Finally – New York’s Best Burger

Making money in New York appears to be pretty high on everyone’s agenda and the variety of mechanisms for doing so is as wide as Manhattan is long. I’m not just talking about the shops and restaurants, or Wall Street trading or the Broadway shows. New Yorkers are much more creative than that.

How about taking all the crappy books you have on your shelves and laying them out on the street outside with a handwritten sign declaring them all to be 50% reduced? Ridiculous?

Not in New York, it’s as common as pigeons by a hot dog stand.

How about caging up all the cats in your neighbourhood and displaying them on Broadway declaring yourself to be a charity for protecting the stray feline?

Maybe that was legitimate….you just can’t tell half the time.

Selling bottles of water by the side of the road for a dollar? You can get 24 for $4 in a shop. With no overheads that’s a tidy profit margin.

Selling bike hire, horse drawn carriages, cheap tickets…

Wishes!?

My wish is for a really great burger for less than five dollars.  Can such a thing be truly achieved? Here it is finally…

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… and here is its story.

Yesterday I had the idea that I might explore the Upper East Side and chance upon a burger joint on the way. The Upper East Side is the proper ‘moneyed’ bit where the beauty and class of the apartments in no way reflect the beauty and class of the occupants. They must have money though. The place reeks of it.

It also has some history though and lots of museums like the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

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Yes that’s the hot dog stands outside it. What else would I take a picture of?

Oh yes, my lunch.

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I know! It’s looks more like ‘behind of dog’ than hot dog. But it was great and I would rate it over the Gray’s Papaya efforts because the chilli is meatier, the sausage bigger and the woman serving it is the most efficient and pleasant street seller I have come across.

As to the history the Upper East Side has, in my humble opinion, one of the most significant historical residences in American cinema history.

The Marx brothers’ first New York pad.

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Look closely you can almost see them keeking out.

Anyway – I was the one who looked like a comedian wandering around the most expensive part of New York for a cheap burger so I had to abandon the search and leave it for the morning. Besides someone with a mate high up in the mayor’s office heard there was a ‘poor person’ in the neighborhood and asked them to send a patrol car to check it out.

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After a night in the precinct cells 😉  I woke up with a cunning plan. The street book sellers had got me to thinking about being more creative in my efforts and also, interestingly enough, to locating the ‘biggest book shop in the world’.

The interweb said this was to be found on 5th Avenue and I did indeed locate said store.

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Yeah right! This was on the way there but I took the picture to remind me how big I wanted my burger to be.

The ‘biggest book store’ has fewer books in it than the bloke on West 58th Street has on the bedside table he displays every morning on the sidewalk.

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In my disappointment I could think of only one consolation.

Food.

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This place http://www.potbelly.com is charming. It is like Subway with class. It is pleasant to sit in, the staff are friendly and welcoming. The soup and sandwiches are great.

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For $10.

But the burger for $5 was looking like a forlorn hope. There was only one thing for it.

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Two top quality beef patties and a lump of Yellow American Cheese purchased here for $7.

One giant sesame bun from http://www.gristedes.com at 89 cents and the rest from my fridge.

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Cooked medium rare I can truly declare that this was the best burger I have had in New York and it could only have cost me $5 because I still have one left and most of the cheese.

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Now do you reckon I should get a small BBQ and open up a stall on the street?

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Some NYC Confidence and Eat All You Like

I am thinking about going for a run but leaning towards not bothering.

I want to go for a run because it is a few days since I went and I know that if I don’t keep it up I will grow a large belly, be unattractive to my wife, unfit for work and suffer destructive self-confidence issues as a result. I am leaning towards not bothering because I think I will be able to pick it up another time with little loss of fitness and enjoy the evening pursuing more subdued activities such as watching films on T.V.

And eating some of the grub I prepared last night.

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I have a theory (gleaned from way too many popular science books) that my behaviour can generally be explained through the fact that I am, biologically, a higher form of ape and that all of my decisions must be advantageous for the evolutionary development of my species. So, if that is correct, it would be better for me to stay fit enough for a long life of child rearing (and perhaps even grand parenting). I should go for a run.

