Friday, January 27, 2012

Bear with me, don't hate.

I will be open, honest and up front with you. I spent last weekend in Tulum, Mexico. I cannot lie. It was amazing. Don't hate. Bear with me. One of my wife's best friends from the second grade was getting married there. My in-laws agreed to stay with the kids. A weekend on the beach in Mexico with just my wife. Who could say no.

We left Friday morning and came back Monday afternoon. 3 1/2 hour flight from NYC to Cancun. Easy 90 minute drive to Tulum. Sounds like a lot of travel but it wasn't. And the weekend seemed like a week.

Maybe one of the keys was how we started the trip. Karen (my wife) read about a little seafood place that sounded great. About 20 minutes south of Cancun is the seaside village of Puerto Morelos. Despite being so close to Cancun it is not over run and retains its laid back charm. It is what Playa Del Carmen was twenty years ago. Drive south on 307. Get off at the Puerto Morelos exit. Make a left at the turn around. Drive until you hit the beach. Make left and look for Merkadito Del Mar 100 yards down on your right. It looks like this:

Go through the restaurant to the deck in back, on the beach. It looks like this:

Order ice cold cervezas or a margarita. Order the fish tacos. Order the shrimp tostadas. Order this tostada. It has smoked tuna and chipolte. It was incredible:

Exhale and smile. You are officially on vacation.

Get back in you car and drive to Tulum. You will pass a lot of big resorts. You will not see any of these in Tulum. The "resort" area of Tulum is a long road that runs parallel to the beach. It has small cabanas and one and two story hotels that look more like houses or shacks. They are all on the beach. Chances are the view from your room will look like this:

You almost never wear shoes. You walk from place to place on the beach. Your view from any meal will look something like this:

OK. You get the idea. I know you hate me right now but don't. I know you think you can't go for any number of reasons. But you can. You really can. And you should. The beaches and beautiful. The sun is shining. The food is amazing (ceviche, ceviche, ceviche). The drinks are cold and strong. You will be refreshed and renewed.

One note. Apparently the NY Times ran an article about Tulum while we were in Tulum. It basically portrayed Tulum as a Fashion industry version of South Beach and St Barts, over priced and overrun with horrible fashion folks in search of a soul cleansing.

What? Maybe they stayed somewhere else? Maybe this is just at Christmas? There was none of that to be seen where we were. Don't let them scare you away. Tulum is an alternate universe. I don't know how long it will stay that way, so go. Now.

And have an ice cold Pacifico for me.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Mardi Gras NYC!

With February just around the corner, that means folks in New Orleans are getting ready for Fat Tuesday and the festivities leading up to it. In other words, Mardi Gras. For those of us unable to get to the Crescent City for this year's festival, there is a bounty of great New Orleans and Louisiana musician coming to The Big Apple. Here are a few highlights. I will be hitting a bunch of these, hope you will too.

Kermit Ruffins and the Barbecue Swingers with Bonerama - Hiro Ballroom, Sat Feb 18 and Sun Feb 19.

These are the Mardi Gras Balls featuring two of the great and unique NOLA artists.

Kermit Ruffins is a trumpeter and singer that is the very embodiement of the "Big Easy." A great entertainer with a laid back style and charm, Kermit has been prominently featured on HBO's "Treme" and is always a good time. He co-founded the Rebirth Brass Band while in High School and has been a prominent New Orleans musician ever since.

Bonerama is a brass funk band fronted by three trombonists (the bone in Bonerama). Unlike a traditional brass band, Bonerama focuses on the Bone players and the band plays classic New Orleans tunes as well as originals and some tremendous covers of artists like Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin. There is no other band like Bonerama. This will be a tremendous double bill.

Rebirth Brass Band - Saturday February 11, 7 and 11 pm - Hiro Ball Room

Probably the kings of the New Orleans brass bands right now. Co-founded by Kermit Ruffins, Rebirth honors the traditions of the great New Orleans Brass Bands while bringing funk and soul to the mix. They are the brass band all others are measured against.

Soul Rebels Brass Band - Brooklyn Bowl - Friday February 3rd, 8pm

The young upstarts, Soul Rebels take the brass band tradition and add funk, soul, hip hop and attitude for a fresh and unique spin. Basically the house band at Le Bon Temps Roule in New Orleans, Soul Rebels deliver a fierce and energetic show.

