Sure, New York City has lots of glitz and glam. Huge buildings and iconic attractions are among its characteristics, but NYC wouldn’t be what it is today, without its dreamers; those who take a chance to pursue their passions with reckless abandon – or those who live by ‘YOLO’ (You Only Live Once). For generations, New York has been built by go-getters and is full of those seeking their ultimate ‘American Dream.’
The same aspirations are true for Frankie Rodriguez and Alyssa Sartor, owners of August Laura, in Brooklyn. Bartending more than 20 years combined in New York City, the couple was blessed to open their ‘dream,’ befittingly located four blocks from where Alyssa’s grandfather (an Italian immigrant) grew up. Paying homage to her grandfather, the living room style bar has been named after him. The deep familial ties are undeniable at August Laura. Family pictures and home-goods are tastefully placed around the room, creating a cozy nightcap for all guests.
Tipples are elegant, intriguing, and satisfying, at the warm neighborhood cocktail bar. Each highlight the individual ingredients whether sweet, bitter, or savory and progress thoughtfully in spirit strength. The signature and nostalgic Amaretto Sour is seriously addictive. Alyssa’s recipe uses egg white and flavorful Nocino walnut liqueur, which adds sophistication and a seductive, creamy element to each sip. Shaved nutmeg heightens the senses and is the perfect garnish for the luscious drink.
The dedicated staff at August Laura pours sippers for patrons nightly, in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, while listing to stellar playlists such as Sam Smith, 90s rap, and even a live jazz duo (every Wednesday night).
In its premier year, August Laura is making its imprint because Alyssa and Frankie dared to dream. Each time a customer enjoys their drink of choice, in essence, he or she raises a glass to couple’s surreal American Dream.
Want to know more about August Laura? Check the interview and how to make the buzz-worthy Amaretto Sour on POUR.
387 Court Street
Brooklyn, NY 11231
Jazz on Wednesday evenings
Pop-up Weekend Brunch: Dovecote at August Laura – Saturday and Sunday 10 am – 3 pm (featuring La Colombe coffee, coffee cocktails, and local bakery goods)
It’s celebration season and Brennivin, the original Icelandic Spirit, marks the launch of its 80th Anniversary Cask Aged Aquavit. For the first time, this semisweet spirit is available in the United States.Only 1,200 out of 5,000 bottles may be purchased here for the holiday season.
The Aquavit is made from grain and infused with caraway seeds. Made from grain and infused with caraway seeds, the current batch was distilled in 2015, then matured for one year, aging within a combination of Islay Whiskey casks, bourbon barrels, and finished in New American White Oak. The result is a deliciously, smooth spirit which can be enjoyed on its own.
Licorice lovers have another reason to rejoice as Brennivin’s Opal Icelandic Liqueur recently made its première voyage to the U.S. The unique flavor profile is akin to Iceland’s beloved pasteille, a licorice-like candy. The unmistakable label echoes a groovy 1940s /1950s pop art bulls-eye design.
With such exclusivity to the Scandinavian sippers, there’s a handful of states which sell spirits (listed below). Howevery, if you are in or near New York City, you can head to the Up & Up Bar (116 Macdougal Street), the first U.S. bar to offer Brennivin. Imbibe on tipples such as the Icelandic Sense of Urgency crafted with honey, jalapeno and of course the 80th Anniversary Edition Brennivin or try the savory Visa Application made with both Brennivin exclusives, sherry and pear brandy. Cheers!
Brennivin 80th Anniversary Cask Aged Aquavit:
— 40% ABV
— Price: market to market
Opal Icelandic Liqueur:
— 40% ABV
— Price: around $35, 750ml bottle
Where to find Brennivin 80th Anniversary Cask Aged Aquavit and Opal Icelandic Liqueur (listed by state and merchant):
Maine, Massachusetts and Rhode Island—MS Walker
California—H. Mercer Imports, K&L Wines, Bar Keeper LA and Bitters & Bottles (SF)
Texas — Favorite Brands
Kentucky — River City Distributing
Colorado — European Wines & Spirits
Washington, DC — Sherry’s Wines
Washington State — Vinum Wines & Spirits
Alabama/Idaho/Montana/Oregon/Wyoming — State Special Order
If you live in the vicinity of Brooklyn’s eclectic Bushwick neighborhood, or even voyage over the water from Manhattan (gasp!) you know ‘Roberta’s’ and heavenly ‘pizza’ are synonymous. This beloved Brooklyn pizza is as popular as New York City’s legendary bagels. So light and incredibly flavorful, the dough stands up to heavy-hitting ingredients.
