The Eat Village

There are major perks to living in the East Village for a young person. Namely, it’s filled with other young people, and this means a perpetual influx of new bars and restaurants. Yet unlike some other trendy Manhattan neighborhoods, the East Village retains traces of the seediness of NYC yore. This is what many outsiders imagine to be “the real New York” (for some reason, “the real New York” people tend to nostalgically lament is linked to bombed out architecture, drug fiends, and a general feeling that terror is about to befall you just around the corner). I realize how special it is that the neighborhood has recently boomed with foodstuffs, and yet it has somehow miraculously retained its vibe. Now that I’ve been here over a year, I’ve discovered some seriously drool-worthy spots worth sharing. Because as we all know, the best tours are ones done through taste buds.

Back Forty

If you want pork jowl nuggets and want to know where the pork jowl nuggets came from, this is the place for you. Their menu is seasonal, and that can be hit or miss in my experience (never again, experimental cheese platter). But the dishes are always innovative, and when they’re good, they’re great. This summer they featured a cucumber gazpacho, and I found myself craving it in a way that’s usually only reserved for ice cream or peanut butter. If you want to be safe, stick to ordering the menu staples, like the herb crusted Amish chicken or the grass-fed burger, and you will leave more than satiated. Particularly if you get a side of yucca fries. And in case you’re as cluelessly urban as me, “back forty” refers to the back forty acres of land on a farm, which explains the rakes and tools hanging from the walls. Oh, and there is a lot of beer if you’re into that, too.

Northern Spy is similar to Back Forty in that you don’t have to worry about your food being poisoned by toxic pesticides. If you want to be that person you can ask the waiter where your eggs came from and they can tell you when the truck arrived and from which local farm. But you can taste how fresh the food is here. I’m partial to their brunches, as the eggs are done to perfection, I’ve never had better polenta (I don’t even know if I’d tried polenta before this), and their corned beef is everything corned beef should be (awesome).This place has something for everyone: the kale salad with cheddar, almonds, pecorino and baked eggs ould satisfy even the staunchest of the anti-kale crowd. And if greens aren’t your thing, duck fat fries savants are most welcome here. Like most New York restaurants, if you go at a busy time, you may end up eating on top of you neighbors. But the picnicky, friendly decor sort of makes that okay. Also they have this awesome green vintage tree wallpaper, and the fact that I noticed wallpaper means something.

It’s like Murray’s Cheese Shop, but 1/8 the size and not swarming with tourists. Maybe that’s because it’s on Avenue C, which is still a largely overlooked resource in the East Village. (Resource=food, drink.) Barnyard specializes in artisanal meats and cheeses, and has a nice little display of pre-packaged fresh foods. But I go here for the sandwiches, which are made on the spot with love and care and piles of cured deli meats.

So although you may run into an overfed rat or 17 in Thompkins Square Park, the East Village has a lot to offer at least culinarily speaking. This is by no means a comprehensive list, but that will get you started if you’re looking for local deliciousness of the American cuisine variety. Please note there are also things like breakfast, lunch, dessert, and maybe even a bar or two in the East Village that did not appear here. But presenting just a little taste at a time seems much more digestible.

Stanford study hints at “Organic Shmorganic”, splits eaters in two

A recent Stanford University study found that there were no real nutritional benefits to organic produce over their non-organic (and cheaper!) counterparts. The study also deemed that the amounts of pesticides in non-organic foods are almost always used in safe levels, and essentially negligible from a health standpoint.

Learn about food, population growth, and upper middle class back-to-nature romanticism. Then, don’t eat organic.

Also, be sure to learn about the details of the study and its misleading conclusions surrounding pesticides. Then, eat organic.

Confused? Me too. Thus, I prefer a schizophrenic hybrid of the two when I grocery shop. My own research has led me to believe that certain produce (mainly berries) contain the most dangerous levels of pesticides, whereas fruits with thicker skins tend to be okay for non-organic purchases. When I say thicker skins, I mean your rough-and-tumble pineapples, bananas, oranges, and peels with a degree of durability. I am stingy about organic breads, cereals, and soups because that enters a realm of more convoluted nutritional advice, as opposed to what I was just discussing, which was about the whole poisonous toxins entering your system thing. When one is on a budget, poison takes precedence, and 25-grain bread from the farm up the road becomes luxury. Of course, as the NY Times article above points out, the organic debate is one heavily steeped in economic class systems (even on a budget and my latest terror-inducing bank statement, my concern with pesticide poisoning is an admitted luxury). Organic food simply cannot be discussed without the mention of the larger inequalities of class, nutritional education, and disparate health needs among populations.

