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The green Brooklyn

photo by Homer Ulanday


The biggest borough in New York City also happens to be the greenest. With parks, community organizations and a variety of businesses, it leads in citywide efforts to better the quality of life and protect the environment.

Brooklyn is conveniently located on the westernmost part of Long Island, right between Manhattan and the suburbs, with access to three main city bridges and an array of highways. It offers cheaper rents than Manhattan, with market reports showing commercial space fees starting at $29 per square foot in downtown Brooklyn compared to $40 in downtown Manhattan. It has a younger population with 22-55 year-olds, and high percentages of children under 14, that are more involved with green living than older generations and support green businesses.

But the notion of being green is still developing. So what exactly is a green business and how do you start one so that green lifestyle followers support it?

At the simplest level, green businesses use recycled products to build or decorate their locales. They also avoid wasting energy and water; they recycle and many times donate food or funds to charities. They also use products and resources from local vendors or fair-trade suppliers.

And according to Green America, a non-profit organization advocating for social justice, a green enterprise helps solve social and environmental issues by adopting principles, policies, and practices that improve the quality of life for people and the environment. The Web site offers guides to start green businesses based on these ideas, too. It advises entrepreneurs to “find a niche market, get certified as environmentally sound,” and “practice what you preach.”

In 2007 Jennie Dundas and her best friend Alexis Miesen decided to try this approach. Miesen wanted to sell ice cream in Park Slope, after noticing there were few ice cream shops there. Dundas liked the prospect, but was equally interested in being environmentally conscious. With little knowledge, they began their research and their business plan.

“You basically ask yourself with every decision, ‘is this the greenest decision I could make?’” Dundas said. “I think this is the wave of the future, once there’s enough of us doing this there’s not going to be a chance to go back.”

Dundas and Miesen invested time and money to start their shop in the borough they both lived, worked in, and loved. Unfortunately, despite good karma and a plethora of non-profit organizations that rally for greener options, there’s still no set model that businesses can follow. The women relied on Brooklyn non-profits to get information about recycled building products, estimates for energy efficiency and contacts to local farmers. Gathering the tools was a community process since opening green businesses is still a “trend” rather than a “norm” as Dundas said.

By August 2007 the two women had a designer, construction crew and suppliers. They learned that going green not only takes research, but also lots of money. Their recycled glass counter, for example, cost between $90-$200 per square foot. High prices expanded to the food supplies too. Their organic heavy cream, from locally raised, grass-only fed cows, costs $18 per gallon, triple the cost that mass food suppliers retail heavy cream for. After a $200,000 investment, their ice cream shop, Blue Marble Ice Cream, was opened in October of 2007.

Picture 3Two years later the business is going, with cones starting at $2.50, rivaling Ben and Jerry’s $3.25 price. Additionally, the businesswomen opened a second location in Brooklyn, in Boerum Hill.  However, Dundas said that the moral benefits of being eco-friendly take a toll on the monetary gains. In order to maintain the two businesses, the partners must dig into their profits. Although the second shop was easier and cheaper to start because it already had some green elements, they said that operating a green business became a mission rather than a way to get rich.

“We’re educating people, especially children, with our trash and recycling barrels. They learn about protecting the environment at school but they need to see the principles implemented in their community. Green lifestyles are possible and we’re proud we can run our business like we do,” Dundas said.

Although Brooklyn has more people like Dindas and Meisen around to start businesses, other boroughs are also capitalizing on this movement.

“Brooklyn tends to be less expensive across all property types relative to Manhattan,” said Jonathan J. Miller, president and CEO at Miller Samuel Inc. a real estate appraisal firm. “While the green phenomenon is a trend in Brooklyn it’s not unique to Brooklyn. What began as a marketing gimmick has evolved into a baseline amenity fueled by rising demand of green-aware consumers.”

In Brooklyn, its community seems to have made it a priority.

“Its nickname is the ‘People’s Republic of Brooklyn’ because it’s a progressive borough; it’s the most progressive borough of all boroughs. That general consciousness is focused on the environment right now because people realize we need to help in small or large ways and they want to be responsible,” said Nancy Romer. She has lived in Brooklyn for 36 years and helps lead the Brooklyn Food Coalition, a group advocating for more sustainable organic food options and green businesses in the borough.

And Brooklyn may just continue being a different and innovative place.
“I grew up in a city of neighborhoods that were created by immigrants so we would buy the specialty foods they made… people were welcoming and grew food in their gardens or would raise animals and have rotisserie spits in their back yard,” said Annie Hauck-Lawson, associate professor of foods and nutrition at Brooklyn College and co-author of New York based food book, Gastropolis. “We are such a diverse and creative community that will stay true to its roots and keep living from the earth and welcoming people.”

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New York’s veteran waiters aren’t going anywhere

New York’s veteran waiters aren’t going anywhere

Tommy Rowles has been working at the Carlyle's Bemelman's Bar for 51 years. (Photo: Joel Meares)

Tommy Rowles has been working at the Carlyle's Bemelman's Bar for 51 years. (Photo: Joel Meares)


Tommy Rowles has been shaking martinis at the Carlyle Hotel’s swish Bemelmans’ Bar for 51 years. He was 17 and fresh from Dublin when he first got the job.

“I came in to go to the bathroom and there was this Irish bartender here,” says Rowles, standing at the bar on a quiet November morning. “He said, ‘Are you looking for a job?’ Then he asked, ‘Do you own a pair of black socks?’”

Rowles told the man to mind his own business – he wanted to work in an Irish pub, not a ritzy hotel – but he was soon swayed. Just weeks later, he was serving his first drink in the bar named for “Madeline” creator Ludwig Bemelmans.

New York is famed for its old-time waiters, bartenders and deli workers; raspy raconteurs like Rowles who have taken tips for decades at places like Bemelmans’, Peter Luger’s and Katz’s. They’re as familiar as the towering pastrami on rye at the Carnegie Deli: always there, always smiling and always with a special in mind. Some are as famous as the celebrities they serve. This June, Vanity Fair profiled Elaine Kaufman, of Elaine’s on the Upper East Side.

