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  • The closure of Karrot today

    As many of you know, today is Karrot's last day on 117th street and Frederick Douglass Boulevard. The closure of Karrot is significant in regards to the kind of local business that Karrot is. As various yelp reviews describe, Karrot is overpriced and poorly stocked, with erratic shop hours, and pretty much the primary reason anyone goes there is because of Carlos, the owner. One meta-review even reviews the reviews on yelp, describing how every review about Karrot is really just about Carlos.

    To understand this, one must put into perspective that first of all, poorly stocked shops with erratic hours often arise from small local business that lack the same efficiencies found in corporate chains. It is, however, this same amateur effort that is reconceived as charm and encourages a shopper to pay a premium to shop local. In fact, residents and visitors view it as a good deed when they "like supporting local shops". This view appears elsewhere in here, here, here, here, and here. But the whole point, is actually, that nobody feels particularly bad if other poorly stocked shops with erratic hours close. People care about Karrot because people like Carlos' big personality.

    Every time one goes into Karrot in the past few months would also know that his nemesis is Best Yet. That is a well-stocked, efficient shop with steady hours, occassional discounts from lazy cashiers who don't particularly care if they enter your turnips as beets, and yet not as soulless looking as Fairway or Associated. Best Yet's yelp review calls it a perfect fit for the "new Harlem". So the trouble with selling your personality in a local shop, might be that one day, nobody in your neighborhood cares anymore to continue the good deed of shopping local when sort-of-local is good enough.

    It's kind of a last cowboy kind of romanticism when I see a shop like Karrot and Carlos give up. There's no particular reason to be walking around in a desert in boots and revolvers with a dirty beard. The further trouble, though, is that this kind of plight is commonplace - some survive as last holdouts, some cash in their chips. So, go give Carlos a pat in the back today and give him your thanks on this one last day.

    Or as, Aldous Huxley says in Brave New World Revisited, "in almost every other field of enterprise, technological progress has hurt the Little Man and helped the Big Man."

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  • Pizza in New York as the center of the world

    We recently wrote about pizza in Harlem, but we were actually write about pizza in the world. Actually inspired by Welshcakes Limoncello, she says that not only is the place in the world with the most pizzerie São Paulo, citing the Giornale di Sicilia - but that pizza as we know it around the world is 1. a recent phenomenon, and 2. more or less from America, which also means that, 3. pizza of the world is, with pompous pronounciations, from New York.

    As a recent phenomenon, supposedly the word pizzeria did not appear in print in Italy until 1918. In America, it was described in 1939 like this by New York Herald Tribune food columnist Clementine Paddleford: “It is going to be the surprise of your life,… a nice stunt to surprise the visiting relatives, who will be heading East soon for the World’s Fair. They come to be surprised, and pizza, pronounced ‘peet-za,’ will do the job brown.” (from "How Italian Food Conquered The World" by John F. Mariani).

    And thus Welshcakes Limoncello concludes: "Universal love of the pizza is a relatively recent phenomenon, even in Italy, for in the nineteenth century, because of the squalor in Naples, the city of its origin, it was thought to be an unhygienic food. It was when Italian American celebrities made their love of pizza known in the 1950s that their fans became curious about it and began to demand it too." Those supposedly included Jerry Colonna, Frank Sinatra, Jimmy Durante, Joe DiMaggio, and Dean Martin singing "When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie, that's amore". The link gives you the song - enjoy with your pizza!

    PS - And here is the juicy part: Shock! Horror! Pizza in post-war Britain was called 'Italian rarebit'. It was made of sliced bread, instead of pizza dough or 'pie'. And supposedly, it exists because "Welsh tenants were not allowed to hunt for rabbits on the land of their English landlords". This sounds oddly very New York, what with pigeon abductions in Chinatown, or more recently in Prospect Park last summer 'cops nab poachers' after park-goers spotted one of the men catching a pigeon while his friend started a fire. when And then there were English rarebits (made with red wine), Scottish rarebits (has cheese on both sides of the toast), Yorkshire rarebits (has bacon), and Irish rarebits (made with stout). To make the matters more meta, take Italian rarebit out of post-war Britain, into modern day Johannesburg, South Africa, and you get ...Welsh rarebit bruschetta. And by all accounts, we thought the ones that used the cheese were the Scottish - so while it should have been called Scottish Italian rarebit bruschetta instead - we reach an existential crisis when we discover that not only is pizza maybe not Italian, but that pizza and bruschetta are the same thing. And calling something 'rarebit bruschetta' is like being redundant with 'bready bread'.

    There is only so much shock one can take, but one finds themselves helpless at the thought of the Scottish rarebit, with cheese on both sides of the toast. There must be something lost in translation - it's like a reverse grilled cheese sandwich. Instead of a pretense of a food pyramid and an ability to hold your cheese by having your fingers touching the bread ...the bread is in the cheese. Speaking of which, we are getting some French restaurants popping up, and if ever a day we can finally recover from these shocks, we would try and explore a bit of a Harlem croque-monsieur or a Harlem croque-madame, and maybe even look at rissoles or gribiche, if they have them.

