Russ and Daughters Cafe – The Best Bagel of My Life

I mean, I really had a great eating weekend over July 4th.

And it didn’t involve any grills.

It did, however, involve this:

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Yep, the venerable Russ and Daughters Cafe.

The world-famous, decades old smoked fish emporium recently opened up a cafe around the corner from its teensy, temptation filled store. The cafe is open all day, offers the sandwiches that it always offered from the store, but now includes an expanded menu (including a full liquor list and a MEAN looking Bloody Mary), and ample seating.

It doesn’t take reservations but it is worth. the. wait.

20140705_112459 The cafe is done like an old-fashioned soda shop – a white counter in front with tables in the back, very comfortable stools with low backs so you don;t have to hunch over, and soda jerks in white jackets offering homemade egg creams (Fox’s U-Bet is the superior chocolate syrup on offer).

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LEO

This lox, eggs, and onions isn’t my favorite version in town, but it is excellent. Of particular note, the eggs are extremely creamy – no burnt or rubbery edges here. The eggs might be done by Daniel Boulud in the back – that’s how delicate and buttery they are. The lox isn’t super salty, but it is smokier than I prefer. The eggs ar sweet and soft and the brightly dressed salad alongside is a zingy counterpart. If you like a smokier lox, this would be your ideal version of the dish!

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Super Heebster

So good that I immediately texted the newest dad on the block and told him that when his son is ready for whitefish salad, he must have this iteration first. This is the single best bagel I have ever had. Creamy, mild whitefish salad mixed with baked salmon salad, spread atop horseradish cream cheese and topped with wasabi infused fish roe, all on a thin slice of toasted bagel. This is creamy, spicy, verdant, and hearty. The cream cheese really makes it - without it, this might seem too fishy. With it, it’s a perfect amalgam of everything Jewish comfort food. I’m not usually a fan of fish roe, but this is incredibly light and not at all bitter just a small, pleasant sting of wasabi. This is just perfect. Please get 2 of them.

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Chopped salad with whitefish and buttermilk dressing

The perfect way to round out your somewhat heavy and indulgent meal. Flaky, mild whitefish, lemony avocado, super sweet beets (those are really the standouts), and even some cruncy matzo. The apples and eggs are almost unnecessary, but the hit of fragrant dill really brings this salad to another level. This salad is excellent and I would order it again in a heartbeat.

20140705_120521 Blintzes with sour cream and compote

Mhm. Mhm, mhm, mhm. Get these for SURE. They simply must be deep fried – how else could they get so golden and crispy outside while remaining creamy inside? They are like cheesecake – sweet, rich, super creamy…paired with tangy sour cream and that sweet compote, it is great for either dessert or breakfast. I love dishes like that – sweet enough to end a meal but not a total sugar bomb.  20140705_120525

 Bread pudding

The best I have ever had. Others need not apply. This is the now and future king of bread puddings. Studded with sweet, sticky, juicy apricots, the top layer tastes deep fried and sugary. The inside is almost soft enough to eat with a straw, but isn’t at all liquidy. It’s just super soft and vanilla-y and creamy, and delicious.

Russ and Daughters is AWESOME! The staff couldn’t be more delightful or attentive (one server actually tried to replace one dish that we didn’t like – we told him that it was our fault, not theirs – it just wasn’t our cup of tea – and he was terribly distraught. Love him), the prices are high but fair, and the food is the best. Updated versions of all your favorite deli classics.

I’ll see ya around a Super Heebster.

BassaNova Ramen Shows Chinatown Who’s Boss

When I go to Chinatown, it’s not because i am in the mood for fine French food.

Hell, I’m not even in the mood for fine Chinese food.

I want down home, familiar, had-it-a-million-times-before Chinese food. The sweet, sticky char siu bao. The soft, slippery dan-dan noodles. the dumplings with crisp wrappers and juicy fillings.

I really don’t go there for ramen. And neither does anyone else. Other than a random bodega, you aren’t likely to find much besides Chinese food in Chinatown.

