Tuesday, January 24, 2012

New in New York: In its Grand Openin', Puddin' Takes a Lickin'

The new in New York Puddin' makes the traditional dessert elegant
By Mitch Broder

Puddin’ by Clio opened its doors on January 6, 2012.

It closed its doors on January 11, 2012.

New in New York, an establishment that ran out of Puddin' instead of running out of customers
This could be a record in New York City. But if it is, it’s a good one. Puddin’ didn’t run out of customers. Puddin’ ran out of puddin’.

It ran out of the fifty-six pounds of puddin’ that were supposed to last that whole first day but were instead sucked out of the place in an hour and a half. It kept running out for the next four days and then it finally shut down for two, both of which Clio spent in the Puddin’ kitchen doin’ nothin’ but cookin’ puddin’.

Since then the store’s been releasing pudding starting at 4 p.m. (though it opens at 9 a.m. for coffee), while remodeling a kitchen that had just been modeled. Clio’s had orders for pudding in England and offers to franchise in Hong Kong. Not to mention a parade of petulant pudding-eaters passing by on St. Mark’s Place.

Workers at Puddin' get ready to serve this treat that is new in New York
Clio, crumbling banana cake.
“We expected a nice, slow, steady pace,” she told me when I visited on the 11th — “a quiet soft opening that never happened. … On Sunday we opened at four o’clock and sold out by 4:40. I started taking reservations for pudding cups.” She somehow looked like an overworked pudding chef.

Things were different when I went back last week. They’d just installed the blast freezer, which cuts the production time of a pudding from three hours to one. “The blast freezer works!” Clio yelped when she determined that it did, and she suitably jumped up and down. She thinks she can keep the place open now. Still, don’t count on your flavor.

On the other hand, there’s no bad flavor, which is why they keep running out. Puddin’ could conceivably be the best pudding ever made. Clio, after all, has worked for Daniel Boulud and Danny Meyer, who are two giant food stars, though I’m not sure either has ever had to close a joint for two days.

Clio is Clio Goodman, who after working at several restaurants became a personal chef with a vision for a dessert that diners give away. A client passed her puddings around, and everyone knew the world was waiting. Puddin’ opened next door to Jane’s Sweet Buns, so the owners could borrow each other’s sugar.

Tim Zydek is a sous-chef at Puddin' a new in New York establishment
Tim Zydek, the sous-chef, smiling.
I tried the chocolate. It was such a deep and dusky chocolate that it made the chocolate pudding that I had previously thought of as the best seem like vanilla. Clio called it “smoky” and “earthy” and talked about its tannins. When customers tell her how much they like her pudding she likes to explain to them why they like it.

She also has vanilla, banana, butterscotch, coffee, lemon, and rice, the latter perhaps for those still tempted to go to that rice-pudding place in Nolita. She has toppings of sauces, creams, fruits, nuts, candies, cookies, brownies, and cakes, and parfaits with preset toppings so you don’t leave with a headache.

Clio’s been getting more offers, but she said she couldn’t tell me about them, which was OK, since she did tell me that she names her kitchen appliances. But at 23, she’s also getting a crash course in the less-sweet side of success.

“They all want a piece of the pie,” she said wisely. “They all want a spoon of the pudding.”

Puddin' sparkles at night from outside

Get your share at Puddin’ by Clio, 102 St. Mark’s Place, between First Avenue and Avenue A, New York City.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Native Leather: A Place to Warm Your Hands and Cool Your Heels

Native Leather in New York City has belts and hats and everything leather
By Mitch Broder

Native Leather has a good reason for being in business in 2012:

It still hasn’t sold all the stuff it bought in 1967.

Of course, that doesn’t explain why it’s been able to stay in business for fifty years while most other Village leather stores of the sixties have not, but it does explain why you can theoretically buy a belt made in the summer of 2011 with a buckle made in the Summer of Love.

An assortment of hats at Native Leather in New York City
Chances are, you won’t see the boxes packed with sixties and seventies parts, since they’re packed behind the merchandise, which is packed in front of the walls. But the proprietors know where they are, and they know when to dig them out. And that may actually explain why they’ve been able to stay in business for fifty years.

Sandals for all foot sizes at Native Leather in New York City
They have clearly had a gift for staying sufficiently if warily ahead, yet fashionably if inadvertently behind, the popular taste. For customers still come in not only for leather belts but also for leather jackets, coats, vests, wallets, bags, hats, gloves, and sandals, which are modeled by gruesome false feet.

The management is not oblivious to contemporary looks, but it is also not inclined to get overstocked on them. “This is not Banana Republic,” says the store owner, Carol Walsh, “where next season everything’s going to be teal.”

