Friday, July 22, 2011

TBG in NYC Travel Diary -- Part III: Dunkin' Donuts, Shake Shack, Carl's Steaks (and a Rain Delay)

Travel Diary Part I -- Travel Diary Part II

Now Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan, Staten
Uptown, what now? Let's make it happen...

--P. Diddy,
Welcome to Atlanta (Coast-to-Coast Remix)

Thursday, June 23

9:00 AM -- From the neck up, I'm still feeling the previous evening. The last vestiges of a head cold, combined with a few hours of hollering conversation to be heard at the bar(s) left my throat raw. I seek solace with the TV in my room. I'm still half-asleep and need to ease into the day.

9:15 AM -- I'm out of bed. All credit goes to the NFL Network and analyst Warren Sapp whose unlistenable, ex-jock bombast left me wondering why Deion Sanders, Michael Irvin, Shannon Sharpe and Stuart Scott are the go-to piƱatas for people who hate black broadcasters.* Here are some of Sapp's country-fried insight on the lack of leadership within the Dallas Cowboys' locker room:

On quarterback Tony Romo: "A pack-a-ants won't follow you to a pic-a-nic in your own backyard!"

On whether there are any players with leadership qualities on the Cowboys defense: "[Keith] Brooking's do! Brooking's do! Brooking's do!"

Sapp, just before I turned off the TV for good: "Ooh-WEE!"

* -- Oh, you know I'm kidding. Charles Barkley. Gus Johnson. Tom Jackson. Maybe one's even been in your house. KIDDING!

9:30 AM -- I leave my room in search of a Dunkin' Donuts that I vaguely remember seeing at some point during the previous evening. My sense of direction is laughably inept whenever I'm on vacation or business travel, so I stupidly assume there'll be a Dunkin' Donuts on every corner just as Starbucks has saturated the streets of Southern California.

10:00 AM -- Later this afternoon, I'd learn it's Boston that's long been overrun by Dunkin' Donuts, not New York. (I've been to New England a few times and really should've
remembered this.) For now, I'd been walking for 30 minutes -- passing diners and food carts -- taking in the city and increasingly falling asleep on my feet. I hate this...wait. My phone has Google Maps. Oh, there it is. Five minutes from my hotel.

10:10 AM -- Just before my family took our 2010 vacation to Spring Training, I cited Dunkin' Donuts' Waffle Breakfast Sandwich as the
most anticipated aspect of our upcoming trip. On our last day in Scottsdale, I drove to the closest Dunkin' only to be told that the sandwich was not offered in Arizona. This was the same vacation in which my son contracted a nasty ear infection. These, of course, are not comparable events. After all, Jalen received a prescription of antibiotics and felt better in a day or two. I carried around my pain for 15 months. Finally...TBG Eats: The BLUEBERRY Waffle Breakfast Sandwich from Dunkin' Donuts!

Loved it. The cloying sweetness from the miniature waffles was cut nicely by the saltiness of the sausage and, believe it or not, the processed flavor from the cheese. The blueberry notes lingered pleasantly after each bite and accompanied my black coffee nicely. Grade: 4.5 (out of 5).

11:40 AM -- I meet Tom at Grand Central. He went into work for a few hours, but ditched the remainder of his day to spend the afternoon with me and his
estranged girlfriend. There's a LOT of emotional baggage on both sides of their bed. I'm approaching a similar stage with my green and gold betrothed. Tom also bought the tickets (which came with concession stand credits), paid for my subway and politely stifled his laughter when it took me 25 attempts to get through the train station's turnstile. In turn, I offered to buy his beers. Tom quickly agreed to my terms.

11:45 AM -- Into the tunnel as we await the 7 train to Queens. The underground air is hot and heavy. I know I'm the Charmin-soft Californian, but it's only June! It would've took 10 minutes to reach the climactic scene in
Do the Right Thing if it was filmed down here. At the end of our four minute wait, I felt like this.

12:30 PM -- A steady rain began to fall as Tom and I walked towards Citi Field. With its interior stadium lights aglow, set against the sad skies and wet sidewalks, a lot of the architecture's color seemed to wash away. Citi Field is aesthetically stunning and in these conditions it had a throwback feel to the grainy film I've seen of older, long demolished ballparks that have been romanticized for several generations.

