Tag Archives: Brick Oven Pizza 33

Young Man On The Road #15 Detour: New York City

This is for the stray observations, story details, and drawn-out discussion that couldn’t fit in the other NYC post, thematically or otherwise.

The cheap lamination of my Hawaii State ID did not fare so well in Manhattan.  Once I was refused entrance until I showed them my expired California Driver’s License, once I was refused entrance even though I showed them my California Driver’s License, and once my Hawaiian State ID was actually taken away from me.  When the bouncer saw I was serious about getting my valid ID back, he let me in, but with much hesitation.

A lot of people are turned away from New York because of the “rude New Yorker” stereotype.  I’ll admit, I was, too.  However, having interacted with New York natives first-hand, I can say that this is not entirely accurate.  They’re not outright rude, just. . . honest.  They might be short or curt in interaction because they have somewhere to go, but I wouldn’t call this rudeness because rudeness implies malice.  If anything, they’re indifferent, and I much prefer someone honest about their indifference than one putting on airs with fake smiles and feigned interest.  In a way, New Yorkers have the same self-serving mindset of LA natives, but they’re not fake about it, and I respect that.

List of places we ate at because TV/movies told us to: H&H Bagels (as mentioned in Entourage), Gray’s Papaya (as seen on How I Met Your Mother and No Reservations), Katz’s Deli (as seen in When Harry Met Sally), White Castle (you know where that’s from).

List of places we ate at because New Yorkers told us to: Shake Shack (high-brow fast food burgers and shakes), Carmine’s (gigantic family style Italian dishes), Russ & Daughters (bagels and smoked salmon), Lombardi’s (sit-down pizzeria), Brick Oven Pizza 33 (classic order-at-the-counter pizza), Halal Guys (popular gyro food cart)

By the way, everything in New York is delicious.  That’s a fact.

About the pizza: Lombardi’s was good, but it wasn’t what we wanted from our first New York pizza experience.  When Ian and I thought “New York pizza,” we envisioned oversized and greasy yet delicious slices to fold and devour.  Lombardi’s was a sit-down restaurant-quality pizza with fresh ingredients that, while tasty, wasn’t the quintessential New York slice we sought.

And then we discovered Brick Oven Pizza 33.  A block from our place in Chelsea, Brick Oven Pizza 33 was a walk-up-to-the-counter type place, open late, and run by hard-working men in messy aprons.  We picked out our slices from behind the glass window and–after a few minutes of waiting for our pizza to warm up in the titular brick oven–chomped down on swarm of wonderful flavors, coated in grease but not overwhelmingly so, resting upon a blissfully crispy crust.  I went there three times in two days.

Now, is it better than Chicago’s deep-dish pizza?  That depends on two things: 1) what you want from pizza at the moment, and 2) how you define pizza.  First, Chicago pizza is what you should eat if you want to fill up with a meal at a restaurant.  It takes a long time for it to come out and requires a fork and knife, but the fresh ingredients piled in a deep and flaky crust is worth all the hullabaloo.  If you want a quick and delicious bite to hold you over through the day, New York pizza is the way to go.  The right ingredients folded between a thin crust will satisfy your mind, body, and soul.  To address the second point, the biggest argument I’ve heard from diehard New Yorkers against Chicago deep-dish is that, basically, it’s not pizza.  “You’re not supposed to eat it with a fork and knife!  You’re supposed to pick it up!  You can’t fold this!”  Basically, their argument comes down to semantics, how they define what a pizza “is.”  However, you rarely hear them address the quality of the food item.  Based on their narrow definition, New York pizza wins by virtue of being pizza.  If you were to expand your definition of the dish, though, and compare overall quality, Chicago pizza wins hands down.

Our first 24 hours in New York: We had been in Rigo’s place not five minutes when he invited us to his buddy’s rooftop barbecue in Queens.  The host and majority of the guests happened to be Filipino.  Go figure.  A few hours after grilled meat, curious liquor, drinking games, and fireworks, Ian and I found ourselves in a cab to the Lower East Side with Rigo and his buddy Eugene.  We arrived around midnight and the streets were swarming with dolled-up young New Yorkers.  Donning shorts and sandals, none of us fit in, but that didn’t stop us from bar-hopping ‘til the early morning.  We eventually ended up crashing in Eugene’s Brooklyn apartment.

The following day was the most impromptu adventure we’ve had.  You see, Ian and I were planning on returning to Rigo’s house after the barbecue before going out.  Instead, we woke up at an apartment near the entrance to the Brooklyn Bridge and took off from there.  I had a nearly dead phone, yesterday’s clothes, no camera, and no protection from the beating sun.  It was the best outing yet!

