02/23/17 9:14am

IMG_0448

The Lobster Shift is a monthly column by Kenneth R. Rosen that explores the city and its inhabitants in the hours between dusk and dawn.

Nothing had yet caught fire. After my late shift, I fell fast asleep.

I’d spent the night wandering in a haze, a low mist applied across the city invariably and without discretion. I stepped around patches and had nowhere to go but home, wondering whether there was somewhere for me to be and all I’d done was forgotten it. A strange tickle lapped at my neck and I felt like someone was behind me. I turned fast. No one was there, but every few steps along Queens Boulevard I took to turning back. Checking just in case.

Eventually I found my way home, careful as I crossed the streets, dodging headlights sponged in mist. I could see a police cruiser down the block, and counseled myself, No way, it’s not for you.

This state of paranoia never settles, and is often encouraged by the anonymity of nighttime. In my bones I feel an unshakable guilt, a teasing disruption in my liver and heart, a menace trapped inside my own menace. Sometimes I misplace it and then seeing a police officer sets it upon me. The paranoia stays and becomes second-nature. It is necessary to survival. I have lived with it always.

Someone once told me that if I were to look skyward more often, into the haze above Manhattan, I would come to see more, feel more grounded, become better situated and aware of these feelings inside this unnatural spree of concrete and metal. Hear something enough and it becomes your own philosophy. I heard those words—look up, dammit, look up!—and learned that my compass relied on the two towers that could be seen from almost anywhere–The Empire State and One World Trade. There are the pencil skyscrapers, light dribbling out the windows, but nothing like these. That’s where the collective hopeful ambitions come from. Excelsior!

My childhood in the city was spent looking down, navigating cracks in the sidewalks, bursting through crowds gathered at crosswalks. I had a fast pace, strode like I belonged, moved with a purpose and, for that reason, never gleaned much of the city. So I’m starting to look up these nights, pacing around on the streets, mindless and enthralled just the same. It’s when I am in this trance that I can peer up at these buildings and see inside them vignettes of lives I will never lead. (more…)

05/09/16 10:52am
2016-05-02 19.37.38

Coppelia hides in plain sight behind green plywood. Photo: Kenneth R. Rosen

The Lobster Shift is a monthly column by Kenneth R. Rosen that explores the city’s all-night eateries and their inhabitants.

All that’s good in New York is hidden behind scaffolding. This holds true for theaters, shops and eateries alike. Such is the case with Coppelia.

On 14th Street, between 8th and 9th Avenues, the pan-Latin diner is open twenty-four-seven and is in every way, with the slight exception of the soft-hued pastels and stylish tiling, no-nonsense. It offers Cuban diner stalwarts on plain white dishes with kitchen side towels for napkins. Order the pan con lechon ($9.95) and you get a plate with roasted pork, chicharron, picked red onion and chipotle mayo held between two slices of bread, no garnish, no salad, no fries or soup. Everything that you ordered and nothing more. An agreeable concision. On a recent Tuesday night I tried the tallarin verde ($18.95), fettuccine in a creamy basil sauce topped with cotija cheese and pisco-glazed shrimp, and it came piled on a plate, nothing more, nothing less.  (more…)

Brooklyn Based delivers free daily emails about the borough's best food, events, attractions and innovators. Get Brooklyn Based in your inbox--sign up here.

03/21/16 11:05am
Haandi is well loved by many of New York's cabdrivers. Photo: Jason Lam via Flickr

Haandi is well loved by many of New York’s cabdrivers. Photo: Jason Lam via Flickr

The Lobster Shift is a monthly column by Kenneth Rosen that explores the city’s all-night eateries and their inhabitants.

Curry Hill, midnight. A line of yellow, dimpled with the black vinyl dashing of New York City taxi cabs. A low hum of Urdu fills the sidewalk beneath a bright red sign that glows: Haandi. Beneath the sign are the words Pakistani, Indian & Bangladeshi Restaurant. Though out of my way (located close to the 28th Street stop on the 6 train), Haandi is usually open until 3am and serves hot food until the doors close.

Up the cracked stairs, into the small space, along the tables strewn with tin foil, plastic cups and plates, pages out of New York Awam and The Pakistan Post doubling as placemats, you’ll find humble South Asian cuisine at all hours, rife with spice in a neighborhood that prides itself on olfactory dominance.

This late-night cabby-haven is quite unlike Alpha Donuts in Queens, where many drivers stop for a meal at the conclusion of their shift. Founded in 2001, Haandi is wedged between a buffet and liquor store in a part of Manhattan (28th and Lexington) frequented most often by college students hustling from Baruch, or the financiers on Park Avenue. There are posh Indian restaurants across the street, but none with the same energy.  (more…)

01/25/16 1:04pm
The incredibly overwhelming menu at Hana Foods makes choosing just one sandwich tough work. Photo: Kenneth Rosen

The incredibly overwhelming menu at Hana Foods makes choosing just one sandwich tough work. Photo: Kenneth Rosen

The Lobster Shift is a monthly column by Kenneth Rosen that explores the city’s all-night eateries and their inhabitants.

