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I am making good on my promise and blogging about my recent visit to John Brown Smokehouse’s new location. My last review was on September 4, 2011 entitled “John Brown Smokehouse. Wow.” The sentiment still holds only now there is more space to enjoy the food in! They kept the charm of their smaller location with the red and white plaid table clothes and their “Come and take it” wall hanging against a brick wall and yet they stepped it up a few notches with more emphasis on John Brown through a wall of framed photos a nook of books and according to the certificate on the wall they even have a lock of his hair.
Unfortunately my photos are a sub-par representation of their beautiful food and ambiance but here goes.
So let’s get to the food review. I cannot emphasize enough that I am not a food reviewer and that my tastes are my own. Also, I didn’t put proper effort or attention to the photos I was snapping so they really don’t do the food justice here. Learn more about the restaurant’s famous namesake abolitionist at the PBS website. moving on…
- pulled pork – again, I tend not to choose this for myself ever and yet it continues to amaze with the tenderness, juicy-ness, and punch of flavor that comes from this dish.
- burnt ends – i love that these are not overly fatty in their texture and yet the flavor that you want from the fat really comes through.
- brisket – delicious. the meat was not too fatty, not too dry, and the portion was ridiculously large (which is never a bad thing).
- turkey – yum. seriously, again a large portion and very tasty and savory.
- fries – (previous review stands) “pretty conventional but tasty”
- cole slaw – i find that every time I mention cole slaw I say that it isn’t really my thing but maybe it is my thing seeing as how I have some really strong opinions about it. This was very spicy and crunchy and I was very happy to be enjoying it.
- bread – looked like conventional white sliced bread. but of course it was infused with the awesomeness that comes from being inside a smokehouse.
decor thoughts. The place is much bigger and so beautiful. I somehow have no photos of the amazing outdoor space that seats several tables and offers live music. I’m sure my husband grabbed a snap here or there.
As we enjoyed our meal a keyboardist and saxophonist were playing out there and because they were so good we couldn’t find an empty table in the patio but we chose an indoor table within good earshot. When they took a break Josh Bowen, the owner took to his Spotify account and filled the restaurant with some amazing music as well.
Aside from the name on the front awning the new restaurant is much more of an homage to John Brown than the last. With so much wall space they were able to put more attention to detail that just wouldn’t have fit in the old place. The red and white table cloths and brick walls carried over and so did the giant chalk board menu which were key elements in the original location. They clearly put a lot of sweat equity into the new space which really shows. They also added some touches that are very popular right now like using unconventional objects as lamp shades but nothing was heavy-handed or cliché. I even thought they could add tables to the space if they needed to but what do I know.
go eat there.
Sometimes I think my husband sets out to see how many places we can patronize in a single day as his sole motivation for taking me on his goose-chases. Saturday we agreed to go to Smorgasburg for their ice cream celebration. Then the morning of he suggested we go to Brooklyn Kolache. I agreed. If you’ve never had a Kolache, it’s generally some type of filling baked inside an amazing roll that tastes chewy and sweet and savory and perfect. Or at least it is if you go to Brooklyn Kolache Co. The big hoopla that got us there was that they sell tacos. The nearly complete lack of decent tacos in New York will drive any Texan far and wide in search of them.
We’ve ventured out more than a few times in our search and unfortunately these were not that amazing. The tortillas weren’t waxy and the fillings weren’t awful but they also weren’t something that I’d dream of especially when the kolaches were so amazing. We ordered a bunch of stuff to get a good idea of their menu: hash brown, egg & cheese taco, chorizo, egg & cheese taco, cherry kolache, sausage kolache and then we went back for another of the sausage kolache and tried the cherry and cream kolache. They were huge and buttery and tasted like clouds of deliciousness. Husband’s been telling me to start selling my own tacos with homemade tortillas and become the New York Queen of Tacos. Dreams for another day.
Since our entire plan for the day was to go to a food festival: Smorgasburg and we already had a huge breakfast we figured we should walk it off at the Brooklyn Flea which wasn’t too far away. The flea always yields something amazing. I found a woman and her teeny tiny daughter selling homemade headbands and hair clips which were so adorable I had to buy one. I regret not buying the unicorn horn they were selling but that’s what Etsy is for. And although our plan was to abstain from food at the flea somehow Paul found himself with a Lonestar Empire brisket sandwich.
Paul wanted to take a different route to the waterfront from our normal walk. He suggested it out of the blue for no reason at all until we randomly came upon another market. I’m sure this was a carefully crafted accident on his part. The Artists and Fleas was inside a large open space. Every nice of that space was filled with vendors and their wares. It was a super eclectic collection of vendors selling bed sheet t-shirts, glass jewelry, vintage purses, dresses, plants and pretty much anything else you can imagine. And of course they had a live DJ spinning because why not have a live DJ at a market in the middle of the day in Brooklyn. Clearly this is the obvious decision.