Carol can trace that policy back to 1983, since that’s when she first took a job with the store. And for seasons before that she can always check with the sandal-maker, Dick Whalen, since he’s the guy who hired her, since he’s the guy who founded the store.

The Old New York message on the sign for Native Leather
Dick took his NYU business education to a basement on MacDougal Street, where he started making sandals in 1962. He enjoyed it, thanks in part to his work in bomb disposal in Korea: “That set you up,” he says. “Whatever you were gonna do in life couldn’t be as bad as that.”

The basement was the start of Native Leather, even though it was called The Britton Shop, and within months the shop moved to an efficiency on Sullivan Street. “It became a hangout,” Dick says. “There were other craftsmen on the street. We’d chip in and all eat dinner there.”

In ’69 the shop came to Bleecker, where it was renamed Natural Leather. Dick had meanwhile opened more stores including summer shops in Hyannis and Provincetown. In ’72, overwhelmed by his empire, he closed everything and took time off. He reopened the Bleecker Street shop and decided that one store was enough.

Belts of all colors and sizes, of course made out of leather at Native Leather in New York City
In the mid-sixties, Dick recalls, there were eighteen leather shops in the Village. By 1979, nearly all of them were gone. But the next year he doubled the size of his store. He says he simply had the best leather. That, and the patience to ride out the sandal-crushing rise of running shoes.

He ran the store till the mid-nineties, and then Carol took over. To celebrate, she gave the shop its latest name. These days leather is tough, she says. But the store is boosted by tourists looking for old hippie outposts, and by locals looking for sandals, hats, and belts.

She gave herself an unforeseen challenge, however, when she gave the store its new name. People see the name Native Leather, she says, “and they come in looking for headdresses.”

“I have Navajo belt buckles. I have Zuni belt buckles. I have Hopi belt buckles,” she says. “But that’s not because it’s called Native Leather. It’s because we sell belt buckles.”

Go ahead try on a leather hat at Native Leather in New York City
Hide out at Native Leather, 203 Bleecker Street, New York City.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Strangely New York: Japadog Brings a Taste of Japan From Canada

The grand opening of the new in New York Japadog restraurant
By Mitch Broder

Mr. Mustard and Miss Ketchup stood before the golden fringe, confirming the event’s significance in New York restaurant history.

Then the man in the giant red bow tie spoke and I wrote down what he said, confirming my significance in New York journalism history.

Noriki Tamura a respresentative of Japadog New York City makes an announcement
“Hello, everybody,” I wrote. “I, Noriki Tamura, represent Japadog. And … today is one of the greatest moments in the history of Japadog. We finally open our new location in New York, which is, of course, the greatest city of the world.”

He got that right, but only because of the opening. Before that, New York had an indefensible culinary gap. We may have had our hot dog restaurants, and we may have had our Japanese restaurants, but only now do we have our first Japanese hot-dog restaurant.

Only now do we have the Terimayo, the hot dog with teriyaki sauce, Japanese mayonnaise, and seaweed. Only now do we have the Kobe, the hot dog with miso sauce, wasabi mayonnaise, and caviar. Only now do we have the Okonomi, the pork sausage with bonito flakes and fried cabbage. And only now can we have those hot dogs with French fries and a Coke.

A delicious hot dog from the kitchen of the new in New York Japadog
That's my dog.
You can see why I made it my business to attend the grand opening of Japadog: I had to have that dog with the teriyaki sauce. I knew that it would be there. What I didn’t know was that hot dogs would be free to the first fifty customers, and I would be number thirty-eight.

Actually I was number one, because I arrived ahead of the opening to speak to the man in the giant red bow tie, who had made the opening possible. Noriki represented Japadog because he invented Japadog. I took him seriously, even though he also wore a sash that said “BOSS.”

He started Japadog in 2005 as a hot-dog stand in Vancouver, shrewdly pouncing on Canada’s own failure to sell German sausage with Japanese toppings. By last year, he was running four stands and his first Japadog store. With a record like that, there was no question that he could start here at the top.

A line forms to order at the new in New York Japadog
That's Joey.
“We have a style that’s totally different,” he said if I can trust Tatsuki Kida, who translated. “It’s one-of-a-kind. It beats all the street vendors.” I asked if he had plans for more stores. “If we succeed in this,” he said, “we’ll be all over New York — and the world. We want to make everyone happy eating hot dogs.”

A few minutes later he was standing on a chair on the sidewalk, repeating that goal. I couldn’t very well disappoint him, so I got in line. I ordered the Terimayo, and while waiting for it I spoke to Joey Heimgartner, who was not only a woman but also the first customer at America’s first Japadog.

