Editor's note: You've already seen our New York editors' neighborhood guides, in which the SE staff—Ed, Carey, Erin, and more—chat about their favorite places to eat in their own neighborhoods. But we're branching out to other food personalities. We've heard Tom Colicchio on the West Village; Eric Ripert on Midtown West; now here's former Times restaurant critic Frank Bruni on the Upper West Side. —The Mgmt..
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During his tenure as the New York Times restaurant critic, Frank Bruni's opinion determined the fortunes of countless chefs and shaped the city's eating habits. Now, nearly three years after leaving his powerful post and publishing a bestselling memoir, he's free to eat as lowbrow as he pleases in the comfort of his own Upper West Side neighborhood.
Bruni turns his discerning palate toward Fairway coffee and late-night buffalo chicken pizza in this week's edition of Neighborhood Guides.
Burger: Shake Shack at 77th and Columbus. I don't go there as often as I'd like because the lines are prohibitive, and I feel like if I'm going to eat a Shake Shack burger, I don't want it steaming in a takeout bag for 30 minutes. I love the composition of their burger, but I tend to like my patties thicker, so I always order a double. I'm a simple burger person, no pickles or special sauces—I really like to taste the beef.
Bagel: I usually go to 72nd St Bagel. If the bagels are warm and fresh, I'm a sucker for a salt bagel with butter. I'd just like to say that all this toasting of bagels has gone too far. I find it really odd that toasting has become the default.
Sandwich: I really like the chicken salad sandwich at Café Luxembourg. I'm also a big fan of Levain. The sandwich I get there is this really rare roast beef with a very creamy, vaguely zingy horseradish dressing, served on a fluffy white bread. For a takeout sandwich, it's really very good. I also frequently get their small sourdough rolls and whole wheat walnut raisin rolls, which make you feel so virtuous, like you've conquered a bunch of food groups in one little roll. You feel like somewhere, Dr. Oz is smiling.
Breakfast: I don't tend to eat breakfast out, but my favorite in the neighborhood is from the Juice Generation store on 72nd. They make a peanut butter shake. Peanut butter is the crack cocaine of the culinary world. The shake is just peanut butter and a little bit of banana, and you choose between soy and almond milk. I go for almond milk: double your nuts, double your fun! I mean that in a PG-13 way.
Coffee: The best coffee in the neighborhood is Joe the Art of Coffee, but I seldom buy coffee out. I usually get coffee from either Fairway or Citarella. I have a nice grinder at home, and I have it set to exactly the pour-over setting that I like.
Dive bar: There is an Irish pub called Emerald Inn that I go for just a beer or martini or a shot of whiskey. They've always got separate television channels tuned to the appropriate sporting events, and they have decent chicken wings. Nothing goes better with beer than chicken wings.
Wine bar: I'm fond of The Tangled Vine. They've got a really decent wine selection and some tasty snack things. I love the fideos, which are noodles with squid ink and cuttlefish and a rich aioli mixed in. David Siegel, the chef there, was doing this same dish at Mercat. It's not exactly wine bar food, but who the hell cares?
Falafel: I like the falafel at Hummus Place. It's not life-changing, but the hummus is very good. In the same way that I'm a burger purist, I tend to be really condiment-slutty with my falafel. I'll put hummus, tahini, lettuce... I'm just promiscuous with condiments when it comes to my falafel.
Late-night eats: There's a nothing place half a block from my house called Freddy and Pepper's Pizza Pub. Their pizza is utterly undistinguished, but they have odd toppings. Most are horrific to contemplate, but they have a buffalo chicken pizza, and although I would never, in a discerning capacity, recommend this, I have to admit that at midnight, after a few glasses of wine, it's a favorite, shameful late-night eat.
Date night: I've recently been a couple times to Boulud Sud, and I think that's a great date place, with the possible exception that their lighting isn't dark enough. Their ratatouille, which I'm convinced they must pour butter into, is exceptional.
Can't-miss neighborhood spot: Fatty Crab. Of all the sit down restaurants in my neighborhood, that's the one I'm in the most often. I love the Fatty restaurants. I get upset when I go in and there aren't a lot of people there, because I never want them to close down. It's an easygoing place, and they're careful with their cocktails. I love the Fatty sliders, and they're something I came to love late. I love the Fatty duck, their Lo Si Fun, and their turmeric roasted cauliflower with roasted raisins.