As we left A&F Paul bought a pineapple pop which I quickly commandeered. It was literally a slice of pineapple on a stick that was dipped in chocolate then frozen. What a treat. Smorgasburg wasn’t too far away and we got there I almost couldn’t imagine eating anything else. Although when you think about it I hadn’t had too much yet.
Smorgasburg was kind of a blur. There were lots of ice creams. I loved a vegan chocolate one but couldn’t finish my scoop. I gave in and got a donut from dough because when they are near me I feel like an addict that needs a hit. They were out of my standard plain so I got the cinnamon sugar which apparently meant I was wearing cinnamon sugar all over my face and up my nose. awesome. I also got a noodle bowl which was too spicy so I only tasted it and then gave up. We stood in the ATM line at one point replenishing our pockets and at some point when I wasn’t looking Paul found La Newyorkina and her amazing paletas which he’s had before. She gave him two stamps on a rewards card because he’d been to the other location but didn’t’ have a rewards card yet. We enjoyed the waterfront with about 1 million other people on saturday. I wanted a nap so badly at this point in the day.
I’m sure you are thinking, “wow Clarissa, what a long day.” But wait, it isn’t yet over. After a short L train to Union Square we went to Best Buy where they too had a DJ. I don’t remember what we were looking for but it was some kind of electronic thingamajig. Then why not go to Nordstrom Rack. And somehow we also ended up at Barnes & Noble where something was bought and Forbidden Planet where a crew was filming Batman things for an episode of 48 Hours. I was nosy and asked the camera guys. Also, it was nearly their last day before they move down the block to a much “bigger and cleaner space with air conditioning” according to the guy at the door. I was tired at this point so we started for home. Just a quick stop at Grand Central for our connecting train and the Apple Store where we came out with a new iPad for my husband. He was giddy which made me happy.
Finally it was time to go home… after stopping at John Brown Smokehouse in their new and larger location. More on that later this week.
I got up at 7 the next morning to meet a friend for a girls day. I need to sleep in more.
We’ve been in a major heatwave… this is day 3. The cooling centers have been open. We’ve all been smelly and sweaty and gross before we even get into the train. It was so hot today that the skies parted and poured down rain and hail and lightening all over the city and beyond. It was out of the blue and pretty torrential. And worst of all it was just before 5:00 PM. No bueno. at 4:45 I received a text from my husband that read “wait to go home until it passes and then take a car.” He loves me. Also he was lucky enough to be on the inside of a cab as the hail started pouring down on Manhattan.
I went out to the window in the hall (no windows in my office suite) and confirmed that the skies were exploding overhead and decided to go ahead and wait it out. I watched the WABC live newscast streaming online for a while. Around 5:30 I finally decided to try to catch a cab home. Shockingly I was able to hail a taxi within seconds of stepping outside and it all went downhill after that.
The rain caused bumper to bumper traffic in Harlem 125th heading toward the Triboro which is the fastest way to get to Astoria from the Upper West Side. Bumper to Bumper traffic is what upset stomachs are made of. Boredom and an upset stomach in the back of a taxi lead to a lot of Instagramed photos. Congratulations to you, the recipient of my misery and Instagramed photos.
When I saw that we were almost to the bridge I was so happy because I know how smooth the ride can be from that point. Instead it was more of the same. Stop. Go. Stop. Go. jerk the car forward. sudden stop. After a while I could hear the sound of alarms around me then we came upon a taxi that had been rear-ended.
Shortly after passing the taxi accident I heard the alarms again. An ambulance was trying to get through the traffic.
A few minutes later another alarm sounded in the distance. Eventually ladder 17 was visible and slowly inched its way through the traffic to pass us by.
Nomrally once we get to the toll booths we are home free. Not so much today.
Eventually I was delivered safely to my front door and by then the rain had passed and I’d been in the back of a car about the same amount of time I would have been in a train only I had my own seat and the air conditioning was lovely and I had the internet the entire time and oh yes the car sickness. But let us not forget that I love New York even when it is dirty and smelly and when it upsets my stomach too.
Central Park might not be the biggest park in the city but it definitely holds the most romance. When you think about New York City you don’t dream of visiting Flushing Meadows Corona Park or Van Cortlandt Park or Astoria Park or Prospect Park (ok maybe you dream of prospect park a little) and you likely don’t dream of Bryant Park or Madison Square Park or even Morningside Park or Riverside Park or any of the other parks in the city or the outer boroughs. But you do dream of Central Park. All 843 acres of it. The skyscraper skyline behind the trees, the vast open spaces, the Boathouse the bridges and the Ramble and the concerts and the running paths and the view from inside the MET and the playgrounds and the ball fields and the statues and the gates and the zoo and the unknown.
