Archive | October 2015

The Great Brick Oven Pizza Scam

Walking towards Brooklyn Bridge Park this past weekend on a family outing, we came across the sight that represented everything not to like about Brooklyn. I even took a photo of it because it summed up so much of what is wrong with our city and world.

There was a long line in front of a brick oven pizza restaurant. People crowded into a dense rope line like cattle to the slaughter to pay handsomely for the honor, while a little ways up the street they could have gotten more food for less and eaten with real Brooklynites at the Park Plaza Restaurant. And worse than that, they were waiting to pay for brick oven pizza.

Brick oven pizza is a big scam. It should shame New Yorkers that some of our most heralded pizza restaurants are overpriced tourists traps offering crappy food. Somehow the powers that be have convinced millions of people that there is something authentic about eating poorly-made and overpriced pizza.

Take a good honest look at a brick oven pizza if you are ever roped into going to one of these insufferable establishments. You’ll notice that not only is the pizza weak and thin and the cheese coverage extremely spotty, but there will usually be bubbled and burned parts of the crust. You could take off some of these burnt pieces and use them to make a charcoal sketching if you wanted. Everyone pretends that this is good pizza, and brick oven pizza restaurants somehow get away with this even though there are hundreds of good pizza places that can make a delicious and authentic New York pizza.

If visitors to New York were willing to just travel a little farther away from the well-tread tourist areas, this con game could be put to an end faster. Sadly many New Yorkers themselves have fallen into this trap and gush on about some of these places.

Some of the celebrated brick oven pizza places boast that they offer a clam pizza, which really means they are failures in both pizza and seafood. There are too many good restaurants to get pizza and clams, don’t spend your money on the brick oven hype.

The brick oven pizza deception plays into the innate human trait to romanticize the past. While craft and tradition are certainly worth celebrating when they result in something positive, making sub-par pizza just because it’s old fashioned is stupid. Yes, they had brick oven pizza in the 1800s in New York. Do you know what else they had? Cholera and Yellow Fever. We shouldn’t be eating brick oven pizza any more than we should be commuting to work on horseback or leeching our children when they get colds. Let’s embrace those technologies that have improved our lives, including ovens that can cook pizza evenly.

Many people from outside the city are not aware that pizza making has a long history in New York and they wrongly believe that they must choose between the artisanal and brick oven swindlers and the legion of national chains that are sadly permeating New York neighborhoods. This is a false choice. The five boroughs and many surrounding areas are full of small, independent pizza parlors that can make you a delicious pizza.

Brick oven is a “brand” now. Just like you can charge extra money by calling something “artisanal” or “natural.” I have no doubt that bad pizza makers are baking their abominable pizzas in regular ovens and then just charging extra for it. They’re laughing at their self-satisfied marks who think they are somehow more “authentic” New Yorkers for being dumb enough to get taken by this racket.

It took years for this sham to get its hooks in the public and it may take longer to get people to open their eyes to the fact that they are paying more for less pizza.

So please, say no to the brick oven pizza hustle. There are still many independent pizza parlors that make real New York pizza.

New York is Rooting for The Mets (until next April)

The New York Metropolitans are currently in the playoffs and competing for the National League Championship and the chance to play in the World Series. New Yorkers, though divided among sports loyalties, are fully behind the Mets this year.

The New York Mets will always be New York’s other team. They could win every World Series for the next 20 years and they will still be New York’s other team. It’s not the Mets fault; they are a consolation prize for people who were fans of the Yankees’ two rivals that skipped town (it’s why the Mets’ colors are Dodgers blue and Giants orange).

Fans of the Bronx Bombers look at the Mets as the scrappy but well-meaning younger brother that needs to get a beating every once in a while. They’re friendly rivals but not a threat to our stature as legends of the game. All the reasons people hate the Yankees are why Yankee fans can’t find it in themselves to hate the Mets. A significant part of all Yankee hating is envy. The Mets can’t invent a time machine and play the Yankees in 1927.

It feels like New York City reached its zenith with the subway series of 2000. It was the point in time when things were the most right for our city. Crime had been cleaned up but enough of the old New York character was still there. That both our baseball teams were contending for the world championship made New York that much more of the place to be and that illustrated once more how quintessentially American New York is.

But now the city finds itself in the rare position of seeing the Mets in the postseason longer than the Yankees, and Yankee fans find themselves rooting for the Mets. They are, after all, a New York team.

It was significant that the Mets got to the National League Championship Series by defeating the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Dodgers, formerly the Brooklyn Dodgers of course, started the series off with a controversial play that injured a key player. If the Dodgers had won the series, any accolades they won would be accompanied by an asterisk.

