Food & Drink

FOOD: The Best Things I Ate In 2013 [NYC]

by Lea Faminiano

2013, you fed me well. This year, I continued to eat through New York City’s continually growing maze of food, and on the way, I found some things that were pretty good, some things that were just all right, some things that really sucked, and some things that blew my mind. Let’s cut to the chase – here’s a list of the ones that matter.

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Best Food Truck-slash-Sandwich-slash-Gluten-Free-Thing: Cinnamon Snail…particularly their Maple Mustard Tempeh on gluten free bread (not pictured above, but that’s an assortment of their other goodies). You guys, THE BREAD. First off, the actual maple mustard tempeh is amazing (garnished with tomato, onion, and kale) but THE BREAD. I ordered this during my lunch break and thought they gave me the wrong bread and sat there the rest of the day waiting to break out into a gluten-intolerant mess and then when I didn’t, I still thought they gave me the wrong bread and half believed I might not be allergic to gluten anymore (I am). I haven’t tried anything else on the menu (except dessert, duh) because I’m so committed to this sandwich and I feel like I’d be cheating on it, that’s how much I love it. Note: everything on the menu is vegan, and though I love tearing apart animals and all their products, this spot is so good that it beats the typical blah vegan dish and you can’t even tell the meals lack animals.

Since discovering Cinnamon Snail, I’ve become a hardcore devotee and it’s almost guaranteed that you can find me at 21st + 5th between the hours of 12-3 every Thursday. They’ve got the friendliest workers, too. Be prepared to wait in one of those lines where everyone stares and thinks you’re crazy for waiting so long for vegan food.

Other Best-Gluten-Free-Thing-slash-Dessert: Meeting the chocolate dipped doughnut from Babycakes happened the way that most women find the man of their dreams. I played around with their other treats, like their carrot cake cupcake, cookie sandwiches, and eclairs, and they were all really good and fun…but then I met the chocolate dipped doughnut, and I fell hard. This is true love, you guys – maybe even lust, because my whole entire body and soul is constantly craving this doughnut in a way that is not okay. Even if you’re not a glutard, go get it – I make a point of visiting every time I’m in the LES. No photo because it’s too good to wait for a bite.

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Best Brunch: It’s no secret that I am one of brunch’s biggest fans, and al di là kills it. I’m still working on the list of recommendations given to me by Jean Grae and hit this Park Slope spot up early on in the game. Surprisingly, I didn’t even drink one cocktail during this meal and it still managed to take the crown – I’m always down to throw back a couple mimosas, but this meal spoke for itself, sans drink. Pork belly hash for one dish, and then crispy polenta topped with spinach, tomato sauce, a poached egg, and bacon…who wants to go back with me?

Best Hot Chocolate: Jacques Torres’ classic hot chocolate with whipped cream. Do not not not not not skip the whipped cream. A couple days ago, I was standing along the East River facing DUMBO, thinking about how Jacques Torres was right over there, and so I trekked across the river (via subway, duh) just to get it. This recommendation came from the guy who runs Mighty Tanaka a couple blocks away and you always trust a native when it comes to the area’s food, right? I’m extremely specific about my hot chocolate and this is exactly what i like – thick but not too thick, not very sweet, and kind of like you’re drinking a really good chocolate bar where the whipped cream is not only a garnish, but helps to cut the thickness.

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Best Place That Is Extremely Far Away But Totally Worth It: It’s not even really a restaurant…because it’s actually the basement of a Hindu temple. The Ganesh Temple Canteen is basically a no-frills spot that the locals go to after the service upstairs – you just order at the counter, they call out your number, and you sit at one of the cafeteria-style tables. The food and the space are not anything particularly pretty to look at, but it’s dirt cheap and you’ll be happily full for the rest of the day…and maybe into the next. I’m nowhere near an expert on authentic Indian food, but I know what tastes good, and this is good – I’ve made the trek out to Flushing twice this past year, just for the food alone.

Go with a bunch of people so you can order everything and try it all – I’d say this is the best way to experience Indian food, especially if you’ve never really experienced it before. I’d recommend a masala dosa, any uttapam, a box of tamarind rice, then wash it all down with a mango lassi. If you’re a spice wuss like me, sit near the water cooler.

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Best Recommendation From A Random Person: I’m freaking out right now because I literally JUST found out that Bay Ridge’s Bab al Yemen closed. Why? Why?! Recommended to me by a cab driver (the best recommenders of NYC anything, in my opinion) this was one of my top favorite meals of all time – the curry yaamani and lamb segar were just the tip of the iceberg, and I was really looking forward to trying the other dishes. I also broke all gluten-free eating rules and practically destroyed myself with their bread, because it was that good. As a first time Yemen food eater, having the chef come out and explain the dishes didn’t hurt, either. Bab al Yemen… what happened?

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Best Ice Cream: Despite writing this during a snowstorm, visions of Oddfellows’ PB & J ice cream are in my head. I pretty much crave this no matter what time of day, and obviously no matter what the weather. Oddfellows’ anything, really – the relatively new Brooklyn ice cream shop has been winning my heart and tastebuds over and over again this year. Also, how can you not love a shop with a Jesus-eating-ice-cream hanging on the wall? They recently started doing ice cream delivery, so if you live in North Brooklyn, get on that.

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Strangest Thing I Ate This Year: Chef Russell Jackson’s scallop ceviche topped with bananas, popcorn, and Cheez-It ice cream, from a SubCulture Dining NYC dinner. Thinking about it kind of makes me stomach feel weird. Because it doesn’t make sense. I also hate bananas. What makes even less sense is that I actually really, really liked it. I still don’t get it…but can I have more?

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Best Cocktail: If I lived in Red Hook, Fort Defiance would be my spot. The stretch of Van Brunt Street down this end is packed with the most charming little places, and this might be the most adorable. I had the King Bee in the middle of a summer afternoon after a day of Red Hook exploring, and this combination of many of my favorite things (Comb vodka, lemon, Darjeeling tea, Benedictine, and prosecco) was the perfect end to the perfect day. I’ve tried to recreate it, but I keep failing. Time to go back?

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Best Food Event: Hands down, Taste Talks 2013. Because April Bloomfield, and Mario Batali, and Kerry Diamond, and Questlove, and Wylie Dufresne, and everyone else, and all of the food.

I’m not the only one who ate a ton this year – let me know your favorites!