I’m trying to get back on the wagon after a summer full of barbecue and my new deep fryer.  Here’s a quick look at a tasty veggie option from one of my favorite Union Square lunch spots: Grey Dog Coffee.  A hearty bean-based patty that holds its own even with the spicy red onion.  Thumbs up!

Grey Dog Veggie Burger

Tastes better than it looks

PS – Rest in peace, Carmine Street.  This sammy is from the University Place location.

I will use any excuse possible to visit 67 Burger in Ft. Greene.  Sunny out?  Take a burger to Ft. Greene park.  Raining?  Plenty of space in the actual restaurant to camp out and dry off over a burger and beer.  Not hungry? It’s a long train ride back to Harlem, you might be before you get back.  It’s just good. The curly fries are everything the curly fries of my childhood should have been but weren’t.  They also have a nice selection of beers on tap, I believe I went with the Kelso IPA on this particular afternoon.I will use any excuse possible to visit 67 Burger in Ft. Greene.  Sunny out?  Take a burger to Ft. Greene park.  Raining?  Plenty of space in the actual restaurant to camp out and dry off over a burger and beer.  Not hungry? It’s a long train ride back to Harlem, you might be before you get back.  It’s just good. The curly fries are everything the curly fries of my childhood should have been but weren’t.  They also have a nice selection of beers on tap, I believe I went with the Kelso IPA on this particular afternoon.

67 Burger Bacon Cheese w/Curly Fries

67 Burger Bacon Cheese w/Curly Fries

Reunion – Day 5

Sunday was July 4 itself and my gracious hosts brought me out to the sticks to their family home for dinner.  Lucky for me, they ground their own approximation of the Pat LaFrieda burger mix and made St. Louis gooey butter cake to bring for dessert.  I pretty much ate only that the entire day.

That night at Essence festival was my very reason for attending.  Mary J. Blige was headlining, with none other than Jill Scott opening for her.  Two of the most incredible voices of our times.  Jill tore the house down and Mary built it right back up.  Jill channeling Isaac Hayes or George Clinton with crazy pychedlic 70s fashions and silhouetted go-go dancers, with a marvelous Afro, dancing and laughing and being her all around radiant self.  And being at a Mary J. Blige concert is like being in church.  Laughing, crying, celebrating, and most importantly singing along every single word.  The entire audience – all 50,000 concertgoers – clings to and sings every single word, probably just like they do in their cars, showers, or anywhere else.  I didn’t take any pictures.  I was literally caught up in the rapture of the moment. (Except when I was elbowing chicks in the VIP for the chicken satay.)  It didn’t disappoint!

La Frieda Burger + Fries @ Black Market, East Village

La Frieda Burger + Fries @ Black Market, East Village

I used to spend many a late night at the Tiki Bar in the basement of Niagara right next to Black Market…  As well as in the Pizza Shop next door that now houses Black Market.  I was worried that they’d gone all “grown up” at first, but then I had the burger. Delicious, although that’s the least I’d expect from a LaFrieda patty.  Not necessarily as “hypeworthy” as folks exclaimed in the beginning, but I’ll take it, especially to line my stomach before those delicious cocktails at Lovers of Today…  I’ll be back for oysters.  I appreciate these guys, all in all the upgrades seem only to contribute to that most elusive of nightlife goals…  to get the singleton laid.

Chicken Burger from STAND, Union Square, NYC

Chicken Burger from STAND, Union Square, NYC

STAND is a reliably good burger, reliably strong cocktails, reliably perfect fries. It’s like my therapist, a consistent guiding hand for those moments when a hunk of meat and bread is calling your name, but you don’t want garbage. Never a disappointment.

San Diego is a quaint, not-so-little place.  Forever in the shadow of its bigger and more glamorous neighbor, Los Angeles, it constantly seeks to prove itself as more fun, more laid back, and just as worthy of a settlement for young adults and families as ever.  And it largely succeeds.  For those Californians that are not internet or entertainment industry-obsessed, San Diego is the perfect place to have a military, bioscience or technology career in a diverse seaside surfing town with globally influenced food, superb weather, and an active nightlife.

My first stop in San Diego this trip was Santana’s, the fast-mexican drive through with the drool-worthy carne asada fries.  Any time of day or night back in NYC, I crave this monstrosity at the mere mention of nachos or fries.  As such, I made it a priority.  You’ll see why here:

Photo: Carne Asada Fries

A pile of deliciousness

I can never usually finish.  But I certainly tried!

After a disappointing stay at the Bristol Hotel last year, I decided to upgrade and stay at Se San Diego.  Although it’s definitely not New York service (hurried snob that I am), I had a pleasant stay in a well appointed room and was totally worth it for the easy access to chef Anthony Calamari’s wonderful creations!

