There are some places that want to be perceived as diners and others that are intrinsically and naturally diners. The latter, which are usually family run, can be recognized by very large menus, a few traditional Greek dishes on those menus, a huge selection of Danish, muffins and elaborate cakes displayed on and behind the counter and never letting your coffee cup get less than half full. They serve breakfast twenty-four hours a day and fast service is provided by people who are professional waiters and waitresses. Their coffee-to-go is usually in a blue and white paper cup with, “It’s Our Pleasure to Serve You,” framed by two Ionic columns.
Lately, in New York City, mostly Manhattan, a new type of chain diner has been opening. They try for a 1950’s retro style featuring Doo Wop interior design with old signs and maybe some muscle car parts hanging on the walls. Their menus list items with cute names that they want us to believe mythical Eisenhower-era Americans lived on; burgers, shakes and sundaes. Was there ever a “Malt Shop” in New York City? Maybe there was in television land where the Nelson boys and Donna Reed’s kids hung out after school but no, not New York. No matter how hard I try, I can’t imagine Edward Hopper’s “Nighthawks” sipping coffee in any of these Disneyfied places. There’s something contrived about the “new” diners that I would hate to see catch on.
I hope tourists don’t have a BLT at one of these theatre sets and think, “Wow, I’ve eaten in a New York City diner!” because they haven’t.
Some of the old favorites are gone now; the Market, Munson and Cheyenne, but there are enough of the originals left to easily give anyone who wants it, a genuine diner experience.
A handful of them still have waitresses with teased blond hair who will ask you, “What’cha havin’, hon?”
How could anyone give that up for a second-rate copy?
Porterhouse, the king of steaks, has a strip steak on one side of the bone and a tenderloin on the other.
Sprinkle with lots of salt and let it (1 ½ to 2 inches thick) sit at room temp. Heat skillet very hot with a little oil. 3 minutes on one side and remove to board, crust side up.
Cut the loin and sirloin in thick slices straight down and perpendicular to the bone but leave ends attached to the bone.
Dot with lots of butter and put it back together in the pan curst and butter side up.
Place under a preheated broiler for 3 minutes. Spoon melted butter over it and remove from pan or it will continue to cook.
Roasted Tomahawk Steak
1 -2 ½ to 3 inch thick tomahawk steak *
Salt and black pepper
3 tbsp butter
1 tbsp olive oil
Blot room temperature tomahawk dry with paper towels and season with pepper and lots of salt; let rest for 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 400°. Dot roasting pan with 3 tbsp. butter.
Put1 tbsp. oil in a large heavy skillet over medium-high heat. When it’s good and hot add steak to skillet. Cook until seared on all sides (including edges), 2–3 minutes per side. Transfer to the roasting pan. Roast in the oven, turning halfway through cooking and basting with the melted butter, Cook for 10 minutes for rare.
Place in a serving platter and pour the melted butter fron the pan over it. Cover loosely with foil and let it rest for 10 minutes before serving. Serves two.
* A tomahawk steak is a rib steak with the entire rib bone intact.
They may not really be smelts although that’s how they’re sometimes labeled. They’re between 2 and 3 inches long and you can find them in an Italian or Chinese fish market. Some people call them bait fish, shiners or Kellies, I call them the potato chips of the sea. My Aunt Vicki used to make them on Christmas Eve. She called them “fried little fish.”
Rinse ½ pound thoroughly in a strainer under running cold water. Leave them head to tail, fins and scales. Spread them out on paper towels and blot them as dry as you can. Put 3 tablespoons of flour and some salt and black pepper in a bag, add the fish, shake until they’re coated and then spread them out again. Put about an inch of light oil in a pan and add the fish when it’s hot. Make sure to separate them before putting them in the pan because they’ll stay stuck together – a little tedious but worth it.
When they’re done add salt. Eat them while they’re hot with white wine or beer like potato chips. A great snack for guests hanging around the kitchen while dinner is cooking.
A tuna and lemon sandwich was one of my Uncle Charlie’s standard late night snacks.
1 can or jar of imported tuna packed in olive oil
1 fresh lemon
1 small red onion
A sprinkle of olive oil (infused with chilies if you have it)
Salt and black pepper
Crunchy seeded Italian bread
Drain the tuna and arrange it on the bread. Add thinly sliced red onion and thinly sliced lemon (include skin). You’ll need a very sharp knife for this. Sprinkle with plain or chili infused olive oil, salt and black pepper Add some Romaine if you like. This combination really works.
