Wednesday, January 8, 2014

New in New York: Crispy Rice Puts on the Ritz at Treat House

By Mitch Broder

Rice Krispies Treats were originally named Marshmallow Squares, back when a company could actually miss a chance to name a thing after one of its brands. The Squares were likewise humble. This made them ripe for elevation. And they have now gotten that in the form of a store all their own, named Treat House.

Prepared in your home, as originally intended, Marshmallow Squares were a blob in a pot. It could be eaten in gobs or, if you had patience, spread into a pan and cut. At Treat House, the snack is refined. It comes in perfect cubes, in deluxe flavors. The Treats think they are cupcakes. Each one wears a hat.

The Bubble Gum Treat, for instance, is topped by a wad of Dubble Bubble. The Mint Chocolate Chip Treat is topped by a section of chocolate mint patty. The Chocolate Peanut Butter Treat sports a jaunty chocolate peanut butter cup, and the M&M treat, needless to say, is crowned by M&M’s.

These are gourmet Treats. They have been created by a pastry chef. They make a better appearance at, say, your wedding reception, than gobs from a blob. This explains why Treat House makes its home on the Upper West Side, and why one Treat costs almost as much as a box of Rice Krispies on sale.

Still, Treat House is not stuck up. It is a playful place. “Treat House” sounds like “treehouse,” so the shop has treehouse décor. It makes creative use of logs. And in the back you can sit on a stump and dine on Treats in a room that looks like it belongs on a branch.


It all began in 1939. That’s reportedly when Mildred Day and Malitta Jensen of the Kellogg’s company invented Marshmallow Squares. Legend has it that they invented them as a fund-raiser for the Camp Fire Girls, but it seems more likely that they invented them as a fund-raiser for Kellogg’s.

Seventy-two years later, Chris Russell got the idea for Treat House. He really did get his inspiration from a fund-raiser. His sons Daniel and Eli wanted to help children in Africa. They would have a bake sale. Conveniently, they had a father who was also a chef.

Chris, with the help of the boys and his wife, Jennifer, came up with three Treats: Chocolate Mint, Butterscotch Sprinkle, and Raspberry Chocolate. The Treats sold out in two hours and netted $300. “A couple of weeks later,” Chris says, “it dawned on my wife and me that there were so many potential flavor combinations.”

They enlisted the pastry chef, Wendy Israel, and everyone pitched flavors. They spent two years determining their Treat choices and techniques. “We learned early on,” Chris says, “that if you just add ingredients to crisp rice cereal, you get soggy crisp rice cereal, and nobody wants that.”


Treat House has been a smash. But for some customers, the Treats take adjusting. “They’re not traditional Rice Krispies Treats,” Chris explains. (They’re also not made with Rice Krispies.) “We pack them denser than you would at home. So sometimes people’s expectations of what it should taste like are different from what it does taste like.”

Fortunately, Chris believed that I should draw my own conclusions. He gave me several  samples of Treat House Treats. I adjusted quickly. They were delightful. I was impressed that the Raspberry Chocolate tasted like raspberry, and that the M&M had M&Ms inside as well as on top.

The shop also has Treat Pops, Treat Breakfast Bars, and Treat Ice Cream Bars. The Chocolate Mint Ice Cream Bar is what I’ll eat daily when I decide to let myself go. The flavors change, but there is always a choice of at least 12 Treats. And 10 cents per Treat goes to the Food Bank For New York City, so the more you eat, the more philanthropic you are.

Chris was once an owner of the once red-hot restaurant Moomba. This place is different, of course. But then again, in a way it’s the same.

“If you want a two-dollar brick of Rice Krispies, you go the deli,” Chris says. “If you want something a little more sophisticated, you come here.”


Climb up to the Treat House, 452 Amsterdam Avenue, between 81st and 82nd streets, New York City.




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Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Old New York: Town Shop's Old Skills Have Found a New Home

By Mitch Broder

Why did the Town Shop cross the road?

To get to the other size.

Especially since the other size is three times the previous size.

Town Shop is the store where women undress you with their eyes — at least if you’re also a woman, and in search of the right brassiere. It’s the bra-fitting capital of New York, and it has just moved across the street to a shop that can provide more women than ever with its formidable support.


This is fitting, since Town Shop has always been preoccupied with size. It advances the theory that 80 percent of women are afflicted with ill-fitting bras. When a member of that 80 percent walks in, a fitter quickly looks her over and then announces her proper number and letter. There’s not a tape measure in the house.

But the once-over measure must work, since the store is around a century old, with roots in a Bleecker Street notions shop of 1888. It has had several branches around the city, but this is the one that endured. It’s been a fixture on the Upper West Side since 1936.

For most of its life it was run by Selma Koch, the founder’s daughter-in-law, who arguably became even more famous than her bras. Her crusty devotion made her a media darling. She ruled the store for 75 years. She was undoubtedly as famous as you could get and still be a bra-store owner.


Selma died 10 years ago, and the store has since been run by her son and grandson, Peter Koch and Danny Koch. Schooled as they are in spatial relationships, they were primed to increase their square footage. When a chance appeared across the street, they packed up their underthings.

