Ultimate Foodie Mission: Best Pizza in NYC

Meatball and Mushroom Pizza from Lombardi's has Annie seeimg red

Meatball and Mushroom Pizza from Lombardi's has Annie seeing red

Strangely enough, this mission may have been the one I was looking forward to most on the trip – and the way it came to be was a bit of a story in itself.  My good foodie friend Theresa Miller and I always try to get together for some sort of foodie adventure at any trade show that we find ourselves at.   The original conversation centered around a tasting at Per Se – after doing some reading and seeing my schedule start to fill up for the night we both had available, I asked “Hey T – whattya say we get a car, and we go on a search for the best NYC coal fired pizza and maybe get a hot dog or two on the way?”   Theresa agreed that she’d get the car, I’d buy dinner and our plan was made.

So – on the night in question, Theresa and her lovely friend Ann showed up at The Australian with an Escalade, a drive and a plan.  We’d open the evening heading to Lombardi’s in Little Italy, followed by a jaunt across the Brooklyn Bridge to Grimaldi’s, then on to Papaya King for a Papaya drink and a hot dog.   Since we were having a contest to decide who our NYC Pizza King would be, we set up a criteria.  We’d get the same pizza at Lombardi’s and Grimaldi’s and make the call which one took home the prize.   We opened at Lombardi’s where – after a 20 minute wait for a table to open (and some Chianti drinking) we ordered up a meatball and mushroom pizza along with a house salad (shareable) and some more wine.   The house salad was awesome with fresh greens and a dynamite house dressing, but it turned out to be totally unnecessary filler.

Lombardi’s pizza offered excellence in it’s simplicity –  it was very simply fresh dough (made daily) with a simple sauce of San Marzano tomatoes and salt (no herb or spice blend) topped with cheese and homemade meatballs and fresh mushrooms.   The real stars at Lombardi’s are the crust – which is perfectly crispy and blistered by the hot coal fire and has a taste that is unlike anything you will get anywhere but in one of the few NYC Pizzerias that are still licensed to operate coal ovens, and the sauce.  It’s a prime example of how simple and awesome ingredients are key to Italian cuisine.   The meatballs were awesome as well – all and  all Lombardi’s was a winner, but what do you expect from the restaurant that was New York’s first pizzeria -opened in 1905?

On a bonus note, while we were waiting for our table, T walked across the street to Rice to Riches and brought back sample sized packs of Rice Pudding.  We tried Coast to Coast Cheesecake, Cinnamon Sling with Raisins and Chocolate Chip Flirt – the winner for me was the classic Cinnamon Sling –  it’s the way I make rice pudding and I’d rather it be served warm.  All were excellent for the sweet tooth.

Next up – we headed to Brooklyn to check out one of the other claimants to the “Best in NYC” Pizza crown – Grimaldi’s.  I’d read about the long lines and wait times you could encounter at Grimaldi’s if you came during dinner hours, and although we hit there late on in the dinner rush (9 ish) the line up was out the door and down the block and the sign reading “the line is for take out too” was not encouraging.  I decided to get creative and called in my order from the line.  A cook who was out having a smoke commended me on the move and told me to go ahead and pay.  Once I got inside and paid, I was told the pie would be ready in 10 minutes so we took a spin around the block.   I was bummed to find out that meatballs weren’t available so we settled on Pepperoni and Mushroom.

The Pizza from Grimaldi’s was good – very good with a similar crust (coal fired ovens are the bomb) in terms of the smokey flavor, but lacking a bit in the crispness we’d experienced at Lombardi’s.  I’ll give some slack because we took this pizza to go and the crust might have been sogged a bit  by steam in the paper wrapping they used.  The sauce was totally different though – Grimaldi’s added to the San Marzano tomato sauce and added some oregano and other herbs and spices – it was good, but as a bit of a purest, I thought Lombardi’s simple approach was better here.

The winner of our “Best Pizza in NYC” expedition that night – Lombardi’s – both were great pizza, but Lombardi’s really stood out – the simplicity and honesty of their ingredients really showed through.

More on the hot dog segment of the adventure later.