12:45 PM -- The tarp is on the field and the teams are nowhere to be seen, so it's obvious this game isn't starting at 1:10 PM. We circle the fan-polarizing Jackie Robinson rotunda -- a wonderfully-done tribute to the Dodgers' Hall of Fame trailblazer. Tom brings me up to speed on other topics that divide his favorite team's always-rational fanbase like retired numbers (Willie Mays? Gary Carter?) and "why can't Carlos Beltran hit .435/.536/1.022 every year like he did during the playoffs for Houston in 2004?"

1:00 PM -- On the concourse, behind centerfield, lies Citi Field's beer garden. At times, it features more than 80 different beers and while the selection on this day wasn't that diverse, it still brought joy to a pair of grown men on an increasingly rainy afternoon. Mixed in with the craft selections and high-end brands was good ol' Rolling Rock. I wasn't in the mood for college beer nostalgia, but if this place had sold Bud Ice, I might've reconsidered.

1:15 PM -- Tom wrote a
review of Citi Field when the park opened in 2009. I'm reprinting this snippet without his permission: "They have a scale version of Citi Field (Kiddie Field) where kids can hit wiffle balls off a tee and run the bases. In dead center field is even a mini-Diamond Vision screen where [kids] can catch replays. On top of that are batting cages, an X-Box area where you can play 2K Sports and a dunk tank!" I left this out of my description of the place when I returned to San Diego and told Jalen about my trip. I'd appreciate it if you guys did the same.

1:30 PM -- The rain has kinda-sorta let up, so the tarp is being pulled off the field. The grounds crew has it halfway removed before they're directed to roll it back on. Tom softens this tug-of-war with my emotions by leading me to an area overlooking the entire
Iron Triangle. It's good to see the locals take pride in their community.

2:30 PM -- The game has been delayed almost 90 minutes, but word trickles in that first pitch is now scheduled for 3:30 PM. We head upstairs to one of the exclusionary ballpark bars -- another terrific perk that was included with our tickets. As an unabashed elitist myself, I felt right at home. Green olives in drinks, bartenders in tuxedo was like Hollywood Video: After Hours!

3:00 PM -- Speaking of dress shirts, Tom and I witnessed a disturbing turn of fashion while waiting for the game to begin. A man in attendance was wearing a long-sleeved oxford dress shirt tucked into a pair of khaki shorts**. Now, in the interest of full disclosure,
I wore this to the game. But, it wasn't tucked into my shorts, it wasn't long-sleeved and it didn't have a dress collar. (And, I received a few compliments on it!)

** -- The dress shirt/shorts look was one of two sartorial mistakes I witnessed in New York. The other involved the apparent return of women's oversized off-one-shoulder tops. There's a reason these went out with the late 1980s, ladies. In fact, if memory serves, the "off-one-shoulder" look has only ever worked for one person.

3:30 PM -- First pitch! Tom and I are in the first row just behind the left field wall. Entering this game, the A's were last in the American League in home runs and the Mets were 13th among the 16 National League teams. But, maybe one of us could catch a ground-rule double? Perhaps the leftfielder would throw us a foul ball? Before, I could properly position myself for one of these unlikely occurrences, I realize I left my new sunglasses in the ballpark's bar.

3:40 PM -- Yes, I wore sunglasses on a rainy day, but that's not the point. The point is I'm panicking because this wasn't exactly inexpensive eyewear. I return to the bar and find four or five A's fans sitting where Tom and I were throwing back beers. I ask if any of them saw my sunglasses. None of them respond in the affirmative. I ask the hosts up front, the bartenders and a server if anyone returned my sunglasses. Everyone was very nice -- even taking a few minutes to look -- but no one had seen them.

As I turned to leave, preparing myself for the blinding overcast conditions, one of the A's fans I first approached comes up to me, reaches into her enormous purse and says, "Are these your sunglasses? I saw you earlier and I was going to bring them back to you if I saw you during the game."

You "saw me earlier"? You saw me two minutes ago! I was the guy asking if you'd seen my sunglasses! I suppose I should applaud her conscience -- albeit, belatedly. Though, it stung that she was an A's fan like me. Where on earth did she learn to steal?

