Bagel Maven

538 Post Rd EWestport, CT 06880 • (203) 293-4168

 

Let’s face it, outside of New York City bagels are always just varying degrees of a let down, but in many cases it can at least be a pleasant surprise as to how little that let down actually is. This is the case with Bagel Maven, a mighty fine bagel for those with lowered expectations. It’s a little on the doughy side, but the outer crust has good texture to it. Unfortunately they are a touch stingy on the seed count when it comes to bagels of such standing, but that’s a mild ding comparatively. There are also very few options when it comes to “toppings.” So if you’re looking for sable, lox, nova, whitefish salad and an array of schmears, it’s gonna take you two stops, because you’ll also need to head on over to Gold’s Delicatessen. But at least the bagels are better here.

The only other thing I would note before I leave you to fend for yourself,  is that this place is not, I repeat NOT the kind of place you want to sit and dine. It’s strictly a grab n’ go.

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Sweet Hollow Diner

100 Broadhollow Rd. Melville, NY 11747 • (631) 549-0768

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Ya know those pathetic diners in movies where the criminals are on the run and they stop to get bite? Or the place bad buys meet up to talk over a plan? Or the place where undercover cops meet with informants so as not to draw any attention to either of them? That’s this place. No, you won’t even find Guy Fieri caught dead at this joint, because it’s even below his standards, appealing to the absolute lowest common denominator possible. Granted I’ve eaten there twice, so what does that say about me? Although the pickens are pretty slim in Melville and I was outvoted the second time.

In terms of what to get, I recommend getting as far from here as possible. But if you’re like me and find yourself stuck here by reasons beyond your control, than I’ll tell you what not to get, the only two things I’ve ever had here, which are a grilled chicken sandwich and a Greek salad, both of which were like eating a nightmare. Chicken so dry you could use it as chalk to write “Help!” on the menu board, served with your typical, soggy diner plank fries. Or you can opt for the over ripe fruit salad, depending on your mood. And should you go for salad-salad, like the Greek, you can look forward to limp lettuce, bitter grape leaves, canned olives and a dressing that almost makes matters worse.

If you respect yourself, I urge you to learn from my mistakes and avoid this place at all costs. Even jump out of a moving car if you have to and head to the Starbucks down the street. You’ll thank me for it. After the abrasions heal.

1 tooth

Rocky’s

235 Saw Mill River Rd. Millwood, NY 10546 • (914) 941-2165rockysdeli.net

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Word on the street is that Rocky’s just hauled in a nod from the folks at Best of Westchester (that street being Rt.133), so it goes without saying that I needed to scoot my opinionated bones on over there to order up some sammies.

The place looks like any one of a thousand just like it in the city, long counter on one side, stuffed to the gills with rolls, wedges & ciabattas, backed by a task force of sandwich soldiers armed with cooktop skillets the size of sofas and bins upon bins of prepped ingredients. And on the other side you’ll find a wall of fridges loaded with every imaginable beverage one could ever hope to wash down a hoagie with.

Unfortunately, this faithful homage to city sandwich shops is so faithful that the sandwiches are nothing special. I guess people are just wistfully lining up out of sentimentality for the days when they used to live in the city. So therein lies the good news, you no longer have to drive an hour into the city to get your fix. But a reality check is definitely in order, because the sandwiches are far from the “best” in Westchester.

To get all specific on your ass, almost every sandwich requires that you add something to it, because they are too bland as is. For example The Untouchable desperately needed to touch some tomatoes or coleslaw or roasted red peppers- anything to give it moisture! Plus, the chicken cutlet is so thin it tastes like nothing more than its breading. Then there’s the actual bread. And together they overpower the grilled prosciutto, mozz and balsamic.

The Whaler, while better than The Untouchable, was also just okay, mainly due, once again, to a meek portion of fish so thin you could floss with it (not exactly what I would call “whale-like”), breaded and fried, along with hash browns and tripling down on the theme, a fried egg. There’s also American cheese, but what it needed most was ketchup or hot sauce to make it interesting enough to finish both halves.

The Chip Chip was easily the best of the three, with chipotle chicken, chipotle mayo, smoked gouda, bacon and avocado all on ciabatta. It had some nice kick, but if spicy sandwiches are your thang, then you owe it to yourself to head on over to Armonk and get The Heat at Melts. It beats the Chip Chip out of Rocky’s.

