There might not be many tables to sit - there are seven to be exact - but the menu choices are endless. There are signature sandwiches and salads that are already prepared at one end of the glass case, but then I glanced up and discovered a full traditional Czech menu hanging on the wall. Beef Goulash with dumplings and chicken schnitzel stood out as being the ultimate Eastern European dishes. Down below, in the adjoining glass case, there were several enticing "square" desserts: strawberry cheese squares, banana squares with chocolate, honey walnut squares, and peach squares with sweet cream cheese. At any hour of the day that I have visited Cafe Prague, I have witnessed a steady flow of customers coming in to order a sweet treat or a full meal...and all of those tables mentioned above were always occupied.
On a perfect summer day, the Sideways team sat down for lunch at Tacombi, a relatively new and thriving addition to Manhattan’s Mexican food scene. Sitting at one of the higher tables near the front of the restaurant, with a breeze blowing in from 24th street, one can’t help but notice that the restaurant practically gleams (at the time of writing, it is just about seven weeks old). Even the painted sign advertising “Frutos Naturales” above the juice bar looks as if it was finished that morning. We sampled a variety of tacos and other Mexican staples (including their remarkably flavorful rice and beans), as well as some of their fresh-squeezed juices. Although all of it was delicious and satisfying, we were particularly taken with a few of the dishes we tried. Their El Pastor tacos, prepared with pork roasted and marinated with pineapple for two days before serving, were tender and savory. For our vegetarian readers, the Quesadilla Maiz Azul, prepared with dried chili sauce, Chihuahua cheese, and corn on a blue tortilla, and the Black Ben Y Sweet Potatoes taco, are must-haves. And, for the scorching summer days to come, their pineapple juice with ginger and mint takes refreshment to another level. Our food came with sides of salsa verde, salsa roja, escabeche (a mix of pickled vegetables), and radish and mint, as well as an optional extra-hot habanero sauce for the adventurous — all fresh and prepared in-house. Fresh, in-house, and local is the name of the game for Tacombi’s executive chef Jason DeBriere. Everything from the tortillas — which, if you come at the right time of day, you can watch them make in their tortilleria — to the guacamole, to the meat used in their tacos, is prepared fresh every day. DeBriere even goes personally to markets around New York City to select the vegetables for the escabeche. Alan, a chef at Tacombi with whom we had the privilege of speaking, described DeBriere as a mago de comer, which roughly translates to “food wizard. ” “He never cuts corners, ” he added. He also emphasized the dedication of every chef in the kitchen to making everything fresh every day, as well as making locally sourced ingredients a major priority. “We’re just trying to produce traditional Mexican food, ” Alan told us. “We’re not trying to do a fusion with American food. ” This philosophy extends to their breakfast menu, which is full of traditional Mexican breakfast dishes like their huevos rancheros and fresh-baked breakfast pastries, like their fruit-filled empanadas. With its open, relaxing atmosphere and exceptional Mexican cuisine, Tacombi is a great place to stop by for any meal. “We want to create a space that does more than welcomes you, ” Alan said. “It transports you. ”
Although small, this family-owned café is inviting. The sandwiches are interesting and tasty, as are the soups and salads…and then there is the cappuccino and sweets. Consistently busy, the staff is always smiling, the food is healthy and hearty, and the vibe is positive, even during rush hours.
Every time I am walking with someone new, I find myself winding past Breads Bakery to have us try yet another delicious bite of their freshly baked goods. I cannot call this a hidden gem, by any means, as the lines are sometimes out the door. In a matter of a few weeks from when Uri Scheft and Gadi Peleg opened, they have managed to be written up everywhere. They have even been cited as having the best rugelach and babka in different periodicals, but I must encourage all who visit to sample Breads' take on focaccia - the multigrain version. If it is not still warm from the oven, then take it home, heat it up, add a bit more olive oil and savor every bite. Another that I cannot resist are the flaky cheese straws. Direct from the oven, they are impeccable. In fact, fresh is king here, and the baked goods are often fresher than the vegetables around the corner. While most bakeries have their employees come in during the night to pump out a days worth of starchy creations, Uri's staff at Breads Bakery has fresh bread coming out just in time for each of the mealtime rushes. Uri was raised in Israel, but went back to his parent's roots in Denmark for his training in baking. He then traveled and worked in Europe before returning to his homeland to open up his first bakery in Tel Aviv. Many years later, Gadi was traveling in Israel and discovered Uri's Lehamim Bakery. It took several more years of persistence, but ultimately the timing was right and Uri made the huge decision to move to New York and partner with Gadi to open up shop near Union Square. The store itself feels modern and spacious, with one counter for bread and baked goods just as you enter on the left, and another further back with sandwiches and drinks. Extending further back another 75 feet are the kitchens. Customers can watch bakers ease proofed dough off rolls of canvas onto an adjustable conveyer belt, which feeds into the carefully regulated ovens. Unlike Sheft's locations in Israel, he got to design this one from the ground up so the technology involved is sometimes just as amazing as what comes out of the ovens.
