Last weekend my family visited NYC from Ada, Michigan. The stated purpose was to attend a concert - my 10 year old daughter's choir sang at Carnegie Hall. That's pretty good stuff, but since my wife traveled with Taylor and her choir as a chaperone, this also meant my 7 year old daughter, Cass, and I were free to take the city by storm. Our mission? For me, it was spelled "food."
So, on Friday night, I made the ultimate sacrifice to get Cass to buy in to the program. I took her to the movie of her choice - "What a girl wants." Lots of popcorn, followed by a good night's sleep, and next thing you know we were on the 7:30 a.m. flight out of Grand Rapids.
Our eating adventures started early, because we flew through Chicago, and decided to start off the day by getting a Chicago style hot dog at the airport. Not as good as Wiener Circle on Clark, mind you, but what do you want for the airport, at 8:00 a.m.?
Now, on to the really good stuff. We arrived at LaGuardia at noon and immediately took a cab to DiFara's in Brooklyn, where we met my sister and niece. What a great place. My sister and I got the artichoke pizza. The kids, pepperoni. Two pizza pies! I ate nearly three pieces of each. The crust was just as it should be. My daughter's only disappointment was we did not resolve a debate that has raged in our family as to whether New Yorkers eat pizza by folding the slice, or not. At DiFara's, it appeared to be 50-50, so we called it a draw.
Not to get Proustian, but visiting DiFara's reminded me of my grandmother's kitchen. My grandparents were farmers in Traverse City, Michigan, and my grandmother had a variety of cooking gigs, including as chef on the annual Michigan Trail Ride, a shore-to-shore horse ride from Lake Michigan to Lake Huron. My grandmother cooked for years, had the best local ingredients of each season, and was in complete control in her kitchen. At DiFara's, what I liked almost better than the food was that we were on the proprietor's clock; when he thought the pizza was ready to his liking, and only then, we got served. My kind of cook.
The choir stayed at the Grand Hyatt, so we did too. Saturday evening, still full from pizza, and after shopping in the Village with the kids for mod outfits "with accessories" (what a girl wants), we went to the Oyster Bar Restaurant. A plate of oysters and littlenecks for me (good, but I should have asked for a hot sauce like Melinda's). An ice cream sundae for the kids. And I must pay tribute to the bar for making a superior Cultured Cocktail, which used to be the house drink at Joe Muer's in Detroit, before it went out of business. Vodka martini, except you use a splash of champagne instead of vermouth. Goes well with shellfish.
Just before bedtime, the choir returned from dinner at Sylvia's in Harlem. They were happily fed but also enjoyed the leftover DiFara's pizza I brought for them.
Next morning, while the singers were busy rehearsing,
Cass and I decided to . . . eat some more! On the subway at 8:00 a.m. for Chinatown. Dim sum at the Nice Restaurant on East Broadway. This meant a lot of eating for me, because Cass enjoyed ordering anything that came our way, whether she wanted to eat it or not. She did like the steamed pork buns, as I knew she would. The bun part was a distant cousin of my grandmother's dinner rolls, which she made by the 100's. Cass scored big points with the waiter for using chopsticks the correct way to get some dumpling into her mouth. Talk about pressure!
More walking around, mostly in Little Italy, and then by mid-day, it was time to get ready for the concert. We met my Dad and Uncle Jim, who lives in Islip, and since we got to Carnegie Hall early, decided to . . . eat! They did, anyway, since the pizza and dim sum had weighted me down. We opted for the Carnegie Deli, for no good reason in particular, maybe just to do the tourist thing. Cass liked her hot dog and potato pancake, but not as much as she liked Grampy's chicken noodle soup. My wife praised the leftover cheesecake we brought back to the hotel.
Not to be critical, but the way they move you through the Carnegie Deli reminded me why I like a place such as DiFara's so much more. Any place that does not do everything for the almighty buck.
That said, it turns out that visiting New York with a seven year old is a great way to try the food just about anywhere, because all of it is cheaper than adult fare - like paying $400 to squeeze into a booth at La Cirque only to get to listen to women nearby discuss the fundraiser they attended to raise money to buy lift tickets for the under-privileged children of Aspen (true story, just ask my wife about this one).
Not once during the weekend did I give any thought as to "how much is this costing?"
Taylor's concert was wonderful. I'm no music critic, just a proud father, and the best moment for me was seeking Taylor's eyes get REALLY BIG when she looked out across the hall, when she first walked onto the stage.
On Sunday night, I will pretend here that we did not eat, since we joined the choir on a "dinner cruise," and you do not want to know what was served. The whole thing only left me hungry, in the larger sense, for another good New York food experience. But what could Cass and I do with the day drawing to its end?
Well, after going to the top of the Empire State Building for a look around, we walked back to the Grand Hyatt, and stopped by a deli on the way, the name and location of which I cannot recall. I do, however, recall this much, and vividly: it's after 10:00 p.m., we're walking down 40th street, me with a pastrami on rye with mustard, and Cass with a pizza slice, and it was like we owned the town. I asked my daughter, "how's the pizza?" She laughed, and said in response, "better than great!" as she skipped down the street. As we turned on to Park Avenue, I looked at my 7 year old buddy and her pizza, Grand Central Station alight in the background, and I tell you it was a beautiful sight.
So now I wonder about the "food" thing. I enjoy good food, always will. But I'm beginning to think that what I love most about food is connected more to the people, who cook the food, or dine with me, or eat what I cook.
And New York, in the opinion of my daughter and me, is a "better than great" place to enjoy all of that.