Since Grimaldi’s Pizzeria had a long line, we walked over the Brooklyn Bridge, through Chinatown and Little Italy, and to another well-established pizzeria: Lombardi’s.  Eugene wasn’t used to walking so much, and the added factors of the previous night’s alcohol and that morning’s heat did not help him through this new activity.  We eventually crashed in Washington Square Park.  Well, the other three did; I was too excited to sit still and instead wandered around the park taking pictures until my phone died.

Eugene split shortly afterwards to catch up on sleep while Rigo, Ian, and I kept exploring.  We got some MetroCards, watched the Women’s World Cup at a pub near Union Square, wandered around the Rockefeller Center, and eventually met up with his girlfriend, Sara, at the Halal Guys food cart.

That was just the first day, and the week just kept getting better.

We chose going to the top of the Rockefeller Center (advertised as the “Top of the Rock”) instead of the Empire State Building because it has views of both Central Park and the Empire State Building.  Also, while the admission price for the Top of the Rock was a bit steep, there was a package deal that paired admission with the NBC Studio Tour that made paying a bit more justifiable.

Of all the observation decks we’ve visited (Seattle Space Needle, Chicago’s Willis Tower—formerly known as the Sears Tower, and the CN Tower in Toronto), the Top of the Rock was the best.  Three levels of spacious decks, open-air views of the entire city, unobtrusive freestanding glass panels as barriers instead of wire cages or dirty windows, and no long lines.  I don’t know how the Empire State Building observation deck compares, but I can’t imagine it could be better.

Of all the tours we’ve been on (Coors Brewery, Motown Museum, Steamwhistle Brewery), this was the worst.  Well, “worst” sounds too negative, and it wasn’t bad, it was just really uninspired.  It was as if they were banking on the fact that they were an internationally recognized studio in a famous building.  The pages were just young interns doing their time until they could climb to the top.  Sure, they were easy-going and entertaining at times, but they mostly just lead us to empty studio sets and spouted the obligatory info.  In contrast, our tour guide for the Motown Museum had a warm personality, vast knowledge of all things Motown, and a natural ability to involve the crowd without making it feel like a pop quiz.  Plus, you could tell he was passionate about the place, working there because he wanted to be a tour guide and not because it was a stepping stone to something greater.

During our first tourist day with Meghan, we meet a Dutch man and his daughter.  He needed help figuring out which station got him closest to Little Italy.  Ian and I were actually oriented well enough to help him out.  We were excited to learn that he’d be taking his daughter to San Francisco afterwards.

A few days later, we ran into them again!  What were the chances that they’d be in the same car of the same train on the same line at the same time several days later and in a different part of the City?!

Speaking of subway awesomeness, this one time, a group of dancers performed breakdancing stunts on a crowded train while it was moving!  I don’t know how they could have possibly practiced those tumbles, jumps, and flips without kicking anybody or running into the center pole.  I was thoroughly impressed and tipped them a buck without hesitation.  The native New Yorkers were less impressed, but I imagine they were just pretending to be to keep up their tough personas.  Losers.

In line for the ferry to the Statue of Liberty, we came across a happy old man playing a steel drum.  We enjoyed his rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner” so much, I was inclined to tip him.  The man asked where I was from and I said, “Hawaii” (or “California,” I can’t remember–it depends on my mood).

He replied with, “No, I mean, where are your parents from?”

“Oh, the Philippines.”

Without a moment’s hesitation, the old man busted out with the Filipino National Anthem.  All I could do was laugh and smile.  Really, that’s all I could do because I don’t know the words!

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Young Man On The Road #15: I<3NY

July 16 – 24

Queens and Manhattan, NEW YORK

I love New York.  Simply put.  No gushing profusion of admiration needed, nor lengthy laundry lists of attributes.  It has all been said before and there is no way I can spin my love for this city in an original or adequate way.  Nothing will suffice save for this blunt, stark-naked, trademarked statement that needs neither flourish nor emphasis: I love New York.

Out of many, one factor in the beauty of the City lies within its subway system.  Yes, that subway system.  The crowded, stuffy, noisy, grimy, urine-scented subway system.  It’s magnanimous.  It connects the Upper West Side to the Lower East Side, the townhouses of Harlem to the bright lights of Midtown, all of those neighborhoods in Manhattan to all of the boroughs outside of it.  It is all connected.  It is all one.  It was all mine for the low, low cost of a $29 seven-day, unlimited metro card.

New York thrives on connections, though not just from place to place, but also from people to people.  Ian and I had many friends in New York, some I hadn’t seen in months, others I hadn’t seen in years, some from the Bay, others from “da island,” but all of them, fortunately, in New York when we were.

Like stations along the subway lines that connect different parts of the City, these friends are points along time that connect different parts of my life.

It’s about time I write about other people for a change.

