Growing up with the Daily Treat

FAMILY, FOOD & DRINK, LIFE

I don’t remember the first time I stepped foot in the Daily Treat.

I was young enough, actually, that my parents probably carried me into the restaurant, young enough that I didn’t eat but slept quietly at their side. I’m guessing I was about two weeks old.

My parents have loved the Daily Treat since before I was born.

Back in 1987, over sandwiches and salads with the real estate broker, they discussed their future in this quaint commuter town right outside of Manhattan. I think the charm of the restaurant drew my mom to Ridgewood, a place where she knew no one and would be alone most nights while my dad worked long hours at a nearby hospital. She was 24.

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Photo: dailytreatrestaurant.com

Looking through the Daily Treat’s large windows facing Ridgewood Avenue, my mom watched young mothers with strollers walking by. Even though the rest of her family lived on Long Island, where she grew up, she began to picture a new life in New Jersey. In a way, my history with the restaurant began right then.

The Daily Treat has been around for more than 50 years and is a constant in a village that’s constantly changing. As newer, hipper restaurants and shops have moved to town, the Daily Treat has stayed put. For me, it’s a place of comfort. I always order the same thing: eggs and toast or chicken fingers with thick-cut fries. I know when I walk in I’ll see one of the Greek owners, Gus or John, standing behind the checkout desk, greeting customers at the door.

It’s funny how places, just like people, can be there for every milestone of your life.

The Daily Treat was where we’d go with both sets of grandparents after concerts, dance recitals and graduations. It’s where my brother and I complained about ordering off the kids menu and then insisted on ordering off the kids menu, as soon as we were too old.

DailyTreatRestaurant.jpg

Photo: Foursquare

In the sixth grade, the Daily Treat was the first place my friend Jolene and I went “alone”. We dressed up in our best Abercrombie & Fitch outfits, packed our faux leather purses and smeared on lip gloss before walking the half mile to town. I remember the sense of independence we felt going to a restaurant without parents. To us, this was the first step to being grown up.

In high school, the Daily Treat was a respite from the stress of exams and too many extracurriculars. I’d go with large groups, either during an extended lunch or straight after school. I remember seeing groups of middle schoolers and thinking about how young they looked. Do these kids even know how to split a bill? How are they here alone? At some point it occurred to me that we used to be just like them, a giggling gang of sixth grade girls sharing a couple orders of fries. Looking back, I’m surprised the owners tolerated us.

I spent my college years in Indiana and a summer out in Toledo, Ohio, where I was a reporter for a local paper. My job took me across cornfields and through downtrodden Midwest towns where the sense of decay was palpable. I was lonely – most of my friends were interning in New York City that summer – but while on assignment I found comfort at diners that reminded me of Daily Treat, diners that reminded me of home.

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Photo: Dave D., Yelp.com

I still go back to the restaurant a few times a year – it’s where my childhood friend Laura and I catch up when we’re both in town. The place hasn’t changed much, though they now have al fresco dining and fancier-sounding menu items like Grilled Portobello Salad and Prosciutto Caprese Wrap. Over refill after refill of coffee we talk about our jobs, relationships and families. Sometimes we stay for three hours but no one ever rushes us, interrupting only to pour more coffee into the small white mugs.

It’s strange to think I’m already a year older than my mom was when she and Dad settled down in Ridgewood, yet I’m nowhere near as settled. Sometimes, when I’m at the Daily Treat I can almost see my parents sitting at the booth by the window, leaning into their drinks and one another other, exhilarated by the thought of starting their life together in this pretty village outside of New York City. Wondering how long it takes to thread yourself into the fabric of a community, how long it takes to call a place home.


Read more about the Daily Treat and its history here. 

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Bye-Bye Benny’s

FOOD & DRINK, NEWS, NYC

Benny’s Burritos is closing tomorrow at the age of 26.

