Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Spring Break, Part III: Pizza in the Heart of It All

University Pizzeria & Italian Eatery
133 Lincoln Avenue
Youngstown, OH 44503
(330) 743-9244

FINDING GOOD PIZZA in Ohio is nearly impossible. Everywhere you go is seemingly overrun with chain after chain serving up cheep, terrible pies. And most small Italian joints don't even bother making the attempt or they just pass off the same, sad imitation that's become standard. There are few exceptions to this rule.

Which doesn't mean that you can't find incredible Italian food in Ohio or the occasional bastion off great pizza hope, you just have to look really, really hard. It's a a bit easier here, up in the northeast corner of the state, where many Italian immigrants settled at the turn of the last century, and where their families are still to be found.

I have to admit, still, I didn't even believe my own brother when he started working at University Pizza (or U-Pie to locals) a few years back, claiming they made a great pie. But they do. It might not quite live up to expectations in New York or Chicago, but sitting right on the edge of Youngstown State University's campus it's far and away the most solid option you've got in Youngstown.

Everything is fresh and creative. We had the spinach and tomato pie with garlic,
Romano cheese and olive oil, and Brooklyn Brewery lagers from the bar (Brooklyn beers at any bar outside of NY state is always a good sign). But I should also recommend the Spinchoni pizza too--garlicky, spicy hot and everything you want in life. When you're looking for pizza in Youngstown.


{The Menu - 02.28.07}

Morning | Coffee + nut roll + pears
Noon | University Pizza, Youngstown, OH
Night | Cheese tortellini + rice + veggies + Italian bread + wine

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Spring Break, Part II: Always Time for Jell-O

D&R Depot
63 Lake Street (Rt. 19)

LeRoy, NY 14482
(585) 768-6270

THE D&R DEPOT is quite possibly the reason I wanted to drive through upstate New York en route to Ohio.
In fact, my mother and I likely hatched our crackpot scheme of meeting in Syracuse and crashing in Batavia before hea
ding to Youngstown for this purpose alone. Or, at least, I did.

Once upon a time, two friends and I set out to produce our first ever documentary on the history of Jell-O. This delivered us to LeRoy, NY, just over an hour west of Rochester, where the dessert was born, and where we spent many of our weekends working on the project. When we got hungry, we asked around for a good place to find lunch. The answers, if I remember correctly, were unanimous.

The D&R menu is made up of American favorites. You really can't go wrong. I believe I lived several months of my life eating their mac n' cheese every weekend. I turned out fine. Being too early in the morning for mac n' cheese (thoug
h I debated ordering some to take with us), my mom and I settled on breakfast. We had two kinds of French toast: one crispy, battered with corn flakes, and the other sweet, with coconut stuck to all sides. Both amazing.

Paying homage to dessert

Afterwards, like any good visitor to LeRoy, we went to the Jell-O Museum. From there we headed west, stopping briefly in Geneva-on-the-Lake, Ohio to walk on the frozen shores of Lake Erie before turning south towards Warren, and home.

On ice, forty feet out in Lake Erie, a.k.a. "a terrible idea"

MIKE EATS NEXT TIME: Any time I have to drive across I-90. And even a few times I might make up the reason to do so.

{The Menu - 02.27.07}

Morning | D&R Depot, LeRoy, NY
Noon | Cookies + hot chocolate
Night | Cheese tortellini + salad + applesauce + Italian bread

Monday, February 26, 2007

Spring Break, Part I: Birthday Basketball & Burritos

144 Second Avenue
(at 9
th Street)
New York, NY 10003
(212) 228-9682

Alto Cinco
526 Wescott Street
Syracuse, NY 13210
(315) 472-3633

THIS CRAZY IDEA was dreamed up two days ago. For whatever reason, I decided that it would be a good idea, since I was trying to figure out how to get back to Ohio anyway, to just meet my mother in Syracuse. Since Georgetown was playing at the Carrier Dome tonight, we could both drive out for the game and head back for Ohio together the next day. Pure brilliance.

