Friends! Check out my new show pilot for a friend’s YouTube channel that’s focused on ebikes. In my series, Around the Hood in 8 Minutes, I explore different neighborhoods of NYC, from sights to bites, in just 8 minutes! I hope you all enjoy it!
Throughout my life I’ve seen some great TV shows and movies, and lots of these productions feature fictional restaurants that make my mouth water. Here’s a collection of my top 10 fictional favorites, in no particular order, some new, some old. Enjoy!
The Original Beef of Chicagoland (The Bear)
The hit new show The Bear on Hulu just mainstreamed Chicago’s wildly popular and incredibly delicious Italian Beef Sandwich. The Windy City’s dairy-free brother to the City of Brotherly Love’s “Philly Cheese” is comprised of thin sliced/shaved steak, typically rib eye, and is adorned with Italian giardiniera, or pickled veggies (carrots, celery, broccoli, cauliflower, etc). Accompanying that is usually a hot cup of beef drippings for dipping, au jus style like you might expect with a French Dip.
You can’t eat at The Original Beef of Chicagoland, but you can certainly eat where they film the show, at least the exterior shots anyway, at Mr. Beef. I’ve been there and it’s damn delicious.
The restaurant from Ratatouille might be headed up by a sewer dwelling, flea infested, disease ridden rat, but that vermin’s velvety veloute looks absolutely incredible. The animated new(ish) classic from Disney and Pixar makes me crave a delicious Parisian meal like the ones Remy cooked up at Gusteau’s.
Paradise (Big Night)
The feast at Paradise in Big Night looked like heaven on earth. The entire film leads up to a massive blowout meal, meant to be a final hoorah for a struggling restaurant owned and operated by two immigrant brothers (Stanley Tucci and Tony Shalhoub). The meal features a divine collection of extravagant courses, finished off with the timpano – a huge layered and baked show stopper, and an infamously difficult to make Italian entree.
While Clemenza’s recipe for meat sauce in The Godfather, or New Vesuvio and Satriale’s Pork Store in the Sopranos, might wet your appetite for a nice hearty red sauce meal with your loud obnoxious cousins from Bensonhurst, the real reel meal that seals the deal for me is at the makeshift prison restaurant from Goodfellas. The whole gang is doing time, but they manage to eat like kings anyway. Paulie’s garlic slicing system… Vinnie’s “three small onions” in the sauce… I’d wack someone for that meal.
Dorsia (American Psycho)
We don’t know much about this hard to get rez from American Psycho, but we do know that Patrick Bateman covets the place. Word is it used to be a real place in the vacuous open floor buildings between Flatiron and Chelsea in Manhattan’s midtown south. Whatever it is they serve there, it must be pretty good, because the joint is placed on a higher rung than all the other delicious, trendy and socialite-attracting restaurants on the American Psycho restaurant ladder. Maybe Paul Allen can get us a table since it’s clear that Bateman can’t.
Rick’s Cafe Americain (Casablanca)
This iconic spot from Casablanca is home to so many famous lines from cinematic history that it just has to be on this list. Located in Morocco during WWII, it was frequented by expats and nationals from all over the war torn region. A place to kick back, forget about the horrors of global calamity, and sip on some gin cocktails while listening to jazz. I’m in. Even if the food sucks. In 2004 a restaurant by the same name opened in Casablanca to pay tribute to the film. I’ve never been, but I’d like to give it a shot.
Jack Rabbit Slim’s (Pulp Fiction)
The prospect of a five dollar milkshake was absurdly expensive when Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction came out in 1994, but now it isn’t too far off the mark for the average pricing. The cosplay and old Hollywood cinema -themed restaurant definitely had the feel of a classed up diner, of sorts. The booths were old cars! But a dance floor in the middle of the joint and an emcee hosting a nightly dance competition is enough for me to want to go at least once.
El Jefe (Chef)
Jon Favreau tapped into our comfort food sweet spot in his film “Chef,” where he struck out on his own with a food truck that ended up bringing him closer to his family. The famous elevated grilled cheese sandwich and myriad of other delicious looking selections will make you raid the fridge while watching. The success of the movie kicked off a TV series, The Chef Show, and based on what I’ve seen, Jon can actually cook! He’s got the chops to make El Jefe become a reality if he ever wanted to.
Paul Bunyan’s Cupboard (The Great Outdoors)
Who can forget the classic 1980s comedy scene from The Great Outdoors, where John Candy is trying to win a free meal by taking on the massive steak known as “The Old 96’er?” He’s all the way down to the end when the chef comes over and says, “He ain’t done yet.” He needs to eat all the fat and gristle too! I’m not sure that I could do it, but I would definitely love to eat at that place.