On the other hand it may be that the continued exposure as a poor athlete in the Central Park arena and the possible looks of derision from those who have far greater prowess will seriously disadvantage my genetic line as no one will ever want to marry my children for fear their own offspring might turn out as knock kneed as me. I should stay and eat.

In any case I appear to have made my mind up to go. I think the balance has favoured the former motivation (that I need to retain my fitness). I also think it is unrealistic to imagine someone interrupting me to seek my daughter’s hand in marriage regardless of my athletic ability.

Sister number two who recently abandoned me after a short spell doing my housework often says that she runs so she can eat. This doesn’t make evolutionary sense though. You run to be fit for life, you eat to have the energy to run. Not the other way round. She is far too human, not enough animal in there I reckon. Needs a proper sized burger (note for Johnny Utah).

Nevertheless I certainly need to run if I am to maintain the eating required to fill this blog with tales for your enjoyment.

So I run in order to blog about food?

What is the evolutionary advantage of blogging?

Answers on comments please.

Fitness is one of those things that is hard to achieve and easy to lose especially when you eat the amount I do. But if I am worrying about whether or not I might not ever enjoy grand parenthood as a result of exposing my averageness, I probably should look up from the ground now and then.

In Central Park there is every kind of runner. Disabled, elderly, mums pushing prams, fat, thin, bow-legged, short-legged, half-hearted and full blooded athletes. They don’t seem to care. Confidence is huge in New York. They really have overcome all of the hangups evolutionary instinct may have burdened them with. It’s a sight to behold. Human beings running for their own reasons and not giving a damn what anyone else thinks about it including Charles Darwin.

A Big Load of Bull

As New York says au revoir to sister number two and her now grizzled tough guy husband (both a Yankee supporter and a bull-riding pro) it is worth saying that the Big Apple will miss them.  If this picture didn’t have the pretty face it would basically be a picture of a bridge.

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And if this bull didn’t have a grizzled bull-rider on it, it would just be a bull.

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Oh I forgot – he fell off it didn’t he?

Anyway, while a fond farewell is wished upon these weary travellers it is time to review their legacy for those that have a care to follow their route to the New World.

I mean what they ate in the last few days of course.

We shall start with what they thought they were going to eat at http://www.johnnyutahs.com/ the hostelry with the mechanical bull that needs milking after every five riders.

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That’s worrying isn’t it?

http://www.timeout.com/ was sold to me by a previous traveller as a good way to save money as they send cheap deals to your email account every so often. They neglected to say that you save money because the deal usually turns out to be crap. In the case of Johnny ‘Uvebinhad’ that was certainly the case.

A pitcher of beer, a burger and a bull ride! For $20 down from £40! Get it while it lasts!!

On presenting my voucher at said Johnny UrAMug’s we were confronted with complete confusion (possibly as we were the only people in the last ten years to have been conned by this offer) and then served a ‘glass of beer’ and a burger that must have required the skills of a keyhole surgeon using an electron microscope to pull together

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That’s it. The side plate was cracking under the weight of the tomato ketchup while the burger presumably shrank in fear at the thought of being drowned in it. No chips, nothing else. Enough food for a gnat on a cabbage diet.

The bull ride was free to anyone who cared to sign away their human rights should the repair man make a serious lapse of judgement.

The message is hopefully clear to future explorers of this concrete jungle, fair enough go and ride the bull and have a drink. But don’t waste your money on the food.

Thankfully the food handed over at http://www.theatrerowdiner.com/ for $20 recovered New York’s reputation as the home of great chow.

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And the crispy duck dish and ginger chicken at Q2 Thai on 9th and 53rd was exceptional enough to soften my anger at Johnny UMustBeJokin and meant this review would be less insulting than originally intended.

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It certainly prompted celebrations from some

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While others just wouldn’t let the ball drop

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Anyway – I fear we must accept that New York is one of those places where things are usually pretty great, but every now and again it is going to pick you up and then throw you down.

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She wasn’t going to show you the picture so I guess I had to!