While many of these familiar faces say they’ll never retire, others are hanging up their aprons. Bartender Hoy Wong, who worked at the Algonquin Hotel past his 90th birthday, retired this year, and the veteran waiters at the Café des Artistes lost their jobs when the restaurant shut its doors in September. But there are those, like Rowles, who are defying the clock and keeping the spirit of the long-serving New York server alive.

New York Times writer William Grimes, who recently released the book “Appetite City: A Culinary History of New York,” says the city’s dining and drinking scene has been transformed by this changing of the guard. Flair is being replaced by expertise as diner legends retire.

“The younger generation of waiters is required to be much more knowledgeable about what’s on the menu and the ingredients that are in each dish and be intimately familiar with the wine list,” says Grimes. “There’s almost a requirement that waiters be foodies. I think that in the old days the personal touch of the waiter was much more important than technical knowledge. People went to a particular restaurant because they knew their waiter and cultivated a relationship with him and trusted their dining fate to his capable hands.”

Carnegie Deli’s Jack Sirota might have had the New York food scene’s most famous personal touch. The 77-year-old began working night shifts at the Seventh Avenue deli in 1959, the same year he married his wife, Renee. Grimes says delis like Carnegie are legendary for waiters who gave “not just instruction on the menu, but on how to live your life.” Sirota did just that.

Through his 44 years at Carnegie, where he later switched to lunches, Sirota kept customers smiling with stories, advice like “you can’t go wrong with pastrami,” starred as himself in Woody Allen’s “Broadway Danny Rose” and wrote a chapter of a book about the deli, “How to Feed Friends and Influence People.”

Sirota officially retires this year, though he has been on sick leave since 2003 when he fell from a footstool in his kitchen. He was later told he had an enlarged heart and never returned to work. Over the phone from his home in Lakewood, N.J., he says he misses the buzz of the busy diner and its regular customers.

“I loved being around people and I had a good time,” he says. “My philosophy was, every day is Christmas; every day was good.”

Sirota’s customers miss him too. “Bert and Ruth,” who ate at the Carnegie seven nights a week when they lived in Manhattan, were delighted to run into Sirota at a bakery in Lakewood this year. And he hasn’t lost the waiter’s wit that made him a hit on the floor. To a doctor who’d just put a stint in a blocked artery, he said: “I bet you took out the pastrami!”

If gregariousness was Sirota’s secret to success, Rowles’ says his is discretion.

“They tell you that everything that’s done in Vegas stays in Vegas and it doesn’t,” he says, looking as though he might be hiding a million secrets in his flash red Carlyle jacket. “Everything that happens here stays in the Carlyle. People know that if they screw up, they’re not going to see it in the paper in the morning.”

Rowles works the lunchtime shift Tuesdays to Fridays and drives in from Pearl River, N.Y. He says he had a regular crew of men who drank at his bar during the day, but “I’ve buried them all in the last three years.”

His favorite customer was one of his earliest. On his first day of work, the then 17-year-old Rowles served Harry S. Truman. The former president became a regular, drinking bourbon with the young Irish bartender most nights before heading off to visit his grandchildren on the Upper East Side. “He was really nice,” says Rowles, “an American hero.”

Rose Donaghey, an 89-year-old Ulster native still carrying burgers at the east Bronx’s Wicked Wolf restaurant, treats all her customers equally. She says it’s the secret to a 50-year career as a waitress in the city. “I didn’t care, rich or poor, I treated everybody the same,” she said over the phone from her home in the Bronx. “It didn’t matter who they were, I made them feel at home.”

Wicked Wolf owner Kathy Gallagher, whom Donaghey had worked with for 14 years at another restaurant, Charlie’s Inn, roped her in to the job. She works just two days a week – Tuesdays and Wednesdays, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.  – and her son drives her to and from the restaurant.

“It’s great therapy,” she says. “If I’m at home, I would be playing games, on the television, going to church, things like that.”

When she began at the Wicked Wolf last year, newspapers across the city covered the story of New York’s oldest waitress. Ellen Degeneres even approached her and offered her a first-class ticket to L.A. to appear on her talk show. Donaghey turned her down. “I didn’t want to fly seven hours,” she says.

Like Rowles and others among the city’s old-timers, Donaghey has no plans to retire and she won’t become a modern “foodie” waiter, either. She says her parents, who were farmers in Ireland, never stopped working.

“It’s in my genes,” she says. “We can’t relax, all my family worked to the very end. If they told me they didn’t need me, I would stop working, but that’s never been a question.”

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Food inspires personal expression

Food inspires personal expression


The Holiday Turkey Project from caroline shin on Vimeo.

A love for food can certainly inspire culinary creations. But it’s the creators who sprinkle in a dash of their personal style to their food.

By tailoring their love to who they are, food-lovers find interesting and sometimes untraditional ways of using food. Their concoctions can hinge on anything from technology — a la chef technologist Dave Arnold — to art — from painter Will Cotton — to, well, food for the sake of food — via home chef Jeffrey Babb.

On a recent Tuesday afternoon, Arnold rushed the six blocks — in his characteristic mile-a-minute manner — from the French Culinary Institute in SoHo to DiPalo’s in Little Italy to get his hands on eight pounds of “the best lamb sausages.” He would be making his Scotch eggs, sausage-wrapped eggs, his special way: Some minutes in the immersion circulator and a couple of drops of nitrogen oxide.

After catching a whiff of Arnold’s scientific methodology, Salvador DiPalo, 51, a fourth-generation worker at the famed mom-and-pop shop, went off on a mini-tirade. “Why do you take the love out of the food?” “Food science,” he spat out. “It sounds nonromantic.”

“You’re breaking my balls over here,” said Arnold, 38, director of culinary technology at FCI and frequent shopper, with slicked-black hair and a gap-toothed smile.

DiPalo then leaned over and said: “I’ll tell you the truth, Dave’s one of those people who has the most love for food. He wants to take it a step further, create a new dish, a new love. Dave wants to try it all.”

The perfectionist scientist, Arnold has had an innate technological bent — borne from the days his father would leave electrical engineering equipment lying around their house in the Upper West Side and his doctor mother would throw special dinner parties. He has matched his scientific curiosity to his passion for food.

“I’ve been into food my whole life,” he said. “I love all food.”

During his Yale undergraduate years, he made his own whiskey sours and a hot tub that ran on shower water. Arnold’s wife and college sweetheart, Jennifer Carpenter, 37, recalled his crazy “whiskey sour hot tub parties,” and said “they were really fun.”

