Almond

To be honest with you, I’m not even sure how I heard about Almond, a French restaurant located on 22nd Street in Flatiron. Its name may have materialized out of nowhere and landed in my brain, urging me to make a reservation for Friday night. As anyone else would do, I followed my brain’s command and clicked on a 7:30 pm reservation in OpenTable.

Almond grilled thick-cut bacon

grilled thick-cut bacon

MDP and I arrived around 7:10 to Almond. I had been standing outside for about 25 minutes, awaiting his arrival, and I was eager to get inside the restaurant since the polar vortex is once again upon us; I felt a bit cold. We walked through the thick curtain that separates the vestibule from the restaurant’s interior, and a gentleman wearing a V-neck sweater with a button-down shirt underneath stood beside a non-descript female hostess behind a computer. I informed them–since I wasn’t sure who to talk to–that we had a 7:30 reservation. The man with the preppy dress shot back, “Well, you’re early for your reservation.” This was the beginning of the end of Almond in my book. He proceeded to tell us to get a drink at the bar until he summoned us for our table. We stood idly next to a fake display of mollusks on ice for about two minutes, and then, upon noticing that we weren’t inclined to order a drink, he ushered us to our table.

The table itself was unsatisfactory, as well. We were seated against a short divider that separated the dining area from the bar folk and in the middle of a highly trafficked thoroughfare. At least the chairs were comfortable.

MDP considered ordering a bourbon. When the waiter finally came around to ask for our drink orders, he asked, “How much is the bourbon?” The waiter responded, “It’s about five ounces.” First of all, this estimate of drink volume is highly unlikely. Second, it was fairly obvious that MDP was asking for the price, which, after some back and forth, was discovered to be $14. MDP selected a beer off the back of the food menu instead. I ordered a glass of riesling, which is on tap, and it was decent.

almond le grand macaroni and cheese

“le grand” macaroni and cheese

When the waiter sauntered over to take our food order, we requested the grilled thick-cut bacon for an appetizer. I opted for the “le grand” macaroni and cheese and MDP asked for the croque madame for entrees.

Bread was brought over to our table, and we quickly devoured it. I have to say, the bread was excellent. And Almond’s food overall is very good. But, as you’re surely sensing, the service leaves something to be desired.

We waited about 30 minutes for our appetizer. The waiter assured us it was “on its way” and at least 10 minutes passed until it was presented to us. Two thick slabs of bacon sat beneath avocado, grilled red onions and a paprika white-bean stew. The bacon itself tasted fatty to me, but the combination of flavors from the avocado, onions and bean stew was delightful.

I lost track of time waiting for the entrees. The macaroni and cheese was delivered to me in a very hot dish, while MDP’s croque madame was situated in an oval-shaped cast iron pan. The macaroni and cheese is some of the best I’ve ever tried. The aroma of truffles wafted up from the dish and stimulated my taste buds before I even had the chance to take my first bite. Large bits of prosciutto dotted the dish, with the truffle flavor overpowering–in a good way–the entire experience.

The croque madame was okay, but Astoria Bake Shop still wins for best rendition. MDP also ordered french fries, and, as expected, they were very good. Crisp and delicious, the french fries were perfectly salted, as well.

almond french fries

french fries

I had already informed MDP that I wanted the chocolate pot de creme for dessert about an hour before the dessert menus were brought to us. Once the waiter reflexively asked us about dessert, fifteen minutes passed before we saw him again. I decided to pass on my beloved chocolate pot de creme. It was already past 9 pm.

MDP observed that Almond’s service may reflect its French roots. My response? We’re in America–and in New York City, no less. Get with the program and speed up the service, and be more accommodating while you’re at it. MDP also said that the somewhat expensive prices on Almond’s menus must be necessary to offset the lack of quick turnover of tables. I think he’s on to something.

Almond may have good food, but, if you’re looking to spend fewer than two hours on a meal, pass on this place.

Almond

12 E. 22nd Street (between Broadway and Park)

Flatiron, New York

Take the N/R to 23rd Street. Walk south one block and east on 22nd.

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The Odeon

“Which neighborhood do you want to have dinner in?” asked my restaurant-savvy coworker as I pondered aloud about my Friday night plans.

I rattled off a few areas that might be convenient, considering MDP works in SoHo.