And why shouldn’t Mets and Yankee fans dislike the Dodgers more than one another. They are the team that abandoned New York decades ago for the sunny climes of Los Angeles, a second-rate smog-shrouded sinkhole of a city that wears its desperation on its sleeve. But these pretenders are defeated now, and four teams now vie for the crown.

The Mets are currently playing the Chicago Cubs, which are an old and storied franchise with some of the most compelling bad-luck stories in the history of the game, so much of the country is understandably rooting for them. But whatever course these games take, most in the U.S.A. can at least agree we would rather see the trophy stay on our side of the border and not taken to Toronto with the Blue Jays.

But New Yorkers stand firm. Since the Yankees are unfortunately out of the running this year, the Metropolitans must carry the torch for Gotham. We wish them the best of luck until next April.

They Can’t Kill Coney Island

Coney Island is a celebrated place in the lore of both New York City and America. It’s the place that gave us hot dogs, freak shows, baby incubators, amusement parks and beachfront slums. I’m pleased to report that Coney Island’s character has not been completely killed off.

No doubt the current wave of gentrification that is sanitizing and overpricing every corner of Gotham has touched this part of Brooklyn as well. After all, it’s ocean-view property with easy access to the subway system.

Coney Island is alive and well and my wife and I took our two toddlers to the Island recently. We did not plan farther than over breakfast that morning and we didn’t have a lot of time.

We are lucky enough to have a pickup truck and a membership to the World Wildlife Fund, which is a fancy way to say the New York City zoos, and that includes the New York Aquarium on Coney Island. So we were able to drive there and get free parking at the aquarium. We realize most New Yorkers do not have these advantages, but the D, F, N and Q trains all run there as well as several bus lines (both regular and express).

The New York Aquarium is under construction in many places and is a relatively small aquarium to begin with, so if we had paid $12 to get in we would have been pissed off. But with the smaller crowds and the time limits that traveling with small children impose, the aquarium was perfect. There were lots of interesting fish and even sharks to see. Our girls got to touch a real live horseshoe crab and they marveled at the various colorful marine life.

After the aquarium we made our way to the famous Coney Island boardwalk which was humming with late beachgoers. There was the odd smattering of elderly locals camped on benches, hipsters with their heavy beards, people with large dogs dressed extravagantly, and families like us pushing kids in strollers. The amusement parks that line the beach were still operating, and if we had wanted we could have ridden The Cyclone or even the reimagined and less elegant Steeplechase ride. For many years, the old steeplechase ride remained an overgrown, rotting relic that intrigued visitors.

While the Nathan’s annex that is on the boardwalk was packed, the actual original Nathan’s on Surf Avenue was nowhere near as crowded as it typically gets in the summer months. It took a while to get our food and it was horribly expensive, but it was very satisfying to make sure our daughters had their first taste of a Nathan’s hot dog at the original Nathan’s on Coney Island. Maybe one of them will grow up to be crowned the victor of the Nathan’s hot dog eating contest (or excel in other pursuits).

We took in the views of the ocean and the crowds on the boardwalk after lunch. We were very happy to see that Ruby’s and the Freak Bar are still open for business. Just as Nathan’s and The Cyclone define Coney Island, so do these institutions. In fact, you will find more of the true character of Coney Island from a barstool of Rudy’s or the bleachers of the Coney Island Sideshow than you will from the coaster rides or hot dogs being proffered.

So toast longevity at these establishments and take advantage of this post-Labor Day off season and go to Coney Island.

Poetry: Ten-Dollar Blackjack

A new poem, Ten-Dollar Blackjack, is online via Impolite Literature. It was inspired by a good night at a Blackjack table. I had reason to visit Las Vegas recently for work and while I am not a big gambler I wanted to take in some Vegas nightlife and I wasn’t able to get to see Penn & Teller.

I was staying at The Rio and I didn’t have time to go far since my time in Vegas was short. I decided after a day of work and schmoozing for work to enjoy some time in the gambling pits of the casino before retiring to my room.

So after quickly losing $20 on Roulette I made my way to the nearest $10 minimum Blackjack table. Two people from the work conference happened to be there so I sat down and enjoyed the friendly game. One of the two conference attendees retired and I was soon there at the table with Adam, an earnest and well-mannered conference attendee form Indiana and an older Asian man who spoke only broken English.

Adam and the elderly man schooled me on the finer points in Blackjack as we went along. The good thing about Blackjack is that if you can do basic addition and remember a few simple rules, you have a fighting chance at coming out ahead. And come out ahead I did. I made a total of $50, walking away from the tables with $90 in chips on a $40 investment. Those are good returns. My greatest skill that night was quitting while I was ahead.

