Saturday, July 10, 2010

Back to the Old Neighborhood

In the early 70s, I lived in Manhattan's East Village, a sketchy neighborhood, but cheap to live in. There were still remnants of the immigrant communities that had settled there in the early 20th century. There were great Polish and Italian butcher shops on First Avenue, and many things Ukrainian, from an onion-domed Church, to a store with traditional clothing, records and notions, to several restaurants.

The place I frequented was Odessa, a diner-style restaurant on Avenue A across from Tompkins Square Park. The park was so dangerous that I never stepped foot in it, even in daylight.

I was in New York at the end of May and had a free evening, so I walked down to the East Village. I knew it had experienced gentrification, but I still wasn't prepared for the lively crowds in every restaurant and bar, and couples with strollers in that very same park.

Walking down my old block of 6th Street, between Avenues A and B, I was amazed. The many storefronts, all empty when I lived there, were now occupied by restaurants, a bar, a Pilates studio, a veterinarian's office and a homemade ice cream store.

Odessa Ukrainian Platter with potato pancake, potato pierogi, stuffed cabbage, kielbasa and sauerkraut. Sour cream, mustard and apple sauce served on the side.

Odessa is still there. There must have been a family squabble, because the original location is now the Odessa Cafe, really just a bar. But next door is Odessa Restaurant, still very much a diner with a fairly typical diner menu. But they still have Ukrainian specialties. Unable to decide among them, I ordered the plate with everything. It was way too much food, and it was really good.

I'm glad that a few old places remain in the East Village: Odessa, B+H Dairy Restaurant, Gem Spa and Veniero's Pasticceria to name the ones I saw.

Friday, July 02, 2010

Jersey Diners vs. Pennsylvania Diners

Many of them look similar, with gleaming metal and glass or stone and glass exteriors. The menus are extensive. Here's the difference, and like all generalizations I'm sure there are exceptions:

The food in New Jersey diners is tasty, and the food in Pennsylvania diners is bland. In fairness to Pennsylvania, I have not been to diners in the western part of the state. The ones I have tried are from Harrisburg east. I've never had a satisfying meal at any of them, and I've tried breakfast, lunch and dinner. On the other hand, I've never had a bad meal at a Jersey diner.

I was hungry, so it was a few bites in before I thought to take a cellphone picture!

My most recent one was this week in the town of Washington, far west enough that the area looked like Pennsylvania. But my lunch at the Washington Diner was one of the best ever. I ordered a roast beef and swiss double stack, accompanied by fries, cole slaw and pickle. The roast beef was very high quality, rare and fresh; the vegetables on the sandwich were fresh and crisp. The fries were classic diner fries, well lubricated but not greasy. Along with a Pepsi, the check came in at $10, a real value.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Farewell to Denver

It's just over four years since I moved from Virginia to Denver. Now I'm moving to the Hudson Valley. I lived in the northeast until I was 42 and I'm happy to be returning to familiar territory.

I look forward to again finding my favorite apple varieties, grades of maple syrup other than A, locally made cheddar, bialys and pastrami when I daytrip to Manhattan, and lobster and clams when I hit the coast.

There are three foods that have been pleasant surprises in Denver which I will miss: Chiles from Hatch, New Mexico which are roasted locally at farmers' markets and roadside stands, peaches from Palisade, Colorado on the western slope, and the sweetest cantaloupes I've ever had (and they're cheap!), from Rocky Ford in southeast Colorado.

Denver is a great restaurant town. While you can enjoy superb upscale dining, the best part for me has been the plethora of middle eastern restaurants (and markets).

I leave never having fulfilled the desire to make my own tamales. Maybe I'll stop by the Mexican grocery and buy some husks and masa harina on the way out of town to take back east.