Flex is really simple – they do mussels and they do mussels well. They have a separate “not mussels” menu, but the reason you go to Flex is for the 23 different types of mussels. They’re all pretty reasonably priced too, ranging from $19.50-$25, depending on your choice. Though I’ve only sampled three flavors so far, all three were pretty incredible, and I’d very definitively say they’re some of the best mussels I’ve ever had. They’re cooked perfectly in really tasty, compelling broths – what more could you ask for? Flex also has some great donuts for dessert, so make sure to save room for that. All in all, if you like mussels, add Flex to your restaurant rotation. I know I’m already planning my next visit back!
Parma: This is cheesy and creamy, made with parmigiano cream, lemon, scallions, toasted garlic and shallots. It’s a delicious and indulgent choice.
Bisque: If you like lobster bisque, which is my favorite, this is the way to go! The broth is made from brandy, tomato, garlic and cream. Though decadent, I found it rather addictive; I couldn’t stop spooning the bisque into my mouth. You also get a tiny but nice portion of lobster!
Bruschetta: I’m not sure what I was expecting, but you literally get a large bucket of bruschetta and mussels. It’s got san marzano tomatoes and lobster and comes with toasted bread drizzled in olive oil (like bruschetta). The broth was classic and basic, but it was definitely made exciting by the bruschetta and lobster twist.
Truffle fries: Though pretty standard, these truffle fries were good. They’re definitely worth getting for the table, but you probably only need to order one.
Flex Donuts: The donuts here are great. They’re warm, sugarcoated and gooey and can be filled with a number of fillings. There’s also a delicious vanilla dipping sauce on the side that’s sort of unnecessary. I had the chocolate and salted caramel and liked both. However, if you could only pick one, the salted caramel is the way to go. It’s also worth noting that the chocolate they use is pretty dark, so only go for the chocolate filling if you like your chocolate dark.
Flex Mussels: 154 W 13th St. New York, NY ($$)
Second Location: 174 E 82nd St. New York, NY ($$)
Willow Road has skyrocketed to the top of my list of recent favorite restaurants. I love the food, I love the interior design – the city mural spanning the main wall is particularly awesome – I even love the playlist they have running in the background. Someone at Willow Road definitely knows good music. In general, there’s just something so simple and chic about this place – they really have a strong and clear identity that seems to shine through everything. As a dedicated Top Chef viewer, it’s additionally exciting that the chef de cuisine is Top Chef alum Grayson Schmitz. With the design of the open kitchen, you can catch a glimpse of her, or executive chef Todd Macdonald “doing their thang.” Though at first the food doesn’t sound all that interesting, MacDonald has really taken American comfort food to the next level. There’s just a refined lightness to all the dishes, dishes that could easily be boring and heavy. In the end it’s the perfect spot because it’s the kind of place you could convince anyone, even an unadventurous eater, to try, without having to compromise on surprising and sophisticated flavor.
Twenty Greens Salad: This is quite possibly the best salad I’ve ever had. It’s really simple – herbs, pistachios and pecorino. The salad is light and flavorful, and it isn’t often that you find yourself licking the bowl from salad. But that was the case here. The menu has since changed slightly and the current twenty greens salad contains herbs, pecans and ricotta salata. I’m sure it’s just as fresh and incredible!
Duck Fat Crisps: Really thin and airy, these salty crisps kind of just melt in your mouth. Aside from being texturally perfect, the duck fat seems to really give them a great flavor. Often times it seems essential for a chip to be served with some kind of dipping sauce, but with these it’s not necessary. They’re really just simplistically good!
Willow’s Mac N’ Cheese: Not your traditional mac and cheese, this dish is made in a very light cheese sauce with grilled ramps, lemon, fennel pollen and parsley. I love how different and elegant this is without entirely losing the cheesy flavor that could deem this a macaroni and cheese. There are a lot of really warm and rustic flavors here. It’s not the dish I’d order as my main meal, but I would definitely have it on the table.
Spiced Lamb Burger Bites: These are more like lamb meatballs, than burgers, but boy are they good! It is one delicious bite (or two-biter) covered in a flavorful sumac aioli, cilantro and iced red onion. The lamb is cooked perfectly and flavored right; these are definitely not dry by any means, which can often be the issue with lamb burgers. I loved these! My only complaint was that there were only three.
