All kinds of food items to share today, from the gastronomical delights of our last hours in New York this weekend to local Philadelphia finds. First, New York: Al and I got up early again on Sunday (though not quite as early as on Saturday) and made it out for another morning walk, this time with Al's brother Carl for company. We walked down Broadway to the Starbucks at 81st, where I ordered a cappucino and (as usual) got a latte. The coffee was smooth and the milk heated to perfection, however, so I didn't complain.
From there we crossed the street to Zabar's, but since it was only 8:30 and Zabar's opens at 9am on Sundays, we weren't able to browse or buy. Instead we cut over to Amsterdam so Al could get a bagel sandwich at Barney Greengrass. On the way there (at 83rd, maybe? somewhere between 81st and 86th, anyway) we passed what appeared to be a new outlet of Le Pain Quotidien and picked up a couple pain au chocolates, a blueberry muffin, and a banana chocolate chip muffin. Al then got his bagel sandwich ("for $11, this better be the best bagel sandwich ever"), an extra plain bagel, and a package of Tate's chocolate chip cookies, and we headed back toward the apartment.
Luckily the street we chose to walk down was the same one that Tris and Henry had taken to walk toward us, and we ran into them about halfway up the block. We determined that we had enough baked goods to have a breakfast picnic, so instead of going home, we went to the hippo playground (real name: Safari Playground) in Central Park to eat at the picnic tables.
I had the banana chocolate chip muffin (wonderfully dense and flavorful... but how did they manage to get the batter so yellow—and so completely devoid of those little brownish-black fibers that are the hallmark of banana bread?) and a couple bites of Al's bagel, which was piled with three slices of the freshest-tasting nova lox I've ever had. Al declared the sandwich to be absolutely worth $11. Austen, meanwhile, noshed on a bit of his first-ever NY bagel (the plain one).
After breakfast, we played with the kids for a while in the canoe and among the hippos, and then we climbed up to one of the treehouses and chased each other around. (Had to burn off breakfast so we could make room for lunch!)
And speaking of lunch... As soon as we'd had a proper rest back at the apartment, we trekked back down to 83rd and Broadway to eat at Artie's. We'd been promising Henry a bowl of matzoh ball soup all weekend, and it was time to make good on that promise. (All that promising had given Al a craving for matzoh ball soup, too.) Instead of the cheese blintzes I'd planned to order (and which I'd so enjoyed last time), I decided at the last minute to get chocolate chip pancakes instead. (I later completed the chip trifecta by having a Toll House cookie bar for dinner.) Al got the soup, a potato knish, and a chocolate egg cream, and both of us noshed on the communal cole slaw and pickles the water guy had brought to the table. We agreed that the cole slaw was excellent—creamy-tasting but not dripping with sauce—but we split on the pickles: I prefer the "new" (half-sour), and Al prefers the "old" (full-sour). I don't mind trading a little bitterness for extra crunch.
Artie's is popular with the stroller set
The chocolate chip pancakes were yummy, and the matzoh ball soup and egg cream very filling, so Al got the knish to go. We ate it for dinner when we got home, and I can say without reservation that it was the best knish I've ever had. As I said to Al, "this knish is to ordinary knishes what Mama's falafel is to ordinary falafel"... which brings me back to Philadelphia food news. I've been meaning to mention Mama's here (though Al has been begging me not to, lest it get more crowded than it already is :) for a while now; it's the best falafel I've had since college, when I used to haunt the Gyro Wrap on Broad Street in Athens, GA. Most falafel is dense, hard, and sometimes dry, while Mama's is crispy-crunchy on the outside and tender and moist on the inside. I could eat the falafel balls with no toppings or salads whatsoever and enjoy the heck out of them, but the fact that both the Mama's Sandwich and the Mama's Platter come with hummus, tahini, cucumbers, tomatoes, and a wonderful, slaw-like cabbage (not to mention a homemade pita baked in a special oven from Israel) make them absolutely heavenly. Try the sandwich or platter with a grapefruit drink (I forget the name of the one we like, but it's in a clear, nubby bottle with an orange cap), or make your own grapefruit spritzer with equal parts unsweetened grapefruit juice, Sprite, and plain or lime selzer. Very refreshing! Oh, and if you get a chance, try a "cigar"—a miniature egg roll-like snack that's filled with a potato mixture—for an extra $1. It was the perfect antidote to my knish craving on Monday night.
Sadly, I discovered yesterday that another Philadelphia food find (and hip hangout) is no more: Hamburger Mary's on Chestnut Street (and the Dragonfly Lounge above it, home of the city's best Lesbian dance party, according to Philadelphia Weekly) is now closed. We only got to eat there once, but I've been making a homemade version of their bleu cheese (veggie) burger ever since. HM's had avocado on it, but since a good, ripe avocado is usually hard to find when I have a craving for the bleu cheese burger, I make mine without. The recipe is simple: microwave a Boca burger for 90 seconds while you toast a sliced Kaiser roll. While the burger rests, spread bleu cheese dressing (I like Marie's) on each side of the roll, and then squirt a bit of ketchup on one side and a bit of mustard (I like a grainy horseradish version I buy in Canada) on the other. Stick the Boca burger in the middle, slice with a serrated knife, and enjoy. It's messy but oh so delicious.
Finally, I forgot to mention that Austen has also tried yogurt and ice cream in addition to his regular fruits and veggies. I've read that you're not supposed to introduce yogurt until 9 months and other dairy products until 1 year, but he seemed so interested in Al's ice cream on our trip to Vancouver and my yogurt last month that we let him have some. Both dairy products came right back up within a few hours, so we're going to wait until September to try again. In the meantime, Austen has lately been making a meal of his feet; I saw him try to shove his toes in his mouth last week without success, but on Monday he finally got the hang of it, and he's been noshing on baby toes and doggie shoes ever since. Yesterday he also tried a bit of my Kaiser roll and seemed to enjoy it. Ummmm, white bread: just like paper, only better.