Screw You, New York Food Scene


I have serious issues with the New York food scene.

Maybe you’re thinking that New York is the epicenter of American food culture.  Maybe you believe that the variety of offerings — from haute cuisine to pushcart street food — is the best thing since sliced bread.  Perhaps you really can’t get enough of  all the quirky, fun little culinary trends.   That’s one way of looking at it.

Another way to look at it would be that, for all the great things about NYC food, the whole accompanying “scene” is insufferably self-important.  Being only an hour away, I’m close enough to be subjected to the new-hot-now attitude that permeates the city, but I’m far enough away to have some perspective.  Trust me…you don’t need to be a suspicious mid-westerner to think that New York is impossibly self-indulgent and obnoxiously trendy.

I feel quite strongly about this and I know that I have logic on my side, so I present to you a five-point argument explaining why Gotham’s insufferable food culture needs to be taken down a peg:

  1. I know this won’t make me popular here on, but the whole cupcake thing needs to stop. It’s the perfect example of the oh-so-freaking-clever New York food trends that’s more about style than substance.  You know who loves cupcakes?  Third graders with birthdays.  You’re an adult…eat regular cake with utensils like the rest of the grown ups.  You won’t even have to deal with the dry, icing-deprived part that falls below the paper insert.  The cupcakes are obviously not only a New York fad, but it started there and I’m holding New York responsible.
  2. I’m all for conducting a reasonably healthy lifestyle, but there’s nothing in the world that will harsh your foodie buzz quicker than being clobbered over the head with calorie amounts plastered all over the menu.  It’s really hard to enjoy that iced caramel macchiato when you realize that it contains four days’ worth of calories.  What the hell?  Schools are polarized over the food served to kids and I can’t order a burger without a side order of shame and self-loathing.  I expect this shit from San Francisco, but I thought New York was cooler than this.
  3. Every nine months or so, there is a hot new ethnic dish that spreads through the foodie scene like a wildfire.  We’re currently on the downswing of a bahn mi hysteria that had all of the hipsters in Williamsburg and DUMBO rushing to discover what people in Vietnam have known for about 50 years.
  4. Not content to have three restaurants on every block, there has been an eye roll-inducing rise in the popularity of quirky and higher end food trucks — everything from tacos to pizza to coffee. In theory, this may not seem to be a problem, but I can’t shake the feeling that nagging question:  Do I want to eat from a restaurant that is theoretically able to roll away when the heath inspector is in the neighborhood?
  5. I love Grub Street like a junkie loves his dealer.  New York Magazine’s food blog chronicles all of the ins and outs of the Big Apple’s restaurant world, so it’s the place to go if you hate (but secretly love) reading all about this stuff like I do.  I mean…where else can you stay ahead of all the other hipster doofuses and know that “whiskey-infused rice krispie treats” might just be the next big thing?  Grub Street does for the current NY food scene what Tom Wolfe’s Bonfire of the Vanities did for NY’s Reagan-era society, chronicling it in all it’s wonderful, horrible glory. Anything this ridiculous should be preserved for posterity.

So, there you have it.  That kind of lock-solid reasoning has the fooderati bailing on their precious cupcakes in favor of the next big thing:  crullers.

Let’s hear it!  Is there something that bugs you about big city food that you need to vent about?  Do you want to pick up the mantle for Manhattan and tell me why I’m wrong?  Have at it in the comments.

(Photo: finalgirl)

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  • Grub Street June 19, 2009  

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  • Christine June 19, 2009  

    AMEN — Hallelujah!!! The cupcake thing is seriously getting on my nerves!!! And really – what’s the deal with the red velvet!?!

  • Laura June 19, 2009  

    C’mon, you’re dissing cupcakes? Cupcakes? But they’re so gooood! And portable!

    Otherwise, you’re dead on.

  • Yvo June 19, 2009  

    Screw YOU, tvff 🙂
    Now, as a born-and-bred-NYer, I’m the first to agree that things are a little ridiculous here when it comes to food as a trend. That’s fine. And I’m not a huge cupcake fan in general. But dry cupcake beneath the icing layer? Clearly you have been eating a 3rd grader’s cupcakes, because cupcakes are now miniature, serving-size-pieces of cake, with more of the ‘crust’ from more surface area being exposed per serving size. I’ve had bad cupcakes (Magnolia, you and your stupid trend-setting bull *shakes fist) and lots of people eat bad cupcakes, but there are really good cupcakes, and they’re here to stay. Hooray for the rare moment I have a craving. (Also, I think if something lasts beyond what, 3 years? 4? how long has it been? it’s no longer a trend.)