My heart sank when I heard this news. For someone who’d only had a margarita here once, late at night with a few friends, my sadness may seem exaggerated. But only recently I’d passed the Avenue A and East 6th Street corner where Benny’s stands, thinking, “That was a great place – I should go back sometime.” The problem is, Benny’s isn’t so much a place you go to but a place you stumble upon. And I never stumbled there again.

I’d only been to Benny’s once but knew it had history. The East Village gem opened its doors to the late ‘80s downtown scene where artist-types roamed the streets looking for a post-club bite. With its bright-colored walls and 1960s artifacts, Benny’s was always a bit kitschy, but that was part of its appeal. As New York Magazine wrote in 1990, “Benny’s Burritos is a rare find: a scene with no attitude.”

burritos

Photo by circlealine

These days Chipotles pop up all over Manhattan, but just 25 years ago the burrito wasn’t a fast food go-to. In fact, its rise has been fairly recent. Burritos existed at chili parlors, the burrito joint’s predecessor, but were slender, manageable tubes of rice and meat rather than the monstrous creations we know today. Benny’s was a big-burrito pioneer back when “Mexicali food was as rare as an East Village stockbroker,” according to New York Magazine.

Owner Mark Merker told EV Grieve “the world has changed” since he first opened Benny’s in 1988. Business has been good, but costs keep rising and competition from franchises like Chipotle doesn’t help.

OK, it’s not quite true that Benny’s is closing – it’s downsizing. Benny’s is shuttering its restaurant space and keeping just the takeout counter. (Its sister restaurant, Harry’s Burritos on the Upper West Side, will also close.) But for me this may as well mean the end of Benny’s – it was all about atmosphere. With a proliferation of other food options in the East Village, from fancy fries to authentic tacos, I don’t envision stopping at the takeout counter for a just-OK burrito.

orderbennysburritos.com

orderbennysburritos.com

The Twitterverse agrees, one customer lamenting, “it was never about the burritos (average) but the great sidewalk scene.” Reading other reactions on Twitter, it’s clear the burrito joint played a role in many New Yorkers’ formative years:

Benny’s will always be the taste of being 19, broke and spending my last $20 on a margarita and burrito

Mass foreclosure on my early NYC memories continues. Ate many a meal at Benny’s in late ’80s/’90s

Heard last night that Benny’s Burritos on Ave A is closing. End of an era in NYC

This one hurts.

I can’t claim the same disappointment as customers who frequented Benny’s during “Rent” years. But I’m sad for what it represents – continued rent hikes forcing a generation of beloved restaurants to downsize or shut down completely. Casual gathering spots like Benny’s, where the people and not the food take center stage, make New York what it is.

Benny’s had character and building character takes time.

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The reality is that the city changes and we want it all – the new and the old. It’s sort of a paradox, isn’t it? New Yorkers are totally obsessed with newness – clothes, food, music – but gripe when change occurs to our New York. We feel protective over our visions of the city and the places within them that feel like home. For many people that cheap Mexican spot on Avenue A was one of those places, so despite more than 20,000 other New York restaurants and countless other burrito joints, it’s impossible not to feel loss.

Bye-bye, Benny’s. Your margaritas were strong and your guac not particularly memorable. But you’ll live on in my idea of New York, the one I’ll hold dear when I’m older and reminiscing about the city “back then.” I’ll remember the tequila bliss and late night chatter, the contagious laughter of a few good friends sitting on worn vinyl bar stools. I’ll remember it was you, Benny’s, even though it could have been anywhere. 

“I’ll have what she’s having.”

FOOD & DRINK

Yes, I finally made my first trip to the legendary Katz’s Deli.

My grandpa and I had been talking about doing this for awhile. Back in the day, his father owned a dairy restaurant around the corner (on Stanton and Ludlow) called Max’s Luncheonette. Grandpa would tell us stories about working at the store–it’s where he met my grandmother, who worked nearby and was a lunchtime regular.

