Yup, more chicken

25 Apr


When I heard a new resto-bar was opening around the corner, I did a little dance. When I saw it was a chicken concept, I had a little cry. Then I actually tried it.

Anyone who knows Columbia knows Toast. There’s one on 105th and Broadway (they call that one “downtown,” which is funny) and another at 125th and Broadway. Most people would say two is plenty. While the new Toast Chicken Bar (ew?) on Amsterdam has the same odd, brightly painted walls, a similar large bar area pouring good drafts (Dales, Victory, Southern Tier, Ommegang), its menu is totally different from the everything-offered list at the other two outposts.

Honestly, I don’t love chicken. But my meal here was good. The birds are raised naturally, free roaming and veg-fed; choose from buttermilk fried, rotisserie, tenders, a wrap, even a pot pie. Apps include avocado fries and deviled eggs and sides are the usual mashed potatoes, mac-and-cheese gratin, broccoli, etc. I’m not gonna lie: I was skeptical of the wannabe Southern factor, especially because this part of town doesn’t take its Southern food lightly. But Toast Chicken executes well. (There are a few salads, but it’s better if you like fried things.) Texas tenders were light and crunchy, not oily/greasy/nasty. The  roasted chicken in our wrap was moist and flavorful (although apparently the herb pesto that comes with the plain version is to die for). And the prices are ridic: a giant, shareable wrap, three (HUGE) tenders and two sides came to a total of $22.

Next time I’ll try one of the beer cocktails (from $6), like the Hound (Hefeweizen and grapefruit juice), Cherry Diesel (Boylans cola, cherry juice and lager), Black Shandy (stout and sparkling lemonade), Beery Mary or Michelada. The Boylans, BTW, is on tap.

Apparently we screwed up in not ordering the donuts for dessert. Thing is, I had my fill of donuts when the trend peaked five years ago. Come to think of it, that’s also when the chicken trend reached its loudest cluck. Oh well, uptown blooms late. But we still like choices–even if they are of the chicken variety.

Calm down uptown at The Ellington

12 Apr


Don’t get around much anymore?

The Ellington is a new restaurant/bar on Amsterdam and 106th, quite possibly the best thing to hit Manhattan Valley this year. While named after the Duke himself, there’s no soul food on the menu (but cocktail names pay homage to the jazz great). Accept this slightly confusing notion first—then enjoy yourself.

The rustic country interior is dimly lit and comfortable; homey touches include a pressed tin ceiling, whitewashed wooden walls and lightly weathered high chairs (rather than stools) at the bar. The gastropub menu offers interesting sandwiches, flatbreads and salads, along with substantial plates like fish and chips and bangers and mash.

Even if you’re not hungry, it’s a solid spot to unwind on your way home. Happy hour goes until 8pm. And just in time for the warm weather, a huge sidewalk cafe is up for community board approval. Yay!

Is a walk still considered exercise if there’s a beignet at the end?

8 Apr


While we all know good things can be found in unexpected places, I was totally skeptical when my husband stopped at a sandwich board advertising fresh beignets outside of Amir’s Grill in Morningside Heights. Um, the place is not even a grill—it’s a souped-up falafel shop that’s popular with Columbia students. But the promise of New Orleans style beignets was too great. He went in and came out … about 10 minutes later. Why the long wait? They were making them fresh (and by “making” I mean deep-frying). But they are heavenly!!! Light and crisp and sweet. Served hot. Not too big. Covered in powdered sugar. The most delectable, simple and calorically unnecessary treats ever (at the student-friendly price of a buck each)!

Just don’t eat one by the door on a breezy day in a black sweater.

Floridita’s identity crisis doesn’t bother me

22 Mar

When Harlem’s wildly popular Floridita had to close a few years ago because Columbia was expanding, people were seriously sad. The restaurant had been serving cheap, authentic Cuban food for 34 years. It was a neighborhood staple, but it also brought people from all over the city in search of a warm plate of rice and beans.

Luckily it just reopened a few blocks away on 125th and Twelfth (in the same building as Dino BBQ). YAY! This reincarnation is like the love child of a diner and a bar (neither of which are abundant around here). Stop by for a quick cafe con leche or linger over a mojito. The menu is large and varied—you can pretty much get whatever you want, whenever you want, from breakfast foods like Huevos con Tostones y Queso Frito or Mangu to traditional dishes like Arroz con Pollo y Chorizo,  Asopado and Mofongos. A pitcher of sangria is under $20 and there’s live salsa a few nights a week. It’s a large space with zero scene, but it doesn’t need one—and that’s one of the best things about it.