The Olympia Cafe (Saturday Night Live)
The famous SNL skit from the late 1970’s featuring a curt diner staff that offers only cheeseburgers, Pepsi (no Coke), and chips (no fries) is loosely based on the Chicago outfit known as The Billygoat Tavern.
While the famous skit was only featured in just six episodes of SNL, it made quite the impact on American pop culture. The best part is that the spirit lives on forever at The Billygoat Tavern in Chicago. The burgers there are pretty great!
BONUS HALLOWEEN MEAL!!!
Hannibal Lecter’s House
Just in time for Halloween! While Doctor Hannibal Lecter is known for eating humans, the TV series starring Mads Mikkelsen is more like a food show than a horror. Beautifully shot, and clearly food styled by professionals, Hannibal will make your mouth water while also making your skin crawl. A very strange combo indeed. But I’d love to be invited to a dinner party with the deranged doctor, so long as I or some other human were not on the menu.
A friend of mine asked me about Emilio’s Ballato the other day, and I realized I should probably have a list of “old school” style, red sauce -heavy, Italian comfort food spots in the city. Especially given how we lost some great ones due to COVID-19, like Forlini and Crispo.
I should note, I’m largely ignoring the panoply of mediocre tourist trap restaurants in Little Italy. Yes, there are some old classics there, but the one’s listed below are in another league, in my opinion.
So here we go. These are my favorites, in no particular order.
This celebrity magnet of a restaurant is one of the best spots to score some old school, red sauce, New York Italian food. Aside from their awesome pastas, they also put serious work into their parms and antipasti. Pictured below is the spicy vodka sauce, prosciutto and peas -topped bone-in veal parm, which is commonly offered as a special and even called an “off menu” item to those in the know.
A list of old school Italian joints wouldn’t be complete without a nod to Carbone. When you walk in this joint, you feel like you might witness a mob hit! Not in a scary way – because you feel like family when you’re here (take THAT Olive Garden!) – but in a cinematic way. Everything just looks the part, from the black and white tiled floors to the decor on the walls. This place is special, and my favorite items here are the trio of baked clams and their famous spicy rigatoni alla vodka.
We almost lost this joint to COVID-19. It closed, and everyone was pissed off and upset. But they re-opened in a new location, and I’m so psyched to get back in there to try everything. This joint slings some of the best pasta I’ve had, and all of the good the Italian chefs in town know that this is the place to go when you want a delicious, comforting meal outside of your own kitchen.
Right up there in the same neighborhood as Sandro’s is San Matteo, a noted two-time NYCWFF Burger Bash winner, of all things. While primarily organized as a Neapolitan style pizza joint, San Matteo actually serves up some of the most crave-worthy Italian food that I can think of. I regularly need my fix of this place. Everything from their apps to their aged steaks are fantastic. Pizza should be your snack when you go here. Save room for the mains, like their pork milanese!
Relative newcomer to the “old school” scene is Brooklyn Roots. This place is the only spot I picked that’s outside of Manhattan. I know I’ll get some shit for that, since there are lots of amazing places out in Queens and Brooklyn that garner a lot of love for this cuisine. But Chef Tommy is really dialed into the food that I grew up eating. Check out his “Matty Guns” pasta dish. It’s basically a baked red sauce and mozz rigatoni dish that has every kind of meat you can imagine. Incredible portion sizes and wildly affordable prices can be found here. You can’t beat it.
Another new “old school” style joint is Arthur & Sons. This place is red sauce to the core, and it has quickly become one of the hardest places to score a table. Everything with red in it is a hit here. The Parms, the meatballs, the subs, the pasta sauce… They even use cans of tomatoes as planters in the dining room. This is definitely the place to carb-load before a big competitive sporting event.
This joint is the only Italian restaurant to actually inspire me to go home and cook one of their recipes. Their “Broken Meatball Ragu” is absolute perfection, and it reminds me of Sunday visits to my grandparents’ house when I was a kid. I immediately went home and made it myself the following weekend. They use giant garganelli pasta for the dish, the perfect big floppy noodle for sopping up massive amounts of sauce. Also noteworthy here is the chrysanthemum salad and the lasagna, pictured below.
This place was famously known as the home of $9 Monday night pasta dishes. I’m sure the price has gone up since I enjoyed that special, but it would be worth every penny even at double the price. This place is part of the Altamarea restaurant group (Marea, Ai Fiore, etc.), but it is markedly obvious that it is meant to be their rustic, home cooking style restaurant. They do great burgers and aged steaks here as well.