Review – Dinosaur Bar-B-Cue in Harlem

Awesome appie plate at Dinosaur Bar-B-Cue in Harlem

Spicy Shrimp Boil • Chicken Wings • Fried Green Tomatoes • Deviled Eggs in the Swag Sampler Plate at Dinosaur Bar-B-Cue

I was really stoked with Julien of VillageVines.com asked me if we’d be up for joining him for dinner while we were in NYC and I agonized over the list of restaurants that VillageVines had relationships with trying to pick the right one for our Tuesday night excursion.   Logistics were a bit tricky as I had a pair of really awesome Yankee’s tickets courtesy of Karen Garcia and I wanted to make sure that whichever restaurant we chose would have us headed in the right direction (towards The Bronx) if at all possible.  Dinosaur Bar-B-Cue in Harlem looked to be a perfect choice.   I gathered up a dining/baseball game partner in Stephanie (@MicroSteph) Lichtenstein and met Julien at our hotel to catch a cab to Harlem.

I was stoked when we arrived and realized that we were just a block from the Cotton Club, where we’d gathered for the CAMA Gospel Brunch last year.  Once we stepped into the restaurant, I knew we were in for a treat as the smoky aroma of BBQ goodness greeted me immediately.   We started our adventure with a Swag Sampler Plate (Spicy Shrimp Boil • Chicken Wings • Fried Green Tomatoes • Deviled Eggs) and a round of beers and dove in.   The appetizers were awesome and flavorful and we were only about 2/3 through when our entree’s showed up.

HALF BAR-B-Q CHICKEN-ALL NATURAL from Dinosaur Bar-B-Cue in Harlem

Barbecued Chicken Apple brined, pit smoked and slathered with original Barbecue Sauce

As always, we each ordered something different so we could sample and share and we ended up with a nice representati0n of the menu.  I ordered the Texas Brisket and Pulled Pork Combo Plate  – for sides I went with Mac and Cheese and Simmered Greens.  The Brisket was tender and sweet with some spice from the pickled jalapeno’s it came with – the smoke ring was gorgeous and the flavor was to match.  The Pulled Pork was also awesome – slow smoked Pork Butt hand pulled and mixed with a savory sauce.  Mac and Cheese seemed to be one of my theme’s of the week as I was really on a comfort food rampage and the mac and cheese at Dino BBQ held it’s own.   It was definitely not the “Kraft Dinner”  version-  homemade with plenty of creamy, buttery, cheesy goodness.  The greens were delicious as well.

Wade's dinner at Dinosaur Bar-B-Cue in Harlem

Awesome Barbecue grub - Texas Brisket, Pulled Pork in Savory Sauce, Homestyle Mac and Cheese and Collard Greens

Stephanie’s Half Bar-B-Q Chicken was delicious as well.  Brining was key as it makes for moist delicious chicken with flavor that is embedded deep in the meat.  Stephanie chose the Bar-B-Q sauce option (they also offer Creole Honey Mustard) and it was a winner.  Julien stepped up and ordered the whole rack of Bar-B-Cue Pork Ribs, which he proceded to share liberally (thanks Julien) and they were the real winner of the evening.   The key here is the preparation as the Ribs are marinated for 24 hours in Dino BBQ’s “Action Spice Rub”  then cooked low and slow to perfection.   The natural juices from the ribs combining with the rub made sauces unnecessary.    The flavor and texture were phenomenal – I know that next time I go back (and I will) I’ll be ordering up some ribs for myself. All and all – the meal was super tasty and approachable – the service was a little spotty, but I always put more importance on the food, especially at a casual spot like this.

After finishing our entree’s and our second beer, we knew we were done for and waived off the dessert menu and walked/rolled our way to the subway station where Steph and I headed uptown to Yankee Stadium and Julien headed downtown to another engagement.   Thanks to Julien and VillageVines.com for a wonderful meal and thanks to Dinosaur Bar-B-Cue for cooking it up.

Review – Tipsy Parson in Chelsea

One of the things I was looking forward to most in our recent trip to New York City was trying out the Village Vines service and discount at Tipsy Parson in Chelsea.  I am a sucker for well executed Southern cuisine, so I was dying to try this place with some friends.   As I got closer to our reservation time, the drama built as my flight was delayed in Atlanta and I was seriously worried about being able to make it anywhere  close to our reservation time.  Alas – the foodie gods smiled on me as I was able to get from La Guardia, to midtown to drop off my bags then on to Chelsea with one minute to spare before my 9:00 reservation was missed.  On arrival, I joined Joe Sousa and Melissa Salas in the bar for a cocktail (The Jezebel) until my other dining partners Josh Shanas and Stephanie Lichtenstein made their arrivals.

