Fifth Avenue Department Stores

September 20th, 2019 § 0 comments § permalink

When HG lived in Manhattan during the 1950’s and ’60’s, New York’s Fifth Avenue was lined with department stores and women’s fashion emporiums. Bergdorf Goodman (still there as it has been for more than 100 years) was at the corner of 57th Street with Tiffany’s (still there) and Bonwit Teller (gone) across the street. The fashion parade continued with I. Miller Shoes (gone), BSK’s fave for classy footwear; DePinna (gone), excellent men’s suits, shirts and ties; Best & Co. (gone), famed for women’s gloves; Saks Fifth Avenue (still operating and flourishing). To the dismay of folks who wanted to preserve the avenue’s elegant image, E.J. Korvette (gone), the pioneer discounter, opened on Fifth (it was where HG bought a bargain TV). South of 42nd Street, there was Franklin Simon (where BSK bought a lovely hat for the HG/BSK wedding reception at the St. Regis Hotel); Arnold Constable, Lane Bryant (for the ample lady); Lord & Taylor; W.J. Sloane Furniture; Russek’s (the great photographer, Diane Arbus, was from the family who owned the fashion store). B. Altman was on the corner of 34th Street and Fifth. Ohrbach’s was nearby on the north side of 34th. All have vanished and some of the luster that made Fifth Avenue unique. However, keeping avenue elegance alive are Van Cleef & Arpels (744 Fifth) and Cartier (653 Fifth), the jewelry and watch shops much patronized by New York’s new generation of wealth and oligarch tourists. Many of the department stores had pleasant lunchrooms. The best was at B. Altman. And, HG often had a steaming bowl of soup at Lord & Taylor.

Courtesy Patricia Cummin/Flickr

Failure

September 14th, 2019 § 0 comments § permalink

HG has happy memories of perfect New York meals. At Veau D’or: Brains in back butter preceded by sausage with warm potato salad. At The Russian Tearoom: Blini with red caviar, melted butter and sour cream preceded by borscht. At Paul & Jimmy’s: Poached striped bass in brodo with a starter of linguine with white clam sauce. At Christ Cella: Lump crab meat cocktail, New York strip steak, Roquefort cheese salad. At Gitlitz Delicatessen: Pastrami and chopped liver on rye with coleslaw, Russian dressing and pickles. At Delsomma: Penne in broccoli sauce, pork chops with vinegar peppers and potatoes. At Fornos: Margaritas and roast pork with Spanish potatoes and broiled bananas. At Luchow’s: Pfefferlinge (wild mushroom fricasee) and Schlemershnitte (steak tartar covered in Beluga caviar). Blue Ribbon: Grilled bratwurst with sauerkraut and home fries followed by apple pancake. Artist & Writers: Dry martinis and koenigberger klops (meatballs in a dill and sour cream sauce). Paramount Dairy: Warm gefilte fish in fish broth and kashe varnishkes with mushroom and onion gravy. Nom Wah (of yesteryear): Dim sum. (HG has written about HG’s perfect meals at Gage & Tollner in a previous post). These are all joyous meals but they pale compared to the meal HG would relish often at the counter of the Grand Central Oyster Bar. Eight chilled oysters on the half shell. Oyster Pan Roast. Nesselrode pie. The pan roast was prepared behind the counter in a special pot by a dour, unsmiling older Italian. It was incomparable, redolent of the sea and the richness of farmland. For years, HG/BSK have tried to replicate this dish. The ingredients and cooking technique are simple. However, HG/BSK have always failed. Their attempts created a pallid dish, in no way comparable to the Oyster Bar wonder. HG tried again last night using big, plump Red Head Select oysters. The result: FAILURE.

Gage & Tollner

September 3rd, 2019 § 0 comments § permalink

HG has often been asked to name a favorite restaurant. The answer is simple: The long closed Gage & Tollner on Fulton Street in downtown Brooklyn. The restaurant had a long run, 1879 to 2004. The interior featured dark wood panelling, patches of stained glass and colorful tiles. Gentle, flattering gas lamp lighting. The waitpersons, mainly dignified, courtly African-American males, were Gage & Tollner veterans, their years of service marked by bars on their uniforms. The menu tilted toward seafood but also had world class steaks and chops. HG always started the HG meal with either oysters or little neck clams on the half shell. Followed by incomparable “clam bellies” sauteed in butter. Main dish was a tender, medium rare mutton chop accompanied by corn fritters. In the spring, HG enjoyed shad and shad roe with crisp bacon and boiled potatoes. Dessert was Nesselrode pie. Not surprisingly, HG’s current New York favorite restaurants are those owned and run by HG daughter, Victoria, and husband/chef Marc Meyer (Vic’s, Cookshop, Shuka and Rosie’s. The opening of a fifth restaurant, Shukette, is imminent). HG’s favorite food city is Vancouver, B.C. Wonderful Asian food and the splendid Granville Island Public Market. Runner up is not Paris but Reims in champagne country. Perfect oysters, sole, etc. at a fraction of Paris prices.