So imagine my shock when I came across a ramen joint in Chinatown.

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BassaNova Ramen is a basement level restaurant and it’s very modern. All white, impeccably clean, and minimalist. It’s just a place to stop in with family or a friend – not a good date spot. It is so totally different from all of the bustling dim sum palaces that I couldn’t help but be curious.

Of course, if I had read The Bible, I would have known…this palce is a Tokyo export known for its super rich, porky Tondaku Ramen. So, obviously…that’s what I got:

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Tondaku Ramen

Not for the faint of heart. This broth is almost gelatinous. It’s very rich and nutty, with the unmistakable tastes of pork and sesame. The flavor isn’t overly salty but the real standout here is the texture. It is almost a broth you can chew – does that make sense? It’s so full bodied and silky that it is actually filling on its own. Days later, I still remember it and can’t get the memory of the texture out of my mind. It’s so comforting and at the same time, new and exciting. I can’t recommend the broth enough.

The noodles are also excellent. Thin and very bouncy/springy. They really soak up all of the flavor from the nutty nori, the sweet toasted garlic, and the soft wood ear fungus – don’t be scared, it has the texture of bamboo shoots and is really tasteless.

And the pork. That PORK! How I wish I had gotten the full portion instead of the lunchtime one so I could have had another slice of two of that wonderful pork. It’s so soft that it really does melt in your mouth – sorry to use that expression, but how else can I describe what is essentially meat butter? The edges still manage to be charred and a little smoky, in contrast to the silky, lush meat.

This ramen rocks. 

And it’s a good thing, too, because this ois one of only a few items on the menu. It’s a really minimalist place - they don’t even serve Coke!

But they don’t need to. The staff is excellent, the price is right (bring cash for your cheap, delicious lunch), and the food is really great. It doesn’t have the signature kick of most ramen, and the noodles are a little thinner, but wow…it’s so complex. It’s so different. It’s so great.

Because even I occasionally need a break from dim sum.

Go to Dim Sum Go Go

Enjoying dim sum is one of my favorite dining activities. Usually because I love those little carts.

But this time…at a small, modern, clean, cartless place that is perfect for gringos who need pictorial menus to choose what they want…I came for the food.

And it is worth it.

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Dim Sum Go Go isn’t too crowded on a weekday for lunch, but I hear that it gets hopping on the weekends, so you might want to get there early. They serve dim sum every day of the week from 10 AM and though you do miss the carts (I certainly did), what they lack in atmosphere they make up in quality of food.

IMG_20131018_122500_314 Har gow

I’m not even a fan of shrimp dumplings.  I often find them muddy and iodine-y with weird-looking, ill cleaned shrimp. These blew my mind. So fresh and thin skinned filled with sweet, vaguely briny whole shrimp that pop in the mouth with  a pleasing “snap.” I took a peek (never a good thing to do in a dim sum restaurant) and the innards are pristinely clean. Dipped in some of the tableside xo sauce and leek-horseradish relish, it is savory, salty, and delicious. If you like har gow, you are going to love these – I surely did! IMG_20131018_122057_922 Bbq pork puffs

Like char siu bao wrapped in croissants. That’s right – sweet and sticky bbq pork inside flaky, buttery croissants. If you don’t like that, why are we even friends? IMG_20131018_123317_379 Eggplant casserole

Not on the dim sum menu, but totally worth ordering. Tiny chinese eggplants are peeled then steamed inside an earthen dish that is basically as hot as the surface of the sun. It emerges velvety and soft, slicked with an insanely garlicky, somewhat spicy sauce. It doesn’t taste too garlicky at the time, but trust me…its stays with you. and you don’t even care. Because it’s so tasty.  And – bonus! – vegetarian!
IMG_20131018_122048_218 Vegetable rice rolls

Always my favorite dim sum dish. Thick, chewy rice noodles wrapped around savory beef or – in this case – soft, ginger scented, peppery vegetables. It’s like an eggroll inside a warm, comforting, noodle-y blanket. Enjoy it with the sharp black vinegar that cuts through heavy, fatty tastes.
IMG_20131018_122504_389 Duck dumplings

Juicy, sweet duck scented with cinnamon and cumin inside gossamer thin wrappers. Not just sweet but savory, too. Tiny pockets of ducky goodness – the duck flavor is very pronounced, so don’t order this expecting a standard chicken dumpling. Order it expecting something much better.