Known for its relaxed, funky ambiance that serves up decadent ingredients like Italian caciocavallo cheese and delicious spek, Roberta’s is a favorite of locals and beyond. Surrounded by refurbished, trendy warehouses, vintage clothing boutiques, and local watering holes, this hotspot contends with the most favored pizzerias in New York City.
The thoughtful selection of wine, cocktails and beer are well-rounded and have an emphasis on supporting local vendors. One such beverage, the Wölffer Rosé Cider from Long Island, is an exquisite cider made in the style of Rosé wine. Tip:this bubbly bev. beautifully complements the Duck Prosciutto appetizer.The unique prosciutto interpretation of using duck compared to traditional ham is brilliant and is deliciously paired with the cider.
Any cured meat begs for bread and Roberta’s perfectly baked bread – flaky outside while magically light and fluffy inside – doesn’t disappoint. Truly, all of the doughy treats: brunch sticky buns, biscuits, and croissants are equally as mouthwatering, lush and baked on the premises. No wonder guests visit in droves, waiting up to two hours for a table sometimes. Unfortunately, reservations are not taken, but calling ahead for the wait-time status doesn’t hurt.
Duck Prosciutto and Wölffer Rosé Cider
Every pizza is made to order and fired in a brick oven that greets guests upon arrival. Although it’s hard not to order one of each menu item, there are a few must-haves. I recommend the delectable Family Jewels pie topped with heirloom tomatoes, fresh basil and prosciutto bread crumbs. If toppings are your jam, try the Spekenwolf with a whopping 14 toppings, including crimini mushrooms, eggplant and ricotta salata.
Roberta’s isn’t a one-trick pony, though. Other entrées like the zesty Sasso Chicken with salsa verde or the addictive Dry-Aged Wagyu Carpaccio are also showstoppers. With an enticing menu, regulars are always thrilled to try something different each visit or enjoy their ‘usual’ as if it was the first time. There are so many exceptional restaurants in unexpected places in Brooklyn – and Roberta’s is no exception to this truth. The quirky pizzeria is also a bakery and tiki bar in the middle of industrial and auto repair lots. It’s obvious Roberta’s doesn’t fit any molds but breaks them instead.
‘Tis the season for comfort food. As always, it conjures up fond memories, awakens the taste buds and is super satisfying. We all have our go-to favs, but I’ve added different dish to my all-star list – phó – and Shanghi Shack serves up the real deal.
This shack is a local favorite among the NYU, Greenwhich Village crowds and phó lovers alike. No passport or long flight necessary to indulge in this pool of brothy love straight from the orient. Cozy up to a deep dish filled with noodles and grilled pork chop (or your choice of topping). Pick and choose from a spread of fresh lime, basil leaves and beansprouts to enhance the rich flavor of the phó. Or, settle down to the classic, plentiful báhn mì sandwich with Vietnamese ham, house bacon and paté. If you’re more of a vermicelli purist, pair it with tender grilled lemongrass chicken or seasoned soy. There’s a great selection of choices including vibrant salads and fresh juices, but don’t overlook the perfectly fried sweet potato fries with the addictive house mayo sauce – I promise you’ll want it sauce on everything!
As we turn to stews, casseroles, and roasted veggies this time of year, venture out and try a new type of home cooking. It may not be momma’s kind of fare but as long as it’s tasty and brings you to a happy place, she’ll approve.
Many people know the Upper West Side, U.W.S. for short, for it’s exquisite museums – MOMA, The Museum of Natural History, the Planetarium and of course Central Park. But remember, this is New York City, one of the world’s food mecca’s and so ANY NEIGHBORHOOD in this city is known for it’s food – The Upper West Side included. I’ve had the pleasure of sampling some new dines and known favorites in this neighborhood.
New to me, but well established to locals is Canteen 82. This superb sushi and Shanghai-centric joint offers fresh, organic ingredients. So many imaginative sushi rolls in this eatery – there’s the Mango Fly Roll filled with spicy tuna and yellowtail fish topped with mango and also the Green Dragon Roll stuffed with sweet potato, shitake mushrooms and cucumber draped with avocado.
