Chinatown Ice Cream Factory

The Brunch with Bear team knows no better way to kick off summer than a good ol’ ice cream Sunday, so today we’re giving you the full scoop on the Chinatown Ice Cream Factory! (See what we did there?) (We are so funny.) If you are, like we are, lying on the floor because heat rises and it’s cooler down here, pick yourself up and get down to Chinatown!

Located at 65 Bayard Street, the Chinatown Ice Cream Factory can be found between Mott and Elizabeth Streets. The closest subway stops are Canal Street on the 6, N, Q, R, J, or Z trains, but you can also go to Grand Street on the B or D trains. The Chinatown Ice Cream Factory is just a short walk from Golden Unicorn, Ping’s Seafood, and pretty much all the other restaurants in Manhattan Chinatown, so if you’re already there for dim sum, why not stay for dessert?

 
The Chinatown Ice Cream Factory is a family-owned independent ice cream establishment down in the depths of Manhattan Chinatown. For almost thirty years, the good people behind Chinatown Ice Cream Factory have attempted to blend the Western love for ice cream with the beloved and unique flavors of Chinese cuisine. Plus, their logo is a cool dragon eating ice cream!

 
Besides the regular vanilla and strawberry, they also boast great flavors like almond cookie, black sesame, don tot (an egg custard pastry at dim sum), red bean, etc. etc. The best part is that they also serve house-made sorbet for all the dairy-free bears out there! The flavors change seasonally, as they are fruit-based, but you can sample as many as you like. When we visited the Chinatown Ice Cream Factory back in April, they had lychee, black raspberry, and mango papaya sorbet available. I wish there had been a dairy-free almond cookie flavor, but alas, there was not. I opted for the mango papaya sorbet, a beautiful sunset orange hue with a sweet, soft flavor.

 
The servers at Chinatown Ice Cream Factory are very friendly, informative, and totally willing to wash the scoop extra when you tell them you have a severe dairy allergy. Although it was still snowing outside, the place was packed wall-to-wall—arguably not hard for the small shop, but still—and yet the servers were calm, patient, and handled the mix of languages with ease and grace.

 
I grumbled at the snow freezing my hand on the outside while my ice cream froze my hand on the inside, but as my cousins pointed out, “This way it won’t melt!” Although I practically froze my face off with the combination of snow and ice cream, it was completely worth it. The mango papaya was tart but sweet and a lovely tropical aftertaste that made it seem like maybe we weren’t still in the middle of winter, but instead on a warm tropical island.

 Now that it’s summertime, it’s time to really embrace that warm island feeling—starting with the unbearable humidity and ending with a perfect scoop of ice cream. Happy Sunday and happy summer!

Fred’s

Well, we never thought we’d say it, but we have found a brunch spot where Bear actually blends into the crowd. That’s right, a small golden bear with a red plaid bow tie and no tail who is under two feet tall actually belongs at this restaurant. And which restaurant might that be, you wonder? Of course, none other than Fred’s.

An Upper West Side staple, Fred’s was named for a black Labrador Retriever bred by an organization dedicated to raising guide dogs for visually impaired individuals. Fred, despite being a great dog, was one of the few puppies unsuited to the task of becoming an effective guide dog, and she found her home near her eponymous restaurant.

fred's (menu)

Fred’s is decorated with precious photographs of puppies, sent by loving customers from around the world, and represents the loyalty and affection that is man’s best friend. As you can probably guess, Bear was delighted to see his furry friends so heavily represented at Fred’s, and felt right at home as another fluffy companion.

fred's (restaurant)

The other reason that Bear fit in at Fred’s so naturally was because Fred’s is also known as an incredibly family-friendly restaurant. Indeed, we were surrounded by beautiful Upper West Side families, most with small children that had no qualms making conversation with us and showing us their various toys, gadgets, and, yes, bears. Bear was too shy to spend much time with the children, but perhaps next time we go, he will make some new friends.

Fred’s is located in the heart of the Upper West Side, on the southwest corner of 83rd Street and Amsterdam Avenue. It is a short, pleasant walk from the 79th Street station on the 1 train, the 81st Street station on the B or C train, or the 86th Street station on the 1, B, or C train.

fred's (restaurant)

The host at Fred’s was incredibly friendly and sat me, though I was still waiting for a friend. “We’re not busy yet,” he assured, and gave me a premium seat by the window, with lots of light and opportunity for people-watching. The menu at Fred’s is extensive, and covers most of the standard brunch fair with an easy versatility. They have some special dishes, but every item is familiar and recognizable as American brunch food.

