dining on the Seaport (Manhattan)

Set of Drifter Doug here.  While living adjacent to NYC’s Seaport for over 2 ½ years, I encountered a number of tasty little spots I would easily recommend to those making a tour of historic Lower Manhattan.  Keep in mind that the neighborhood is home to any number of Wall Streeters who clog the sidewalks during lunch hour looking for grub!  You can be assured restaurateurs have stepped up to the plate to sate these financial types, whether with casual quick stops or more upscale gastropubs.

Although perhaps not the most “hip ‘n trendy,” any choice from my old list of stand-bys will offer you and your feet the perfect respite from your marathon visit to Century 21’s department store (see “goodies.”)

First up, Les Halles on John Street!  Festooned with a charming old-fashioned bar and plenty of bistro-style seating, Les Halles offers both delicious wines and French/ American faire that caters to a groovy mix of hipsters and Wall Street boozers.  Your Set of Drifters could sit here for hours munching on fresh baguette with butter or some of their well-seasoned pommes frites.  And their burgers?  To die for.  Our last visit was a little tainted with a poor selection of pop/ EDM music, but we hear new management is rectifying this issue.  Merci.

Further down John Street lies what appears to be, at least on the ground level, an upmarket deli and cheesery.  Head down vine-entangled staircase, however, and you will find a huge dining area sectioned off into ethnically-different concessionary stands.  This is Zeytuna, somewhat like the Food Court of your local mall, but hit with a magic “chic stick.”  In the mood for sushi or pizza, tacos or a burger?  How about all of the above?  Zeytuna offers something for everyone in a large group or family, and with everything prepared for you on the spot, offerings here are as fresh as they come!  We particularly remember Zeytuna as a great, casual place for breakfast or lunch - which makes perfect sense since, as it turns out, the place is not open for dinner!  Set of Drifters tip:  If you live in the area and need some gourmet foods for your next house party, this is Lower Manhattan’s one-stop gourmet shop!  The coffee and chocolate selection alone is mesmerizing! .

Now if you’re still feeling the urge to “murder a burger,” yet don’t have the time for a sit down at Les Halles, head slightly east for one of the most delicious organic sliders on Earth!  Zaitzeff’s tasties are sandwiched between fresh challah rolls and augmented with zesty sweet potato fries!  Of course, if you are not into red meat, you can also try their famous turkey burger or BLT (another Set of Drifter fave)!  Zaitzeff is a small family-run business that has been banging out the best since 2003.  (They’ve recently expanded to the East Village as well.)  Make sure you look out for matriarch Amina, and tell her Dougee sent ya!  Set of Drifters tip:  Not lunch time?  Zaitzeff also serves up great coffees and breakfast sandwiches in a very casual environment.

Our culinary tour of the Seaport is not over just yet!  How can it be without a visit to Ye Olde New Amsterdam’s Stone Street, one of the last remaining pedestrian walkways in New York City?  This quaint little passage also just happens to feature some best restaurants and open air dining in all of Lower Manhattan.  (Keep an eye out for the Smorgas Chef.  While we’re usually not the types to go and seek out Scandinavian cuisine on purpose, despite my Norwegian heritage, a visit here one cold November night provided us with some of the most succulent Swedish meatballs we’d ever tasted!)

Just around the corner from the Stone Street, you’ll find another “Olde” New York institution in Fraunces Tavern.  According to the plaque out front, Fraunces’ “Long Room” is the location where General George Washington gave his farewell message to the Continental Army back in 1783!  But the “oldest bar in New York City” predates even that classic moment.  (It was built way back in 1719!)

Sounds downright musty, doesn’t it?  It’s not.  Today, you can still have a delicious dish worthy of any President since.  Fraunces Tavern serves breakfast, lunch and dinner in their restrained dining room while the bar features beers from Dublin’s Porterhouse Brewery.  If you like traditional roast dinners, then this is the place for you, especially if you happen to be visiting during one of NYC’s two annual Restaurant Weeks.  During this time, prices for Fraunces’ high quality ingredient dishes are slashed by almost 50%!

