09/28/15 9:00am
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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…)

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06/12/15 4:02pm
Photo: Antonio DePietro

The Louis Armstrong House Museum is a time capsule in Queens where you can see how the singer, nicknamed Satchmo, lived his life. Photo: Antonio De Pietro

My 5-year-old son’s class is performing the song “It’s A Wonderful World” at his school’s end of the year graduation party. So when I found out about the Louis Armstrong House Museum in Corona, Queens, I knew it would be a timely way to get in some music history. Little did I know that we would both be completely enthralled with the experience.

Your kids will be begging to bake cookies in this inspirational kitchen. Photo: Courtesy of Louis Armstrong House Museum

Your kids will be begging to bake cookies in this inspirational kitchen. Photo: Courtesy of Louis Armstrong House Museum

Unlike other museums that we’ve explored, this is more like a preserved time capsule. The museum is housed in an unassuming brick townhouse on a side street in Corona, Queens that was bought by the singer with his wife Lucille in 1943. The house, their furniture, and artifacts from their life remain in place, as if waiting for the Armstrongs to stroll back in one day and play a tune. Admittance to the museum is through a guided tour, which runs every hour on the hour. When we arrived there was another group of two families already in line, with kids ranging from about 2-12 (whose older son attends the I.S. 227 Louis Armstrong school in Queens). This is not a particularly kid-friendly museum, as you’re not allowed to touch all of the strange and beautiful things in the house. But the kids all seemed to really enjoy it, and the passionate tour guide made a point of including facts geared towards the young.

The wood paneled den is where Louis Armstrong made all of his collection of home recordings. Photo: Courtesy of Louis Armstrong House Museum

The wood paneled den is where Louis Armstrong made all of his collection of home recordings. Photo: Courtesy of Louis Armstrong House Museum

We started in the circa 1955 living room right next to a Leroy Neiman painting of a saxophonist. We learned that Louis met his wife, Lucille, at the Cotton Club, where she was a dancer. At the time they lived here, Louis traveled over 300 days out of the year, so Lucille had a lot of time alone in the house (and a lot of money) to decorate. What a brilliant job she did; the house is the height of 50’s/60s interior design. The blue kitchen is filled with custom built-in’s, like the double oven, and hideaway paper towel and tinfoil holders. The bathroom is lavishly decorated with mirrors and gold swan handles, and the walk-in closet is blinding with shiny mylar wallpaper (even on the ceiling). Yet, among all the finery, the rooms feel intimate and livable. The most unique part of the tour is the doorbell-like buttons on the walls, that when pushed, fill the rooms with the home recordings of Louis and Lucille’s banter and music. We heard Louis having dinner with friends in the dining room, telling jokes in the hallway, and practicing his trumpet in an alcove. My son was surprised to hear the legendary singer describe how he found the inspiration for “It’s A Wonderful World” through the diversity of the Corona neighborhood.

The Louis Armstrong House Museum's garden will be the perfect place to dance the summer away. Photo: Courtesy of Louis Armstrong House Museum

The Louis Armstrong House Museum’s garden is the perfect place to dance the summer away at their Summer Concert Series. Photo: Courtesy of Louis Armstrong House Museum

Throughout the tour, we saw many photos of Louis Armstrong hanging out with the neighborhood kids. Our tour guide regaled us with amazing stories of how Louis let kids watch Westerns on his TV, while Lucille brought them sweet tea to drink. One Christmas, he loaded all the children from the block into his tour bus and brought them all to visit Santa at Macy’s.

The last leg of the tour brought us out to the Japanese-inspired garden on the side of the house. The Armstrongs had built a small stage and a Koi pond, and performed concerts here during their lives. The museum staff carries on this tradition with a free summer concert series throughout July and August.

Finally, we strolled through the gift store that sells everything from jazz-inspired mugs to Armstrong’s favorite laxative, Swiss Kriss. It’s hard to imagine who might buy this here, but it was yet another instance of the way this museum allowed us to peek behind the curtain of a legend and find the intimacies of a great man who was inspired by his neighborhood.

We got a taste of Corona with lunch at Tortilleria Nixtamal, a colorful restaurant famous for their tortillas which are made fresh every day. My son enjoyed pork and pineapple tacos, while I indulged in some spicy shrimp. On a lazy afternoon, their porch is the perfect place to enjoy a mango margarita, and think to yourself, what a wonderful world.