I cannot say enough about their succulent pork soup dumplings. These babies are similar to traditional dumplings but include a helping of pork broth inside, so your bite bursts with flavor to seduce your taste buds! You must try it at least once in your life. Unforgettable!
Address: 467 Columbus Ave. (bet. 82nd and 83rd )
Another popular place is Gabriela’s Restaurant & Tequila Bar. No passport necessary, but once your walk under the front trellis your are instantly transported to Gabriel’s back patio in Mexico. Authenticity is taken very seriously here. Especially in the coveted moles served – Poblano (pepper and chocolate based sauce) and Pipian(pumpkin seed and almond sauce). I recommend notable dishes: Empanada de Pollo Organico, a turnover filled with organic chicken, sautéed tomatoes and onions and the Pork Al Pastor tacos.
And you cannot miss the shrimp chimichanga filled with beans, cheese and tomato sauce (pictured) nor the Suizas enchilada packed with chicken topped with Pico de Gallo, sour cream and Green Salsa or you can opted for a mole sauce instead (pictured). No matter what you order you won’t be disappointed. Be adventurous and accompany your option with their delicious sangria or a fantastic margarita. Looking for a brunch option? Gabriela’s offers an unbeatable $13 spread of dishes every weekend and holiday!
Address: 688 Columbus Ave. (at 93rd st.)
One of my favorite places, The Meatball Shop, is one of the new kids on the block (literally). Recently making their claim to the UWS, Owners, Daniel Holzman and Michael Chernow have opened their fifth location in Manhattan (sixth overall) which is all the buzz in town. This time, I tried the mysterious yet legendary Kitchen Sink Salad with a quinoas, turkey meatball topped with homemade pesto and vinaigrette dressing. The salad is made up of the chef’s choice of
greens and veggies. Mine included sliced apples, shredded carrots with raisins, sautéed cauliflower, mushrooms, and beets. All topped with extra mozzarella cheese. Absolutely tantalizing! I’ve reviewed The Meatball Shop in a previous post… if you’re hungry for more, read the full review here.
Address: 477 Amsterdam Ave.
Shakeshak, a glorious burger joint to New Yorkers. Known for it’s heavenly milkshakes, juicy burgers, dogs and addictive fries, this shack is a grill-grub home for museum tourists and natives alike. Cannot miss the DogMeister- a dog topped with Shack cheddar and American cheese sauce and crispy ShackMeister Ale-marinated shallots. Umm-hmm, sounds great, right? Wash it down with a Caramel shake or a featured beer. P.S. Congrats to ShakeShak for it’s newest location in Flatbush, Brooklyn!
There’s something about live music at mealtime that enhances the dinning experience. It’s refreshing to be greeted by a rousing brass band, stellar guitar solo, or the smooth stylings of an incredible vocalist. Regardless of genre, live performances tend to draw great crowds. Plus, when you throw great food and drink into the mix, a great time is to be had!
Restaurateurs have definitely been bitten by the “live tunes” bug. It’s no longer a new trend, more like a mainstay in many locations. Bars, lounges, supper clubs, and other dines have regularly scheduled performers during service. Since I love to indulge in great tastes and music, here are a few of my favorite places for both!
Iron Chef Alexandra (Alex) Gaurneschelli is the culinary force behind the wildly popular speakeasy, The Darby. Reviving the illustrious 1920s, this sexy, intimate, and beautifully decorated dine transports diners into the yesteryear prohibition’s thrilling rebellious swagger. With plush cranberry and dark redwood accents, opulent chandeliers and a raised center stage highlighting The Darby Band – an exquisite five person jazz band with vocalist- this NYC dinner destination is well worth the hype. And since I’m all about food, the dishes are as spectacular as the band. Plates such as perfectly grilled octopus with a bacon and red wine dressing adorned with pickled jalapeno peppers, seared Colorado rack of lamb with roasted potato cake, green olives and fresh mint and a wide raw bar selection as well as caviar service (with Beluga Noble Russian Vodka!) are well worth a splurge as Iron Chef Gaurneschelli guarantees guests are dazzled by the selections and entertainment!
