I grew up in New Jersey. New York was the big beast that my dad went off to on a hot -- or cold -- bus for the day, depending on the time of year. Unfortunately, the bus wasn't cold in the summer and it wasn't hot in the winter the way you would like it to be (as he tells it). Either way, it was a long trek from our small coastal town on the Jersey Shore to the big city.
The Jersey Shore was an ideal place to be growing up in America in the 1970's. I was free to ride my bike to school, walk all over town, and play hide and seek on the roofs of the empty summer homes that were only inhabited 3-4 months a year.
While visiting back here, I think about the freedom I had compared to my own kids, now growing up on the west coast in Southern California in a different time and place altogether. We rode our bikes everywhere. Now, my kids ride bikes, but I take them to the beach, or the park to do so. Things sure are different.
I have been working back here in NYC and staying with some friends and family, commuting into the city and passing many landmarks that bring back all sorts of memories. There's the railroad bridge that crosses Sea Girt Lake, where I remember playing endlessly on these very railroad tracks, on the bridge, and under the bridge. We would lay pennies on the tracks, throw rocks into the lake, try to set crab traps, build rock walkways, fish, build forts, etc. As I roll over the same bridge now, in my adulthood, I remembered as clear as if I were that ten year old boy lowering a fishing pole, or laying a crab trap down from between the railroad tracks into the water. My friend Richard and I once were startled when the sound of a train horn came bearing down on us. You never saw two kids drop what they were doing so fast and escape to the "safety" of the rocky slope just off the edge of the bridge. Our trap had fallen into the water -- gone. As we settled into our safe position, panting, we peered down the tracks awaiting the rushing train, and watched as a fire truck rolled across the railroad tracks and continued down the road. No train. No dramatic swooshing rumbling rush. What a let down! And now, we didn't have our crab trap. I wonder what we would have done with any crab if we had even caught one? (End of memory riff...)
Now I'm back in New York. What a great city. I can hardly process it all. Imagine what we could do here on a Pizza Quest?! We could literally set up shop and start questing and likely never leave this town. The pizza is spectacular. The food is amazing. The variety and flow of it all is breathtaking. To refer back to an article I wrote recently, I guess I can't help but to keep my eyes out for those "chalkboard" signs that will lead me to something new, amazing, or different. There are so many here, literally, on every corner.
One of my favorite new joints in New York has to be The Spotted Pig. I was meeting a friend for dinner and got there a little early to be seated, but the downstairs bar was full. So, I wandered upstairs and found a couple of seats at the bar. I ordered my first Old Speckled Hen and asked for a menu while I waited for my friend to show up. The bartender said, "As soon as I get it, it's yours!" He was waiting for the daily printing of the menu. This is evidence of part of the magic of this place. I've been here multiple times during my trips to NY. The menu is always changing. I love that they are literally waiting for the final menu as they are already opening service for dinner.
Everything on the menu is familiar, comforting, but also challenging and slightly different. The dishes are simple, but explosive with flavor. I sent a text to a friend (Dave Wilson - who has shot most of our videos on Pizza Quest and is a fellow foodie), who I knew would be thoroughly jealous that I was here. He shot a text back saying, "Get the Deviled Egg, the Mussels, and the Crispy Pigs Ear!" I snapped a photo of my Old Speckled Hen, knowing this back-lit glistening beer would really set him over the top, and sent that off. Just then, I got another text, "I was just going to tell you to have an Old Speckled Hen for me!"
My friend Steve got there and by now there was no way I was leaving this bar stool -- no need to get a table. There's something about this place that makes me really feel at home. It's more like having a beer and some great food in your friend's basement bar, than being out at a restaurant. The only caveat to that is that there is one MAD Chef in this kitchen pushing the experience beyond sustenance and into the realm of experiential and memorable.
So, in Dave's honor, having never had a fried crispy pig's ear in my life, I decided that if it was on this menu it was not only going to be good, but great. My friend looked on in horror as I continued my order. I added the Steamed Mussels with Prosciutto, Cava and Samphire. The pig's ear was accompanied by a small endive salad with a lemon caper dressing. Now Steve felt pressured; he's not the most adventurous eater. So, he took a leap and ordered the Char Grilled Burger with Roquefort and Shoestrings! I've had it before -- it's really good. We shared the Deviled Egg appetizer followed by another round of Hens and, as a follow up, because we didn't get enough Deviled Egg the first round, we went for round two.
This isn't a review of the food, or this restaurant. I am just sharing the experience as a way to further explore our journey here on Pizza Quest. We are intrigued by the passion it takes to bring memorable food to the table. Our focus is on pizza, but the elements are similar across the board. It requires a balance of passion, dedication, taste, vision, with perhaps a dash of insanity.
As I write this, I can sort back through my visits here and recall the welcoming feeling and satisfaction I have experienced every time I come here. This sometimes comes accompanied by great food. It can also come from experiencing great food with great people. Or, perhaps we can have fond memories because of the place, or the timing, or so many other aspects that add value or meaning to our lives. But, in far fewer circumstances, you will find all or many of these aspects of enjoyment coming together at once. For me, I found the spot -- or, should I say I found the Spotted Pig?!