – seems dumb.

It’s also one of those places where it behooves you to have made up your mind before stepping to the counter, and don’t cheat: if you retire immediately to one of the tables with wait service against the wall, you are officially chickenshit.  The meat cutters like to stay busy, but they’re friendly, and precious few places like this in NY suffer menu-challenged fools gladly.  Hell, aren’t you there for the pastrami?  If you’re not, you’ve probably been back enough times to know better than to step to the counter empty-headed.  Order up your pastrami on rye ($12.50), with a little mustard perhaps, nosh on the piece of meat that they give you directly after ordering, and marvel at the efficiency of a professional sandwich artist (Subway’s “artists,”  by comparison, are coloring in a by-numbers Mona Lisa with Elmo’s face).  

There are two kinds of pickles available – what I deem “regular” and half-sours.  Half-sours are, as the name suggests, significantly less pickled and less sour than the regular – halfway between cucumber and full pickle-hood.  I like ‘em, but I like the full sours better.  They’ll give you almost as many as you can carry, just for asking, so if you’re a pickle nut, try both.

The walls of the dining room at Katz’s are blanketed with pictures of the owner with celebrities from A to D-lists and beyond.  If you sit in the back of the restaurant, where are hung most of the newer photos, you probably won’t recognize more than a handful of them.  This leads me to believe that either the publicists call ahead to arrange a photo-op, or the owner of Katz’s watches too much TV.  Either way, it’s fun to ponder what one would have to do to get a photo on the wall.  I think that the line of demarcation is somewhere around Pauly Shore, but it might actually be lower(!).

And, of course, as you, sit, contemplate the pastrami.  The sandwich is nearly big enough for two, particularly with a bunch of pickles riding shotgun.  I’ve been known to say that Katz’s cheats, because their pastrami (like Peter Luger’s steak) comes to you soaking in fatty, buttery goodness, but that isn’t going to matter to anyone but your cardiologist when you’re devouring one of the best sandwiches in the world.  I want one, like, right now.


Filed under NYC

Half a loaf of meat-fu at the Soul Spot.

The Boerum Hill/Cobble Hill/Carroll Gardens area (I refuse to utter that silly, TriBeCa-inspired concatenation) is not exactly a cheap eaters’ paradise.  Beyond Bedouin Tent, several Dominican cafes, Schnack, and the hopefully-soon-to-open Hanco, there aren’t a huge number of options.  It’s no surprise, then, that the Soul Spot (Atlantic Av. just east of Smith St.) is one of my most frequently visited cheap eats in the nabe.  Occupying half of the ground floor of a brownstone, just across the Avenue from a hole in the ground that promises condos, while sharing a block with bail bond purveyors, the Soul Spot is at the junction of the smuttiness of Downtown Brooklyn and the ascendant South Brooklyn area.

The restaurant’s interior and menu reflects this juxtaposition.  The walls are exposed brick on one side and half tile-half wallpaper on another, and the tables are jammed together in an arrangement that could be called semi-communal, though I’ve never personally seen more than one or two people dining.  The food itself is parceled out from a steam table, so freshness can be variable.  For last night’s meatloaf ($9.50), fortunately, this was not an issue.  Moist but still chewy and a bit on the dense side (perhaps frozen), the loaf was served in a couple of thick chunks with a sweet red sauce that would make my grandmother happy (no brown sauce for this family!).  I’ve also had the meatloaf, in a less fresher iteration, be a little more dry, but it’s still a hunk of protein I’d be proud to make a sandwich of.

The side dishes (two are included with each dinner platter) are a mixed bag.  The collard greens are generally pretty bland – last night they left me reaching for a packet of hot sauce, which spiced things up a bit.  Finding them either out of grits or no longer offering them, I also opted for my usual favorite starch: noodles!  The mac and cheese differs from the usual cheese-and-noodle square – the menu claims it to be baked, and while there were no telltale crunchies from the top of the pan, the noodles were scooped on to the plate rather than cut like a brownie.  Yummy, but somewhat hard to eat with the plastic forks that the restaurant uses.

The restaurant advertises that their pastries are made on-site, and judging by the charmingly amateurish assembly of the coconut-frosted lemon cake, this is probably true.  Unfortunately, the cake itself was indistinguishable from Duncan-Hines – at $2.50 a slice, I expect more than a reminder of childhood birthdays past.  Skip it (and the lemonade, $1.50, which was probably made from powder) and go investigate the bizarreness of the new “one girl cookies” bakery-temple on Dean St. just west of Smith.

I know, I know.  A review of a soul food restaurant, and I haven’t tried the chicken?  My bust – maybe next time.  Again, given the paucity of Boerum Hill cheap options, I’ll probably be back to the Soul Spot soon, and I’ll try not to be distracted by the lovely meatloaf this time.