He built the first circulators for low-temperature cooking at Wylie Dufresne’s WD-50, infused gin and vermouth into a cucumber for an edible martini, and purchased a 500,000-BTU torch for some idea that will pop up. As it usually does.

At Columbia University School of the Arts, he gained some notoriety and appeared in the New York Times in 1997 for an art project in which he killed a frog to mechanize a robot with its muscles — a “Frankenstein” that predated his most recent project, a Thanksgiving “Franken-turkey.”

For Thanksgiving, Arnold prepared a deboned turkey stuffed with an aluminum skeleton and cooked from the inside out at low temperatures. He wanted to produce “the perfect turkey” that would be evenly cooked and juicy. He had discovered, after a series of experiments, that different parts of poultry have different cooking temperatures and times. This was the basis for his “Franken-turkey,” which lay wired and strapped up outside his office-laboratory to eye-popping stares and second glances.

Carpenter said: “It was the best turkey I have ever had. It was perfectly moist and tender throughout.”

The attention to scientific cooking — better known as “molecular gastronomy” by the public, to the cringing of insiders, since all cooking involves molecular changes — has been on the rise for the past couple of decades. In 1984, Harold McGee published “On Food and Cooking,” in which he gave scientific answers to practical questions. And in the 1990s, a number of young prominent chefs — triple Michelin award winners Ferran Adrià of El Bulli in Spain and Heston Blumenthal of the Fat Duck in England — began to apply McGee’s scientific approach in the kitchen, according to The Economist.

Recently, the National Restaurant Association released the hottest trends for 2010, from a survey of 1,800 professional chefs. It seems that science is here to stay. In the category of food preparation methods, liquid nitrogen for freezing and chilling and sous vide, or “boil-in-a-bag” cooking, ranked at the top. The scientific knowledge may extend even beyond the restaurant and into the home kitchen, with the launch of the Sous Vide Supreme, which costs $449.

IMG_0211Food has also been crossing paths with art as well. On the last three Sundays of November, food artist Will Cotton held his pop-up shop of baked goods at Partners & Spade, a quirky bookstore and gallery space in SoHo. From the doorway, a massive painting — easily mistaken for a photograph — of a voluptuous nude woman immersed in luxurious pink cotton candy clouds, was clearly visible. Those who entered passed a pogo stick and a motorcycle and were greeted with the smell of a certain sweetness of baking. Finally, there was Cotton, fair-haired and reserved, overseeing the frosting on the burner. It was sweetness all around.

Cotton said that Andy Spade, in August, had requested a contribution “not appropriate for a gallery setting.” He thought, “Baking installation!”

“I got really interested in how smell and taste can complement a visual experience,” he said. For his opening day, he made 600 pastries, including 350 macarons, 20 pear tartlets, 24 chocolate raspberry cakes and three big cakes. He brought macaron flavors including vanilla pink peppercorn and salted caramel.

The Massachusetts native and Cooper Union graduate, Cotton is known for his juxtaposition of nude women and colorful confections. He says he uses sweets as “a metaphor for desire,” and arranges them as landscapes in his paintings, drawings and sculpture. Think Candyland for adults.

“I love candy,” he said quietly, and admitted that his sweet tooth is connected to his art work. “Certainly, that’s a part of it.”

IMG_0263He has painted a woman wearing a pouf of ribbon candy ringlets; drawn a lady with a swirl of an ice cream cone atop her head; and sculpted a five-foot stack of large cakes that tip over onto one other. He has a professional oven in his studio and he bakes nearly all of his confectionery landscapes. He admitted that he goes to the gym twice a week and yoga once a week “to be able to keep eating” his desserts.

For “Cotton Candy Sky,” the oil painting on the gallery’s back wall, Cotton had made batches of pink cotton candy. He posed his model on a pink bed sheet, and looked to the actual cotton candy for the details in his painting.

Misha Votruba, 44, came in with his wife and children, who were so curious about all the different treats and earnestly looked at each one—at least those that were up to their eye-level. For others that were placed a bit higher, Votruba picked them up, and the whole family ordered their sweets of choice. Votruba bit into the carrot cupcake. “It is out of this world,” he said.

IMG_0220Depictions of food in art have been around for centuries: from the paintings of lavish banquets by Willem Kalf during the Renaissance to portrayals of fruits by Paul Cezanne in the late 1800s to the famous Campbell’s soup cans by pop artist Andy Warhol in the 60s. The blog, presents a fascinating array of current contributions to food art. It features Mike Geno’s bacon Christmas tree postcards, Jennifer Rubell’s edible donut installation and Timothy Thompson’s aluminum cupcakes.

In a much more private setting, Jeffrey Babb, 29, media relations associate at Macy’s, cooks for himself five nights a week. Cooking, for him, is  relaxation. “It’s the equivalent of some people’s five-mile run,” he said. “I just make it part of my day.”

His forte is barbecue, which he learned from his father, a seven-time winner at his county barbecue championship in Texas. His father had also won some awards at the Houston Livestock Show and the Rodeo Cook-off, one of the largest in the state. And he takes tips from wherever he can get them: Food Network, Web sites, friends.

From Dave Chang of Momofuku fame, Babb learned smoke water—the end product of smoking water along with meat to pick up the flavor without actually touching meat. “Smoke water is the new fried chicken,” He said. He also smokes Coca-Cola for a whiskey drink called the Waylon.

A few months ago, he was hit with a homemade bacon craving. He went to Chinatown, bought pork belly, seasoned and cured it for seven days, and cooked it. “Turned out to be the next-level bacon,” he said.

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Angel Moinas and the American dream


El Maguey is Angel Moinas's new Mexican restaurant at 142nd and Broadway in Manhattan.


Angel Moinas paid a coyote, a smuggler of illegals, $800 in 1982 for a ride from Tijuana, Mexico, to Los Angeles.  The trip from Ecuador, where he is from, to Mexico had been legal, and he traveled by bus.  This leg of the journey, however, meant four hours lying in the trunk of a car. “Full music in my ears — when I get out in Los Angeles, I can hear nothing,” Moinas recalls.