The bright new space, Danny says, is a jolt to some longtime patrons: “They say, ‘Oh, we loved that old store’ or ‘We miss the intimate feel.’” But others are jolted with joy. “They can’t believe this is us,” Danny says. “They’re not accustomed to shopping in one of our stores where you can actually see the merchandise.”

The merchandise, as always, includes all manner of ladies’ delicates. But now it also includes a whole department of gentlemen’s delicates. The Koches tested the waters two years ago with the Spanx line of “compression” undershirts, and their new store has expanded it into an entire man’s room.


Along with the Spanx compressors, the room displays underwear and pajamas with fancy-pants brand names like Calida and Derek Rose. As Danny points out, women buy most men’s underwear, but just in case, the man’s room has a TV set that always shows the game.

Danny loves his new place — but he made sure to give it some old spirit. You can see it in things like the dressing-room curtains and the Town Shop memorabilia. The store is shiny, but it’s still a long way from Bloomingdale’s. Or in Danny’s words: “It’s somewhere between what we had and the Apple Store.”


Cross over to Town Shop, now at 2270 Broadway, between 81st and 82nd streets, in New York City.




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Tuesday, October 22, 2013

New in New York: Potatopia is a Paradise of Potato Possibilities

By Mitch Broder

If, like me, you can’t enjoy a potato without a choice of 10 aiolis, then you grasp the importance to total potato gratification of Potatopia.

Well, actually, that’s not like me. I really don’t want any aiolis. And if I did, I probably wouldn’t want them anywhere near my potato. I would want sour cream, or maybe cheese. But Potatopia has those, too, which means that it seeks to gratify everyone, which makes it truly a Potato Utopia.

Potatopia is a new idea that, in New York, you’d think is an old one: a restaurant that serves only meals featuring potatoes. It offers 10 different forms of potatoes, 16 different toppings, six different “proteins,” and 15 different sauces, including, indeed, 10 different aiolis.

I got 100 on my eighth-grade math midterm, but I still can’t begin to calculate how many different potato-meal options those choices can yield. But I’m pretty sure that you could get a different one every day for the rest of your life and die in old age regretting all the potato combinations you missed.

Your potato choices include Baked Potato, Baked Sweet Potato, Smashed Potato, Mashed Pie, Skin Chip, Shoestring, and Curly. Your topping choices include Broccoli, Sweet Pepper, Cilantro, Red Onion, Cheddar Cheese, Asiago Cheese, Pepperjack Cheese, and Specialty Cheese.


The proteins are Chicken, Sausage, Bacon, Shrimp, Steak, and Egg. And the sauces — besides Sour Cream, Melted Cheddar, Ketchup, and BBQ — include Mustard Aioli, Ranch Aioli, Curry Aioli, Chipotle Aioli, Truffle Aioli, Savory Bacon Aioli, and Roasted Pepper Aioli.


All these choices are on the menu under “Build Your Own/Follow Steps 1 - 4.” As I have previously expressed here, I tend to get ruffled by Steps. But for the Step-averse, there is “Signature Meals/Leave It To The Potato Experts.” The Potato Experts offer seven Step-free selections.


These include Frequent Friers, comprising “Shoestring, House Salt & Pepper, Parmesan Cheese, Parsley, Garlic with Parmo Aioli,” and Smashed Hit — pictured here — combining “Smashed Potato, House Salt & Pepper, Cheddar Cheese, Asiago Cheese, Scallion, Red Onion, Garlic, Cilantro with Roasted Pepper Aioli.”


There have long been guys in the city with potato carts. But to make all the stuff in Potatopia, a guy’d need a potato Winnebago. That’s the point of Potatopia: It’s not a baked-potato joint. It’s closer to an unprecedented spudian smorgasbord.

Not unprecedented, though. Potatopia had an out-of-town tryout. Its first store opened two years ago in, inventively, Edison, New Jersey. But its founder, Allen Dikker, acknowledges that he opened it with the goal of opening his second store in New York.

He anointed potatoes, he says, because “everything else is out there.” In a city with restaurants like OatMeals, that’s more or less true. He conducted aioli experiments at home to assemble his roster of sauces. Not surprisingly, he’s now at work on an all-potato cookbook.

Before the grand opening.
Potatopia’s top potato is the Smashed Hit, though there is interest in the most complex choice, which has 16 ingredients, four of which are cheeses. It’s called the Comatoser. The store has been open for just a few weeks, but Allen says that more are already on the way. He’s understandably feeling his oats.

Still, he also acknowledges that I’m far from the only person who is perturbed by the profusion of potato possibilities. As the store manager, Albert Sierra, told me: “In the beginning, people find it a little intimidating. But by the second or third time, they get used to it.”


Weigh your options at Potatopia, 378 Sixth Avenue, between Waverly Place and West Eighth Street, New York City.



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Monday, September 23, 2013

Signing Off: We've Fled the Growlers and Turned Down the Heat

By Mitch Broder

A growler can be a container for beer.

It can also be other things, none especially pleasant.