All the waiters at Fred’s have an unbelievably strong hair game going on, and all of them were friendly to the point of new-best-friend status. Our server in particular completely understood the struggle of being dairy-free and peanut-free, and having waiters rattle off the gluten-free options. “Honey, I can bring you a pile of gluten if that’s what you want,” he confirmed. He also understood that dairy did not include eggs, and said that any egg dish was doable, but he also recommended the grilled chicken sandwich. Perfect hair, perfect understanding of allergies—new-best-friend status, indeed.

While I was definitely tempted by the chicken sandwich, I eat chicken and rice almost every day, and therefore was hoping to branch out to more traditional brunch fare. I finally settled on the steak and eggs, because Fred’s offered the least expensive (read: under twenty dollars) steak and egg plate I had ever seen in the city of New York. Our waiter confirmed that it was a great choice, and made sure to have it cooked perfectly—just a little pink on the inside.

fred's (food)

Turns out the steak and egg plate is actually a three course meal on a single plate. Not only are there steak and eggs, but also fries, and a heaping green salad. Not a speck of cheese, butter, or cream evident on the plate, and the kitchen had also been considerate enough to include olive oil on the side of my salad instead of a creamy dressing. A server quickly brought ketchup for the plate, as well as balsamic vinegar at my request, to go with the olive oil.

Everything was perfect and delicious. The fries were well-cut, the eggs were scrambled firm like I had asked, and the steak was perfectly grilled to a juicy touch-of-pink. I don’t even like salad, and I ate my whole salad! The multitude of things to eat also meant that I could have the pleasure of composing bites, combining flavors, and savoring each component. Even when I was lingering on the last few bites, the servers were totally understanding that I was a slow eater, and let me really finish everything before taking my plate away.

fred's (bear)

Fred’s had a cozy, rustic ambience that allowed for great, unobstructed conversation, as well as great, unobstructed eavesdropping and people-watching. Although we went for Saturday brunch, they also have a really well-priced Sunday brunch prix fixe that we’d love to check out. As we mentioned, Fred’s is also really family-friendly, and obviously used to dealing with food allergies, not to mention furry companions! If you’re spending the day on the Upper West Side, Fred’s is the perfect place to pair with a stroll in Central Park, or a visit to the American Museum of Natural History.

We highly recommend Fred’s as a quintessential New York brunch spot on the Upper West Side. Not only was Fred’s more accommodating and understanding than other places we’ve tried, but it was also delicious and well-priced. We plan on returning for Sunday brunch when the weather gets better, and we don’t mind waiting in line. As for Bear, he was reluctant to leave his new favorite brunch spot, and wonders if they might display his picture on the wall. Apparently having a blog that primarily features his furry face is just not enough!

Golden Unicorn

There is rarely a Saturday morning in New York when dim sum seems like a subpar idea. In fact, almost every morning in New York seems like a great one for dim sum, and so when my cousins suggest we trek to Chinatown, I rarely refuse. While there are countless places to indulge in the perfection that is dumplings for breakfast, Golden Unicorn has been a part of New York City’s dim sum scene since the late 80’s and garnered international acclaim, among Chinese and western patrons alike.

Golden Unicorn is located at 18 East Broadway, at the corner of East Broadway and Catherine Street. Note that at this particular section of Manhattan, Broadway and East Broadway are, in fact, two separate streets. Golden Unicorn, like much of lower Manhattan and particularly Chinatown, is difficult to access but is an acceptable walking distance from the Canal Street stop on the N, Q, R, J, Z, and 6 trains, as well as the Grand Street stop on the B and D trains. Golden Unicorn is a multi-floor establishment, so be sure to find the entrance on East Broadway and not the nearby entrance to a Cathay Bank.

golden unicorn (restaurant)

