Upland

I’m surprised I’ve never been to Upland before. For one, it’s the type of place I categorically love: clean, quasi-modern aesthetic with luxurious green leather booths and jars of fermenting lemons lining the walls. There’s something very charming about the interior, although the facade itself won’t tell you much about what’s inside. But, the other perplexing part of today being my first and only visit to Upland is simply that I worked down the street from it for three years.

Upland’s namesake comes from the California town that “laid the groundwork” for chef Justin Smillie’s love of cooking. Wherever Upland is, whatever it may have in store for discerning palates, I’m extremely pleased that chef Smillie brought his talents and affinity for California cooking to Flatiron, NYC. When I tell you this place is awesome, I surely hope you believe me.

Our smiling waitress brought over a complimentary bottle of sparkling water to us and handed us a few brunch menus. That Upland labels the menus with the current month speaks to its reliance on seasonal cooking–something I admire. Yet, chef Smillie doesn’t go overboard with his consultation of the seasons: there are dishes you’ll actually want to eat and seem “normal.”

upland pastry basket

pastry basket

We started with the pastry basket, which is chock full of sweet and savory treats. The lemon poppyseed muffin, grapefruit poundcake, baguette, and cheddar and bacon (!) scone were true standouts. It’s no error here that I’ve named the majority of what came in the pastry basket–everything was that good. MDP even commented that the grapefruit poundcake had just the right amount of lemon flair, unlike some confections we had recently sampled.

upland eggs in hell

eggs in hell

MDP opted for a dish called “eggs in hell” that tasted very fresh and enticing. The eggs were runny–not my cup of tea–but he was unfazed and gobbled them up. The sauce was rife with fresno chiles, oregano, and truly spectacular tomato. Grilled bread came on the side, the perfect accompaniment for sopping up the delicious tomato goodness.

upland cheeseburger

upland cheeseburger

I’ve been building up to the moment when I would tell you about this burger I had at Upland. Here’s the spoiler: it was one of the best I’ve ever had. New York magazine tipped me off to this gem, and boy am I glad they did. It’s like a Big Mac but oh so much better. Two cheese-topped patties sat upon a fantastic sesame roll whose crust was crisp and yet the body of the bun was soft. And true to California cooking, chef Smillie put delicately sliced avocado slivers on the burger. I didn’t even have to ask. I was in heaven. The combination of flavors–the unique peppers, the ideal bun, the perfect amount of grease, I could go on–made this a memorable dining experience. At $20, the burger costs a pretty penny but is well worth the fee, ounce for ounce. And the matchstick fries that come with the burger are plenty, offering enough bite to be satisfying.

Our lovely waitress asked if we’d like dessert at the end of the meal, but I was already so stuffed we had to decline. But, given my love for both the ambiance and food, I’m sure MDP and I will return to try dinner one night.

Now, be aware that the burger is only served for brunch and lunch. So plan accordingly.

Upland
345 Park Avenue South (at 26th Street)
Flatiron, New York
Take the 6 to 28th Street and walk south a few blocks.

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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.

Red Rooster

I remember a few years ago when Red Rooster opened to much acclaim. I thought to myself, “I’ll never go there because it must be such a mob scene.” Fast forward two years to today, and, lo and behold, I finally made it to Red Rooster. And what an experience I had!

red rooster cornbread

cornbread

I decided to take off from work today and, in step with my culinary aspirations, accordingly made a reservation at Red Rooster for 11:30 am, the only time they had available.

My Dining Partner (MDP) and I trekked all the way up to 125th Street this morning, after a shocking 20-minute wait at our 7 train platform, to get to the restaurant. When we walked in, we were met with smiles. In general, the service at Red Rooster is extremely accommodating, and I felt that the moment I stepped foot in the place.

We sat at a cozy table for two along a banquet that bifurcates the restaurant into a front and back area. In the front, there’s an interestingly shaped bar; in the back, a slew of tables. The restroom is plainly and straightforwardly marked with a sign near the open kitchen.