We were seated in the lively back room of Tipsy Parson at a communal long table with two other parties, and launched the evening with a first course of hushpuppies and fried pickles for the group to share and sample.   The hushpuppies were a little overdone, but still moist in the middle and really nicely flavored with herbs and spices that nicely complemented the sweetness of the corn..   The fried pickles where well executed –  perfectly cooked with a spicy dipping sauce that really made the dish – the heat was there, but it wasn’t overpowering.

A few of us decided to try a second appetizer  course  –  Joe and I decided to go for the Shrimp and Grits.   This is one of my favorite dishes ever and the Tipsy Parson didn’t disappoint.    The consistency of the grits was perfect, super creamy (I am pretty sure this recipe wasn’t cardiologist approved)  with nice spice on the shrimp and in the grits themselves.   The fried green tomatoes were nicely executed – their tartness providing a nice foil for the sweetness of the shrimp and grits.   This dish was Southern comfort food at it’s best.

For the main dish,  I let our server choose between the Roasted Poussin (yogurt & smoked pepper marinated organic, free-range baby chicken, creamed corn succotash, tasso ham) and the Fudge Family Farms Pork Chop ( a 16oz. grilled pork chop, tuscan kale salad, cherry mustard, almond brown butter)  – he steered me towards the Pork Chop and I don’t think there was a bad choice available.  Josh went with the Poussin, while Joe chose the Broiled Catfish.  Stephanie went off the beaten path with a side of mac and cheese and a 4 inch tall buttermilk chive biscuit.   The lovely Melissa decided to make the health and figure conscious decision… to an extent as she ordered a salad and the buttermilk chive biscuit as well – she took some ribbing from the rest of us for being “that salad eating girl.”

The Fudge Family Farms Pork Chop was a revelation.  It was huge, perfectly cooked and seasoned with a sauce (cherry mustard, almond brown butter)  that was one of the best I’ve ever enjoyed.   For the first (and not the last time of the week, I was not able to finish my entree as the chop was just too much after all the appies we’d enjoyed.   I got the chance to try Josh’s Poussin as well and he had a winner.  It was quite simply the most explosively moist and flavorful chicken I have ever eaten.  I’m guessing it was brined pre-marinade as the flavor was present all the way through the meat.   I would have been extremely satisfied with either choice.

We had some other ideas for dessert and were all pretty full so we decided to skip on dessert at the Tipsy Parson – but will have to check it out next time we’re back.

Quick summary –  The Tipsy Parson in Chelsea offers extremely soulful food featuring generous portions of food with big flavor.  The atmosphere was lively and loud – not a quiet, romantic spot for sure.  It was a restaurant that clearly celebrated a funky Southern comfort food ideal and we all left full and happy.   I highly recommend Tipsy Parson – oh, and the fact that we saved 30% on our bill with an assist from Village Vines was pretty awesome as well.  We walked out of Tipsy Parson having ordered all over the menu and feeding a party of 5 for under $250.00 – not bad for great food in NYC.

Nuts and Berries

While in NYC in the middle of August for a tradeshow, a group of friends and I frequented a local pub called the “Old Castle”. It’s your average bar that stays open late with a decent bartender, a couple of tvs tuned to various sporting events, and a handful of regulars. Well, we’re all a bunch of functioning alcoholics when we go to these sorts of tradeshows, so I’m sure we completely blew their monthly sales projections to smithereens.

The second night we were there, the call went up for shots and this little glass of deliciousness was what the barkeep served up.

Nuts & Berries Shot

Nuts & Berries

1/2 oz Frangelico® hazelnut liqueur
1/2 oz Chambord® raspberry liqueur
1/2 oz cream

Pour alcohols into a stainless steel shaker over ice, and shake until completely cold. Strain into a chilled shot glass, slowly pour cream over the back of a spoon to top.