Because its fame extends to many tourists, Golden Unicorn typically has an incredible line on the weekends, so send your morning people to take a number while you struggle to pull on pants. Like many of the traditional dim sum houses in Hong Kong and China, Golden Unicorn has no qualms seating small parties together with strangers, such as a party of three at the same table as a separate party of two. Separate parties will, of course, have separate checks, and it is a great way to meet new people, make new friends, and get recommendations for new foods to try. However, if you are uncomfortable eating with other people, try to have at least four people in your party. Traditional Cantonese dim sum is almost completely dairy-free, and is a great group activity, so you will most likely be able to coerce at least three other people to come with you.

golden unicorn (dim sum cart)

Unlike many Chinatown restaurants, which have switched to ordering off menus or paper checklists, Golden Unicorn has retained the traditional dim sum style of pushcarts. Women with carts come around and you pick what you want from the stacks of baskets, and they will stamp your ticket.

golden unicorn (cha siu baos)

The range of selection is amazing, and besides the traditional shrimp balls, shu mai, cha siu baos, and sesame lotus balls, they also have more original concoctions, with interesting combinations of seafood, vegetables, meat, and bean curds. They do a great job with the traditional spare ribs, and bean curd rolls.

golden unicorn (spare ribs, bean curd roll)

If you are nervous about trying dim sum, don’t worry about asking questions. The thing about dim sum is that it’s all wrapped up in some sort of fried wrapper, steamed noodle, or baked bun, and it can be difficult to discern the contents until biting into it. The best way to tell is to ask a waiter (usually a frazzled looking man in a dinner jacket and a nametag), of course, and to look at the colors behind the wrapper. At Golden Unicorn, the servers are very helpful in describing their dishes, and can even be helpful in picking out vegetarian dishes if that is of concern to you. We have never encountered peanuts at Golden Unicorn, but if you are worried, it is best to check with a waiter, as at all restaurants.

golden unicorn (restaurant)

Besides picking out delectable little morsels not unlike tapas or English afternoon tea, we also like to order noodles at dim sum. Golden Unicorn does an exceptional beef chow fun that is less greasy and more meaty than your average take-out dive. The noodles remain firm but soft, and the beef is sliced thin enough to actually bite. We could always do without the copious amount of bean sprouts, but they do add a signature crunch to the dish. Noodles, as you can probably tell, are a big deal to us at Brunch with Bear, and we love nothing more than a great plate of beef chow fun with our dim sum!

golden unicorn (chow fun)

Because of its upscale reputation, Golden Unicorn can be more expensive than a more neighborhood-y dim sum restaurant, but the quality and atmosphere are definitely authentic. Most individual baskets are between two and six dollars, so Golden Unicorn can be a great place to really indulge in your favorite items. If you feel like splurging, it can also be a great place to be adventurous and surprise your taste buds in a safe, allergy-friendly environment!

golden unicorn (bear)

If we could eat dim sum every weekend, then our lifestyle would be ideal. Bear loves dim sum, particularly because dumplings and buns are the perfect Bear-sized and bite-sized meal! Golden Unicorn is a popular destination, but also one that lives up to the hype. If you are, like we are, always craving dim sum, Golden Unicorn will not disappoint!

Big Daddy’s

My sleepy hometown in Southern California has a sort of “Anywhere, U.S.A.” feel, a town where everyone remembers you from when you were small and you could never get lost. One of the main streets is on the historic Route 66, and our proximity to Hollywood keeps a nostalgic scent in the air. One of the best things about old Hollywood life is the diner, where jukebox tunes and greasy plates are available at all hours of the night. In fact, in our little town, the corner diner is the only place open at all hours of the night, making it the perfect destination after big games and school dances, when the only thing you want is a pile of breakfast food.

The funny thing about New York City is that it also loves its diners. It loves the Mom-and-Pop establishments that have had the same faded menus and the same tunes playing since you-can’t-remember-when and the regular customers that order their regular dish—no mayo, extra pickles—and the neighborhood can’t remember a time without that diner. It’s a slice of small town in the big city, a little pocket of comfort from the fast and furious world out there, and it reminds me a bit of home. So when few weeks ago, one of my friends suggested we all hit up Big Daddy’s diner for a late dinner after work, a slightly homesick me smiled at the prospect of a little hometown charm.