Buttermilk Fried Chicken: This is not your traditional fried chicken, but certainly one of the best I’ve had. The version here is covered in jerk spices and orange blossom honey. It’s salty and spicy with a slight sweetness, and I thought the white and dark meat were equally flavorful and juicy. They give a nice portion size too – a leg, thigh and breast. I even liked the casual and fun presentation. The only thing that’s annoying is the chicken leaves your fingers sticky, so you need to make a rush to the bathroom when you’re done.
Willow Road: 85 10th Avenue New York, NY ($$-$$$)
My latest collaboration with Quiet Lunch Magazine – Six Outdoor Eateries You Must Visit This Summer!
Royale in the East Village just isn’t very good. The burger’s okay, the chicken sandwich is average, and the sides fall short too. While the outdoor patio out back is awesome, it’s pretty much useless if there is nothing on the menu worth ordering, not to mention that I had the worst service I’ve experienced in New York to-date. Orders came out incorrectly and service was just generally slow. Then when the meal was finished, I felt like I had to beg them to get the check. I asked for the check three different times and then had to shove my credit card in the waiter’s face for him to ultimately let me pay. I should never have to beg to pay for a meal. Another thing – everything came in a really small size from the side sauces to the water cups. What was up with that? This especially didn’t work well with the bad service; our water was never refilled. Now, I get that Royale is going for no-frills, pic-nic style, cookout food, but it’s still a restaurant. There is still a level of sophistication and service that is expected when you dine out. Food can be easy and casual and still good. Just don’t expect to find that here at Royale.
Bacon Royale: This is a classic, simple burger with bacon, choice of cheese (cheddar), lettuce, tomato, onion and pickle. I like a classic burger. I even like a fast-food style burger. Shake Shack and Five Guys make great burgers. This, however, is a pathetic attempt at a good bacon cheeseburger. First of all, I ordered the burger medium, and it came out well done. There was no pink or juiciness of any kind. It had an okay seasoning/flavor, but a dry burger is a dry burger, and not worth the calories or my time. Considering this burger is lauded by some as the best in the East Village, I was majorly disappointed.
Grilled Chicken: The Royale grilled chicken sandwich is topped with Swiss cheese, arugula and caramelized onions. The piece of grilled chicken was very thin and fairly small, particularly in proportion to the bun. The caramelized onions were turned into an onion mush; I would have liked to see long, thick pieces of grilled onion. I also want to note that in line with the bad service, I had requested cheddar on the sandwich instead of Swiss, but Swiss was what arrived. This was overall a pretty sad grilled chicken sandwich. It’s not even appetizing to look at.
Onion Rings: The onion rings were initially my favorite item to come out of the kitchen. When hot, they were pretty tasty with a crispy and greasy coating. But as they became room temperature, they became soggy and seemed to lose flavor. They also weren’t served with a dipping sauce, which isn’t essential, but definitely is often a nice addition.
Housemade Chips and Onion Dip: The chips here were decent, but I feel like if you’re going to put housemade chips on the menu, they should be hot out of the fryer. This came with a miniscule cup of onion dip that I’m pretty sure was made from a box or was scooped out of a jar. There just wasn’t anything all that special about these or really anything for that matter.
This is my friend Sara who shared in this meal with me. We left Royale feeling disappointed and sad.
Royale: 157 Avenue C New York, NY ($)
Parish Hall seems a little out of place in the hipster haven that is Williamsburg. With a really sleek, modern décor, it’s a departure from the cozy, rustic setting I’ve come to expect from similar restaurants. The stripped-down setting doesn’t seem to pair well with the food either, which has a warmth to it that the ambiance lacks. For this visit, I sampled the snacks and sandwiches, all of which were pretty affordable and really tasty. While there are a number of entrees to choose from, Parish Hall is a great place to go for some shared bites. Most specifically, the bread that is in a number of the snack options is really fresh and fantastic. I don’t know that I’d say anything super extraordinary is coming out of the kitchen here, but I sampled a solid, enjoyable selection of starters.
Beef Fat Beignet: These were delicious. They were warm and salty and just melted in your mouth – overall great texture and flavor.