Tab Benoit - Friday, February 10 - Hiro Ballroom

Tab is a great Blues guitar player and singer from Baton Rouge. He plays Delta Blues with a dose of Swamp Rock and Cajun attitude. This is Blues from the Bayou and all guitar fans and Blues fans should not miss it.

These shows are the perfect cure for the winter blues. Make sure you get your behind off the couch, out of the house and to one of these show. Let the good times roll.

Monday, January 16, 2012


Following up on the anti-Dunkin' Donuts campaign, let me highlight some of the best doughnuts in NYC. At Jeremy Spector's terrific Brindle Room (one of my favorites), he has a breakfast service which he calls Wonder City Coffee and Donut Bar. Delicious pour over Plowshares coffee is the side show to the main event, his doughnuts. Here is what you need to know:

1 - He adds mashed potatoes to the dough. Don't be afraid. The result is a moist, dense and rich doughnut.

2 - They are made to order. No sitting around. They are fresh and still warm from the fryer.

3 - There are four kinds: caramel (Homer Simpson would weep), chocolate-hazelnut w/ almonds (take one piping hot doughnut, spread with Nutella and sprinkle with slivered almonds, devour), chocolate peanut butter (need I say more?) and classic powdered sugar (there is a reason it is a classic).

One suggestion and one warning. The suggestion is bring a friend so that when you try all four doughnuts you can feel moderately less guilty about it. The warning is that once you try these doughnuts you will not be able to eat a Dunkin' Donuts doughnut like substance again. I promise.

Wonder City Coffee and Donut Bar
@ The Brindle Room
277 East 10th Street (between 1st ave and Avenue A)

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Sad News and a Call To Arms

I try to keep this blog positive, but sometimes circumstances dictate a call to arms. First, Dunkin' Donuts announced plans to double the number of stores it has. This is one of the signs of the Apocalypse. There is already one on every other block in Manhattan now. America has been lulled into believing that they actually sell good coffee and doughnuts. They do not.

Second, Fete Coffee, a wonderful spot on 3rd avenue and 20th street, has closed. Great coffee, a comfortable setting and a lovely owner weren't enough to survive. I guess the DD on 20th street, new 7-11 right next door and the Starbucks on 23rd street were too much.

My fellow New Yorkers, this must stop. We are becoming just another suburban strip mall. Support your local coffee spot folks or it will be nothing but DD, Subways, 7-11s and Starbucks as far as the eye can see. 9th Street Espresso and The Doughnut Plant are good places to start.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

A Happy New Year - update

I am happy to report that 2/3 of my Christmas present from my sister is gone. No, it was not all consumed by me. I played bartender on NYE and made Manhattans for the friends I was with. The bottles of Old Overholt Rye and Dolin Sweet Vermouth were drained. Happily, Using the 2-1 rye to vermouth ratio the bottles both finished in perfect tandem on the last Manhattan. I still have plenty of Bitter Truth bitters.

The verdict? They make a nice Manhattan. Cheers!

The Big Plunge

I have come to the realization that New Year's resolutions are for suckers, mainly because no one can keep them. Making New Year's resolutions is essentially saying I am a faulty, bad human and I need to fix myself. Forget that. I believe we should have goals. Simple ones and grand ones.  Goals are about doing things, achieving something. Instead of fixing some perceived fault in yourself you can pat yourself on the back for an accomplishment.

So I say set up some goals for the new year. Make some small and easily achievable. Try a different bourbon or rye in your Manhattans. See more movies. Clean up the salty language a bit. Make some goals big. Something that will require a little more effort. Be more active. Learn the accordion. Make more time for your family. Hike the Appalachian Trail. Don't yell at Jersey drivers.

On New Year's Day, 2012, I finally took part in something I have always wanted to do. That's right. I opened up 2012 with one of my goals. Do the Coney Island Polar Bear Swim. It was a fantastic way to get the year started. I cannot recommend it enough. And I have already achieved one of my goals. I rock.

It was a beautiful, sunny day and the boardwalk was jammed with people. I was there with my wife and my two girls as well as my sister who was the one that suggested the swim. It was a party. A DJ was blasting classic rock tunes (who knew you could actually be psyched to hear "Rock and Roll Hoochie Koo").  This was Coney Island in all its glory. There were thousands of people there. Old Russians and young hipsters. School teachers, city councilmen and the Lehman swim team. People were dressed as mermaids, Vikings and polar bears. One guy was in a cardboard boat.