Once Moinas arrived in Los Angeles it was a simple matter to fly to New York City. In those days, airlines were not overly concerned about the immigration status of their customers.  He soon found work as a dishwasher in a restaurant.

Now, Moinas, 47, has a new restaurant, El Maguey, at 142nd and Broadway in Upper Manhattan.  It is  Mexican, family style, with orange walls and seating for 60.  Three flat-screen televisions playing muted action movies are mounted on the walls and Latin music plays softly.

It is a Wednesday night, October 21st, and El Maguey has only been open for six days.  So far, business has been slow, but he is not concerned.  He doesn’t have a liquor license yet, and he expects that when he is able to sell alcohol his business will improve dramatically.

Moinas has good reason to believe that a liquor license will improve business at El Maguey — his other restaurant, La Posada, is literally a block away at 143rd and Broadway and is doing well with its liquor license.  La Posada is less suited to family dining and feels more like a bar, but the establishments are similar enough that Moinas expects to be able to replicate La Posada’s success.

Becoming a restaurateur was not a speedy process for Moinas.  His first obstacle was his immigration status.  Fortunately for Moinas, Ronald Reagan signed the Immigration Reform and Control Act on November 6, 1986.  The act allowed certain illegal immigrants to apply for amnesty, and Moinas made the cut.  As a result, he is now a U.S. citizen.

The second obstacle for Moinas was money.  He didn’t make much as a dishwasher, but soon worked his way up to becoming a cook and then a sous-chef.  He worked long days, saved fastidiously, and after about 12 years had acquired enough money to return to Ecuador and open a restaurant.  A year and a half later, however, Ecuador converted its currency from the sucre to the dollar. The U.S. dollars Moinas had saved had gone a long way when converted to sucre, but didn’t seem to stretch as far once the currency converted. The cost of running his restaurant rose, but his revenue didn’t keep up. Eventually, he went broke.


Moinas relaxes in his new restaurant.

Moinas returned to New York in 2000 to start over. This time he started as a “black car driver” for a company that chauffeured corporate executives.  He worked long hours for four years to save money.  On some days he would start an afternoon shift at 3 p.m. and not return home until 8 the next morning.  He had a new wife and baby daughter at home, but he needed to earn enough money to pull ahead.  Finally, in 2004, Moinas took the plunge again and opened La Posada with two friends.

Owning a restaurant did not make Moinas rich. He couldn’t afford enough staff to run the place, so he worked as a cook himself, often putting in 14-hour days.  After a year he bought out one of his partners and a year later he bought out the other.  The buyouts only put Moinas in debt, however.  He  needed $50,000 and the only way he could get it was through loans from friends and family in the Ecuadorean community.  Those loans came with exorbitant interest rates.  On a $5,000 loan, for instance, he would have to make payments of $250 per month in interest until he had paid off the principal, a rate which is approximately 60 percent annually.

Moinas has had to fight and pay for everything he has acquired in life.  Now that he is the sole owner of La Posada and has paid off his debts he still isn’t in the clear — his landlord has not yet renewed his lease, which expires in two months, so Moinas is on tenterhooks again.  He has opened El Maguey partly as a hedge against the possibility that his lease for La Posada will not be renewed.

Operating two restaurants means that Moinas must pay $14,000 a month in rent.  Asked if he was rich, he laughed.  “I have too many bills,” Moinas said.  “It’s crazy.”  In fact, Moinas and his wife, Janet, both still work full time.  La Posada stays open until 4 a.m., which means that Moinas often doesn’t get home until almost six in the morning.  As a result, he says, he rarely sees his daughter, Hailey, who is now 8.  He is asleep when she gets up to go to school and she is asleep when he gets home.

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New York health code not pet friendly


When is dog-friendly too friendly?

A Michigan man recently wound up in Judge Judy’s televised court, fighting over a dog in a restaurant.

It may seem like a simple matter, but restaurants in New York City can be shut down if a dog is there and even the Federal government has considered the problems of pets and eating in public.

After shopping with his wife and dog at Partridge Creek Mall in Clinton Township, Mich., David Alan of Keego Creek, Mich., decided to have dinner at a nearby restaurant. The couple was seated in the outdoors dining area until it began to rain, then they went inside to finish their meal.

Alan claims his dog, Marco, was inside a pink and brown carrier while he and his wife finished their meals at the bar. As they left,  fellow patron, Virginia Eldridge, said to Alan’s wife, “You really should know that they could close this restaurant for you bringing your dog in here.”

Offended by Eldridge’s statement, Alan confronted Eldridge and a melee ensued. In the end, Alan’s glasses were broken and they wound up in front of Judge Judy, who  dismissed Alan’s case stating, “You acted inappropriately, Mr. Alan. Frankly I’m not sure why you’re here.”

America has long been a country that cherished the companionship of dogs. In cities like New York, many establishments allow patrons to bring their pooches indoors. While it is courteous to be dog friendly, in many instances it is a violation of the health code.

The Food and Drug Administration, which creates guidelines for the handling of food in restaurants and grocery stores, prohibits live animals, excluding fish in tanks and service animals, in establishments that serve food. The regulations are in place owing to the health  concern that animals could contaminate food if employees touch them and don’t wash their hands.

Michael Hernon, a press officer for the FDA, said in an email that the “FDA does issue guidelines regarding animals in food establishments under the FDA Food Codes and states health agencies are free to adopt the guidelines as they see fit.”

The New York City Department of Health has adopted the guidelines that also restrict animals in outdoor eating areas. Several cited violations can close down restaurants but the threat of closing down doesn’t stop restaurant owners from allowing animals in and outside of their establishments.

Franks, an Italian restaurant in the East Village is marked as a dog-friendly restaurant on The restaurant is in two sections – a dining area and a bar. Each has a separate entrance and two very different atmospheres. The restaurant is a brightly lit dining area filled with patrons during the day. The bar, that comfortable fits about 20 people, has a communal dining table. Despite the bright light of the sun, the dimly lit room looks even darker because of the dark wood of the table and bar itself.

The wine director, Eamon, who requested to have his full name withheld, said the restaurant is very popular among the dog owners in the neighborhood. During the summer months, patrons bring their dogs to the outdoor dining area. He also admits that patrons bring their pets indoors.

“Dog’s aren’t supposed to be allowed inside but we let it slide. We’re not doing anything criminal,” he said.