“I’ve been walking by, waiting for this place to open for weeks,” she said. “Now it’s finally open, and it’s very exciting.” She needed a change from the Basil Popcorn Chicken she’d been getting at TKettle nearby. She got it in Japadog’s arabiki pork sausage with cheese, which is known as the Love Meat.

I stuck with my Terimayo, with butter-and-soy-sauce fries and a Coke. It was delicious, and not just because the meal would have cost me eight bucks. The bun was large, soft, and warm. The dog was large, tender, and juicy. The seaweed inexplicably worked. And you can’t go wrong with teriyaki and mayo.

I felt happy for Noriki. He worked hard to get here. I knew that some hot-dog chains have failed, but probably none of them had bonito flakes.

On my way out, I thanked Noriki and wished him and Japadog well.

I never did squeeze Miss Ketchup, but don’t think that I didn’t consider it.

New York City diners enjoy a dog at Japadog
Squeeze into Japadog, at 30 St. Mark’s Place, between Second and Third avenues, in Manhattan.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Strangely New York: The Pies are Still Hot at Tuck Shop

Near perfect pies adorn the racks at Tuck Shop
By Mitch Broder

At Tuck Shop they sell meat pies without windshield wiper fluid, which may seem inconvenient to New Yorkers but proves liberating to Australians.

The Tuck Shop sign reads The Best Winter PiesMeat pies in Australia are like hot dogs in America; they’re displayed at gas stations and convenience stores, where, in a weak moment, you might buy one. Tuck Shop sells Australian meat pies at meat-pie shops, which means an extra stop for wiper fluid but less chance of thinking it’s your beverage.

So far it’s worked, since the Tuck Shop on First Street is in its seventh year, and has been joined by a shop on St. Mark’s Place and another at Chelsea Market. In Australia it’s always meat-pie season, but in New York we’re in the heart of it, so I stopped in at the St. Mark’s shop, secure that in winter a pie lunch is healthy.

It’s a little shop with just a couple of tables and a counter with five stools, because most people follow Australian tradition and eat hand pies while on foot. Still, it’s cozy and festooned with the things you find in every Australian home, like a cricket bat, a boomerang, and a calendar showing all the pubs in Melbourne.

The hot pies are on view in a pie case and described in chalk on a blackboard. They were served on my visit by a genial Australian counter man named Isaac. I discussed my options with Isaac at length, learning in the process that chook means chicken, as in — per Isaac’s example — “Put the chook in the oven, love.”

Pull up a stool to dine in New York at Tuck Shop
St. Mark's Place.
Still, I declined the Thai Chook Curry pie, choosing instead the Traditional Beef pie and the Lamb and Veg pie, two of the most popular selections. They were both hot and piquant and satisfying enough to make a fine meal for $12. Isaac was impressed that I ate both.

Later I stopped at the First Street store, which is similar to the St. Mark’s store except that it has the table on which the pies are made and two inflatable kangaroos. It also had an Australian named Lincoln Davies, who owns the stores, even though he came to America to do the opposite of work.

“I came here with the idea of a two-week holiday,” he told me. But he couldn’t help noticing that America was dangerously short on meat pies. He made it his mission to help us out. A few years later he and his partner, Niall Grant, were running the first Tuck Shop, daringly free of auto parts.

Patrons enjoy no frills meat pies at Tuck Shop in New York City
East First Street.
Like all attempts to change eating habits, it has had challenges, Lincoln said: “ ‘Meat pie’ to an American conjures up nothing like this.” New Yorkers see ‘pie’ at a takeout and expect to have pizza pie. Anglophiles know English pies, which Lincoln refers to as “gelatinous.”

Australians, however, know their continent’s mass-produced gas-station pies, and so tend to regard the Tuck Shop offerings as gourmet fare. One such Australian was in the First Street store eyeing Lincoln and me as we talked. Lincoln was underselling his product, the man finally complained.

“In Australia, eating meat pies is something you do very casually,” said the Australian, Peter Freudenberger. “It’s not a fine dining thing. This place replicates the experience, but you get good food. In eighteen years in Australia I never saw a pie being made — just like you never see a hot dog being made here.”

Lincoln accepted the compliment. But the meat pie, he said, still battles — even after people have come in, tried it, and liked it. “Once they try them,” he said, “they get stuck on one, and we have to kind of wean them off it and get them to try another.”

Cooks in the back stretch dough for meat pies at Tuck Shop in New York City

Try another at Tuck Shop, at 68 East First Street, 115 St. Marks Place, and Chelsea Market Ninth Avenue, New York City.