Part Four Best Chelsea Brunch ...
Best Chelsea Brunch
Jerry's Bar & Grill
470 W. 23rd St. (10th Ave.)
Teddy Boys at Jerry's. On the rare occasions when we work on Saturday mornings, we try to make sure that we get out early enough to head down and over a couple blocks and eat brunch at the newish Jerry's branch, on a corner in Chelsea that?at the moment?tenuously maintains its artfully bleak moodiness, despite encroachments from White City establishments like the Red Cat, Half King and?yup?Jerry's itself.
That's us some Saturday mornings, alone at a table, nourishing ourselves while balancing our dog-eared copy of An American Tragedy (working title: An American Phonebook), which we've been plowing through these last, oh, four months or so?following the desperate Clyde Griffiths' ultimately murderous tergiversations while huffing excellent salmon 'n' eggs. And home fries. And french toast, too, in accordance with the (American) habit of bludgeoning oneself with sucrose immediately upon rolling out of bed. Home fries, eggs, toast, the bitter tonic of the coffee and?
Don't do it, Clyde! Don't do it!
Oh, you sonofabitch. Sweet Roberta sinks to her watery death like the potato crumb that drops from our unshaven Saturday lip and down, down, down into the depths of our (they make a good cappuccino here) cappuccino. We let it drown. A chunk of potato isn't worth risking your life for.
There used to be, and might still be, a very willowy waitress here on Saturday mornings, whom we enjoyed looking at. Haven't seen her for a while, but Jerry's remains a good brunch spot for this reason: it's relatively empty, a blessing in a city in which, on weekend mornings, The World's Most Discriminating Culinary Consumers are actually bovine enough to wait in line for breakfast food. That you can get a table here is a function of the neighborhood's underpopulation; also of the fact that the artistes who populate bohemian quartiers such as this one don't get out of bed that early. And Jerry's severe decor is a nice antidote to the brunch institution's homely farmhouse preciousness, as epitomized by oatmeal mills like, say, Friend of a Farmer. You can spread out at Jerry's. We like the banquette tables, where we sometimes find ourselves alone, able to stretch our limbs as we address gloomy canonical works of native realism. That'll be us, one Saturday soon, grimacing over The Financier.
Best Diner Waitress
Landmark Pancake House
158 Grand St. (betw. Centre & Lafayette Sts.)
She's Got Our Number. Jenny is a short and sweet Chinese woman with a rapid-fire mouth and a great sense of humor. As far as diner service goes, she's an exceptional waitress. It doesn't hurt that the Landmark does consistently good pancakes, omelets and burgers. We prefer to take breakfast here rather than at Buffa's or the fashionable Cafe Habana?two decent nearby options. And that's thanks entirely to Jenny. Corny as it sounds, her sunny demeanor and serious work ethic are inspiring. She's a pro, but a compassionate pro. She works alone juggling all 12 four-tops, serving a packed breakfast and lunch crowd (often infested with your typical creeps and nincompoops) and maintaining her cherubic grin throughout.
She's not a faker. When it's possible, she'll go out of her way to seat us at a comfortable distance from others, even if it means clearing a used setting when other tables are ready to go. Sure, we've seen her have bad days. But invariably she keeps a sense of proportion about the whole thing, laughs at herself and presses on. If there's a disagreement with the management, she stands her ground, taking no guff from the grill men or the owner?we sense she's aware of her own value. We hope the owners are, too. At the end of every meal she trots cheerily over to our table, smiles her sly smile and fires off something like, "What you want, maybe some rice pudding or something?" We'll beg off and she'll come back with, "Okay, tomorrow then. We open at 6 a.m. You take rice pudding then."
Six a.m.'s a little early. But we'll be back tomorrow, Jenny. Just for you.
Best Pizza Not Aimed at Raving Connoisseurs
No Haven. There are two places in Manhattan that make a decent pie: La Pizza Fresca and Pintaile's. Neither bakes a quotidian pizza. (La Pizza Fresca, just so you know, is so uninterested in non-Neapolitan vulgarities that they all but require patrons to wash down their pies with vintages off what must be considered one of the finest?and priciest?wine lists imaginable at a restaurant with the word "pizza" in its name.)
And elsewhere? Spongy slabs of bread slicked with zestless tomato sauce and larded with rubbery mozzarella (here's a tip, douchebags: try putting the cheese on before the sauce). The vaunted New York slice is a travesty?an oily wedge of assured indigestion. We get depressed every time we spot someone consuming one. It should be banned. There oughta be a law. Action should be taken. And then there's always the exasperating debate, with someone hauling daytripping authenticity?such as Totonno way the hell out in Coney Island, or one of those New Haven brick-oven joints?out their ass. We usually muster Pintaile's to our defense under this kind of pressure, because it isn't so much pizza as anti-pizza (basically a flavored cracker), and we relish a contrarian stance. Pressed for a decision, we'll always opt for La Pizza Fresca, because we figure pizza should be treated, properly, as a meal, not as fuel, and not as a snack.
Otherwise, New York pizza, unequivocally, sucks.
Best Root Beer
We Like Head with Our Soda. You can get Boylan's at a variety of places around town, from gourmet shops to pizza joints, which is why it, rather than a more esoteric root beer, wins the prize this year. We also like that, for Boylan's, root beer is not the ne plus ultra of soft drinks. Sometimes, much as we adore root beer, we like a little grape or cream or?the finest kind?black cherry soda. Even ginger ale, which Boylan's also does. True, exotic, hard-to-find root beers, with their thicker textures and creamier heads, their denser flavors, are worth seeking out. But for commonplace root-beer drinking?and if we aren't going to be able to get the Frostop of our West Virginia youth (sadly, available nowhere north toward these parts), we'll tend to go with Boylan's. It has a snappy quality, but the essential root-beerness remains.
Best Brown Rice & Spinach Knish
275 7th Ave. (26th St.)
Knice Knish. Sometimes we find ourselves craving a smallish, organically made knish at various hours during the day, and for satiation we head to Organic Market, just a few blocks from our office. Each round knish is wrapped in plastic and comes in a bunch of different varieties, like potato and even blueberry. However, we prefer the comfort of the spinach and brown rice knish because it fills our stomach and keeps us going, and it's only $1.69 a pop, which leaves room in our budget for that afternoon latte. We usually warm the knishes up in the microwave, but they're also good at room temperature. The Organic Market also sells some tasty veggie and fruit juices, plus a range of chocolate-coated fruits, pretzels, nuts and other snacks.
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