Filed under NYC

The taste that launched a million eating disorders.

Holiday workload and Xmas shopping have conspired to make me a busy boy, with the result that I have nothing to write about today. Happily, my sweet and gorgeous girlfriend has stepped to the plate with a review – she writes about the estimable Tasti D-Lite, scourge of food critics, ice-cream lovers, and organic-ingredient advocates everywhere. Save me some Cake Batter, hon!

They say a girl always remembers her first time, but I honestly can’t remember my virgin voyage on the S.S. Tasti D-Lite. Suffice it to say, it was a few years back, and I’ve been hooked on this frozen dessert/smack ever since. Like, sometimes I NEED to have it more than once a day.

While the company’s web site touts the product as “the first all natural, lower calorie, frozen dessert,” the irony is that it’s Tasti’s synthetic greatness that keeps me coming back. It might be sicko, but I get a kick out of the fact that flavors like Pumpkin Pie and Dulce de Leche not only exist but also manage to taste more like coconut than anything else. Remember those Dum Dum lollipops your doctor used to give out? Tasti-D can be kind of like the mystery flavor, and that’s part of the fun.

Also, you never know which of the tens of Tasti flavors will be in a given store at a given time, beyond the ever-present standard vanilla and chocolate – a treasure hunt of fantastic fake flavors. I find myself scanning through the windows even when I don’t plan to stop – it might come in handy later, and if a certain flavor is in stock (say, for instance, Cake Batter), it might necessitate an impromptu visit. At any rate, taste before you buy – not all of the more esoteric flavors are thrilling. Insider tip: Most locations will only give you one sample, so it’s a good idea to go in with someone who you don’t mind swapping spittle with and have them try a flavor too. [ed note: Yes, this means she’s tricked me into liking Tasti-D. For this, she is the envy of all of her friends.]

There’s also the fact that I nutritionally equate eating a mammoth-sized portion of Tasti-D to eating air. The flavors are sorted into 3 different categories that range from 11 to 17 calories per oz. (In general, anything with the word ‘nut’ in it rates a category 3, while more bland flavors like vanilla are category 1.) So it’s not quite eating air, but even category 3 Tasti is certainly a far cry from the caloric hurricane of most desserts. And if it’s a damn dirty lie (we all saw that Seinfeld, right?), I just don’t want to know.

A brief aside: I once had a friend on the Upper West Side who swore that the Tasti in her nabe was the best — it actually tasted creamy. So, one night she’s chatting with the guy behind the counter and asks him what the secret is. He holds up a huge container of what I imagine was some sort of heavy whipping cream and starts cackling. Allegedly one girl ran outside and puked on the spot. Awesome.

OK, so the flavors have funny names (one my personal faves, “Milky Weigh”…ironically, also sort of coconutty), and you can con yourself into thinking you’re eating an air sundae. Another contributing factor is price. As long as you stay away from toppings (Mike swears they’re always stale anyway) it’s a pretty cheap, if slightly anorexic, meal-substitute. At most locations (read: not the new Houston Street store), a jumbo-sized tub will run you less than 5 bucks, if you aren’t too embarrassed to order it. (But prep yourself, they’ll probably put two spoons in the bag…)

Despite potential embarrassment, you’re the real winner here. You get frozen goodness in the form of a filling but nutritionally void treat for next to nothing — in a city where you can’t be too thin or too rich, this is the jackpot, baby. No wonder the Olsens love the stuff. Maybe even more than they love THE STUFF.


Filed under NYC

Questionably famous — undeniably spicy.

I realize that many people solve the problem of not knowing whether a restaurant is open on Monday by calling ahead, but for some (stupid?) reason, I never let my fingers do the walking.  As we found restaurant after restaurant on Woodside Ave. shuttered last evening, we felt a certain sympathy with the giant raccoon (my girlfriend insists it was a possum) we saw raiding the garbage, though not enough to keep us from hurrying past the hole in the fence into which it slipped.  We were starving, frigid, and in no mood to tangle with giant rodents.  (Side note – the biggest rats I’ve ever seen exist between 3rd and 4th Aves. in Brooklyn, on both Pacific and Bergen Sts.  You’ve been warned.)

Fortunately, we ended up having a good meal at the Elmhurst branch of Singas, on Broadway near the Elmhurst Ave. G/R/V stop.  After having heard good things, we had scoped it out on our last Elmhurst jaunt, noting their talent for self-aggrandizement (“if it’s not Singas, it’s not famous”).  Yesterday, after too much fruitless wandering, questionable claims of fame were less important than a hot meal, and we arrived hoping only to raise our blood sugar levels.  Good that we did, too – Singas’ pizza is good, though somewhat different than you might be expecting.