Bread and Butters: This was toasted bread with three different Ronnybrook butters: country ham butter, goat butter and regular unsalted butter. I love the idea of making something as simple as bread and butter more interesting by offering up a selection of unique butter options. The goat butter was definitely the best with a rich, salty flavor. The regular Ronnybrook butter was great too. I didn’t really care for the country ham butter, which had an intense smoky flavor, but it was interesting to give it a try. I think I now know that I don’t want ham flavor in my butter though. Regardless, I think this is a nice shared starter.
Squash Toast: Two large pieces of toast covered in a squash spread with goat cheese and walnuts. The bread used here and with the bread and butters platter was really fresh and delicious. I liked the subtle sweet flavor of the squash with the salty goat cheese and the crunchy walnuts. It was a nice flavor and texture combination. Though I definitely could have been interested in a little more goat cheese on top.
Patty Melt: A grass-fed beef patty with lamb bacon, Landaff cheese and grilled onions on toasted rye bread with fries or a salad. I couldn’t find specific strips of bacon on the sandwich, so I think the lamb bacon may have been added to the beef patty, which would make sense because it had a strong smoky flavor. The bread again here was really fresh, and the cheese was a nice complement to the smoky patty. The side sauce, though, which was a form of Russian dressing, had a smokiness to it that was too similar in flavor to the patty itself. I would have liked for the sauce to act as a more cooling, contrasting element. Nevertheless this was a unique patty melt that I ultimately really enjoyed. The side salad too, though simple, had a great fresh, flavor.
Fingerling potatoes: The potatoes were great and I loved the radicchio and kale pesto that the potatoes were in. This was a great accompaniment to the petty melt.
Vegetables and dumplings: This was described as a dish with squash, carrot, rutabaga, cheese broth and dumplings. Before even trying the dish, it wasn’t exactly what I had in mind. I was hoping for more of a broth with an actual cheese flavor, which was not the case at all. There was a small broth lining the bottom of the bowl and a cheese flavor was nowhere to be found. The dumplings themselves were interesting; they reminded me a lot in flavor of vegetable kugel. I didn’t totally hate them, but at the same time, the dish was barely touched by the end of the meal. It was also difficult to discern which vegetables were which – I didn’t taste the soft, sweet flavor of squash and carrot. The vegetables were just a crunchy, flavorless mess. Skip this and eat everything else!
Parish Hall: 109 N 3rd St Brooklyn, NY ($$-$$$)
Let me set the scene for you. Whitman’s is home to the “Juicy Lucy,” a burger concept from Minneapolis that involves two thin beef patties pinched together to surround a center scoop of pimento cheese that ultimately ends up oozing out when you bite into it. Though more than just a burger spot, I’ve only come here for the burgers, which are great. They’re simply seasoned and cooked right, while really highlighting (the sometimes super creative) topping combinations. The sides here are also worth noting. Make sure to order a few and split them amongst the table. From the street, the upstairs/entrance area gives the impression that there’s not much space for diners, but there’s a rustic and homey downstairs that seats more. It’s a great neighborhood spot, where you’re guaranteed a quick, cheap, solidly delicious meal.
Fried Local Pickles: Fried pickles come in all shapes and sizes. These were thinly sliced pickles cut to fry up like a chip. Though they weren’t my all-time favorite frickles, they were certainly really good, and I definitely intend to order them next time I’m at Whitman’s. The dipping sauce here is also nice – a spiced ketchup/mayo secret sauce. I was into it!
Crack Kale: Crack kale is correctly named. It’s perfectly fried, salted and flavored. These crispy pieces of kale melt in your mouth. This is a must-order for the table.
PB & B Burger: This burger is served with organic peanut butter and bacon. The salty/sweet peanut butter with the salty bacon on top of a medium burger is a nice combo. Perhaps it’s too much or too crazy, but I would have been intrigued to see cheese on this. I also wonder what it’d taste like with a grilled banana on top. I just would have liked to see one other element. Overall, it’s a good, creative burger.
The Juicy Lucy: This is the must-order burger at Whitman’s. The burger is a beef short rib blend stuffed with pimento cheese, served with caramelized onion, lettuce, tomato, spicy pickles and special sauce. When you cut this burger in half the cheese oozes out. Though a little messy, this burger has a lot of great flavor. I’ll be returning for this one!