Sort of. After four years spent there, you'd think I would remember the one thing everyone knows about Syracuse: snow. Lots of it. The drive might have been the five hours I expected had I remembered to expect a blizzard upon arriving upstate.

But this is getting ahead of the story. It starts in the East Village earlier this morning at one of my all-time favorite spots in the City--
Veselka. Mint, who was working in Manhattan today, wanted to take me out for my actual birthday. A reasonable request. One I am not likely to turn down.

Veselka is Ukrainian food. That's a lot like Polish food, which is mostly similar to Russian food, which is very much like Czech food. You get the idea. But I like to think of all as Ukrainian food. I don't know why, but I have a soft spot for the Ukrainians. It might be because their shining political star Yulia Timoshenko is both presidential material and a total babe, but mostly its a mystery.

Part of
Veselka's charm is the simple fact that it is open 24-hours a day. It serves a rather traditional American diner menu in addition to its stunningly awesome traditional Ukrainian menu. We can delve into the finer points of this another time, but for this morning it will suffice to say that the challah bread French toast and potato pancakes were awesome. Thank you, Mint.

After this, I packed up and climbed into my rental car (no thanks to Hertz for screwing up my reservation, but many thanks to National for bailing me out) and headed west out I-80, north up I-81, and
promptly hit a wall of snow somewhere about Scranton. I made it in time for the second half of the game, and my ma made it in time for the final three minutes. Syracuse won, the court was stormed, all was right with the world.

Cinco was always a favorite of mine back in the day, though it's been several years now since I've been back. Thankfully, everything was as I remembered it. My mother enjoyed a big bowl of veggie chili, while I would not have had anything but the Chile Relleno Burrito ($6.75)--an entire cheese-stuffed chile wrapped up in a mammoth tortilla with rice, beans and red salsa. Absolutely a must-have if you're in Syracuse.

From there, we hit the road with two cups of extremely spicy
Mexican hot chocolate. Necessary for the snow, the cold, and not least of all a two-hour drive east.

MIKE EATS NEXT TIME: On both counts, yes. And you should too. Also, check out Alto Cinco's website before you go, or call ahead. Hours for dining and delivery can be tricky.

{The Menu - 02.26.07}

Morning | Veselka, New York, NY
Noon | Balance Bar + green tea
Night | Alto Cinco, Syracuse, NY

Sunday, February 25, 2007

BRUNCH! @ Brooklyn Label

Brooklyn Label
180 Franklin Street
Brooklyn, NY 11222
(718) 389-2806

BREAKFAST IS CLEARLY the best meal of the day. Also, breakfast rates very highly on The List of Life's Greatest Things. In fact, the only thing breakfast has working against it is the simple fact that one must wake up to enjoy it. This is problematic because, returning to our list of life's greatest things, sleeping also rates quite highly. How to solve this dilemma...

A few blocks west of the Greenpoint Avenue G station, Brooklyn Label has the solution. An immediate requirement for north Brooklynites, it ought also be tempting to many in midtown Manhattan. And it's little more than a big, bright room serving a big, awesome brunch.

The buzz has clearly already spread--lined up for tables or take-out were hipsters trekked up from
Williamsburg, Greenpoint families with children (kept entertained by gifts of pastries from the staff), and casually dressed neighborhood-ers. This is likely why Brooklyn Label was up for Time Out New York's "Best Bruch" award. A high compliment indeed. Elissa, Kevin and I happily waited twenty minutes for a table with free cups coffee in hand.

Once seated, we were never rushed. Between the three of us, we ordered smoked salmon
on a bagel (with all the good stuff--tomato, capers, red onion), an omelet, and the special advertised on a chalkboard outside--"green eggs, no ham"--with spinach and soft-whipped eggs on locally-made challah bread with cilantro pesto.