To start, MDP and I ordered the cornbread with honey butter and tomato jam. You must get this. I think just about every table had a plate of cornbread on it because it’s that good and that cheap ($4). The honey butter tastes incredible and the cornbread itself is moist, dense and delicately ladled with kernels of corn throughout. I enjoyed the tomato jam, as well, but, honestly, the cornbread tastes best on its own, without any adornments.

red rooster burger

burger

Because I recently read that Red Rooster is using a Pat LaFrieda blend for its hamburger, I decided I had to try it. And, boy, am I glad I did! The burger is topped with two slices of New York cheddar, mayonnaise, shredded lettuce and pickles, and is situated nicely on a fresh pretzel bun. I liked that Red Rooster used two, rather than one, slices of cheddar–it enhanced the flavor tremendously. Also, the combination of condiments completely blew me away. This is one of the best burgers I’ve had in a long time. And, not to be outdone, the fries on the side were perfectly crisp and brushed with ample handfuls of parmesan cheese. I like that Red Rooster goes borderline overboard with the parmesan on the fries. Parmesan can be an elusive flavor, and I think Red Rooster’s approach is ideal.

MDP ordered the fried yard bird with white mace gravy and buttermilk mashed potatoes. Red Rooster serves dark meat for its fried chicken, which MDP had no problem with. It was thickly crusted and flavorful. The mashed potatoes were delicious, as well. MDP enjoyed his meal, yet found the cornbread to be the overall highlight of his experience. And who can blame him?

red rooster cupcake

coconut cupcake

For dessert, we had to get something, because I knew this might be the only time I’d visit Red Rooster. When I searched for brunch reservations, they only had availability in about a month, and I’m not organized enough to plan that far ahead. So, dessert it was. They have a number of confections on their menu, including items from the Nook, such as whoopie pies. But we opted for the daily cupcake, which was a coconut cupcake today. Served alongside some of the most delicious Tahitian vanilla ice cream I’ve ever had, the coconut cupcake was short and sweet, and had a bit of preserves in the center–a welcome surprise. We polished the plate off in no time.

You must try Red Rooster. Anything you try there has got to be some of the best food you’ll ever have. Even if it takes months for you to get there, go. I implore you.

Red Rooster

310 Lenox Avenue (between 125th and 126th streets)

Harlem, New York

Take the 2/3 to 125th Street. Walk north half a block.

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

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

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.

High Heat

burger at high heat

burger

Celebrity chef Waldy Malouf has undertaken a few restaurant ventures in the past decade or so. He’s even written food books. Among the restaurants he’s opened is Waldy’s wood-fired pizzeria, located in the Flatiron district on 6th Avenue. Waldy’s is a hole-in-the-wall with some of the best thin-crust pizza I’ve ever had. I’m lucky enough to work right by there…or is that a curse? I can’t tell. Nonetheless, the wonder of Waldy’s generated certain expectations for High Heat, Malouf’s latest.

Going with the wood-fired oven feature, just as Waldy’s has, High Heat is found down in Greenwich Village, on Bleecker Street, among many bars and Qdobas. It has the same “order at the bar, find a seat” set-up as Waldy’s, which I can’t stand. I feel very insecure in places like this–like, I’m going to order and get all excited about the food, but then I won’t have anywhere to sit. But the food, if you can find a seat to eat it in, makes up for the poor arrangement.

I think our experience of High Heat was tinged by the presence of a bunch of drunken Santas roaming the streets and finding their way into High Heat, just to interrupt our dinner. But the food persevered!

margherita pizza at high heat

margherita pizza

We had a Groupon, which afforded us a hamburger, a pizza, two orders of fries and a carafe of white wine. High Heat serves all of its alcoholic beverages on tap (and the sodas have fountain spigots to pour from), which is a nice feature of the place–no bottles to recycle.

I ordered a cheddar burger and MDP ordered the margherita pizza. We got an order of garlic fries and an order of parmesan fries. And, of course, the carafe of wine was a nice addition to the meal.

All in all, the food was delicious. The pizza was crisp (though not as crisp as Waldy’s pies) with fresh ingredients such as sliced cherry tomatoes and basil sprinkled on top. The burger had a wonderful char on it which infused every bite. I put mayo and the tomato, lettuce and pickles that came with the burger on top. It was a delightful experience. The fries were amazing! So firm and crunchy and crispy were they! Featuring shaved parmesan on top, the parmesan fries were my favorite, while the garlic-inflected fries won over MDP.

fries at high heat

fries

Minus the drunken Santas, our (boozy) experience at High Heat was fantastic. I recommend trying it out, especially if you tend to favor pizza and burgers. High Heat will make it hard for you to choose which to order–but I recommend getting both!

High Heat

154 Bleecker Street (by Thompson Street)

Greenwich Village, New York

Take the 6 to Bleecker Street and walk west.

