Category Archives: Everyday People

The Death of Liz And A Return To Joe And Bart’s

Joe with Ms. Taylor

After spending some time at Grillin’ On The Bay this past Saturday I realized that I needed a haircut, so I paid a visit to my favorite barbershop Joe and Bart’s. Joe was honoring the death of Elizabeth Taylor with a fitting final centerfold, carefully cut and pasted the old fashioned way onto the side of a metal room divider.

Joe and Bart take a momentary break to philosophize on life, death and hair.

 

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Pleading On Fifth

Jerry walked quickly past the homeless man facing the building doorway on Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue. As he passed, he couldn’t help looking at the puddle of piss growing into a small pond in the vestibule’s depressed elevation. Jerry never gave to bums. Hmm… he thought, “I haven’t used that word in years. Probably haven’t heard it since Dad moved down to Florida.”

Jerry had enough of the city too.  He couldn’t stand the crowds, the filth, that God awful stench of urine everywhere. If he didn’t have to worry about debts and child support payments he’d be selling used cars in some small town in the middle of the desert. Jerry, like any salesman, enjoyed a good rube and according to Pops, the United States between the Mississippi and Colorado rivers was a ripe hunting ground for the quick buck. Jerry actually had no idea if this was true or not but it made sense. That’s why his stockbroker buddies targeted Midwestern professionals. A fool and his money are soon parted.

Jerry went into the Starbucks on the corner. He quickly left, it was too hot and crowded.  Jerry then stopped into one of those independently owned, generic breakfast & lunch places. You know, the kind with seating but no table service; kind of like an upscale Korean grocery. It was empty. He thought about the long line at Starbucks.

He tried to talk to the owners of these places all the time. The staff barely spoke English and the manager never seemed to be around. Jerry felt that if he had the money to open up a place like that, or was at least given one to run, he would be able to get those Starbucks lines. To his mind it was simple; stop skimping on the coffee and pastries, raise the prices a little, not much but enough, and watch the business grow.

Ha! Jerry laughed at himself in the Starbucks bathroom mirror. It was twenty years later. Actually it was today. His beard could use a trim, his clothes smelled like an open sewer and he couldn’t remember if it had been one month or two since his last hot shower. After leaving the Starbucks bathroom he looked at the clock: 5PM. Time to start on the evening commuters. His stockbroker buddies. Jerry laughed; it was 5PM and he had nothing to lose.

Photo Credit: Alex Alper via Brooklyn Ink

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2011

It was the year 2011 and women were still overworked and underpaid in the workplace. To this end, Jason’s company enthusiastically practiced affirmative action when it came to hiring members of the female sex.

Toby, who considered himself a leftist, liked his ambiguously liberal neighborhood newspaper; which is published by a multinational media conglomerate owned by a right wing billionaire.

Maria, who is disabled from the waste down, had been calling 311 about the pot holes on her street for what was going on three years. She never asked for a bike lane.

Laura, who couldn’t afford the company health care plan, worked less hours in order for her family to qualify for Medicaid.

Sherman’s family emigrated from China for a better life. After grad school and seven years of dedicated service at GE, Sherman was picked to travel to India on the company’s behalf; to train his $5,000/year replacement.

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Deceiving the F Train: Thoughts On Wealth And Appearance

“Don’t judge men’s wealth…by their Sunday appearance.” -Benjamin Franklin

“…there’s an awful lot you could tell about a person by their shoes.”

– Forest Gump

Last night while riding the F train home from work, I began to notice the different types of shoes other passengers were wearing. I saw shiny and pointy mens footwear worn by the Wall Street crowd that resembled the aerodynamic curves of race cars, dirty sneakers on toddlers, huge boots with giant Afro puffs of faux fur shooting out from the tops of a woman’s boots. From the entitled expression of both her face and clothing, I wagered a bet with myself that the woman with the furry boots has never worked a real job in her life.

