Happy Sunday and happy spring, Brunch with Bearees! We hope you enjoyed your Pi(e) Day yesterday, and we have another exciting update! This past week we have been fortunate to gain an extra hour of daylight, a little touch of warm weather, and over 5K viewers on the blog! Over fifty posts in, we are so thankful to have such a wide readership and hope that you have enjoyed exploring NYC ever since we began this project over two years ago. Bear and the Brunch with Bear team have had so much fun discovering the allergy-friendly side of the Big Apple, and we could not have made this project a success without you, our wonderful readers. We hope that you will stick with us as we have some great new posts coming soon. Until then, brush your fur and find a floppy hat, because spring has sprung!
Happy Pi(e) Day to all you Brunch with Bearees! For the non-nerds, pi day is called so because March 14, or 3-14, are the first three digits of a special mathematical number called pi (π). As I recall from sixth grade pre-algebra class, there’s a whole long backstory involving a Greek guy named Archimedes and a bunch of polygons (and possibly a secret society?), but the main concept is that pi is the number of times the diameter of a circle fits into its circumference. The fraction produces a number that has endless decimal places (3.141592653589793…etc. etc.) and now people around the world celebrate its existence on March 14 by reciting strings of nonsensical numbers and eating pie!
Pie as a concept generally falls into the “unsafe” category of foods, as many bakeries like to use lots and lots of butter, as well as other dairy products in the crusts. Luckily for the Brunch with Bear team, the new pie shop on Delancey, Petee’s Pie Company, offers a vegan (read: dairy free) selection along with its regular menu! (And if you’re one of our gluten-free pals, they do that too!) I first heard about Petee’s Pie Company last fall and ever since then, we have been eager to support Petee’s Pie Company and bring Bear along for the ride. When a not-that-awful morning in February arose, we jumped at the chance!
Petee’s Pie Company is located at 61 Delancey, just off the corner of the Delancey and the west side of Allen. It’s just a little more than a hop, skip, and a jump from the Delancey Street station on the F train, the Essex Street station on the M, J, and Z trains, the Bowery station on the J or Z train, and the Grand Street station on the B or D trains.
Petee’s Pie Company is tiny in real estate, but cavernous in its appearance. The sign outside declares, “We made you a pie,” and the personal touch is evident in the operation. The bakery is directly behind the counter, and there is little but a register and a glass case of pies separating customers from the process of pie-making itself.
Music plays while the staff sings along, and one of the bakers changed most of the words to reflect her love for pie. The whole vibe is like dropping in on a friend’s kitchen while she prepares for Thanksgiving; while the pies make your nose tingle with cinnamon and anticipation, you also feel a little jealous that your apartment could never be that Instagram-able.
The shop has a darling little driftwood ledge-counter hybrid where we enjoyed our slice, and they also display their pies and recent press proudly on the front counter. Though Petee’s boasts a selection of hot and cold beverages, the bakers were also happy to provide us with glasses of refreshing tap water, which helped us eat our pie at an accelerated rate. Probably the coolest part of the counter set-up was the iPad cash register, which allowed us to swipe and sign in a manner befitting the minimalist atmosphere. At six dollars a slice, Petee’s Pie Company is definitely on the more expensive end of snack foods, but our slice was enormous, filling, and even lovingly warmed for us by the baker herself!
The morning that we dropped by, the vegan pie selection was a Hudson Valley apple pie, an old favorite. When I was younger, I had apple pie instead of birthday cake most years because it was always easier to find an allergy-safe pie than it was to find an allergy-safe cake. Petee’s version is worth having every year instead of cake, regardless of allergies or not. The crust is thick and flaky, and just a tad saltier than I might expect. I used to hate the crusts of pies as a kid, but I found myself scraping up all the crumbs at Petee’s. On the inside, layers and layers of freshly sliced apples with a cinnamon-toast sweetness complemented the slightly salty crust with a richness not unlike the salty-sweet haze of kettle corn, which we could eat all day long.
Imagine Archimedes, in wonder of his own discovery, this strange phenomenon of geometry that has been the key to so much of modern architecture and engineering. Every warm slice of Pi Day pie should evoke that same wonder and delight, if only as a tribute to our ancient Greek friend. If you’re searching for that feeling of discovery, the epiphany that accompanies the emergence of a mathematical truth, we encourage you to indulge in a slice at Petee’s Pie Co. and you will not be disappointed.
Petee’s Pie Company is a precious gem among the piles of cubic zirconia that peppers the Lower East Side of Manhattan. The location is convenient for a day exploring SoHo, visiting the Tenement Museum, or bumming around Chinatown or Little Italy for the day. In addition, the bakers’ friendly understanding of food allergies and their exuberant love for pie made us feel comfortable, welcome, and fully taken care of, a rare experience at any bakery. Bear especially loved their font choice, and the way one of the bakers cooed over his beret—that Bear, always getting all the attention—and insists that we return again in the very near future!
