NYC Coffee: Who reigns supreme?

At some point circa 16 years old, I discovered coconut coffee and started drinking it regularly. Having lived across the highway and then some from the nearest Dunkin Donuts, I would drive there early on Monday Mornings to buy one of those extra massive 36-oz cups and a few 8 oz cups to match. Then, I'd keep the larger container in my parents fridge and heat up a cup each morning for the next 3-4 days, satisfying my teenage sweet tooth. After a few weeks of this, however, even my  immature taste buds knew something was wrong. Apparently, old coffee isn't as tasty as a freshly brewed cup. Who'd a thunk it? 

That was my first early lesson on a good cup o' joe: freshly brewed is best. And of course, freshly ground is even better. And good, filtered water is an absolute must.

Over the course of time, I went through various coffee phases. During college, thanks to a hefty monthly food allowance (hey, Dad!) I enjoyed the daily consumption of skinny vanilla lattes from Starbucks. Post college and no longer free-wheeling it off my parents' funds, I formed a McDonald's coffee addiction (and a hash brown one, too, but that's for a different day). Surprisingly, Mccy D's has a solid cup of coffee and it's always $1, regardless the size. But when I really want a good caffeine fix, I go to Rook in my hometown. Without going too deep into the rabbit hole regarding my undying love and obsession with Rook coffee, let me just put it simply: it's the best cup of coffee you will ever taste. They treat coffee beans like any other crop and buy seasonally. They pack the beans in single-serving airtight containers to preserve freshness. And then they make you a freshly ground, freshly brewed (in, of course, good filtered water) delicious cup of coffee. No lattes, no cappuccinos, no frills. Just good coffee from around the world.

So, NOW, with the understanding that there is, very unfortunately, no Rook in NYC (yet!), allow me to suggest my personal favorite coffee joints in the big apple.

For a single-drip AND the best espresso: JOE COFFEE

Quite honestly, if I was giving an award for best experience, it would also go to Joe's. Each shop I have visited is inviting, clean and friendly. 

For a solid cup and a bite: BIRCH 

Always bustling, always reliable. 

For that french-press craving: GREGORY'S 

I'm a french-press fiend. When brewed correctly, it's richer and stronger and I can buzz 12 hours off of it.

For something fancy.. MAGNOLIA BAKERY

Magnolia Bakery does lattes like nobody's business. For a hint of luxury, go late morning on a Saturday, order the chai latte, add a famous cupcake to your order, and then sit back and enjoy breakfast overlooking one of the many cute streets Magnolia happens to be situated on (Ahem, Columbus and W 69th!)

For the best iced coffee... MOLLYS MILK TRUCK

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Available in whole foods and (eventually) most bodegas, this is hands down the best iced coffee you'll ever taste. It has almond milk, agave and some spice to it, but the shot of espresso (RedEye version) really takes it over the top. Plus, Molly's is the ONLY coffee I can consume when hungover - it's that good. 

**when in doubt or when looking for an affordable and reliable option, I always go with street cart coffee. Not only is the cart on 51&7th serving up delicious coffee, but there's nothing quite like putting money directly into the hands of the guy pouring you a cup o joe!

Sonoma: Wine Country in Pictures

And on the last day, God made wine... isn't that how it goes?  At the least, that's how it went for us!

See the pics below for a small snapshot of the day. And if you'd like to scope out the awesome accommodations Ana found us in Healdsburg, see here!

San Francisco Day 2: steep Hills, tears & bicycle beers

After an active day on the water and a few evening cocktails in Luke and Ana’s sweet new loft, I was feeling pretty hungry come morning. Luckily, they just happen to live right around the bend from an old, tiny diner in Oakland called “Lois’ Pies” which serves up southern specialties and prides itself on, you guessed it, pies.

Certain eateries just have something to their aesthetic that lets you know they’re going to be good, and Lois’ is one of those places.

It wasn’t until we sat down that we learned Lois’ was a pretty famous spot. Lois herself is the adoptive mother to Reggie Jackson.

The vibe was warm and the food was good. After meals like this, we were ready to take on the day!