I thought it would be fun for grandpa to meet me and my cousins in the city, head down to the Lower East Side, have a nice fat sandwich from 125-year-old Katz’s and walk around the old neighborhood.

ludlow Well in the months since the idea first came about, word spread throughout the family and by last week 13 of us were on board. Not wanting to worry about parking in the congested Lower East Side, my grandpa ordered a van that began its journey in Central Jersey, picked up my family in North Jersey, made a pit stop at my apartment in Hell’s Kitchen and finally dropped us off on Ludlow Street.

Yes, we took a limo to Katz’s, and it was fabulous.

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The scene inside was nothing short of madness. Staff at the door handed each one of us blue tickets and made sure we knew to hold on to them–there’s a $50 fee if you lose it. (Your ticket is your check. Each time you order a dish your ticket is marked and you pay on your way out.)

From there we tried to figure out seating. Katz’s doesn’t take reservations so we immediately put in our name for table service, but were told they couldn’t seat our large party for at least another hour. So a few of us went to the back to stalk tables as parties finished up, eventually pouncing on a long table near the soda station.

From there more confusion ensued. Which line is for sandwiches and which is for drinks? Where can we get extra napkins? Are we even in a line right now or just stuck in a giant mass of tourists?

My brother and I split off from the group and ordered a pastrami sandwich to split, fries and pickles. It was amazing watching our server expertly slice the meat, spread on mustard and slice the sandwich in a matter of seconds. Katz’s is one of the few delis left in New York where they still carve their meat by hand, and they move FAST. According to a Daily News article, Katz’s serves 15,000 pounds of pastrami, 8,000 pounds of corned beef and 4,000 hot dogs each week.

That’s a whole lot of meat.

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But while the deli is known for its heaping sandwiches, its other “noshes” are top notch too. Egg and tuna salads. Potato knishes. Matzo ball soup. Split pea soup. Egg creams. Every Jewish deli staple you can think of can be found at Katz’s, each serving large enough to feed a family.

Everything I tried was amazing. Even my grandpa, who hadn’t eaten red meat in years, tasted a little slice of pastrami (although it took some coaxing, as the picture displays).

grandpa

As we finished up my grandpa gathered all the tickets, stuffed them in his shirt pocket, walked up to the front of the restaurant and treated us to lunch. He’s the best.

The rest of us followed and noticed this sign as we headed out the door. Sadly, the girl sitting in the “When Harry Met Sally” chair right below wasn’t quite as enthusiastic about her food as Sally was.

harrymetsally

Despite the crowds and initial confusion, we all had a wonderful afternoon at Katz’s Deli. I loved just being together, something we don’t do as often as we should. I hear my grandpa is already brainstorming our next New York City outing.

I’ve passed Katz’s many times during nights out at the bars on Stanton or trips downtown for brunch, and it’s definitely been on my bucket list to try. But sharing the experience with my grandpa, for me, was a peek into history. I tried to imagine the Lower East Side as Grandpa described it, crowded with shoppers and street peddlers, much noisier and grittier than it is today.

I imagine that as noon came around, many of those shoppers momentarily pondered whether to stop in for a midday sandwich at Katz’s or go just around the corner for eggs and toast at Max’s Luncheonette.

Read more about the history of Katz’s here.

An Unlikely Moment At Trader Joe’s

FOOD & DRINK, LIFE, NYC

Anyone who’s shopped at a New York City Trader Joe’s knows the checkout line can be a nightmare.

Such was the case last Sunday around 2 p.m. I had gathered up my usual TJ items and took my place among the long line of groaning New Yorkers waiting to get on with their days.

A cheery sign assured us: “Thinking twice about waiting in this line? Well with 29 registers…You’ll be in front of them in no time!” But “no time” seems like hours when a sunny Sunday waits just beyond the doors.

Then I saw a little old lady move up through the line. She was led by a Trader Joe’s associate who looked like a college student—there had to be 70 years between them but they talked like good friends.

“April 21st, 1922 I was born,” the lady said proudly as she walked past me, her voice much stronger than her body.

This statement caught the attention of some other people on the line. What’s happening? Where is she going? Curiosity got the better of us and we craned our heads to see what was going on. We watched as the associate led the lady around the snaking line and brought her right up to the first open cash register.