Franks has been open for 11 years and hasn’t been closed for any violations. For years regulars have brought their dogs in – often placed in corners – with little complaint from other patrons.

“Ninety-nine percent of people are cool about it. As long as it’s not a rambunctious dog,” he said. “We had a regular who had four yappy dogs. We told him you can’t have the dogs inside anymore. We have an employee who brings his dog and he lays in the corner. Nobody even notices.”

Eamon considers the restaurant’s actions a part of good customer service. Patrons get to eat and keep an eye on their dogs.

He is also unsure of the ramification of violating the ordinance.

If an animal is found in the indoor or outdoor dining area of a food establishment, a value point is given for the violation. Each violation is assigned a base point value and additional points are added to a violation to reflect the severity of the violation. Having live animals in a food establishment is considered by the city a critical violation. Depending on the condition – the number of animals found in the establishment – the violation can carry five to eight points. A score of 28 points or higher warrants a re-inspection of the facility. Further violations can lead to the establishment’s closing by the Department of Health.

“Under the Americans With Disabilities Act, a Federal law, privately owned businesses that serve the public are prohibited from discriminating against individuals with disabilities. The ADA requires these businesses to allow people with disabilities to bring their service animals onto business premises in whatever areas customers are generally allowed. Some, but not all, service animals wear special collars or harnesses. Some, but not all, are licensed or certified and have identification papers,” said Herndon.

This year, three food service establishments in the city have been cited for having dogs in an outdoor eating area and 29 for having dogs indoors.

Many dog owners appreciate the restaurants that violate the regulations.

Lisa Neilsen, a nutrition and wellness coach, owns a Bichon Frise, named Bowie. She often takes the 16-month-old dog to cafes near her home on Greenwich Avenue. She doesn’t take Bowie inside restaurants because he is “ too young to sit and be well behaved.” But she has been to restaurants where dogs are inside.

“I like it. I know it’s against the law. But if you’re going to run in to grab a coffee it’s OK. Dog owners know whether their dogs can handle it,” she said. Speaking about Bowie, she said, “He does go after food. He is not so well trained. I have to keep a close watch.”

But not everyone is enthused by dog-friendly restaurants. Anthony John disapproves of dogs in restaurants.

As a bellman at the Bowery Hotel – a dog-friendly hotel in the East Village – he sees many dogs throughout his day, especially at the Gemma Restaurant connected to the hotel. The restaurant is also listed on as dog-friendly, but according to the manager dogs are only allowed in the outdoor dining area during the summer.

John has never eaten at Gemma or any establishment that allows dogs. He does not have any pets but sees many people in the neighborhood going in and out of restaurants, cafes and grocery stores with their dogs.

“It’s gross,” he exclaimed. “That’s where you eat. Dogs carry dander and fleas.”

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Weird Food: Elk chops

Elk Chops at Henry's End in Brooklyn Heights

Elk Chops at Henry's End in Brooklyn Heights.


Henry’s End in Brooklyn features a “Wild Game Menu” and, among other offerings, serves elk chops with rice and broccoli.  The meat is delicious, although difficult to distinguish from lamb chops, pork chops, or, probably, zebra chops.

The restaurant itself is the epitome of unpretentious affluence.  The tables are a plain black.  The napkins are cloth.  The wallpaper in the bathroom is a heavy, tasteful fabric. The pepper grinders are wooden and weathered – just like at grandma’s house.   There are about 40 patrons, several of them wearing cardigans and heavily-rimmed glasses, and the level of murmur is just loud enough to feel lively without intruding.  There are no televisions.  At the table next to you a middle-aged white fellow mentions to his companions that he can recommend several fine restaurants in Aspen.

Prior to arriving on your plate, the elk chops belonged to an elk who was raised on a farm in New Zealand, where he was fed a diet of grain.  It is against the law to serve wild game in a New York City restaurant, although evidently it is not against the law to advertise that you do.

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Tongue tacos in Manhattan


Walk down a street in any given Mexican city and you will find many taco stands, the good ones before the bad ones.  The aroma of spicy meat and vegetables will guide your feet to the perfect stand.  Most have meat or pork tacos, but every once in a while you might run into one that serves lengua, Spanish for tongue.

While Manhattan doesn’t have the stands on every corner, you can find tongue in Harlem at the brick and mortar hotel, Cinco De Mayo  Restaurant at 1028 Amsterdam Ave. has them.  No such aroma on the sidewalk, but you’ll know to go in by it’s big Red, Green and white canopy on the west side of the street.

They charge $2.95 a taco, which isn’t too bad.  In Northern Mexico they go for about a dollar each.  The tongue isn’t made directly from the meat.  It’s boiled, peeled then sautéed, normally with tomatoes and onions.  Then it’s topped off with cilantro in true Mexican fashion.  And to make it even more authentic, you have to squeeze a little lime on it, preferably from your cold Corona.

It’s most common to eat them with corn tortillas.  You might need two, because the tongue tends to be somewhat watery.   A normal person will probably be satisfied with about six tacos.  The beauty in that is to vary them.  If you’re not feeling bold, have a couple steak tacos, maybe some head-meat tacos.  Once you have tongue, you can graduate to tacos made from head muscles.  And that’s the gateway drug for entering the adventurously delicious world of brain and tripe tacos.

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In downturn, Harlem sees hope in opening restaurants

In downturn, Harlem sees hope in opening restaurants


(Photos by Vadim Lavrusik)


After running a small cupcake shop in the West Village for three years, Tonnie Rozier decided to come back to his roots by opening up a second shop in Harlem.

Rozier, 40, said he hadn’t considered opening up a shop in Harlem because the rent always seemed so high. But when a friend approached him with a location off Lenox Avenue in Central Harlem last spring with a great rent price, he couldn’t resist.

He considered the fact that he was taking a risk with the recession taking a toll on small and big businesses alike. But Rozier was looking further ahead, and already noticing new businesses moving into the neighborhood. And it was a homecoming for the Harlemite who grew up and has lots of family there.

Tonnie’s Minis Opens in Harlem (Audio by Vadim Lavrusik)

“Harlem has been on its way back for many years now. And I saw the vision, but never thought it would become what is has become today,” Rozier said.