Fries: These are just great, standard fries. It’s definitely worth having an order on the table. They also have blue cheese fries on the menu, which I’m definitely going to be ordering next time.
Milk and Cookies: Though the point of a visit to Whitman’s is not the dessert, they have ice cream and milk and cookies on the menu. The milk and cookies are simple, yet outrageously good. You get three large, warm and gooey chocolate chip cookies and a side cup of milk for dunking. This dessert totally fits with the playful vibe of the restaurant and is most definitely worth saving room for. It’s the perfect end to a casual, fun meal.
Whitman’s: 406 E 9th Street New York, NY ($)
I want to say that Mighty Quinn’s is a bit overrated, as it’s current status resides somewhere around worship level. Don’t get me wrong, the barbecue here is tasty and the barbecue sauce is crack, but I was left with plenty of concerns. First of all, they ran out of pulled pork. How does a barbecue restaurant run out of pulled pork!? I was also there around 7:30 on a weeknight for dinner, which is prime time. You can’t tell me that the most popular of barbecue meats, and the meat you’re getting the most publicity for, isn’t available. That’s just not acceptable. Pulled pork aside, I also didn’t care for the spare ribs and I feel like the Sides Menu is a bit meager. Where’s the mac n’ cheese and cornbread? It’s sides like those that are necessary when everything else has a thick, sweet barbecue flavor profile. There just weren’t enough options to break up the flavor monotony. While the design of the place is nice and the beer menu is a great complement to the Southern hipster vibe, the cafeteria-style, seating free-for-all, doesn’t quite accommodate the masses looking to try Mighty Quinn’s. With all of that said, I ultimately really enjoyed the food and I anticipate return visits, if only to get at a Brontosaurus Rib (details to follow) and drink the barbecue sauce.
Barbecue Sauce: I think this needs a category in and of itself. Far and beyond one of the best barbecue sauces I’ve ever had, this is no sweet, glorified ketchup. It really has a sophisticated flavor to it and tastes incredible all over everything. And lucky for you (and me) they have a large jug of it on every table.
Brisket: The brisket was nice. The ends had a nice salty rub, and the brisket itself was soft and flavorful. While, you could eat the brisket without any sauce, I thought it tasted a lot better with it. The combination of the brisket, sauce and some coleslaw was great. I’d definitely get the brisket again.
Pulled Pork: That’s right, they ran out. Not cool, Mighty Quinn’s. Not cool.
Brontosaurus Rib: This is the best item I tried, and perhaps even the best beef rib I’ve ever had. Enormous in size and full of flavor, this was best consumed without any barbecue sauce. The rib is super juicy (and fatty) and even came right off the bone, the way any good rib should. Love the name; love the size; love the flavor.
Spare Ribs: These just weren’t that good, though perhaps it’s a matter of preference. When I eat barbecue spare ribs, I want them to be juicy and fall of the bone. I want to make a serious mess. These are neat and stiff, and though they definitely have a nice flavor, resemble a Chinese spare rib more so than a barbecue spare rib. Skip these and just go straight for the Brontosaurus Rib!
Cole Slaw: There’s a mayo slaw and a vinegar slaw, both of which are good. I preferred the mayo slaw because they didn’t go crazy on the mayo and there’s definitely vinegar in the mayo slaw, as well. So the difference is really only a slight creaminess to one versus the other. In general, the slaw was a nice, cooling element to all the barbecue flavor and I liked that it was an automatic side with all orders; that’s the way it should be.
Burnt End Baked Beans: The baked beans are really fantastic. They have a nice smoky flavor that definitely comes from the fact that the staff is continually putting burnt ends and scraps into the vat. Sometimes I find the sauce that baked beans are in can sometimes be too sweet, but this was salty and meaty with a slight sweetness – really yum!
Mighty Quinn’s Barbecue: 103 2nd Avenue New York, NY ($)
When I saw there was schug on the menu, I knew this place had to be legit. This Yemeni/Israeli hot sauce usually doesn’t show up on U.S. menus, and it’s the one ingredient that’s going to take your falafel to the next level. I had falafel for the first time when I was in Israel back in High School, and I’ve been chasing the perfect falafel ever since. I’m happy to say I’ve finally found something that comes close. Everyone says that Taïm, owned by the same people that own Balaboosta, makes the best falafel in the city, and I haven’t had it yet… so I have to reserve awarding best falafel here just yet. Taïm also has a very similar menu with schug and amba (a great pickled mango chutney), so it will be interesting to eventually do a full comparison. For now though, Nish Nush has some really delicious, solid falafel with a beautiful platter of sides that include hummus, Israeli salad and cabbage. This isn’t a full review since I’ve only had the falafel, but that’s probably all I would ever get. Located in Tribeca, it’s very close to my office; I look forward to frequenting this new find on a regular basis.