Then something happened that I rarely see on checkout lines: people smiled. Not just to their friends and spouses but to strangers, too. We admired the good deed and the lady’s vitality, sharing a moment before returning to the pressing needs of our iPhones.

I wondered why the old lady shops here as opposed to the less crowded stores of the Upper West Side. She appeared to only be buying for one, after all. But then I imagined her, in her younger days, rushing around a market or going from butcher shop to dairy shop in a crowded neighborhood of Brooklyn. I could see her haggling, yelling her order, pushing through crowds.

Maybe, to her, the chaos is home.

Ninety-two and still kickin’. I wanted to know this woman’s story, to find out her name, but alas she was on her way up the escalators with a bag in each hand as I stood there surrounded by produce, stuck in time.

A low-key Sunday birthday

COFFEE, FOOD & DRINK, NYC

I love Sunday mornings.

But they’re even better when it’s your birthday.

irvingfarm

On Sunday I woke up on the early side and spent the morning doing one of my favorite things: relaxing at a coffee shop. I’d been meaning for awhile to check out Irving Farm Coffee Roasters in the Upper West Side, a spot my roommate had recommended but I’d been reluctant to go to since they don’t have wifi.

But today was my birthday. Who needs work? Who needs wifi?

I took the 1 train uptown and the shop was just around the corner from the 79th Street stop. I could tell immediately it was popular from the line out the door. Irving Farm bustled with Upper West Siders getting their pre and post workout coffee fixes, young families gathering for quick breakfasts before church, and older couples quietly reading The New York Times.

I waited on line for nearly 15 minutes just to order coffee, something I typically wouldn’t have patience for–but time is one of the great luxuries of Sunday mornings.

And I have to say, the quality of the coffee and the ample seating space made it worth it.

They also serve all their cold drinks in mason jars (don’t ask me why but that’s a game changer).

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After getting my dark roast I grabbed a seat in the back corner, opened my notebook, and did some writing. Irving Farm’s lively atmosphere made it a great place to people watch. I’ll definitely be going back!

Then, because I love coffee so much, I met my friend Grace for more coffee at Aroma a few blocks away. Aroma is an Israeli coffee chain that I discovered a few summers back while working at the Garden State Mall. One of Aroma’s first U.S. stores had opened up next to the Lord & Taylor where I was a sales associate, so each day I got my midday caffeine fix at the trendy new spot.

But having just returned from a trip to Israel where Aroma is as ubiquitous as Starbucks is in the U.S., Aroma now has a nostalgia factor for me. I immediately noticed Israeli accents when I walked in, and I overheard two women near us discussing the conflict in Gaza. Sitting on the covered rooftop, it was easy to believe I was back in Israel.

aroma

Grace and I spent about an hour at Aroma, chatting about our vacations and summer plans. After that I walked back to my apartment from the Upper West, then went for a run.

In the evening, my family came into the city and we ate at Rosa Mexicano near Lincoln Center. Margaritas, fresh-made guacamole, enchiladas, and family.

Perfect way to end the day.

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Given my ultra-caffeinated day, my sister’s birthday card to me was all too appropriate.

Why iced coffee costs more

FOOD & DRINK

I read an interesting article today on Grubstreet about why iced coffee costs more.

Broken down into a few major points:

1. Unlike bodegas and diners which just add ice to their hot java, better coffee shops use a cold-brew method to make iced coffee. But cold-brewing (steeping grounds in room temperature filtered water for 12-24 hours) requires more coffee. In the end, a cold brew uses 62 cents worth of coffee and a hot cup uses about 35 cents.

2. THE  CUPS. Those clear plastic cups that sweat on a hot summer day? They’re more expensive than the paper ones. Paper cups cost about six cents while the plastic ones can go up to 12 cents a pop.

3. Straws. Customers might think nothing of grabbing one of the hundreds of straws sitting in a dispenser, each of which cost one to two cents. But that adds up when you’re selling a lot of coffee.

