Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:
Every year from 1999 to 2015 my wife Anne and I took a road trip to a different part of the United States and visited attractions, wonders, and events we didn’t have back home in Indianapolis. With my son’s senior year in college imminent and next summer likely to be one of major upheaval for him (Lord willing), the summer of 2016 seemed like a good time to get the old trio back together again for one last family vacation before he heads off into adulthood and forgets we’re still here. In honor of one of our all-time favorite vacations to date, we scheduled our long-awaited return to New York City…
Day Three in Manhattan brought us more interesting adventures in the fabulous field of food — twice in Times Square, twice in Chinatown. One was a recommendation, but the rest were discoveries on the go, this time with no flawed assistance from Google Maps.
For breakfast Anne and I walked toward the Port Authority and into the Manhattan chapter of Carlo’s Bake Shop, the dessert destination best known to viewers of TLC’s reality series Cake Boss, now in its eighth season.
We had hoped to visit at least one restaurant owned by the judges from the Food Network’s Chopped, a weekly staple in our household, but they’re all either five-star and beyond our reach, or located in neighborhoods nowhere near the stops on our to-do list. So Cake Boss was the closes we came in Manhattan to experiencing anything vaguely TV-food-related in person.
In addition to the full-size cakes in our lead photo, Carlo’s sells a wide array of cupcakes in various flavors and styles, some for exorbitant prices. Their coffee’s okay, and their cookies are fine and cheaper.
Fans can also choose from a selection of Cake Boss merchandise, if that’s their thing.
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Despite the price, that lone cupcake was insufficient to contain my son for more than an hour. Later in Chinatown, we picked a random restaurant for lunch right around the moment when we thought he would keel over from starvation and/or dehydration. The winner was Mott Street’s Big Wong King, the only restaurant I’ve ever seen whose official site posts the results of their most recent health inspection. Their energetic waitstaff kept the dim sum coming and who were clearly seeing if they could feed us till we burst.
Among the items not pictured: taro dumplings. Those ended up being my exclusive addition by default.
Farther down Mott Street, we stopped for snacks at Aji Ichiban, a Hong Kong-based franchise that specializes in candying fruits, vegetables, fish, and other edible items not normally associated with children’s palates here in America. Chinatown once had five locations, but the Mott Street location is the area’s sole survivor.
As an experiment I bought a quarter-pound of a peach/plum hybrid that was so overpoweringly tangy, I couldn’t bear to eat more than one piece at a time. The small bag took me three weeks to finish off.
We later popped inside Vivi Bubble Tea for drinks, but the results were more like a dessert. I am somewhat old and oblivious to some types of change, and was therefore unaware that bubble tea did not mean carbonated Nestea. As I now understand it, it’s tea mixed with fruit juice and/or milk, then filled with a layer of tapioca balls, gelatin cubes, or other squishy geometric shapes.
Rather than try in moderation, I went all-in and ordered a 3q Milk Tea, which contained tapioca balls, red beans, and possibly grass jelly, our old nemesis from 2011. Or perhaps it was another amorphous sugar-based objects, I’m not sure. All I know is the milk/tea mixture was more milk than tea and did little to quench my thirst, and the axis of bouncy-dots at the bottom obscured every sip. I was reminded of the sensation you get when you accidentally drop large chunks of donut in your coffee but keep drinking it anyway. This thought summoned images of backwash in my mind, grossing me out and effectively making mine impossible to finish.
But if the kids these days can’t get enough of the stuff, more power to ’em. I’ll be over here with my coffee and a metal strainer, just in case.
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Our dinner for the evening was suggested by a coworker who once lived and produced on Broadway. “Suggested” is an understatement — the closer we got to takeoff, the more loudly he insisted every other day, “EAT AT VIRGIL’S!” Mostly we tried it so I could shut him up when I got back to the office.
The lights in their upstairs seating was minimal and didn’t lend itself to much photography, especially in our exhausted state from the long, long day. I can confirm we all loved our respective dishes — I and my Carolina Pulled Pork, my son and his mac-‘n’-cheese, and Anne and her Memphis-style pork ribs. At the end of every meal they bring out hot towels for everyone to clean themselves up. None of us had any energy or room left for dessert, but I’m sure theirs is fine.
As we shuffled back to our hotel for the evening, we took note of the other restaurants around us. We couldn’t possibly get to all of them by the end of the week. Choosing between them would become difficult at times. Some, we just knew, were prettier on the outside than what we imagined they were like on the inside and were easier to bypass.
To be continued!
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