A Spot on the Grid: Eating Through New York CityApril 8, 2020
- Michelle V. AyuyaoWords
There is always some place you MUST eat at in New York City, as popular culture has taught us, and as every Manhattan millennial will preach. Almost 10 years since my last trip alone to New York, I was ready to put myself on its grid—appetite all fired up and at the ready. It shames me to admit it, but I had unintentionally formed a mental Instagram itinerary for the trip. This feed of photos taken in the city by friends I followed online grew exponentially in the corner of my mind, and it built resentment towards each and every single one of them. If only I could be where they were.
The recurring New York photos were of Shake Shack burgers, Luke’s Lobster rolls, Momofuku Milk Bar soft serves (and cookies), and Katz’s Deli sandwiches, among others. The goal became to cover each of these bases to see if they were worth all the hype. And, sure, in the process maybe even piss people off with pictures of food from halfway across the world, just as others have before me.
I did just that. (Try places, piss people off.)
The Shack Stacks were insane, as expected; each bite into that stuffed portobello mushroom bled out a painfully hot stream of cheese that blanketed the glob of meat below it. On hot afternoons, Milk Bar soft serves with candied cornflake lumps became the imperative snack, while cooler days produced Levain cookies that had layers of warm chocolate nooks inside them.
Late nights ended with gyro rice platters from Halal Guys (and the anticipation of a hangover the next day). Downtown at Russ & Daughters, I went for a Super Heebster—apparently one of 101 best sandwiches in the city according to New York magazine—and next door at Katz’s Deli, I had what she had.
I ate through the city like someone mourning the departure of an ex-boyfriend—excessively and, in my case, a year too late to even qualify as emotional eating. Each point on my checklist, however, proved half a victory and half a disappointment. The Instagram endemic had me living out the New York City of others combined. It’s as if I had received travel hand-me-downs, passed from one person to the other a hundred times over—each piece was intact, but at the end of the day, it still belonged to someone else. In a city notoriously unapologetic for its diversity, my days there became just too damn predictable. (For this I blame the Internet and my inability to cease worshipping it as my god.)
One evening, I met up with an old friend that lived in the city and went on a self-imposed digital detox. He brought me uptown for some chicken rice and frozen yogurt, before we crashed at his flat, where we sung and cried to Funny Girl. The next day, we walked a few blocks up. Starved, we entered a place we both were drawn to simply because the smell of fried bacon caught up to us.
I had a grilled cheese sandwich and he had the BLT, before we walked away with our leftovers and realized we didn’t even catch the sandwich shop’s name. In the afternoon, we stood at the end of his street, where he pointed out the apartment where Antoine de Saint-Exupéry began writing the chronicles of a little boy from asteroid B-612.
Diagonally across the street from it was the setting of a Beekman Place murder, which apparently earned cover line status on a fairly recent issue of Vanity Fair. We sat on a stoop where we dined on our cold sandwiches and washed them down with cherry cola. The waters of the East River sloshed behind us and before us, the street glowed from some semblance of a Manhattanhenge sunset.
There are no pictures to prove it happened, but the best thing about it comes from knowing this Manhattan moment was my own.