Deli Experiences in New York City

If you have been to New Orleans, you may have experienced Mother’s. It is an institution and a scene, but one that is easily grasped. You enter at what appears to be the back door. This is a photo of the front, or exit, door.

You get in line, if indeed you have not already been in line that often extends outside at busy times (i.e., whenever it’s time to eat, which in New Orleans is any time at all, a reality Mother’s accommodates by serving breakfast all day). Upon entering the door, you get a menu and start reading fast in an attempt to grasp the vast array of offerings.

You may be struck right away by the presence of Debris on the menu. Debris is defined by the Cambridge Academic Content Dictionary as “broken or torn pieces left from the destruction of something larger,” giving as an example of use in a sentence: “After the tornado, debris from damaged trees and houses littered the town.”

That doesn’t sound too appetizing and clearly it must mean something else. Cambridge Press came close, but no cigar, probably because they’ve not been to New Orleans.

Anyway, Mother’s defines Debris on the menu, along with Black Ham that you simply have to try to appreciate:

Debris \ˈdā-ˈbrē\ n. The roast beef that falls into the au jus gravy in the pan while roasting in the oven. A Mother’s original. Black Ham \ˈblak ˈham\ n. The seasoned, caramelized crust sliced from the World’s Best Baked Ham. *Available in limited quantity, usually at breakfast.

You move through the line in a semi-orderly manner and when asked by the ladies behind the counter, you give your order. You pay up front, sit down and your order is delivered to your table.

But I digress. This post is not about New Orleans.

No, this is about Katz’s Delicatessen, established in 1888. Yes, that’s 1888. Katz’s sits at 205 E. Houston Street. By now most of you know that as Howston, not, never, absolutely not Hewston. Hewston is in Texas. Houston is in New York City. SoHo means “south of Houston,” which in Texas would mean the Gulf of Mexico or … oh fuhgeddaboudit.

So, we were talking about Katz’s. The place where the famous orgasm scene with Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan was filmed.

We went for Sunday lunch. The line was out the door until suddenly everyone was admitted at once. Inside, bedlam. A “scene,” if you will. How to explain. Even pictures do not convey the full impact.

Immediately upon entering you are handed a ticket with a loud verbal warning that if you lose the ticket before checking out at the end of your meal, you will pay $50 per ticket. “DO NOT LOSE YOUR TICKET!!” OK, I got it. Lose the ticket and you will be financially ruined when you check out. Maybe, I think, they won’t even let you leave if your credit’s bad. At your table, halfway back in the large room, over the roar of the crowd, you can still hear the warning up front to entering customers: “DO NOT LOSE YOUR TICKET!! YOU MUST HAVE YOUR TICKET WHEN YOU LEAVE!! DO NOT LOSE YOUR TICKET!!”

The concept of this place is that you order food you want at individual stations lined up along the right wall as you look in.

If possible, you do not want to sit near the food stations.

The man at the table next to ours had a wife and three kids, each of whom wanted different foods. He came and went perhaps six times, procuring food at different serving stations. To his wife, he finally said “This is the most inefficient set up I have ever seen and I can assure you I will never see it again.” He was, however, still smiling.

I, however, who abhor lines, was not smiling.

At the end of meal, which was OK except that the soup was lukewarm by the time we got to eat it, we went to the front, turned in our tickets, which I DID NOT LOSE!!, and paid. Total for two bowls of soup, a platter that we wanted with corned beef but which in the chaos ended up being brisket, and two soft drinks came to $66.25! If you like a scene, this place is for you.

The next weekend we participated in the March for Our Lives. During a break from standing in an unmoving crowd of thousands, we sought refuge at Fine & Schapiro on West 72nd Street. F & S only dates back to 1927, a relative newcomer in the New York Jewish food scene.

It’s a really small place, shaped like a train car with small booths on each side and a few tables down the middle. The menu is extensive. The concept is like a regular restaurant. You sit, someone takes your order, you eat, you pay at the front and leave. No yelling.

Chastened by our experience at Katz’s, we shared a corned beef sandwich and a single, very large potato pancake with apple sauce. BUT the pickles and a large bowl of tangy coleslaw were on the house. All in all, a very filling meal. With two soft drinks, the bill came to $28.00..