“What about The Odeon in TriBeCa?” she asked.

Together, we looked at the restaurant’s website and she continued to tell me all about the food and ambiance.

“Everything is good,” she explained. “And it’s got an old-time diner aesthetic. It’s a place where you can see beautiful people and feel very cool.”

It sounded like my kind of restaurant, so MDP and I decided to try it.

baby beet salad odeon

baby beet salad

When we arrived, the hostess informed us that there were several tables for “walk-ins” near the front. We mistakenly selected a table next to a pillar in the middle of the restaurant. Pro tip: Make a reservation at The Odeon if you’re interested in trying it, so that you can sit somewhere that’s not in the very center of a highly trafficked pathway.

After getting comfortable, we were greeted by a waiter who would prove to be extremely attentive and helpful over the course of the evening. He asked us for our drink orders, which were promptly delivered shortly thereafter, and what type of water we would like for the table. A few moments later, he brought us the tap water we had requested and asked if we would like some bread, which quickly came out of the kitchen.

The menu isn’t particularly large, but everything looks delicious. We ordered the baby beet salad as an appetizer to share. Before the salad was served, MDP inadvertently knocked the butter off the table. A staff member swooped in, picked up the butter and instantly brought us a replacement. In short, the service is impeccable at this restaurant.

croque monsieur odeon

croque “monsieur”

A table runner placed the baby beet salad—organized in a perfectly round circle on the plate—on the table and we dug in. It featured a bit of feta, fennel and arugula, but the best part about it was the blood orange vinaigrette that offered a citrusy essence to the salad. MDP and I were very pleased.

For entrees, we ordered off the “brasserie” section of the menu: MDP got the croque madame (it is a “croque monsieur” on the menu, but he requested the egg on top, which made it a true croque madame), while I opted for the moules frites. A slender looking sandwich, MDP’s dish was a delectable combination of prosciutto, ham, gruyere and Mornay sauce with a distinct kick to it. I greatly enjoyed his croque madame, which also came with a hearty portion of matchstick french fries that were superb. Now, I implore you to order the mussels when you go to The Odeon—even if you’re unsure about whether you like mussels—because they are easily the best mussels I’ve ever had in my life. Drenched in a beautiful saffron cream broth, they were covered with sautéed leeks and tomatoes, and were incredibly flavorful. I kept telling MDP, “These are the best mussels I’ve ever had. Even better than Belgian Beer Café.” I love leeks and don’t see them used enough when I dine out. I was delighted that The Odeon embraces the leek and puts it front and center in the moules frites—a fantastic decision. Obviously, my mussels were accompanied by fries, which I gladly inhaled.

sundae odeon

The Odeon sundae

My coworker had noted that the desserts were top notch at The Odeon. She highlighted the profiteroles, which I always love, but we decided to go for The Odeon sundae. With some of the best vanilla ice cream I’ve ever had, the sundae had a dollop of housemade whipped cream on top and a small container of hot fudge on the side. MDP drizzled the not-too-sweet hot fudge all over the ice cream and whipped cream, and I even used my spoon to scoop out the lining of fudge on the bottom of the container, allowing us to savor every last bite of it.

The Odeon is fantastic and served up some of the best fare I’ve had in recent months. Do go there.

The Odeon

145 West Broadway (at Thomas Street)

TriBeCa, New York

Take the 1/2/3 to Chambers Street and walk north on West Broadway to Thomas.

Murphy’s Lobster & Grill

I must preface this post with an admission: I resisted going to Murphy’s Lobster & Grill for many months. In fact, when visiting with some friends, MDP declared he’d like to try it, for their oysters and other seafood fare, and my friend said he would go with him. Well, the friends moved away and MDP was left with no one to accompany him to Murphy’s. I finally gave in.

murphy's lobster and grill snow crab platter

snow crab platter

And I’m glad I did! Situated on a quiet corner on Skillman Avenue (about 10 steps away from where I once lived) in Sunnyside, Murphy’s used to just be a bar, but, in recent years, they renovated the space adjacent to the beloved bar and turned it into a lobster house. And what a lobster house it is: the walls are covered with nautical-inspired decorations, such as giant fish and torn and tattered photos from yore. The ambiance is warm and quiet, and the lighting is just right.