This isn’t even all the food we ordered, and we couldn’t spend more than $20 a person. Really, it was so much food for so little money. ANd it was GREAT! More than that, it was easy to order. Even a dim sum newbie can look at the pictures and see what looks good. It’s clean, it’s easy to order, and it’s so tasty.

It’s called Dim Sum Go Go because you really must go go there.

Dim Sum Go Go on Urbanspoon

The Stanton Social – Soup Dumpling Disappointment

I want to tell you how incredible this restaurant is. How it lived up to, and even surpassed, expectations. How you should run there this weekend.

But that just ain’t gonna happen.

The Stanton Social opened in 2005 with a bang, and ushered in the era of the ultra cool bar/restaurant hybrid. With its sleek design, beautiful servers, and innovative menu of small plates, it has garnered praise from foodies and fashionistas alike for the last 8 years.

So…was my wait for the French onion soup dumplings worth it?

pix 039 The restaurant is – in a word – LOUD. And that’s coming from someone who has a voice like a foghorn. I am talking wall vibrating, music pumping, hoarse-by-the-time-you-leave-the-restaurant loud. It’s also a little cramped, but that adds to the cool bar/club effect of the restaurant. It was a big noisy for my tastes, but for brunch with a few girlfriends, I could see it being a fun vibe. 

pix 043 Ahi tuna poke

One of the best dishes of the night. When I tasted this, I figured we were in for a great meal. The tuna is finely chopped so it literally melts in the mouth, and is so fresh that it is almost sweet, like the best sushi. The wonton is crisp and the tuna is flecked with fiery chiles, creamy avocado, and an herbaceous cilantro dressing. This is a must order. 

pix 044 French onion soup dumplings

The dish that made the restaurant famous. These dumplings, based on Chinese soup dumplings, are supposed to be wafer thin dumpling wrappers filled with sweet, savory, beefy onion soup broth, served under a blanket of melted Gruyère cheese. They are…not quite that. The dumpling skins are thick and flaccid, the interior is tasty onions, but there is no broth to speak of, and the cheese atop is tasty to be sure, but not enough to make up for that lackluster delivery. The presentation is beautiful, and they must have been novel when they were first on the menu, but these have sadly not stood the test of time.

pix 046 Fava bean and ricotta ravioli

A strong dish. Buttery little pasta pockets filled with a creamy, grassy filling. The fava beans are wonderfully apparent – they are earthy and fresh, mixed with garlic and just enough salt. The pasta for this is tissue thin and perfect – if only they used this dough for the dumplings! This is so flavorful that even carnivores will love it. 

pix 047 Cuban baby back ribs with mango-chipotle glaze

Good, if not memorable. The meat is tender and the portion is substantial, but there is nothing super special about these. A sweet, vaguely spicy glaze. A creamy, oniony slaw. Charred in some parts, sticky in others. No unbelievable smoke ring, no world-class sauce. It’s just tasty, not crave-worthy.

That’s the whole feel of this place – good, but not anything special. The food is pretty fairly priced for a fancy, special night- 2 people can dine there with cocktails for about $12o. However, the food doesn’t hold up for a fancy night out – the tuna is great and the pasta is good, but neither are worth a special trip there. And the dumplings were a major disappointment. Quite frankly, I might come here with a group of friends if they wanted to go, but I can’t see myself going here again on my own.

Stanton Social on Urbanspoon

Schmaltz it up at Sammy’s!

You wanna know what my childhood was like?

How I ate and my family get togethers resembled?