Everything was amazing, and the service too. When our
hashbrowns arrived in meager portions, we were brought out fresh helpings. Hashbrowns, by the way, should be encouraged. They're perfect for trying out the bottles of homemade salsa and ketchup that guard each table.

MIKE EATS NEXT TIME: As soon as possible.

{The Menu - 02.25.07}

Morning | Brooklyn Label, Brooklyn, NY
Night | Stuffed shells + chocolate/peanut butter cookies + birthday cake + Oscars

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Why Are Maraschino Cherries on My Kofta Malai?

Curry In A Hurry
119 Lexington Ave.
New York, NY 10016
(212) 683-0900

MURRAY HILL LOCALS affectionately refer to this stretch of Lexington Ave as "Curry Hill." Curry In A Hurry is quite literally its cornerstone. Yes, there are finer Indian restaurants in the city. There are certainly ones serving better food. Honestly, most are faster. But until you've eaten curry that glows like a neon-green Putt-Putt golf ball while gazing out of a dusty, hazy second-story window, you haven't eaten at Curry In A Hurry.

Indian food is big-city soul food, and places like Curry In A Hurry are proof of the fact. A menu full of cheap goodies encourages ordering a variety of stuff to share, which might be why Sir Aaron Hitchcock and Lady Natasha dragged me here for my birthday. We ordered a couple of samosas, a plate of veggie fritters, and fish tikki. Our waiter brought us three samosas (because there were three of us), chicken wings, and fish tikki. Curious. The samosas were good, the chicken wings were chicken wings, and the fish tikki tasted like cat food. We ate it anyway.

For a main course, we successfully received our eggplant, shrimp tandoori, and kofta malai along with a few orders of naan. Both the eggplant and the shrimp were excellent. The naan was fluffy and hot. The kofta malai, however, was positively radiant. In fact, I'm certain that if the lights had gone off it would have glowed.

Normally, my experience with kofta malai has consistently been one of soft veggie dumplings smothered in a sweet and, shall we say, understated sauce. Not so at Curry In A Hurry. The dumplings are three monster croquettes. The sauce is a thick, blazing yellow. And, to my horror, there are slices of maraschino cherries taunting me from atop this creation.

The dumplings are somehow soft and sweet, the sauce manages to be calmer than its hue, and along with the eggplant and shrimp, we made quick work of everything on the table, though we were unable to finish it off. Not bad for three people and less than thirty bucks. Not bad at all.

MIKE EATS NEXT TIME: Sure. But I still don't understand the maraschino cherries.

{The Menu - 02.24.06}

Morning | Coffee + toast
Noon | PB&J + applesauce
Night | Curry In A Hurry, New York, NY

Friday, February 23, 2007

Mike Eats Greenpoint, Volume 1: *erb & Hana Foods

*erb Thai Restaurant
681 Manhattan Avenue
Bedford & Norman)
Brooklyn, NY 11222

Hana Foods
534 Metropolitan Avenue
Lorimer & Union)
Brooklyn, NY 11211

Williamsburg-Greenpoint diet. One is consistently good, reasonably priced Thai food, and the other simply must be considered one of the greatest delis in all the five boroughs.

First, it's hard to be disappointed with *
erb on any account. Yes, they suffer from occasional menu and service inconsistencies as any neighborhood take-out favorite does to from time to time. You'll get over it.

Recommended are the noodle dishes ($7.95, with tofu, chicken or beef.), especially the Curry Noodles--a huge bowl of spicy curry loaded with thin noodles, veggies, and big triangle wedges of tofu.
Lots of interesting appetizers are also big draws. The crispy chive pancakes are frequently sold out. The Taro Crunch is big chunks of fried taro root with peanuts.And the Tofu Crisp is a pile of fried tofu best enjoyed quickly on premises rather than soggy upon delivery.