The menu is filled with seafood delectables, including baked clams, calamari and items from the raw bar for appetizers. We opted for the steamed mussels, which are cooked in a delicious white wine sauce. They were served with two pieces of garlic bread drenched in butter. I saved my bread for when we got to the bottom of the bucket–it was perfect for soaking up the fantastic broth. The mussels were on the large side, with giant meaty bits within. They were quite good.

murphy's lobster and grill lobster macaroni and cheese

lobster macaroni and cheese

For entrees, Murphy’s offers a range of seafood dishes, with a lobster platter prominently placed at the top of the menu. They also serve surf and turf, and a steak frites dish that I nearly ordered. Instead, I got the lobster macaroni and cheese that was wonderful. Succulent bits of lobster that were sauteed in garlic dotted the creamy macaroni and cheese. Finely shredded cheddar coated the top of the macaroni, adding a layer of deliciousness to the very rich dish.

Prior to traveling to Murphy’s, we watched a few videos on how to eat crab legs, something neither of us had ever done. So, MDP accordingly ordered the snow crab platter, which came with two crabs’ worth of legs (eight in total), boiled potatoes and corn. Over the course of about 30 minutes, I watched him patiently crack each leg, at every joint, pulling out bite-size pieces of meat and drowning them in the melted butter that came in a tiny cup. I tried a bit of crab meat, and it was quite good, but I honestly prefer lobster. (Shoot me for having a refined palate.) Everything on his plate was fabulous, with the exception of the corn that seemed to be somewhat firm–I owe this to corn no longer being in season.

murphy's lobster and grill chocolate mousse cake

chocolate mousse cake

Per the recommendation of the jolly waiter, we ordered the chocolate mousse cake for dessert. It was delightful. The mousse was smooth and creamy, and the chocolate cookie crust was firm and flavorful.

Murphy’s is one of the few seafood restaurants in the neighborhood, and it deserves the kind of acclaim some of the Queens Boulevard places have received. I hope it continues to attract a good crowd.

Murphy’s Lobster & Grill (and Bar)

48-20 Skillman Avenue (at 48th Street)

Sunnyside, NY

Take the 7 train to 46th-Bliss Street. Walk north two avenues to Skillman and turn right; walk two blocks.

Brooklyn Bowl + Old 97’s (Sorta)

MDP and I bought tickets for the Old 97’s show at Brooklyn Bowl about a month ago. So, when the day came, I was pretty excited to get there. Although the doors weren’t slated to open until 8 pm for the show, we knew we could grab a bite at the bowling alley beforehand. I took the L train to Bedford, hopped off and made my way over to Brooklyn Bowl, which is located on Wythe between North 11 and North 12 streets.

brooklyn bowl calamari

calamari

My walk was pleasant. I hadn’t realized Williamsburg possessed such charm. I suppose I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve been to the neighborhood since I was in college, and that may explain my surprise at the cute eateries and shops that lined Bedford. Anyway, I turned down North 11 Street to cut over to Wythe, and locked eyes with a gentleman who was sampling a beer in an outdoor café. He looked familiar, but I kept walking—that is, until I realized it was Rhett Miller, front man for the Old 97’s.

My internal dialogue went something like this:

Should I talk to him?

Should I bother him?

What if it isn’t him?

What if he thinks I’m crazy?

After about five minutes of hemming and hawing, I walked over to him and said, “Hey, you look familiar. Are you Rhett Miller?” He smiled and nodded, and stood up to introduce himself. “I’m Rhett,” he said. I know, I thought, but told him my name instead. “You’re awesome. I love your music,” I said, sounding 16 years old. I added that I was going to be attending his show later in the evening, and he said he was planning to sing a duet with the opening act. “I’ll be there at 8 then,” I told him and blurted out “enjoy” for some reason.

What an evening this is going to be! I thought, as I made my way over to Wythe.

brooklyn bowl fried chicken dinner

fried chicken dinner

Well, the night took an unexpected turn. Apparently, Brooklyn Bowl had a power outage earlier in the day. It didn’t occur to me until after I tried to unsuccessfully order a burger that the lack of power might affect the show. It did.

But before that realization struck, MDP and I sampled some delectable food from Brooklyn Bowl. First of all, it’s worth mentioning that this place is pretty awesome. It’s a huge space with a stage, bowling lanes and a restaurant. Oh, and the bathrooms are clean and pristine, up a flight. They have Brooklyn Brewery beers on tap, and Blue Ribbon food (whether that means the recipes or the chefs are trained a la Blue Ribbon is a mystery).