Prior to jumping further into today’s post, I should circle back to a brief conversation Luke and I had during our redwoods/SUP day. See, Ana and Luke had initially been living directly in San Francisco for the past few months in a sublet. The day before my arrival (literally), they moved across the bridge to Oakland. For those unaware, Oakland is somewhat comparable to Brooklyn or Asbury Park, circa 10 years ago.

In terms of energy, my entire Oakland experience was an excessively friendly, quintessentially-Californian one. From the coffee shop owner who absolutely insisted upon giving me a free cup when I realized my credit card wasn’t working to the eclectic group of locals that stopped by their loft to say hello and welcome them to the neighborhood, Oakland felt charming and unique.

When I shared this observation with Luke, he told me how he not only felt the same, but felt that people in Oakland were significantly kinder than those in San Francisco. Interesting, right?

Now, fast-forward to Friday afternoon in Haight-Ashbury. We planned on riding bikes around the city and since I couldn’t fit mine in my carry-on, we had to rent one for me. As we approached a small bike shop, I went to slide past a man halfway in the doorway to scope out the bikes. What then ensued was one of the more unnecessary and unprovoked confrontations that I’ve experienced in a long time.

And, look, I’m from Jersey. 

When faced with a rude stranger, my initial reaction is generally to snap back. It’s something in my DNA… thanks a lot, Dad. 

However (and as my boyfriend will tell you), I sometimes find myself trapped in a figurative glass case of emotion. This, unfortunately, is also something in my DNA... thanks a lot, Mom.

Much to my dismay, the latter occurred and… I just started crying. In public. And fled to the bar next door. It wasn’t embarrassing at all.

P.S. the irony of this occurring in the center of Haight-Ashbury, the neighborhood known for being the origin of effing hippie subculture, did not escape me. Hashtag Blessed. 

After recovering from a few tears-over-nothing, I emerged from el bano to find mom & dad (i.e. Luke and Ana) at the bar poised to welcome me back to emotional stability with a sympathy beer! We finished our Guinnesses and meandered down the block where I was able to successfully rent a bike from a much nicer group of San Francisco(ines/ites/ans?). 

Then, as a finer version of hell's angels, we took off into the day, making our first stop at Inspiration Point.

We then maneuvered down to the Palace of Fine Arts and biked through the posh Marina area.

Soon enough, we figured it was time for another drink and some food. Down in the Cow Hollow area, we posted up at  Pacific Catch for some wine and fried seafood. That calamari though… #OMNOMNOM

We then made our way up to Russian Hill and rode our bikes down the steepest street in America, Lombard Street, which was both terrifying and exciting. A few people walking up the winding road gave me very justified looks of doubt that seemed to say “eh, really?”

Luckily, we survived. Cruising back to the Marina/Cow Hollow area, we finally ended our 3.5-hour bike tour and celebrated with a shot and a beer.

In a sad attempt at rallying for the evening, we made one last stop at Peet’s coffee shop for espresso. Instead of rousing my party energy, I think the warm chai flavor just made me that much more ready for bed.

San Francisco & The Gift of Adventurous Friends

Preface:

Meet Ana. Full Russian, Ana was born and bred in Sweden for the first 16 years of her life before immigrating to America to finish high school and go off to the University of Maryland for college. She has no concept of time or distance (seriously, I wouldn’t put it past her to drive three hours and back just for a lunch date) and somehow possesses an endless repository of energy. The first time we ever went out together, I came home without any shoes on.

In short, she’s “my crazy Russian friend.”

Naturally, though, she is much more than this. She’s cultured, kind-hearted and very sharp. However, her open-minded, adventurous spirit is pretty unparalleled and, to me, that makes for the best of friends.

Having recently moved out to San Francisco to work for Apple (#bosslady), I purposely conjured up time between jobs for a trip to visit her in her new digs. Here’s how it went.

Part 1: Taquerias, Redwoods & Sea Lions, OH MY!

Upon arriving, Ana instructed me to take a cab downtown to a taqueria named “lolo.” As the cab pulled up to the address, I noticed two things: a shady-looking place across the street called “The Make Out Room” and a sign on Lolo’s door that was being flipped to “Closed.” Oh, Ana.


