There’s something to be said for a solid, old-school meal.
What this means varies, of course, depending on where you are. In the U.S., I’ve always relished the mom-and-pop low-key restaurants that still roll out unfussy, decades-old standbys — hot turkey platters, melts, meatloaf and more. (If you’ve read “A Tiger in the Kitchen,” you’ll know what a meatloaf obsessive I am.)
I find myself craving these meals when it gets a little chilly. And so on a recent rainy day, we found ourselves heading over to a little restaurant called Belle Harbor Steak House in Rockaway Park, New York.
I’d caught a glimpse of the menu a few days before and it seemed like just the place to warm you up on a cold drizzly afternoon …
Lunchtime on a hot summer’s day and two small boys are very silently perched on a bench near Fort Tilden Beach.
They’re still; their eyes a little glazed. Finally, one breaks the stupor to very slowly say, “These are soooo good.”
The source of their trance is at their elbows — two almost empty cups of thick, cold milkshakes and the carcass of lunch. At this point, sous chef and I have just gotten off a sunny bus ride all the way to the end of the Q22 line at Rockaway Beach, all in search of this mythical Breezy Dog food truck we’d been reading about.
From the look of the fog these boys were in, lunch was starting to seem worth the ride …
Well, The Wharf in New York‘s Rockaway Beach is certainly not one of those places.
Check it out, yes — I definitely heard that. With its outdoor dining deck with sweeping views of the water and Manhattan’s skyline in the distance, The Wharf’s vista for a sunset cocktail can’t be beat. But eat? We had read and heard enough about the food to know there were probably better restaurants in Rockaway Beach.
Even so, on a recent evening, as our cocktails on that famous deck were disappearing, the vaunted view was nudging us to stay.
How bad could the food truly be? We decided to find out …
Ask anyone in Key West about lunch and you’ll likely get the question: “Have you been to the crêpe place?”
Admittedly, this island is not a place I’d think of for crêpes — seafood, yes. (Perhaps even a boozy lunchspot with a view.) Crêpes? Silly as it sounded, it didn’t seem local enough for one of the few meals out I was allowing myself during my month of writing.
After a few weeks of getting this question though, I decided to investigate. So off we went one morning on a jaunt to a little corner in Bahama Village …
First night in Key West and the locals are determined to school this food writer. The most important advice?
“The best places to get Cuban coffee are attached to laundromats.”
Sure, there’s Sandy’s — a place so well-known it’s got sleek rides pulling up all day to pick up trays of coffees to go along with giant bags of sandwiches and a fleet of delivery cars whizzing in and out as you wait 20 minutes for your order. But the one that people keep saying is the must is a little less celebrated.
Beloved as this place is, its name escapes them. “Just go to the corner of Union and White,” I am told.
And so on a sunny Saturday morning, taking a little break from my writing desk, I do …
Snow, biting winds, ice chips pelting my windows — last weekend’s storm in New York City has had me wondering why I don’t just throw in the towel each winter and decamp to tropical Singapore.
What has gotten me through these past few freezing, sloshy days however, is my intense memory of and cravings for Singapore noodle soups.
These are harder to find in cosmopolitan New York than you’d think. Sure, Cantonese wonton soups and Vietnamese phos are everywhere. But beefy Teochew broths spiked with star anise or rich Hainanese curried noodle soups? I actually have never seen those on menus around here.
So when the weather starts turning in New York, the cravings begin. Which is how I haven’t been able to get Hoe Nam prawn noodles out of my head …
It appears, however, that I have been speaking out of turn. On a recent trip to Singapore, chef Willin Low (of the always impressive Wild Rocket restaurant) decided to correct me, putting me in his car and taking me to Hong Lim Market & Food Centre, a busy hawker center near the heart of Chinatown. Once there, we wended our way among the little stalls until we found one that had a line with more than a dozen people in it.
“Quick,” he said, shooing me to hurry over to Outram Park Fried Kway Teow Mee. “Get in line!”
This, apparently, was the best char kway teow in Singapore.
In addition to art, however, we ended up having some rich exchanges over something surprising: Cooking.
As you may have read before on this blog, colony chef Dan Tosh fed us tremendously well on weekdays. But on weekends, left to our own devices, we ended up taking to the stove to teach one other a little about the dishes that fueled us in our own homes. Which is how I came to learn to make out-of-this-world chana masala …