3 Hidden Food Gems in NYC
On Log On & Eat with Eden Grinshpan, Eden travels the country to meet the most outrageous and original food bloggers and social media stars who invite her to devour their favorite dishes. We connected with them to pick their brains and score some exclusive advice and tips.
There are foodies, and then there are food fanatics. I do not consider myself a foodie, but I certainly do consider myself a food fanatic.
Foodies relish keeping up with all the endless food trends. Foodies can’t seem to get enough braised pork belly and kale. Foodies will dutifully stand in line for hours for a taste of a Cronut.
But food fanatics are a horse of another color. We love food just as much as foodies, and we are equally, if not more, dedicated to the pursuit of delicious bites. But the food in which we are interested doesn’t trend on Twitter or light up your RSS feed. It’s not about how new or "in" something is. It’s not about the marketing or the presentation; it’s simply about how good it tastes.
I’ve literally devoted my life to finding all the best food in all the five boroughs of NYC. For me, it’s not a hobby. I’ve made it my career as Famous Fat Dave, and I share it with other food fanatics on the Famous Fat Dave Five Borough Eating Tour on the Wheels of Steel. On my tour, we hit the places where the people eat. We eat the food in the neighborhood spots that exist because the people in those neighborhoods demand they exist.
Foodie restaurants are trying to get you to go there one time in your life EVER. And they don’t care if you never go back. There are millions of other foodies who can’t wait to get in line so they can post on Facebook that they’ve eaten there.
Neighborhood spots like the ones on my radar are trying to get you to eat three times a week every week for the rest of your life. That’s how they stay in business. They feed honest food to regular folks at fair prices. The chefs aren’t trying to become celebrities, and they’re not trying to prove anything about how creative or innovative they can be.
On the episode of Log On and Eat with Eden Grinshpan in which I appear, I introduce Eden — the ultimate food fanatic — to a pizzeria in Howard Beach, Queens, called New Park Pizza. That neighborhood is full of Italians, and Italians, even more than foodies, love to eat good pizza. The neighborhood is not on the tourist track, and the pizza is not a foodie destination. But it’s real simple, real quick and real tasty. A visit to New Park, though you won’t recognize the name of the chef and there are no fancy ingredients, will give you a strong sense of the way that small and distinct corner of New York lives and eats. And the pizza is simply delicious.
Here are three other such neighborhood joints in three other boroughs where a food fanatic might find a tasty treasure:
First Way Deli, Home of the Murder Burger, 1030 E. Tremont Ave., West Farms , Bronx
The South Bronx is one of the poorest parts of the entire United States. There are not many healthy options. Most people around there, if they want a quick bite, have to eat food from the corner bodega rather than choose from a smorgasbord of options like in the wealthier sections of the city. But one bodega, First Way Deli, serves up a burger that’s tastier than most you’ll find anywhere in New York City. The owners are Dominican, so they season it with adobo and a multitude of sauces. Don’t expect a classic American burger experience; expect a flavor explosion. The burger meat isn’t super-high quality, but then again burgers never were supposed to be a substitute for steak! As opposed to the $26 black label burger so popular at Minetta Tavern on the foodie path, the burger at First Way Deli is $3.50, yet it is equally satisfying. In fact, the owners call it the "Murder Burger" because, they say, it will murder your hunger. Ask a patron from the projects across the street and he or she will most likely tell you, “It’s called a murder burger cause a dude got murdered eating this burger back in the '80s." Yes, it’s best to tread lightly in this neighborhood. But if you do brave it, the Murder Burger will give you a little taste of true South Bronx flavor.
Charles’ Country Pan Fried Chicken, 2839 Frederick Douglass Blvd., Harlem, Manhattan
Fried chicken is as much a part of the fabric of Harlem’s culture and history as jazz or Langston Hughes — maybe even more! In the 1920s, countless Southern blacks moved in during what became known as the Harlem Renaissance. Nearly all the spots that opened at that time are long since defunct. Charlie Gabriel moved from North Carolina to Harlem in the 1960s, and he soon started cooking fried chicken the way he learned how down South. He is from a family of sharecroppers who picked cotton, and he learned to fry chicken for his 20 brothers and sisters. It’s the story of the Harlem Renaissance played out just a couple generations later. And visiting Charles’ Country Pan Fried Chicken still feels like a visit to the Deep South. Charlie fries his chicken in the old-fashioned Southern style. He uses a huge iron skillet and spaces the chicken apart. He takes time to manually turn each piece over repeatedly until they’re all perfectly fried. This stands in stark contrast to the fast food deep fryer that the Colonel uses. Because of Charlie’s old-school Southern-fried technique, which is almost never employed these days, it’s almost like time travel too.
Jay and Lloyd’s Kosher Deli, 2718 Avenue U, Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn
There used to be thousands of delicatessens all over New York City. I’m not exaggerating — thousands. Nowadays, very few remain. Most of the Jews who used to frequent those delis have moved out of the city to such places as Long Island, New Jersey, Westchester, Connecticut and Florida. And the ones who remain don’t eat deli food every day anymore. But Jay and Lloyd abide. Deep in Brooklyn at the edge of the neighborhood of Sheepshead Bay, Jay and Lloyd take their time “serving good food to nice people.” The pastrami, at its best, can put Katz's pastrami to shame. It takes up to two months from curing the beef, through the spice rubbing and smoking process, to steaming on the day it’s finally served. The rugalach is baked fresh every day. They even make their own peppery New York onion sauce to adorn their particularly snappy and tasty hot dogs. Jay and Lloyd’s has been open for only 20 years, which makes it a baby in the deli world. But both Jay's and Lloyd’s fathers and grandfathers were deli men, so the craft is in their blood. And they’ve both been in the business their whole lives. The old Brooklyn Jews still flock to Jay and Lloyd’s. The relatively new influx of Russian Jews bolster the customer base along with all sorts of folks in the neighborhood who just enjoy good, honest food. You don’t have to be Jewish to love this classic Brooklyn delicatessen, but it helps.
Watch Famous Fat Dave on Log On & Eat with Eden Grinshpan, tonight, Tuesday, November 19, at 9:30pm ET.
Find out more about Famous Fat Dave's Five Borough Eating Tour on the Wheels of Steel.