Boston Restaurant Blog -- March, 2008
Saturday, March 8, 2008
I got back from New York City a few days ago, completing the round of three trips to the Big Apple that I did over the past couple of months. And much like on the other trips, I found a couple of outstanding dining spots, including one in Queens and another on the edge of Manhattan's Little Italy. And, once again, I was able to get to perhaps my favorite pizza place anywhere in the Northeast; it is a popular little place on Wooster Street in New Haven. Need I say more?
I went on this trip with three others who definitely love their restaurants, so it turned into a "let's find the best places" type of trip. And what better place to start than at Donovan's in the Woodside section of Queens? This surprisingly roomy Irish pub (complete with fireplace in the back room) claims to have the best burger in New York, and while I haven't had enough burgers in the city to make a judgment, I can say without exaggeration that the juicy, crumbly, grilled burger at Donovan's was better than anything I have had in Boston, and rivals Hodad's in Ocean Beach, CA, my all-time favorite. The atmosphere was quaint and cozy, too, and it reminded me of a few of the pubs I've been to in the rural towns along the West Coast of Ireland.
We soon left Donovan's and headed into Brooklyn, driving over the Brooklyn Bridge into Lower Manhattan, which would be our home for the next few days. After a stop up at Joe's Pizza on Carmine Street in Greenwich Village for some terrific slices (as I found out this time, you need to get the slices with mozzarella slices, not the regular ones), we headed back to Lower Manhattan for a quick drink at Ulysses, a pleasantly modern Irish pub on Pearl Street, before heading to the northern fringes of Little Italy for some more pizza.
The wait at Lombardi's was a long one, so we walked up Spring Street a short distance to a bustling bar called the Spring Pub before heading back to Lombardi's for what turned out to be one of the best, if not the best, pizzas I have had in New York City. Sitting in the basement room, the four of us split a couple of pies; I stuck to the pepperoni pizza with mozzarella slices and basil. The thin crust was charred just right, the slices of cheese were mild yet tasty, and the sauce was zesty and hearty. To me, it tasted a bit like a place in the Dumbo section of Brooklyn that I would return to the next night after a few years, but more about that later.
By the time we left Lombardi's it was coming up on 9:30 at night, so we decided to return to Lower Manhattan where we could have a nightcap near where we were staying. Unfortunately, Moran's on Washington Street was closed for some reason (I found out later that the place is still open, but do not know why they were closed on a Saturday night), so we went up the street to Trinity Place, a restaurant and pub located in a bank vault at the corner of Broadway and Cedar that I had been to two weeks earlier. The bartender was entertaining, the music was good, and the place was pretty quiet, so we stayed there, eventually heading back to where we were staying.
On Sunday morning, we started with a rather uninspiring breakfast at a cafe on Pearl Street, we headed up to the Strand Bookstore near Union Square for awhile before taking the subway into Midtown, where we had lunch at the Stage Deli. The Stage is a famous place popular with tourists and locals alike, though when we arrived around 1:00 in the afternoon, there were plenty of seats available. I started with an outstanding matzah ball soup (perhaps better than any I've had in Boston), then moved on to my corned beef sandwich, which I had thought was outrageously priced at about $15. But the sandwich was big enough for two or even three people, as it had 25 slices of corned beef and 4 slices of cheese as well as a tasty pickle on the side. Somehow I ate the entire sandwich, which I figured I would regret later, but it was a very good sandwich, with lean, tender corned beef that was a cut above most corned beef I've had. My dining companions had a turkey sandwich (not bad) and a corned beef and pastrami (very good) as well as various soups, all of which were excellent.
After lunch we went across the street to an Irish pub called The Irish Pub you have a to love a name that is straight and to the point). It was a musty, tired old place that nonetheless was my favorite watering hole on the entire trip, mainly because it was friendly, cheap, and a relaxing oasis among the hustle and bustle of Midtown. We stayed there for quite a while, eventually heading out to return to Greenwich Village to wander around, then back to Lower Manhattan, where a family member met us all for our next dining excursion.
Two cabs took us from where we were staying in Lower Manhattan to the Dumbo section of Brooklyn (just on the other side of the Brooklyn Bridge), where we took our space in line outside of Grimaldi's, a pizza place on Old Fulton Street that is an institution of sorts. Now I was greatly looking forward to getting back to Grimaldi's going there a few years ago, but it didn't quite match the experience I had the first time, when I had what I thought at the time was the best pizza I had ever eaten before. This time, however, my pepperoni pizza was a tad undercooked with no charring of the crust, and the sauce didn't quite have the great taste of Lombardi's the night before. The two pizzas are virtually identical in that they are both thin-crust pies cooked in coal-fried ovens with slices of white mozzarella on top, but I felt that Lombardi's was simply better. Plus, sitting in Grimaldi's was very uncomfortable, as everyone in the place was squeezed in as tightly as possible with absolutely no elbow room. It was still an overall decent experience, but I have to admit that I was slightly disappointed.
We soon left Grimaldi's and walked down to the wharves, where we soaked in the incredible views of the Brooklyn Bridge and the Manhattan skyline before turning back and walking up the hill to a Spanish restaurant and club on Front Street called Toro. We were in no mood for food, so we hung out at their moody, exotic looking bar for awhile, chatting with the bartender and the owner. The place is located in an old bank, and the high ceilings, huge windows, and magnificent architectural detail made this a place I want to get back to, perhaps for dinner someday. By the time we left Toro, it was nearly midnight, so we walked across the Brooklyn Bridge, headed over to a comfortable old pub called The Paris in the South Street Seaport district, and soon called it a night.
It was Monday morning and time to leave New York, but before we did, we took a drive through various parts of Brooklyn, including Brooklyn Heights, Cobble Hill, Park Slope, and Midwood, before ending up at Coney Island. Dumpy, dirty, and rather forlorn, but with an incredible history, Coney Island lured us in if only for a little while, with its cheesy shops (most of which were closed), amusement parks, and, of course, Nathan's, which is one of the most famous hot dogs stands in the country. And that is exactly where we went, enjoying corn dogs and Nathan's original hot dogs while doing some rather interesting people-watching both inside and out. We actually agreed that the corn dogs were our favorite, though the original hot dogs were also excellent, and I vowed to return on my next trip to New York (especially if we see a Brooklyn Cyclones game).
Once we left Coney Island, we made a beeline for Boston, but not before stopping once again at Pepe's in New Haven for what I now believe is my favorite pizza in the entire Northeast (with all due respect to John's in Manhattan and the aforementioned Lombardi's). To me, it was simply a perfect pizza, with a charred crust, delicious sauce, browned cheese, and pepperoni that was curled just right on the ends. It was a fitting way to end a terrific journey--and to close out my trifecta of New York City road trips for the winter.
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