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  • Pizza in Harlem

    There is actually a whole lot of pizza in Harlem. That statement is not an easy concept to understand in New York City where pizza means this: "12 New York Pizzas to Try Before You Die" from Eater, this list from Time Out, the "Golden Age" of pizza, pizza as art, pizza as bread with no sauce, pizza as knife fights between pizza chefs and alleged mobsters, pizza as where the big bang occured at Lombardi's in 1905, or maybe it wasn't Lombardi's but Papa's Tomato Pies in Trenton since today's Lombardi's is technically a "different pizza place with the same name". The maps of where pizza don't show much of Harlem, but using our very scientific method of searching for pizza in Harlem on yelp, we have 43 local places to go to without going downtown or *gasp* go to Brooklyn.

    There might be 1,600 places to eat pizza in New York, give or take 1,000 - depending on what New York means to you. And the one in Harlem that makes the lists is Patsy's, so we have our New York City pizza institution too. It sounds strange that Patsy's was one amongst the few that preserved pizza as an endangered artifact, according to their wikipedia (and yes, they have their own wikipedia page). They even sold pizza for 60¢ on their 75th anniversary - that day is gone now, I guess we'll have to wait another 21 years for their centennial. Here is an explanation of Patsy's from Nick Solares, who proclaims it as his favorite pizza in the city:

    "There are few pizzerias with a more storied past than Patsy's. Dating back to 1933 Patsy's was founded by Pasquale "Patsy" Lanceri, who had learned the art of pizza-making while working for Gennaro Lombardi, founder of America's first licensed pizzeria. The pies at Patsy's are cooked in a coal oven, one of the few remaining in the city, grandfathered in when environmental regulations banned the use of the fuel. It is said to reach 1,100 degrees and at its best can mottle the crust with black blisters. ...

    The plain pie is the reason for visiting Patsy's. If nothing else it is a historical document, printed on dough and inked with sauce and cheese. The pies architecture harks back to the original New York pizza—born of austerity and designed to offer bang for the buck. It was originally sold to factory workers who would put the pies that came wrapped in paper and tied with string on top of the machines they manned to keep them warm for lunch.

    The crust was stretched so much that it can barely support the cheese and sauce, let alone toppings, which came later, gaining currency in a time when they could be afforded. Compared to a Chicago deep dish pie which was born in the post war boom years when the country was flush with cash and cheap ingredients the New York pie is a pauper's supper.

    I doubt that the pizza has changed much since then. The red sauce (sweet, vibrant and rather under seasoned) and the mozzarella cheese (mild to the point of innocuousness) are applied in sparring amounts. The pizza at Patsy's is one of the few pies in my experience that doesn't benefit from being served fresh from the oven, it needs to cool and congeal slightly to achieve synergy. Some of the best slices I have had there emerge from the vintage display box that is one of the few objects in the otherwise spartan take-out section. The cooler the cheese gets, the more flavor it imparts. A cold slice out of the fridge the next day will have some tang not apparent when it is piping hot."

    Yes, I basically reposted his whole article, but the descriptiveness is quite helpful, and if I don't do so, you're probably going to skip over it amidst all the other links above. There's just a lot about pizza in New York. Solares also ends with that the "plain pie is the way to go at Patsy's, and not from the restaurant side". Patsy's does not deliver. They don't take card. If there are New Year's resolution and life ambitions, this is our New Year's resolution: we will deliver Patsy's, and we will take your card; and we will deliver it hot, but maybe a slower delivery to let the flavor impart when the cheese cools is not bad either. So we hope to deliver the perfect pizza.

    Speaking of other pizzas, in Harlem too, there are places that look 'hip' like Bettolona or Bad Horse (remember they stuck the 'A' grading from Department of Health on the window and put it in between the letters B and D to spell the word 'bad' in bad horse...). Though, a personal favorite at Eat Harlem is Pizzeria 123. Just something about the air of it, the feeling reminiscent of a Greyhound station, and extreme casualness makes it so charming. Never mind that it shut down for a while, even Di Fara was shut down. And speaking of shutting down, New York Magazine found a waiter at Per Se who would say that "[with] the recent Department of Health crackdowns, those letter grades are bought—by that, I mean every restaurant that has an A has either an in-house specialist or a specialist they’ve hired." That's what we always thought anyway, and just wait for that as our next topic to tackle with the letters that restaurants stick up their windows and what that means with your favorite spot.

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  • Countdown to launch

    We're about to launch our site and service, and to start off with, here is our dream list of restaurant deliveries for the week:

    Charles Pan Fried Chicken

    Amy Ruth's

    Red Rooster

    Patsy's

    And what kind of dream would it be if the bartenders from 67 Orange showed up in snazzy outfits at our doorstep shaking up cocktails...

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