San Antonio might seem like a mild-mannered city with its gently flowing River Walk, but don’t count us out completely when it comes trendy eats and sips. We might not have cronuts yet, but our burgeoning food and nightlife scene is keeping pace with some of the Big Apple’s and Brooklyn’s most buzzed-about joints.
Jaded Manhattanites are beginning to cloy of über-hip Brooklyn as brand. Based on admittedly limited observation during a recent visit, I’m at least willing to lend a sympathetic ear—especially when the no-reservations ethos is included. Here’s why:
The preliminary planning included an obligatory stop at Pok Pok, the wildly popular Brooklyn outpost of Portland’s Andy Ricker — a chef who spends great gobs of time each year in Northern Thailand perfecting his craft. So I convinced two otherwise Manhattan-bound friends to make the schlep to deepest, darkest Trendtown. It took an hour by both subway and bus, coupled with an hour’s wait (you have to get there and put your name on a list; often the wait is even longer). We were finally ushered into an unpretentious backyard casually draped in small globe lights and adorned with plants stuck into milk cartons. Yup, hip.
Yet the experience was not life-changing. Yes, we liked the tamarind and drinking vinegar-spiked whiskey sour, and the smoky grilled eggplant and the Northern Thai sweet pork belly and pork shoulder curry were truly exceptional. But I’d not be ashamed to take any out-of-town guests to South Texas’ own Siam Cuisine (no wait at its Four Oaks shopping center location in Schertz) for dishes from Northern, Central, and Southern Thailand, or to Bangkok Cuisine (8214 Pat Booker) for an equally invigorating exploration of eggplant, like the curry with the crunchy, green globe variety. We have folks making drinking vinegars here, too. Check out Shrub Drinks at Sunday’s Quarry Farmers and Ranchers Market.
Back in Manhattan, there has been almost as much hype surrounding Big Gay Ice Cream, initially a truck. Could be that it was late at night and I had developed a blister from much walking both above and below ground, but I was not blown away by my Salty Pimp — despite its name. Dulce de leche and sea salt, coupled to a chocolate dip, does much to enliven vanilla soft-serve ice cream. But not enough. Could be I should have gone for the Cococone with its curried coconut coat, but I’m perfectly happy not to have to wait in (or on, as New Yorkers would say) line for my scooped cone at Brindles (11255 Huebner) or Justin’s (in Rio Plaza on the River Walk).
Then there are the watering holes. About PDT, down some steps into the Crif hot dog joint, then through a phone booth (if you get through, even with a reservation), I say WTF. Death & Company also requires a wait, but it’s much more civilized about it, and the drinks are exquisitely calibrated; I especially like the Sforzando with rye, mezcal, Bénédictine, Dolin, and chocolate bitters. But we have equally well-honed cocktails at Blue Box (at the Pearl) or Brooklynite (516 Brooklyn), and if you toss Death & Co.’s excellent snacks into the equation, we can do that too at Arcade Midtown Kitchen, also at the Pearl.
I’m not suggesting you stay home, far from it. But if you feel stuck here, get a life: there is one.
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