Who’s been eating in my blog?

You know the story of the three bears…

Well there’s only one poor bear in this tale (me) and two Goldilocks (Sister number two and husband…)

Okay one Goldilocks. He can be a bear too….a big hairy, hungry one.

Back to the story…

One day a poor hungry bear went out to work (every day since they came in fact) and when he got home Goldilocks and the big, hairy hungry bear had done all the eating and the poor hungry bear had to do with the scraps from the fridge.

On the first day they went to Hot and Crusty on Broadway and West 88th. It has a website which is under construction (http://hotandcrusty.com/) much like their shop it seems

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The feast obtained here was a Pecan Danish which it seems was very nice and reasonably priced.

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The intrepid duo spent the day on the Upper West Side exploring the nooks and crannies, eating, relaxing, eating, watching the world go by, windows shopping and eating. The small nibble to this item is shown purely to fool you into thinking that they savoured it. The next bite demolished the rest.

In fact the big, hairy bear was hungry within moments and had to be told to pipe down

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In any case they headed to http://www.amysbread.com/ for a snack from their delicious looking array of pastries

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This was sufficient to keep him quiet for an hour or two.

Suddenly he cried, ‘COOKIES!’

And Goldilocks had no choice but to stop chatting up the truck drivers.

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But she conceded that all in all he did look rather hungry

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So that was it. They headed fresh next morning to Lower Manhattan to further explore the eating quarters engaging in activities not suitable for a blog of such conservative nature (the pictures to be shown only to a select few of like-minded reprobates).

Hunger struck before they got two blocks away and an excellent bagel with all you could ever want for breakfast was guzzled out of http://pickabagelbatterypark.com. This lot for less than $10!!

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Okay, I will admit that they did walk something like fifteen odd miles that day and were out for almost thirteen hours doing the Lower Manhattan thing. But was this really a sensible dinner?

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No that is not a picture of a tree harvest in a Canadian forest. It’s the chips you get with an enormous burger from http://www.fiveguys.com/.

Aw and the big, hairy bear could not cope with it all…

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Naw!! Only joking!!

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So when Papa Bear got home and saw this lot he could well have been forgiven for being annoyed. But really it just gives him a great wee list of options for further eating once they are gone. When they are tucking into piddly little fries from Mcdonalds back home, he’ll be having the logs from Five Guys! Ho Ho!

And they all lived heavily ever after.

West Side Sob Story

As a tough talking, Yankee supporting, kick-ass hardened New Yorker how do I approach the opening of this closet door?

Well here goes…..

I – like – romantic comedy!!!

In fact I think Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan should be married, I think Maid in Manhattan should be compulsory A-Level study and Sandra Bullock should be given an Oscar for her stunning portrayal of Gracie Hart in Miss Congeniality. For heaven’s sake she even pulled it off in the sequel!

There, it’s out, and we can get on with the blog.

Having pushed aside my guilty secret I can now declare that I think the film ‘You’ve Got Mail’ featuring the incomparable Tom Hanks and the enchanting Meg Ryan (that Parkinson guy is a bully – so there!) is one of the most underrated movies of the last fifteen years. So much so that, under pressure to do a movie tour of New York, it was my number one choice. It also happens to be set in a very pleasant part of New York not too far from my doorstep.

It’s ok food fans – there’s eating involved!

Now there are a number of locations in this silver screen gem that have gained iconic status including the very romantic Riverside Park where they finally get together in the end (against all odds and you’re never quite sure if it will happen even after the eighth viewing).

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That’s not them. This couple just stood in the way of my shot of the final kiss, and when their battered and bleeding bodies are found nearby the NYPD will now know why! 😉

Just up from this spot is Meg Ryan’s house where I imagine she must have been sitting inside still worrying about her little Shop Around the Corner.

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Alright! Alright! It’s a bit boring chasing round looking at these romantic locations. To the food bits!

This is where I obtained a delicious slice of New York Cheesecake (with a biscuit base) and is also the location of an uncomfortable and squishy moment in the film featuring Tom and Meg.

