Culinary-tale of New York – great bites (and sups) from the Big Apple

Manhattan from Staten Island Ferry.
Ferry to lower Manhattan.

New York food & drink travelogue - "After an adequate start to our Big Apple breakfasting, in a sparsely-populated Italian restaurant on the border between - appropriately enough - Little Italy and the East Village, Tribeca's Gee Whiz Diner was a dream come true.  With its open kitchen, cosy booths and friendly/efficient/sassy staff, it could have been populated straight from central casting."  

Mention "The Big Apple" or "The City That Never Sleeps" and people instantly know of the metropolis to which you refer.  Glance out of the aeroplane window when landing at Newark Liberty airport and you are greeted by a skyline that has not only formed a central backdrop in countless films, TV programmes and novels, but has also greeted immigrants from across the globe who went on to build a nation.

Everything about New York seems iconic and familiar.  Yet take time to explore this fabulous city and you will find a diverse mosaic of differing neighbourhoods, cultures and architecture. Visitors may think they know NYC from the media, but it is more atypical and extraordinary than is sometimes imagined. And that is equally true of the city's food and drink.

This is what JML and I came to realise during a birthday-celebratory long weekend in autumn 2015, encompassing Manhattan, Brooklyn and (briefly) Staten Island.  Our trip to New York wasn't all about food and drink.  But as two lads who rarely pass up an opportunity to partake of a tasty morsel or alluring beverage, it played a pretty central part. So join us on our Big Apple culinary journey...

Beer in New York's Blind Tiger Bar
Beer at the Blind Tiger - tasty! (pic Courtesy of The Blind Tiger).
B is for beer, Brooklyn and breakfasts
Now I know that America's national, alcoholic drink of choice is almost certainly beer.  And from our last visit to NYC, some eight years ago, it was apparent that that state-side brewing wasn't all about the more insipid, mass-produced brands that now also adorn the booze aisles of UK supermarkets (thank you Brooklyn Brewery for that particular revelation).  Also, I have recently rediscovered home brewing (watch out for a post on this soon), meaning I have absorbed some the internet buzz that exists regarding craft beers emanating from the USA.  So an initial pint of pretty decent IPA procured from a food stand in Battery Park, and enjoyed whilst overlooking the Hudson River and a distant Statue of Liberty, was an unexpectedly welcome refreshment three hours after clearing immigration at Newark. However...

Even the most mundane midtown or Tribeca pub seems to have a bar adorned with an intriguing array of pumps offering tempting brews, each advertised with a branded, sculpted tap handle. Ales from the likes of Goose Island, Allagash, Lagunitas and Brooklyn jockey for attention.  And whilst not all of these could be considered "craft" beers, they are none-the-less very appetising.  Yet also dotted across NYC are veritable temples dedicated to real ale, such as The Blind Tiger in Greenwich Village.  Its unassuming entrance on Bleecker Street hides a smashing colonial-style dark wood and brick interior lined with blackboards displaying the plethora of brews currently on offer. And what a range...  IPAs, Belgian tripels, oatmeal stouts, saisons, porters, lambic ales, all sourced from New York and neighbouring states. To be honest, I could have stayed supping all day, but we restricted ourselves to a couple of quaffs. Oh and be warned - east coast breweries like things strong - Victory Hoppy Belgian-style quad at 13% ABV anyone?