A simple storefront in a strip-mall (hard to believe that they exist in NYC, right?), the Elmhurst Singas has the ambiance of a Pizza Hut and the smell of a Round Table or Pizza Inn.  Thankfully, their product is much better – they turn out 10” personal pies that are amazingly low on grease and high on flavor, with a crust both crunchy and chewy.  They’re not traditional in any sense of the word, though – this pizza would make the Neapolitan pizzauoli stroke out.

Take, for instance, the newly-added “Bar-B-Q” chicken pizza ($6.35) – in many instances, this can be a pizzeria’s downfall.  My preference is for pizzerias to use regular chicken and a barbecue sauce, rather than barbecued chicken in sauce on a standard pie.  In this case, thankfully, the chewy mozzarella is paired with a cubed chicken cutlet and a barbecue sauce that, while very sweet, works well between crust and cheese.  Not up to the highest standard of the art, but pleasurably passable.

Our other pizza of the evening was a doozy.  Following a recommendation for the hot pepper pizza ($5.45), we received a normal-looking pie, except for the truckload of wheel-shaped slices of dark green pepper, loaded with seeds, distributed on top.  As it turns out, these are the same kind of jalapeños that my favorite purveyors of banh mi use – while the sandwich assemblers usually go easier than I’d like, Singas’ pizza had my whole gullet on fire after merely half of the pie.

Seriously, this might have been the hottest one-spice meal I’ve eaten since beginning this column.  I can’t describe to you how astonishingly hot it was, except to relate the tale of my girlfriend, who bravely ate a piece and immediately ripped the top off of her prefab Greek salad ($5.75), trying (somewhat successfully) to cool down with the help of leafy greens.  I wouldn’t recommend the salad, with or without the packet of dressing, for any other reason, but she was certainly glad she got it.  Soda, water, and other pizza won’t cut the spice out nearly as quickly.

I’m getting hungry just writing this, though – I can easily see the hot pepper pizza becoming a regular craving.   Something about that sensation of total spice K.O. is appealing, and while the reasoning is unclear, the feeling is primal indeed.  I’d also like to try the garlic, potato, and hamburger pies – perhaps there’s some pie that will more efficiently offset the peppers.  At any rate, I’m definitely going to bring my friends and challenge them to eat an entire pie.  At $5.45, it’s a bet that I can easily afford.

Leave a comment

Filed under NYC

Blintzes and bigos for brunch?

When my girlfriend and I located the Queen’s Hideaway, on an obscure Greenpoint street, we had been expecting the buttery popovers with fresh strawberry preserves, as featured in New York Magazine’s Cheap List entry.  Instead, we found that they didn’t serve brunch at all, with no evidence that they ever had.  The dinner menu sure did make us hungry, though.  So we wandered back down towards the Manhattan Ave. strip and happened upon “Polska Restauracja,” located at 136 Greenpoint Ave.

Besides the plain-Jane name, the premises were also humble.  Consisting of a large dining room long on faux wood paneling and short on the usual diner seating (the booth-dividers have chairs on either side), it would be wise to avoid sitting too close to the bathroom, due to the strong chemical odor (I thought it smelled like a cherry cough drop).  Signs advertising the beer called Zywiec abound, and I wish I’d tried one – for whatever reason, I felt like a Diet Coke was a more appropriate brunch drink.  Warm in the can, poured over ice (which instantly renders the soda flat), it reminded me of summers with my mother on the Cape.  (That’s my best Sietsema imitation, kids.)

Of course, with or without beer, the food at Polska Restauracja was excellent, and much cheaper than the higher-profile restaurants around the corner on Manhattan Ave.  My entrée was the combination plate ($7), which featured sausage, bigos (a hunter’s stew – long on the cabbage and short on the meat, in this incarnation), stuffed cabbage, two fried pierogies with a cheddar-potato filling, and a side dish of mashed beets.  Bread was also offered (we declined).

The sausage was surprisingly excellent – having had plenty of previously frozen, dry sausage in my time, the juiciness of this link was appreciated.  It also differed from your average grocery store sausage by virtue of its chunky filling – store-bought kielbasa always seems too dense.  The stuffed cabbage was filled with seasoned meat and doused in an orange sauce that seemed to have been derived from tomato soup – tasty.  The bigos didn’t really resemble the dish of the same name I was familiar with from Veselka, but admirably filled the spot on the plate I would ordinarily have filled with sauerkraut – just a few chunks of meat among the cabbage and soupy sauce.

