NYC: Watch Your Back, We Have Competition!

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I’m worried about my hometown. Are we New Yorkers resting on our foodie laurels instead of being at the forefront of the culinary movement? Are we becoming a faded rose’? Past our prime? When I tell someone to go to Philly for pizza instead of NY, that’s ominous.
You want examples? Let’s start with coffee. New York NEEDS food carts!

 
Faded rose (1)  

I’m worried about my hometown. Are we New Yorkers resting on
our foodie laurels instead of being at the forefront of the culinary movement? Are we becoming a faded rose'? Past our prime?

To be fair: the Great Recession hit New York really hard. The
financial industry is housed here and when their bottom fell out ,
NYC was devastated. Restaurants and shops were empty, not quiet…empty. But
things are turning around and you can feel the buzz start to build again.  But, that’s not the whole answer. Its
hard to be fast and nimble in NYC: the stakes are high, the start up costs are
high, so that’s why you get a lot of big name corporate type restaurants and
fewer of the edgy start-ups, but something has to change or we are going to
lose our creds’ as a food Mecca.  
Granted there is a much longer growing season in the Pacific Northwest
and that certainly has an effect on what shows up on the table, but their
markets are affordable, while our require pre-approval. “Oh you would like to
buy a dozen of our organic eggs? Have you been pre-approved by our bank or do
you have independent financing?” 
What’s going on here? I've asked this question before, the markets in Italy is where the common person shops, the markets in NYC is where rich people shop. 

 

When I tell someone to go to Philly for pizza instead of NY,
that’s ominous.

 

Portland was an eye opener.  The upstart, entrepreneurial, “hey guys lets open a …food
cart, or a winery, or a restaurant, coffee bar, or bread bakery” attitude
that was so prevalent in Portland, is simply missing from the NY scene.  Maybe I’m jaded, maybe Portland’s food
scene seems so vibrant because the city is small and its easier to be a big
fish in a little pond, maybe I just sampled the best of the best because
Portland wanted to showcase their finest for IACP, but something is going on
there that isn’t going on here. I know I’m talking heresy and trash at the same
time.
Siphon coffee (1)

 

You want examples? Let’s start with coffee. Coffee is a
freakin’ religion in Portland, the entire city smells of coffee, you realize
that the scent is making you crave coffee ALL day long. It’s the home of
Stumptown coffee, which has cult status in Portland and can be found in select
places in NYC. They used to be at the Chelsea Market, and Jeff, who hates going
grocery shopping, would come along with me just so he could get a coffee. They
were given an award at IACP in part because they donated a bunch of specially
tricked out cargo bikes to Rwandan coffee growers.  I can barely get the guy at Café’ Café’ to smile at me, let
alone care about his coffee.

 

Then there is Joel Domreis of Courier Coffee. Joel sources
his organic coffee from sustainable growers, he does the roasting and hand
delivers his coffee beans on his bicycle. To say he’s obsessed doesn’t quite
describe his level of coffee devotion.
Joel will be opening a brand new coffee
bar in early June at 923 SW Oak St. 
No take out paper cups, because Joel thinks coffee is like wine, it
tastes better in a cup, it deserves to be in porcelain. I agree. His coffee is
already an underground secret; his coffee shop is set to become addictive.

 

It’s hard for me to describe the food cart scene in Portland.  There
are random stand alone carts (my sister tries not to go to one near City Hall
because she says its like crack…you eat that and that’s all you want to eat,
day after day after day, his name is Pete, and its Indian food, go sniff it out
for yourself).  Then there are
the parking lots that are filled with row upon row of food stalls. Almost like what
I’ve seen in the Far East, like in Hong Kong when the sun goes down and Cat
Street converts to a food stall haven. 
I know, it’s an unfortunate name for Chinese food stalls, what can I
say? They also have stands where they sing Chinese opera, which can sound a
whole lot like a herd of cats.

New York NEEDS these food carts! Yeah, we have Shake Shack,
but I’d much rather go to Khao Man Gai’s stand at SW10th & Alder for some
of Nong’s cooking. She was the unofficial winner of best food served at the
fancy IACP opening reception at the Nines Hotel. Check out her webpage, she
Tweets when they are sold out.

 

I love bread and NY has good bread, don’t get me wrong. I love
Balthazar and Sullivan St, but Little T American Baker has the most flavorful
bread that I’ve tasted in a long time. 
He uses one tasty all natural mother!  Of course we also have bagels, and no other place on earth
has good bagels. Only NY. Period. End of statement.

 

New York has  local vineyards, but nothing on the scale
of Oregon. It’s the weather, the soil, the location, and we can’t change that. Yes,
we have Long Island, but its never going to be like the West Coast.  One elegant Oregonian wine to look for
is Domaine Drouhin; their pinot drank exactly like an Old World wine. It wasn’t
huge smack you upside the head fruit, it was soft and elegant and refined and perfect for pairing with
food.

We may not have the wine industry, but there is no excuse
for the micro-brewers and the distillers to not be more prominent in NY.  There are some excellent distillers and
a lot of good brewers, but again nothing like the scope of what I saw in the
Pacific North West.  Philly has a
great micro-brewery culture, check out the Brewer’s Fest if you want to see
passion.  Hot tip: If you happen to
spy Pacific Distillery’s absinthe anywhere, give it a try, it’s mellow and
herbaceous and just plain delicious.

 

Local Cheese It’s not that I’m down on NY; I just think we are getting a
little bit lazy and its time to step up our game.   And if you are in NY and want to experience some of
this passion I’m ranting about, then head over to Roberta’s in Flatbush, these
guys would be right at home in Portland. Wonder how their garden is growing….

The other area where New York is on top of the game is
cheese. I tasted some very nice cheese in Portland, but we win for diversity
and overall quality.

 

Home Cooking It would be fun to do an Iron Chef type competition by
location…Portland v. New York making steak, or Philly v. Portland brewer comp.
Foodnetwork, are you listening? 

 The big picture moral of the story is that no matter what,
there is a burgeoning local food culture in every part of this country, and it is
a good and wonderful thing.  Now,
if everyone would just cook a little more at home with all this wondrous stuff,
life would be better for everyone! Good eats indeed.

 

 

3 Responses to "NYC: Watch Your Back, We Have Competition!"
  1. Wow. That’s quite a flattering post, from where I’m sitting 😉 So many times a day I look around and think how lucky we are. And it’s always nice to get outside validation… That domaine Drouhin is something else, isn’t it??? We aren’t quite filthy rich enough yet, but we are cellar members at Sokol Blosser and Archery Summit. Huge huge pinot fans. This week I am going to *make* time to go to the market 🙂 Even by bike! Early strawberries will be out – and sugar snaps, too! I just can’t wait…

  2. Shetha, Im so sorry the
    stars didnt line up so we could meet. Your photography blows me away.
    Im sorry we have to settle for an online friendship, that is unless
    you want to come to Italy! You cant possibly have strawberries
    already..that would just be soooooo unfair. :–)

  3. To be honest, Im not sure I
    agree. I think that sort of thinking is why NYC has lost some of its
    edge. We New Yorkers do think of ourselves as the Center of the
    Universe, but has the Universe shifted? is NY validation as important
    as it once was? Just some food for thought.

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