I shall pull a Bukowski now, and say that the way to end a post like this is to become suddenly quiet. Look to the distance, insert a meme.*

*The meme bit is mine, as Bukowski sadly did not survive to see memes infiltrate society.

A Coffeehouse Worth Making the Trip For

Nestled between the boho-bicyclists on East 12th Street and an inconspicuous lime-green awning of a Furry Land Pet Supplies, you’ll find the bustling Ost Cafe. As any New Yorker knows, open a store whose cheif product is coffee, and you’ll need an edge to stay in business. Luckily, this place has struck a chord with the usually migratory tendencies of caffiene consumers, and for good reason. Ost Cafe, meaning “East Cafe” in German, seamlessly pairs its Eastern European flair with notable variations on the run-of-the-mill coffehouse menu.

Ost is immediately distinguished because of its appearance. Huge windows bracketed by humble egg-white frames line the entire shop. Thus, “daylight” and “spaciousness” are actually terms that may be applied here, something that few Manhattan businesses can boast. Make your way towards the oak countertops, and you’ll most likely be greeted by a friendly, handlebar-moustached barista. Don’t be deterred if men with muttonchops or women sporting gigantic Buddy Holly frames isn’t your scene: the clientele here represent a diverse sampling of urban life. The vibe is relaxed, perhaps in large part to the fact that this cafe offers a selection of wines from the former “Austro-Hungarian empire” region. If your historical geography is a little fuzzy, all you really need to know is that around sunset, fresh wine corks are popped and the lights are dimmed. In fact, after 7:00pm, all the laptop-toters are politely asked to de-plug. Yes, that’s right. Computers, ipads, and other glowing screens are banned at night. While that might have just sent some people running for the hills (or the safehaven of a familiar Starbucks), Ost Cafe becomes a hub of real, face-to-face interaction, and it is not uncommon to strike up conversations with people at the neighboring tables and couches.

The menu features all the basics to assuage your caffeine needs. But there are also pastries from local Eastern European bakeries, such as baklava, rugleach, and even a nice fruit-and-sugar crusted strudel if you’re feeling bold. Perhaps the most outstanding feature of the menu (besides the wine) are the hearty meat and cheese platters. Basically, they’ve managed to take all of our embarrassing favorite foods like pepperoni sticks and plastic-wrapped cheese slices, and return them to their humble roots; something classy and delicious and not from Gristedes at 4am. The platters have impeccable layouts, bringing to mind fancy cocktail hors d’œuvres at socialite dinner parties, and of course, all the meats and cheeses hail fresh from Italy, Austria, and Hungary.

If you’re looking to up your coffeehouse ante, and combine it with a classy, relaxed cocktail hour, Ost Cafe is the perfect East VIllage hangout. And if you just want to grab a coffee to go, they can handle that, too.

A Very Undomesticated Female, Apparently

The "Incident"

There is absolutely no valid reason why any woman needs to master the art of chocolate chip cookie baking.  However, self-sufficiency and independence in the kitchen is something all people should aspire to.  Especially if you are a New Yorker and ordering Thai take-out every other night can become a legitimate budget breaker.  Not speaking personally.

This “incident” occurred the other night and yes, there was a certain humorous element to the whole ordeal (well, once we fanned out the plumes of chocolately smoke into the hallway and the fire detector stopped beeping, it was humorous). But immediately afterwards I began to feel rather lame. First off, now we had no delicious treats.  But on a philosophical level, why can I not bake the tamest of desserts, the really not elusive Nestle Tollhouse chocolate chip cookie?  These little puppies smoked up the entire apartment, and the scent of dough aflame is still gently billowing in faint exhaust clouds down the hallway.  My poor roommates tried to eat the charcookies in a miraculous display of personal endorsement.  But kindness is rarely a match for burnt charcoal on the tongue.  After one or two crunches, all pretenses ceased.  The feigned smiles shrank into the kind of wincing that is usually only reserved for sensations of intense pain.  The martyr-mouthed roommates and I had no choice but to dump out the goods.

Anyway, it is apparent that honing my cooking skills is a near-necessity, so that I am at least no longer a fire hazard to my entire apartment building.  On the other hand, Thai take-out is quite delicious, and I enjoy writing restaurant reviews, so I may as well look at my kitchen handicap as a professional positive and try that new overpriced Tuscan-Mexican fusion place in Alphabet City.