The Gallivanting Gourmand
Greg Duncan
Greg Duncan
is a freelance writer based in the Montreal region. He is particularly keen about good food. In his day job, Greg is the executive director of the Quebec Community Newspapers Association.

His previous columns are archived HERE.

Posted 10.29.07


New York, Oh, New York

When I travel to a new city I have one primary mission. While most tourists plan their itinerary to include sightseeing of famous landmarks and historical sites, this wanderer goes in search of what curiosities a city has to offer the stomach.

I'm as interested in mountain vistas and sky rises that break the stratosphere as much as anyone else but it is taste that I am after. I take pictures with my tongue and only occasionally snap a real photo to preserve a memorable experience.

My pre-travel research always focuses on dining destinations and not so famous eateries. I have visited Chinatowns everywhere to compare each city's barbecued duck and pork or beef and black bean sauce and noodles. I have yet to find a chop shop that rivals the authentic delights or pricing of Vancouver's Ho-Tak-Kee restaurant on Broadway and Kingsway.

I'll admit that one steamy windowed ducks-a-hanging joint in New York City almost trumped the former this past week. Were it not for the low grade I gave them on the rice (too sticky and mushy), it may have risen to number one. I'll concede that their tea was better -- despite greasy finger marks on the glasses and arguing patrons.

What you need to know is that at places like these, you never, ever asks for a substitution or you will be scolded. Do not deviate from the printed menu or your dish will arrive with mystery meats and questionable organs as good punishment for your white insolence.

If you do not already know, the Big Apple is notable for Broadway theatre productions, cheap camera shops, the Empire State building, Woody Allen, Times Square, and the planet's most expensive hotels and restaurants. Some places even make Donald Trump wait in line, so they say.

Brochures rarely mention that friendly six-foot transvestites sporting pink-ribboned pigtails will assist you with directions from Penn station to any restaurant you have in mind. Every itinerant asking for money in Times Square claims to be a veteran on the down and out, having been abandoned by the state. I suspect this may be true for most.

One such tattooed individual placed his hand on my back pocket and grasped my wallet and gave me a stern warning: "I'm not a beggar, " he said. "I'm a veteran looking forward to a reward for having saved you from the pickpockets."

I immediately gave him five greenbacks and shifted all to the front.

If it were not for this honest individual I may have been deprived of cheesecake, towering pastrami on rye, kosher pickles to die for and folded Brooklyn pizza. Nor would I have been able to stuff my luggage with a fell-off-the- back of the truck leather jacket for twenty bucks. My wrist would not be sporting a fake ten-dollar Seiko watch adorned with diamonds either. Other notable delicatessens include Katz's in the lower east side and Ben's Kosher in the garment district. Lindy's at Broadway near 50th is famous for its traditional New York style cheesecake.

I ate a monstrous 10-inch high Woody Allen pastrami and corned beef on rye at Carnegie. < p> The Wall of Fame there confirms that Barry Manilow and Billy Joel know a few things about good sandwiches. I had no room for cheesecake, having deconstructed and devoured the sandwich and accompanying mixed bowl of six large pickles. No rude service there as I had hoped for.

I stood outside the Russian Tea Room and contemplated the posted menu but could not bring myself to change clothing just for the experience. Jeans and running shoes are more appropriate should you wish to use the subway, which I did. A New York rush hour transit experience is worth a column of its own and shall wait.

In the meantime, I must declare that the sturdy spicing of Montreal's smoked meat is worthy of its fame versus the subtler spicing of New York pastrami.

It's true that New York is the city that never sleeps as I witnessed at midnight in Times Square. It is also true that memories of 9-11 dominate each and every New York experience.

I washed away the tangible paranoia at every turn with good eats and tried to ignore public postings of high alert by homeland security. You will be herded like cattle waiting to be branded through airport level security should you wish to venture up to the observatory of the Empire state building.

I suggest you avoid this 42- dollar experience altogether as it will take you an hour to go up and another to get down with no good food in sight either way. Use those two hours to walk off the cheesecake and pastrami in Central Park instead while watching celebrities exit large limousines in front of their multi-million dollar apartments on Park Avenue.

Just try to ignore the unfortunate waft of urine and feces that seems to pervade the park. How the thousands of joggers enjoy this I know not.

New York City leaves life-long indelible impressions on the tips of your tired toes and on the little buds of your tongue. It's not for the faint of heart or wallet, so be warned. It is a required destination for any food lover and I'm on to undiscovered food hideaways closer to home. For now, that is.