    I’m all with you on point 2, because calorie counts are like slaps in the head “you’re being bad! you’re being bad!” and for someone like me, who sets foot in an establishment that is required to post calorie counts about never, when I DO go in one of those places, I want to be able to ‘be bad’ and eat freely without knowing how much bad I’m ingesting. But then again, it’s saved me a few times, so I guess I should be thankful – although I am clearly not their target, because people will still go in there (and I had someone ask me once what those numbers were, who clearly had no concept of how many calories she needed to consume in one day).

    Most real New Yorkers (or just all of my friends/the people I know?) have known about banh mi for ages. This is a food media issue. But hell, bring light to an “obscure” ethnic food, I’m not hating. It deserves some time in the spotlight.

    Probably should have done a little research there; street carts, food trucks, etc. are actually held to slightly higher standards than your average restaurant, due to the very nature of it being a moving/moveable place serving food.

    Okay, I think that’s my point by point 🙂 How’d I do?

  • Oliver June 19, 2009  

    Ummm…you’re railing against something that you wouldn’t even be privy to unless you actively sought it out. If you didn’t read Grub Street, Eater, and the rest of their ilk, you would be blissfully unaware of the “food scene”, outside of noticing that lots of places sell cupcakes (even though, by this point, we should just consider them bakery staples, like cookies) and that there are a couple more food trucks on the streets of Manhattan (which, seriously, you’d have to walk most of the grid between Midtown and the Bowery on a regular basis for it to register in an obvious manner). If I mentioned the bahn mi “craze” to most of my friends (who don’t read the food blogs), they would likely respond with a blank stare, possibly not even knowing what bahn mi is.

    If I took some of those same friends (from Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens…not from out of town) to some place like Hotel Delmano in Williamsburg, they would think it was a fun place to grab some great (slightly pricey) drinks in a unique setting. They wouldn’t roll their eyes over the idea of the Prohibition-era speakeasy style, which gets constantly lambasted on the blogs as having worn out its welcome due to extreme proliferation, even though the truth is that there are only about a dozen such establishments, which happen to still be outnumbered by shitty sports bars by about 100-to-1. The truth is that the same small-ish group of people are the ones that descend upon these bars the moment they open up, so that they can blog about how “over it” they are. And, sure, they’re so over it that they will be the first in line to visit the next Sasha Petraske “speakeasy” in order to have exclusivity on saying “enough already”.

    I walked past the Minetta Tavern a week ago and pointed it out to my companion as the current center of NYC food obsession, and their response was “Really? Huh. Why?” And, of course, the reason has nothing to do with anything other than the fact that the NYC “food scene” has made it thusly (regardless of how good the food may be).

    Sure, I am growing tired of hearing about David Chang and La Frieda beef. But, whatever. I choose to read about what’s going on in the NYC food world and I know damn well that if I didn’t I would not be subjected to the obsessiveness and insularity that comes with blogs dedicated to a specific topic. It’s the nature of the beast, obviously. The original “rant” was aimed at too easy a target, like shooting fish in a barrel.

  • ML June 19, 2009  

    Screw New York. Viva Pittsburgh

  • BS June 19, 2009  

    As ES’ ridiculously snobby NYC bureau chief, I feel compelled to address each of you points:
    1- OMG why are you still talking about cupcakes? They’re, like, so 2006. Where are you from, Nebraska?
    2- All joking aside, fast food is slowly but surely killing this country. If cigarette companies have to write on their packages that their products cause cancer, then why not make McDonalds post a sign in their restaurant warning customers that eating Happy Meals is about the most ridonkulously unhealthy thing you can do to your body?
    3- Fair enough–NY media gets a little ridiculously worked up about things. I’m actually a little mad that the banh mi thing got so big because they are so goddamn good, but I feel like I can’t write about them because everyone will be like, “oh please shut up about bahn mi already.” But for the record, I would totally hump the sandwich in the picture above.
    4 – I agree with Yvo. I’d rather eat food from a truck, where I can see them making it, than from a fancy restaurant that is probably more likely to have rats in the kitchen.
    5- Whiskey infused rice krispie treats??? OK, fine, you win. We are out of control ridiculous.