Luckily, Lolo had a sister restaurant down the block so I made my way over to Valencia Street and met Ana and her boyfriend Luke. Unfortunately my taste buds overthrow my brain when food is in front of me and I didn’t get any pictures of the spread, but it was phenomenal. Here’s a small idea of what it’s like, thanks to #Instagram.

While Ana had to go to work the next morning, her boyfriend, Luke, who is also coasting on his last days of funemployment had plenty planned for a solid first day.

Instead of touring the city, we skipped town and drove through the uniquely winding hills that are so synonymous with the California coastline. We dipped in and out of fat pockets of gorgeous redwoods and emerged each time to find an expansive view of mountains beside a crisp, rolling ocean. John Muir State Park welcomed us onto roads with fitting names like “Panoramic Hwy. The fog was nowhere to be found.

Finally landing in a tiny community in Stinson Park, we took out the stand up paddle boards for an epic session. While Luke played in the waves, I snuck into the nearby estuary to do some exploring. Almost immediately, my curiosity was rewarded. I had a close up encounter with a sea lion, followed by a 5-minute paddle alongside a large stingray and my first-ever baby sand shark sighting!

The coolest part came about an hour into the mini-exploration. I heard some noises and couldn’t figure out what they were. As I paddled around the calm back area, I skimmed past a few large sandbars at a distance but didn’t notice anything much.

At first, that is.

When I looked and listened a little closer, I noticed around fifty beached seals, hanging out on a sandbar about 50 yards from me. Having rolled around in the sand, they were difficult to discern from far away. A few more strokes toward them and about 20 seals started flopping their way into the water.

So as not to frighten them, I slowed down and took a seat on my board. Soon enough, I had a whole group of interested,  new friends just a few feet from me! I am really bummed I didn’t have a waterproof camera of sorts to capture the moment, but as my mother likes to say “sometimes the greatest moments are best left to be captured only in memory.” I’ll trust you on this one, Mama bear.

Before leaving, I did get some photographic proof. Lucky for all of you, not only is there this solid shot...

but there are all of these leading up , too: 

To top things off, Luke introduced me to The Lunch Box and I had my first-ever salmon po’boy.  BOOM.  

New Yorkers: How to Weekday Staycation

There are myriad ways to spend a free day in New York, not one of which are "wrong" per se. Between five boroughs, 800+ languages and enough cuisines and cultural events to match, excitement lies every day in every pocket of this great, vast grid we call home. That being said, allow me to now share with you how I decided to spend the past few glorious days off. 

I am currently transitioning jobs and decided to take a little time off in between. At first, I was apprehensive to take more than a long weekend, but after some thinking, I changed my mind. And let me tell ya, I'm glad I did. This break has been a truly wonderful period of reflection, enjoyment and relaxation. At a time when spring is finally coming out of it's half-frozen shell, 10 days off couldn't have been more aptly received. 

1. Head to the Museum

One of the greatest aspects of this city is its rich collections of art and history. But, what New Yorker wants to spend their free Saturday afternoon being suffocated by throngs of crowds just to get a short-lived peek into some of even the most wonderful exhibits? This past Monday, I grabbed a cappuccino from my favorite cafe, Cafe Lalo, and strolled over to the American Museum of Natural History. I most enjoyed the Butterfly Conservatory (duh), the Hayden Big Bang theater, and the Countdown to Zero (Disease Eradication) exhibit. My entire experience was easy, swift, and relatively quiet. I spent a solid 20-25 minutes in the tiny conservatory with 500+ butterflies and maybe 10 other people, tops. I waited less than 4 minutes for the Big Bang theater, and was virtually the only person in the Disease Eradication exhibit. 

If you have only one thing to do on a free weekday in New York, this is it. 

2. SPA (affordably!)

Yes, I know. I adore spas. But, who doesn't? With some nifty research and calculated planning, I've been able to score hour-long massages for as little as $30 in the city. That, however, did not come without its fair share of work. I've used deal sites like Groupon or memberships like CandleSpas and then literally had to plan 4-8 weeks ahead of time for a weekend pampering session. Why? Because you don't get massages that cheap without it coming at a price -- the price being convenience due to mass competition for weekend appointments by other "savvy" New Yorkers who are doing the same exact thing.