Toshi’s Living Room, a part of the Flat Iron Hotel, is a fun, trendy spot for live music chasers. With whimsical, colorful furniture, guests are invited to relax or dance the night away to the tunes of rock, jazz, pop, or whatever’s on the nightly music menu. The fishbowl setting with its spacious front stage is the perfect backdrop for live entertainment. Click here for my full review of this rockin’ living room.
Set in the heart of the West Village, stands a jazz haven pumping out original and iconic arrangements like Take Five by the late Dave Brubeck. Thoughtfully named The Garage, this jazz café is popular among the locals. Its raised stage spotlights local artists and bands playing classics by such legends as Billie Holiday and Louis Armstrong. Portraits of many musical all-stars are displayed on the walls along with abstract designed car parts (playing into the name of the café). Weekend brunch is the best time to visit as there is a delicious prefix menu ($17) ranging from creative egg benedict dishes such as the Crab and Lobster Benedict smothered in a turmeric hollandaise sauce or the Surf and Turf with filet mignon and Main lobster covered in a smooth béarnaise sauce, to a delicious Belgium waffle with a choice of homemade macadamia coconut rum butter and freshly made chocolate sauce or a cinnamon apple compote. The Jazz Brunch also offers unlimited Mimosas, Bloody Mary’s and Screwdrivers for an additional $6. Can’t beat that!
These are just a few tasty, tune-centric haunts NYC has to offer. My list is continually growing. Check back for more soon!
I love stumbling upon social gems in the city. That’s exactly what happened one day, when I noticed a building with floor-to-ceiling windows decorated by the glow of flashing neon lights and people dancing outside. Naturally, I was drawn in. It turns out that the fun factory was Toshi’s Living Room, aka Toshi’s Play House, a lounge in the Flatiron Hotel. This lounge was anything but low key; more like an after work play land. Surrounded by mom and pop shops in an uneventful section of Broadway, this meet up spot is a diamond in the rough. Colorful, cozy, sunken couches paired with low, chic coffee tables, created a grown-up Alice in Wonderland effect. The spacious hot spot houses a corner bar with egg-shaped stools, and a massive cylindrical aquarium with exotic fish as a backdrop. In fact, the surrounding windows gave visitors a fish bowl feel as well.
A great setting to showcase local bands, Toshi is known for nightly live music with space for impromptu dancing. Foot tapin’ tunes inspire freestyle dancing, whether on the floor or in your chair. Since it’s a hotel, there are guests of all ages which adds to the fun on any given evening, especially when drinks are involved! There’s a host of spirits ranging from bellinis, to traditional cocktails and wines. When you order wine, the waitress wheels over an actual barrel with a spout to fill your glass… Can you say “out of the box”?
With touches of whimsy, a great relaxed vibe, Toshi is now one of my fav picks for a nightcap. I did not try their fare since I had indulged before getting there, but that’s more reason to return!
So, Cino de Mayo has come and gone. Hope you seized the day for all it was worth! My NYC Mexican/Spanish food crawl was fantastic! First stop was Las Ramblas in the West Village. This quaint, rustic, cantina was the perfect spot to start the evening. Touted for serving traditional Spanish tapas, here are the highlights: ensalada costa brava (tomatoes, onions, roasted peppers, orange segments, & basil w/ raspberry vinegar – a great choice to prepare the palate for further fare), empanadas de pollo (chicken turnovers), savory chorizo con alubias (Spanish sausage w/ cannellini beans & onions) and brochetas de res (Grilled skewers of beef in a tempranillo wine reduction). All of this plus refreshing white peach sangria, brought tears to my eyes. I could have called it a night, but what sense did that make? I hadn’t had the expected margarita, and it was too early in the evening. So, after the first round of noshing, a friend and I did some sightseeing and walked 30 blocks to Penn Station (si, you read it right, THIRTY blocks). Meeting up with another friend, we all journeyed to the Murray Hill area for ‘ritas!
Second stop on the crawl was at Tavern on Third for a classic margarita. Although, the restaurant was not a typical fiesta hang-out, it served up a mean margarita. Strong and ice cold with a wedge of lime – just what we needed to kick off the fun. Afterward, we stumbled, (literally) upon a hole-in-the-wall, La Palapa (3rd Ave. bwn 26 st& 27th st), next to the tavern. There, housed absolutely authentic tacos and burritos bursting at the seams with a choice of juicy grilled chicken, pork, or beef, rice, beans and cheese. Knowing we were only snacking, instead of devouring, we each ordered a $2 soft taco. The best of our choices was the chorizo: finely ground and full of flavor with a pleasant balance between salty and the spicy peppers.