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Interesting because the purchase of two slices of cheesecake from http://cafelalo.com was both squishy (deliciously so) and uncomfortable ($18!!).  Best I have had so far though and I got to walk up the same steps as Tom 😀 .

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I didn’t eat this until later of course. I had to take it out as the place was packed.

Next on the movie trail was http://www.zabars.com/ and I cannot praise this gourmet supermarket enough.  Another uncomfortable moment for poor Meg in the film but I felt perfectly comfortable amongst the grub in here. Cheese of every kind, freshly baked bread, cooked meats and meals I was able to take away for my dinner (still no cooker in the flat – microwaved this!)

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Got myself a curry for tomorrow!

On the way back I passed a familiar shop also featured near the end of the film and already pictured in a previous blog entry from another angle. Taken this time from the exact spot Bruce Willis received a call from Simple Simon in ‘Die Hard with a Vengeance’.

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No phone there! How do these movie guys do it?

Had lunch here

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With juice for $4.50. How do these Gray’s Papaya guys do it?!

I then headed homeward past Leonard Bernstein’s setting for West Side Story but didn’t take a picture because I was so distracted. I felt as light as air with my head full of romance.

Suddenly I had an epiphany!

I can’t be known only for my love of romantic comedy. I’m not a girl!

I stopped and haggled (like a man) with a street seller for these boyish items

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$10 for all five!

I saw a really great T-Shirt that any real bloke would be proud to wear…

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But then I spotted a bag I know daughter number two would just love!

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What is happening to me??!!

Doggedly Searching for Bagels.

New Yorkers really do love their dogs!

And their dogs really do seem to love New York…

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….which is hardly surprising when the city is basically designed for their pleasure. Take these doggie friendly features:

A public loo every ten yards…

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Free nosh whenever your owner is not looking…

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… and plenty beauty treatments…

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Who’s that in the window?!

Dogs are so common on a Saturday New York excursion that you have to wonder where they all come from.

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This turned out not to be a topless bar on closer inspection and the furry lump at the bottom of the picture is a litter of three Malti Poo pups (whatever they are).

In fact my walk this morning through Chelsea and Greenwich was ‘dogged’ by so many canine distractions to the point that I almost forgot that I had intended to locate the best bagel in New York.

Greenwich Village in New York is very different to the Midtown area where I have spent most of my time. The streets are no longer on a grid, so it is much easier to get lost, and with so many things aimed at the furrier variety of mammal it is difficult to locate anything really great to eat.

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Yes this was hopeful but it wasn’t a bagel. I pushed onward.

In fact the deeper you get into the Village the more you realise why dogs are so popular. The people just act like balloons.

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That’s the queue for one dollar pizza!

Even the buskers are different.

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He had that piano in his backpack when I arrived 😉

Anyway the bagel was indeed located at http://www.murraysbagels.com/ where the queue was very long but not as bad as the queue for one dollar pizza. Once the item was secured for $10 including bottle of water and dollar tip, it was indeed excellent.

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This was one half of the bagel which took almost half an hour to demolish while sitting on a little bench outside trying to avoid the stare of the locals.

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‘Hey man, I’ve been tied here for three days with no food! Take me home will ya?’

A Monthly Review

It is an empty feeling I have in my heart just now. It may be that both daughter number one and daughter number two have now flown this satellite nest in New York leaving me alone with days and days before sister number two arrives to fill the void (sister number one has chosen to avoid the food madness). That may be it (you know where this is going don’t you?) … but it may be more to do with the fact that I am not being treated to a complimentary seat at every dining table my visitors book.

That’s it, I am hungry of course.

I have undertaken to eat sensibly for a week and that kind of leaves this diary hanging. Perhaps a recap of the major eating achievements of the last month will keep you interested enough to bear with me while I detox.

Way back in the beginning daughter number one and I plotted a route to Shake Shack (they are not getting link – you will know why soon) and ended up at http://www.smithsbar.com/ where we treated well enough but kind of stung for not having walked enough streets to be handed a 40% off voucher. I would have sang its praises if I had gotten such a reduction. They are to be had I am told.