We started our meal with the fried calamari, which was crisp and delicious, and came with fried jalapenos mixed in with the octopus. It also had a lemon and cayenne mayo and an authentically included lemon wedge on the side. Fantastic!

When I learned the burger was not an option due to the down grill, I opted for the fried chicken dinner, with mixed pieces (dark and white meat). It came with the best collard greens I’ve ever had. Thick pieces of bacon were mixed in with them and they had a perfect flavor. The mashed potatoes were so-so, but the chicken was decent. The fry on the chicken was very flavorful, but I’m sorry to say that the flavor did not seep down into the bird’s flesh as it does at many other places. The dish also came with a hefty slice of white bread, which I rather enjoyed.

MDP got the fried catfish sandwich, and he seemed to enjoy it very much. I’m no fan of catfish, so I didn’t sample a bite.

We waited around for about 40 minutes until we heard through the grapevine that the show was canceled. But I happened to notice Rhett traipse down the stairs and into the back of the stage. He was carrying his acoustic guitar. Suddenly, he was gone, and I thought, He must have gone outside. There we went, and we found Rhett singing on the sidewalk of Wythe, outside of Brooklyn Bowl.

rhett miller outside brooklyn bowl

rhett miller

He played around seven songs, much to the crowd’s delight. We all sang along to “Wish the Worst” and “Big Brown Eyes” and Rhett even did a few tunes from the new album, such as the title track “Most Messed Up” and Let’s Get Drunk & Get It On.” Mostly, Rhett sang/shouted the lyrics, but he still sounded great.

“I have to stop singing or else I think I may never sing again,” he shouted to the screaming crowd of about 30.

UPDATE! Saw the Old 97’s today at Lincoln Center and got a much better shot of them!

IMG_1052

So, definitely go to Brooklyn Bowl. But make sure the power’s working if you’re planning to see a show or bowl. It’s good eatin’, for sure, but if you’re making the trek to Williamsburg, you’re going to want to do more than eat good food.

Brooklyn Bowl

61 Wythe Ave. (bet. North 11 and North 12 streets)

Williamsburg, Brooklyn

Take the L to Bedford and walk a few blocks west then north.

Obicà

When I visited Italy many moons ago, I toured with a diverse group of people from the Union County area. We went all over the country—Rome, the Amalfi Coast, Capri—but what stands out to me the most is our visit to the Campania Region. We went to a mozzarella and ricotta factory there, where we sampled the creamiest and most flavorful mozzarella I’ve ever had.

obica housemade bread

housemade bread

With a new location in Flatiron, Obicà claims to source their mozzarella from Campania several times a week. Upon learning this, I rushed to make a reservation at the brand new restaurant in order to try their cheese as soon as possible. I regret to inform you that Obicà did not live up to my expectations one bit.

The place was packed on Friday night. I suppose that’s no surprise since the joint only opened the beginning of last week and they already have one location in the city that has received some acclaim. The dark interior was off-putting, but was made up for by all the restaurant personnel exclaiming “buona sera” as we entered. This restaurant must be authentic, I thought.

obica burrata salad

burrata salad

I was wrong. The only saving grace of Obicà is their bread, which is made in-house (and is, I’ll note here, free). The olive kind is forgettable, but the mild-flavored focaccia and the crusty, chewy Italian bread are winners in my book. Too bad the rest of the food, which is fairly expensive, paled in comparison.

We started with the burrata salad, which comes with beets, string beans and pine nuts. I definitely enjoyed the pine nuts, but the burrata itself left something to be desired. Plain and simple: It did not taste like anything. Good mozzarella (and burrata, for that matter) is slightly salty and creamy and should register as “divine” to your taste buds. This did not. Disappointment number one.

MDP got the lasagna, which was served partially cold, so I’m not even going to mention what it was like or what it came with. Massive fail. Disappointment number two.

obica pizza

pizza

I ordered the salsiccia e friarielli pizza. The crust was delicious. Obicà uses PETRA flour and lets the dough rise for 48 hours. I think this makes a difference. But the toppings were not very good. The sausage was not flavorful and the broccoli rabe (rapini, according to their “authentic” menu) didn’t have the same punch it usually has. Disappoinment number three.