I suddenly spotted a pair of reasonable work shoes, the kind that have a thick, sneaker-like souls and metal-rimmed shoe lace holes. Their balding, middle-aged owner was wearing what must have been a pair of department store slacks, a winter coat that was at least 10 years old and was holding a canvas three way cross between a brief case, duffel and some kind of messenger bag. The reasonably dressed man got off at 15th Street Prospect Park. I’d be willing to bet he  was the wealthiest individual in the train car.

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Don’t Let the Name Fool You: Joe and Bart’s Unisex Salon

This unassuming storefront is a center of neighborhood life

Recently Ned Berke over at Sheepshead Bites ran articles regarding the demise of the old Mister Figaro’s Barber Shop as well as it’s rebirth as a modern salon. What really piqued my interest was a post back in April which listed the neighborhood’s manly barber shops. As someone who grew up in Marine Park near the border of Sheepshead Bay, I’d like to humbly add another to the list:

Their business cards may call it a  ‘Unisex Salon’, the sign outside simply reads ‘Barber Shop’, but to their loyal customers in the neighborhood it will always be known as Joe and Bart’s. Continue reading

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An Ounce of Pretension: A Friday Night Out in Ditmas Park

Clandestinely looking towards the front dining area down at 'The Farm'

This past Friday night my girlfriend and I went out to dinner at The Farm on Adderley, located on Courtelyou Road near Coney Island Avenue. I had been to  The Farm not too long after it had opened with family, and was drawn back by the allure of their primo 28 dollar steak.

The trouble started when my girlfriend ordered a ginger ale and expected well, a ginger ale. Now I’ve had many artisinal-type ‘ginger beers’ such as Reed’s, and am used to their more intense ginger and less sweet taste, but this was a new extreme. It tasted downright medicinal. I took a piece of bread, which tasted like a sour-bread foccaccia without the tomatoes, and dipped it in the provided olive oil. The oil did not moisten the bread nearly enough and I immediately had a red-faced coughing/choking fit as my esophagus tried in vain to carry it down to my stomach.

We both remarked at the calculated snootiness of many of the patrons; we were surrounded by a sea of spandex-jeans and man-scarfs. The place seemed much more hipster-fied than I had previously noticed; maybe living in Bensonhurst the past half year had made me more aware of this? The only “normal” people seemed to be the middle-aged couples, God bless their presence. Okay, initial impressions were not great, but we were both willing to wait for the main course before passing final judgment. Continue reading

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Taco Takedown: Sunset Park vs. Bushwick

This last weekend I was in the mood for some tacos. Being a New Yorker, my taste buds are at a certain disadvantage when it comes to good Mexican fare compared to say, a Californian or Texan. I looked far and wide for a place that has the real deal. I was not looking for some fancy fusion spot. What I wanted was honest, tasty, no-nonsense food that was relatively close to where I live and most importantly, easy on the wallet.

After an extensive search it came down to two spots in my home borough of Brooklyn: Tacos Matamoros in Sunset Park and  Taqueria Mexicana Tres Hermanos in Bushwick.

First up was Tacos Matamoros. After a short ride my girlfriend and I got off the B9 bus on Fifth Avenue and 60th street and walked toward our destination at 45th street. Fifth Avenue in the 40’s and 50’s is a bustling and vibrant main drag. The bright sights and loud sounds of the neighborhood traveled through the air around us. It was a sunny Autumn day and Mexican, Colombian, Puerto Rican and Dominican families were out shopping. Music blared over car speakers; stores and street vendors hawked south of the border goods that seemed like exotic delicacies to me. The neighborhood pulsed with energy and the architecture of the 100-year-old buildings was impressive. I’ve been to the area before but  had never noticed just how similar the brickwork was to Seventh Avenue in Park Slope. In typical South Brooklyn style, the avenue was filled with two signs of its ambitious, hard-working and upwardly mobile residents: new businesses and heavy traffic.

Tacos Matamoros is a clean, modern and spacious store-front. It is a neighborhood favorite sit-down restaurant that also does a brisk takeout business. I decided to order four different types of small tacos, the same four that I would have at Tres Hermanos. I chose to stay away from the more adventurous tripe and (cow) head in order to stick with my standard favorites: steak, chicken, spicy pork (enchilada) and chorizo sausage.