Though there’s more than 40 cupcake shops in Manhattan, Tonnie’s Minis is the first in Harlem. But it’s not the only first for a neighborhood that is seeing new food businesses (map) opening up and the community buzzing that these are signs of economic recovery.

Part of the buzz stems from new jobs that these new restaurants will create. Applebee’s alone is hiring 250 new workers for next week’s opening off 125th Street. The neighborhood is also awaiting the openings of several restaurants off Lenox Avenue, including a Jamaican and soul food restaurant called Jams, rotisserie chicken shack Spinners, and OneBar, a high-scale bar.

Though the exact number of restaurants opened in Harlem in the last year was unavailable, Community Board 10 has approved 49 liquor licenses so far this year.

Franc Perry, chairman of Community Board 10, which represents Central Harlem, said though he didn’t want to jump to conclusions on what that means, he certainly is optimistic about the opportunities it brings into Central Harlem – a neighborhood with an unemployment rate topping 20 percent. The city’s overall rate is 10.3 percent.

Though there has been a spurt of restaurants openings in Harlem, Andrew Rigie, director of operations at New York State Restaurant Association, said there is no doubt that the economy has still created a dip in restaurants’ sales. People are cutting back on going out, and one would think that Harlem would be worse off than other neighborhoods with such a high jobless rate. Though more new restuarants are opening, those that have been open longer have better chances of weathering the stark economy because they already have a customer base, experience and operating capital, Rigie said.

Harlem welcomes ‘Eatin’ good in the neighborhood’

So why would anyone want to open a restaurant during such economic turmoil, and why in Harlem? For Zane Tankel, CEO of Apple-Metro, which operates 34 Applebee’s locations in the New York metro area, the answer is simple. Demand in Harlem, plus cheap rent, a dash of risk, and years of experience is why Tankel is opening an Applebee’s on 125th Street.

“I think it is an underserved community,” Tankel said. “There are few places there right now where a large group of people can go in and sit down and get some good food for a reasonable price.”

Damaa Bell, who writes the UPTOWNFlavor blog on food news, said she thinks the new Applebee’s will be successful in Harlem because there is a shortage of restaurants that can accommodate large groups.

“When you think of dining in Harlem they are often small venues that can accommodate up to 10 diners max. An Applebee’s would be popular with families,” Bell said.

Bell points out that an Applebee’s just opened in the Marble Hill area has been successful because it is the only eatery of its type in the neighborhood, which she says is similar to Harlem.

Tankel said he also hopes he can attract some late-night customers. Though many restaurants in the area close around 9 p.m., Applebee’s will be open until midnight on weekdays and 1 a.m. on weekends. He acknowledges that maybe there is a lack of late-night demand or owners worry about crime, but said that is something he will have to re-evaluate after seeing how business goes.

“We’ll see how it pans out because we’re not immune to the economy, but we’ve definitely made the adjustments,” Tankel said. Though sales are down a bit at some of his locations, Tankel said they attract people by offering them value deals like bundling menu items with a $20 deal for an appetizer and two entrees. This keeps the total bill higher for the restaurant, but is still a good deal for the customers, he said.

On Tuesday, the restaurant’s hiring center was full of people filling out applications for the 250 full- and part-time positions available. The Labor Department reported Friday that the national jobless rate had dropped from 10.2 to 10 percent, the strongest report since the recession began – a glimmer of hope for those that have recently lost jobs.

Jeffrey McCaskill, 20, stopped in between classes at The College of Technology to fill out an application for a cook. McCaskill, who is currently unemployed, said he needs to get a job to help pay the family bills.

He’s predicting the restaurant, which sits at the corner of 125 Street and 5th Avenue, will be really busy despite the downturn.

“Sure people are struggling, but I think you’re starting to see more places opening up and they’re starting to build again,” he said. “It’s great. It gives a chance for people to get a job.”

McCaskill is one of 5,000 people that had filled out applications as of Thursday, according to Tankel.

“I hope I get it,” McCaskill said.

Real estate and a developing neighborhood

Though Tankel had been looking to open a franchise in Harlem for about six years, each time a potential location came up he was faced with obstacles in construction or price.

However, with the drop in real estate prices, rents in the neighborhood have gone down dramatically too, which is why Tankel took advantage of the location, he said.

Charles Belanger, a real estate broker turned restaurant owner, knows that better than anyone.

“The market obviously collapsed,” he said. “So I went into the chicken business.”

Belanger, who was a broker for more than 20 years in Manhattan, took his store front real estate office off Lenox Avenue and turned it into a rotisserie chicken and sandwich shop. On Thursday, he was working on cleaning the entryway of the shop on its first day open. Customers slowed to see what the new restaurant had to offer, some eyeing the side real estate office signs still visible from its previous incarnation..

Belanger already had the location and didn’t want to just give up on the space. A food business made sense for the neighborhood, he said.
“People gotta eat.”

Because it is a low-income neighborhood, he said it wouldn’t make sense to open an electronics store, which would be difficult to compete with a big box store that gets its products less expensibely from overseas.

“You can’t ship a roast beef sandwich from China though,” he said.

Belanger said he decided to stay in Central Harlem because of the growth in real estate development and businesses the neighborhood has seen in recent years.

“Harlem does have a bright future,” he said. “It’s an area in Manhattan that has seen a lot of growth in recent years.”

He said a combination of factors like city tax breaks contributed to the growth. Also, The Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone Corp. has given $2.5 million in loans over the last 12 years to restaurants in Harlem, giving them the necessary cash to get started.

But most residents will point to the Clinton Foundation’s move into the neighborhood and its sweeping efforts to improve the neighborhood. Last year, the foundation launched the Harlem Restaurant Program, which used public funds and tax incentives to teach restauranteurs in the neighborhood better business skills.

Richard Howard, who stops at Rozier’s new cupcake shop almost eveyday after he picks his kids up from school, said ever since Clinton’s foundation came to Harlem a lot of new businesses moved into the neighborhood.

“I think that Harlem has kinda become the new mecca of new businesses,” Howard said. “It’s becoming like a SoHo or Delancey street. Well, now it’s Harlem.”