I have some sad news. DeRobertis Pasticceria is closing. They’ve been on First Ave. between Tenth and Eleventh Streets in Manhattan since 1904. And I’ve been going there since, well, I remember tagging along with my father on Sunday mornings to get pastry for after dinner – biscotti, cannoli, babas and sfogliatelle to go with our Anisette and black coffee. At Easter their pizza con gran couldn’t be beat and at Christmas they had the best struffoli.
The owner said the “new” local people expect his pasticceria to be more like Starbucks. (See Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York) Too bad they don’t know what it is that they have. And that it will be gone soon.
This is an old recipe that Rochelle has kept alive. Our mother used to make it on Christmas Eve.
2 large onions, sliced
½ cup olive oil divided
Salt and black pepper to taste
2 lbs tuna steaks, at least 1 inch thick cut into 2 by 2 inch pieces
½ cup red wine vinegar
¼ cup finely chopped mint
Fry onions in ¼ cup of oil on medium heat until soft, translucent and slightly browned, about 20 minutes. Remove onions and add the rest of the oil to the same pan.
Season tuna with salt and pepper and lightly brown on both sides leaving the center rare. Return onions to pan, mix with tuna, increase heat and add the vinegar. Cover and let steam for 3 minutes. Oil, vinegar and liquid from the tuna will create a light sauce.
Place in a serving dish and sprinkle with the mint. This dish can be served hot or cold. Serves six.
December is coming so here’s Nicki’s recipe for a Christmas standard.
“Struffoli or as my family calls them, Ceci, are made for the Christmas Holidays. Time consuming to make, but well worth it. They are a delicious treat. They are especially good for breakfast on Christmas day; float them in your coffee cup and scoop them up with a spoon. So good!” – Nicki
Mix the flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, the 1/4 cup of Crisco and eggs in a mixing bowl. Work the dough with your hands. Then turn the dough onto a floured board. Knead the dough until pliable. Form it into a ball, wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Flour the board. Cut the dough into ½ inch strips. Roll the strips into rope-like pieces about 8 – 10 inches long. I prefer rolling the dough in my hands but you can roll it on the board. Leave each roll to rest on the floured board as you roll the others. Cut each roll into ½ inch pieces. Roll each of these pieces into balls the size of a ceci (chick pea). I roll them by hand and can do two at a time. (Practice makes perfect). The board should be sufficiently floured so that the Struffoli do not stick together.
Put the Crisco (about four inches deep) in a large heavy-duty pot over medium heat. Drop in one ceci to check the heat of the Crisco. It should brown in a minute or two. Fry the dough in batches until golden. Remove them with a slotted spoon or a spider spoon and drain them on a paper towel-lined plate to drain.
Heat the honey and water in a pan until it blends. Add the ceci and toss and coat. Arrange in a serving bowl and dust with powdered sugar and sprinkles.
Ten items that include all six tastes: salty, sweet, sour, bitter, astringent and pungent. That’s what you get at Ayurveda Café. It’s vegetarian Indian cuisine served thali style. I’m by no means a vegetarian as you can tell be some of my posts (beefsteak, lamb’s head) but their meals are tasty and satisfying without meat. It might be the warm climate spices. That’s the difference between southern and northern cuisine – New Orleans vs. Boston, Sicily vs. Tuscany. I confess I don’t know much about southern Indian cooking but some dishes remind me of southern American standards like red rice and beans or southern Italian giambotta, both made without meat but still savory and hearty.
The Ayurveda Café has no menu but four vegetable dishes plus dessert are varied every day along with standard rice (white or brown), salad, nan and chutneys. If you’d like some more of anything you just have to ask for it. For beverages, in addition to various teas and lassis they serve beer (Kingfisher) and wine.
When I was growing up, we started drinking wine with dinner at an early age. We didn’t drink very much and didn’t drink it straight either. Our parents mixed it with soda. Some of my friends preferred Coke, and others, cream and even orange soda – go figure!
My choice was always, and still is 7Up. Some sweetness, some citrus and a bit of bubbly fizz with a rich Chianti can’t be beat. I wouldn’t attempt to order it at a restaurant but I still sometimes have it at home. It’s comfort food that really brings me back.
It’s a simple mix – about half and half. Younger kids get a little less wine and older kids, a bit more.