Friday, June 29, 2012


We were out for a walk one day in the afternoon and both kind of hungry. It just so happened we were right by Junior's. I'd heard all about it from many people (and I'd walked by it at least a dozen times already in the last three months) so I suggested we go there. Elizabeth, having been there many times, said sure.

Junior's is famous for its cheesecakes and other desserts and you walk in to giant counters full of the sweets. (From what I could tell they do a pretty good take-out business.)

The restaurant is very large and we were escorted to a table in an alcove next to the street. We'd walked about 150 feet through the restaurant only to be seated ten feet from where we'd entered. Whatever. We sat right beneath the coldest air conditioning vent I have ever sat under in a restaurant, perfect for cooling me down after the arduous 150-foot walk.

Junior's menu is big and I changed my mind at least three times, from buffalo shrimp to the turkey & pastrami deli sandwich to the cheesesteak on challah. I even briefly flirted with the idea of getting the brisket "sandwich" piled between potato pancakes.

But in the end I decided to get the Combo Reuben: corned beef and pastrami. 

Any place that serves their own bottles of deli mustard has to be good, right?

 Elizabeth ordered a vanilla egg cream and then expressed surprise that I did not get one as well.

"Well," I said, "I know you're going to let me try yours."

It was delicious, a nice refreshing treat on a muggy day. But I'm glad I didn't get my own: two sips was enough for me.

Despite how large the restaurant is - it wasn't crowded, but there are so many tables that there were still a lot of customers - our food arrived in less than ten minutes. Junior's obviously has their system down.

The waitress had asked if we wanted any sides, and almost as an afterthought we decided to split some fries. The menu says they're steak fries and I wasn't really optimistic: most of the time - I would say 90% - restaurants don't cook steak fries long enough and they come out as mealy, unpleasant pieces of potato. But Junior's cooked their steak fries properly, and properly-cooked steak fries are awesome, crispy on the outside and soft and fluffy inside.

Elizabeth had the BLT and she loved it, especially the generous portion of crispy bacon. 

My Combo Reuben was a little smaller than I was expecting - when I saw the 14-dollar price tag I was expecting one of those mammoth creations like New York Deli - but it was still plenty of food.

And besides, quality is better than quantity, and this was awesome. Just a great sandwich. The pastrami had just the right amount of melt-in-your-mouth fat; the brisket was lean and tender, and there was the perfect amount of sauerkraut. Not too much to drown out the meats but enough to serve as a nice, sour complement. 

There were three sections of the sandwich, so I tried them three different ways. My favorite was with the Thousand Island dressing: slightly sweet with plenty of pickles. 

My second favorite way was with nothing added, just the flavors of the meat, Swiss and kraut. 

My least favorite of the three ways was with the deli mustard. Even though it was still delicious.

When you hear that a restaurant has been in business for more than 60 years, you assume they are doing something right. The only complaint I could come up with is that Junior's prices are on the high side for a place that bills itself as a diner. But then again, most places around here are more expensive than you expect them to be. The service was very good and the food was great. I decided I would not hesitate to return.

A few days later, Elizabeth's parents were in town and they suggested dinner at Junior's. We said we'd love to go. They sat us only a couple of tables away from where we'd sat the last time. Despite the fact that this dinner was close to 8 PM and it was not blazing hot outside, the air conditioner was blasting just as strongly.

This time around they brought us beets (didn't try them), pickles (thought they were merely average) and cole slaw (a good, vinegary slaw) to start out.

Elizabeth got a vanilla egg cream, her dad got chocolate, and then tried to explain how chocolate is "the only real egg cream." It was Diet Pepsi for me. 

I did not try the rolls but they looked pretty good.

Elizabeh and her dad both got the turkey sandwich, a massive layering of sliced turkey meat upon more turkey meat. Somewhere under there was a slab of bread, though it was not visible for quite some time. Predictably, Elizabeth ate maybe one-third of this plate and we took the rest home. The next day I heated some of the turkey and gravy in a skilled and ate it; it was awesome. And there was still enough left for me to make her a bagel sandwich to take to work the following day. So we basically got three delicious meals out of this one plate. 

I was still considering going with the buffalo shrimp that I'd wanted last time, but then I thought about it a little more: I can make myself buffalo shrimp at home, I've done it many times. It would be much harder to make myself a turkey, corned beef and pastrami sandwich (cooking the meats myself) so I ordered that.

(Kathy ordered a special of the month: fried shrimp, buffalo wings and riblets in a Thai-ginger glaze. I took a few pictures of her plate but the light was dying by this point and none of them turned out good enough to use.)

You have your choice of several different kinds of bread; I opted to get it on twin rolls (a 95-cent upcharge). I really liked this sandwich. Sometimes too much of a good thing is a bad thing. But sometimes too much of a good thing is a wonderful thing. All of the meats were delicious, and I added a drop of mustard and slice of pickle, which made it even better.

Because (for some reason) Elizabeth had also gotten fries with her turkey sandwich and couldn't eat more than a few of them, I was able to finish her potatoes and satisfy my hunger with just one of my sandwiches, so I could take the other one with me.