If there is anything to love about the cold weather—and we’re mostly convinced that there is not—then it has to be the berets, or should we say, Bear-ets? Nothing says “New York City brunch” like a beret, and our favorite hipster headgear found itself right at home at Flat Top, a cute and cozy spot right in Columbia’s Morningside.
Flat Top is located at the corner of 121st Street and Amsterdam Avenue, which is a short walk from the north end of Columbia University’s main campus in Morningside Heights. If you’re taking the subway, the easiest and most direct route would be the 1 train to 116th Street and walk across the Columbia campus. Otherwise it’s likely reachable from the 125th Street stop on the 1, A, B, or C, but not as easy, given the ongoing construction and pedestrian detours around those areas.
Because of the ambient lighting from the various obscure fixtures and our seat from a corner table, photographs of the interior were difficult. However, based on the clientele, we can guarantee that there were enough vintage accent pieces, old books, and fake gourds to satisfy the average college hipster, particularly of the Columbia variety. For example, the foyer combined an old typewriter not unlike my dad’s, an antique lamp not unlike my hometown library’s, and an ancient music stand not unlike Apollo’s. (Ancient Greece is so vintage).
Their brunch menu is sparse, and when I asked the waitress about food allergies, she seemed confused but not necessarily concerned. She pointed out the kale salad, but when I told her that I was not a vegan or a vegetarian, she was not sure what to recommend. I asked her to please check with the kitchen about the simple egg plate, and when she came back, she said the kitchen was willing to do their best to accommodate the allergy. At these times, it is difficult to know whether or not to trust a restaurant, because there is the problem of trusting the server and the altogether entirely different problem of trusting the kitchen. The latter is more important, but sometimes the only information on the kitchen is through the server, who may or may not seem trustworthy. I decided to give Flat Top a chance—certainly they were accustomed to gluten-free requests enough to process dairy-and-peanut-free requests, plus I was really hungry.
The egg plate itself was generously portioned, with twice as much toast as Community and well arranged to give the illusion of more food. While I had to ask several times for jam, I was rewarded with thick preserves that spread nicely. Toasters are prohibited at school, and so toast at brunch is always an exciting feature. The bacon was crisp, the eggs were firm, and the potatoes were fully cooked, which I really appreciate, as many restaurants tend to undercook their eggs and their home fries. Unfortunately, the potatoes had the addition of bell peppers, which I find icky, but they were easy to remove and deflect to another plate.
Because we were seated at a corner table, it was difficult to get good service and the other diners seemed accustomed to a blasé waitstaff. Our waitress never checked about the allergies after she served our plates, and in fact, another server handled our water refills, and requests for condiments. The Brunch with Bear team prefers a more attentive and friendly staff, but perhaps now that we have been to Flat Top, we will be more upfront about asking for all our accommodations at the very beginning.
Flat Top’s pricing is comparable to that of Community or other Morningside brunch establishments, but because the service is slow and they are not enthusiastically accommodating of allergies, it may not be as comfortable an experience for Brunch with Bearees. However, it is very convenient in terms of location and heavily populated by Columbia students, so if you are on a campus tour or visiting near the area, it is not a bad place to hipster-watch and enjoy a leisurely meal! We encourage you to wear your best beret.
As promised, the Brunch with Bear team is warming up your winter, one bowl of ramen at a time! This time around, we bring you to Ajisen Ramen, an international group of ramen houses. Following a little excursion relating to the Empire State Building back in the fall, a friend and I agreed to go to dinner and we walked past Ajisen Ramen, enticed by the idea of warm soup noodles.
Ajisen, according to their website, was established in 1968 in Japan, and has since branched out around the world to many countries, including China and the United States. Their distinct logo of a little girl holding a bowl of ramen is visible across the country, from my homeland of Southern California to their location in Midtown Manhattan.
This particular branch is located in the middle of the flower markets on 28th Street between 6th and 7th Avenues. The shop is a short walk away from the 28th Street stops on the 1, 6, N, and R trains, and near the local attractions of Herald Square and the Flatiron Building. Easy to stop in and grab a cheap, warm bite!
Unless you’ve seen it elsewhere before, Ajisen doesn’t look like an international chain at first sight. The little plastic sushi plates in the window and worn furniture suggest more of a neighborhood feel, like A-12, rather than the expected cut-and-paste look of a franchise. The table was set with chopsticks and a little trio of chili oil, furikake (the special seaweed salt seasoning), and soy sauce, suggesting that the restaurant anticipated customers familiar with eating ramen.