Falafel Trio: All three falafel flavors – classic, red hot chili, and spinach and mushroom – with hummus, Israeli salad, white and red cabbage, romaine lettuce, olives, pickles, tahini and schug. For $11 you get quite the spread. The three different falafel flavors are each great; all three have a nice fried, crisp outside with a soft, flavorful inside. Most US falafel tends to be dry and tasteless, so I was pleasantly surprised when you could eat these without dousing them in hummus or tahini. I specifically liked the red hot chili falafel, which was crispy with a slight spiciness. The hummus here is really great and creamy; the Israeli salad is flavorful. I even really liked the two cabbages. Everything together made for a great falafel platter. The pita (not pictured) was also really soft. Plus with the schug everything came together with a nice spice. I seriously couldn’t have been more pleased.
Pure Hummus with a side of falafel.
Nish Nush: 88 Reade St. New York, NY ($)
Eat Like a Lady on location in DC
(This image was taken from the DGS Delicatessen website)
I’m going to start this review with saying that I generally don’t like Jewish delis. As a kid growing up, I associated them with dry, kosher food and dingy, crowded settings with sticky booths (I also didn’t like IHOP). Any time someone in my family wanted deli, I grumbled. I just didn’t get the appeal. As an adult, I still have reservations about the Jewish deli. I now like mustard and rye bread, knishes and matzo ball soup, but I still associate them with a lack of sophistication and an old-school generation of Jews unwilling to evolve. Perhaps I’m being too hard on the classic deli, but it’s a place like DGS Delicatessen that I’ve been waiting for for sometime. It makes Jewish food cool. All the dishes on the menu contain classic Jewish elements and flavors, but the chef has elevated the dishes to the next level. The food is also kosher style, not flat out kosher, which let’s admit, means the food is going to have a lot more flavor. The interior is trendy, modern and fun with an inventive cocktail menu that also even draws from Jewish flavors. For instance, the Tenth Ward Cooler has celery soda in it. All in all, I love what is going on at DGS Delicatessen. I loved the food; I loved the environment. And I can’t wait to return on future DC visits!
Schmutzy Fries: Fries topped with smoked meats, swiss cheese, Russian dressing, and sauerkraut. I wasn’t entirely sure how I was going to feel about this mish mosh of toppings, but I knew I had to give it a try. Turns out, this is one of the greatest food creations ever. With such strong flavored toppings, I thought they might compete, but instead everything came together. The sauerkraut wasn’t too sour, the meat wasn’t too smoky, the Russian dressing wasn’t pungent; everything just balanced out. This is an incredible shared starter when you’re sober, and I can only imagine this is a fantastic late-night or next-day drunk food option. Just saying.
Knish: A knish filled with lamb murguez and lentils with raisin mustard and spiced yogurt. This was pretty good. I thought this was an interesting take on a classic. I liked the flavor of the outside crust. The lamb on the inside had a nice flavor, and the texture was accurate to knish filling. I had a couple bites and was pleased, but I was more interested in finishing the other items on the table.
Matzo Ball Soup: Grandma Dot’s duck schmaltz matzo balls – this might be the best matzo ball soup I’ve had outside of a home-cooked setting. The ball was big, soft and fluffy and the soup was really flavorful. It’s nice to have a go-to spot for matzo ball soup.
DGS 8 Day Pastrami: This is definitely the best pastrami sandwich I’ve ever had. The meat was thick-cut, juicy and flavorful, which was a nice departure from the dry, thin-cut, over-spiced pastrami I have in my mind. The house mustard also had a nice taste, and the double baked rye was soft and fresh. In addition, I got a side of Russian dressing, because that’s my favorite. I think I would have liked the sandwich a smidgeon more if the rye bread had been toasted. But really I was left with no complaints.