Big Daddy’s has three locations in New York City, but we chose the Upper West Side location because it was the closest to school. This particular branch is located at 91st Street and Broadway, a short walk from either the 86th Street station on the 1, B, and C trains, or the 96th Street station on the 1, 2, 3, B, and C trains. If you’re hailing from Columbia University, it’s a pretty pleasant walk from Morningside Heights, especially now that there isn’t any slush on the ground.

big daddy's (restaurant)

Big Daddy’s diner is possibly the most diner-y diner I have ever seen in my life. Walking into Big Daddy’s was like walking into a diner theme park, but in an endearing, rather than gaudy, way. The décor screams, “DINER!” with funky old license plates, signed photographs of celebrities from the last fifty years, and random toys displayed on the wall. In addition, a middle school birthday party was in full swing upon our entrance, and the speaker system blasted everything from Elvis to Madonna to the Beach Boys. It was as if someone had turned a Pinterest board of diner inspirations into an actual restaurant, but instead of being really kitschy like you might expect, it was very sincere. Like a diner that just wanted more than anything to be a diner.

big daddy's (license plates)

The staff was so friendly, and let us switch around tables when we added more people to our group last minute. The staff T-shirts cleverly read “Who’s Your Daddy?” on the back, and our server in particular was attentive without hovering. I told her about my food allergies and she immediately had suggestions. She confirmed that Big Daddy’s is a nut-free kitchen, and she told me that I should just choose something that I liked, and she would ask the chef how to make it work.

big daddy's (menu)

Because I suddenly had choices, I debated for a while on what to order. Big Daddy’s is known for their milkshakes and pancakes, but obviously those were out of the question. Usually diners mean midnight breakfast to me, and heaps of hash browns, eggs, and bacon are all that I consider. However, with the prospect of more options, I decided to branch out and try the Mr. French Dip, a roast beef sandwich. Our waitress confirmed that the baguette bread was dairy free, and made it very simple to eliminate the cheese and the sauce without any fuss.

big daddy's (trivial pursuit)

One of the fun things about Big Daddy’s was the stack of Trivial Pursuit cards on each table, giving us some entertainment while we waited for our food. This particular group of friends loves to attend local trivia nights at bars, but we rarely win anything significant. At Big Daddy’s, we brushed up on our random-fact knowledge, and learned that Christopher Jones captained the Mayflower, that the Houston Astrodome is known as the Eighth Wonder of the World, and that the Ed Sullivan Show was originally called Toast of the Town. By the time our food came, we were basically experts in useless facts.

big daddy's (food)

So I don’t know who came up with roast beef sandwiches or the idea of dipping them au jus, but they were a genius. Big Daddy’s leaves the crusty, fresh baguette untoasted, and the roast beef inside is sliced deli-thin. While the sandwich isn’t packed, there is definitely a good bread-to-filling ratio, particularly when you take into account the delicious addition of caramelized onions. The dipping broth was salty but warm, and full of a hearty roast beef flavor. One complaint I often have about crusty sandwiches is that they scrape the roof of my mouth in an unpleasant way. Eating it au jus dispels that problem! Big Daddy’s also gave an appreciably large side serving of French fries, and pickle slices, a necessity for any sandwich plate.

Because the portions were so large, I ended up taking half my sandwich home as leftovers. Our waitress gave me the perfect size box, and a tiny little sauce container for the broth. I was afraid the container would leak between dinner and our next adventure, but it remained intact until I opened it again for lunch the next day. The sandwich heated up remarkably well, and if there’s anything better than a hot roast beef sandwich au jus, it’s a second hot roast beef sandwich au jus!

big daddy's (bear)

As we ate, the place filled up, mostly with neighborhood youth and young Upper West Side professionals. Big Daddy’s is slightly more expensive than I would expect a diner to be, but then again, I’m used to the insanely cheap “weekday power breakfast” of chain restaurants back home. Compared to regular New York meal prices and considering the portions, Big Daddy’s was actually a great value, especially when you’re also paying for a safe kitchen environment and great ambience.

In addition to being walking distance from school, Big Daddy’s serves their full menu at all times of the day, which is a big plus when planning adventures in the city that never sleeps. Now my friends and I will have a go-to place for our late-night cravings: a diner that is allergy-friendly and also just regular friendly! Cue the jukebox.

Gabriela’s

Happy Easter Sunday! Though we usually do not have such a fast turnaround time between the Brunch with Bear outings and writing the posts, our little Easter Bear couldn’t wait to share our Easter brunch at Gabriela’s with you. So for the first time ever, the Brunch with Bear team is brunching and blogging immediately, in honor of the brunch-iest holiday of them all! Along with hot cross buns and egg hunts, Easter Sunday brunch is a fun and delicious way to celebrate the season of rebirth, no matter your religious affiliation.