Then head on down to Chrystie street.

pix 030 Walk right into Sammy’s Roumanian Steak House(reservations required) and help yourself to a crunchy, mild new pickles sitting on the table. They are the best -they come from Guss’s, which used to be right down the street. Now that fabled pickle place is in Brooklyn, but they still make the juiciest pickled tomatoes, garlickiest dills, and best half sour pickles in town.

pix 031 Have some rye bread, too if you want…

pix 033 topped, of course, with schmaltz. Liquid chicken fat. Sitting on the table like olive oil.

pix 034 It’s surprisingly light, with a rich, fried-chicken taste.

Yes, I just called chicken fat light.

And compared to the rest of the meal, it really is.
pix 032 Don’t think that the rest of the meal is going to get any more refined. This is a mashup of a bar mitzvah, your grandma’s dining room, and the resort from Dirty Dancing. There are friendly but busy servers, bottles of vodka that come frozen in ice, and Danni Luv in the corner, playing everything from New York, New York to very dirty versions of Frank Sinatra Songs. D

Oh, and you are expected to get up and dance the hora. It will happen.

pix 043 Chciken liver with all the fixings

So very good and homey. Minerally, very rich chicken liver loaded with juicy fried onions, crisp shards of radish, and enough schmaltz to make the mixture positively silky. It’s definitely very liver-y tasting, but if you like chicken liver, this is the most classic Jewish interpretation on the planet. I wouldn’t dream of leaving here without ordering it.

pix 044 Karnatzlack

Dracula, take cover. These ultra garlicky sausages are made of beef, veal, and enough of the strong stuff to knock you on your back. They are juicy and meaty, with a coarse grind and a heavy dose of black pepper. The texture is a little too rustic for me, but others who like rough, country sausages will love this.

pix 046 Latkes

They look like the frozen crap that you find in cardboard boxes at the supermarket.

They taste like dense hash browned potatoes, loaded with sweet onion flavor and a light, thin, crispy crust. It is creamy and rich and crunchy and perfectly salty. Load it up with some sweet fried onions. It’s different from the latkes I make, but at least as delicious.

pix 048 Roumanian steak

The proudest Romanian export since Nadia Comaneci. This skirt steak comes hanging over both sides of the plate, doused in a garlicky, peppery, salty marinade. It is highly seasoned and incredibly tasty. The meat is fatty, though, and rare enough to statnd up to the seasonings – not bloody, but very moist and pink all the way through. I defy you to stop eating before you are sick to your stomach.

It’s just what you want when Dani up front starts asking which diners are shiksas.

pix 049 If you order the ribeye, just eat it off the bone like my Grandpa does, and leave the carcasses in a pile on the plate.

pix 053 Egg creams

Not my favorite dessert (because, really, who needs carbonated chocolate milk), but when the server brings you an entire carton of whole milk, an old fashioned seltzer bottle, and a brand new bottle of U-Bet chocolate syrup (the best chocolate syrup ion the planet)…well, you have to get a sip.

pix 054 Plus, you can always fortify dessert with the warm, buttery, chocolatey rugalech on offer.

pix 035 Sammy’s is a trip. It’s gonna cost you $50 per person without alcohol, there aren’t any nice bottles of wine on offer, and you may get bullied into singing, karaoke style, Hava Nagila. You pay for the privilege of eating homestyle Eastern European Jewish food in an atmosphere that is fun enough for your friends and familiar enough for Great Aunt Esther. It’s the place of all of my family reunions and some of my most fun party dinners.

To me, it’s home.

Sammy's Roumanian Steakhouse on Urbanspoon

Pizza a Casa is Pizza School for Dummies Like Me!

This post is going to be a 2 parter…

The first part is about a place you need to go to learn about how to make pizza.

Pizza a  Casa is a G-dsend for people like me who just can’t, despite public claims they make on their blogs, seem to be able to pull it together to make a good yeast bread.

Or, in this case, pizza crust.