Clinton Street Baking Company

You don’t want to come here for brunch. What I mean is: you absolutely do want to come here for brunch because it’s to-die-for. But you don’t want to stand in line for an hour (before the place even opens!) to get a table.

fried chicken dinner at clinton street baking company

fried chicken dinner

The Clinton St. omelette is outstanding. The blueberry-drenched pancakes are perfect. Really, you can’t go wrong for brunch. But, little known fact: They serve omelettes and pancakes at dinner time, too.

MDP and I stumbled into Clinton Street Baking Company last night, after being pushed aside at Schiller’s. I had been to Clinton Street many times before–for brunch, of course, but I had heard they also served a mean burger. (Because I was planning to have a burger tonight–I have a one-burger per week rule–I ended up ordering something else, but we’ll get to that in a minute.)

The place was packed but for one tiny table squeezed between two other tables for two. I sidled into the booth and felt instantly comfortable among Clinton Street’s warm ambiance.

On the chalkboard on the wall, they listed the specials for the evening and the day’s fish and the farms where their food came from. MDP and I both ended up ordering two different permutations of fried chicken, and boy, were we pleased.

I opted for the fried chicken dinner, which comes with four pieces of delectable chicken, a honey-Tabasco sauce for dipping, homemade slaw and two sides (I chose the jalapeno-inflected corn bread and the sauteed spinach–both were incredible). The fried chicken is in a category all unto its own. I’ve never had such delicious fried chicken, in fact. It was moist and flavorful, and the flavor seemed to seep deep into the chicken itself rather than just superficially penetrated in the fry batter. In a word, fantastic.

carrot cake at clinton street baking company

cute carrot cake

MDP got the fried chicken sandwich with lemon-pepper mayo, a pickled green tomato and shredded romaine on a pain d’avignon roll, which came with less-than-impressive fries. They were limp and flaccid, and unappetizing to me (but MDP finished them off–so they must have been okay). He enjoyed his sandwich.

Though I was beyond full, I knew we had to order something off the dessert menu. After all, it’s called Clinton Street Baking Company for a reason. We chose the walnut-studded carrot cake, which manifested as an adorable slice of lightly frosted cake situated on a wide white plate. I couldn’t put my finger on the flavor of it, but it was surely different. Quite enjoyable.

Do try Clinton Street Baking Company, even if you go for dinner and order brunch. I highly recommend it.

Clinton Street Baking Company

4 Clinton St. (between East Houston and Stanton)

Lower East Side, NY

Take the F/M to Delancey Street/Essex Street and walk a few blocks over Rivington to Clinton Street, head north two blocks.

Five Points

Five Points is located on Great Jones Street/Way and Lafayette, just a block or so south of Astor Liquor. The location is neither bustling nor dead, and has an air of magic about it. Lights shine down on you as you enter Five Points, which is symbolized by a bright red star–the restaurant’s namesake.

five points potato pizza

potato pizza

I had been to Five Points before, and, believe me, it is well worth trying more than once. Last time, I had the Wagyu burger, which is outstanding and is among my favorites in the city. Last Monday night, I had made a reservation at Five Points for this past Friday, and all week, I’d been scouting out the menu to see if they would put the burger up for Friday. I even called to check. No dice. So I had to order something else.

The seasonal menu features a number of tasty-sounding offerings, but I selected the scallops with pureed winter squash and brussels sprouts. The scallops were extremely tender and not overcooked, the way scallops are often served. They weren’t tough or chewy, but splitting in half at the mere touch of the fork. The winter squash puree was delicious and the brussels were leafed and strewn around the plate–very good.

MDP ordered, yet again, the potato pizza, which comes drizzled with truffle oil–on both sides of the crust. The potato pizza features fontina cheese, instead of your run-of-the-mill mozzarella blend, and I like what Five Points is doing with this pizza. The cheese soaks up the truffle oil and infuses every bite with it. Yum! It is, in a word, fantastic. And it won’t break the bank–I think the pizza was only $16 or so, and came sliced into eight delectable pieces.

five points apple crisp

apple crisp

We also ordered the giant fried onion rings. Served on a kind of cutting board, the onion rings were slightly greasy and crisp, and quite good.

Though we were both full, we had to order dessert–and drinks for a change. I got the Maker’s 46 bourbon, which tasted caramel-inflected and delicious. MDP ordered the hot mulled apple cider with rum (which rum? I don’t remember). And we opted for the apple crisp with buttermilk ice cream on top. The apple crisp was filled with tender diced apples and topped with a sweet crumble. A nice addition, the large scoop of buttermilk (not-too-sweet) ice cream nicely complemented the crisp.

