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…
On our vacations the meals trend in the same direction throughout our week: at first tentative while we’re exploring new territory. After a day or two we’re emboldened enough to experiment with places more imaginative or just more expensive. After peaking midweek with the greatest meals of the year, our dinners then begin to descend in either quality or excitement level as we reach the far end of our budget and tap into our last reserves of energy just to finish out the trip. We try to keep finding gems among the dross, whether the results impress our friends back home or not.
Day Five, at least, started off with a fine breakfast at Junior’s Restaurant. We owe extra special thanks to fellow WordPress blogger Stephanie Briggs (who needs to be added to your WordPress Must List if you haven’t done so already) for suggesting Junior’s to us. I’m glad she mentioned it because it barely registered on the Google Maps radar until I zoomed in and looked past the nearby corporate franchises swarming the vicinity.
Their original location has been a Brooklyn fixture since 1950, famous for its cheesecake. They expanded into Times Square in 2006 but will never let you forget their roots.
The breakfast menu has a number of creative dishes, but I didn’t want to go overboard. After the mini-pastries they brought us and the best cup of coffee I’d had all week, I decided to keep it simple yet not-Indiana with a pastrami-and-cheddar omelet. I can’t speak for most states, but pastrami is not an everyday sight back home. We don’t live within easy addiction distance of any non-superstore delis, so to me pastrami is like a rare delicacy.
After the long subway ride back from the Museum of the Moving Image, we had very little time before we had to be at the Gershwin to catch Wicked‘s Wednesday matinee. We resolved to eat anywhere we could find along the way and consequently wound up grabbing quick hot dogs at a hole-in-the-wall Nathan’s that had maybe three tables to its name. In our rushed state, communication between us and the cashier got a little more complicated than it needed to be, but Rashida went the extra mile and made sure we received every single item that we actually mentioned out loud. Value-added bonus: good, tasty stuff.
Dinner was a bit less special as we returned once again to the safe food court on the east edge of Hell’s Kitchen. Long day, lots of subway time, much rushing about, no one in the mood for deliberation or debate.
Day Six proved a different sort of disappointment for anyone hoping to hear our thoughts about a James Beard Award-winning dining adventure, which will have to wait until a vacation where that actually happens, if ever. For lunch the Flushing Meadows-Corona Park area in Queens offered next to zero options. Due to lack of nearby competition we settled for panini and snacks from the modest cafe at the Queens Museum. I can recommend the CTMB, basically like a Caprese salad on multigrain bread topped with roast chicken and balsamic vinaigrette, but once again we didn’t bother with photos. The phrase “museum cafe” rarely sparks the archivists in us.
For dinner we’d anticipated something completely different and went with John’s Pizzeria off 44th Street, located in the decades-old husk of the abandoned Gospel Tabernacle Church, renovated from 1995 to 1997 during the famous Time Square cleanup years under Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s watch.
Evidence of the building’s former life peeks out here and there, most ostentatiously of all in the enormous stained-glass ceiling that oversees the dining area where believers once worshiped the Lord.
We men agreed on a meal of pizza, pizza, and also pizza. We decided to take control of our culinary destiny and ordered one (1) large, straightforward pizza, except we had them add four or five extra meats to it. In a setting like this, surely the toppings would be of highest quality, the crust would be exquisite, and we would finally learn why New York City pizza is revered in many circles. Thus would true Manhattan mealtime nirvana be ours.
After lots and lots and lots of waiting, the end result was gross. The toppings were lukewarm. I’m not 100% sure the pizza was officially done. We didn’t complain because we couldn’t be sure that New Yorkers didn’t like their pizza like this. It was the exact opposite of the burnt cardboard we’d had on Sunday, but not in a good way. My son is pickier than I am about his foodstuffs, but we agreed this was our least favorite meal of the entire week. Worse still, thanks to our indulgence, it was also nearly one of the costliest. Of all the NYC pizza experiences on our 2016 trip, the champion of them all was the Mama’s chain inside that safe food court. That’s not right.
Meanwhile, Anne had herself a plate of veggie ravioli. She had no complaints.
She even threw in dessert. By this course I’d put away my notepad and stopped writing anything down because I was too busy sighing a lot and apologizing to Anne for the pizza we were about to waste.
And I ordered myself a small, cheap follow-up to wash away the letdown.
Before we returned to our hotel for one last overnight, we tasked ourselves with one last tourist stop: a smashed-penny machine down the block. Anne tracks these machines and collects their offerings wherever possible on our trips. We’d taken advantage of a few such machines throughout our week, and Anne had no cause to resist the appeal of one last smashed penny.
Since the machine was conveniently located inside a Ben & Jerry’s that also just happened to be on 44th Street, we hated to dash in and penny-out, so we cheered ourselves up with Second Dessert.
Two days later, our own state’s exiting governor took his family to dinner at the Times Square Chili’s. Next month he’ll be starting his new job as the Western Hemisphere’s most famous and arguably most powerful spare tire. If it’s that easy to trade in all your New York travel cred for career advancement, I figure the least I can get out of this hodgepodge entry is maybe someone appoints me Secretary of the Interior, whatever that is.
To be continued. Coming up: it’s time for outtakes!
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