Les Halles - 15 John Street (at Broadway), New York, NY 10038, (212) 285-8585, http://leshalles.net/brasserie/

Zeytuna - 59 Maiden Lane (at John Street), New York, NY  10038, (212) 742-2436, http://zeytuna.com/

Zaitzeff - 72 Nassau Street (at John Street), New York, NY  10038, (212) 571-7272, http://zaitzeff.com/

Smorgas Chef - 53 Stone Street (between Coenties Alley and Mill Lane), New York, NY  10004, (212) 422-3500, http://www.smorgas.com/

Fraunces Tavern - 54 Pearl Street (at Coenties Slip), New York, NY 10004, (212) 968-1776, http://www.frauncestavern.com

Cafe Colette (Williamsburg)

Oh hipsterdom…  Where once may have sat a quaint Polish deli in Williamsburg now stands a bustling restaurant catering to the cool - and cool adjacent.  Yes, though we cannot remember what exactly existed at the corner of 9th and Berry back when we left New York City some years back, we know it was not Cafe Colette, the handsome grub spot that has been seducing hipsters ever since it opened in 2010.

Designed and built by proprietor Zeb Stewart (also responsible for the chicer than chic Hotel Delmano and Union Pool - two tent poles of “New Brooklyn”), Cafe Colette surprised us with a combination of excellent food, service and ambiance.

We dined on a Saturday night, meeting up with friends who live only a few blocks away.  At 7:30 PM, the restaurant was still quiet, though by the time we left about an hour later, had filled almost to capacity.  Dandy artisan cocktails were first on our list; the “Sunny Day,” made from Ford’s gin, elderflower liqueur, grapefruit, basil and orange bitters was our favorite of the lot.  With so many great flavors represented, choosing entrees from Colette’s “rustic New American” menu proved a bit more challenging.

Set of Drifter Brady settled on the cast iron mussels (augmented with jalapeños, Fresno chilis, garlic, and grilled sourdough bread), while I opted for a scrumptious grilled flatbread with caramelized onions and pecorino romano, and gorgeous black Tuscan kale salad.  Chefs at Colette source only local organic foods and ingredients inspired by the cultures of Italy, Spain and Central America.  And their attention to detail surely shines through in each and every finished product.  

Delicious food fused with friendly service and an inviting atmosphere make Colette a place you’ll want to return to time and again.  Set of Drifters tip:  Don’t forget that evocative garden out back.  During warmer months, this is the perfect place to sneak away from the city.

Cafe Colette is open for lunch Monday through Friday from 11:00 AM until 4:00 PM, and dinner from 6:00 PM until midnight.  Brunch is served on the weekends from 10:00 AM until 4:00 PM.  We suggest the roasted chicken chilaquiles.

Cafe Colette - 79 Berry Street, Brooklyn, NY  11211, (347) 599-1381


“Okay, you be Jerry, and I’ll be Elaine”

New Yorkers often have opposing views on any number of topics, but one thing most can agree on is a love of “the NYC diner.”  While the concept may seem as cliché as a Woody Allen film (or any episode of Seinfeld), trust our report that “the diner” is truly a staple for many who reside within the city’s five boroughs.  And, like NYC cockroaches, this is one institution that is likely here to stay!  

One element of “the diner” (or luncheonette) we’ve always been particularly fond of is the fact that you never feel weird eating on your own.  Look around you and you’ll see a dozen or so others doing the exact same thing:  sitting down with a newspaper to order a coffee and a grilled cheese sandwich with tomato!  (This is the real New York City baby!)

Now, truth be told, there are good NYC diners, and bad ones.  The easiest way to make your decision from the hundreds that line neighborhood streets is to simply peer inside.  If the place is busy, it’s a good sign the food will be worthwhile, and priced reasonably.  

One old haunt we’re almost embarrassed to recommend is located just seconds from where we both used to work in the early ‘00s.  Just a hop, skip and a wide jump from the Time Warner monstrosity, The Flame at 9th Avenue and 58th Street serves up a typical diner menu in a setting awash in 1980s pastels.  (Don’t worry; the anticipated vinyl booth seating is still very much intact, thank you very much.)   What we particularly liked about this place, especially on lunch breaks from slaving away at the Hudson, was the fact that The Flame served wine and beer as well!  Our favorite waiter Mario always gave us a free second glass (whether we asked for it or not).  If he’s still there, make sure you say hello for us!