Cuban comfort food served in a casual atmosphere with reasonable prices? We like! Floridita is back, and the neighborhood couldn’t be happier.

Harlem hipster joint serves craft beer and kick-ass food

26 Feb


Harlem Public is like a little piece of Portlandia uptown. On Broadway at 149th, it is small and cozy—and full of hipsters. But nice ones! And who can blame the locals when a place like this was so badly needed among the area’s fast food, barber shops and laundromats? Hardly a seat to be had on a non-special Sunday afternoon, since patrons tend to stick around for a few hours. They bring books. They bring laptops. They make friends and order another round. They practically bring their sleeping bags.

My point is, this is not just a bar—it’s a hangout. Maybe it’s the cast iron fireplace. Or the 16 craft beers on tap starting from $7, like Clown Shoes, Allegash Triple or Blue Point Blueberry. Or the food. The menu is clever enough to make you forget how heart-attack inducing your meal is about to be. Brunch offerings include a crazy sandwich with peanut butter, cream cheese, honey and housemade raspberry preserves, topped with bananas ($10). From the regular menu I picked the most indulgent grilled cheese ever: New York cheddar and jalapeno jack on thick and ridiculous Grandaisy Sourdough ($9). Get it fully loaded ($12) with avocado, thick-cut brown sugar bacon and … Doritos! Whaaaaat ? (Do not think for one minute that it was gross!) People also go nuts for HP’s peanut butter burger, as well as the avocado fries (deep-fried in panko). Goodbye diet, hello heaven. Hello, Harlem!

Grilled cheese: Looks messy, tastes awesome.

Grilled cheese: Looks messy, tastes awesome.

Pre-gaming for the Oscars with last year’s winning doc

24 Feb


Everything I know about football I learned from Friday Night Lights. I still want to be Tami Taylor when I grow up.

I don’t love sports that much. But I do love documentaries. And Undefeated is one of the best sports docs I have ever seen. Brand-new to DVD/streaming, this is an incredible film.

Forget FNL. Forget The Blind Side. No big names, no theatrics, no force-fed emotion. Simply the remarkably inspirational true story of the 2009  Manassas Tigers, a ragged inner city high school football team in Memphis led by volunteer head coach Bill Courtney. There are moments in this film that seem impossibly scripted. But they’re not. You may even be tempted to dismiss it as another rich-white-guy-helps-poor-black-kids story. But do not.

Please see. Seriously! And restore your faith in humanity.

Midtown lunch spot that won’t make you want to punch someone in the face

15 Feb

Finally got to LT Burger on 40th b/t Fifth and Sixth. This place is solid for what it is. I had  the $10 Veggie (nicely spicy with avocado, jack cheese and wheat grass) and my friend had the $12 Turkey (yogurt and fresh herbs), and we shared fried pickles (damn good). We each indulged in a milkshake, but I did not feel bad about myself because everyone was doing it!! I think it was the choice of flavors: Beyond the traditional vanilla/choc/strawberry/Oreo, choices included S’mores, American Puff (with Cocoa Puffs and Reese’s), Gone Bananas (bananas foster ice cream with dulce de leche), Rice Crispy (their spelling, with butterscotch) and more. And they were not gigantic, gut-busting, insulin-spiking, mega milkshakes (although they were $7), rather, the perfect amount for a treat. Back to the burgers: Generously portioned, they come with a large half-sour pickle spear (I prefer full-sour, but what can you do); fries are extra, but at least the hand-cut are perfectly thin and crispy. This place also serves things like salad and curried lentil soup—but I have ZERO to say about that.

LT Burger was full at lunchtime but you can make a res, and it’s one of the few places in the area where you can actually sit at a table and order from a server without spending two hours or $200 on fancy sushi. In fact, it might even be a good pre-theater spot, although the 5pm-7pm happy hour is supposed to be quite crowded—not a surprise given the location, $5 beer specials and cheap app menu, featuring slightly reduced prices on brisket nachos ($8), mini Kobe hot dogs ($9), smoked gouda curly fries ($5), etc. There is a large bar that probably fills up quickly, thanks to 14 beers on tap, including Duvel, Blue Point, Ommegang and Green Flash. Another 14 are available by the bottle, and 5 in cans.

If loving Laurent Tourondel is wrong, I don’t want to be right.

Not a Harlem Shake.

Not a Harlem Shake.