Our waitress was friendly and brought our water out very quickly. The best part was that the menu clearly stated, “Please notify us of any food allergies.” I ordered the original Ajisen ramen, which had a very basic pork-bone broth with classic toppings of roast pork, egg, seaweed, bean sprouts, and scallion. For those uninitiated, this bowl of ramen is probably the most typical set of ingredients, and a great introduction to ramen!
The broth was creamy but the waitress assured me that there was absolutely no dairy in the ramen, just a creamy look due to the rich pork bone origins of the broth. While I generally prefer the clear shoyu style of ramen, this pork broth was very flavorful and salty, and gave the ramen a fuller flavor. It was greasy but in a comforting, I’m-finally-getting-to-eat-this-enormous-taco way. I also love the addition of the soft-boiled egg and the seaweed—even though they are common ingredients in ramen, they seemed to go well with the greasy pork soup.
Ajisen was similarly priced to other ramen adventures but very well-priced for Midtown eateries, where even a drink at Starbucks could cost you your favorite beret. As I’ve mentioned before, ramen is a comfort food to me, and one that is best shared with friends. I enjoyed sharing a meal at Ajisen and look forward to perhaps seeing a few of its other international locations in the not-too-distant future!
Gung hay fat choy! Soon approaching is the Chinese New Year, one of the largest and longest holidays in the Chinese culture. This year will bring us into the Year of the Ram, one of the twelve animals on the Chinese Zodiac. For the uninitiated, Chinese New Year changes every year because it is on the lunar calendar, and this year, the celebration begins on February 19.
While there are varying degrees of tradition, the basics include cleaning and wearing new clothes, to get rid of bad luck and make room for good luck in the new year! The more traditional parts of Chinese New Year include ceremonies, parades, and ancient customs, but the fun parts of Chinese New Year include firecrackers, red envelopes with cash for the children, and lots of food for everyone!
As we rapidly approach the Year of the Ram, you may be busy vacuuming your house, stealing packages of red envelopes from Cathay Bank, and making plans to celebrate with your family. Of course, even if you are not Chinese, Chinese New Year is still a fun holiday and a great excuse to eat Chinese food! Chinese New Year is just a few weeks away, and amidst the ice and snow will emerge a new year, full of promise, prosperity, and hopefully Peking duck!
One of the most well-known Chinese cuisines is the incredible delicacy of Peking duck, a specialty of the northern capital, Peking. Today, Peking is better known as Beijing, but the duck remains just as famous and just as delicious! In Manhattan, one of the best places to get Peking duck is the posh Peking Duck House in Chinatown.
Located on Mott Street, the Peking Duck House is just south of Bayard Street and a short walk from any of the Canal Street stops on the 1, 6, A, C, E, N, Q, R, J, or Z trains. The Peking Duck House has undergone a series of recent renovations that set it apart from the other restaurants in Chinatown, giving it an air of elegance and ambience that is more welcoming to its patrons who find Chinatown’s traditional atmosphere to be unsettling or uncomfortable.
The wait for a table can vary, so be prepared to stand against the wall and marvel at the skill of the chef as he carves the duck with the largest knife that I have seen outside of my grandmother’s kitchen. There is a larger downstairs seating area, so if possible, try to get a table in that roomier section.
Obviously the attraction is the Peking duck, sliced so thin that it’s mostly the crispy skin, and just a hint of the juicy dark meat. The traditional way to eat it is with a pancake, which looks a lot like a tortilla, slathered with hoisin sauce, and topped with green onions and cucumbers. Like tacos or crêpes, it is a difficult food to eat in an attractive and orderly manner, but it is very delicious and readily savored.
The Peking Duck House has a full menu in addition to the famous duck, but we do not picture it here because we prefer to focus solely on the duck, which, for the Brunch with Bear team, is the main attraction of the menu. However, we can attest that the chefs maintain the same high quality of the duck across all their dishes.
The Peking Duck House caters to a large non-Chinese clientele, and such service may be reflected in the dining experience, especially for those of you that are unfamiliar or uncomfortable with the neighborhood, and make it easier to order some other dishes. However, we should note that it is possible to find high quality authentic Chinese food at many other restaurants, and so we choose to only focus on the famous Peking duck as it is the Peking Duck House’s specialty!
Peking duck, as an imperial delicacy, is rather expensive, and best saved for special occasions, such as Chinese New Year. For those of you who are trying it for the first time, don’t be shy to ask questions because the restaurant is very proud of its signature dish! If you are celebrating the new year, be sure to order a plate of noodles as well, a symbol of a long and healthy life and traditional new year food.
As the Year of the Ram comes near, we look forward to a year of new possibilities and adventures. For our part, we may attempt a dragon dance, a new restaurant or two, and of course, as much Peking duck as we can get. For the rest of you, we hope that the new year means trying Peking duck for the first time!