2 teeth

Virgil’s

152 W 44th St. New York, NY 10036 • (212) 921-9494virgilsbbq.com

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Located smack dab in the epicenter of touristy hell, there exists a beacon of authenticity. That beacon is Virgil’s, shining bright through the fog of over-stimulation (a.k.a. Times Square) with pleasers like their killer pulled pork sandwich (pictured) piled high with pig parts so moist and delicious they probably don’t even need to top it with their coleslaw, but they do anyways, and I’m okay with that. The crunch of the cabbage against the tenderness of the meat- the cool refreshing milkiness of the slaw against the warm, slightly spiced pork- I’m more than okay with it. I’m in love with it.

But as good as their pulled pork sandwich is, the true headliner is their mac and cheese. Best in the city. Wifey and I honestly dream about it. Sure, we should probably be dreaming about each other, but let’s leave that for couple’s therapy. It’s got a nice hit of pepperiness, a perfect blend of basic, none-too-fancy cheeses like cheddar and American I’m assuming. All topped with an evangelical halo of crunchy, ever-so-slightly burnt cheese. Trust me, you want this bad.

I also dig their jalapeño cornbread. It’s cheesy, a little sweet, and of course spicy. Which reminds me, they also have a healthy selection of hot sauces worth trying if their barbecue sauce isn’t doing enough for you.

As for the ribs, brisket, chicken, etc… There are better to be had in the city. Daisy May’s is my numero uno when it comes to ribs, Hill Country and Blue Smoke for brisket- jury is still out on BBQ chicken. But getting back to Virgil’s, it’s still damn good. Especially when you take into account it’s location.

4 teeth

99 Miles to Philly

94 3rd Ave. New York, NY 10003(212) 253-270099milestophillyeastvillage.com

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As you wrap your chomper around this cheesesteak, your lips will practically jump off your face and run up a flight of stairs, Balboa-style. You, on the other hand, will remain firmly planted in your seat, because damn is it heavy. And I mean, maximus heavius. But lord is it worth it. Like little Liberty bells of joy ringing in your ears as you chew. I’ve had Cheesesteaks in Philly that should be ashamed to have been beaten so badly by a NYC joint.

Then there’s the chili cheese fries. I couldn’t even finish half of them, but they were equally gut-busting delicious, in a I-know-this-is-killing-me-with-every-passing-bite sort of way.

And while you’ll probably wish you were in Philly, so you could jog the 99 miles back home to help burn it off, it’s also nice that you can get your Philly finest in less than 99 meters.

4 teeth

Mangia

22 W 23rd St. New York, NY 10010(212) 647-0200mangiatogo.com

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There are a bazillion of these type of places in the city ranging from Essen to Dishes to those not even worth remembering. You know the kind. The ones with a sandwich station, a salad bar, a soup arena, a pizza pavilion, a patisserie nook and a juicing section all under one roof. And while most of these places are usually a jack of all trades at best, Mangia actually proves to be a queen. Not quite as good as Dishes, but definitely worth its salt if you know what to get.

Working our way around by station, let’s start with the sandwiches. This is where Mangia shines brightest. The Chicken Telera was named one of the Top 100 in Manhattan by New York Magazine and I concur. Served on telera bread, which is almost challah-like, then obviously topped with chicken, plus avocado, pepper jack cheese and chipotle aioli. Then, they stuff the whole thing in the pizza oven and warm it all up. Other worthy grabs are the short rib sciacca made with horseradish aioli. Might even be better than the Telera. And another go-to of mine is the smoked turkey on pumpernickel with cucumber, watrercress and herbed aioli. I could go through all of them, but these are the highlights. Most of them are good with only a few misses.

Next in rotation for me would be the salad bar. It might not be as large as most, but Mangia seems to focus on quality versus quantity. Hard for me to list too many highlights since it’s a bit of a roulette when it comes to what they stock it with, but some of my favorites when they have them are the pasta salads, the wild rice salad, the marinated mushrooms, the quiche/frittata and the sesame noodles. Again, most everything is good, so you can feel safe to explore.

Almost on par with the salad bar would be the bakery. They nail their cookies and most of the pastries hold up as well.