Mark Bello has created a pizza school for the yeast challenged  They partnered with Sam Adams to teach us how to make pizza dough with beer, but more on the recipe later.

The pizza school itself  on the Lower East Side  is very small with a long counter in the middle where you sit, drink a beer, and learn how to make pizza.

Bello measures out all of the ingredients for you, so all you have to do is concentrate on the technique.

He is patient, funny, and totally hands on. He walks around to each of the 20 or so students in the class, making sure that each one understands how the dough should look smooth, how it should feel rather dense by the time that you are done needing, and making sure that everyone who wants to has a glass of wine or beer.

He explains why it’s important to use finely granulated salt (so it melts better) and how to slide your pizza off your peel onto the stone (the secret is semolina flour). He lets you know that your home oven can produce a wonderful pizza and that your supermarket carries every ingredient you need – no need to invest in olive oil so expensive that it makes you take out a second mortgage on your home.

Best of all…he teaches you how to make some totally delicious pizzas.

Like one topped with ricotta, parley, and crab (he uses canned crab meat and it tastes incredible).  Very light and non fishy). The ricotta puffs up and creates this lightly salty, very creamy topping on a wonderfully tender pizza crust.

Then there is one topped with spicy red pepper and mozzarella paste – kind of like an Italian pimento cheese. The secret here is some Sriracha in the pesto. Topping it with pepperoni brings out the even saltier, spicier tones, and makes those high notes sing.

Or one topped with raw bell pepper, red onion, and basil on a mozzarella and tomato sauce pie. Simple, vegetal, and totally delightful.

Though I took the class for free, I would pay for it again . In fact, I am thinking about taking it again soon. After all, the pizza I made at home did turn out pretty darned well thanks to this class…

To Be Continued…

*Disclaimer – I did not pay for this class. I was not required to write about my experience and my opinions are my own and unbiased.*

Mandarin Court – Small Scale Dim Sum in Chinatown

Aaah, dim sum. That wonderful New York City tradition of schlepping down to Chinatown with $20, waiting in line for 15 minutes, being seated in a huge banquet hall, then stuffing yourself silly with fried, steamed, and boiled dumplings passed on silver steaming carts.

Or, as we members of the tribe call it, Christmas Day.

We celebrated Christmas early this year with a little trip to Chinatown. We tried out Mandarin Court, as a member of our party remembered it fondly frm years past. This small dining room is dingy but clean,with many individual tables (unheard of in much of Chinatown’s dim sum parlors), a large menu, and a small enough crowd to ensure that you rare served quickly and often. After starting with the obligatory tea, we really got down to business.

Spring Rolls

The best in town, no question. Piping hot with exceedingly crisp wrappers outside a vegetarian filling, crunchy and caramelized at the same time. Ask for some duck sauce on the side to remind you that yes, you are in the Chinatown of your parents’ youth.

Char Siu Bao

A favorite with kids or dim sum newbies. Soft, sticky rice flour outside sweet bbq pork. The char siu bao here are a bit one-dimensional for my taste – soft and sweet, without any sour or toothsome notes to break up the monotony. However, for our dim sum version, these were a major highlight.

Spare Ribs

Yes they are bony and yes there is cartilage and yes you may have a globule or 2 of chewy fat. But, wow…if you can get past that, these are great. Simple and sublime nuggets of pork, steamed until it is tender and juicy. Served in a slightly salty broth with bits of hot pepper and scallions, this is on the lighter side of dim sum fare, savory without being heavy.

Yep, I just described pork as light. Welcome to dim sum, kids.

Pork Puffs

Crispy and puffy without, yielding to a chewy, purposefully doughy wrapper. The pork inside is moist and flavored with aromatics like ginger, and the result is something unexpected and extremely tasty.

Turnip Cake

This first time order for me is now a bona fide addiction. This sticky, chewy cake with bits of sweet roasted pork and salty crisply fried vegetable is just awesome. Salty, pleasantly chewy, and decidedly filling, this is the mashed potatoes of the dim sum world. It is comforting, it goes great with meat, and it will put you into a food coma immediately following the meal.