5:00 PM -- Citi Field has a Shake Shack restaurant behind the Tyranno-Vision scoreboard in centerfield. Between the game's late start and inclement weather, the once-serpentine line had been reduced to a few people. Tom and I returned to our seats with a Single ShackBurger and fries. TWO fast food reviews in one travel diary? Awww, yeah!

Lettuce, tomato, American cheese and "shack sauce". This might've been the "cleanest" hamburger I've ever eaten. The flavors were incredibly distinct, beginning with the spot-on seasoning of the meat. And, while I can appreciate the goodness of greasiness, this swung much closer to the "juicy" end of the spectrum without that heavy, oily finish. The "shack sauce" was applied in the perfect amount -- enough to taste in every bite, but never detracting from the meat and/or other condiments. It seemed to have elements of mayonnaise, mustard, tomato, garlic and paprika. Just a simple -- and superb -- burger. Grade: 5 (out of 5)

Not long after Tom and I returned to our seats, he turned towards me to ask how I was enjoying my first Shake Shack experience. He damn near recoiled in horror when he discovered my hamburger had disappeared in mere moments. I came this close to getting another one, but it's best to ease people into a first-person, real-time experience with my appetite. You're welcome, Tom.

6:30 PM -- My Oakland A's lost to Tom's New York Mets, 4-1. The immortal Chris Capuano -- who entered this season with a career 46-52 record, 4.35 ERA and missed all of 2008 and 2009 after TWO Tommy John surgeries -- shutout Oakland over six innings before turning it over to the bullpen. Not even the comically menacing countenance of Sam the Security Guard -- stationed just a few feet to my right for the whole game -- could lift my spirits. Perhaps I was still taken aback by all the "MAKE SOME NOISE" scoreboard urgings. In New York? With their real fans? There is no Santa Claus.

7:45 PM -- The rain delay screwed up my social calendar as I was forced to postpone drinks with two of my favorite people -- whom I'd never before met. Thankfully, Tom was able to hang out for a little while longer. We landed at
The Perfect Pint. There I discovered the least talked-about difference between New York and Southern California: Here in San Diego, it's understood that happy hour is 3:00 PM to 7:00 PM. Commuters use it, primarily, as a way to wait out traffic. In New York, happy hour doesn't seem to officially begin until...well, until much later than 3:00 PM. And, all of the perfectly-knotted ties and pressed pantsuits had me thinking that some of these people might be going back to work. After leaving. Blasphemy!

9:30 PM -- After returning to my hotel, I met up with my friend Nick who had taken the train down from Connecticut. Nick was the first Bootleg reader I ever met -- way back in 2003 -- and he set the bar pretty high for all my future reader encounters. I called him when Jalen was born in 2004. He invited me to his wedding in 2006. We hadn't seen each other since 2008, but a highbrow evening was always guaranteed when we were in each other's company.

Friday, June 24

12:30 AM -- After stumbling around from bar-to-bar on 3rd Avenue (highlight: watching a petite woman try to drag her inebriated meathead boyfriend out of an establishment before he belligerently returned and demanded to be served another beer) Nick and I stopped in at
Carl's Steaks for some preemptive early-morning alcohol absorption. I ordered the cheesesteak with Whiz and grilled onions. It was good, but they went way too light on the Whiz and the onions. Still, my stomach appreciated the starch. And, who knows...maybe I'll have time to give this place a second chance on Friday night.

Or Saturday morning.

Perhaps, sometime around sunrise?

NEXT: Meeting old friends...for the first time! New Yankee Stadium! My personal New York Marathon! 3:30 AM cheesesteaks!


Yvonne said...

Always LOVE your travel diaries, Aaron!

Believe me: as a lifelong Dodgers fan I can relate to you and Tom. But I'm glad you were able to find comfort in Dunkin' Donuts and Shake Shack!

I this entire trip might've been a front just so you could eat fast food that's not available in Cali. True? ;)

Aaron C. said...

HA! Possibly.

Thank you for the kind words, Mrs. TMG. I'd offer you my sympathies on the whole Dodgers debacle, but...y'know...1988. So, yeah. Good luck with that. :)

Elena said...

I am *so* jealous that you finally tried the waffle sandwich! The first time around they vanished before I could get to them, and now that they're back I'm doing this healthy eating bull and I can't let myself anywhere near a Dunks.

Oh, the humanity.