We didn’t stick around to check out their dessert menu, since we figured we were already paying a boatload for a dinner neither one of us enjoyed. Why add to the disappointment? We paid and went across the street to Maison Kayser, which is decent but not a place I’d recommend either.

If you’re looking for excellent burrata, go to Palma. If you want fantastic pizza, go to Emporio.

Obicà

928 Broadway

Flatiron, New York

Take the N/R to 23rd Street and walk south a few blocks.

Village Whiskey (Philadelphia)

Philadelphia has definitely been undergoing a food revolution over the past few years. While I (obviously) don’t live there to attest to this fact first-hand, it’s all I’ve been hearing about the city of late. “It’s the sixth borough,” say those who aspire to commuting to New York City from the relatively inexpensive city of brotherly love—and no respectable New Yorker would dream of moving to a place that didn’t have good food. While relocating may not be in the cards for me, an occasional visit never hurt anyone. I’m telling you—if you decide to stop at a bar, any bar, in Philadelphia, make it Village Whiskey in the Rittenhouse neighborhood.

village whiskey village burger

village burger

Village Whiskey features an unmarked exterior, which emanates the speakeasy vibe that comes from within. When you walk through the double glass doors into the mini-lobby where a hostess meets you, you feel as though you’ve traveled back in time. Inside, the walls are lined with white subway tile and stately, dark brown leather booths for a clean, masculine feel. Fewer than 10 high tables dot the left side of the place with a decent bar certain to be packed with locals who enjoy the occasional (or frequent) whiskey on the right.

You see, the eponymous spirit in Village Whiskey’s name is a favorite of Chef Jose Garces—and they’ve got plenty of it. The menu comprises more than 80 whiskeys, which recalls the thorough whiskey list of Maysville. Although Village Whiskey charges a pretty penny for their drinks, they at least offer a decent pour, unlike Maysville where bartenders measure 2 oz. of liquid and serve that up as a “drink.” If you’re into whiskey, you’ll want to stop here, but don’t be surprised if you can’t get a table or a seat at the bar.

village whiskey bbp pork sammy

bbp pork sammy

Now, what about the food? Well, it is, in a word, excellent. I ordered the 8 oz. Village burger, featuring tomato, lettuce and house made thousand island dressing on a delectable sesame bun. I opted to add the mild tasting Jasper Hill cheddar. The puck-like burger was fantastic. The meat was tender and flavorful, and it had a delicious char on the exterior. I can see why Village Whiskey claims they have one of the best in the country.

MDP got the bbq pork sammy and he was very pleased with his selection. While I felt the sandwich had an understated pork flavor, he commented that it could have had more sauce. His sandwich came with fried pickles that were quite good.

village whiskey duck fat fries

duck fat fries

We also ordered the duck fat fries, which were good, but I expected their flavor to be a departure from fries cooked in, say, peanut oil.

Village Whiskey also has a lobster macaroni and cheese dish that I would be interested to try next time I go. And they’ve also got a good selection of drinks on tap, including Crispin apple cider, for anyone who isn’t into the whiskey menu.

I highly recommend Village Whiskey, but definitely go there during off hours (mid-afternoon on a weekend, possibly weeknights) to ensure you grab a table. One last thing worth mentioning is that Village Whiskey has an outpost in Atlantic City, for all you Jersey folks who don’t want to make the trek to Philadelphia (though you should).

Village Whiskey

118 S. 20th Street (across from the Shake Shack, on the corner of Samson and S. 20th)

Rittenhouse, Philadelphia

1200 Miles

“You’d think the kitchen was 1,200 miles from our table,” said MGDP (My Guy Dining Partner) after he had returned from our lunch. In reality, the distance from the kitchen to our table was about 20 feet, but it felt like 1,200 miles since it took forever and a day to receive our food.

Restaurant Week is upon us in this great city of ours. Some of the fanciest places in all the land welcome plebeians into their four walls to sample three courses of delicacies—for a reasonable $25 for lunch and $38 for dinner. MGDP, MLDP (My Lady Dining Partner) and I decided to try 1200 Miles, located in Flatiron, for a deal meal.