Gone. But, Not Forgotten.

August 2nd, 2019 § 0 comments § permalink

The west edge of New York’s theater district was once filled with inexpensive French bistros serving robust versions of traditional dishes (Chez Napoleon is the last survivor). These days it’s difficult to find their specialties on restaurant menus. (a victory for the Health Police). Some examples: Kidneys in mustard sauce. Calf’s liver grilled medium-rare. Head cheese (bits of the tongue, brains, etc. in aspic). Brains in black butter. Tripe. Jambon persille (an aspic filled with ham and parsley). Cardiologists don’t approve of these dishes. Further west near the Hudson River waterfront there were rough and ready bistros catering to sailors from the French ocean liners plus seamen who liked hearty dishes and pitchers of cheap wine. This was where HG first tasted a Matelote (sailor) seafood stew. An HG favorite was a matelote with eels. The eels were stewed into tenderness in fish stock and red wine filled with carrots, onions, garlic (much) and herbs. There was also a matelote made with pollock or cod (delicious). These bistros were always fragrant with the aromas of long-simmering stews of beef, pork and chicken. Perfect dining for people with big appetites and small purses. A filling meal with a pitcher of red wine cost less than a dollar.

Sandwiches

July 12th, 2019 § 0 comments § permalink

HG believes that the problem with sandwiches is there’s too much bread involved. Two slices are too much. And that holds true for rolls and hamburger buns. HG prefers open-faced sandwiches. In HG’s college days at CCNY, the Campus Diner near Convent Avenue served a roast beef (or turkey) platter. The meat rested on a slice of white Wonder Bread and was flanked by mashed potatoes and pallid string beans. All was covered with a maximum amount of dark brown gravy. Appetite honed by football practice on the grassless field of Lewisohn Stadium, HG devoured these dishes with gusto. These days HG is partial to fried haddock sandwiches on the bottom half of a burger bun. HG eats this with knife and fork since the fish is doused with tartar sauce and Tabasco. Franks are removed from their bun and eaten au naturel with mustard and sauerkraut (or pickle relish if kraut isn’t available). Hamburgers get similar treatment. HG rarely eats them anywhere but in the kitchen of BSK, The Burger Baroness. BSK grills them in a seasoned black cast iron pan; tops them with melted cheese and sweet onions. No buns. Just glory. HG concedes there are sandwiches where two slices of bread are essential: The Reuben sandwich (best ever was served at Reuben’s Restaurant on Manhattan’s upper east side. Alas, long closed).; the classic diner grilled cheese (doused with plenty of Worcestershire Sauce); bacon, lettuce and tomato on whole-wheat toast (heavy on the mayo). And, of course, New York’s Katz’s Delicatessen pastrami sandwich. The best, and messiest, two slices of bread sandwich was at HG’s favorite Jewish delicatessen, Gitlitz on the upper west side (HG/BSK lived two blocks away). This was composed of (HG’s orders) chopped liver, pastrami, sliced onion, coleslaw, and Russian dressing. Very untraditional but super delicious. Waiters frowned. One day (if health luck holds out) HG/BSK will visit the Scandinavian countries and eat the famed smorrebrod: open faced sandwiches often featuring herring and smoked fish. Pass the icy Aakavit and beer.

Bananas

June 29th, 2019 § 0 comments § permalink

Excellent fruit. For some obscure reason, HG has been neglecting bananas for some years. Now, they are an integral part of HG’s breakfast. HG tops fruit yogurt with thin banana slices and adds a dash of Canadian maple syrup. Delicious, healthy, and filling. These slices are nice over a bran cereal or muesli (the maple syrup is obligatory). Growing up, HG’s Mom often served Little HG with a bowl of sliced bananas and sour cream. As a special treat, HG had the bananas with sweet cream and chopped walnuts. Sauteed, brown sugared bananas were a wondrous side dish at Forno’s, the long closed, delightful Spanish restaurant on Manhattan’s midtown west side. In yesteryear Bronx, ice cream parlors like Addy Vallins and Krum’s, served banana splits. Bananas were sliced vertically and toped with three scoops of ice cream. Whipped cream, chocolate syrup (or hot fudge or butterscotch), chopped nuts and a Maraschino cherry topped it. (Do banana splits still exist?). Best banana dish was Bananas Foster served at Brennan’s in New Orleans. Bananas were sauteed in butter and sugar. Topped with ice cream and flamed with brandy. Easy to make at home. (NY Times has a good recipe). Give it a try and have some N’awlins delight.