4. Napkins. The aforementioned sweaty plastic cup means customers will grab a handful of napkins on their way out to grip the cold drink. And usually more than they really need (I’m guilty of that.)

5. Renting an ice machine costs $12/day. But if the ice machine breaks? Ice bags en masse from Gristedes, and they’re not cheap!

The good news for coffee shop owners? Hot coffee goes bad in about 30 minutes, but the cold-brewed concentrate can last up to a week. More bang for your buck…just don’t tell the customers.

So there you have it. All variables considered, iced coffee costs about 80 cents more than a comparable cup of hot.

It’s a summer survival tool that’s well worth the markup.

10 Essential Tools for the Modern Writer

COFFEE, CREATIVE WRITING, FOOD & DRINK, QUOTES, TECHNOLOGY

Laptop. Coffee. Water. All a writer needs for a long day of creative composition, right?

Sitting in my favorite Cool Beans today, I thought about the most important things for my productivity as a writer.  I’ve been writing creatively, almost innately, since I was very young, but I realized I needed these “tools” when I began thinking of writing as a craft or a profession.

Essential tools in my writer’s toolbox (besides coffee, water and laptop) 

1. Books: It doesn’t matter whether they’re digital or print. Reading is absolutely vital for good writing. A writer who doesn’t read is like a musician who doesn’t practice or an athlete who doesn’t train.  There is almost no chance for growth.

2. Internet: Maybe there was a day, way back in 1990, when access to the Internet wasn’t important for the modern writer. Nowadays, I get significant inspiration from flipping through random writing blogs, The New Yorker fiction archives, magazines and online newspapers. That being said, the Internet can sometimes be detrimental to the writing process.  Author Zadie Smith suggests working on a computer that’s disconnected to the Internet. I don’t totally agree, but when it’s time to get down to the really hard stuff, the Internet can be counterproductive.

3. Coffee shops: For me, coffee shops make the perfect environment for writing. I need the stimulation of conversation and buzzing espresso machines. I also need a place that’s quiet enough for me to isolate myself with headphones.

4. Notepad. Again, whether it’s an iPhone or a Moleskin, that doesn’t matter. What does matter is that I always something on hand to jot down ideas or paragraphs when the muse strikes.

5. Thesaurus. Let’s face it: no writer always has the perfect word to describe their perfect image. The thesaurus is a fabulous writer’s tool for constructing with words the image already constructed in your mind.

7. Music. The way runners have pump-up playlists, most writers use a playlist of songs to help them transition into a writing mood. Sometimes it’s very difficult to go from the mindset of rushed every day life to the very patient, isolated and introverted mindset of writing.  Music is also one of the best tools for climbing out of the trenches of writer’s block.

–> What are your essential writing tools?

ND Magazine: Looking out, looking over

FOOD & DRINK, LIFE, NOTRE DAME, NYC, OPINION, PUBLISHED WORK

Author’s Note: this article was first published in Notre Dame Magazine at magazine.nd.edu.
***

Looking out, looking over

BY SARA FELSENSTEIN ’12

After work one night in September I met up with a friend from Notre Dame, Meg, for drinks at a rooftop bar in New York City. We’d been talking about doing this for a while, getting to a rooftop bar before things got too busy and the summer passed right by. After consulting timeout.com and conversing via Facebook we chose The Press Lounge, located on the West Side and overlooking the Hudson River.

It was something to look forward to, something to break up the monotony of the week. And in a way, going to a nice bar like this after work on a weekday feels like a young-professional-in-New-York-City rite of passage.

We arrived around seven, ordered glasses of Pinot Grigio and took a prime spot facing the city to watch the sun set while we caught up on our new lives. We talked about how beautiful the city looked from this angle and how we hoped to never become one of those jaded New Yorkers who goes about life in such an irritated rush that the place loses its awe-inspiring quality.

Meg and I graduated from Notre Dame the same year and both grew up in New York City suburbs. We talked about college, of course, but it was strange how removed we felt from it after only three months as young alumni.

We realized there is a clear disjointedness to those two lives, college life in the Midwest and home life outside of New York City.