Shake Shack was later visited by Princess Madison and her Fatman and their disappointment undermined any thoughts I had for a visit. Big queues here to get half the burger and half the milkshake you can get at http://www.steaknshake.com which is much closer to me.

http://www.angelospizzany.com in 57th Street was just fantastic and a repeat visit with daughter number two reinforced that this is great pizza at very good prices. Service was again top notch.

Other pizzas have been had since of course but this is easily the best. A slice of pizza…yeah…yeah…so its New Yorky. I want the lot!

Mexican and Chinese efforts so far have not been worth it, but Thai was excellent at  http://www.topazthai.com although bear in mind that the cocktails were thrown in for nothing. This Thai has been the subject of much more discussion

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You have to make sure they know you are from Scotland, in case the accent is missed.

http://www.ellensstardustdiner.com has now also had two visits and it doesn’t grow old. It’s still great to be serenaded by your waiter while you wait for dinner and have them clean up after you. It’s just like being married.

Go on … ask my wife … she is treated like this all the time!

This will strike fear into her.

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She thought she was coming to New York for a break but I got this for sixty dollars delivered to my door!

http://www.tfyogurt.com/  is also worth reminding you of. This is the magical frozen yoghurt dispenser that whisks you to a frenzy. Been here twice now and the flavours had changed. No more sausage, Shepherd’s Pie added 😉

But the final word here has to go to the poorest serving I have come across. That of the New York Yankees.

I have in these last few days been treated to evening drinks and local conversation at two Queens bars that do not have websites (not that type of bars) and shall remain nameless (I want them for myself!). The inside track is… I should have ignored the hat design and gone for the Mets. Their stadium is better and they are playing a damn sight better.

It’s okay, I did not betray my loyalties. I had to remind them I am Scottish and that we are the proudest losing nation in the world! if the Yankees want to be cr*p that’s fine by me. I will be back for more. Not because I bought the tickets before I realised they were hopeless or because sister number two paid for them. I will go because I committed myself and I am confident they will fill the emptiness I will feel by the end of this detox week. I will go because I have faith, I have strength and I have a desire to see it through to the end.

I also have the hat.

Die Hard Yankees!

I have been having sleepless nights worrying about the state of the Yankees ever since that defeat on Sunday. Sure they have won since but I still feel that the shortstop was failing to exploit the pinch hitter and without a decent relief pitcher their chances of getting through the play-offs is looking grim 😀

Anyway it occurred to me that I may be an untapped wealth of talent given I have never tried baseball. You just never know!

To find out if I have ‘Babe Ruth’ blood running through my veins I scoured the city for a good, proper catcher’s mitt and a baseball for less than fifty dollars (my limit for verifying sporting talent). The professional shops failed to impress me with their three hundred dollar offerings (for a big glove?) and ten dollars for a ball is just daft.

I adjusted my expectations and found that softball was the way forward. A good way to check for talent without the same danger of broken bones and Kmart had the kit for the right price. Splendid!

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But it turns out I’m not any good.

In fact Matthew is better!

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….but he wouldn’t get a game either.

Anyway we both know that we are excellent at eating hot dogs and tracking down the best ones. We had it on good authority that the best ones are to be found at http://grayspapayanyc.com/ on 72nd and Broadway. Handy for us because after discovering with sweat, tears and just a little dirt under our nails that we would skip the trials for the next Yankees squad, this was but a few blocks walk away.

Matthew was concerned it might rain on the way though….

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…and there were others who appeared concerned about the possibility of a downfall…

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….but just as Columbus discovered this fair land, we discovered that rain was not going to happen today (tenuous link I know).

We set off and ‘discovered’ the hotdoggery of real New Yorkers.

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Now I don’t know about you but as soon as I saw this place there were alarm bells going off in my head. Something about the Nakatomi Tower? Or was it that incident as Dulles Airport the year after?

Nope it was the Federal Reserve Bank raid! Remember?

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…and when I got my food…

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…with a drink for $4.50, I could only express both my disappointment about the whole Yankees trial and my joy at discovering the best hotdog in New York in one way.