Bait and Tackle Bar, Red Hook, Brooklyn.
Red Hook's Bait and Tackle bar - in soft focus, naturally...
Beer also featured in our visit to Brooklyn - where two of our Edinburgh friends were ensconced whilst work had brought them to the City That Never Sleeps. Brooklyn’s Red Hook neighbourhood is what real estate agents describe as "up and coming". Imagine the area around Leith Docks, and you have the picture of where our mates chose to reside.  And in the Bait and Tackle, we found this dockland neighbourhood's answer to the Port of Leith.  If you ever end up in this bit of the smashing borough that is Brooklyn, do check out this eclectic former fishing supply shop-turned-bar.  And if you are carnivorous, or even if you are not, a trip to Prime Meats should certainly be in order.  A "farm to table" restaurant located in the Carol Gardens neighbourhood, its cuisine has a Germanic alpine influence that makes the most of local and fresh ingredients.  Treated by our friends to a tremendous dinner to celebrate JML's birthday, starters of grilled octopus, and herb and gruyere spatzle were sublime.  But the mains stole the show: sukrut garnie - bone-in pork belly with German wurst and saurekraut was delicious, yet by the same token the steak frites, and dry-aged cote de bouef looked and tasted amazing.

Huevos Rancheros, served at Fort Defiance, Red Hook, Brooklyn.
Hearty huevos rancheros from Fort Defiance, Brooklyn.
What I didn't mention above was the smashing, American wine that accompanied the meal. The copious, smashing wine. The copious, smashing wine that made us trust a certain smart phone navigation app that directed us along the quickest walk home, through a very "interesting" area of Brooklyn, where we were stopped by two members of NYC's finest, concerned for our safety.  Do not fear, we made it back safely - to the Bait and Tackle...  So the next, brilliantly blue sky-emblazoned, squinty-eyed, cardboard-mouthed, morning demanded a hearty breakfast. Cue Fort Defiance in Red Hook.  A subtly, yet beautifully, decked out restaurant that serves a heavenly "all-Amercian" (eggs any style, Nueske's bacon, hash browns and toast), and an even more divine huevos rancheros.  Worth crossing the East River for this alone.  Wandering back to Manhattan through picturesque, leafy streets lined with brownstones, we decided there and then that our next visit to NYC would involve more exploring of Brooklyn and its inviting cuisine.

Food blogging - this I now know to be true.

Brunstane Fields Greenbelt
Campaigned to save this from development - sadly we lost.
Hello, and sincerest apologies for being absent from Scrumptious Scran for a further protracted period of time. This in no way indicates I have lost my love of food and drink, nor my appetite for sharing this with you. I’ve had the most fantastic time as a food blogger, and hope that this may long continue.  Yet over the last few months – if not years – I have discovered the following to be true when it comes to committing thoughts and experiences to the blogosphere…
  • Trying to make a decent stab of writing about (and photographing) culinary experiences and thoughts, that people will actually want to share in, takes a fair bit of planning and effort. This isn’t a grouse, merely an observation that, if you are passionate about people connecting with your take on food and drink, you need to approach such things with care and attention to detail, as well as passion.
  • In common with many food bloggers, my dream occupation would be that of a full time food writer. However, until such fame and fortune beckons (oh, how we laughed!) it’s necessary to pay the mortgage through other forms of gainful employment (which are great, don’t get me wrong). And this accordingly means that the time that can be dedicated to exploring and writing about the “next big culinary thing” becomes a bit limited. And talking about paying the mortgage…
  • Moving into a new house that “requires a bit of minor renovation” which then transpires to need completely refitting from top to bottom, can also put the kibosh on having any spare time to actively maintain a blog, or even identify new and exciting things to cook, or places to eat.  Fear not however, as the renovations are nearly complete, bar building a new kitchen, which might have ramifications in terms of my ability to cook for a wee while, but it's all for a greater good ultimately. And talking of building…
  • Moving into a new house to find that the fields/greenbelt opposite are set to be turned into a development the size of Haddington can naturally result in being drawn into a campaign to actively oppose such a loss of essential greenspace.  In combination with renovating said property, this leaves even less time for actively maintaining a blog.
However, dear reader, all is not doom and gloom. The battle to save the greenbelt may now be lost, but our house is smashing, and will be even more so when the kitchen is extended and refitted.  All of which means I – hopefully – now have much more time to devote to what I am passionate about: cooking, eating, drinking and writing about all of these things.

Watch this space – Scrumptious Scran is back…