The two pierogies were also excellent, and my girlfriend had an order of her own (8 for $4) as her entrée.  The menu advertised them as homemade – while I couldn’t tell if they were, they were certainly better than the equivalent at most of the East Village pierogi outposts.  Besides the potato/cheese combination, the menu offered beef and a mushroom/sauerkraut combination.  I can vouch for the beef and potato variety (didn’t try the kraut pies) in either the boiled or fried preparation.

Of course, we were at brunch, and some sweets were in order – the potato pancakes (5 for $3) were one more item to dunk in the large portion of sour cream that accompanied the pierogies.  Not too greasy, but not dry, they resembled silver dollar pancakes in diameter, if not in taste.  I also spread them with beets, which made something that looked like a cream cheese and jelly sandwich, while tasting as little as possible like one.

The undisputed heavyweight champion of the meal was the order of two filled crepes known as blintzes ($4).  Fresh-cooked upon ordering, and taking a few minutes longer to arrive at our table than the rest of the meal, one blintz was filled with sweet, curdy cheese, and the other with fresh strawberries.  Thankfully free of grease and (perhaps as a result) not soggy, the blintzes were gone in an instant.

I’ll be back to Polska Restauracja.  The combination of cheap food, large portions, and the total perfection of their blintzes makes it one of the top restaurants I’ve been to in the last month.

Leave a comment

Filed under NYC

Rice to Riches: much more than just pudding.

I’ve seen a lot of weird stuff since living in New York, but one of the weirdest things yet encountered is the astonishing popularity growth of Rice to Riches, on Spring St.  After first having patronized RTR on empty nights, cracking jokes aplenty about its alleged connections to a gambling ring, all the while secretly enjoying that I seemed to have the place (and its delicious puddings) to myself, the last few times I’ve been back have been a mob scene.  All seats and places at the standup table taken?  What the hell’s going on?

Barring some kind of mention in a NYU newsletter, I can’t figure it out, particularly since many of the patrons appear to be on the young side of their college years.  Maybe it’s gotten harder to drink in NYC underage lately – Saturday night at the rice pudding parlor wasn’t how I spent my four years (admittedly, Williamstown had no pudding amenities, unless you count the occasional tray of chewy bread pudding at Greylock dining hall).

At any rate, I should commend the whippersnappers on their taste – the rice pudding at RTR is extremely good.  Expanding on the staple dessert of many ethnic restaurants, the oval-obsessed parlor offers 20 or so intensely flavor-infused puddings that, while not the most effervescent variety you’ll ever have (read: gloppy and heavy), at least rate well against the average ice cream parlor in terms of my enjoyment level.

The best flavors, in my opinion, are among the most intense.  My personal favorite is the mascarpone with cherries, which is just this side of too sweet.  The maple and blueberry pudding is also tasty, though it’s hard to figure whether they’re flavoring it with real or fake maple flavor.  Chocoholics are not forgotten, either – they’ll enjoy the rocky road, which is loaded with cocoa, and made one friend of mine practically tear up with bliss.  (Note as of 12/9: According to their website, Rice to Riches seems to have Christmas flavors in stock right now.  Get in there before the kids eat them all!)

I’m less wild about the banana coconut and the caramel, which can’t seem to stand up to the more intense flavors.  Toasted coconut, bland?  Something’s amiss.  I’ve not tried the toppings of any kind – hard as it is to imagine a rice pudding parlor, it’s even harder to imagine a rice pudding topped with whipped cream or crumbled, toasted pound cake.  Besides, ya gotta get off the calorie train somewhere.  

Sadly, RTR recently raised prices and shuffled around the sizes of their containers a bit, which makes it a lot less of a good deal – everything got a buck or two more expensive, but the sizes only increased a bit.  No longer is the smallest dish available to split flavors, either (a big cost-saver).  As a front, weren’t they supposed to lose money?

Speaking of potential evidence: if I was a business professor, I’d love to take a class there and have students identify the many things that are ridiculously extravagant.  Custom manufactured dishes and spoons?  Check.  Four or five flat-screen televisions showing relatively little?  Mmm-hmm.  Failure to maximize floor space for patrons?  Definitely – see the weird stand-up table in front and weird booths in back; the rest of the floor is basically either counter or wasted space.  Private label bottled water?  Yes, and they carry enough of it to sponsor a marathon.  A taciturn, lantern-jawed man with a badge declaring him to be “operations manager?”  Uh, don’t hurt me, please, sir…

Don’t get me wrong – I love Rice to Riches.  It’s a truly oddball place with a crazy back story and a fine product.  True, I wish they hadn’t raised prices, but that doesn’t seem to have dissuaded the crowds at all.  Keep it up, guys and girls, and you’ll have that freshman 15 put on in no time.  At least it’s better than Cinnamon Toast Crunch in the dining hall.    


Filed under NYC