The moment I walked into Burger and Lobster, I knew that it was not a typical seafood restaurant. Huge lobsters swam in tanks by the door, and a whimsical chalkboard announced the restaurant’s grand total of three menu items: the burger, the lobster, and the lobster roll. When Burger and Lobster opened in January of 2015, no one knew whether its limited menu would appeal to New Yorkers. Vanessa, the general manager, was especially skeptical. “But after just a few weeks, ” she told me, “the restaurant was a huge success! I couldn’t believe it. ” Since then, Burger and Lobster’s reputation has continued to grow, and the wait on weekends can be up to an hour. When I stopped by on a sweltering July afternoon, I could see why the restaurant has become so popular. Housed in a former tae kwon do studio, Burger and Lobster feels both casual and upscale, with high ceilings and simple décor (I especially liked the lobster trap light fixtures). With seating for up to 300 people at a time, the restaurant can easily accommodate large groups, and the downstairs space is available for private events. Even better, every item on the menu is $20 and comes with generous portions of salad and fries. Burger and Lobster has a distinctively American feel, so I was surprised to learn that the company is based in the UK. According to Vanessa, it all started out with four friends who had known each other since high school. They already owned several high-end London restaurants, and when they decided to do something fun and different, Burger and Lobster was born. The first restaurant was so successful that the business multiplied, and now has eight locations in London and several others in Manchester, Wales, and Dubai. All of Burger and Lobster’s locations have the same laid-back atmosphere, but Vanessa told me that the New York restaurant is the most fun. “A lot of our servers are actors and actresses, ” she explained, “and they’re always having a good time. Last week, two of them performed a scene from Dirty Dancing, and everyone loved it! ”In spite of its relaxed environment, Burger and Lobster is very serious about the quality of its food. Vanessa explained that they buy all of their lobsters from the same group of lobstermen in Nova Scotia, while their beef comes from carefully selected Nebraskan ranchers. “We work really closely with them to make sure all of our food is of the highest possible quality, ” Vanessa added. We had the opportunity to try the food for ourselves just a few minutes later, when the server presented us with all three of Burger and Lobster’s menu items. The lobster paired perfectly with the lemon garlic butter (as did the fries), and once we managed to bite into the towering ten-ounce burger, we found that it was juicy and filling. The Manhattan Sideways team especially enjoyed the creamy lobster roll on soft butter brioche, a choice that felt refreshing and summery. Though we did not sample the drink menu, Vanessa told us about the signature cocktails and wines that Burger and Lobster has on tap, as well as its many beer options. When we had eaten as much burger and lobster as we could—the portions were quite large—Vanessa took us on a tour of the restaurant’s lobster lab. This area, which was designed by a marine biologist and is regulated by a complex computer system, can hold up to 4000 pounds of lobster at any given time. “We go through a lot of lobster, ” Vanessa told us. “On weekends, sometimes we use as many as a thousand per day. ” While the smaller lobsters are kept downstairs in the lab, the “big boys, ” as they’re affectionately known, are kept on the main floor for customers to admire. Between six and eighteen pounds, some of these lobsters are estimated to be eighty or ninety years old, and they are quite an impressive sight. We even got a chance to hold one of the big boys, a six-pounder who remained surprisingly calm as we lifted him by the claws. Burger and Lobster’s Manhattan location has received rave reviews, and Vanessa told us that the company will soon bring its high-quality food and impressive service to other locations in New York and the United States. But until then, anyone hoping to experience Burger and Lobster will have to make their way to this cool, casual spot on West 19th Street.
Four generations of the McManus clan have operated this jovial Irish tavern, making it among the oldest family-run bars in the city. Its originator, Peter McManus, left his quaint Irish hometown and disembarked in Ellis Island with “basically five dollars and a potato in his pocket, ” as the story goes. He opened the first McManus as a longshoreman’s bar in 1911 on West 55th Street, which he then converted into a thriving general store during Prohibition while migrating his liquor business into a number of speakeasies. Once the restrictions ended in 1933, the shop was so successful that Peter kept it going and found a new spot on 19th Street in which to revive his bar. Peter’s son, James Sr., spent close to fifty years working in and later running the pub. It then passed into the hands of James Jr., who now stands beside his own son, Justin, serving beer and cracking jokes over a century later. Knowing that they will find pleasant conversation and an intriguing cast of characters at McManus, people often come alone to see what the night holds for them. The atmosphere at McManus is merry, but patrons still respect the history and charm that suffuse every corner of the space. Much of the bar is original, including the stunning Tiffany stained glass windows, the hand carved woodwork and crown molding, and the terrazzo floor that can no longer be made today. “We try to preserve it and are pretty protective of it. This bar was built to last, ” Justin said.
Tom Geniesse is in love with the Flatiron District and he believes he has chosen the perfect location to house his cleverly laid out wine shop. As he explained, there are two ways to shop for wine - first - the old fashioned way with the wines alphabetized by country. Thus, along the walls at the front of the store, multiple wine regions from around the world are represented alphabetically, beginning with Argentina. It is down the center of the shop, however, that Tom'sother idea for displaying wines comes to fruition: The same wines that line the sides are now separated by category - Meat, Seafood, Take-out, Treats, Gifts, Value, Events. Get the idea? The fun doesn't stop here, though, for next to each bottle Tom has a "resume" of each wine, providing tools to make wise choices. Collectors with deep pockets can find a fine selection as can university students who prefer not to spend a great deal. Bottlerocket is designed to build a bridge for consumers to make the right decision. When asked what drew him into the wine business, Tom said that he was a "crazy entrepreneur" who had lots of different jobs but continuously found himself disappointed in wine shops. "I always wanted to know more, and this is a result of that effort. "