F & S was also quiet. We could talk without shouting. I like that. I said I LIKE THAT!

Anyway, that’s the story. There is a clear choice to be made here, though, of course, there are many other such places in The City. Probably none like Katz’s. A real New York institution. The number of delicatessens and just plain “delis” is declining, however. More about that in a future post.

 

 

Phoenix Risen

Everyone by now knows that the new World Trade Center was built on the site of the Twin Twin Towers destroyed in the attacks of September 11, 2001. In Egyptian mythology, “phoenix” refers to a bird that lived in the desert for 500 years, then consumed itself by fire and rose again from the ashes. The term also means a “thing of unsurpassed excellence or beauty; a paragon.” In the sense I use it here, both terms may apply.

Every morning before the museum there opens to the public, a member of the staff checks a register of names and places a white rose on the engraved name of the person born on that day and lost in the attacks. According to the /11 museum website, “Mikey “Flowers” Collarone of FloraTech, a downtown florist and former emergency medical technician that responded to 9/11, hand selects the roses from a local flower market and donates them to the 9/11 Memorial Museum.”

Simply put, the new World Trade Center is a stunning memorial and architectural masterpiece. I visited it recently with my wife and again with my daughter. Rather than try to talk about something whose grace and power comes from visual impact, I will let the photographs do the talking. Solely for context, the night and long distance pictures were taken from my apartment in the Columbus Circle area. Otherwise, the photos are on site or from the observation decks at the top.

 

Adjacent to the World Trade Center is the Oculus, a combination transportation hub connecting railroad and subway lines and an upscale shopping mall of enormous proportions. Here are views from outside and inside the Oculus:

Looking Down on New York

Some days The City is almost mystically quiet when seen from our 50th floor apartment. The eerie silence is always interrupted, though, after a short while. Usually, it’s one or more sirens. Our building is adjacent to Mount Sinai West hospital and there is constant but irregular coming and going of ambulances in full-throated wail trying to intimidate their way through automobile traffic blocking every lane, seemingly indifferent to the person whose fate depends on the ambulance or fire engine arriving as fast as possible.

And then there are the pedestrians who seem to regard the imminent arrival of an ambulance or fire engine as an opportunity to dash across the intersection in the gaps created by the few cars who are actually trying to make way for the emergency vehicle.

Then, the hush returns. The other frequent sound is an often shockingly loud crashing of a truck bed separating from its foundation as the truck encounters, and ignores, the so-common fissures and cracks in the streets. New York City is very old and its base infrastructure suffers mightily under the burden of tens of thousands of vehicles passing every day on many of its streets. The booming sounds made by these truck-street interactions would be easily ignored in times past, but in the age of terrorism, the mind is instantly drawn to the idea that the sound could as easily be a bomb.

There are no sounds at all from the thousands of windows I can see from my apartment.

Behind those windows, in just the buildings I can see, labor hundreds of thousands, millions, of people talking on phones and in meetings and, of course, clicking away on the computers on which modern commerce totally depends. It is a bit surprising to think that the aggregate of those conversations and keyboard click/clacks does not escape into the atmosphere to make at least a faint impression on the observant eardrum. But they don’t. The city, viewed above street level, might as well be devoid of all life, home to little else than the proverbial church mouse (or, in the case of New York, perhaps the church rat) and the strange ever-present parade of paired red lights creeping south on Ninth Avenue.

The windows of the massive twin towers of the Time Warner building sit opposite my living room windows. In the afternoon sun they are as opaque as a solid wall of black glass.

After dark, on the other hand, the towers light up in the brilliance that we have come to associate with The City at night.

As I walked by one of the towers the other day, I observed a uniformed doorman speaking to the driver of a black Secret Service-style van: “This is a condominium, not a hotel. And all the people who live here, I know.”

This is not an exaggeration. The doormen in our building, one of two towers holding 700 apartments, knew us on sight, by name and apartment number, the second day we were here. There’s a certain comfort in that, but also a bit of a chill to think that we are that recognizable to people who were total strangers only a day before. But it is their job and they do it well.