The event is sponsored by the Coney Island Polar Bear Club. They are the oldest winter bathing organization in the country. The event is a fundraiser for Camp Sunshine which is a camp in Casco, Maine, for kids with life threatening illnesses and their families. Anyone is welcome to come and swim at the event. You do not have to pay to do the swim, but we registered and paid because it was for a good cause

The swim was scheduled for 1pm and we moved down to the beach at about 12:45. You could feel the excitement build. People started changing then shedding clothes. Folks were singing, chanting, hooting and hollering. The build up was palpable. Then suddenly it was time and everyone (except my wife) started making a dash for the water. In we went.

The water was cold, 45 degrees, but we were psyched. We waded in up to our waists then dunked ourselves on a three count. It was exhilarating. Everyone had a different method for getting wet. There were dunkers like us, divers, splashers and swimmers. Some were in and out in a flash. Some jumped and and stayed in, floating on their backs. Everyone was loving it.

All told we went in three times. Three full dunks. It was hands down the best start to a new year that I can remember. Coney Island was filled with high spirits and a sense of camaraderie. And you could tell that everyone who went in the water, whether it was their first time or their tenth time, felt they had done something special.

Goal achieved? Check. Classic New York event participated in? Check. Great memory for the family? Check. Exhausted and exhilarated we headed home. The day couldn't get any better.

Then we stopped at Mazzola Bakery.

(2012 Goal # 2. Take the kids to Brooklyn Farmacy for sundaes)

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Things I am Thankful for - Part 3

When I graduated from Michigan I came back to New York as fast as humanly possible. My girlfriend (now my wife) moved here as well and ended up in an apartment in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn. I was soon to follow (8 months living with mom and dad was enough).

This was the early 90s and Carroll Gardens was still an Italian neighborhood with three generations of families living together in the neighborhood. There were no hipsters, just a few interlopers like us. It was a beautiful, safe and cheap place to live. And there was some great Italian food. Nino's Restaurant and pizzeria (name changed). Amici Brothers (the best Italian heroes, gone). Cammareri's Bakery (featured in Moonstruck, gone, but I hear they moved to Jersey). Still standing though, on the corner of Union and Henry, is the great Mazzola Bakery.

In the summer we would come home from a night out in "The City", as our neighbors called Manhattan, to find the wonderful old ladies from the building hanging on the stoop, enjoying the night air. Without fail the wonderful Grace Romano would ask us if we were hungry. Regardless of the answer, she would walk to the corner and bang on the metal door to the kitchen at Mazzola. The door would open, the guys would yell "Hey Grace, what do you need?" and she would come back with two piping hot loaves of bread fresh out of the oven. She would disappear into her apartment for a few minutes and the emerge with the loaves cut, drizzled with olive oil and covered in grated Parmesan for us to devour. I promise you, it does not get better than that.

Mazzola is still going strong. It still makes great bread. It is the first place I ever had pepper biscuits and they are still my gold standard. They make cookies, regina biscuits, pastries etc. We swung by today on our way back from the Coney Island Polar Bear Swim (more on that later) and had some of their Rugelach for the first time. It was the best we have ever had. All this would make Mazzola Bakery something I am thankful for. But there is one more thing Mazzola makes that makes it one of New York's true treasures. Their Lard Bread.

The few places that still make Lard Bread call it pepperoni bread or something more appetising. Not Mazzola. They call it Lard Bread. Maybe that is why it is not only the best of its kind but also one of the greatest thing on this earth that you can eat. I am sure there are a lot of people who have been in Mazzola and passed on it due to the name. What a loss. This in one of those heavenly substances I am not afraid of over hyping.

Lard bread is a loaf of delicious, dense and flaky bread stuffed with chunks or incredible pepperoni and Italian spices. It is chewy, hearty and savory. It is a meal. It is impossible to stop yourself from eating an entire loaf. Mazzola's Lard Bread should have a parade in it's honor. A key to the city. A street named after it. I hope they are still here making it 100 years from now.

Go try it and tell me if I am wrong. I'm not.