We occasionally issue imperatives here about things we feel strongly about, but trust us when we say that you absolutely, positively do not want to miss New York City’s own annual rite of Spring: the flowering of the cherry blossoms at Brooklyn Botanic Garden.Located in the middle of the garden’s 52 acre spread, the gorgeous Cherry Esplanade was a gift to the United States from the Japanese government at the end of the War. And with over 200 trees and 40 different species, there is no other place showcasing this kind cherry tree variety in the world outside of Japan. Particularly spectacular is how downright Seussical a walk-through this pink canopy is, and how easy it enables one to check a jaded New York attitude at the front gate. Good luck attempting sarcasm or irony in the face of such a pure pink onslaught.Once in full bloom, these trees are vivid and gorgeous and according to the BBG real-time CherryWatch map, they’re in full bloom right now. However, their beauty is ephemeral and once flowered, the blossoms don’t last long. So, go. Play hooky, call it a prescription for mental health, do whatever you need to do– but do yourself a favor and go park under some cotton candy trees one morning this week and take a deep breath. It’s even free admission if you go between 10am-12pm.
For the nine months of her pregnancy, my wife was prohibited from eating things that are Bad For The Baby: cold cuts, sushi, vodka, lead paint chips, and so on. So now that she’s no longer sharing her body with the little rascal, I asked her what was the first thing off the forbidden menu she wanted to eat. No hesitation. Out of all the things in New York City she could have, she requested a Dana Special from Esposito’s. We’ve talked about G. Esposito & Sons before here. These guys are old school butchers who have a killer assortment of fine meats, Italian foods, and they are no joke with the Dagwood-style sandwiches, either. We haven’t come close to trying them all yet, but there can be no doubt that the Dana Special is one of the most eminently cravable sandwiches ever.Picture a fresh crusty sesame seed hero baked a block away at Caputo’s Bakery, stuffed to the brim with Italian ham, spicy soppressato, marinated sweet peppers, fresh Buffalo mozzarella, oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pep… and the colpo di grazia? Paper thin-sliced eggplant, lightly breaded and perfectly fried. Sweet and tart, salty and crunchy, its no wonder that this was the sandwich of all sandwiches my wife wished to eat after nine months. And being a good husband I ordered one for me, too. Solidarity! Can’t let her do this thing alone, am I right?
I’m a savory guy. Give me a hot meatball sub over cookies or candy any day. And without question, this time of year I’ll take a slice of Escarole Pie over chocolate covered Peeps or a Cadbury Egg. Have you had Escarole Pie? Up until I moved to the neighborhood of Carroll Gardens, I hadn’t even heard of it. Served for lunch at Christmas or Easter, this traditional Neapolitan dish is particularly outrageous this time of year when the winter escarole is at its peak. It’s baked like a traditional pastry topped pie, but filled with fresh green escarole, garlic, olives, capers, onions, pine nuts, raisins and occasionally anchovy. It is a salty, sweet, crusty and faintly bitter baked delight. It’s unlike anything else I’ve ever tasted and on paper it probably shouldn’t be so delicious but who am I to challenge several hundred years of Italian culinary wizardry? You can try to bake your own (good luck with that) or if you act quickly there is absolutely still time for you to hop the F train to Carroll Street and pick up this seasonal treat from local butcher-deli geniuses, G. Esposito & Sons Pork Store. And hell, if you’re already at the counter there you should probably ask them to make you a Dana’s Special Hero to go. That’s the sub to get, and we wouldn’t steer you wrong because we’re all about feeding your face at On the Real. Enjoy your weekend and happy holidays!
New Yorkers think they are in “the know” about most things. Aunt Shirley’s got her place to pick up the best pastrami. Uncle Larry’s got a joint for the most incredible bagels. Cousin Carla will hook you up with concert tix at MSG and her brother Jimmy…well, let’s just say Jimmy still prefers you call his beeper when in need of his particular expertise. But here’s a secret not everyone knows: Acme Smoked Fish is the only place to grab the most incredible smoky fantastic ridiculous smoked wholesale fish. Monday through Thursday, unless you’re the fish buyer for Russ & Daughter’s, Zabar’s and other fine food retailers in the know, forget about access to Acme. But for us mere mortals, Continue reading
Drinking at the bar? A movie? Dinner? Meh. How about something really different this weekend when the sun goes down… Consider a trip over to the Gowanus Nite Market. The most recent iteration in the pop-up market phenomenon, the GNM is a 5,000 square foot eclectic indoor bazaar featuring local artists and vendors, cold beer, tasty foodstuffs, and a live DJ spinning. One other pretty intriguing detail: this market happens to be located inside the lower level of a gigantic industrial warehouse chock full of boutique movie props called “Film Biz Recycling.” Why not, right? The party starts at 7pm and goes to midnight. It’s a truly unique nighttime experience, only in Brooklyn (natch.) Eat your heart out, Brian Williams.