At my one big dinner at Suite and Tender, I went for the olive tapennade and the caprese salad w/white balsamic vinaigrette…  and ended up choosing the short ribs w/pecorino chive red potatoes and the steak au poivre with bacon-honey brussel sprouts over the mustard brined roast chicken (next time!).

A good dinner is like a good tumble in the sack…  it’ll put you right to sleep!  Needless to say, I slept like a baby.

I had the great pleasure of visiting San Diego the week of St. Patrick’s day this year, and thoroughly enjoyed the Gaslamp District’s festive attack of the holiday.  They do the same thing during Mardi Gras each year: close off the restaurant/bar streets, get a massive DJ act, and let the college kids go nuts.  What I didn’t do, however, is take any photos.  Because you’ve seen Spring Break before.  I was just trying to cut through the crowd and get back to my hotel unsplattered by green-tinted beer or puke.  But I did escape to a gayborhood bar to enjoy a few green-tinted cocktails and the slider sampler at Lei Lounge before retiring.

I’m a bit sad that I couldn’t get down to La Jolla to visit Nine-Ten during this trip…  As the food there was absolutely delightful!  One more reason to return…

Growing up in New Orleans, everything we ate was saturated in grease, salt or sugar.  Most times, the best tasting things included all three. (Hello, beignets and french fries!)  Vegetables?  Cooked down in some sort of fatty pork (picklemeat, in our house) until unrecognizeable.  Good for you?  Debatable.  But boy was it delicious!  Yet at the same time, a familiar refrain echoed through my ears between meals (never during, curiously):

“Don’t get fat.” ~Mom

“Don’t get fat like me behbeh” ~Grandma

“Don’t be gettin fat now, yahear” ~Dad

And the list goes on.  Of course, during meals, it was always:

“Clean your plate.”

“I want you to eat this ENTIRE plate of food.  Eat it!”

Or a more cloying, “What’s the matter baby?  Are you not feeling well?  Why aren’t you finishing your food?”

Or the standard, “Lord, these ungrateful children…  there’s children starving… DYING! In Africa today, and these kids don’t wanna eat this food…”

To which a “Why don’t you ship it to them, then?!” response would end in a swift smack to the cheek.  Or a longer, more protracted battle would ensue (depending on the grossness of the vegetable in question), ending in angry stomping on my part toward some corner or another for a time out.

At any rate, I was enrolled in dance classes at the age of three. By the age of 10, I could already down 5 chocolate glazed McKenzie’s donuts in a single sitting and polish off a man-sized plate of my grandma’s red beans and rice. Every Thursday after dance class, I had a McLean combo meal (because I preferred – and still do – my burgers with lettuce and large onion slices) from McDonald’s. I cried when they discontinued it, and switched to Quarter Pounders.

By the time I got to middle school, I was eating McDonald’s every day after school. I hated school lunch and used to tide myself over until Mickey D’s by eating plain Lays potato chips, hot pickles, and Cokes for lunch, sometimes substituting the hot pickles for plain M&M’s. I was enrolled in an after school dance program at New Orleans Center for Creative Arts (NOCCA, a wonderful institution) and would eat my #3 combo on the way to ballet 3+ times a week. I continued with private training as well as training at NOCCA, eventually abandoning them both to focus on my academic studies at more traditionally rigorous magnet high school. “You can be a dancing doctor,” they all said, “you need a stable career. Dancing is a hobby.” Meanwhile, when I transitioned schools, I rejoiced because my daily fast food fix became Wendy’s, where burgers and chicken sandwiches dallied among salad pitas and baked potatoes, always topped with fries and shakes of course. But because I was dancing four or more days a week for three or more hours, I burned through the calories like it was nothing. Not to mention I was growing like a weed.

All this fast food activity was, of course, in addition to the huge breakfast my mother fed me every morning and the huge dinner my grandma would serve every night. A typical weekday would start with fruit bowls, homemade biscuits, grits/eggs/bacon, and sandwich the fast food binge with stewed chicken, yellow rice, and stringbeans cooked in picklemeat. I tried to “go vegetarian” when I was about 15 (which consisted of me eating meatless Wendy’s pitas and french fries daily), but my grandmother *never* took the meat out of her veggies, and would ask me if I was ill every single time I would pick around the meat in any dish. It lasted about 8 months, and ended when my resolve crumbled in the face of a Port of Call hamburger.

Regardless, I never dreamed that I would ever gain actual weight, because I assumed that I’d be dancing for the rest of my life. So I never denied or learned to deny myself anything. I could eat half a chocolate cake or half a pan of brownies without blinking. Other girls my age had started dieting or developing eating disorders. The only diet I knew was the see-food diet.  Not to mention the attention that I was already getting from men was anxiety inducing.

To be continued…

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