Next is Hana Foods, a veritable
Williamsburg institution serving as a 24-hour deli, flower shop, a specialty/organic food mart, and home to Omar's overwhelmingly extensive board of sandwiches. As a kicker, most everything can be made with (and, honestly, is probably better as) vegetarian and vegan options.

The Godfather is a huge hero of Italian meats that will suffice for two meals; the vegan meatball sub is a more-than-worthy stand-in for its
carnivorous cousin; the breaded eggplant, chicken, and tofu cutlets are superb; and the Veggie Reuben (a veggie burger chopped and grilled like corned beef and smashed between rye toast with hot sauerkraut and melting Swiss) is one of the most creative vegetarian sandwiches I've ever eaten.

Best of all, Hana will deliver them (and anything in its store) to your doorstep 24 hours a day (NOTE: their menu is hard to find complete online, so get yourself a full one form the store itself).
Williamsburg is prime delivery area, but even nearby Greenpointers can coax a delivery guy out on a slow night.

MIKE EATS NEXT TIME: Yes, he does. Many, many times.

{The Menu - 02.23.07}

Morning | Coffee + leftover pad thai
Noon | Oatmeal + applesauce
Night | Hana Foods, Brooklyn NY

Thursday, February 22, 2007

{The Menu - 02.22.07}

Morning | Coffee + oatmeal
Noon | PB&J
Night | *erb, Brooklyn, NY

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

B-Dubs in Brooklyn!

Buffalo Wild Wings
at Atlantic Center
139 Flatbush Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11217

Did anyone else know there was a B-Dubs in Brooklyn? Because I didn't. I have fantastic high school memories of wasting many a lunch with my friends watching big-screen anything and playing as much trivia as an hour would allow us.

as there any choice but to say yes, then, when Marc Choi decided to hold his 26th birthday gaterhing at the jewel of Brooklyn's Atlantic Center? (NOTE: some would argue Target for that title, but last I checked Target does not sell wings in fourteen varieties of sauce, ten-foot tall television sets, or interactive trivia.) As described, it was everything I remember. Deep fried awful, too many sticky flavors of wings, and lots of beer and trivia.

Some of you are screaming: a suburban, strip mall wing joint in Brooklyn?! What the hell is great about that!? This is New York! Can't you find real Buffalo wings somewhere?

First, no. It's Brooklyn. Not Buffalo. Second, I can remember a columnist in Columbus, Ohio's "Alive" newspaper writing of Starbucks that, in a city where the alternative, locally-owned Cup O' Joe coffee house had become so widely popular (and frequently populated), the otherwise invasive national chain had become something of a quaint alternative.

It's like that.

MIKE EATS NEXT TIME: Of all chains in all cities, B-Dubs is Brooklyn might be the most unneccesary pairing. All part of its hilarious charm.

{The Menu - 02.21.07}

Morning | Coffee + toast
Noon | 2 slices (L.A. Pizzeria, Brooklyn, NY)
Night | Buffalo Wild Wings, Brooklyn, NY

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Umm, It Was on the Corner?

Capitol City Brewery
th Street & H Street
Washington, D.C.

WE ONLY HAD a couple of hours before the parking garage we hid our car in for the day closed and locked us out of our ride back to NYC. So, we decided not to wander aimlessly in search of one last meal and settled for the convenience of the corner we were standing on.

The Capitol City Brewery, in all honesty, wasn't really a compromise. Mint once had there a reportedly incredible oatmeal stout and was crossing her fingers to find it on tap again. We weren't so lucky, but the Prohibition Porter and sweet Double D ale were good stand-ins, though both a touch too sweet. At $5.00 a glass, the price was good by New York standards, but we have no idea what the good folks of Washington are used to paying for their draught beers.

The food was, as expected for a downtown location, overpriced. The
portabello soup wasn't half bad, but the crab cake sandwich was a bit dry and Mint's steak looked meager. The high point of dinner was clearly the sweet potato fries. And dessert.