Located on 93rd and Columbus, Gabriela’s Restaurant and Tequila Bar is an expansive and welcoming establishment. It’s an easy walk from the 96th Street station on the 1, 2, 3, B, or C trains, which is close enough to Columbia and the American Museum of Natural History to offer a full day of entertainment!

gabriela's (front door)

Gabriela’s, as aforementioned, is quite spacious and has indoor and outdoor seating. When we sat down this morning, it was quite sunny and only a little breezy but by the end of the meal, even the covered patio did not shelter us from the blustery gusts of wind that had swirled in. It was easy to get a reservation, even for Easter Sunday, but the tables quickly filled as our meal progressed.

gabriela's (exterior)

One of the servers situated us at a nice table away from the sidewalk and graced us with a basket of tortilla chips and two different salsas. The red was a more traditional tomato-based salsa while the yellow had a mustard-y flavor; both were mild, but had very smooth textures and were quite addicting! Note: Try not to fill up on chips, because the brunch plates are large.

gabriela's (chips)

The brunch menu at Gabriela’s is extensive, and features a number of favorites, such as breakfast tacos, breakfast burritos and huevos rancheros. Their pancake and French toast options are quite original—the pancakes were served all rolled up with fillings, more like crêpes—but of course, these options were sadly not dairy free. I opted for the huevos con carne, or steak and eggs, because to find a steak-and-eggs brunch plate under twenty dollars is amazing in New York City. Brunch at Gabriela’s includes a drink, though it should be noted that they do not serve alcohol before twelve noon on Sundays. I opted for white wine sangria, but they also have red wine sangria, mimosas, a variety of juices, and coffee. Our waiter was very friendly and noted the allergies right away as he was writing down my order, assuring me that the steak and eggs would not be cooked with dairy in any way.

gabriela's (menu)

When my plate came, the side dishes were numerous—not only did I receive a small steak and a pile of scrambled eggs, but I also received beans, homemade hash, and avocado. The plate was also served with a corn muffin, but after our server double checked with the kitchen, we learned that the muffin had milk in it. He brought a separate plate to remove the muffin to the side. Usually I prefer that my plate have no allergy items touching anything at all, but the muffin was only on a small bed of lettuce that I was not intending to eat anyway, so I was okay with just moving the muffin.

gabriela's (food)

The portions at Gabriela’s are generous, which is great because brunch is the perfect time of the day to nosh at your leisure. The steak was well-seasoned and easy to cut; I asked for it to be served medium, but I think next time I may go medium well, as the steak was slightly pinker than I prefer. The scrambled eggs were cooked firm, which I appreciated, as I think nothing ruins brunch like runny scrambled egg goo. The side dishes were great, especially the potatoes, which had a lumpy-mashed-potato-like consistency. Mashed potatoes, like stuffing, are actually one of my favorite side dishes, because I can so rarely eat them. These potatoes were a little crispier, having been fried on a griddle, but I still appreciated the soft consistency. The beans were pretty standard refried beans, but they were a great complement to the eggs and avocado. The sangria had bits of apple and was very refreshing as it added to the ambience of the outdoor seating patio.

gabriela's (bear)

Gabriela’s outdoor atmosphere made it a little difficult to hear conversation, but was a lovely ambience and I can see myself going back there on a warm summer morning to try some tacos or maybe the huevos rancheros. The main clientele were young families, and the kids seemed to enjoy the endless supply of chips and the opportunity to watch strangers. The brunch menu is well-priced, considering the large portions and the included beverage, but the dinner menu is a little pricier so we will probably keep Gabriela’s as a daytime option.

easter sunday bear

Whether or not you celebrate Easter, April is a time for rebirth, renewal, and rejuvenation and we were delighted to indulge in a relaxing meal at Gabriela’s to prepare us for the new season! We appreciate a holiday that favors eggs, brunch, and bunnies, even if the bunnies are just rolled in colored sanding sugar and packaged as wildly unhealthy snacks for children. As we open yet another bag of candy and enjoy the flowers that are beginning to peek out, we look forward to a renewed zeal for brunching and blogging! Not to mention, making bunny ears in all our photos!