My friend turned me on to this place just recently. I was blown away to learn that his wife’s cousin owns the joint. They’re from Capri. Let me just tell you: Their lemon cream pistachio paccheri is probably one of the best pasta dishes in town. It’s an absolutely delicious combination of flavors. I could eat this every day, with a side of their fried zucchini and fried castelvetrano olives.
The owners behind Tuscany Steakhouse also own Il Tinello, which recently just opened a second location on the east side. The move here is to get the trio of pastas as a sampler dish, of sorts. We ordered it as an appetizer because I needed to try some of the meat-focused items from the mains menu. They do a really nice veal rib chop here, if you feel like eating something more meaty.
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My friend’s family has been in the meat business for a century. His great grandfather started a company called Golden Packing in 1920, and my friend just re-established the family business in 2020. He got his start learning about and cutting meat, and then later was in sales with various operations. Now he runs his own show, having started his own operation exactly 100 years after his great grandfather did the very same thing. So cool.
His 21st century Golden Packing is even operating in a space that’s literally across the street from their original location in NYC’s meatpacking district on Little West 12th Street. One of the last few remaining meat packing businesses in the area. That’s something special.
He gave me a quick tour of the facility, and we even tasted some burgers and dry-aged steaks that we cooked in the office upstairs. Check out this video of the dry aging room, which is just across from the office:
This place was amazing. The smell of that room permeated through my mask and filled it with a mouth watering blue cheese aroma. I was salivating while taking these pics and videos. If I was in that office it would be hard to keep me from wandering off and just hanging out in the aging room.
Check out the progression on these aged short loin anterior ends. It goes from one day, to five days, to nearly three months.
And that same middle pic, just a week or so later:
Here’s a look at how burgers are made:
I actually made those! Chuck gets cut up into pieces and then turned into ground beef via these machines.
Anyway if you’ve been following along on Instagram, you may have noticed that I’ve been posting some butcher and packing type pics and videos lately. That’s because I’m “interning” here at Golden Packing, learning the business!
That’s right. I’m finally putting my money where my mouth is, and stepping into this glorious world. Here are some more shots of the day to day:
It’s a lot of fun. I’m learning so much, and somehow I find it exciting to wake up at 3:30am when I’m going to this new “office.”
Over time, I’ve had the opportunity to sample the wares, as you might imagine. For example, I’ve never touched anything as tender as these bone in veal tenderloins:
The skirt steaks are killer. Here’s an easy preparation I did with them to make fajita pitas:
Here’s my treatment of their porterhouse:
What a tasty beauty.
And also their bone-in tenderloin. This was fun!
Really great product, and it’s no wonder that they service so many of the city’s best steakhouses. They DO offer steams for home delivery as well, but the main bread and butter is their restaurant clientele.
For this installation of Beef Advocacy Monday, I figured I would shed some light on the subject of growth promotants. Namely, steroids and hormones used in the feed lot. You may recall that these are sometimes implanted behind an animal’s ear and slowly release over time.
Why would anyone give these substances to cattle, you might ask? There are a few reasons.
First, they act as “preventive medicine” and aid in animal health, much the same way that we use vitamins and supplements. This can mean fewer illnesses for the animal during its lifetime, and less use of antibiotics, which are expensive.
Second, the practice is done to help cattle develop lean muscle while simultaneously eating less feed. This attribute provides two beneficial side effects: One is that the practice helps ranchers and feed yard operators fill our country’s growing demand for lean beef. The second is that it provides dual conservationist/sustainability benefits. By administering growth promotants, the beef biz uses 10% less land and 141 billion fewer gallons of water in beef production operations. That’s pretty kickass. Because the animals become better at converting feed into beef, that means the environment is impacted less.
But are hormones/steroids in beef dangerous to humans? Sure – they could be. But the FDA sets residue tolerance levels for these substances in the same manner they do for other substances that are in our food supply. In addition, the USDA tests beef to ensure that there is no human impact to using these substances to promote cattle growth. Similar to withdrawal times for antibiotic use, these residue levels are closely monitored and heavily regulated. The promotants are re-tested every year, and if the data ever suggests that they’ve become harmful, then their use would be further regulated or disallowed.
As a matter of fact, scientists in the agriculture and protein production field found that animals’ in which promotants were administered had average residue levels that were similar to and sometimes even less than the natural hormonal residue fluctuations in naturally raised beef (no added hormones, no steroids).
I could see this issue being a concern if the residue levels were consistently or significantly higher than those of naturally raised animals, but since that isn’t the case, I’m not worried. I could eat a naturally raised steak right now that has more hormone residue in it than a steak from an animal that was treated with a growth promotant during it’s lifetime. To me, that means there’s really nothing to worry about.
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