Saturday, September 20, 2014

Famous Fat Dave and a Blueberry Blintz

I believe that there is no better way to understand a place and its people than through their food.

Sight, smell, touch, sound…taste…all of the senses ignite when we eat good food and, more often than not (for me that is), it is love at first bite.

How true, how true, this was for me and Carly just last week as we set out on our whirlwind-last hurrah-mother/daughter-before college-getaway to New York City. With only four days and three nights to do our thing, I knew that proper planning was going to be key in getting the most out of our adventure.  So, for the last few weeks, after everyone was tucked snug in their beds, I would sit bleary-eyed at my computer researching the ideal itinerary for one middle-aged mom and one under-aged young adult daughter seeking to squeeze a gallon of juice out of one Big Apple…all in just over 72 hours!

That’s when I met Famous Fat Dave.

I can’t remember if was “Yelp” or “Chowhoud” or just a plain old Google search, but from the minute I started to read about Famous Fat Dave's Food Tours to the moment I stepped off of a West Village curb into his vintage white checkered cab, I couldn’t stop thinking about what this weird adventure was all about and if it could possibly live up to the reviews.

When I first showed Carly the YouTube video of Dave driving through the streets of Brooklyn handing a brown paper bag full of fresh mozzarella to his passengers in the back seat of his cab, even my “go-for-it-girl” Carly was skeptical.  “I don’t know Mom, this one may be a bit too out-there even for me!”

“Don’t worry little one.  I promise there’ll be time for Central Park, The Russian Tea Room and window shopping at Tiffany’s.”  So, in a leap of culinary faith, I emailed Dave and booked our “ride.” A week later, straight off the red-eye out of SFO, we were hopping into his cab to be whisked off across the Brooklyn Bridge for a four hour, hands-on immersion course on native New York culture…one bite at a time.

After playing roshambo for shotgun position with our cab mates (two sisters from Scotland), Dave commenced our initiation by handing each of us a pristine little package of white folded paper.  As he pulled out into traffic, Dave told us that we would need a little sustenance while we made our way across the bridge.  “It’s dry peppered Sopressata...a kind of salami,” he said.  “I just grabbed it from my butcher…I hope you like it.”  As we unfolded the stiff waxed paper, a peppery, garlicky aroma filled the cab (in a good way) and we snacked on our little mobile antipasto as we wove our way into Brooklyn.

“That’s the actual firehouse from the original Ghostbusters movie. That’s the Staten Island Ferry. Did you know that the guy who designed this bridge died from the bends building it? Hey guys, just to let you know, if we hit over 40 mph on the bridge we’ll have to roll up the windows cause the headliner will rattle off the cab ceiling and fall on your heads.”
From Manhattan, across the bridge, through the seedy streets of Brooklyn to its chic, gentrified brownstones, Dave shared juicy facts about each neighborhood and its people in a non-stop diatribe, each series of stories punctuated by a mouthful of local foodie flavor.

From a potato and egg sandwich dipped in pork gravy (scarfed standing up at a dockside deli in Redhook), to a frozen, chocolate-covered key lime pie served on a stick out of the back door of a commercial kitchen on the waterfront, I think our eyes were rolled back into our heads as we mumbled, “OMG” more than they were looking ahead.

 “Guys, hold on a second. I’ve just gotta pull over here and run in…wait in the car.”  Sixty seconds later, Dave emerged from a little non-descript storefront, hopped back in the cab and handed me a tiny bag containing four little cookies to dole out to the troops. “They’re pignoli cookies.  Ever hear of ‘em? This guy I drove in my cab told me about them years ago and they really are the best.”

Once again…OMG! Soft, chewy, sweet, nutty…we munched, and we drove on as Dave told us about the history and evolution of the Italian neighborhood. Did I mention that Dave has a History degree from NYU and a Masters from Columbia?

Homemade pastrami and pickles at Frank and Lloyds, a roast beef-topped cheeseburger at Brennan’s, the best pizza we’ve ever tasted at Spumoni Gardens…

”You guys OK?” Dave checked in between stories of modern Jewish sects and the Russian mob circa 1980. We all grimaced and moaned as we plopped back into the cab.

“We have time for one more stop!”  Silence…

After 3 ½ hours of game-on grubbing we all were in desperate need for a time out, but we knew that we would regret missing out on even one of Dave’s we voted to forge on.

Sensing our dilemma, Dave assured us that the ten minute drive to our last stop was all we would need recharge and, you know what, by the time he called in our order of blueberry blintzes and we double parked outside of that Polish deli, we were rarin’ to go. That, my friends, is what proper training is all about!

“So, I think it would be cool for you guys to enjoy these while they’re piping hot,” Dave said as he placed the to-go container in my hands and hopped back behind the wheel, “and one of the best views of Manhattan just happens to be right at the end of this street. I’ll sit here with the cab and you girls can walk out on the promenade, eat your blintzes and enjoy the view.”

So, we grabbed our Styrofoam box, walked the few short steps to the waterfront, plopped our ample booties on a bench and took a deep breath. As I popped open the lid to reveal two beautiful, steamy, sugar-dusted sweets, it crossed my mind that I wasn't sure what was more impressive…the  blueberry blintzes or the un-freakin’ believable view.

As I crunched into the blintz with its light flaky shell and warm sweet cheese and fresh blueberry filling, I kid you not, I got a little verklempt (that's Yiddish for choked with emotion).  There I was, with my baby girl, communing with two new lovely foreign friends, gazing across the water at the Statue of Liberty, all while enjoying local food lovingly prepared by the descendants of those who immigrated to that very island just in view. That my friends, is a" moment"…one I touched, smelled, saw, heard…and tasted, and one I will never forget.
Thanks Dave, for creating this memory for us and, whether you knew it or not, for kicking off a new era of grown-up mother-daughter adventures that we plan to share for many, many years to come.