As night falls, I hear a discordant rat-a-tatta-tatta machine gun-like sound from far below on the street. One of the seemingly infinite NYC construction jobs is still going well after dark, further rending the concrete for some purpose. There seems to be a construction project underway on every other corner and we are blessed with several in our neighborhood. Often the scaffolding gives away that yet another building is going up, but many times the goal is simply impossible to know. The work blocks lanes of traffic, adding to the frenetic battle between the ubiquitous armada of yellow taxis and the other cars and trucks maneuvering for advantage along Ninth Avenue.

I can’t help but marvel at this mostly silent scene. All those people, cars, trucks, going about their business. Somebody’s business. The business of The City is business. According to Investopedia, New York City is the is “the leading job hub for banking, finance and communication in the U.S. New York is also a major manufacturing center and shipping port, and it has a thriving technological sector. There are more books, magazines and newspapers published in New York than in any other state in the country.”

The employment figures boggle the mind:

Financial services                    330,000

Professional/Technical           647,800

Retail workers                         800,000

And who knew that NYC manufacturing leads in railroad rolling stock and, of course, garments, New York City being the fashion capital of the country. It’s also a major producer of … yes, elevator parts and glass. A walk down any major street will tell you why.

Those numbers are only part of the story. Wikipedia, the source of all truth in the Digital Age, reports the presence of almost 600,000 university students at 110 colleges and universities. You likely recognize names like Columbia, Barnard, Fordham and New York University, but there are dozens more. I wonder how many athletic teams are fielded by city schools each weekend. And where do they practice?

They don’t make much noise, I can tell you, at least not up here on the 50th floor. No slapping of shoulder pads or blowing of whistles. People, people, everywhere and not a sound to hear.

Rain, Wind and Fire in the Mountains of New York City

Winter continues its grip on New York City. Every break in the forecast is promptly followed by a reversal, including snow and, usually, wind. The thing about the wind in The City is that it ebbs and flows in bizarre patterns that are “controlled” by the unique “geography” of metropolis. The root of the problem is, I believe, that, like mountains, the skyscrapers of New York City “make their own weather.” Note: if you don’t believe this, visit the top of Haleakala on the Hawaiian Island of Maui. Take a coat. Take two coats.

What happens is that the concrete canyons created by the rows of very tall buildings have the same effect on small amounts of normal wind as a small hose does on water from a faucet. In order to maintain the flow rate through a constriction, the speed must increase. As a younger person doing yard work, you used this principle by pressing your thumb partially over the hose end when watering the lawn. This is Bernoulli’s Equation and the Venturi Effect for those who survived high school physics and remember doing so.

Anyway, when the wind, normally pushed by the prevailing westerlies, hits New York City’s rows of skyscrapers, it has only two means of escape. One is vertical and the other is to move faster in the direction(s) the gaps between and among buildings allow. In the process the wind faces a narrowing passage, which results in higher wind speeds. There are other forces at work, of course, including friction, but that is far too technical for the point I am struggling to make.

Suffice to say, that you can be walking along in relatively still air, maybe even enjoying the lingering 40-degree day if the sun is showing, turn a corner and WHAM! Your eyelids are shoved back and your hair, if you have any, is rearranged. See the header photo at the top of this post. And this:

The effect is similar to walking into a freezer with a large exhaust fan blowing in your face. The effect may last for blocks.

I have not discovered whether New Yorkers have a name for this wind. At first, I thought of Mariah, inspired by that great song from Paint Your Wagon, but Mariah (misspelled everywhere as Maria) just seems so … not New York. My personal favorite is the one syllable word starting with ‘F’ that this blog is too polite to use. But, if asked, I am sure New Yorkers would tell you, as I am now doing, “do not walk with coffee with no top on the cup.” Wind has the same wave-creating effect on an open coffee cup as it does on the surface of a lake or on the ocean. Turn the corner into the wind without a lid and get a coffee bath. Who knew wind could be so troublesome?

Of course, when winter’s icy grip is finally dispatched by spring and then summer humidity arrives, the wind will be a welcome guest again. I am waiting. Any day now. Really.

 

 

 

Talking Trash in New York City

I promised to cover “filth” in my inaugural post and, aspiring to be a man of my word, herewith we talk trash.