All in all, Five Points is a wonderful choice. It’s cozy and comforting, and the food is outstanding.

You’ll want a reservation. You’ll also want to try Cookshop and Hundred Acres, which are both outstanding restaurants in their own right and happen to be sisters to Five Points.

Five Points

Great Jones Way and Lafayette

Noho, New York

Take the 6/F/D/M/B to Broadway-Lafayette and walk north a block or so. 

Resto

resto burger

burger w/ frites

It took me a long time, but I finally made it to Resto.

Situated just inside Park Avenue on 29th Street, Resto is a beautiful thing. Many tables for two line the wall and tables for four or more are spread around the restaurant. Tucked inside a novel, the beer list features a number of interesting selections, including a cherry-inflected, bubbly beer that my lady dining partner ordered. (It was filled with vim and vigor, and filled me with the same.)

Resto is known for their meat, but especially for their burger. (Vegetarians, look elsewhere.) And it’s clear why. Topped with a fried egg, the Resto burger (a hefty lunch price of $15) has gruyere cheese, red onion, pickle and mayonnaise on a potato roll. It’s accompanied by cubic frites, which lack flavor and are definitely not the highlight of the dish. No, that would be the burger. With one of the juiciest patties I’ve had in a long time, Resto’s burger sits among the very top of my best burgers of all time–right up there with the Shake Shack. So, is it better than the Shake Shack? Well, the two burgers are not in the same category. It’s apples and oranges, really. Resto’s is a good restaurant burger that can be compared to Saxon + Parole (whose burger is, incidentally, also topped with a fried egg), while the Shake Shack’s burger can only be compared to Burger Joint or the likes of Five Guys.

resto drink

cherry beer

My lady dining partner ordered the Tete de Cochon Po’ Boy, which she said was delightfully delicious. It boasted no adornments or sides, but instead came positioned in the center of a large plate with two homemade toothpicks piercing each half of the sandwich.

We didn’t try dessert, but I’m sure I’ll go back to Resto sometime soon to try their dinner menu on for size.

Even if you’re not in the neighborhood, I recommend making the trip to Resto–especially for that burger (which may or may not be served at dinnertime).

Resto

29th Street and Park Avenue

Take the 6 to 28th Street and walk north one block.

Astor Bake Shop, Astoria

Situated on the outskirts of Astoria, Astor Bake Shop may seem out-of-the-way to the average person. I assure you that the 10-minute walk from the train is completely worth it.

Astor Bake Shop is a small, many-windowed cafe with cute wooden tables and chairs. An enticing and appetizing display case filled with baked goodies faces the dining area. A small kitchen, at the far end of the cafe, runs perpendicular to the display case, encouraging an intimate feel to the dining space.

What is Astor Bake Shop known for? I can’t tell. What I do know is that they’ve got creative drinks (gingerade, sea salt lemonade) and solid burgers on their menu.

We started our meal with an heirloom tomato salad with watermelon and feta. The mild flavor of the cheese nicely accompanied the bursting fresh taste of the watermelon. Generously, the chef halved the salad and put it on two plates for us.

Astor Bake Shop burger

astor bake shop burger

I ordered the cheddar burger while my dining partner got the Croque Madame. Lacking the La Frieda blends of Manhattan, Astor Bake Shop quickly recovers with a solid, meaty burger. The toppings included were tomato, lettuce, and cucumber–an interesting addition. The crisp coolness of the cucumber accented the saltiness of the cheddar. Yum.

Though deluxe in flavor, the burger paled in comparison to MDP’s Croque Madame, which is a toasted sandwich filled with cheese, ham, and an egg. The saltiness of the ham delighted my tastebuds. I’m not a fan of salt, but both the burger and the Croque Madam contained *just* the right amount.

For dessert, we ordered a chocolate cupcake with white piping on top, so that it resembled a Tastykake cupcake of yore. The cake was dense and could have been moister, but MDP and I chalked up its dryness to the refrigeration of the display case. On the large side, the cupcake featured a thin layer of chocolate frosting on its top, which was, proportionally, not enough for the cupcake, in my opinion.

I wouldn’t recommend the baked goods at Astor Bake Shop–unless, of course, you arrive as they’re taking the confections from the oven–but wholeheartedly support their brunch and dinner menus.

Take a stroll down Astoria Boulevard to Astor Bake Shop. You won’t regret it.

Astor Bake Shop

12-23 Astoria Boulevard

Astoria, NY

Take the N, Q to Astoria Boulevard. Walk about 10 blocks northwest.


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