You picture the scene from When Harry Met Sally walking down a path littered with the Autumn leaves and Wollman Rink in all its glory where John Cusak and Kate Beckingsdale spend an romantic date in Serendipity then find themselves again at the end and you likely picture any number of Woody Allen movies or the scene from the Muppets Take Manhattan where Piggy is stalking Kermit. It should not be a surprise to anyone reading this blog that I am in love with New York City so forgive me the Central Park lovefest.
I’ll try to capture the park on my blog in a way that maybe will do it a bit of justice. It is one of my favorite places in the city because it is both finite and infinite. The square footage is fixed and yet each time I am there it is changed or I am changed or I notice something new and certainly the people are different each time.
One of my favorite activities is to people watch in Central Park. It still amazes how many people there are in New York City at any given moment going about their business. Engagement and wedding photos are nearly a sure thing on any visit to the park. Seriously you can turn any corner of the park into a picturesque fantasy to keep with you forever. On a recent day we found a nice patch of grass near one of the ponds and let the people wander before us. Other people all around us were napping, picnicking and reading. There was a group of kids chasing the ducks until the ducks started chasing them which was hilarious and well deserved. There were tiny birds looking for worms in the grass and a wedding party posing in front of our pond. There was also a man fishing while a random boy walked up to him to ask about the fish he’d caught.
For those of you that might be curious, the City of New York Parks & Recreation’s FAQ page lists the top ten largest parks and their sizes:
What is your biggest park? How big is Central Park?
Top Ten Largest Parks:
- Pelham Bay Park Bronx 2,765 acres
- Greenbelt, Staten Island 1,778 acres
- Flushing Meadows/Corona Park, Queens 1,255 acres
- Van Cortlandt Park, Bronx 1,146 acres
- Central Park, Manhattan 843 acres
- Marine Park, Brooklyn 798 acres
- Bronx Park, Bronx 718 acres
- Alley Pond Park, Queens 655 acres
- Franklin D. Roosevelt Boardwalk, South and Midland Beaches, Staten Island 638 acres
- Forest Park, Queens 544 acres
You know how when you go see a show you can’t be sure that it is going to be amazing until it’s all said and done? Well, I was barely a few minutes into Gore Vidal’s The Best Man and already in love. The pre-show curtain and the state delegate banners built the excitement and then when the television news man did his segment from right above the audience like a narrator preparing us for the next big thing I was enthralled and as I focused on the set and the action and the dialogue I was also thinking to myself “ohmygosh I love this show.”
Put it this way the cast alone was worth watching doing nothing but put them all in a show, dress them up and give them lines and you’ve got something really special.
The play was about the 1960 nominating convention in which there are three potential candidates. John Larroquettes’s “Secretary of State William Russell” and John Stamos’ “Senator Joseph Cantwell” and the other guy who we never meet on stage. James Earl Jones plays former President Artie Hockstader who we think might endorse one of the two top candidates at the convention thereby sealing the deal for them. We quickly learn how each of them handles the press, what kind of wives and marriage they have and of course that there is more than meets the eye to their backgrounds that might threaten their runs if the other releases the data.
At one point, James Earl Jones broke character on stage while lecturing Secretary Russell about his campaign. He noticed, as probably the entire audience did, that there were a couple of huge flies buzzing the room. One of them landed on the white carpet near where he was standing and was hopping around so he broke character and tried to squish it with his foot meanwhile saying “there’s this fly here” and gesturing toward it in the middle of his dialogue. He is THE James Earl Jones, however and he wove it pretty seamlessly into the dialogue and carried on as he found his seat and never flinched. You felt like that was really something that President Hockstader would have done (although we know otherwise). John Larroquette however turned beet red trying to suppress laughter as he too carried on with his lines. It was this real moment that had us laughing and appreciating the human actor on stage before us performing in real time under real conditions and reacting like anyone else only with more finesse and refinement.
Angela Landsbury’s Mrs. Gamadge was brilliant. Her timing was impeccable and the part seemed like it was written for her. Kristen Davis played Cantell’s wife while Cybill Shepherd played Russell’s wife. Their characters or stories could not have been more different and yet they were still candidates wives and they really managed to share with the audience their different perspectives.
I know that some of the cast has turned over since the show debuted and yet I can barely imagine anyone else playing these key roles. It closes on September 9th so I encourage anyone out there with the slightest interest to see it. Be dazzled and enjoy the brilliance before you. The sets are beautiful, the dialogue was on point, the cast was amazing, and overall it was really an easy show to fall in love with right away.
We spent the 4th of July in Philly by way of Amtrak! It was my very first Amtrak ride which I’ve romanticized over the years so I savored every minute of it. Actually I didn’t. I was up too late the night before, I woke up ridiculously early for the ridiculously early train, I didn’t have any coffee and was overall not a very happy traveler that morning. I closed my eyes and tried to sleep.