Les Halles Park Avenue

The man-crush on Anthony Bourdain may belong squarely to Wade, but when we recently found ourselves in New York again, I was actually looking forward to visiting the restaurant Les Halles on Park Avenue where he is “chef-at-large”.

I’m not usually keen on going to places owned by celebrity chefs. Often the staff is rude and pretentious, the food mediocre and it just annoys me that the celebrity is the focus rather than the food. However, knowing that Bourdain is usually fairly self effacing and willing to eat just about anything, I figured it would be a pretty good dinner. Plans were hatched, reservations made and eventually six of us met up for dinner: Wade, Angel and myself all from UltimateFoodie and our friends Leslie, Nigel and Josh.

Mixed Grill at Les Halles

We started out with a round of various ‘amuse-gueules’; Angel had escargots, Leslie enjoyed a salad, and Josh and I both had Gratinée de Halles which was their classic onion soup. The soup was divine, but frankly was served just a smidge too hot and though Angel generously offered to share his snails, I wasn’t interested in trying them again.

For our main course, Angel ordered Sauciss Alsacienne, Josh had steak au poivre, Leslie had steak with frites, I indulged in the Magret de Canard au sauce grenade, and Wade and Nigel went head to head on the Planche de Grillades.

Sausages at Les Halles

Now, when we dine out, the camera is usually passed around and everything is documented for later discussion and blogging. This night, I had tacitly decided to keep the camera put away in lieu of simply enjoying the meal. Then the waiter put down Angel’s plate of Sauciss Alsacienne. We both looked at his plate, then he looked up at me and in a moment that was simply two minds with but a single thought, I reached for the camera. Perched on the mushroom mashed potatoes were two alsatian beer sausage, side by side, flanked by round potato chips in a structure that would be instantly recognized as phallic by even the most cloistered.

Magret de Canard at Les Halles

After a bit of high-schoolish sniggering (hell, it was a hilarious plating!), we all had our plates and tucked into our respective dinners. My Magret de Canard au sauce grenade was really quite lovely with the duck breast thinly sliced and feathered out across the plate and dressed with pomegranate sauce. Unfortunately, the last slice of duck was tough and never should have made it on the plate. The sauce however was fantastic and I even enjoyed it with the turnip and potato gratin that also graced my plate. I think that was the most indulgent moment I had that night as I’ve basically stopped eating potatoes altogether and I savored every forbidden morsel.

Wade is defeated!

Eventually, we all finished our dinners except, surprise surprise, Wade. The Planche de Grillades that he and Nigel both ordered were nothing but a veritable feast for the meat lover with generous helpings of lamb chop, hanger steak, merguez, steak, and thick cut bacon paired with french fries, roasted tomatoes, and a provençal dressing. Nigel, who is training for a marathon, put away his entire dinner as well as several of Leslie’s frites. Our dear Wade however had to run up the white flag. We mocked him briefly, but then it was time for dessert!

I ordered profiteroles, which was supposed to be a cream puff filled with vanilla ice cream and served with chocolate sauce. The waiter set down this beautiful dish before me, the round profiterole on one side of the rectangular white plate with several succulent raspberries and on the other side of the plate was a small pitcher of chocolate sauce, presumably so I could dress the dessert myself. I was totally annoyed that the waiter proceeded to dump the entire pitcher of chocolate sauce over my dessert! I wanted to slap his hand and yell at him to stop touching my food! In retrospect I should have just sent the entire thing back because I was wholly disappointed in the dish. The profiterole might as well have been a cannelloni it was so hard.

I can’t recall what everyone else had for dessert save Angel. He ordered Crêpes Suzette which was prepared and “flambéed” with Grand Marnier table side. That was fun to watch, despite the fact that our table placement left a lot to be desired and waiters kept walking between us and the man preparing his dessert.

Overall pros of the dinner: fabulous company, the duck and lamb and steak au poivre were all delicious, Angel chose fantastic wines as always (and snaked the bill! Don’t worry, we’ll get you back!), and his dessert was great.

Overall cons: the wait staff, with the exception of the man that kept my water glass constantly brimming, were really brusque and harried and slightly inept, the restaurant was horrendously loud…definitely not a date place, my chair was on the corner of the table and I was bumped all night by staff as they rushed by, and they touched my dessert!!

Still kinda peeved about that.