Tuesday, January 26, 2010
Calabria to Constantinople
For me, Turks are the new Italians.
With the decline of New York City in the 70’s through early 90’s there was a Diaspora swap in Manhattan with a sea change of Asian, Middle Eastern, and Eastern European folks washing in, and European folks washing out. Consequently, neighborhoods like Little Italy whittled down to a street and a half encircled by a vibrant Chinatown. Then with the clean-up of NYC, and economic boom, the inflated real estate market made it impossible for the old Mom and Pop stores to survive in Manhattan. Old Manhattan, the stuff of legend, is now a shell of itself.
All the best Italian delis and casual restaurants moved out of Manhattan to the outer-boroughs, and the Tri-State area. You want a nice little Italian deli or pizza parlor in Mid-town, they’re there in name, but it’s impossible to find a “Tony” or a “Mike” working there, let alone ever hear the words “Mama Mia.” Well, Times Square is crowded, successful and safe, but emphatically NON-(even Anti-) New York City places like Red Lobster, Quicksilver, and Chevy’s choke the area. Authentic NYC is harder and harder, close to impossible to find.
Nothing is more warming, and quintessentially New York than a small ethnic Mom and Pop shop to make you feel like Mayberry in the middle of Manhattan. Well, because of this new vegan quest I have found that Turkish restaurants have replaced the casual Italian place of your parent’s generation. Not only do they serve excellent vegetarian and vegan dishes, but they are friendly first generation New Yorkers that make you remember why this is the greatest city in the world.
First there was Turkish Cuisine on 9th Ave, in Hell’s Kitchen – the staff was all Turkish, engaging, and the food was excellent – try the apple tea! Then, Sunday night, I wanted to get some dinner to watch the football game. Not sure if it was the Skeptical Doctor’s Italian heritage, but the streak of Mediterranean hospitality continued. We went to another place on 9th and 56th – it looks like a small country store with a deli in front, and bar and tables in back. The owner took to us and all but invited us to come live with his family. Those are the types of places that I’d go out of my way to visit. We got some grilled brussel sprouts, marinated cauliflower, elephant beans, and hummus. All were excellent!
Yesterday, I popped into the Pig N Whistle for lunch – vegetables and pasta – did the trick. Last night I opened my still untidy fridge and looked at some sumptuous Vbites stews in a bag, and plenty of relatively fresh vegetables for a salad. But, I just got back from the gym (by the way – I normally go to the gym at lunch, but going at 7PM is murder! Way too crowded!), and I did not even feel like lifting a knife, or opening the microwave. I did what most New Yorker’s do – I ordered in.
My new favorite take out is Taksim. Yep, the Turks have me hooked.
Taksim’s purée of Lentil is one of the best soups I have ever had. I ask before hand, is this made with any cream or dairy? NO! I call back after I taste it, are you SURE it is not made with cream? NO! It is that good! There hummus is great, and their mixed tomatoes and cucumbers are fabulous. And it’s cheap!
So, hats off to the Turkish and their healthy, vegan-friendly fare.