The last stop was Rodeo Bar and Grill I wouldn’t have been surprised if there was an actual rodeo going on there. With live music in the main bar area and celebrations all around we picked a great party spot. Being the nacho aficionado that I am, I dove head-first into the Nacho Grande Platter (pictured right). Each tortilla was beautifully decorated with chicken and black beans, covered by a blanket of magnificently melted cheese. And it got better with pico de gallo scattered on top. Somehow, I have developed a dangerous taste for empanadas (and so have my friends) so it was obvious that we’d have a side of those. Golden brown, fried to perfection, filled with diced red peppers and pollo mixed with Mexican spices, these bite size treats stood no chance. Both dishes were excellent. For this last leg of the trip, we washed everything down with agave’s favorite cocktail – frozen margaritas! (Naturally.) Our flavors of choice were Pomegranate and Mango…
Ever think meatballs could be all the rage? Neither did I until I stumbled upon the bustling Meatball Shop. Intended as a favored stop for Lower East Side bar seekers, the Italian restaurant is known for its hearty spheres, complimentary sauces, and relaxed vibe. The menu is modest yet full of choices. First, hungry patrons choose from five types of meat balls: Chicken, Beef, Spicy Pork, Vegetable, or the Special: in addition to the consistent fare, there is a daily unique offering of selections. From there diners may choose a sauce whether is it Parmesan Cream, Pesto or one of their other three selections. At this point it’s all for the taking. How would you like your entrée served? Would you like to have them as sliders, heroes, or a smash sandwich – two meatballs “smashed” on a toasted brioche bun. All sandwiches are served with your choice of mozzarella or provolone cheese, a sauce and a side salad. Hungry for more choices? Here comes a curve “ball”- Everything but the Kitchen Sink – a dish of your choice of meatball, a sauce, a side salad and mystery side of fresh vegetables. It’s a mystery because the chef chooses which vegetable to serve as the plate is being made. It’s a dish of true inspiration. If you’re feeling frisky, add an order of The Family Jewels on top of your sauce main dish – a cheeky choice of a fried egg.
One of the most appealing elements of the dining experience is the ordering process. Guests can write on the menu, seriously! The laminated bill of fare, accompanied by markers, allows you mark off your food selections for ease and convenience.
The day I visited, the special was Buffalo Chicken Meatballs with a Blue Cheese Sauce. Although tempting, as a novice to the meatball fan club, I learned that you could never go wrong with ordering a Smash. My “smashingly” delicious sandwich consisted of a Spicy Pork meatball covered in Classic Tomato Sauce with melted mozzarella cheese. The side salad was a beautiful surprise of arugula greens, fresh apple slices, chives, and a light ‘n sweet vinaigrette dressing which nicely complimented the spicy pork. I enjoyed the peppered pork, but it could have withstood a stronger punch. Portions are not for a glutton, but “just enough.”
There was a healthy selection of beverages, which included that day’s special: Honey RosemaryLemonade. This was surprisingly brilliant! A refreshing lemonade with an even balance between the honey, rosemary, and lemon with an essence of ginger.
I had to complete my meal with dessert (going the extra distance for my readers) by ordering an ice cream sandwich. I choose the day’s ice cream special, which was Banana, and then selected Ginger Snap Cookies as the outer layers of the sandwich. My goodness… it was nirvana in my mouth! The cookies were right at the goodness point – slightly firm on the outside and soft in the middle. The homemade banana ice cream’s ingredients reminded me of apple pie with bananas. Simply wonderful!
The Meatball Shop is extremely affordable. Nothing on the menu was over $10. What a find!
As a neighborhood favorite, which does not take itself too seriously, The Meatball Shop, is a keeper. Its décor is a great juxtaposition between a humbled dinning room with walls lined with old black and white family portraits and country style furniture, and the more modern effect of low sleek lighting, bo-ho chic staff, and the focal point of the modern wine display. There’s even a sizable chalkboard listing the daily wine specials.
Service is efficient, yet there is often a wait for a table. Reservations are not taken, but if you are willing to wait, you will not be disappointed.
There are plenty of balls of meat to go around! The Meatball Shop serves in three locations: