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


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!


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.


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


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.


By now, you know that I’m a snob when it comes to Italian food. I rarely venture to restaurants that serve up such fare, and, when I do, I’m highly critical of them. (For reference, see my Sauce review.) Another thing about me that you may or may not know is that I’m a sucker when it comes to restaurant recommendations from people I know.

queen mozzarella


Two coworkers recommended Queen, an Italian restaurant, to me. Situated beside a few fast food joints in Brooklyn Heights, Queen is a rarity. It’s the kind of old-school Italian restaurant I recall from my youth, growing up in New Jersey. Apparently, it’s been around for years and has survived the ebb and flow of its neighborhood.

I wandered around the dimly lit streets of Brooklyn Heights for about 15 minutes before finding Queen. Buildings cowered behind scaffolding and the street names were meaningless. Luckily, I finally navigated to the restaurant, arriving 10 minutes late for our reservation, using seldom trusted Google Maps.

When I entered the restaurant, I was struck by the ambiance. It was warm, yet felt very dated. Though the neighborhood has changed, it appears Queen has maintained its roots in Jerseyan Italian restaurant decor. We were told the wait would be 15 – 20 minutes, despite our reservation, and then were eventually sat right next to the door, with a great view of a hardware store across the street (the LED sign on the exterior informed me that they sell paint and make keys, if you’re wondering).

queen chicken parmigiana

chicken parmigiana

A member of the waitstaff promptly brought over a plate of various breads, including a few slices of regular Italian bread, crisp breadsticks and–my favorite–two pieces of something like focaccia covered with marinara sauce. We ordered two glasses of reasonably priced pinot grigio, but that’s where the bargain at Queen ended.

We opted for the housemade mozzarella, which, I anticipated, would be fresh mozzarella, as opposed to a globe of cheese they took out of the fridge. I was wrong. It was dense and nearly flavorless, and, for a whopping $16.75, came with just a few random pieces of soppressatta. Though the cheese was a minor disappointment, I pressed on with hope that our entrees would be better.

I ordered the chicken parmigiana, which is accompanied by a plate of penne pasta with marinara sauce. A thick layer of melted mozzarella cheese covered the breaded chicken with marinara sauce featured aplenty. This dish was fine. I ordered it because I figured it’s very difficult to go wrong with such a simple dish. I was neither disappointed nor impressed.

queen ricotta cheesecake

ricotta cheesecake

MDP got the gnocchi with veal and pork ragu. I enjoyed the ragu in his dish, but the gnocchi were clearly overcooked. They were a tad slimey and too soft. He finished his plate, but he wasn’t sold on Queen either.

For dessert, we tried the ricotta cheesecake. With two fruit syrups drizzled around the plate, the ricotta cheesecake tasted just like, well, ricotta. There was a hint of lemon zest, but the dish lacked any semblance of sweetness. I recall the ricotta cheesecake at Palma, which was creamy, just sweet enough and totally delightful; Queen’s rendition paled in comparison.

The bill was more than $100, which is fine, but neither MDP nor I felt as though the quality of the food justified the prices.

So, if you’re looking for Italian places to try, skip Queen. For top-notch Italian food, try Palma or Emporio, which are both located in Manhattan, instead.


84 Court St.

Brooklyn Heights, Brooklyn

Take the 2/3/4/5/R to Borough Hall and walk a few blocks.

Blue Collar

The only motivational thing about Blue Collar in Williamsburg is the presence of the phrase “Good job” all over the restaurant. I spotted it on the spare menu board and on one of the condiments containers, I believe. The rest of Blue Collar requires an acquired taste, most notably their poor overhead lighting and sparse seating arrangement. But, the burgers are pretty good.

blue collar burger


Blue Collar’s menu features burgers, hot dogs, shakes and fries. Unofficially, there are also floats and chicken tenders to be had. I noticed a neighboring guest eating chicken tenders, and wondered where they came from until the woman behind the counter mentioned them to a prospective customer on the phone. So, anyway, ordering is pretty simple, since the options are fairly straightforward, and the prices are quite cheap.

MDP and I each ordered a cheeseburger and our very own orders of fries. The cheeseburger was small (1/4 lb.?) and I wish I had ordered the double because it was just that good. The meat is juicy and flavorful, and its special sauce adds a certain je ne sais quoi to the dining experience. Blue Collar thoroughly toasts their potato rolls, so you get a bit of a char flavor. If the place were nicer, and in a better neighborhood, I’d suggest you go there every weekend.

blue collar fries


But, one drawback of Blue Collar is the matchstick fries. They’re wooden and flavorless, although I was so in the mood for fried food that I ate my entire bag (and some of MDP’s).

For dessert, we opted for the peanut butter shake which was rich and creamy, and tasted quite like peanut butter, as it should.

I recommend Blue Collar for a weekend lunch or a summer dinner–sometime when the sunshine is still present and you can navigate the neighborhood without the fear of getting mugged.

Blue Collar

160 Havemeyer Street (between 2nd and 3rd streets)

Williamsburg, New York

Take the J/M/Z to Marcy Avenue or G to Metropolitan Avenue, or for the fearful, take the L to Lorimer and walk south.

Campo de Fiori

campo de fiori bread

perfect bread

So, we trekked all the way to Park Slope for Italian food.

We wanted to go to Frankie’s 457, but there was an hour wait. Lacking the dedication of New Yorker foodies, we set out for other cuisine in the neighborhood. We weren’t sure what we wanted–Thai, Chinese, something else entirely?

Finally, we settled on other Italian food from Campo de Fiori. I was intrigued by their pizza offerings, as the reviews posted in the window discussed their perfect dough. In fact, Campo de Fiori leavens their dough for 24 hours–a long time for pizza dough. Very interesting, so we tried it. The food was delicious; sadly, I can’t say the service was nearly as good as the food.

Campo de Fiori prides itself on being a pizzeria and an Osteria Romana, which, according to their website, has something do with Roman hospitality. They serve pizza, salads and various pasta dishes, and have a nice wine list (though the wines we ordered were not available that night).

I should begin by discussing my “thing” about Italian restaurants: I seldom go to them. Why? I am Italian-American, after all. Shouldn’t I like Italian food? Oh, I do, believe me. I make it all the time. That’s precisely why I don’t like going to Italian restaurants. My thinking is that if I can make it at home, it’s probably not worth trying out. Now, I’m no chef, but I am a pretty good cook, so if I can cook it up, it’s probably at least as good as what some restaurant is going to serve.

That may sound conceited. It’s just honest!

campo de fiori mozzarella di bufala with roasted peppers

mozzarella di bufala with roasted peppers

Once we ordered our food, a server brought us a little bag filled with bread. Now, this was no ordinary bread. It was at once chewy and crisp–exactly the way bread should be. You can see it in the above photo (click to view full size). Don’t drool too much all over your keyboard.

We opted for the roasted peppers with mozzarella di bufala for an appetizer. They way they plated it was interesting–the roasted peppers must have been put into a dish and then flipped onto the plate, with the thinly sliced mozzarella di bufala splaying out around the peppers. What I liked best about this dish was that the roasted peppers were hot. Most of the time, for an appetizer, roasted peppers will be served cold or at room temperature. I liked that they tasted like they were just out of the oven. And the mozzarella was perfect. Highly recommend this dish.

campo de fiori contadina pizza

contadina pizza alla pala

For our entrees, my dining partner ordered the Contadina pizza, which was served with very thinly sliced potatoes atop mozzarella and San Marzano tomatoes, while I ordered the Rigatoni Carbonara. I tried my dining partner’s pizza and the crust was truly spectacular. Like the bread, it was chewy and crisp at the same time. My dining partner said he would have liked for the potatoes to be a bit thicker, but he was overall satisfied with the pizza.

My Rigatoni Carbonara was pretty good, but not fantastic. The pasta was cooked perfectly al dente, which was nice and a surprise. Many times when you go to Italian restaurants, they actually don’t cook the pasta al dente–either too hard or too soft. This was just right. Carbonara involves bacon (or pancetta), egg yolks and cream. Instead of going with the pancetta, it seemed like they used regular bacon, which is worth noting since it was slightly fatty. The sauce itself was pretty good–not entirely flavorful, but not bland either–and shredded parmesan cheese was amply spread across the top of my dish. One thing  that I didn’t find awesome about the pasta was that they used way too much black pepper on top. The pepper overrode the flavor of the Carbonara sauce.

campo de fiori rigatoni carbonara

rigatoni carbonara

After we finished our food, we must have waited 30 minutes for someone to finally take our plates away from us. When we arrived at the restaurant, it was nearly empty, but, over the course of about an hour, the place started to fill up. I guess they were too busy tending to other tables, but why does that make our plates less important to pick up? Finally, someone came over to our table and asked if we wanted dessert (yes, cannolis, which were fine but not made with the typical cannoli cream found in most cannolis). Then, our waiter mistakenly brought our check over (he clearly hadn’t communicated with the man who took our dessert order), and then we waited 10 more minutes until our cannolis were brought to us.

So, the food is pretty good at Campo de Fiori, but don’t expect to get out of there quickly. I would recommend this place if you’re in Park Slope and are in the mood for Italian food, but don’t feel like waiting an hour at Frankie’s

Campo de Fiori

187 5th Avenue

Park Slope, Brooklyn

Take the R to Union Street and walk a few blocks.

Rachel’s Taqueria, Park Slope

After eating adequate Tex-Mex in San Diego, I was interested to revisit New York’s rendition. On our way to see Melissa Ferrick at the Bell House, my dining partner and I stopped at Rachel’s Taqueria in Park Slope. Its over-the-top Mexican kitsch decor turned me off at first, but the food proved to impress.

guacamole at Rachel's Taqueria


We started with the fresh-made guacamole. A guacamole man rolled a cart to our table and proceeded to unwrap two avocados, sprinkle some cilantro and onions into the mortar, and smash away using two spoons. At the end, the guacamole man placed one of the avocado pits on top of the guac and inserted two chips, which were, by far, the highlight of the meal. The homemade chips are thick, substantial. We went through two baskets of them. As for the guacamole, it was well-seasoned and dotted with small chunks of avocado–just the consistency I like. When we were in San Diego, we ordered guacamole and chips from El Zarape. They gave us guacamole that was near-liquid. Gross.

El cholo at Rachel's taqueria

El Cholo burrito

My dining partner and I both ordered burritos. Mine was the Baja, which is a smaller version of the giant California burrito they offer. It contained shredded chicken and spinach, sour cream, guacamole, lettuce, and cheese. It was great, but I could only eat half of it. I can’t imagine what a feat it would be to finish the California burrito.

My dining partner’s burrito was called El Cholo, a special, featuring carnitas, green tomatillo sauce, and cheese on top with a scallion for decoration. He ate the entire thing, so I’m thinking it was pretty delicious.

We didn’t order dessert at Rachel’s, though they do offer it. In addition to our meals, we drank pink lemonade margaritas on the rock, which were only $4.50 apiece. (It was too sweet for me, but MDP enjoyed his.) Overall, Rachel’s delighted our palettes in a way that San Diego’s Tex-Mex (that we tried) never could.

Rachel’s Taqueria

408 5th Avenue (between 6th and 7th sts.)

Park Slope, Brooklyn

Take the F/G/R to 4th avenue and walk a few blocks

Here’s a video of Melissa Ferrick playing “Freedom”, one of my favorite songs:

Lobster Joint, Greenpoint

I recommend going to Lobster Joint during the week when the G train is running promptly on schedule. Unless, of course, you live in Greenpoint, where Lobster Joint is located. For the rest of you, heed my advice.

Small and poorly lit, Lobster Joint has only three picnic-size tables indoors and counter seating, plus a small bar. There’s a backyard, which I didn’t see since it was monsooning, and I imagine this is the place to be during sultry summer nights. Patrons order at the bar and wait for their food on the outskirts of the restaurant.

Its menu boasts a lobster dinner, a lobster roll, and lobster macaroni and cheese, in addition to a Pat La Frieda burger and a raw bar. There’s lobster salad and lobster ale, as well. I tried the lobster ale, which was a dark, full-bodied beer, and enjoyed it.

I ordered the lobster roll, which came with chips, fries, or salad, coleslaw, and a pickle. (I opted for the Cape Cod chips.) The lightly buttered, split-top roll spilled over with large chunks of lobster. One of the claw’s meat preserved its shape and was visibly intact sitting atop the roll. Tossed with mayo, the lobster was sweet and delicious.

My dining partner ordered the lobster macaroni and cheese on my behalf. It was my birthday and he knew I wanted to take a bite of the mac and cheese, so he consented to trying it. He also ordered the clam chowder, which I wouldn’t recommend as it was thinner and soupier than chowder ought to be. As for the macaroni and cheese, well, it was, in a word, spectacular. It was delivered in a small aluminum pan, straight from the oven. Large chunks of lobster were interspersed among the white cheddar shells. The upper crust was browned just enough to seal in the lobster/cheddar flavor.

We didn’t order dessert (again, it was my birthday – there was cake to be had at home), but they offer Cool Haus ice cream sandwiches. I’ve tried them before and they are very tasty.

MDP didn’t enjoy his dining experience, but I thought Lobster Joint was alright. I’m not sure I’d go back there, since I hate the G train and the place is a little bit far from the subway. Also, the seating situation is, at best, uncomfortable. If you’re in the neighborhood, it’s definitely worth a try, but don’t expect to sit at a table unless the backyard is open (and even then, it’s a crap shoot).

Lobster Joint

1073 Manhattan Avenue

Greenpoint, Brooklyn

Take the G train to Greenpoint Avenue, walk several blocks to Eagle Street

Junior’s: Deep in the tourist trap

No, this review is not about the Junior’s on Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn. We tried the Junior’s in Times Square, fitted with ample outdoor/indoor seating that is constantly filled.