The Hawaii Line
Station: Rigo

Transfers to: Eugene (his friend that lives in Brooklyn), Sara (his girlfriend)

I met Rigo only a few times before the trip, though he has that type of warm personality that makes you feel like old friends.  I met him during the free Saturday Morning Beach Bootcamp classes in Hawaii (at least, the ones I could wake up for).  It was during one of those classes that I found out he was born and raised in New York. . . and that he’d be moving back this summer.  When I told him about this trip, he immediately offered me a place to crash.  He hadn’t even moved back yet and he was letting me stay with him!

Obviously, I took him up on his offer and when Ian and I arrived in New York in mid-July, we were staying in a house blocks away from Queens Boulevard!  Being huge Entourage fans, we were super psyched about the highly touted location.

Ian and I hit the ground running in New York.  Within the first 24 hours, we:

  • attended a rooftop barbecue in Queens
  • bar-hopped in the Lower East Side
  • crashed at Rigo’s friend Eugene’s apartment in Brooklyn
  • walked across the Brooklyn Bridge
  • explored Chinatown, Little Italy, Washington Square Park, Union Square, the Rockefeller Center, and Grand Central Station
  • had our first food experience with Lombardi’s Pizza, cannolis from Little Italy, and Halal Guys.

(For a more detailed, more interesting, and longer account of that first adventure, see the following post.)

Rigo on the Brooklyn Bridge. Manhattan in the back.

Without Rigo as our knowledgeable guide and benevolent host, I don’t know if Ian and I would have covered that much ground in a week, much less in one day.  Rigo was busy the next day, but his girlfriend, Sara, was able to escort us to the 7 line that morning to start another full day of Big Apple adventures.

Station: Meghan

Transfers to: Lindsay (her cousin), Candace (her friend)

Meghan is one of those people who exits your life just as quickly as they entered it, but manages to make an impression on the way through.  That tends to happen when you work in a high-turnover establishment like a chain restaurant: awesome people in small doses.

She was born and raised in upstate New York, but decided to do a year of college at UH Manoa.  It was then that she became my Bubba Gump’s coworker and new after-work buddy.  Though I had left Honolulu before her last day in Hawaii, I was able to rendezvous with her shortly afterwards in Grand Central Station.  From there, and for the next two days, she played tourist with us.

Meghan and Me on a ferry to the Statue of Liberty.

That’s right, tourist.  Apparently, there are parts of the state that exist outside of the City!  Even crazier, some people choose to live in those parts!  Having grown up hours from the City, Meghan was less familiar with NYC than I am with SF, so she—along with me and Ian—did the touristy things native city-dwellers avoid: Times Square, the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, Museum of Natural History, and more.  It was refreshing to explore with another friend, not that I’m sick of Ian—nowhere near it—but different perspectives are enriching.  Also, with Meghan I could reminisce about Hawaii and Bubba’s.  With Ian, I can’t.

We met up with Meghan’s cousin, Lindsay, and her friend, Candace at the Shake Shack in Madison Square Park.  After devouring one of the best burgers I’ve ever eaten (it’s all about the bun!), we wracked our brains trying to find some late-night hangout spot.  It doesn’t seem like a difficult task in Manhattan, but Meghan was the only one under the drinking age, so that threw a wrench into our brainstorming.  We eventually came across a hookah lounge that turned out to be the laid-back night we all wanted.  Nothing is impossible to find in New York.

The Grade School Line

Station: Mary-Grace

Transfers to: Robert (her boyfriend)

Mary-Grace and I go way back, before I even knew Ian.  We went to the same elementary and middle schools and our parents knew each other.  The two of us very well might have been the only Filipinos in the school.  (Ian expanded our number to three in sixth grade.)  We took all the same classes and even played in the school orchestra together.  And even though Mary-Grace went to a private high school instead of continuing on to Livermore High like everybody we grew up with did, it didn’t feel like she “left.”  But when she did leave, she really left.  To New York.  To study at the Culinary Institute of America.  So baller.

The three Filipinos of Livermore, reunited in New York.

We reunited with Mary-Grace at the Bethesda Fountain in Central Park.  Meghan was still with us then, and it was weirdly awesome to see people from completely different times and places of my life meet.  It had been maybe eight years since I’d seen Mary-Grace last (damn, I sound old!), and she’d been a true New Yorker for six of those years.  When asked if the City has changed her at all, she said her friends and family noticed she was more aggressive and less patient.  Not in a bad way, but in a New York way.  (See my following post for my explanation of this.)  She loves New York, and it’s where she wants to be right now, but she admits that she’d like to move back to California eventually.  Don’t we all.

Mary-Grace led us around Central Park for a bit—including to the Strawberry Fields and the John Lennon tribute—through the Rockefeller Center, and eventually ending up at Katz’s Dinner.  Two things happened at Katz’s: I said goodbye to Meghan, and I discovered what  pastrami should taste like.  The sadness of parting with Meghan was pretty much overshadowed but the gustatory party in my mouth.

