If you’re coming to N.Y.

Frugal Traveler - A New York Times Blog

June 9, 2009, 11:00 PM

Hungry in New York? Buy a Beer


In a city of pizza snobs, the pies served at the Crocodile Lounge (325 East 14th Street; 212-477-7747), a dark and typically crowded East Village bar, barely rate.

The crust may be light and thin, but it’s not charred to blistering by a 900-degree wood-fired oven. The sauce, though tomato-sweet, is not made from prized San Marzano fruits. The cheese binds the pizza together well enough, but you’d never mistake it for mozzarella di bufala.

Still, these entirely edible 10-inch pizzas — which are also available at the Crocodile’s Brooklyn sibling, the Alligator Lounge in Williamsburg (600 Metropolitan Avenue; 718-599-4440) — have one advantage over the über-authentic versions sold nearby: buy a drink, whether a $6 Goose Island ale or the $5 house lager, and the pizza is free.

When it comes to giving away bar snacks, New York City has nothing onMilan, where happy hour means lavish spreads of breads, meats, cheeses, pastas, salads and more. But the Big Apple nevertheless harbors dozens of bars with delicious, ambitious or just plain strange things to eat.

In fact, there are so many, I’ve begun tracking them with a Google map. (Check it out HERE.)

Many are haute versions of standard munchies, like the popcorn at Temple Bar (332 Lafayette Street between Houston and Bleecker Streets; (212) 925-4242; www.templebarnyc.com), which is laced with sweet curls of dried beets and yams. It’s not only addictive, it’s essential — its absorbency has let me survive many a night of (not really frugal) martinis or Belgian beers in the dark and intimate lounge.

Fried chickpeas aren’t exactly standard munchies, but they should be. At Alchemy (56 Fifth Avenue near Bergen Street, Brooklyn; 718-636-4385;www.alchemybrooklyn.com), a family-friendly Park Slope gastropub, they’re so light, salty, crunchy and warm that my friend’s 3-year-old daughter was licking the crumbs off her hands, the table and even the menu.

But gourmet popcorn can only take you so far. Seeking out more substantial fare, I took Marcy Swingle, a friend from grad school who until recently was the editor of Sheckys.com, a New York night-life guide, to El Cantinero in Greenwich Village (86 University Place between 11th and 12th Streets; (212) 255-9378; www.elcantineronyc.com).

At 6 p.m., the multilevel restaurant was filling up, but the free nightly buffet had not yet opened, so Marcy hungrily inquired at the bar. “Soon,” they told her.

Fifteen minutes later, after we’d had a margarita and a Dos Equis, she asked again. Soon, they said — and we ordered another round. “They must think I’m the crazy food lady,” Marcy said.

At 6:30, a waiter hurried to find us and inform us that the buffet was ready. Marcy sprinted tipsily for the low-lit dance floor, where two steel containers held Buffalo wings and a kind of deep-fried, cheese-bean-and-chicken-filled spring roll that the restaurant claimed were chimichangas.

She filled a plate for us, which we gobbled down, and learned we’d done well to act fast. The buffet was now empty. Thirty minutes — and another round of drinks — later, it was replenished, and we dined again.

El Cantinero was good training for my visit a few days later to Rudy’s Bar and Grill (627 Ninth Avenue at 44th Street; (212) 974-9169;www.rudysbarnyc.com). It was the kind of place that’s so bad it’s good — a noisy Hell’s Kitchen joint with a terrible soundtrack (think hair bands), even worse lighting (too much red) and patrons who make the music and décor look attractive.

But the beer was dirt-cheap (Rudy’s Blonde is $7 a pitcher), and when I fought my way to the back of the room, overhearing snippets of raunchy conversations, I found a platoon of warm hot dogs rotating on a greasy grill. Ketchup, mustard and buns are provided, but next time, I’ll bring my own sauerkraut.

Not all New York bar snacks are so lowbrow. After El Cantinero, Marcy and I walked to its stylistic opposite, Tarallucci & Vino, an industrially elegant wine bar with three downtown locations; we went to the one at 15 East 18th Street (212-228-5400; www.taralluccievino.net).

Tarallucci takes its free-food cue from Italy, serving small platters of pizzette, quiche wedges and olives so juicy and flavorful we wanted to ask for more.

Which was one of two problems there: first, we had to actually request the snacks (sheesh!), and second, the wines felt pricey, starting at $8 a glass for an Argentine cabernet and hitting $17 for a glass of Bruno Paillard Champagne. Both the snacks and drinks, however, were good enough that we didn’t entirely care, and the sophisticated atmosphere seemed to wash away the good-but-greasy memory of El Cantinero.

After all those nights of drinking and snacking, there was really only one thing to do — keep drinking and snacking. Not far from where I live in Brooklyn is the Brazen Head (228 Atlantic Avenue between Court Street and Boerum Place; 718-488-0430; www.brazenheadbrooklyn.com), a beer geek’s paradise of hoppy ales and rare casks that on Sunday mornings runs a Bloodies and Bagels special.

Buy a peppery $5 bloody mary (or really anything at all) and you can help yourself to sesame and poppyseed bagels, two kinds of cream cheese (one spiked with scallions, the other blended with smoked salmon) and dishes of sliced tomatoes and onions.

It’s not H & H or Russ & Daughters, but hey, it’s free, and if you get there early enough, you’ve got the Sunday papers all to yourself.



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Filed under beer & health, Beer and Food

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