A huge pile of warm bananas foster with vanilla ice cream plus a chocolate brownie covered with, what else, chocolate syrup (predictable, but who cares) made for one more dessert than the two of us could handle.

MIKE EATS NEXT TIME: Skip dinner. Drinks, dessert, and move on.

{The Menu - 02.20.07}

Morning | Hotel room coffee
Noon | Fish + chips
Night | Capitol City Brewery, Washington, D.C.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Greenpoint to Georgetown

Bistro Francais
3124-28 M Street
Washington, DC 20007

THE WORK GODS who watch (and laugh, I'm sure) over both my schedule and Mint's rarely align our Day-Off Stars on the same day, but with such a rare event happening tomorrow a road trip was in order. City of choice: Washington, DC.

Suspecting our options for food arriving late on a Monday night would be few, I attempted to plan ahead. A quick Google search turned up at least one helpful page--this message board post at (I value personal opinions highly). The comments about Bistro Francais seemed the most interesting. Done and done. Fast-forward four hours.

Bistro Fancais sits smack on M Street in Georgetown. To our surprise, at
nearly midnight the atmosphere was upbeat with perhaps a dozen tables occupied (a good sign, anywhere, that you've chosen wisely.) We were shown to a table along Bistro's side wall rather then up on its more crowded dining platform. You would do well to ask for the same. It looked a wee bit cramped over there.

Looking at the menu, our attention first went to the daily specials, priced mostly around $20-24. Standard French fare. We then noticed the "Early Bird Special" (available 5:00 to 7:00 p.m.
and 10:30 p.m. to 1:00 a.m.), offering wine, soup or appetizer, daily entree, and dessert all neatly bundled for $19.95. Clearly the way to go.

We both ordered soups to start, and I chose the
rockfish with mushrooms, eggplant and shrimp in tomato sauce for my entree while Mint opted for sole in a lemon butter sauce with potato and leek souffle. Having ordered, we sat back and noticed for the first time the flickering candlelight on the table. Curious, I fiddled with its glass cover, removing it and finding not a candle, but an electric light bulb pulsing orange.

With absolutely no disrespect, Bistro
Francais suddenly morphed from a chic bistro into the French cousin of the lazy Italian diners we frequent for good, quick (and cheap) meals, and this transformed our expectations accordingly.

Our soups were good, the service excellent, and our meals were enjoyable as well. The fish might not have been remarkable, but it was damn tasty, and Mint's leek souffle, in particular, was delicious. Most of all--it was casual.

Had we not
noticed our electric candlelight we might have expected a far more formal affair and been disappointed with the result. Bistro Francais should by no means be disappointing. It's good food kept simple and, open late, accessible.

MIKE EATS NEXT TIME: The Early Bird Menu being available from 10:30 p.m. to 1:00 a.m. is currently on The List of Greatest Things Ever.

{The Menu - 02.19.07}

Morning | Coffee + oatmeal + toast
Noon | Leftover wheat pasta w/ mozzerella + tempeh
Night | Bistro Francais, Georgetown

Sunday, February 18, 2007

In the Beginning

Mint frequently comments that I should write restaurant reviews. She has a point. I enjoy eating quite a bit and thus I do it quite often. Let's hope that qualifies me to write a blog about food.

It seems too simple, though, just writing a blog about food. How or why should I choose to write, and about what food? Should I only write about meals I enjoy? That's purposeful, but it's hardly comprehensive. What about terrible meals? How do I choose to rant about one place versus another? That's lacking in motivation, not to mention criteria--it begs for a system of ratings, which seems a little self-indulgent, right? I mean, come on, this is a blog. It should be entirely self-indulgent.

Which is how we arrive at The "Mike Eats Food" Thesis Statement:

Food is good. Food sustains life. Therefore, I will write about all the food I eat. All of it.

It's not the most logically sound statement I've ever read, and it's hardly a thesis, but it's a grand plan! Now, let's see how if my fingers can keep up with my stomach.