Those two lives don’t seamlessly meld into one another, but rather seem to be self-enclosed bubbles of months or years, sharing adjacent positions on the timelines of our recent pasts.

It’s odd too thinking that during those undergrad years, college was everything. Total immersion in papers, practices, clubs and parties meant I’d sometimes lose track of major news events, even family updates — as if all that mattered was Notre Dame.

Despite semesters in different countries, summers in various cities or breaks at home, as soon as we were back on campus and thrust into the regular workload, those other experiences faded.

It was like we had never left.

Then, all through senior year, our impending graduation was this distant siren growing louder by the month, but never quite loud enough to demand serious acknowledgement. Even weeks before graduation, some of us were still in denial it would happen.

If we remained firmly grounded in this place, in everything Notre Dame, how could we suddenly end up on the other side?

Of course, after summer break ends and students move back in — that’s when the reality of graduation really sets in.

I think that’s what Meg and I realized that September night at the rooftop bar, surrounded by dresses and suits and foreign accents, wondering how much this vibrant place surrounding us was actually our place. Letting go of the feeling that this could be any other summer we worked in the city, that our professional lives were just practice for later and we could still be going back and accepting that four years of college is actually a relatively small amount of time.

It’s hard to keep that perspective as a student, to really feel how short four years are.

Until they’ve passed.

So yes, college was dearly, dearly missed. But we were also thrilled with being in New York and completely in awe of the sights in front of us. We couldn’t stay out until 4 a.m., but there were no tests, papers or job applications in our immediate future.

We were “done for the day,” a brand new concept.

One that we very much liked.

Let’s Bring Back: The Cocktail Edition

BOOKS, CREATIVE WRITING, FOOD & DRINK

  SOURCE

Remember this post?

(Actually, I’ll be seriously impressed if you do.) “Classics & Cocktails” was one of my first, written shortly after I turned 21 in Toledo, Ohio last summer. I was bored and lonely in my apartment one day, flipping through some classic literature I’d taken out of the library. I felt like going out, but my fellow interns were working the night shift (we often had opposite schedules) and I had no one to have a drink with.

So naturally, I decided to Google my favorite authors’ favorite drinks and write a post about it.

Classic literature and classic cocktails: what a perfect combination.

Well over a year later, at a book sale at work the other week, I found this gem. Let’s Bring Back: The Cocktail Edition by Lesley M. M. Blume, a journalist and author based in New York City. The cover drew me in initially (isn’t it preettyy?) but the content pushed me to buy it. It’s basically an entire book of classic cocktail recipes, along with humorous anecdotes about each one, bits of history, quotes and poems.

The Chicago Tribune called it “a charming slip of a book…that quite deliciously and convincingly has the romantics among us pining for the ways of the dearly held past.”

Definitely my kind of thing.

My favorite page. Poets Dream: for a “literary” slumber.

In Ms. Blume’s introduction to the book, she writes:

“It’s great fun not only to revisit the stories behind the creation of these cocktails, but also to imagine the millions of narratives caused by drinking them. The following libations caused faces to be slapped, tears to be shed, babies to be made, fox trots and the Twist to be danced, marriage proposals to be uttered (and perhaps rescinded,) and so on.”

She continues, more seriously:

“The people who drank these drinks during the heights of their popularity did so for the same reasons we guzzle today’s trendy cocktails: to celebrate, to escape, to drown sorrows, to feel bigger, to feel glamorous–or feel nothing at all.”

As tongue in cheek as most of the book is, it also touches on the deeper theme of why people drink, why socializing over alcohol has persisted so strongly throughout history.

For now, Let’s Bring Back: The Cocktail Edition is tucked neatly into my bookshelf. But as soon as I have my own apartment in a city, I’m going to make use of this book and hold an epic throwback cocktail party, unapologetically artsy and decidedly literary.

Either that, or I’ll go find a way back to go back to the grandeur of 20s nightlife, Owen Wilson style.

Fictional Cheers, Hemingway.

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