Yippee Kay Ay, Mutha f***a!

Time Travelling Tacos

Okay, I lied. There were no tacos, I just needed another ‘T’ word for the alliteration to work. The time travelling part is the most important part of the title. Forget the tacos. Sorry.

So, time travelling- I am going to talk about a bagel I had today, a lunch I had two days ago and will end with my dinner yesterday. I could have just pretended that I ate them all on the same day, but that would be lying. And I respect you too much for that.

Breakfast- The Bagel, from 8th Avenue’s ‘Pick a Bagel’ (any Bagel… Was this your Bagel? Boom. Magic)

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This may look like the holey messiah (see, because It has a hole in it and it’s Jewish) but this is actually ‘Bagel Part II: The Revenge’. The first one came without the bacon that I had ordered. Once the bagel, that I ordered, arrived it was rather tasty. It also had cheese on it. That I didn’t order. So, a cheesy surprise or a lactose-intolerant death trap? YOU DECIDE. All in all, if you don’t mind what you end up with and see your food order as more of general guideline rather than what you actually expect to end up eating, then this is the place for you! But it did taste nice.

Luncheon- Steak Flat Bread. With Some kind of Spicy Mayo.

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The giant hands were a bit unexpected but the actual food wasn’t half bad. Bought from ‘Pax Wholesome Foods’ On 6th avenue, just round the corner from the New York Public Library. Pax also boasts a ‘make your own’ salad and pasta bar. Needless to say I only learned about these features after I’d left. My gazes were reserved for the sandwich counter, and all it’s glorious meat stuffs. The Flat Bread came with a tub of spicy mayonnaise that puts the humble British kebab shop’s array of sauces to shame.

The Finale- TACOS!! Sorry, I lied again. It was Burritos. Very different.
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These were good. Although, even for someone whose life depends on not mistaking the extra mild chilli sauce for the dreaded mild chilli sauce in Tesco, this was not rather spicy at all. And not nearly as saucy (steady on there) as one might expect from Mexican cuisine. For those westerners who have avoided Mexican food, for fear of angering the Belly God then this may be for you. If I were to fit a personality to the spiciness lever of this food then I would attribute it to a small mousy governess, trainer for spinsterhood, such as you might find in any Agatha  Christie novel. Any of them, go on, check.

This blog was written by Matthew. Not Alastair. He still thinks we had tacos, please don’t tell him.

Crying into my Yankees!

Being a native New Yorker you have to decide at some point where your baseball affiliation lies, the Yankees or the Mets. The main criteria for making this decision is rather obvious. The Yankees have cooler looking hats.

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So today suitably attired in NY cap together with daughter number two in a rather fetching Yankees t-shirt and Matthew in whatever he could find lying around, we set off for the Sunday match against Baltimore Orioles (not Oreos, Matthew!).

The stadium is way up in the Bronx but is easily reached if you are willing to take the ‘tunnel of terror’.

A short walk from the stop, looking down one’s noses at the cheap Yankee hat vendors outside like any genuine fan ought to, we came to the entrance where the genuine merchandise sellers were offering exactly the same stuff for five times the price. Reminder for next time to buy from the dodgy sellers. Only four dollars for a hat I was quoted!

Inside it was colossal

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Well the food certainly was and the stadium was quite impressive too

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By the way that tray of food was only after having the obligatory hotdog at the entrance and a swimming pool of diet coke. Prices weren’t great but that’s what you expect in a sports stadium. $5 for water?

If you got hungry or thirsty between meals there were plenty vendors shouting at you to eat and drink beer, candy floss, ‘crackerjacks’ and fill up with more water of course. There really was no excuse for getting bored.

And there was the baseball of course….

Sadly despite the Yankees being the greatest (in hat design), they lost 7-3 with two home runs to the Orioles wiping out a 3-0 lead after five innings. Now that sounds sufficiently like I know what I am talking about to now declare myself a real fan. And like any real fan I have to cry into my ‘yankee’ at the dreadful home defeat

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Bah! I’m over it.  Now I’m hungry – I’m off to get dinner.