  • Yvo June 19, 2009  

    LOL BS love your 1st point bwahahahahah

    re point #2, is anyone as grossed out as I am to discover that a Happy Meal is about the right portion size for an adult who wants to eat at McDonald’s? And we’re feeding it to our kids!!! Or, not ‘we’ but some people are.

    Oh, and I think your entire argument, tvff, should be discounted because you used the word ‘fooderati’ which elicits in me an immediate and violent “WTF” gagging feeling.

  • Khan (as in Wrath of) June 19, 2009  

    OK, you are dead on. I do like cupcakes but for real its right up there with the girls and their “small dogs”.

    All your other points dead on but you forgot 2 major ones 1. The whole “Old Timey/Country Farm” restaurant craze. enough already. The farm was never that romantic. I have never been to a farm where the farmer sits inside wrapping organically raised loin of pork with his hydroponicly grown, pesticide free Arctic Char. It’s this whole “Limousine Liberal” idea of the farm and rustic, that does not even exist in the “country” these people imagine. Have they been to Iowa? Not some ex-NYC firefighter living off his pension at age 42 “playing at farming” “upstate type farm.

    2. The NYC food chainlets: The city prides itself on being “anti-chain” and yet, there has been a huge proliferation of “NYC-celebrity chef/mini-chains”. (BLT’s, Balthazars, Momofucko) Its a constant parade of chefs trotting out the same formulas with slightly different interiro designs. This is killing NYC creativity and vitality. So we are forced to then go to Brooklyn and endure the “Old Timey restaurant” plague…..

    Food scene here has gotten worse in past 5 years not better.

  • Yvo June 19, 2009  

    Oliver, ignoring you taking this whole post a little too seriously imo, question, where the f* are all the sports bars of which you speak? In Manhattan, I have a lot of trouble finding a good sports bar that isn’t crowded with douchebags that don’t give a shit who’s winning or who’s even playing and just want to drink till they’re shitfaced and puking on themselves.

    PS By “good” I mean one that doesn’t just turn on the Yankees games.

  • Evan June 19, 2009  

    get ready people! all restaurants and food companys that are corps. will have to blatantly list calories soon. As seen on some candy and snacks already, calories and other nutritional information is being listing on the front of the package. if you went into a fast food place and asked for the nutritional information in the last 10 yrs they were required to provide it to you. soon it will have to be plainly listed on menus, according to the FDA. the places you see now are just getting a jump on the new laws so that they can look like “good guys” who did it before everyone else.

  • TVFF June 19, 2009  

    I pissed people off…EXCELLENT! Wait until you see the response I get for the next one of these when I tear Julia Child a new one and claim that Thomas Keller is overrated.

  • Natalie June 19, 2009  

    I’m totally a foodie but I actually dig the calorie counts being posted on menus… some days you don’t mind a little indulgence other days you don’t want to slip into Al Bundy mode with a hand down your pants from being stuffed. Not cool.

  • Adam June 19, 2009  

    I think you have to pick and choose your poisons when it comes to unhealthy. Knowing exactly how awful a Big Mac is and steering away, when what I really want is a greasy taco is fine by me.

  • Adam June 20, 2009  

    I think you have to pick and choose your poisons when it comes to unhealthy. Knowing exactly how awful a Big Mac is and steering away, when what I really want is a greasy taco is fine by me.
    P.S. – Sorry, forgot to tell you great post!

  • erica June 23, 2009  

    i love foods carts, i’d so much rather walk to one, have a lovely one minute chat with the same person that is always there (because there are no waitstaff), get amazing food much cheaper (less overhead), and stay outdoors through the entire process. faster, cheaper, better. Portland has some amazing food carts, if you were here you’d be hearing all about the Koi Fusion korean taco fad.

  • Michael June 26, 2009  

    great post!

    Cupcakes, sick of them.

    Bahn Mi, how can this craze slip under your radar? I’ve never even had one and I’m sick of them. They look delicious though. I thought maybe Bo Kho would be big, did I miss something or is that a craze yet?

    New Yorkers ARE really crazy about crazes. I mostly ignore the food journalism, stay off the avenues as much as possible, and hope for the best.

  • Justin January 22, 2013  

    That was barely a critique of the NY foodie scene. The only good point you made (unintentionally it seems since you didn’t include it in your 5) wasn’t even about the scene, it was about how most of NYC restaurants sacrifice substance for style, which is pretty much how I would characterize all the restaurants in times square, and hells kitchen starting at 57th street to 14th street on 9th avenue.

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