On days when I can’t face another slice of wheat toast with peanut butter for breakfast or one more tuna sandwich eaten at my desk, I see no choice but to sneak out for a quick bite. Depending on the season and mood, I might slip downstairs for an omelette, waffle or fresh fruit and yogurt at the Key West Diner, pop around the corner for avocado rolls at AsiaKan or wander down Broadway for gazpacho at the Belgian bakery/restaurant franchise Le Pain Quotidien. If time permits, I might opt for the Dive Bar or a short subway ride down to the Village to dine at a few favorites there. Hey, if I’m taking a break from work, I might as well make it worthwhile.
Ah, the Dive Bar. It is not a true dive but rather a cozy, neighborhood hang-out with a slightly aquatic theme. At the Dive Bar closest to me on Amsterdam and W. 96th a huge fish tank — the aquatic touch — greets me whenever I stroll through the front door. The best things about the Dive Bar, though, are not the ’round-the-corner location or decor but rather the vast and excellent selection of beer on tap and in bottles and the high quality pub grub. From Belgian to British, local to national, the bartender pours a nice, cold pint every time.
Along with a wide selection of drinks, the Dive Bar offers an equally diverse range of entrees. Mixed greens salads, catfish tacos, Southern fried pickles, burgers and fries, brisket, and shrimp all get equal billing on the menu. Vegetarians need not despair for there are also carrot and pea-studded veggie burgers, Smart dogs with sauerkraut and relish, rice and beans, and sides of edame offered here.
Likewise, Two Boots provides vegetarian-friendly options at all of its seven Manhattan locations. I gravitate toward the veggie pizzas at the shops on Bleecker or W. 11th. Chalk it up to laziness but, as I spend more time in the Village than in Midtown or the Lower East Side, these are my preferred locales.
What differentiates Two Boots from places like Famiglia, Ray’s and countless other NY pizza shops? In addition to the funky names – The Dude, Night Tripper and Earth Mother spring to mind — Two Boots’ pizzas have a wealth of toppings all served on crisp, cornmeal-dusted crusts. My favorite is the aforementioned Earth Mother. Covered with broccoli, spinach, mushrooms, garlic, red and yellow peppers, red onions and red sauce, it’s a healthful, and tasty, choice.
A short distance from Two Boots lies another dining institution and personal favorite, Elephant & Castle. No, no. It’s not that mediocre chain restaurant with the fake British decor and greasy fish and chips. Instead it’s the 1973, NY original with the motto ”Copied by many, Excelled by none. ” and which has a second, same-named restaurant, opened in 1989, in the Temple Bar section of Dublin.
I usually drop by Elephant & Castle for breakfast. Nothing like beginning the morning with a plate of Canyonland poached eggs resting atop slivers of avocado, sliced tomatoes and toasted English muffins and sprinkled with chopped, fresh tarragon and Balsamic vinegar. The vibrant hues of red, green and white dazzle my bleary eyes while the burst of fresh, piquant flavors wake up my tired palate. A creative and inspiring start to a day spent writing about food.