As soon as we arrived in Philly we took the SEPTA to Independence Park. Let’s take a second to discuss the Philly train system. First it’s called SEPTA which stands for Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority. This is all fine and dandy but seriously doesn’t it sound like a toilet? Whoever thought that SEPTA was an acceptable acronym must have had a sense of humor. Also, the SEPTA is way cleaner than any NYC station I’ve ever been in. It was so clean I could see the sheen on the floor!
Our first stop straight off the train was a photo op with the Liberty Bell. The bell is pretty big and also pretty awesome and cracked for those of you non-history buffs out there. It was awesome to beat the crowds.
I won’t’ spend valuable blog space to mention the horrendous restaurant we went to for breakfast on the hotel front desk’s recommendation of a place locals eat at. Ok, I will. Thinking back on it, it feels like a train wreck that I have to share in order to move past. It was called “Honey” or something like that and was supposed to have great pancakes. I mentioned before that I hadn’t had coffee yet right? Well, Honey was jam packed with tourists and cops. We found two stools at a bar and waited for our food. My coffee never came so eventually I went to go get it and realized that there was one guy cooking all the food which totally enraged me. Also the coffee tasted like mud. Who planned the schedule? Then after people who came in way after me started getting their orders but people who came in around the same time as me were not I went up to the counter to ask about my order. When I told them that I was 42 and they were sending out orders in the high 50s the guy freaked, apologized, checked with the kitchen staff and promised it was next. Suddenly, all the 40s that were skipped were being sent out asap. I sat back down and in spite of myself, I cried over nothing and everything. I eventually grudgingly ate the blandest eggs and potatoes ever cooked and tried to shake it off. So, there, now you know I’m a crier on no coffee and little sleep.
On to happier things. Paul scored a silly red, white, and blue hat that he wore with the bill pointing up and we joked all day that he was the spitting image of Will Smith after that. We found a shady spot to watch the parade and figured that it was going to be a really short one since the route was really just a couple of blocks. As it turns out every municipality within 200 miles had to have their fire department and police department represented in addition to what was probably 300 Bolivians dressed in a terrifyingly bright array of costumes that made absolutely no sense to me whatsoever. It was actually a lot of fun and we got free American flags. There were tons of Ben Franklins, floats, monks, asian community groups, mascots, and more firemen and officers from New Jersey and Pennsylvania. It was silly and fun.
Later we decided to fullfill my husbands nagging curiosity and trekked in search of the famous philly cheesesteak. It was actually a long walk, mostly in the sun (which made me think about how in New York we are rarely in the sun because the buildings are so tall) but we made it to the corner where both Geno’s and Pat’s are located. They were surprisingly small but busy. We scored a table at both locations and dug into our treasures. Only they weren’t that good. I don’t mean to blaspheme but that is not what I grew up imagining them to taste like. We walked through an area that was supposed to be the Italian area but it was really a bunch of Mexican bodegas and like 2 Italian restaurants.
After finally checking into our hotel and taking a short respite we went out again to the WAWA Welcome America Party on the Parkway which is basically an outdoor festival leading up to a free concert leading up to a huge fireworks display. It was fun but it was also a little like every other outdoor festival just in a different city. You know, funnel cakes, hamburgers, italian ice, someone trying to sell newspaper subscriptions. After walking the festival we found a shady bench to wait for the fireworks. As time passed we chatted & did some people watching. There were some people at a nearby bench opening 6 pack after 6 pack which I feel was likely illegal, a guy near us gathered a crowd as he did his spray paint art, a couple of ingenuitive women had a couple of coolers full of ice and kept refilling it with bottled water that they were selling for $1 each from the comfort of their lawn chairs. Actually there were tons of people in Philly selling both water and pretzels from grocery carts. A couple napped in the grass until some kids who I have termed hooligans tossed their contraband fireworks near them as they made their mad dash to avoid the officers that approached on hearing their fireworks suddenly going off more than once.
The concert leading up to the fireworks was pretty awesome. We chose positions pretty far back so that we could avoid the inevitable crush of the crowd and manage to exit whenever we wanted to but the audio was still great and the video screen was awesome. The Roots were the backing band and DJ Jazzy Jeff made a surprise appearance which was fun since we’d been joking all day that Paul looked like Will Smith in his ridiculous America hat. Then when we thought it was over Lauren Hill came out and did a set too! Oh and a ruckus broke out right beside us wherein a gap formed in the crowd and some guys face was firmly pressed against the concrete by an officer’s knee as he was getting handcuffed. Somehow though we made it back to our hotel safe by opting to walk rather than squeeze onto the train with thousands of other revelers. We got a decent night’s sleep before starting our tour of Philly again in the morning. More on that later…