Louis Armstrong House Museum– 34-56 107th Street, Corona Queens 718-478-8274 Hours: Tuesday- Friday: 10:00-5:00pm, Saturday: 12:00pm- 5:00pm. The last tour of the day is at 4:00pm. No appointment necessary. Admission: Adults $10; Seniors, students and children $7; Children under 4: free. Subway: Take the 7 train to 103 St- Corona Plaza

Upcoming events:

Sunday June 21st: Father’s Day With Pops 12pm-4pm free

Saturday July 4th: Hot Jazz/ Cool Garden Summer Concert Series with The Ladybugs (red beans ‘n rice & sweet tea included) 2pm $18

Saturday July 18th: Hot Jazz/ Cool Garden Summer Concert Series with Jon-Erik Kellso & Friends (red beans ‘n rice & sweet tea included) 2pm $18

Saturday August 15th: Hot Jazz/ Cool Garden Summer Concert Series with Cynthia Sayer & Her Sparks Fly Quartet (red beans ‘n rice & sweet tea included) 2pm $18

Thursday August 20: Jazzmobile Block Party featuring Grammy Nominated Bobby Sanabria in Concert 4:00pm- 8:30pm free

Tortilleria Nixtamel, 104-05 47th Avenue Corona, Queens Hours: Monday- Wednesday: 11am- 7pm; Thursday: 11am-9pm; Friday- Saturday: 11am- 11pm; Sunday 11am-9pm

04/03/15 11:08am

we0dc1-KqLZliwmf9jmem91CxZltsj2Javmo1Tq7ZVMIf you yearn to be an Angelina Jolie globetrotting mom like I do, but can’t deal with immunization shots or expired passports, it’s time to book your family’s round trip ticket to Queens using Andrea Lynn’s incredible guidebook/cookbook, Queens: A Culinary Passport: Exploring Ethnic Cuisine in New York City’s Most Diverse Borough. In it, she profiles all of the different foodie neighborhoods in this multiethnic borough through well-researched chapters that explore its diverse restaurants, food trucks and other undiscovered hidden gems.

My husband, our two friends and our 5-year-old son had the best Sunday ever following her walking tour of the Himalayan neighborhood haunts of Jackson Heights. Along the way we learned how to make roti (which figures as prominently in Nepalese and Tibetan cuisine as it does in Caribbean food), tasted exotic foods, and explored very hard-to-find restaurants.

We started our tour at Dhaulagiri Kitchen, which we would have missed otherwise since the sign outside actually says Tawa Food, but the staff quickly made us feel at home in their kitchen and introduced us to their homemade roti. Next, we found our way up a flight of stairs and pulled aside a curtain, to arrive at Phayul, where we ate shredded raw potatoes and sausage. Continuing onward (albeit after a couple of wrong turns), we walked through a cell phone store to a dumpling speakeasy called Tibet Mobile, where we tried pillowy “momos.” Speeding through Casa Rivera, a Mexican deli, I picked up a huge bag of animal crackers for my son and stocked up on frozen arepas. Finally, we walked a few more blocks to La Neuva Bakery, an enormous Uruguayan bakery where our bloated stomachs made room for bites of dulce de leche arrollado, and cafe con leche and juice for my son. While many patrons were content watching soccer on the televisions, we were mesmerized by the guitar player sweetly serenading the restaurant from a corner. Like any overseas trip, we were inspired, invigorated and satiated by our travels, but unlike any other vacation, we were only a twenty minute ride back to Brooklyn.

Recently I spoke to author Andrea Lynn about our excursion, and she gave me further tips on the neighborhood (including where to see live frogs), advice about ordering at restaurants, and even a Jackson Heights-inspired recipe to make with kids at home. (more…)

09/29/14 11:54am

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There are a few things to know before heading to Ozone Park to eat at Don Peppe, one of New York’s classic red sauce Italian restaurants. They don’t take reservations. Cash only. Everything is served family style, so it’s best experienced in a group (but the maximum party size is 12). There are two kinds of wine on the menu, red and white, both come chilled in carafes, and both are a little sweet. It’s not easy to get here. The room isn’t fancy–it’s brightly lit, has a drop ceiling and is lined with photos of horses and jockey jerseys from the nearby Aquaduct Racetrack. Their cult menu item, Chicken Chinese, pales in comparison to other dishes. 

In short, it’s a real New York experience in a city full of carefully curated New American restaurants with farcically elaborate menus and trendy ingredients. And the food is ridiculously good.

(more…)

09/12/14 10:00am
Moving away from Williamsburg requires a gentrification tag sale. Photo: Judy McGuire

You’ll find genuine artifacts of middle-class life, plus plenty of vitriol at a gentrification tag sale. Photo: Judy McGuire

After 20 years in Brooklyn I was finally priced out of my borough this summer—much like I’d been priced out of Manhattan two decades earlier. It’s a typical NYC story, but unlike the couples profiled in the most recent eye-roller of a NY Times story on the phenom, my man and I weren’t in a position to lick our wounds in a $500k Jersey City loft.

While Williamsburg has been the butt of five bazillion jokes, I was born in New Jersey, so I’m used to being at the ass-end of a funny. Yes, Bedford Avenue has fancy cheeses and boys in too-tight, ill-fitting women’s skinny slacks to mock, but I’d lived there for two decades and I was kind of attached to the four walls I’d painted loud colors, to the ridiculously specific restaurants, to the little community my neighbors and I had become. I mean, how lucky was I to have one of my closest friends in the same building, just one floor away?

Growing up, my family moved around every few years, so until I landed on North 11th Street, I never really had any place that I considered home. But this place was big enough for one person (though it eventually housed two humans, and three felines) and cheap enough that I could afford it on my own, which was key as a freelancer with a rollercoaster-like income. After five or six years, I started to consider it my home and instead of freaking out at the commitment, I liked it.

I loved it, actually. (more…)