Brooklyn Teenage Date

May 7th, 2019 § 0 comments § permalink

Teenage HG traveled from The Bronx to Brooklyn by subway for HG’s Saturday night date with his first girlfriend, the lovely Joan Z. (Subway cost five cents and HG had a book to ease the long trip). HG always wore a jacket with a shirt and tie. Joan would be in high heels and a dress. No jeans in those days. One dressed in style. Off to a movie. Much canoodling in the darkness. Then, post entertainment dinner in a Chinese restaurant. Egg drop soup or won ton soup. Shrimp chow mein or pork chop suey. Almond cookie or vanilla ice cream for dessert. Many cups of tea. Total cost of date: $1.85. Itemized: Ten cents for subway round trip; Fifty cents for the movie ( tickets were 25 cents each); Chinese dinners were 50 cents each with a quarter tip for the waiter. Fervent intimacies with Joan. Priceless.

Yesteryear NYC Jewish Delis

May 5th, 2019 § 0 comments § permalink

In HG’s youth, New York had hundreds of Jewish delicatessens, temples of corned beef, pastrami, brisket, tongue and pickles. Many had a counter bowl of chunks of garlic sausage with a sign: “A nickel a shtikel.” (“Shtikel” means small piece in Yiddish.) Rye bread and all the meats were excellent. Pickled cucumbers (sour or half-sour); pickled peppers and sauerkraut were state of the art. Bright yellow mustard was tangy and Russian (or Thousand Islands) dressing was nonexistent. Reuben sandwiches were not served since the sandwich contains a dairy product (Swiss cheese) and most delis were kosher. Kashruth law forbade the mixing of meat and dairy products. Some delis were “Glatt Kosher.” This meant super, super kosher. HG avoided these places. Jewish deli frankfurters were superior, A pair of hot dogs with loads of mustard and sauerkraut cost 20 cents when HG was a boy. Even better was “The Special,” a big, juicy knockwurst. Sadly, only a few traditional delis are left (Katz’s, 2nd Avenue Deli, etc.). Ben’s, a Queens favorite of HG, closed recently. HG dined there often with the late real estate mogul, Sam Lefrak (Before he French-fried his name to “LeFrak). New York’s changing demographics and more sophisticated tastes have now made it much easier to eat sushi than heartburn-producing Jewish food. Cardiologists approve.

The Ultimate Comfort Food

April 30th, 2019 § 0 comments § permalink

Yes, it’s macaroni and cheese. Frowned upon by the health police as a bombshell of carbohydrates, fats and calories. But, when done properly, it is lush, rich and super savory. Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on your point of view, it is impossible to find superior mac and cheese in a restaurant. It’s either too starchy, sticky or downright insipid. Best mac and cheese was found at New York’s long closed Automat chain. Young HG would pop nickels into the wall of treats and out would come a small ceramic bowl of mac and cheese lightly browned on top. Heavenly dish. Also very good were the Automat’s baked bean casseroles and beef pot pie. Yes, a handful of nickels could purchase great food. When HG/BSK lived in Colorado, a close friend and sturdy ally in political and environmental battles was the late Betty Miller. Betty was a progressive Democrat and an elected and appointed government official. Very able in all of her posts. At lunch one day, HG mentioned how much HG missed great mac and cheese. Betty replied: “I was born and reared in North Carolina. I know how to do it. Come to dinner Saturday night.” HG/BSK arrived to dine with Betty and daughter, Beth. On the table was a pot of mac and cheese and a platter of southern stuffed peppers. Plus a bottle of Wild Turkey bourbon whiskey. Oh my!! one of the very great dinners of HG’s lifetime. Memorable.

Coffee Shops

April 3rd, 2019 § 0 comments § permalink

HG is not fond of Starbucks or its egocentric founder. HG misses the old fashioned coffee shops of HG’s New York years. No, not the arty Greenwich Village espresso joints where the espresso was bitter, the girls were lovely and the poetry execrable. HG refers to the coffee shops (often Greek owned) that dispensed tunafish sandwiches, pancakes, scrambled eggs, soup (and endless cups of coffee). When HG/BSK lived in a spacious rent controlled ($275 a month for a four bedroom, three bath, separate formal dining room, 30-foot living room with Hudson River and Palisades views) on W. 79th Street, HG would often skip breakfast at home. Instead, HG would pick up the New York Times on the Broadway corner and settle into the smoke-filled adjacent coffee shop for HG’s usual healthy morning repast of black coffee and numerous Marlboro cigarettes. Other favorites were the coffee shop at 57th (near Broadway) for the ultimate BLT; Fourth Avenue and 25th Street for a great tuna fish sandwich on pumpernickel) 55th Street east of Madison for perfect softly scrambled eggs with a warmed buttered bialy. HG misses these joints and the New York of yesteryear.

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