Nostalgia Sucks – An SJ Posting

February 29th, 2016 § 4 comments

Ahhh…Nostalgia. So wonderful and yet so full of shit. SJ here and I must make a rebuttal against HG’s colorful yet ill informed attack against the New York of now versus the New York of HG’s past. As someone that has lived in New York for the most part of my 47 years (and is living here still), I must say that HG speaks some truths: New York has become painfully expensive for middle class and working class people and really anyone who is not making a high six figure income. And yes, many wonderful New York institutions have closed down as rents increase. And finally, it is true that the essentially secular Jewish character of New York is fading while the religious Chassidic population is rising. These are painful truths for a changing city. But, there are many things that have not changed one iota. HG claims that New York has pushed out Mom and Pop stores in favor of chains. Lies! While big chains have arrived in an unprecedented fashion, New York still remains (for the moment) a place of corner bodegas, grumpy news stands, eccentric hardware stores and family run bakeries, delis and food shops. I live in Carrol Gardens, Brooklyn and I have a shop in Chinatown in Manhattan and in this tiny universe generic chains have barely made a dent (with the exception of Starbucks and the actually welcome addition of Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods). Now onto food….HG makes a claim that New York restaurants have all become ridiculously overpriced and only serve fussy, so-called “creative” small plates that highlight kale. Well, those nostalgic goggles HG is wearing have become so fogged with BS, that he has no clue what he is talking about. (HG! Time to stop reading New York Times restaurant reviews and actually visit and eat!) While there are many trendy, overly precious restaurants (as there were back in HG’s day — remember “continental cuisine” or that rash of horrible hippy bean-sprout “health food” restaurants that propagated in the 70s?), there are also scores and scores of simply great places to eat that are making food that is honest and delicious and actually responsible with their ingredient sourcing and their investment in nose-to-tail eating. On a mainstream level, we now have restaurants that celebrate regional cuisines from Puglianese Italian to top notch Texas style Barbecue to authentic Barcelona style Tapas — a long way from the very good but very one note Italian and Spanish restaurants of yester-year; furthermore, even outside of ethnic enclaves, New York has exploded with amazing Japanese, Korean and other Asian foods. And, if you want to speak of cheap food, well jump on a train to Flushing, to Sunset Park, to Ozone Park or walk into Manhattan’s Chinatown and you will be flush with $4 chorizo tortas, smokey Xian style Chicken skewers for $1, Thai Sausage for $3 and a plethora of inexpensive vittles to make you smile. And yes, the great dairy restaurants of the past have shut down, but guess what? Now there are Uzbeck kosher restaurants popping up all over with delicious grilled meats and wholesome stews; and if you want to be a healthy Jew who eats like IB Singer, well there has never been a better time for vegetarians in this city both with mainstream restaurants and many serious Israeli spots serving hummus, falafal and all sorts of healthy middle eastern treats. Lastly, when it comes to traditional New York food and specifically Jewish food, there is a renaissance happening: Katz’s may have gone downhill (but their hot dog is still something killer!), but Mile End is making some incredible smoked meats; Russ and Daughters and Kossar’s are fully revitalized and thriving, serving up perhaps the best food of their long careers; Barney Greengrass is packed every day of the week and a new generation of bagel makers, smoked fish lovers and matzoh ball soup mavens are opening wonderful restaurants. And with food blogs popping up everywhere old, great NYC restaurants and shops have been given a new life as can be witnessed in the hours long lines for Casa Della Mozzerella on Arthur Avenue or the incredible community support that kept B&H open after a gas explosion totaled their block last year. So HG, SJ is advising that you take a cloth to your nostalgia goggles and take a second look at a New York that, while changing as it always has, remains an idiosyncratic and uniquely great place to live, eat and wander about.

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§ 4 Responses to Nostalgia Sucks – An SJ Posting"

  • Gerry says:

    HG is properly chastised. HG’s New York life was very much confined to the Upper West Side and Greenwich Village (except for business meetings on Third, Lexington, Park, Fifth And Madison). Rarely went to The Bronx (except to shop at Arthur Avenue). Never went to Brooklyn after Gage & Tollner closed. Never went to Queens or Staten Island. Loved (and still love) Manhattan’s Chinatown. HG”s New York was limited. Unlike SJ, an authority on all the Chinatowns–Manhattan, Flushing and Chinatown. And, of course, living in Brooklyn, SJ is at the center of a great, varied culinary world. Forgive me, SJ. I am a very old guy who sometimes romanticizes the past.

    • Jeremy says:

      Romanticizing the past is a wonderful thing; as much of the past was worth romanticizing; however, the greatness of the past does not automatically mean that the present is to be disparaged! And, I rush in to defend my city!

  • Lynn small says:

    Go SJ! Love your most articulate rebuttal. NYC was and still is a wonder: even cleaner, safer, at least double the culinary diversity, a truly magnificent Central Park, the best artists of every type in the world but I love your passions HG and that it will always draw you back for it is heaven for any flaneur now and hopefully forever.

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