New York Press' Gut Instinct: Wedded Bliss

Holy heck! Having a zombie wedding cake might just convince me to get married.

Whippersnappers, let this be a warning: There comes a time in your early thirties when conversations distill to two subjects: marriage and parenthood.

I’ve dated my girlfriend for four years, and she always burns up my ears with these topics come spring. I blame birds chirping, wedding bells ringing, no bulky clothes obscuring bowling-ball bellies. I acknowledge these issues like I do the muttering subway man with shoes fashioned from duct tape, rags and a shredded Post. I keep my wary distance, preferring to discuss the weather and whether or not it’s hot enough for iced coffee. For me, love is also spelled c-a-f-f-e-i-n-e.

“So, you’re just going to drink coffee all day?” my girlfriend asked, zipping a bright dress to her neck. She was gussying up to go to a friend’s wedding. I was invited but begged off. Surprisingly, she understood. I’d only met the bride once. Even if you offered me enough $20 bills to make it rain, I couldn’t provide enough details for a police sketch.

“Coffee’s just an appetizer,” I said.

Faster than you can pelt a bride with rice, I was out the door on a culinary recon mission. Recently, I’ve been remiss in investigating Brooklyn’s new bar and restaurants, instead frequenting my Prospect Heights standbys. This is hardly prison torture. The cappuccinos at Glass Shop are silky and lush. Chavella’s crunchy chorizo tortas are tops. And it’s hard to beat the breezy backyard and $3 happy hour (till 7 p.m.) at Soda Bar, which serves new-to-NYC brews from Long Island’s great Greenport Harbor.

While these foodstuffs may be fab, they’re tired stomping grounds to the editors who pay my bills. “What’s new?” they ask, clamoring for the next novel entrée, exotic elixir or trend to distill into list form. Macaroons are hot! Ten places to sate your sweet tooth! Alliterations and exclamation points mean it’s important! If I sound jaded, it’s because I am. But I am not. Though food writing can grind me into hamburger meat, I still find pleasure in uncovering corner delis employing unsung sandwich-makers and filthy dive bars with equally dirt-cheap drinks. Along with freckles and an overbite, sniffing out these spots is in my DNA.

With a little pep in my legs, I biked to Williamsburg’s Blue Bottle (160 Berry St. between N. 5th & N. 6th Sts., 718-534-5488), the first East Coast branch of the Bay Area chainlet. Whenever I visit San Francisco, Blue Bottle is as much a must as eating a Mission burrito or popping into the Toronado for a pint of Russian River’s Pliny the Elder. Understandably, my heart danced a jitterbug when Blue Bottle started pouring its genius java in north Brooklyn.

In its lofty, warehouse-like space—roasted coffee perfuming the air—I ordered an iced New Orleans. Smooth and rich, with a gently sweet current, it’s iced coffee of the sleepy-eyed gods. Yes, it was four bucks, but it was far cheaper than a California flight.

Nervous system humming, I headed down the block to beer bar d.b.a., where Alex Hall’s cask-ale festival was debuting the region’s newest microbrewery, the New Jersey Beer Co. I bought a pint of the flagship Hudson Pale Ale, finding it well bittered and as smooth as a good shave, with a fragrant, floral nose. It’s nice to smell a good aroma coming from the Garden State.

Though food writing can grind me into hamburger meat, I still find pleasure in uncovering corner delis employing unsung sandwich-makers and filthy dive bars with equally dirt-cheap drinks.

A coffee buzz. A beer buzz. I needed food to balance my ship. To Bushwick I biked, seeking out taqueria sustenance. How can you tell a grease trap from a gem? You can’t. But you can follow certain clues—like a cross-generational mix of four women working a griddle, happily gabbing, pressing out corn masa into thin sheets. Pleased to meet you, Buena Vista (152 Knickerbocker Ave. betw. Melrose & George Sts., 718-456-5776). Inside, an old man in a wheelchair spooned salsa verde onto a steaming quesadilla. A TV broadcast telenovela passion. The menu was taped to the door, a hand-scrawled list of tortas, tamales and huaraches. In my best high school Spanish, I ordered a huarache with spicy pork.

It took the ladies 10 minutes to create the corn-masa masterpiece. The oblong feast was lightly blistered, its steamy interior stuffed with a spicy layer of refried beans. On top, tender, fingernail-size pork nubs were showered with crumbly cotija cheese and enough lettuce to make me believe my meal was health-conscious. Crunchy, fiery, cooling, fatty—even a thesaurus couldn’t aptly describe that heavenly huarache.

It was something old, something new, something borrowed, something—brown. Guess that wedding will wait for another afternoon.

Read--and vote for--the original column at New York Press' site!