Pre-Theater Bites: Island Burgers and Shakes + Afghan Kebab

&tBefore moving to New York my idea of a pre-theater meal was a giant feast with my family at Carmine’s, Ollie’s, or Virgil’s (all owned by the same people, maybe?) Italian, Chinese or Ribs: that’s the sort of stuff you need to nourish you through the fifth reprise of “Do You Hear The People Sing?” in Act 7 of Les Miz.

But now that I’m “in the know” and I go to school for theater and I’m surrounded by theater-folk, the place to go before a show is 9th Avenue. That’s where to go because there’s great variety and it’s cheap.

So Thursday last week I went with my class to see “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf?” with Kathleen Turner and Bill Irwin. (The play is one of my all-time favorites but the production lacked lots of zing. I think it may have to do with the size of the theater and the spaciousness of the set.)

Beforehand, Dan suggested we go to Island Burgers and Shakes on 9th Avenue. (Oh, Dan has a theater blog–check it out: Venal Scene.) We worried that Jason, the vegetarian-vegan, wouldn’t have anything to eat. But we didn’t worry too much.

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This was a good place for us because there was space, the food comes fast, and it’s easy to talk loudly without bothering people. (There were, like, 6 of us.)

James Felder (of the category “James Felder” and the website Snapshot Artifact) espoused the wonders of the black and white milkshake. “The perfect black and white milkshake is made with vanilla ice cream and chocolate syrup,” he explained, “in every sip sip you taste all the chocolate and vanilla separately and you can appreciate them both.”

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I was so moved I ordered one myself. I really enjoyed it.

The burgers at Island Burgers are, if anything, creative. There are two giant lists on the menu of various topping and bun combinations. I chose the Saratoga (I think?) that had a burger on sourdough bread with horseradish sauce and cheese and bacon.

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I like the idea of this burger a great deal. In the taste department it gets a good grade, but in the eatability department it fails. The bun disintegrated¬†as soon as I lifted it. I couldn’t get my mouth around the burger and so I had to cut it with knife and fork. Big bulky burgers like this are hard to eat and not my cup of tea.

Apparently, they’re not James Felder’s either. He wrote me the next day:

“Those burgers blew ass chunks last night.”

I’m not sure about that. I think it’s a good place to know about for pre-theater burgers (though The Burger Joint in the Parker Meridien gets my award for best Midtown hamburger.)

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Last night Lisa and I tried to get student tickets for a bunch of shows. This is a bad plan for a Saturday night—-we were rejected across the boards. So we stumbled up 9th Avenue and there I was again, in front of Island Burgers.

“Hey I just ate here!” I said. “Next door is an Afghan Kebab place. Let’s try that!”

I had a really good Afghan Kebab experience with Jason a few months ago, also on 9th Avenue. But I think it was a different place. This place was pretty good. Lisa had pumpkin and I had lamb:

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It came with lots of food: bread, rice, salad and the meat and/or pumpkin. We left very full.

At one point, a party of ten tourists from middle America came in and took up a bunch of tables. The male head of this group wandered from table to table and said with a drawl: “Make sure you take the opportunity to go to the bathroom at some point during your meal. Then take a peek into the kitchen—you can see how Afghanis cook their food.”

We thought this was funny.

Lisa’s New ‘Hood: Dinner at the Market Cafe

Remember the days when Lisa lived in Chelsea? We’d pad thai at Pongsri or hot dog at F&B before icecreaming at Ben & Jerry’s. Frolicking down 23rd street, not a care in the world: that all came to a crashing halt this past Monday when Lisa moved to Hell’s Kitchen.

For those not familiar with New York geography, let me draw you a map. These are avenues:

9th 8th 7th 6th 5th

I live here:

……………….*

Lisa used to live here:

…………*

Now she lives this far over:

….*

She also lives 20 blocks up. Hell’s Kitchen is a 30 minute walk from Chelsea. (Lisa argues 20 minutes, but she has jet-powered boots).

I am, however, a dedicated friend, so on Friday night I trekked up to HK (that’s street lingo for Hell’s Kitchen) and helped Lisa and Liz pick up a package from UPS and then joined them for dinner at a place I selected (some things never change!) from Robert Sietsema’s Best Ethnic Eating Guide called Market Cafe on 9th Avenue.

