The New Year is a time of noise. Balls dropping, crowds cheering, Royal Canadians playing, party horns bleating, bells ringing, and resolutions breaking. Auld Lang Syne is the song of the moment, the Superbowl is filling the airwaves, and another year has passed, leaving us, as always, hungry for more.
Once the hangover passes (the punch must have been spiked with Everclear), it’s time to continue our early year noise binge. Sometimes the gang is just in the mood for loud. Someplace with an ear-pounding, mind-numbing ambience, where not only can you not hear yourself think, but you know there’s no sense in even trying.
When the desire of the moment is the din of hundreds of voices, each raised to out-decibel its neighbors, we head for America. From the massive glass and brass doors to the neon stripes washing across the ceiling, from colorful murals adorning the walls and ceiling to a bar raised like a dais almost half a block away from the entrance, America is big, bright, bold, and brassy, a reflection of the owner’s concept of the country it is named for. Everything is oversized, with plates and bowls big enough for family servings.
The food, too, is America. There are South Carolina Low Country Crab Cakes, New Orleans Oyster Po’Boys, Cajun sausage Po’Boys, and Wisconsin garlic sausage sandwiches with sauerkraut and brown mustard. Chowders from New England Clam to Southwestern Corn, California avocados, New Jersey tomatoes, and New Mexican blue corn dot the menu. There’s even a Fluffernutter Sandwich (for those poor, unfortunate souls who haven’t a clue, it’s a peanut butter and marshmallow “fluff” on white bread). The menu stretches ever on and on, and we’ve spent upwards of half an hour just to figure out which of the fourteen categories (Soups, Appetizers, Egg Dishes, Omelettes, Salads, Griddle Cakes, Side Dishes, Entrées, America’s Sliders, Hamburgers, Pastas, Sandwiches, Pizzas, and Desserts) our food will come from. We haven’t even looked at the “special” menu.
One ritual must for the table is a basket of semolina herb bread topped with avocado butter, sundried tomatoes and Vermont brie. Start with the wild mushroom and shallot strudel, the duck terrine with apricots, walnuts, and pear chutney, or maybe the grilled duck sausage with Creole mustard sauce. It you’re in the mood for some spice, the quesadilla with chorizo sausage and poblano peppers or the New Mexican black bean cakes are hits, if a touch mild for my personal tastes. The applewood smoked chicken salad is one of our favorites, the San Francisco duck salad with macadamias and ginger chutney comes in a close second. We haven’t tried, but we’ve noted the Salade Mimi, with its iceberg lettuce and Thousand Island dressing.
There are almost too many things to choose from for our entrées. Will it be a night of pizza, with lamb sausage and roasted sweet peppers, or wild mushroom and pesto, or four cheeses? Perhaps dishes from the griddle menu, like apple and black pecan flapjacks, or Indian corn cakes with bacon and maple syrup. We pass on the Blue Plate Special, and decide that if we ever want “sliders”, we’ll hit the local White Castle. Maybe the Long Island duck pot pie or the Jersey pork chops with onions, gravy, dream whips and sautéed apples. One of my favorites is from the pasta menu, duckling meatballs braised in demi-glace with Cabernet Sauvignon and buckwheat noodles. Another thumbs up for the angel hair with rock shrimp and a tomato dill cream sauce.
Coffee is served in mugs the size of soup bowls. Death by Chocolate is a definite killer, with enough chocolate and enough size for the most dedicated chocoholics among us. The Mendocino Mud Pie with vanilla bean ice cream isn’t far behind. A White Chocolate mousse cake gets the nod from the gang’s white chocolate fanatic. And there’s even a real Key Lime Pie with just enough bite to brighten the end of the meal.
America, 9 East 18th Street (between Fifth Avenue and Broadway), 505-2110. Open for lunch and dinner, 7 days a week. Reservations recommended. All major credit cards accepted. Lunch $20-30. Dinner $30-40.
“Music so loud, it’ll spin you around, till your soul has lost its way…” Sometimes the pandemonium we’re looking for is that of lyrics and tunes. Booming from speakers mounted above in the the exposed pipe and brick trendy architecture. We stumble our way to Lox Around the Clock. Chelsea’s answer to the Lower East Side’s old line lox shops and Broadway’s touristy pastrami palaces.
I grew up hearing that there were basically five kinds of Jews; Hasidic, Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, and Gastronomic. Lox Around the Clock is the in-vogue stop for the latter. Service is a bit ditzy, but always with a smile. Our waiter can be counted on to recommend “whatever you feel like eating.” The multi-paned windows give a great view of passing foot traffic, with its usual Chelsea amusements.
We may as well start with a selection of all of our favorites. The chopped chicken liver prepared with garlic and hard boiled eggs, maybe a little hummus plate with pita bread, and a few cheese blintzes and pierogi. My choice, the potato pancakes, can be had with the traditional applesauce and sour cream or fancied-up with smoked salmon and salmon caviar. Personally, I’m not a borscht fan, but friends at the table say this one is first rate. The chicken and matzoh-ball soup certain is.
Entrées center around the world of sandwiches. I’m not sure if we’ve tried anything else. Sometimes we want something as simple as bagels with lox and cream cheese, or smoked whitefish, or even a little more chopped liver. Other times, a reasonably good burger, available in ground beef and turkey versions. But the homemade challah bread makes the regular sandwich selection the hands-down favorites. The curried chicken salad and sliced turkey breast sandwiches get good marks. But the all around winners are the lobster club with lobster, avocado, egg, bacon, lettuce and tomato, and the lox, cream cheese, capers, red onion, and tomato sandwich.
By the time we get to dessert, most of us are too full to move. But on occasion, we’ve managed to inhale a brownie a la mode, the sour cream apple walnut pie, or a banana split. I go for the bread pudding soaked in brandy. All this, they’re open late, and the Limelight is just down the block…
Lox Around the Clock, 676 Sixth Avenue (at 21st Street), 691-3535. Open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner (7 a.m. to 4 a.m. Sunday to Thursday and 24 hours on Friday and Saturday). Take-out and delivery available. American Express, Visa, Mastercard, and Transmedia credit cards accepted. Lunch or dinner $15-20.
CaB magazine was one of the first publications I ever wrote for. Published by my dear friend Andrew Martin, it covered the Cabaret, Theater, Music and Dining scene in New York City, long before slick publications like Time Out NY and Where NY became popular. We had great fun writing it, and some wonderful writers contributed to its pages. When the magazine folded in the mid-90s, Andrew disappeared from the scene, and rumors had it that he departed from this existence not long after. I was thrilled to find out in mid-October 2005, a decade later, that the rumors were just that. Andrew contacted me after finding my site via that omnipresent force, Google. He’s alive and well and a member of a comedy troupe called Meet the Mistake. Somehow quite fitting!