Friday, September 5, 2014

NYC Day #3 - Gray's Papaya/Breslin

The influx of calories from the last two days of dining began catching up with us on Day #3. Yesterday, I had only halfheartedly threatened to avoid breakfast, but this time, I was deadly serious and fully prepared to get by on just a handful or two of EMP granola (which had somehow improved with age - boy, those guys are good). Our schedule today included a switch of hotels from 38th Street to Times Square, then a trek on the A-Train up the west side along with hordes of Yankees fans (the Bronx Bombers had an afternoon tilt) until we reached the Cloisters, a replica of a medieval castle built in the 1930s by John D. Rockefeller, Jr. on the very northern tip of Manhattan Island. The castle was slated to display the wealthy family's many European artifacts and was actually built using parts of several ancient churches and abbeys (sort of like assembling a giant jigsaw puzzle from pieces that weren't intended to go together); nowadays, it's owned and operated by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Anyway, rather than attempt to consume a sit-down lunch, we instead made a detour to what's arguably NYC's best hot dog, Gray's Papaya (2090 Broadway), for a bite on the way.

Opened by Paul Gray, a former owner of Papaya King (hence the name), in 1973, there's not much to the stand or the menu at this colorful-yet-no-frills shop. The hot dogs are grilled on a little rotisserie and come with sauerkraut and/or onions (in the form of a tomato-based onion sauce manufactured by Sabrett, the same maker of the hot dogs) by request. Cheese costs extra, but brown mustard (which you can add from the large dispenser on the counter) does not. Besides hot dogs, Gray's is also known for its non-alcoholic tropical fruit drinks (somewhere between a shake and a smoothie in consistency), especially the papaya.

I ordered two of the "Recession Specials" (two dogs and a drink for only $4.95), one each for me and the missus, and walked back to Central Park, where she was waiting for me on a bench. The hot dogs are longer than those typically served in Chicago and have a nice snap from the casing. I found the onion sauce to be a little peculiar and the papaya drink to be something of an acquired taste (I liked Mrs. Hackknife's coconut champagne much better), but I can certainly see why New Yorkers are proud of these - they made a fine and inexpensive meal (an important consideration given how much we'd spent on food in the last 48 hours).

After the hot dogs, I managed to stave off hunger with just a bottle of water until around mid-afternoon, when we found ourselves back on the upper west side not far from our friends' apartment. As luck would have it, they only live about 2 blocks away from one of the now 5 NYC locations of David Chang's Momofuku Milk Bar (when I last visited the city in 2010, we stopped by the original and then-sole MMB shop in the east village - apparently, M. Chang's bakery venture is doing very well), so we ducked in to grab a little nourishment.

This particular store is located at 87th and Columbus, but all of the MMBs are serving seasonal soft serve, specifically cereal milk flavor (where the ice cream is made from milk that's been steeping in toasted corn flakes - deceptively simple, yet genius).  Unable to pass on this goodie, I ordered mine with an extra coating of sweet corn flakes for added texture.  Mrs. Hackknife got a small slice of the infamous house crack pie, which we ate during our first MMB encounter in 2010 and is still a sinful, custardy mess (and, truth be told, outshined my cereal milk soft serve).

The final dinner of our weekend trip was the most downscale of the 3, but no less anticipated. Ever since we saw Chef April Bloomfield at the Cayman Cookout in 2012, I'd been jonesing to try one of her restaurants and this was finally our opportunity to do so. The Breslin is a modern British gastropub inside the hipper-than-thou Ace Hotel (16 W. 29th Street) serving many of our favorite food items, especially beer, red meat, and shellfish (I know, what's not to like?). Being the good host, Adam joined us again to help out in consuming the bounty set before us on the table.

Our little group first ordered some small plates to share: a curried goat pasty with yogurt, red onion, and cucumber, a set of scrumpets (basically ground seasoned lamb meat that's been breaded and deep fried) with mint vinegar, and a seafood sausage (stuffed with Lord knows what) with beurre blanc and chives, all of them amazing and all of them obliterated in short order (and, in my case, washed down with a Captain Lawrence Liquid Gold beer).

Since man cannot live on appetizers alone, the missus and I agreed to split an entree of a chargrilled lamb burger with feta, cumin mayo, and thrice cooked chips (being a marathoner and much more diligent about maintaining his good health than us, Adam ordered his own lamb burger), plus a side of roasted cauliflower. While it's a bit hyperbolic to characterize the Breslin's lamb burger (cooked medium-rare, by the way) and chips as life-changing, I have no problem advising anyone to eat this (and, frankly, anything else on the menu) as your death row last meal.

I voted against dessert, but was overruled. A homemade cookie platter seemed to be the safest route and we somehow found a way to nibble all 9 of these down (not without some effort, I might add).

Desperately in need of exercise again, we skipped the cab ride back to the hotel in favor of a long walk up Broadway back to Times Square. With only 2 meals left to go before my return to Florida tomorrow, I began to see the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel (which was partially obscured by bagels and hamburgers) that was our weekend dining excursion...

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