We ended the night in the Lower East Side where Mary-Grace took us to upscale bar where her boyfriend, Robert, worked.  The couple offered to let us crash at their place in Queens.  Since we had our first three nights covered by Rigo and our next three covered by Ian’s friends, we denied their offer.  However, when we decided to stay just one day longer in New York, we called up Mary-Grace and took them up on that offer.  It’s good to have multiple friends in a city you don’t want to leave.

Station: Devin

While reminiscing about our elementary school days, Mary-Grace revealed to me and Ian that she ran into our old friend Devin!  She had no idea that we was moving to New York; they just happened to be on the same train at the same time, several weeks after he’d moved to New York.

I went to school with Devin from elementary school to high school.  We were even in the same Cub Scout group.  He was always an eccentric kid, very expressive and a joy to be around.  Although we did not hang out much in high school, our social circles often overlapped.  I hadn’t seen him since graduation and was not keen on what he’d be doing in California all these years.

Turns out he was living in Sacramento, working random jobs to support his improv acting career.  It’s no surprise that Sacramento did not offer enough to rein in this free spirit.  One day, he had enough of California’s tame capital and bought a one-way ticket to New York City: a place he’d never been to but always belonged.  He crashed with a friend until he found his own place in Brooklyn and a job as a bartender in the Lower East Side.

Imagine that!  What kind of crazy person would buy a one-way ticket to another state with nowhere to live and no job prospects. . .

When Ian and I learned of our old friend’s new life, we made plans to meet up with him.  We found him at his work, a small and dark yet upscale bar tucked away in the Lower East Side.  Devin entertained us with his odyssey tale and we returned the favor with our travel stories.  He also kindly had us try various specialty beers.  Ever have a watermelon lager?  They’re delicious.

I’m glad Devin is doing well.  He is definitely in his element in New York.  I can’t wait to revisit the City and see his name in lights.

 

The Cal Spirit Line.  Station: Jordan & David and Nikki

Station: Jordan & David

Not everyone we met up with in New York was my friend.  Ian had a few of his own.  Despite my four years in the University of California Rally Committee (a spirit group), Ian’s position as a Cal Mic Man (a yell leader) meant he had closer contact with members of the other Cal Spirit organizations.  His friend and former Drum Major, David, had moved to the City with his girlfriend, Jordan, a former Cal Dance Team member.  David had originally offered us a place to crash, but by the time we arrived, he happened to be in between places and was staying with Jordan in Chelsea.  Luckily, Jordan was friends with Ian, too, and let us crash in her living room.  Even luckily-er, her place was a building away from a subway station, and a block away from the best pizza I had in New York.

While Jordan was attending grad school in Columbia, David was busy applying to med school when he wasn’t at work.  In short, we didn’t get to go out with them.  They were busy being responsible and whatnot.  It was a bummer because they were super-friendly people and I enjoyed hanging out with them and talking about Cal for those few short hours in Jordan’s apartment.  And I actually recognized both of them from my college days; we did go to all the same rallies and sporting events, afterall.

We stayed with Jordan and David for three nights and even though we wanted to stay another day, they had other guests coming in.  That’s when we called up Mary-Grace.

Station: Nikki

Transfers to: Elissa (her friend)

Ian and I weren’t the only Cal alumni traveling around the States this summer.  Our friend Nikki was on an adventure of her own.  Nikki graduated a year before us, but during our three overlapping years, she was a co-member of Rally Comm.  We had all taken a sip from the proverbial punchbowl that was Cal Spirit and formed a solidarity that only a borderline cult could provide.  Of course, we’ve all since mellowed out on our hoo-rah attitude (but never on our love for Cal!) and Nikki has been spending her post-graduate years working and living in San Francisco whenever she’s not trotting the globe.  For shorter, less narcissistic traveling stories, you can read about Nikki’s adventures on her own blog: MyOneNewThingAWeek.com.

As with Devin, we were only able to hang out with Nikki and her friend, Elissa, for one night, but that included essential New York taxi cab rides.  Nikki is a very spirited, positive person with a fever for exploration and catching up on each other’s lives was pretty entertaining.  Also, her friend Elissa double-majored in Film and something else, so it was refreshing to have conversations about Italian neorealsim and Hitchcock again.

Not a very attractive of me or Ian.

Nikki’s first day in New York coincided with our last one, so even though she was heading down to Washington, D.C., afterwards like us, she missed our stay by a day.  I guess we’ll just have to rendezvous in San Francisco!

Although a lot of Ian’s and my positive experiences in New York City were due to our interactions with old friends, the majority of our time spent in the City was just the two of us newbies, taking in all the sights and sounds and smells and energy of the epicenter of Western society.  Is it a coincidence that so many people from my past have ended up in this one city?  Or is it a sign?

I can’t stay in Hawaii forever.

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