Why would a New Yorker go to such a place? I’m almost certain we were the only non-tourists in our section, if not the entire restaurant.

Well, there’s the famed cheesecake. Then, there are the steakburgers. And there’s something called Something Different which piqued our interest. So, Junior’s on a Friday night during pre-dinner-eating-time it was. We thought we’d try a nearby bar afterward but were too stuffed to move, let alone imbibe.

After waiting for about five minutes for our table, we sat down. Our waiter ambled up to us about five minutes later, when we were both ready to provide drink and dinner orders. (Stellas for each, which came with a water glass, not a stein or beer glass. Tourists are indiscriminate, I suppose.)

junior's steakburger

junior's steakburger

It seemed like less than 10 minutes had gone by before our food came out.

I ordered the steakburger with cheese, which was melted onto the lower half of the bun. It was accompanied by raw onion, lettuce, tomato, and mayonnaise, my favorite burger condiment. On the side, they served me steak fries and “crazy” doughy onion rings, which were extremely filling. The burger itself was fantastic. I highly recommend it. The meat was moist and grilled to perfection. The mayo nicely accented the char of the burger’s exterior. I was in heaven. (And violated my one-burger-per-week rule–it was worth it. I’ll lay off the burgers next week.)

something different at junior's

something different

My dining partner ordered Something Different, a potato-pancake-and-brisket sandwich with Au Jus and applesauce on the side. The potato pancakes were dense and delightful, warmly paired with the flavorful brisket, the highlight of the dish. The brisket was thinly sliced and evenly cooked–just the way it should be. I didn’t try the applesauce but MDP seemed to enjoy it.

Any meal at Junior’s could not be complete without having a slice of their famous cheesecake. The menu listed several selections to choose from, fresh strawberries with cheese pie among them. What exactly is cheese pie? Is this a flatter, less dense version of cheesecake? I don’t want to know.

We opted for the cheesecake with cherries–a classic. It was creamy and decadent, and perfect.

junior's cherry cheesecake

junior's cherry cheesecake

Next to Junior’s restaurant is a Junior’s bakery where patrons can eat-in or take-out pieces of cheesecake. You might want to try this if the restaurant feels too overwhelming.




Junior’s (Times Square)

West 45th Street between 8th Avenue and Broadway

New York, NY

Peter Pan Bakery: Donuts

Light, yet filling, Peter Pan donuts (doughnuts?) are the best I’ve ever had, which doesn’t say much. Born and bred on Dunkin’ Donuts, my palette is unseasoned at best. My dining partner just asked me if I like Krispy Kreme; I cringed. They’re too fatty–nothing like Peter Pan’s. Its small, unassuming shop in Greenpoint has a fast pace. Next time, I’d like to sit down and have a buttered roll and coffee–early, to beat the dirty hipster crowd that populates Peter Pan’s counter late on Sunday mornings.

Peter Pan donuts

strawberry frosted, old-fashioned crueller, red velvet

They look good, don’t they. Believe me, they tasted much better than they look. Of the above three, I think the red velvet was my fave.

sugar jelly, old-fashioned glazed, chocolate cake

I think the chocolate cake was my overall favorite.

You should try Peter Pan doughnut some time. I’ll be certain to get the honey dip next time around.

Smashburger: Classic Smashburger

I had heard good things about Smashburger. Some say its burgers rival those of the Shake Shack. Naturally, I was intrigued. Now that I’ve tried it, “overly hyped” and “why isn’t my cheese melted” are the only phrases that come to mind.

The ordering experience is slightly disorienting at Smashburger. You are directed to take a menu and decide what you want. Chicken is on one side; burgers on the other. I’m not sure why chicken gets so much real estate at a place called Smashburger, but that’s just me.

My burger was just okay. The egg bun looked different than I thought it would and the burger was much larger than I had expected (they’re 1/3 pound patties, but you can also order a 1/2 pounder). It was dripping with a certain special smash sauce which tasted like relish. The burger was unwieldy–too many toppings, too big of a patty and too massive a bun. And my biggest gripe of all — the cheese wasn’t melted. I hate when burger places do this, as though they’re too busy to melt the cheese for you. What’s up with that?


My partner’s burger, also unwieldy, was fine, but I wouldn’t order that if I visited again. In fact, I won’t visit again so I guess ordering decisions won’t be much of a problem in my life.

I ordered the Smashfries on the side of my burger. They’re tossed in rosemary, olive oil and garlic and are pretty decent as far as fries go. However, I’m not a fries person, so don’t trust my word.


Overall, I wouldn’t recommend Smashburger unless, of course, you live near DeKalb Avenue in Brooklyn. For Manhattanites, it certainly isn’t worth the trek.