The media mania over all things Brooklyn has finally slowed to a steady simmer of lifestyle pieces about pocket watches, monocles and mustache wax, and Williamsburg has almost been restored to what it has always been–just another neighborhood in a city that is constantly remaking itself, an urban palimpsest of dry cleaners, juice bars, boutiques and bodegas.

This is especially true along Metropolitan Avenue between Lorimer Street and Union Avenue, off the L-G stop. No place in Williamsburg more boldly embodies the juxtaposition of old and new. On the corner of Union and Metropolitan you’ll find Kellogg’s Diner, which once felt like a neighborhood institution and then suffered a tone-deaf, shiny retro renovation that left it neither authentically old school, nor on-message, hipster cool. There it sits uneasily, in the perennial shadow of sidewalk construction sheds. A block up, on the corner of Lorimer and Metropolitan, you’ll see Zona Rosa, another tin-can eatery that correctly hit the cool-kid mark with tacos and a rooftop bar. In between: Crest Hardware, beloved to the neighborhood for carrying everything from caulking guns to tomato plants and for being home to a pig named Franklin; JR & Sons, a dive bar plucked straight from a Dennis Lehane novel; Desert Island for your comic book needs; and Yola’s, a reliably mediocre, cheap Mexican joint that has sated countless hungover cravings for melted cheese and guacamole.

On two recent late-night dinner outings it hit me just how goddamn weird this stretch of Metropolitan is in its mix of old and new businesses, maybe because my two destinations could not have been more different: Sugarburg, and across the street Hana Food. (more…)

11/16/15 10:54am
Baklava and a martini--what else do you finish the night with? Photo: Kenneth Rosen

Baklava and a martini–what else do you finish the night with? Photo: Kenneth Rosen

The Lobster Shift is a monthly column by Kenneth Rosen that explores the city’s all-night eateries and their inhabitants.

At two a.m. the Empire State Building goes dark. I’ve seen the lights dim while wandering the city during or after my overnight Lobster Shift at a newsroom in Midtown. The lights extinguish and the skyline edges closer to the eerie Gotham that this city once was. The past lingers below, on darkened streets where cabbies sip from Anthora cups, couples clutch each other and stagger home, manholes puff scarves of steam beneath high-pressure sodium light fixtures–a nocturnal landscape that may soon disappear.

South of the Empire State in Madison Square Park, the mellow amber glow from the Met Life Tower’s gilded peak is the piece of Manhattan that persists after my exit to Queens–always visible during my nightly walks home through Sunnyside. Its glow is so insusceptible to dimming that I like to believe the luminescence of its bigger sibling uptown hides there overnight, waiting.

When I think of those two towers, I think about a time in New York that lingers after dark. Like North Stars, they lead me to where people are awake, where there’s revelry and, importantly, food. (more…)

Brooklyn Based delivers free daily emails about the borough's best food, events, attractions and innovators. Get Brooklyn Based in your inbox--sign up here.

09/28/15 9:00am
20150902_031905

The city’s lobster shift workers find sustenance when and where they can. Photo: Kenneth Rosen

My days begin after dark. I sleep in the dark, I wake in the dark, I work in the dark and, seemingly always, I eat in the dark.

For more than a year I’ve worked the Lobster Shift at The New York Times, a tenuous overnight stint at our office building in Times Square. The origins of the name are highly disputed, though it is agreed that the term appeared in the 1940s. My favorite story is that newspapermen would go out drinking and come in for their shift “boiled.” More probable is that “lobster” was slang for a fool in the early 19th century. From 9pm to 4am (more recently 8pm to 3am) I work on the News Desk, where editors work to put out the next day’s four or more editions and oversee the production of nytimes.com. None of us are ever boiled. Perhaps we’re just fools.

Any sort of digital work, deadline editing and reporting, means sitting for hours–and no lunch breaks. We eat when we can, where we can. Seamless and Grub Hub, for their numerous conveniences, are godsends. When I venture out, either mid-shift or after-hours, I find myself in search of culinary satisfaction in a city that’s up all night, and sometimes what I need, beyond a dry slice of $1-pizza or the chow mein that seems to be available at any hour, is something approximating a home-cooked meal. (more…)

Brooklyn Based delivers free daily emails about the borough's best food, events, attractions and innovators. Get Brooklyn Based in your inbox--sign up here.