Saucy Report One: Lower East Side Standbys (Part One)

Caption: One of the vintage signs at Katz's Deli

New for 2007 here on Dangerously Enthusiastic: Welcome to The Saucy Report, a monthly jaunt through the neighborhoods of New York as seen through my eyes. Every month, I’ll explore a different group of neighborhoods, and share pictures, links, reviews and even mini-soundtracks to bring the experience to you no matter where you live. This month, we start in the LES.

Saucy Report One: Lower East Side Standbys
“I have only come here seeking knowledge
Things they wouldn’t teach me of in college
I can see the destiny you sold
Turned into a shining band of gold”
– The Police

Ever since I told my friend Neil (aka “Saucy”) a few months ago that I was moving here, we have been making lists of museums, restaurants and boutiques for me to check out. Neil, a rock star writer and my sometimes-mentor, possesses an unstoppable flow of memories of this place from the years he spent living and working here. When he moved to L.A., I don’t think the city left him. He knows a ton about the history and culture of this place. A New York neophyte couldn’t ask for a better tour guide.

Neil is in town for a few days, so we took advantage of a rare block of free time on Saturday to see, smell and taste the city. We worked from his mental list of favorite places in the Lower East Side (one of his old neighborhoods) slowing checking off treasure after treasure.

I met up with him in Chinatown and we walked over to SoHo, where our first stop was Café Habana. (Note: Cafe Habana may technically be in NoLita. I don’t know. I’m new here. Nolita, Solita, sopressata. Everybody Wang Chung tonight. I can’t keep ’em straight.) The first time he told me about the place, he said, “This is gonna sound so fucking weird, but you have to go to this place and get the corn. Trust me.”

Cafe Habana, SoHo, Manhattan

We popped into the To Go location next door, pushed our way into the cramped, congenial space and ordered 2 pieces of Mexican corn on the cob. Our order was ready within minutes. We sat outside on the benches, balancing the plate of corn on our knees while Neil tried to take a phone call and eat at the same time. (See? I told you he was still a New Yorker.)

I should mention here that it was 71 degrees in New York on Saturday. 71 degrees, people. The sun lit up the plate of golden kernels; chargrilled, covered in butter and dusted with chili and parmesan cheese. Lime wedges waited patiently on the side, ready to ride the taste tsunami with their acidic grace.

Corn on the cob, Mexican style, Cafe Habana, SoHo

When I bit into my corn, the individual kernels broke free, their sweetness popping and melting into the buttery, teasing warmth of the chili. The flecks of cheese and rivulets of lime juice wrapped around my tongue, holding hands in my mouth as the flavors rolled back and forth across my palate.

I guess what I’m trying to say is . . . that corn was fucking amazing. I wish I had seven more cobs right in front of me.

Self-Portrait of The Artist, eating corn.

*Neil recommends: Try the Chicken with Mole Sauce.
*Fun Fact: Lenny Kravitz filmed the video for his song, “Again,” at Café Habana. Click here to watch the video.

From there, we walked to Katz’s Deli. This place is a New York standard for deli staples like pastrami, salami and corned beef.

Salamis at Katz's Deli, Lower East Side, Manhattan

When you walk into Katz’s, they give you a ticket that looks like the one you get when you’re driving on the turnpike. The place is famous, so the line to order sandwiches is super long. But we came specifically for the hot dogs and that line was nonexistent.

Neil doesn’t even like hot dogs, but for some reason, he loves Katz’s dogs (except for that little twisty part at the end). He orders two with sauerkraut and a knish on the side because I’ve never had a knish. (Isn’t that a funny word?) I’ve never had a vanilla New York egg cream either, so he orders a couple of those and we’re good to go.

The first bite of Katz’s dog is nowhere near the epiphany that was the first bite of Mexican grilled corn. However, that’s a near-impossible act to follow. It’s an excellent hot dog, right up there with Vienna Beef dogs of Chicago. The knish was . . . potato-ey. A big pillow of potato.

Knish and Hot Dogs at Katz's Deli

There is a really good place for knishes on the same block as Katz’s, so I’ll pop in there for a potato pillow experience when I get a chance. The New York egg cream was a delight, though. If you took the root beer out of a float and added sweet cream and a little more fizz, that might be it.

Here, you can try it for yourself and tell me what you think:

NY Egg Creams

Ingredients:
1/2 c. chocolate syrup
1/2 c. half-and-half
2 quarts seltzer water, chilled

Directions:
Combine 2 tablespoons chocolate syrup and 1 ounce half-and-half in the bottom of a soda glass. Stir with a parfait spoon to combine. Add cold seltzer to the top of the glass and serve with drinking straws.

Recipe courtesy of “30 Minute Meals 2,” Rachael Ray.

After we eat, we take our toll booth tickets up to pay for our food. There is a line of people waiting to pay. Even if you are paying together, both people still have to relinquish their ticket in order to leave. I don’t know what happens to you if you lose your ticket. Do they make you stay in the deli? If I were homeless, I would lose my ticket on purpose.

*Emily recommends: Try the knoblewurst. Dude sitting at the next table said it’s a spicy hot dog-type thing.
*Fun Fact: Katz’s Deli is the setting for the scene when Meg Ryan fakes an orgasm in “When Harry Met Sally.”

Continue reading part 2 of the first Saucy Report here.

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