Pumpkin Season Is Upon Us

Autumn is a great time of year in New York. The humid misery of summer is behind us and the holidays are ahead of us. The trees turn brilliant shades of red, orange and yellow and the air is electric with new possibilities. There is a sense of renewal that is similar to that of the spring but with a more ominous edge. The light grows dimmer and there’s a depressing feeling as the twilight of summer is again denied us. It is time to reap the harvest, but time is running on our days and year.

Like the Christmas holiday, the commercial anticipation of Halloween grows larger every year and we saw Halloween pop-up stores appear as early as August in some places. And there are pumpkin spice flavored food and beverages being offered ad nauseam. At the 7 Eleven where I get my coffee, they have a shaker of pumpkin flavoring so you can make your coffee like a pumpkin Big Gulp if they run out of pumpkin spice coffee. I agree the pumpkins spice has become excessive, but let’s not turn our back on traditional greats like pumpkin pie.

But the season of the pumpkin is a good time to embrace the fall. And the increasingly long Halloween season brings with it some worthwhile activities.

My good friend Jay, lead guitar player for New York punk rock band Endangered Feces, invited me and my family to join his family at the Rise of the Jack-O-Lanterns event, which features a walk through a path lined with intricately carved pumpkins. It features pumpkins carved with many different images and strung together in forms as large as dinosaurs, zebras, skeletons. There was a Hillary Clinton pumpkin and a Donald Trump pumpkin, and carvings that celebrated popular TV shows like Orange Is The New Black and Game of Thrones. The security people told everyone no flash photography was allowed, so my photos didn’t come out too well, but it was enjoyable to bring the kids.

It was a nice brisk evening and it wasn’t too long, and brevity is much appreciated when you’re hauling little kids with you. The event we went to was in Old Westbury, Long Island, New York not far outside our city’s borders. Living in Eastern Queens makes it easier to own a car which makes it easier to head to Long Island for events such as these, but you can take public transportation to similar events elsewhere.

You don’t have to go see nicely carved jack-o-lanterns and you don’t have to put any pumpkin crap in your coffee, but it’s important to do something to commemorate the autumn. Watch the leaves change colors, visit a haunted house, hand out non-poisoned candy to children on Halloween. Walk through a corn maze and go hunting. Take your significant other into a cemetery and conceive a child there. Wander the streets of New York on a ridiculously long walk. Get out of the house before it’s too cold.

The season of the pumpkin is upon us. Do not let it go quietly.

Paying a Proper Urban Homage to the Blood Moon

City life has may rewards for those that embrace it but the sights of the city are star deprived. The intensity of our lights clouds our view of celestial bodies. We don’t get to see as many stars in the sky, the streetlamps, lights from office buildings and apartments, and neon signs conspire to hog the attention for themselves, telling the urban stargazer, “We should be enough for you.”

And so the moon provides the visual cue to wanderlust and anchors our heavenly gawking. The moon is closer and always there. It can be shrouded in clouds but it is never kept far from our vision. It follows us as we wander our metropolis and is always there to draw our eye in moments of poetic grandeur.

Because of the aforementioned light pollution, New York City is not a very good place to view our astronomical wonders. But the moon is an exception. Lunar events are very much visible to city dwellers. The light pollution doesn’t affect the moon the way it does the stars. There are plenty of other obstacles to good moon observation: buildings, trees, billboards and planes. Some of the best viewing space may be in the middle of busy streets or eerily deserted parks.

The moon is currently in a super moon phase, meaning that it appears larger and brighter than it normally does. On September 27 the super moon was eclipsed fully by the Earth, meaning that our planet moved in such a way as to block the glorious sunlight from reflecting off of the moon. Such a phenomenon will not occur again until 2033. The fully eclipsed moon will take on a reddish color, thus the “blood moon” or “blood super moon.”

Stepping outside my building in Queens, I encountered the usual street scene on a quiet Sunday night. There were maybe a few more people sitting on public benches along Union Street in Flushing where I live, but not the amount of people that this event deserved. That just made looking at the moon more enjoyable. And there it was, every bit as bright and glorious as I had hoped, it’s super bright surface already covered in shadow, and the shadow was spreading. In the few minutes I was outside, the eclipse progressed to the point that nearly half the moon was in shadow. I attempted to take a photo with it but my earthly camera phone could not do this phenomenal sight any justice.

The moon has a great effect on human life on earth. And why shouldn’t it? The stars that we gaze at may be dead already; their light may have burned out centuries ago. But the moon is always there, it is close by, and we’ve been there.

Here in Gotham, where brazen men plot to manipulate our world and drive the will of the Earth asunder, it is comforting to know that the skies will always have the last word, and that blood moons will reoccur to thrill poets and inspire a further appreciation of the beautiful violence of nature.

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