However, if you've ever tried to schedule a spa appointment Monday-Friday, the tides radically shift. Spas are virtually empty during the week and you can schedule one as little as 24 hours ahead of time usually. So, when I received a nice little text from Red & White spa in Soho advertising their 50-minute massage & 50-minute facial for $99 total, viable during the dates I was conveniently on staycation, I jumped at the chance. What ensued was a luxurious friday afternoon at one of my favorite spas, feeling like a total princess.

3. Shop

Whether we're talking clothes shopping, food shopping or simply window shopping, shopping in New York on the weekend can be stressful. Like most other activities, everybody's doing it. On an easy Tuesday, however, it's so peaceful it's almost, dare I say, therapeutic. I took the liberty to skim thrift-store racks for some new spring clothes (sans the dressing room wait) before navigating empty aisles of full shelves at Trader Joes. On the way home, I slowly enjoyed the magnificence that is Columbus Avenue in the sunshine, without being shouldered by pedestrian traffic. Though, it's admittedly always a little calmer on the Upper West, this was even surprisingly enjoyable for me. In the evening, I dressed up in my new spring finds and crafted a delicious spread of charcuterie and wine for dinner... on my own couch, in my own little apartment.

Q&A with John Ridley & 5 Things About American Crime

It's cliche to say to begin a sentence with "it isn't every day..." but it really isn’t every day that you have the chance to meet an Academy Award winning writer. So, when I recently heard that John Ridley would be gracing Norwood Club with his presence, I immediately jumped at the opportunity. Beyond taking home the 2013 Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay for 12 Years A Slave, Ridley is also the mastermind behind ABC’s current drama, American Crime and is slated to further impress the masses next year with a new Marvel series.

All. Hail.

The talk was moderated by highly esteemed Journalist and author of “Columbine” Dave Cullen, who, surprise, did a phenomenal job co-piloting Ridley as he navigated the American Crime landscape and its spectrum of hot points. Over what seemed to be the shortest hour of all time, I picked up a number of interesting American CrimemorselsHere were my five favorites:

American Crime is not about the trial, it’s about the people.

While the series is centered around a racially charged murder and the ensuing trial, don’t mistake it for an indie Law & Order (though, another thing I learned from the talk was just how difficult writing for Law & Order and all of those plot-always-changing series must be. But, I digress.) American Crime focuses on the multifaceted human aspect of each character and storyline. The show is not meant to exist in definitives, but rather, to flourish in the very gray nature of mankind.

Editing is (almost) everything.

Editors are artists. This was a significant take-away from the discussion. As an audience, we cannot possibly identify key edits in a film or show. After all, that’s the whole point of editing. However, Ridley gave great praise to the American Crime editing team, reminding us once more that what happens behind the cameras is just as critical as what happens in front of them.

American Crime is sort of like… American Horror Story?

And, no, not because of excessive gore, thankfully. American Crime is similar to American Horror story in that, if it returns for a second season, it will present an all new plot with an all new cast in an all new city.

The season was written without regard for commercial breaks.

Again, this is the type of tidbit that most people might shrug their shoulders at. However, anyone in writing-for-TV or TV productions will tell you that to write without regard for commercial breaks is almost unheard of. Think about it: what keeps you from switching the channel when the commercials come on? Sure, you may watch a show regularly and so you may be inclined to stay tuned, but could a quick 2-minute flip to “Big Bang” reallyhurt? Well, if you’re left with a mini cliffhanger, you probably won’t want to risk missing the opening scene upon return. Thus, writing for commercial breaks. However, Ridley’s strategy when taking on American Crime was to write with so much emotional velocity that each and every scene was as powerful and engaging as the next. #Ambition, #achieved.

It was also written mostly by people of color and directed principally by women

Of course, this doesn’t need much explaining. However, in a world and certainly an industry where both groups are largely underrepresented, it is absolutely worth noting.

A HUGE thank you to the Norwood family, Dave Cullen, and of course, Mr. Ridley himself! 