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When it comes to food, it’s about the food


In October,  Zagat released its annual survey book “New York City Restaurants 2010,” one of the city’s most trusted restaurant guides. Few people are strangers to the “Zagat Rated” stickers that restaurants proudly post near their entrances to let hungry passers-by know that they are worthwhile, listing scores for food, décor and service — and also the average cost.

But there is one score that Zagat doesn’t take into account: Department of Health and Mental Hygiene restaurant inspection violation score.

Individuals involved in the food industry have different opinions about whether  Zagat and food critics should consider sanitation violations.

“I absolutely think that if you’re in the business of recommending or rating establishments, it’s incumbent upon you to consider current health code violations,” says Leah McLaughlin, the owner and publisher of the food magazine Edible Queens.

“But restaurants shouldn’t be continually penalized for past violations if they’ve improved in subsequent inspections,” McLaughlin adds. “It’s easy to make a mistake, but takes effort to ensure the mistake doesn’t happen again, and those restaurants that work hard to maintain clean shops should be recognized for their efforts.”

Restaurants that maintain clean shops have been recognized for their efforts since 2005 when the Health Dept. began awarding the Golden Apple Excellence in Food Safety Award.

Charles Masson, who manages La Grenouille, which has a “Golden Apple” award and a Zagat food rating of 27, says that, in his position, it is easy to say that Zagat and food critics should take the inspection scores into account. He adds that the word “restaurant” comes from a French word meaning “restoration,” and says that a restaurant that is not clean won’t be restoring anyone.  (Zagat once included a “cleanliness” category in its survey, but decided to take it out.)

Masson says that a restaurant’s score depends heavily on who is doing the inspecting, and that some inspectors are not as qualified as others. But, he says, to not have the health department inspecting restaurants at all would be asking for potentially hazardous situations.

Masson says he wishes the same attention were paid to street vendors as to restaurants.

Street vendors “can put pretzels on the sidewalk, count them, and then serve them. They don’t have to abide by the same rules as we do because they are not classified as restaurants,” Masson says. “If New York City’s Department of Health is really concerned about the health and well-being of citizens who are consuming hot dogs or sushi or spaghetti, they should take a more global approach and say, ‘What about the pretzel vendor?’”

Joe DiStefano is a freelance food writer for Web sites such as Serious Eats, Slashfood and Gothamist, and he believes that reviewers should try to see restaurants through the eyes of patrons instead of “self-policing” by looking up inspection violations beforehand.

“If I went to a restaurant and got sick, I would look up the health rating,” DiStefano says. “With cooking foods at a certain temperature, I can let some things go by. I don’t need to eat in the most pristine conditions, but I don’t want to see bugs go by.”

He believes that the violation scores could be helpful if he respected the way that the Department of Health “does business,” but he doesn’t.

DiStefano’s view is shared by Robert Sietsema, the food critic for the Village Voice, who points out that the health department has a well-documented history of scandals, where inspectors are caught accepting bribes to ignore violations.

“A bit of that attitude still lingers,” Sietsema says. “The way Department of Health inspections are run, no one trusts them.”

Sietsema says that the department’s methods fall short of those necessary to prevent cases of E. coli or salmonella — things that could make people seriously sick.

“They use Victorian methods,” he says, “never a swab and a petri dish. They basically use a thermometer to take the temperature of milk and no one has ever gotten sick from spoiled milk. They like to get on their hands and knees with a pair of tweezers and count mouse turds.”

It’s up to a consumer to decide if a place meets a standard of hygiene, he concludes.

The Health Dept. press office spokesperson refused to comment. Repeated attempts to contact an inspector for interview were unsuccessful.

Starting next year, customers and critics alike will have no choice but to be faced with the inspection results each time they enter a restaurant; New York City is tossing its point system, following Los Angeles’s example and turning to letter grades. Under this system, restaurants will be given a letter grade based on how many violation points they have, and the grade would be posted near the entrance — right where the “Zagat Rated” stickers go.

Joe Spit, a food enthusiast, says that a poor grade wouldn’t stop him from frequenting his favorite restaurants. He said he would probably prefer a grade “if I hadn’t been there before, but if I had been there before and I liked the food, even if it got an F I wouldn’t care.”

Adrian Jimenez, a previous restaurant employee, believes that restaurant reviews shouldn’t take inspection results into account.

“I think reviews should be more about the food and not the production because there are other venues for the city to list the violations,” he says.

As somebody who has been both a restaurant customer and employee, Jimenez has mixed feelings about the whole grading system anyway.

“I see pluses and minuses,” he says. “I feel bad because the food industry is in constant war against mice and rats. For a kitchen to be defined by its cleanliness is unfair because restaurants are the perfect small business in the city and we need to support them. I think grades will make it harder on them.”

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The tricks and tips of food styling

The tricks and tips of food styling

Food stylist Brian Preston-Campbell carefully brushes sauce on to lamb chops about to be photographed for Departures magazine. (Photo: Tom Schierlitz)

Food stylist Brian Preston-Campbell carefully brushes sauce on to lamb chops to be photographed for Departures magazine. (Photo: Tom Schierlitz)


Food stylist Brian Preston-Campbell has some words of comfort for those struggling to get their Thanksgiving turkeys looking as plump and brown as the birds in their cookbooks. Those birds, he says, “are still fairly raw on the inside.”

The shiny brown birds that dominate magazines and books every fall are often the work of a food stylist’s paintbrush, one of the many tools Preston-Campbell carries with him in a metal briefcase to studios across New York. He also takes butter tweezers, a scalpel and a butane torch.

The trick with turkeys, he explains, is to roast it quickly at a high temperature. Then, brush the skin with a mix of water, soap and the supermarket-bought browning agent, Kitchen Bouquet. The bird might be Jell-O inside, but its outside is golden, moist and ready for its close-up.

Behind every great, stomach-teasing picture of food, there is a great food stylist and photographer. As models must be primped for the flashbulb, slabs of steak, gourmet cupcakes and martinis must be styled for food magazine pages, billboards and their own packaging. And just as with fashion, there are tricks to the trade.

“People eat with their eyes,” says Preston-Campbell, 38. “One of the first things they teach you at culinary school is that presentation is the first impression on someone when you’re preparing food for them.”