Funny thing is, I’ve been there before. With Ricky. He lives in HK too. All my friends are moving to HK, and I’m stuck in C. But if I were to move again, I’d move to GV. (Because you know I love the eating in GV.)

The food at The Market Cafe is, according to Sietsema’s book: “International.” I’ll agree with that. We did, after all, start with hummus:

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Not a great picture, I agree, but it’s incredibly humorous. See, that’s the last piece of pita and I’m piling on the rest of the hummus because you can’t eat the hummus once the pita pieces are gone! Lisa is helping me and we’re finding this most amusing!

The hummus was good. Not my favorite, not my least favorite, just very decent hummus.

What was great–or at least interesting–was the grilled pizza:

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The toppings were cherry tomatoes and radicchio which was carmelized and charred and mispronounced by me when I called it “raDICKeo.”

“Adam,” said Lisa, “I’m sorry to have to correct you, but it’s raDICHio.”

Shamed, I entered a penitential fast that lasted 30 seconds, long enough for me to photograph the pizza and then I dug in. It was tasty. I really liked the raDICHio. Cooking it that way makes it sweet–kind of like braising endive.

And that was that! Liz left us soon after, and Lisa and I went searching for a dessert place. Oh boy. Searching for dessert in the theater district (where we ended up) is a nightmare experience. We found nothing. We ventued back to HK and went to the Galaxy Diner where there were desserts in a glass case. “Good!” I said. Diner desserts are decent, usually, when you’re in the mood for dessert.

Ugh. These were horrible. Lisa and I later declared these “extraordinarily bad diner desserts.” My strawberry shortcake caused gastronomical turmoil that lasted through the next day. Then, when it came time to pay, I reached into my back pocket for my wallet and…where…is…my…wallet…

I had a long flip out session. We called the Market Cafe: they didn’t find a wallet. We searched the floor. Lisa gave me money for a cab home and I ran upstairs (ok I took the elevator) and ran inside and sure enough it was on my desk. (Lisa had paid for dinner to make-up for a dinner I bought her last week—in case you were wondering why I didn’t notice sooner.)

Hell’s Kitchen may have good pizza and Lisa, but let it be said that when push came to shove Chelsea had my wallet.

Rice and Beans at “Rice and Beans”

Photographs by my colleague James Felder, formerly of Marvel Comics and visible on the web here.

Theater-going means dinner-eating, since shows start at 8 and you don’t want to sit there hungry.

Last night we went to see “Symphony Fantastique.” This show takes Berlioz’s symphony and sets it to what is advertised as an underwater puppet show. Basically, there’s a fish tank and “actors” drag things around in it for an hour. If you happen to be tripping on LSD, this may be highly enjoyable. As it was, I spent a great deal of time contemplating the life and career of Nell Carter. (Who, incidentally, was in the movie “Hair” where they take LSD).

Before the show, we playwright/screenwriters went to dinner near the theater. Jason Schafer (author of the movie “Trick” and a classmate) led us to a favorite theater district haunt, “Rice and Beans.” James Felder (mentioned above) brought his ultra high tech camera. Seriously, this camera is snazzy. He paid for it with money he won in a screenwriting contest. And since no photographer can be great without a great model, I modelled for the first pic:

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Don’t you love my shirt? There are little birds on it which makes it all the more thrilling. That’s Kirk sitting next to me, he’s another classmate and dinner companion.

I took it upon myself to order for the table a pitcher of sangria. I love sangria. Wine with fruit in it? Hello, this is what wine is all about. Forget all those fancy shmancy $100,000 bottles. Just cut up some fruit and drop it in a wine glass and you’re set. (Put an orange slice on the outer rim for decoration).

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As for dinner, I had some kind of breaded chicken. It was really crisp and flavorful. I liked how it was served with limes. We also got bottomless bowls of rice and beans. (Hence the name “Rice and Beans”).

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I don’t normally post images of other people’s food (after all this blog is about ME ME ME glorious ME), but since James took the pictures, take a look at his plantains and rice and other things:

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So, in conclusion, if you happen to be seeing a puppet show in a fish tank and you’re looking for tasty Brazilian food, why not go to “Rice and Beans” and take James Felder with you? He takes lovely pictures.