From there it’s a step down to Meh-ville, not to be confused with Melville, NY, where the pizza and the juice bar both reside in underwhelming harmony.

And last but not least, Soup town. A.K.A. The slums. For whatever reason, like Linguini in Ratatouille, Mangia just can’t seem to make a soup to save their souls. Case in point, Pret next door blows them away and Pret is a massive global chain.

My only other nit is that their fridge is always on the fritz, so it’s rare to be able to get a cold drink there. Not such a big deal in the winter, but come summer it’s a bummer. Hey, that rhymes!

3 teeth

Mount Kisco Bagel Co.

480 E Main St. Mount Kisco, NY 10549 •  (914) 241-0606
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Definitely the best bagels in the area if you’re willing to endure the PAINFULLY slow service. And by “painful” I mean excruciating. For example, the the bagel in the picture above probably took about 15 minutes to slice in half. Okay, so that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but this is not…

The first time I went there I was only second in line with four employees behind the counter, so I figured I’d be in and out in a jiffy. Well, that was because I was foolishly optimistic about the natural order or the space-time continuum, but time itself was no match for the depths of inefficiency that unfolded before my bewildered eyes.

I witnessed a woman literally take one slice of cheese out at a time, using only one hand at a time, to then walk back to the cutting board where the bagel sandwich was being prepared some ten feet away, then back again to the cheese bin where she then proceeded to pick up a second slice, again using only one hand, not bothering to grab even a single other ingredient in the process. Then, there were multiple trips to the back room by every one of them, each only doing one task at a time, and each only servicing one request from the previous order, top to bottom, at a time. Somewhere an assembly line must’ve been rolling over in its grave.

But at least the bagels were worth it. Also, to be fair, since I’ve been back, they must’ve gotten enough complaints to speed up their act, either that or I’m still waiting in line there and I’ve just acclimated to the time vortex.

3 teeth

Napa Farms Market

San Francisco International Airport, Terminal 2 780 S Airport Blvd. San Francisco, CA 94128 • (650) 821-9312 • http://www.tastesonthefly.com/airports/sfo

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I have to say, SFO knows how to stock an airport filled with options that feel more like an upscale shopping mall as opposed to a dying strip mall in the backwoods of Alabama.

Case in point, Napa Farms Market. Loaded with organic, all natural options, the place is like a treasure trove of traveling treats. And what I had was good. Just a bagel with lox, cream cheese, capers and cucumbers. Simple, I know, but outside of New York it’s a dish that has gone wrong more times than I can count.

Beyond that there’s a bakery and juices and wine and cheeses. I would happily go to this place even if it wasn’t in an airport. But because it is, and the competition is virtually non-existent, I gotta go four.

4 teethairport

Rice: Modern Chinese Cuisine

111 Bedford Rd. Armonk, NY 10504 (914) 273-3880ricearmonk.com

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Most of the reviews on this place are pretty useless thus far, so I will try to make mine a little more utilitarian.

First off, the decor is fine. Not what I would call “serene” as some suggest and not “horrible” either. It’s pretty basic, with a slight nod toward modernity. Nothing you would ever swoon over. And nothing worth commenting on. So I’ll stop commenting on it now.

The service is fine. Not unfriendly. Not creepy. No eavesdropping either. Again, nothing worthy of note in either direction so again, I scratch my head at other reviewers.

The food, however, IS worthy of note. It was quite good actually. The lo mein was done very well. Most places tend to make it too oily. The orange crispy beef was also better than most, layered with some nice heat and even a touch of herbs to give it a complexity you seldom see in this dish.

The dim sum, was also pretty good- the kids gobbled them up, but what little I tasted was a solid good.

The only true drawback to this place worth mentioning is the location. It’s in a sad strip mall down a hallway that doesn’t face the street, so it’s empty as a result. As is the Italian place across the hall. And the lack of energy/life that this creates makes for a rather unattractive experience overall. But, compare to David Chen, it’s like eating at North. I mean, at least you don’t feel like you’re eating at the Chinese Pavilion in Epcot.

Also, it is worth noting that it’s the best Chinese we’ve found in Westchester so far. So it has that going for it too. But because of its locale, I fear it’ll be gone in a year.

3 teeth