The Growler Station, a small chain, squirts "craft" beer into jugs and bottles that you can take home, or wherever it is you like to take your beer. But no matter what "growler" makes you think of, it's probably not as appealing as brew, which could be the reason that the Eighth Street Growler Station has ceased to squirt.

At least it could be according to the axiom of Signing Off, which holds that while a name can conceivably make a place, it can definitely break it. At the end of a miserable day, the word GROWLER in big orange letters doesn't seem like the thing to convince you that this is the place to escape all the world's growls.

If you agree, here are more places that may have made the same mistake.

If you disagree, your closest Growler Station is now in Columbus, Ohio.



There are few times in New York life when high heat is attractive, and clearly not enough of them to support a burger joint by that name. But then, New York City is not currently starving for burger joints. And Waldy Malouf is a famous chef, so he'll surely come up with something cooler.





Animal Crackers are for people, but this store was for dogs. Thus your expectations were frustrated before you walked in the door. So you didn't. Instead, you went somewhere else to find yourself some cookies. And then, if you needed dog food, you went somewhere else for that.




This was a spiffy gift store, and it lasted for twenty years. But even with all its letters it couldn't handle today's numbers. It couldn't have helped that many customers who wanted to recommend it couldn't pronounce it, unless they were fluent in Superman comics. Still, it survives in Jersey City.



Cigkoftem is a Turkish chain that sells sandwiches of spicy wheat balls. But to the unversed, the name could suggest something you might get from excess smoking. If a place is selling just one food, it should make clear what that food is. Though I can't swear that it would have helped to have named the place Spicy Wheat Balls.



I can't say whether robatayaki is better known than cigkoftem...



... but I can say that Prohibit sounded awfully prohibitive.



And I can say that while we appreciate our bees and our desserts, we appreciate them separated.

And now they are.



Vintage New York always tries to understand.








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Friday, August 30, 2013

New in New York: Now You Can Pinpoint Your Wafels & Dinges

By Mitch Broder

When I was a boy my mother deemed waffles and ice cream an official meal, which is why I still love my mother and why I still love waffles and ice cream. But a good waffle, like a good mother, can be hard to find, which is why Wafels & Dinges has opened its first shop that doesn’t move.

Till now Wafels & Dinges has been the mildly baffling name of a fleet of trucks and carts that dispense waffles in mildly baffling forms. Powdered — make that powered — by public response, the owners have opened a waffle café in Alphabet City without any wheels.

Dinges, pronounced “ding-ess,” which is Flemish for “things,” are the toppings that you can get on your wafels. Wafels, pronounced “wah-fuls,” which is Flemish for “waffles,” are Belgian waffles. Belgians speak Flemish. New Yorkers are learning.

The main wafels are the Liège, which is “soft, sweet & chewy,” and the Brussels, which is “light n’crispy.” Once you have selected your wafel, you move on to selecting your dinges. Standard dinges include maple syrup and butter, but the dinges go way beyond standard.

One dish premiering at the café is the Oh Oh Serrano, which is a “flavor fest on a grilled Brussels wafel with serrano ham, asiago cheese, & fig spread.” Another is the 2nd Street Salmon Special, which loads your Brussels wafel with smoked salmon, capers, red onion, and lemon-dill sour cream.

These join things familiar to truck patrons, like the wafel with pulled pork, and the wafel with Bauernschinken ham, Raclette cheese, and scallions. Also things like the World’s Fair wafel, topped with strawberries, whipped cream, and powdered sugar, just like the ones that were the hit of the ’64 fair.

My mother never stocked Asiago cheese or lemon-dill sour cream, let alone Bauernschinken ham or pulled pork. So I ordered waffles and ice cream. I chose chocolate ice cream on a Brussels wafel. I knew it wouldn’t match Breyers on a Downyflake. But it came remarkably close.


Still, at least in New York, Belgian waffles have a checkered history. They’ve never had a golden moment like, say, Belgian fries. Over a decade ago I wrote about a new place called Bulgin’ Waffles Café. It was soon toast. Then again, its special was the Hot Waffle in a Bag.

More recently, there was a place called Go For a Bite, whose two specialties were its  “Original Belgium Waffles” and its Cream Puffs. It, too, went up in smoke. Curiously, it has been replaced by a restaurant that serves only oatmeal, which is called, suitably, OatMeals.

Acccording to Sophie Grant, the manager of Wafels & Dinges, waffles are a tough sell largely because of Breyers and Downyflake. “It’s one of those meals people take for granted,” she explained. “You can get them at any diner and have them at home in the freezer.”

“What sets ours apart is the quality,” she added. “It’s as close to a real Belgian waffle as you can get. We chose one thing to do really well.” That choice was made by Thomas DeGeest, the Wafels & Dinges founder, who sold his first wafel in 2007 from a 1968 Chevy truck.


Thomas’s triumphs since then have included popularizing spekuloos spread, a Belgian topping that looks like peanut butter and tastes like a gingerbread man.

Awhile ago I got it on a Liège wafel from a Wafels & Dinges truck.

I’m trying to get my mother to deem that another official meal.


Get off the street at Wafels & Dinges, 209 East Second Street, between avenues B and C, in New York City.









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