In fact, other than Rick (who destroyed his sandwich AND the side of mashed potatoes that he got with it), we all had leftovers. They brought us three bags to take all the food home, but I piled them all into one.

"Take the extra Junior's bags," Rick said. "They're a status symbol."

I laughed.

If that was a joke, it was funny. And if that wasn't a joke, well, that's even funnier. 

I will definitely be back to Junior's.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Buffalo Chicken Sandwiches

It's sometimes fun, when experiencing an atrocious entree like I wrote about yesterday, to imagine how I could make it better myself. When I ordered the buffalo chicken sandwich, I expected the chicken to come out as a breaded-and-fried breast. (It didn't say that on the menu, but I still expected it that way. I dunno, I guess I eat too much fried food.) And when I received the sandwich, despite how terrible it looked (and tasted), I thought: You know, I bet I could make something like this and do it much better.

I've certainly had other buffalo chicken sandwiches before that weren't fried: without thinking too hard I can recall similar sandwiches at Philly's Best and Subway. But I do not remember if I've ever made one. So last night I set out to do so.

Someone emailed me and asked the name of the bakery I've written about twice now (the onion rolls and the brioche buns). It's called Caputo's and it's in Carroll Gardens, just over a mile from me, a quite pleasant walk. I headed down there and picked up two white-bread rolls, each 45 cents.

When I planned to make these sandwiches, I figured I would make my own red cabbage slaw with Roquefort (like I made for carnitas sliders last summer). But then I had another idea: why not get some of that slaw I love at the local deli and add crumbled blue cheese to it? Less work for me.

Of course I used Tabasco Buffalo sauce. I added about a quarter-cup of it to a pat of butter and melted it together. 

I roasted a chicken breast, diced it up, and placed the meat on the roll.

Then topped it with the warm Buffalo sauce. 

And - why not? - added diced celery, for some crunch and that pleasing buffalo-wings-and-celery combination. 

Then I piled the blue cheese cole slaw on top. 

Now this, my friends, is how you make a non-fried buffalo chicken sandwich. 

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Kings Valley Diner

"This place used to be open 24 hours," Elizabeth said. "We would come in after going out for the night. Most of the people here were drunk."

I should have seen that as a leper's bell but I was too hungry to analyze. It would all become clear in a few minutes.

But let me back up a bit.

It was Saturday morning in the Hudson Valley, an absolutely gorgeous morning, maybe 70 degrees and bright blue skies. We had a few errands to run in preparation for a barbecue that afternoon but first we needed food. I was hoping for a return to Eddy's Restaurant, a place I fell in love with two years ago. But Elizabeth said she was not in the mood for Eddy's; she wanted something less greasy-spoon. I said I would go wherever she and her mom wanted. The name Kings Valley Diner was brought up and I thought it sounded just fine.
The place was busy when we entered and I thought that was a good sign. Elizabeth mentioned some other, sober memories of the place and I figured the food might be decent if she has been going here a long time. I browsed the extensive menu - the chipotle fried shrimp sounded delicious, though not at 11:30 AM - and decided on a sandwich while the ladies picked out their breakfast items. (Many people I know enjoy breakfast as their first meal of the day, no matter what time it is eaten - even if it's in the mid-afternoon. Myself, I only like it early in the morning or not at all.)

I prefer Pepsi Max, but Diet Pepsi will do. 

Elizabeth enjoyed her banana pancakes. I'm sure she could have gotten pancakes at Eddy's, but maybe not the banana version.

Kathy had eggs and hash browns, and she thought they were fine, especially after she drowned them with ketchup. (I don't believe I've ever seen someone use so much ketchup; more than once she has told us we need to keep a bottle of ketchup at our place for when she visits. We have Sir Kensington's, and a few packets of ketchup in a kitchen drawer, but we are not big ketchup users so we never have a bottle of Heinz or anything like that. One of these days we'll remember to get a bottle for her.)

And this was my Buffalo Chicken Sandwich. Let's get some more close-ups, eh?

It was every bit as terrible as it looks. The chicken breast was pounded down to less than half an inch and cooked for God-knows-how-many minutes. Five? Ten? Thirty? I do not ever remember eating a more overcooked, flavorless, rock-hard piece of chicken. I briefly tried to imagine the cook who could put this piece of chicken on a bun and not feel embarrassed.

"How is it?" Kathy asked me.

"Terrible," I said, and lifted the plate to show her.

"Wow," she said, "send it back."

The waitress came by our table. "How is everything?" she asked and then - I kid you not - immediately turned on her heels and floated away without awaiting a response. 

Kathy, who worked as a waitress in her youth, put it bluntly: "That's what you do when you already know the answer is 'shit' and you don't want to hear it."

So I inhaled my fries and tried to eat what I could of the chicken... which was not much. It truly was awful. The roll, however, was good: soft and warm. So I ate that, too.

There was a time in my life when I could have seen myself coming to a place like this in the early morning hours - after a night at the bars - and not minding a sandwich like this. But those days are long gone.

"The next time we do this, can we just go to Eddy's?" I asked.

"Yes," they both responded in unison.