Tacos Matamoros in Sunset Park

The salsa verde that came to the table as a condiment was delicious; especially considering that I usually stick with the red stuff. It really went well with the fresh cilantro and guacamole, especially on the chicken taco. The chicken appeared to be pulled right off the bone and included a thoughtful amount of flavorful dark meat. The big stand-out was the chorizo; it was well-seasoned, cooked to a beautiful barbecue caramelization and seemed to be coated with some sort of sweet marinade. It was reminiscent of some really serious Chinese spare ribs.

Salsa verde is a beautiful thing

My girlfriend who grew up in Texas gave a thumbs-up approval to the two tacos she had ordered and by the end of the meal we were already discussing coming back with friends. The total cost which included six small tacos, two sodas and a tip, was an economical sixteen dollars and change .

After stopping to admire the beautiful brownstones on 43rd street, we hopped on the R train and began our hour-long trip to Bushwick via the L Train at Union Square.

Walking up the stairs of the Jefferson Street stop and onto Starr Street we found ourselves in an industrial area that seemed sedate compared to the hustle and bustle of Fifth Avenue. In between warehouses and factories were a few brick row-houses that had seen better days.

Tortilleria Mexicana Tres Hermanos was recently converted from a Tortilla factory that served those in the know to a full-fledged takeout spot. The new kitchen and seating area features a counter with a couple of stools and a few tables that look out onto the tortilleria through a glass window.

The view from the counter at Taqueria Mexicana Tres Hermanos in Bushwick

The sign outside says Tortilleria Mexicana Los Hermanos but their menus say Taqueria Mexicana Tres Hermanos. Tortilleria refers to the factory and wholesale business and taqueria refers to the restaurant side of things. If you’re still concerned with the semantics of “tres hermanos” versus “los hermanos” well, some “la marijuana” might help with that.

Even considering this is a tortilleria, the tortillas used for the tacos were fresh and I mean fresh! My girl noticed the machine on which the tortillas are pressed and grilled to order. We were able to see (and smell) the whole process from the factory to the open kitchen. As we waited for our food the mostly hipster clientele floated in and out, sitting at tables and picking up take-out orders.

A customer waiting for his take-out order at Tres Hermanos

Right off the bat we noticed that the tacos contained more filler than at Tacos Matamoros. They were served with lettuce and ranch dressing and my chorizo taco was done breakfast-style with bits of potato in it. The chorizo here was spicier but what stood out to me was the chicken. It was grilled to crispy perfection with generous portions of both light and dark meat that made me crave more. I thought the steak at Matamoros was probably better with the pork being a draw between the two.

What looks like a beautiful salad came out of just one taco at Tres Hermanos

In the end our bill which included six small tacos and two sodas, came out to twelve dollars. Since there was no table service and gratuity, comparing the cost and value between the two places is pretty much a wash.

Taking convenience into consideration, which one is easier to get to? The answer depends on where you live. Taqueria Mexicana Tres Hermanos in Bushwick is more accessible from Manhattan and for those along the L line or in adjacent neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Queens. Tacos Matamoros in Sunset Park is easier to get to with the R train from Park Slope and Bay Ridge, from Bensonhurst via the N and D trains, or by bus from Bensonhurst, Borough Park, Midwood and Kensington.

It’s difficult to say which is the overall best place. So many things seem to even themselves out. Matamoros is a sit-down restaurant that might be better for dinner and Tres Hermanos as a takeout restaurant might serve its purpose more at lunch. Both proved to be the best New York has to offer. The critics may be the real winners in this contest. We got to spend Saturday wandering NYC, eating delicious (and inexpensive!) food.

Tacos Matamoros is located at 4508 Fifth Avenue between 45th and 46th streets. Taqueria Mexicana Tres Hermanos is at 271 Starr street between Wyckoff and St. Nicholas avenues. Both are in Brooklyn.

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