Eating Our Way through Annapolis

If this title doesn't speak for itself, allow me to translate: we went HAM in the eating department during our trip to Annapolis last weekend. That's "HAM" as in Hard as a Motherf*cker for anyone who hasn't listened to rap in the past two years. What can I say? I'm a big fan of getting to know a place through its food and I'm also a big fan of taking pictures of my food. So, deal with it. Below, I've crafted up the perfect "1-Day in Annapolis" foodies adventure. 

But before I get to that... I have to say that first and foremost, we were SO fortunate to be in town for the weekend to join friend's Taylor & Dominick West in their wedding festivities! We had an amazing time dancing up a storm and throwing them back on friday night. Here's a sneak peak:

As for the 1-Day menu...

We woke up Saturday totally flustered and eager to get outside into the nice weather. Wrongly assuming that everyone else had gone to visit the Cherry Blossoms in D.C., Matt and I scooted downtown by ourselves and went to the famous Miss Shirley's Cafe. While there was a wait (as there apparently always is) it was a swift 35 minutes. During this time, we were able to sit outside in the sunshine and enjoy one of their delicious craft Bloody Mary's while we waited. 

Then we ordered two dishes that only made sense given we were back down in Maryland: a crab & bacon omelet and chicken and savory waffles. Naturally, neither dish disappointed.

Next, we drove down to the inner harbor and took our first selfie as a couple. Major milestones all around!

We strolled around the gorgeous downtown area and for a moment, I blacked out and thought I was still in school at UMD, so I bought a few pairs of Sperrys. Then, we continued up on the cobblestone streets toward the state house and caught a guy playing the Game of Thrones theme song on the violin. Then, I blacked out again and forgot we just ate breakfast. Cue, ice cream from Kilwins.

Around this time, we received a text from Matt's brother Dylan to meet them at McGarvey's back down by the water. This is when we realized that we were, for the first time in history, the first of the group to have left the hotel that day. Apparently, everyone else was just beginning brunch. To make sure we were contributing still, we helped them out with some shrimp and oysters.

After a much-needed nap back at the hotel, we all hopped aboard a party bus and ended the evening at Cantlers for about 8 dozen amazing crabs. Does it get more Maryland than this!?

My Favorite Mexican Spots

I am currently eating rice & beans as I’m typing this - with avocado, naturally. I'm also salivating for a margarita.

Needless to say, I love Mexican/Latin American food. It’s delicious, refreshing and healthy. AND it’s affordable – or, at least, it should be (which is partially why neither Dos Caminos nor Rosa Mexicana are on the following list). So, if you dig good margaritas and freshly-made guac, look no further. I’ve got you covered on my favorite Mexican spots in NYC: 

For a Quick Bite… El Mitote, Upper West Side

Fate may have brought me to the Upper West, but El Mitote is keeping me here. Located on 69th & the ever-gorgeous Columbus Ave., this place has the inviting ambiance of a West Village restaurant with the prices and speed of a fast-food joint. El Mitote boasts Mexican sandwiches, akin to Bahn Mi, which I’ve never seen on another menu. While the sandwiches are bomb, my personal favorite is the 3-per-order soft-shell tacos. These come in around $7 and are overflowing with the plumpest shrimp and the freshest, crunchiest cabbage you’ve ever eaten. Each table also gets a slew of homemade condiments and pickled toppings (who doesn’t love condiments?). Mexican beers sit around $5-$6 and the margaritas, while a little higher on the price-scale at $10 ($7 during HH), do come in fun flavors and mason jars.  All of this together gets El Mitote 5 stars for the best bang-for-your-buck!

For a date… Mole, West Village

Located romantically at the corner of Jane and Hudson, Mole is one of those restaurants that remind you of why you love New York so damn much. Al fresco dining is met by a cozy interior, making it welcoming any time of year. The food is fresh, well-presented and often served table-side. Plus, the $5 happy hour gets you everything from Guac to Margs, making it the perfect price point for a first or tenth date. I mostly enjoy Mole because, even though it’s super affordable, it has a semi-upscale, tempered vibe and is the sort of place where you can truly slow down, kick back, and enjoy the one you’re with. 