Of course, no matter where you go in NYC, your neighborhood diner/ deli is your friend.  One of the most popular in town is the historical Katz’s.  (It opened on Houston Street way back in 1888!)  You’ve already seen this much-lauded kosher spot featured in any number of movies and TV shows.  While Katz’s is a fun experience when you have the extra time, we don’t find the quality of the food “out of this world” enough to endure the manic crowds.  It’s one NYC “hot spot” that is NOT a “Set of Drifters MUST.”

Another option worth checking out if you like your diner with a side of hip, the Coffee Shop has been luring in fashionistas and their friends ever since it opened at this busy “23-hour” Union Square hot spot several years ago.  On our most recent visit in 2013, we were surprised to still see it as busy as ever.  (An adjacent bar has apparently been receiving noise complaints from neighbors.)

So, how was the food?  Well, we’re somewhat mortified to admit that coming in directly off the plane from Los Angeles, we both indulged in the same dish – the California wrap (stuffed with scrambled eggs, avocado, bacon and Monterey Jack).  Admittedly, this thing was stupendously delicious, but probably nowhere near as healthy as the fresh-squeezed veggie juices on offer.

Yes.  At Coffee Shop, it may look like a diner, it may feel like a diner, it may smell like a diner, but this one’s a couple steps up from a diner.  Just don’t expect the service to match.  Here’s everyone on staff is a model, or at least wants to be.

The Flame - 893 9th Avenue (between 57th and 58th streets), New York, NY  10019, (212) 765-7962, http://www.theflamediner.com/

Katz’s Deli - 205 East Houston Street, New York, NY  10002, (212) 254-2246, http://katzsdelicatessen.com/

Coffee Shop - 29 Union Square West, New York, NY  10003, (212) 243-7969, http://thecoffeeshopnyc.com/

We also recommend:

Cafe Orlin (East Village) - 41 St. Marks Place, New York, NY  10003, (212) 777-1447, http://www.cafeorlin.com/

Cafe Mogador (East Village) - 101 St. Marks Place, New York, NY  10009, (212) 677-2226, http://www.cafemogador.com/

Flea Market Bistro (East Village) - 131 Avenue A, New York, NY  10009, (212) 358-9282, http://fleamarketbistro.com/

Yakiniku West (East Village) - 218 East 9th Street, New York, NY  10003, (212) 979-9238, http://yakinikuwest.com/

Rosario’s Pizza (Lower East Side) - 173 Orchard Street, New York, NY  10002, (212) 777-9813

Balthazar (SOHO) - 80 Spring Street, New York, NY  10012, (212) 965-1414, http://balthazarny.com/

A.O.C. L'aile ou la Cuisse (West Village) - 314 Bleecker Street (at Grove), New York, NY  10014, (212) 675-9463, http://www.aocnyc.com/

August (West Village) - 359 Bleecker Street (near Charles Street), New York, NY  10014, (212) 929-8727, http://augustny.com/

Roebling Tea Room (Williamsburg) - 143 Roebling Street (at Metropolitan), Williamsburg, Brooklyn, NY  11211, (718) 963-0760, http://roeblingtearoom.com

Five Leaves Cafe & Oyster Bar (Williamsburg) - 18 Bedford Avenue, Greenpoint, Brooklyn, NY 11222, (718) 383-5346, http://www.fiveleavesny.com/

Bar Tabac (Brooklyn) - 128 Smith Street, New York, NY  11201, (718) 923-0918,  http://bartabacny.com/

Brasserie Le Bouchon (Hudson Valley) - 76 Main Street, Cold Spring, NY  10516, (845) 265-7676, https://www.facebook.com/pages/Brasserie-Le-Bouchon-Restaurants/111607775536618

B. Smiths (Long Island) - 1 Bay Street, Sag Harbor, NY  11963, (631) 725-5858, http://www.bsmith.com/restaurant_sh_home.php