He started styling food a decade ago after 11 years working as a chef. His last kitchen job was as chef de cuisine at Bobby Flay’s Mesa Grill in the Flatiron District, and he found the work grueling. “I had 18 employees and they were a pain in the arse,” he says.
The difference between presenting food to eat and food to be photographed is that “you need to think of how the camera will view the food,” he says.  An overhead shot is styled evenly, he explains, while a shot taken from 45 degrees above the dish, the angle at which most people view their food, will be less even.

On a trip through Chelsea Market, shopping for the ingredients for a chicken hash and lobster bisque he will be styling for the New York Times magazine, Preston-Campbell describes his job. “You’re more or less shopping for, preparing and cooking idealized food for the media, whether it be magazines, newspapers, TV shows, commercials, or anyone else who needs food in their production,” he says.

For a job like that the New York Times shoot, a stylist is booked for “shooting days” and “prep days.” The client sends through recipes and the stylist offers feedback. The stylist then shops for the food, stores it at home or the photographer’s studio – most food photographers have studios with large kitchens, tables and refrigerators – and cooks and presents the dishes to be photographed on the day of the shoot.
“I think what differentiates a food stylist from a prop stylist or a wardrobe person is that we don’t just go and buy the thing that’s being photographed,” he says.  “We have to buy the raw materials, prepare it properly and make sure that it looks good – usually with only one chance to get it right.”

What looks good in food styling is always changing.

Romulo Yanes, for the last 26 years the only staff photographer on the recently closed “Gourmet” magazine, says magazine food was styled in a “very commercial way” in the 1980s. “It was lit and styled to look in the past more plastic,” he says over the telephone from his home in Morristown, N.J.

Preston-Campbell describes the old look as “over stylized, as if everything’s placed exactly and you can tell there’s been five meetings for each carrot stick placed on the plate.”

In a nod to all things organic, local and slow, food is styled today to look unfussy and realistic. Preston-Campbell calls it “making it look accidental when it really isn’t accidental.”

Ingredients are laid out on Preston-Campbell's prep table. (Photo: Tom Schierlitz)

Ingredients are laid out on Preston-Campbell's prep table. (Photo: Tom Schierlitz)

Kirsty Melville, head publisher at cookbook publisher Andrews McMeel, says photographers are increasingly using natural light. A native of Melbourne, Australia, she says Down Under cookbook queen Donna Hay’s simple, natural photography is having an influence on current US styles. “It’s brighter, with strong colors, but still very natural,” she says.

Hay, in an email from her office in Sydney, says she strives to create food that the reader can easily reproduce. “The way we style at the magazine is straight from the kitchen to the plate,” she writes. “We’re not about reviving cold food for a shoot – we work fresh and fast and we don’t use tricks, paints or colors.”

Yanes likes the move towards reality. “When I am most successful in photography is when I can make a dish come to life for people, like it’s sitting on your kitchen table. One of my biggest things is to have the food be believable and natural so someone doesn’t look at the food and say, ‘It looks so good, it’s fake.’ That would not be a compliment to me.”

The change has been far-reaching. “The other day I passed McDonald’s and they had photography of hamburgers that actually looked good,” says Yanes. “It wasn’t those pristine, perfectly placed lettuce leaves, and the buns, and the super, super juicy burgers that were beyond real.”

Melville says a publisher is ultimately looking for the style of the photography to match the food in the recipes. “Photography is an expression of the style of the food, which is in turn an interpretation of the voice of the chef or food writer,” she says. A particular challenge for her was Andrews McMeel’s book, “The Amish Cook At Home.” Melville wanted pictures reflecting Amish family life, but could not show faces. Instead, she and the photographer decided to use hands, rolling dough and cutting vegetables, in the images.

Hay agrees that the image must match the story. “Each story we do is thought out from the theme to the color palette, background and story,” she writes. “And because food is one dimensional on the page – you can’t touch it or smell it – it needs to have what we call ‘yum factor.’”

Glossy or gritty, the job of the stylist and photographer is to make food look good – no matter what – and photographer Yanes has his own turkey story to share.

Shooting outdoors in upstate New York, Yanes and his team discovered that the oven they were supplied with was not large enough to fit the turkey they had to cook. Luckily, they had one they prepared earlier: a shriveled bird cooked three days before to use as a stand-in.

The team “doctored up” the ageing turkey, already stinking in the July heat, and singed the skin with a butane torch to get rid of wrinkles. “The skin just kind of perks up right away,” he says, laughing. “You would never have been able to tell in the photograph and it wasn’t retouched or anything.”

The only other time Yanes has ever faked it was while shooting a mango rice pudding on a beach in Hawaii for “Gourmet”. Missing the bottle of cream he needed to finish the dish, he substituted sunscreen.

Such substitutions are common in styling. Steam, difficult to capture on camera, is commonly faked with cigarette smoke; garment steamers with a hose attached to steer the vapor and, notoriously, soaked tampons, microwaved and placed behind the dish to be shot.

There are even those who devote themselves to such fakery. Tom Trengrove, who sells everything from fake sushi to blackberries made from resin from his Trengrove Studios Web site, says his company has developed “products that make photographing transitory kinds of things, like ice and foam, more stable.”

Preston-Campbell used carved acrylic ice cubes from Trengrove, for a recent Grey Goose print campaign. The shop’s most popular products are ice, ice powder (used to put a frosty surface on a can or glass) and “Foam Booster,” added to beer to keep the foam from going down. You can even buy a small droplet of solid water for $12. “In this business, reality is defined by whoever’s paying,” says Trengrove.

But stylists, photographers and the mad scientists who assist them, have increasingly fewer reasons to use their tricks. While cookbook sales are up, with many economists suggesting people are cooking at home, magazine sales are down and people like Yanes and Preston-Campbell are finding work scarcer. “It’s much easier and cheaper to get it on the Internet than to go and buy a glossy magazine for $6,” concedes the stylist.

Yanes says the closing of his longtime home, “Gourmet,” which defined food styling trends since it launched in 1941, is devastating. “I think it was a mistake,” he says. “They were the first American publication to cater to gastronomy and it just seems like a terrible loss. You don’t close “Vogue”, “Vogue” is fashion. “Gourmet” is food.”

Preston-Campbell stays hopeful. “There will still be a demand for food stylists in the future even if all the editorial content and food advertising move to the web,” he says. “Food imagery still needs to be created regardless of the medium.”

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