The trouble started when the waiter came over about 10 minutes after our arrival to ask if we wanted sparkling or “De Blasio” water. “What’d he say?” asked MLDP. At the time, I laughed at this meagerly clever reference to New York City tap water, some of the finest in the country in fact. While the surly waiter retrieved our water, the three of us pored over the menu and selected our three courses.

Upon returning, waiter man asked for our orders, and I began. When I requested one of the dessert items on the list as my final course, he dismissed my request, saying, “We’ll get to that later.” In that instant, I knew we were heading into a two-hour lunch. And I was right.

I selected the gazpacho, which was green, had a definite kick and came with crunchy bits of croutons. It was delicious. MLDP opted for the tartine with summer tomatoes that tasted fresh and appetizing. MGDP got the wedge salad and he seemed delighted with his dish, although it didn’t look much like a true wedge salad to me (it was a few leaves of romaine [?] lettuce with some vegetables and a thick, murky sauce beneath the greens).

Fast forward 30 minutes later and our entrees finally arrived. I had already been routinely (and nervously) checking MGDP’s watch to see the time. By the time our second courses came, I had already informed them that I would be leaving after I finished my (very good) lasagna. The lasagna (not on their a la carte menu) did not feature sauce, but rather had an extremely dense ricotta flavor. It was served with baby vegetables (?) on the side. MLDP ordered the tuna salad and MGDP got the shaved lamb sandwich. Both dishes were met with satisfaction.

I’ll never know whether the 1200 Miles rendition of a chocolate-espresso parfait was worth trying because I didn’t stick around to have it. MGDP reported back that it was divine, adding insult to injury. But MLDP was rightfully upset with the 1.5 hours she had spent dining at 1200 Miles, and who could blame her?

You’ve probably noticed by now that I haven’t included photos in this post. While the food was excellent, the service was so poor—we didn’t even get bread to start while everyone around us did, for example—that I wouldn’t recommend this place to anyone. I’m only writing about it because I wanted to warn you to never go here, especially if you’ve made plans for after your meal.

For the record, I’m not sure 1200 Miles should even be eligible as a Restaurant Week option since the menu isn’t that expensive and the confusing, off-putting decor surely doesn’t put it in the upper echelons of New York City fine dining.

1200 Miles

31 West 21st St., between 5th and 6th avenues

Flatiron, NY

Take the N/R to 23rd Street and walk south two blocks and turn right onto 21st. It’s halfway down the block, but, really, don’t go here.

New Blog Alert: The Express

Meet The Express, my new blog.

Basically, The Express is a blog by a New Yorker about New York for New Yorkers – make sense?

I’ll write about places to go, neighborhoods to visit and day trips you can take within the city—and more!

If you’re interested in getting The Express in your inbox, scroll down to the bottom of this page and click on “follow.”

And don’t worry – I’m still going to be writing about food and music here onTaylor’s Ham, for your reading pleasure, of course.

 

 

“x” Marks the Spot

Fingers sliding across guitar strings and a simple note or two begin Ed Sheeran’s latest album, x, on the song “The One.” The regret-tinged love tune sets the tone for Sheeran’s tour de force. You see, in Sheeran’s latest album, he raps, sings in falsetto and gets you moving in your seat with tracks like “Sing” but, by and large, the material he covers centers on his struggle to maintain a romantic relationship while pursuing his dreams.

In the April 2013 Vanity Fair cover story, Taylor Swift addresses the double standard when it comes to writing songs that are often about love.

For a female to write about her feelings, and then be portrayed as some clingy, insane, desperate girlfriend in need of making you marry her and have kids with her, I think that’s taking something that potentially should be celebrated—a woman writing about her feelings in a confessional way—that’s taking it and turning it and twisting it into something that is frankly a little sexist.

Swift hit it on the head when she called it sexist. Case in point: Ed Sheeran. His songs are nearly solely devoted to love and his experience with it, and nobody remarks about his penchant for writing about his “feelings.” Don’t get me wrong, it’s clear that Sheeran appreciates women, when he writes lyrics like “You look so wonderful in your dress/ I love your hair like that/ The way it falls on the side of your neck/ Down your shoulders and back” in the lovey-dovey “Tenerife Sea.” But, overwhelmingly, he draws inspiration from his feelings, too.

taylor swift and ed sheeran

taylor swift and ed sheeran

Though the subject matter may be similar, x is a departure from his debut, +, in terms of influences and tones. Justin Timberlake and John Mayer, to name two well-known artists, are all over this record in spirit. And Sheeran owes a lot to hip hop, as he brings together folk-pop and rap on every other song. His chart-topping single “Sing” is right for the club, due to its dance-inducing rhythm and sway, yet features acoustic guitar strums all over the track. With this song alone, Sheeran has single-handedly transformed a genre.