Shrimp Rice Rolls

Some of the best in Chinatown. Clean and pristine tasting shrimp, vaguely salty, enveloped in thin rice noodles, slippery and squishy. Served in a bath of soy sauce and vinegar, these are savory, tart, and the definition of umami. Also try the rolls filled with beef.

Sticky Rice with Roasted Pork

One of our very few homages to non-dumpling dim sum items. Good, but not memorable sticky rice. Sweet, meaty with roast pork, studded with vegetables. A bit dry and lacking true taste beyond saltiness. Next time, I would just get another order of turnip cakes.

And there will be a next time. While Mandarin Court may not have the biggest dim sum offerings, the place is clean, the servers speak impeccable English, and the food is just what you want on a blustery winter’s day.

Can’t wait for Christmas Day to roll around to go back for more.

Rice to Riches – Rice Pudding Masters

Is it better to do a lot of things sorta well or just one thing really, really well?

If you don’t know the answer to this, you really need to read some Aesop’s fables. 

Rice to Riches takes this old adage “Jack of all trades, master of none” to heart and is truly a master of rice pudding.

Around since the early 2000s, Rice to Riches does rice pudding. Plain rice pudding – sure, if yu are a boring old fart. But what you really want is one of their famous flavored rice puddings, mixed with everything from roasted nuts to cheesecake bites to Nutella. Also, get it topped with whipped cream, candy, or anything else under the sun.

Honestly, if you eat the plain rice pudding, don’t even talk to me.

Order at the long counter, then go to one of the 3 booths or stand at the tall table to enjoy your dish. I always get at least a medium sized portion so I can try 2 flavors at once. While you order, enjoy signs like these:

The vibe here is sassy. No wonder I feel at home. 

Pecan Pie and Rocky Road

Sugary pecans, toasted and rich, floating in a cinnamon laced rice pudding. The pudding itself is creamy and thick, studded with soft grains of rice, appearing tender/firm next to the pecans. This is an elegant, subtle rice pudding. In contrast, the rocky road version is a harlot – gaudy, out there, and too much…and, also, totally delicious. Dark chocolate pudding , with sweet and bitter notes, tossed with   fluffy, sticky marshmallows and crunchy peanuts.

This is good rice pudding.

It isn’t cheap, and it’s a schlep to get here from the west side, but it is a very fun eatery and a tasty one.

If you are dairy free, you won’t like it here, but if you like rice pudding, you actually can’t do any better than this pudding palace.

Cemita’s NYC at Whole Foods

One of the best things about living in Manhattan is how easy it is to hop on a subway and in half an hour be in any borough of the city, eating fabulous food.

One of the worst things about living in Manhattan is being me. I’m lazy. If it takes more than 15 minutes to get there, I will probably just order in Chinese.

Like I said, I am really über lazy.

That’s why when I found out that Smorgasburg was doing a pop up at Whole Foods Bowery, I was all about it. A chance to try some of the vendors at Brooklyn’s famous weekly food fair without having to cross the river? Amazing.

This month features Cemita’s, run by Southern Californian native Danny Lyu, features the huge sandwiches which are its namesake, as specialty of Puebla, Mexico. Ten layers of tasty goodness fill these dishes, and tacos and fresh chips also available.

The space in Whole Foods is upstairs, with a few seats and a counter where you order. You see the meats being grilled, avocados being sliced, and sandwiches being assembled right in front of you. The open kitchen is totally pristine and the smells coming out of there are amazing – smoky, spicy, incredibly fragrant…if you aren’t hungry now, it’s just because you aren’t reading.