I grew up on Long Island and as an 80′s era pre-teen, a cool thing to do was go to the roller rink on the weekend. It was called “Laces,” and I spent many a Saturday with my buddies there. In those halcyon days, skates had four wheels, chicks wore Jordache unironically and the cool kids always huddled in the middle of the rink. If you’re the kind of person who enjoys low hanging fruit, go ahead and make your wisecracks, but dammit, it was ridiculously fun. If you’ve ever known the joys of speeding through the glittering sequined lights around dark rounded corners to the amplified sounds of Rick James, only pausing to rest for a spirited round of Galaga… then I have some great news for your weekend.This Saturday at the Brooklyn Lyceum you can relive all your childhood roller-disco memories, because they are hosting a Roller Skate and Disco Dance party. If you’ve never been to the Brooklyn Lyceum, the backstory is that it originally opened in 1910 as an indoor bathing facility, but today is an arts and cultural center on the edge of Gowanus playing host to a range of theatre, music, dance, markets and community activities. And apparently, roller disco parties. Bring your own skates and the kids to roll from noon til six, and then from six to midnight it’s just for the adults to get their rollerfreak on. I can only assume/hope there will be this song, and this song, and maybe this song, and that there will be bland square pizza and Dr. Peppers to go around.
I have a theory that if a sandwich possesses a name – The Godfather, the Costanza, The Dagwood, etc., – it is surely worth eating. It seems inconceivable that someone would take the time to name a sandwich that was not worthy. Naming is an act of love. So there was not much thought needed this weekend at Court Street Grocers when I spied Little Shonda on the menu.And if the name didn’t get me, the ingredients list did: Eggs, pastrami, swiss, pickled green tomatoes, and Lincoln administration favorite Durkee’s famous sauce on toasted pumpernickel. If the person who came up with this combination did not twist the ends of their moustache in devilish glee, I’d be very surprised. The pastrami was salty and tender, the eggs were fluffy, and the briny tang of the tomatoes provided an amazing balance to the fatty deliciousness of of the meat and sauce. Unique and utterly devourable. I metaphorically was licking my fingers after I finished the sandwich. Yes… metaphorically. It rocked so much I really want to declare this thing the winner of our contest. A round of applause for Little Shonda, and hats off to Court Street Grocers! I think this contest is officially a wrap.
We are only a few days into 2013, and I’m wondering if I didn’t already have potentially one of the best meals of the year last week at a place called La Vara in Cobble Hill. A relatively new restaurant from the couple behind Manhattan’s Txikito, at face value it appears to be merely a sweet little tapas restaurant but there’s a unique geo-culinary fusion being applied in the kitchen that seriously works its ass off. What I’ve read is that La Vara seeks to explore the legacy of food that was created as a result of the Jews and Muslims who shared the Iberian Peninsula with Christians for centuries. What I discovered is that this legacy exploration business is a very, very tasty thing.Courtney and I ordered a whole bunch of plates, and there was honestly nary a clunker in the bunch. If you are fortunate to go, here are just a few of the plates we tried that we deemed must-orders:
- The bowl of crunchy paprika fried chick-peas. Compulsively munchable and a fun starter.
- The lightly fried tiny artichokes with anchovy aioli. This one provoked dueling forks for the final bites.
- The salt cod salad. They cure their own fish in the kitchen and this beautiful plate was bright tasting, citrusy and delicious. Never had a salt cod salad and I had no idea what to expect, and it was way better than I could have imagined. This dish was a total star.
- The suckling pig (a special.) I could have eaten a whole meal of just this… honeyed cracklin’ skin over tender and juicy pork paired with a delicious chimichurri sauce. Loved it.
One other standout worth mentioning; the service at La Vara really shone. The whole staff was so genuinely friendly, we couldn’t get over it. You know you’ve been living in New York City a long time when authentically pleasant service is noteworthy, but here we are. I realize this sounds like a love letter, and maybe we went there on a particularly good night, and it did happen to be my birthday– but this just seemed like a happy restaurant and they are frankly doing everything right. Great food, terrific vibe. Go. Eat there!
Now that the weather is officially gray and frigid, what does one do to avoid going stir crazy? Sure, booze is always a fun way to pass the afternoon but there’s only so many times you can bring your two year old to the bar before Social Services comes knocking. With that in mind, every Friday On the Real will help you find stuff to do indoors. And so today, we bring you…puppets?Yes, puppets. And of all the creatures in the puppet Kingdom, I personally find marionettes inherently creepy. Maybe it’s because they are so herky-jerky. Maybe seeing them manipulated by strings inspires a certain Machiavellian dread. Or maybe it’s because of Chucky. Was Chucky a marionette? How about King Friday? Because I didn’t like him either. No matter. They’re freaky and so it was entirely an antsy-kid-in-cold-weather decision that made us head over to Park Slope to check out long-time marionette mainstay, Puppetworks. Set up as a black-box theater in the ground floor of a brownstone, it is actually sort of funky and charming.The puppeteers (marionetters?) come out before the show and explain to the kids the mechanics of how the puppets work, and they’re enthusiastic and silly and all the kids (including mine) ate the schtick up. The actual show itself was great — the kids yell and clap and point and are completely engaged, and despite my marionette aversion I’ll actually admit to being entertained as well. And I was struck by the notion that it’s totally wholesome, innocent and old-timey fun for a little kid and there isn’t tons of that fun around anymore. So this Saturday when the thermometer reads 19 degrees and your kids are drawing on the walls with Sharpies– remember the puppets.