And some may be surprised that Sheeran veers on the adult matters of sex, drugs and alcohol, but I’m not. The beginnings of these subjects were all over + and, though he may have toured with squeaky-clean Taylor Swift, that has no bearing whatsoever on his freedom to write about his reality.

For listeners who are familiar with +, “Take It Back” resonates as a new manifesto that picks up where “You Need Me, I Don’t Need You” left off. Ever aware of his unique physique, Sheeran begins the third verse with:

I take it back now

Now I don’t ever want to be perfect,

Cause I’m a singer that you

Never want to see shirtless

And I accept the fact that someone’s gotta win worst-dressed,

Taking my first steps into the scene,

Giving me focus

In his rap, he reminds us he’s still on the rise—and, judging by his quick ascent, he’s surely onto something. The second song on the album, “I’m a Mess,” features a repetitive swell as the outro, much like “Give Me Love” did on +. In my opinion, the rise and fall of these outros makes for successful, memorable and rhythmically clever songs.

For me, the first 13 songs are winners, but the final three could have been omitted. x is a long album, and Sheeran may have benefited from using the final tracks as bonus ones, rather than cobbling them in with the rest of the very strong, very incisive songs that precede them.

All in all, x is definitely a success for Sheeran. Recently, Taylor Swift encouraged her followers to buy Sheeran’s new album with a photo of him snuggling with her cat, Meredith, on Instagram. Swift exposed the softer side of Sheeran with that post, but it’s something any listener of x will also witness through his poignant songs.

Dram Shop

To be honest with you, I find it hard to believe that I have not yet written about Dram Shop. It’s probably one of my favorite places in New York. Sometimes, I think, I subconsciously (and selfishly) keep good places to myself and do not share them on Taylor’s Ham, so that it can be for me, and only me. But I recognize the error in my ways and would like you to know about and visit Dram Shop.

dram shop burger

burger

It’s located in Park Slope, on 9th Street between 5th and 6th avenues. It’s kind of like the part of Park Slope that people may not want to call Park Slope since the streets aren’t as tree-lined and pristine, and the brownstones are not on their second or third renovation. Yet, I am fairly certain this bar is, in fact, located in Park Slope.

MDP and I were on our way to a gig at the Bell House just a hop, skip and a jump away from Dram Shop’s locale. I felt it was a good time to return to the bar, a place I hadn’t been for at least a few years, since we had some time to kill before the show got underway. The place was hopping with eager fans of Ecuador shouting at the TV screen as they scored yet another goal in their World Cup game. We snagged a table near the entrance, but there are plenty of tables throughout the bar. And a pool table. And board games. So, if you come here, make an afternoon out of it.

dram shop fried chicken sandwich

fried chicken sandwich

Now, if you go to Dram Shop, you must order the burger. The standard is a double patty with shredded lettuce, tomato, mayo, diced onion, mustard and cheese (you can pick which kind you want). It is phenomenal. You can also order a single patty, but Dram Shop’s burgers are so thin and slender, two patties won’t kill ya. I opted for avocado and their chipotle mayo on the side, which made the burger even better. There’s something about the combination of toppings they give you that makes the burger outstanding. It also comes with fries, which are crisp and delicious.

MDP got the fried chicken sandwich that was topped with coleslaw, which I found to be an interesting, yet quite delectable choice. He was very satisfied with the sandwich and fries that accompanied his dish.

Oh, and don’t forget to order Miss Mcgrath’s Irish nachos to start. We didn’t get them this time, but last time we did, and they are amazing!

Dram Shop is a fantastic place to go on a lazy summer weekend. They’re showing all World Cup games, so it may not be as sleepy and relaxed as it normally is. But, come July 14, you’ll have the place to yourself. Go there. You won’t regret it.

Dram Shop

339 9th Street (between 5th and 6th avenues)

Park Slope, Brooklyn

Take the F/G to 4th Ave-9th Street; you can take the R to this stop too. Walk a few blocks.