Chicken Tinga Cemita

Here are the ingredients in this:

And here is what it looks like:

And here is what it tastes like:

bread – fluffy, light, strong enough tos tand up to the fillings but soft enough to be easily bit.

black bean spread – smoky, hearty, fragrant with oregano

mayo – creamy

chicken tinga – unbelievable slow roasted pulled chicken. Spicy, garlicky, acidic form tomatoes and so juicy. Soft but not mushy, juicy, and tender. Like carnitas with the light, clean taste of chicken. Outstanding.

lettuce – insignificant

tomato – juicy, sweet, totally refreshing

pickled onion – sharp, tangy, strong, cutting thought he mayonnaise and cheese

cheese – oaxacan cheese – squeaky and firm, like cheese curds. Bland, but a welcoming blandness in the sea of spices

avocado – creamy, buttery, delicious as ever

papalo – a mexican and South American herb that is fresh and pungent. Somewhere between lemon, basil, and mint, this stuff is incredibly potent – the aroma smacks you in the face the minute that you even look at a cemita, standing out from the warm chicken and the yeasty bread. While it might be overkill alone, as part of the multilayered sandwich, it adds a fresh herbal note that brightens what could be a very heavy dish.

chipotle crema – smooth, smoky, a little spicy

Portabella Tacos with Lettuce, Sour Cream, and Salsas

Never, EVER have I had more satisfying mushrooms. Totally beefy, savory, charred and juicy…this was umami to the “nth” degree. Served in supple corn tortillas with crispy veggies, cool, sour cream, and 2 salsas (a garlicky red one and  tangy, spicy green one), this could almost make a vegetarian out of me.

The prices here aren’t cheap – a cemita will set you back about $10, including tax. But the servings are huge, and you could easily split a cemita and an order of chips with a friend and feel full for the whole afternoon. Sandwiches come quickly, the food is tasty, and…best of all…

You don’t have to go out of borough to get it, for the next month at least.

Smorgasburg at Whole Foods – making me embrace my laziness.

*Disclaimer: I did not pay for my meal. I was not required to write about the food, and the opinions expressed here are my own and unbiased.*

Spring Natural Kitchen, Sarabeth’s, and Veselka Bowery

Every now and then, these posts make a showing on the blog – just bits and pieces of restaurants that I have visited around the city that deserve some acclaim.

Spring Natural Kitchen Turkey Burger

The UWS rendition of this SoHo restaurant is a bustling, casual eatery that is nice enough for dinner with the parents but relaxed enough for a solo drink at the bar. The seasonal and natural menu features one of the best turkey burgers in the city. Thick and very juicy, it has a phenomenal texture. It must have breadcrumbs in the patty, because it is soft and pleasantly tender, like a wonderful meatball in a meatball sub. The spices are robust, with herbs like oregano bringing out the meaty flavors of the turkey. Served with fresh shoestring fries and tart homemade Russian dressing, this is one burger that really doesn’t have me missing beef. As an added bonus, the prices are very reasonable.

Sarabeth’s Potato Waffle

Sarabeth’s will always have a huge wait for brunch on the weekends. Pick straws, get one of your party to go 45 minutes early to put your name on the list, and by the time you get there, your name will be called. When there, you would do well to order the potato waffle with sour cream, apple compote, and chicken-apple sausage. The waffle has a crispy exterior and a fluffy inside that is like a knish – mashed potatoes within a waffle! When dipped in some sour cream, this is one delightful brunch. Paired with the sweet and savory sausage, it is a pricey but delicious indulgence. Go here with your parents or your kids – it’s a great family place.

Veselka Bowery Pierogies

This new incarnation of the classic Veselka Diner is definitely tonier, with a large loft-like feel in an airy space. There is also a slightly more upscale menu, including a fabulous beet and dill martini, but the old favorites remain. Come here for the pierogies – get them pan fried on a bed of sweet caramelized onions. Filled with sauerkraut, mashed potatoes, tender pot roast, or creamy goat cheese, these are the Ukrainian answer to gyoza. Crunchy on the outside, steaming warm on the inside. Smother them in sour cream and gobble them up. At about $10 for an order, it is a tasty bargain in a hip setting.

Now the only problem will be how to fit in all the food you clearly have to try.

It’s a tough job, but I know you are up to the challenge.