For the girls… Ofrenda, West Village

New York is a tough place to have a “go-to spot.” There’s just so many bars and restaurants and, being a foodie, it’s hard to go back to a place more than once. That said, Ofrenda is my go-to spot for ladies night. I’ve gone a handful of times, always recommend it, and it never disappoints. It’s situated directly on bustling 7th ave. and is straddled by rainbow-laden gay bars, which makes it all the more easier to keep the energy high and the vibes good. I suggest making a reservation and keeping your party at 6 or less – it’s a small place, but has a great open-air feel to it. The prickly pear and jalepeno margaritas are truly unparalleled and the Queso Fundido and Pork Belly tacos are sure to give you a good drinking base for wherever you head out to next.

Upper West Brunch: Cotta vs. Jacob's Pickles

At some point during senior year of college, my friend Megan and I decided that we were changing career paths. Instead of going into Law and Business, we planned on starting what we dubbed “Brunch Bloggers,” which, as you may have already guessed, included a “job” where we went to brunch and blogged about it. And somehow got paid. While we knew it would be hard work, we figured that if anyone was cut out for it, it was us. We then told our parents about it, to which they responded: No. And even though we’re #IndependentWomen, we were like, okay fine, maybe I see your point. Needless to say, Brunch Bloggers was put on hold.

Temporarily.

Fast forward four years to the present. While we still haven’t figured out a way to get people to pay us to eat, it hasn’t stopped us from doing some serious brunching – serious enough, in fact, that I am now launching a brand new brunch series on Tangent Pursuit! It had to be a series because, let’s get real, it’d be silly to try to fit all of NYC’s amazing brunch options into one post.  To start, I’ll be spotlighting my two favorite jams on the Upper Best – I’m sorry, Upper West Side:

Jacob’s Pickles vs. Osteria Cotta

Jacob's Overview

JP doles out southern food with a Jewish twist in a craftsmen-style restaurant with high-ceilings and an even higher energy. Admittedly, his best dishes aren’t always the healthiest, but the food somehow still remains startlingly refreshing despite this. And there’s a range of options. The fried chicken is, naturally, bomb diggity. My personal favorite go-to item for brunch, though, is The Coop Platter which includes 3 fresh eggs, sterling bacon, sausage patties, heavenly grits, hash browns and a biscuit… for $15. Yes, I dream about it. Pair breakfast with an Apple Pie moonshine, Rosemary Vodka Lemonade or a Bloody with thick-cut bacon and you’re golden.

What else? 

This place is sort of trending right now, so the biggest drawback there is the wait. You can make a reservation only for 6 or more people. Otherwise, be prepared to wait 1-2 hours. As long as you plan for this, it’s not a big deal. They send a text when your table is ready and there’s a number of bars in the area to grab a drink at and kick back (my top suggestions: Café Lalo, E’s Bar and Fred’s)

Osteria Cotta Overview

Cotta specializes in fresh, flavorful Italian in an equally as fresh and airy-yet-homey/wooden atmosphere. They also have a really neat upstairs area with a semi-hidden backroom, which makes it especially romantic in the winter. But, of course, they have an abundance of outdoor seating which makes the place especially coveted in the warmer months, too. Also, IMHO, their pizza is some of the absolute best in the entire city. The brunch menu includes your standard omelets and eggs benedict, but with an Italian flair (think: prosciutto instead of ham, etc.). Their baked eggs in creamy polenta and mushroom or spicy tomato sauce provide a deliciously unique angle to the menu. The Buon Giorno Pizza (which includes eggs, sausage and bacon) also didn’t look too shabby. I’ll be trying that next time.

What else? 

The real kicker? For $24, you can get any brunch entrée and 2 hours of endless cocktails. While it’s not the same craft-cocktail experience you receive over at JP’s, this definitely isn’t your typical midtown boozy brunch. The ingredients are still well thought-out and the presentation matches the taste. Plus, you can change from Bloody > Mimosa > Cotta’s Sangria.

Overall, both have phenomenal food, great prices and awesome wait staff with a young, appealing atmosphere. Jacob’s Pickles is, again, a bit more on trend, but that scene also comes with an added hectic nature as well. If you’re going with a group and can make a reservation, hit up Jacob’s Pickles. If you’re looking for a spur-of-the-moment brunch date with your significant other or a small group of ladies, then Cotta it is!