It may surprise you to learn, however, that after some reflection and observation, albeit not a scientific sample of the possibilities (which are vast), I don’t think New York City is afflicted with more trash than any other American city of comparable scale and population density. Of course, there is no such place but there are a few pretty big cities to go around and each of them has its trash-ridden neighborhoods. If you look, you can find them in New York as well.

However, I currently believe (and reserve the right to believe otherwise with greater experience) there are several contributing causes of the perception that New York City s filthy and one overriding explanation.

With population density of more than 27,000 people per square miles, trash will inevitably appear on the streets. That many people simply cannot be expected to be responsible about what they do with their trash. Cigarette smokers, of which there remain plenty in The City, are not going to carry ashtrays or go out of their way to find a place to stamp out their butts. So, they end up on the street and sidewalk.

Another major culprit originates in the hundreds of Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts and newsstand/food truck/food carts that are ubiquitous in New York City. These venerable establishments produce tens of thousands of cardboard coffee cups and paper wrappers for pastries, hot dogs, hot nuts, pizza, halal and an almost infinite variety of other “snacks” that are consumed voraciously by New Yorkers on the move. As the photo below demonstrates, these items most often end up in trash bins

It may surprise you to learn, however, that after some reflection and observation, albeit not a scientific sample of the possibilities (which are vast), I don’t think New York City is afflicted with more trash than any other American city of comparable scale and population density. Of course, there is no such place but there are a few pretty big cities to go around and each of them has its trash-ridden neighborhoods. If you look, you can find them in New York as well.

However, I currently believe (reserving the right to believe otherwise with greater experience) there are several contributing causes of the perception that New York City s filthy and one overriding explanation.

With population density of more than 27,000 people per square mile, trash will inevitably appear on the streets. That many people simply cannot be expected to be responsible about what they do with their trash. Cigarette smokers, of which there remain plenty in The City, are not going to carry ashtrays or go out of their way to find a place to stamp out their butts. So, they end up on the street and sidewalk.

Another major culprit originates in the hundreds of Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts and newsstand/food truck/food carts that are ubiquitous in New York City. These venerable establishments produce tens of thousands of cardboard coffee cups and paper wrappers for pastries, hot dogs, hot nuts, pizza, halal and an almost infinite variety of other “snacks” that are consumed voraciously by New Yorkers on the move. These items most often end up in trash bins, but the volume overwhelms the bin supply and the near-constant wind takes care of the rest.Thus, you end up with this:

I conservatively, and unscientifically, estimate that in any group of 100 pedestrians, at least 10 will be drinking coffee and/or eating while walking. When they reach the subway steps, of course, many of these items end up on the street or on the steps themselves.

None of this is surprising and, at least for today, I have the overall impression that New York City is, relatively and in the circumstances, clean.

The overriding single reason people tend to think otherwise is, I suggest, that New York City is just plain old. The sidewalks and streets of Gotham were, by and large, laid down a long time ago. Same for most of the subways. This means that the remains of long-ago discarded food items have been ground into the pavement, there to remain as discolorations and, if you will, marbleizations, of the pavement. Much of the city simply looks dirty even when it’s not.

It is also at least arguable that the vast amounts of trash generated by the vast number of humans in the vastly large towers of Manhattan create a visual impression of dirtiness that overwhelms the senses even when the street itself is actually quite spotless. See the header photo for this post. And this:

My apartment building, comprised of 700 apartments produces each week an astonishing amount of trash that appears on the street behind the building in black plastic bags or simply in piles of construction materials from the renovations that are on-going. On trash pick-up day, these piles of black plastic bags will appear on some streets every few feet for many blocks.

Overall, New York City “generates” more than 14 million tons of trash a year. The details of what is done with it are summarized at http://bit.ly/2efzqPj   If trash disposal really interests you, and it should, a great 2014 video on the subject as regards New York and other places, can be seen at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y6LzB6rMDtA. The video covers the history of trash disposal in New York City and some of the latest advances in compostable recycling.

As a closing note, the history of The City shows that a large portion of it, south of Liberty Street, was built on landfill of the trash the city itself produced. If we don’t figure out better ways to deal with trash everywhere, someday we may all be living in, or on, a dumpster.