DGS Reuben: This Reuben was fantastic with emmenthaler (a kind of swiss cheese), sauerkraut and Russian dressing on toasted double baked rye. I loved the emmanthaler and the warm, toasted rye bread, both of which really kept the sandwich together. I’m not really a huge fan of sauerkraut, but at DGS the flavoring is mild. I could see a sauerkraut purist taking issue with this, but for me it worked out just right, both here on this sandwich and with the Shmutzy Fries.
Flanken: Beef short ribs braised with Tunisian spices, figs, spinach and fresh mint. The short rib was incredibly soft and had awesome flavor. I really liked it!
And here is my friend Sam getting ready to chow down on the short rib. She wanted to make her debut on the blog. Hi, Sam!
Kasha Varnishkas: Bowtie pasta and buckwheat with mushrooms, olives, harissa, and preserved lemon. I LOVE traditional kasha varnishkas, so I was really excited to try a new take on the dish. This was definitely the least successful. The pasta was overcooked, the flavors were too many and too strong, and the buckwheat gets entirely lost in it all. Perhaps the average person wouldn’t get or care for buckwheat, but if you’re going to make a dish and call it kasha, that’s what should be highlighted. Buckwheat aside, the flavors here are just not good. This is the only dish I wouldn’t recommend.
The Salmon Special
Potato Latkes with crème fraiche and DGS apple preserves
DGS Delicatessen: 1317 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington, DC ($$-$$$)
There really isn’t too much to say about a steakhouse. They generally look the same and offer the same steak cuts and sides. But BLT Prime is definitely a top five steakhouse. They have great steaks, and the popovers, which you get at the start of the meal, are really just fantastic. I would come here just for the popovers. As I said, steakhouses aren’t offering the most interesting dining experiences. You go because you know what you’re going to get, and you go to BLT Prime because you know you’re going to get an impeccable cut of meat.
Chicken Liver Mousse: The meal started with a jar of chicken liver mouse and some toasted bread. I don’t know that I’ve had enough chicken liver mousse in my life to say this is the best chicken live mousse, but it’s certainly the best chicken liver mousse I’ve had. The flavor was smooth and nice and for the first time with this kind of thing, I wanted to spoon out the rest of the jar. This is a definitely the way to start a meal off right.
Popover: The meal also starts with a popover per person, and these are incredible. Though large in size, they’re light and airy. I love that there is a side of sea salt that you can shake all over and some butter. Together it’s just a fun and tasty starter. I would come to BLT prime, just to eat these. They even give you a card, so you can try to make them at home.
Grilled Bacon: Nueskes double cut bacon covered in parsley, garlic and a sherry vinaigrette. This bacon is incredible because, well, it’s bacon. It’s thick and juicy, but I’d rather have my bacon without the other ingredients. The parsley, garlic and sherry vinaigrette is a bit intense and almost overpowers the natural bacon flavor. The best bacon I’ve ever had still goes to Landhaus (at Smorgasburg).
Truffle Mac and Cheese: It’s kind of impossible to screw up truffle mac and cheese; therefore, this was delicious. I thought the proportion of breadcrumbs to cheese and macaroni was a little off, with the breadcrumbs overpowering. Regardless, the skillet was licked clean.
Cowboy Bone-in Rib Eye 22oz: YUMMY YUM YUM! That’s what I have to say here. This steak was incredible. The rosemary butter atop this perfectly cooked and spiced steak was just added amazing flavor. Obviously everyone has his/her preference for steak cuts, but I think the bone-in rib eye is always the way to go. It always has the perfect amount of fat and flavor, and BLT Prime’s is one of the best.
Porterhouse 28-day Dry Aged Prime 36oz (for two)
Brussels Sprouts: Though the brussels sprouts were pretty standard, they were addictively good with some bacon and honey. This is a great side item choice!
Hand Cut Fries: The fries were probably the weakest side/appetizer we ordered, but they came with a delicious cilantro mayo.
Mini Doughnuts: This was a really nice dessert to order, especially when you’re beyond full by the end of the meal. Everyone gets to end on a light, sweet note and the coffee ice cream is creamy perfection. The valrhona chocolate sauce is obviously a nice dipping option too.
BLT Prime: 111 E 22nd Street New York, NY ($$$$)