Inside the Borscht Belt

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During the late 19th and early 20th century, groups of Eastern European immigrants came to New York City, settling in what is now the East Village.  While the demographic of the East Village has since changed (it’s now known as a center for New York’s youth culture), many old Eastern European restaurants remain in the area, delicious reminders of a bygone past.  I recently came across an article listing some of the best restaurants this neighborhood has to offer, and thought that I would try some.  So far, I’ve been to three of them: Kafana, Little Poland and Ukrainian East Village.

Kafana Meat

A plate piled high with meat at Kafana.

Kafana is a charming little Serbian cafe on Avenue C, which serves as a base for the area’s Serbian community; at any given time, it’s likely that you’ll be the only person there speaking English.  They have an impressive and diverse list of delicious Balkan wine and beer.  Upon entering the restaurant, a heavily-accented waitress brought over a bread bowl along with “ajvar”, a delicious Serbian vegetable spread made from eggplants and red peppers, and then explained the specials.  I ended up having cepavi, a traditional Serbian hamburger, served inside a tasty flatbread, creamy cheese spread and diced onions.  My friend had a delicious stew, made up of lamb and spinach.  Both dishes were phenomenal, and reasonably priced (at least by New York’s standards), although the restaurant only accepts cash, so if you choose to visit the restaurant (which I recommend without hesitation), plan accordingly.

bigos bread bowl

Bigos from Little Poland, served in a bread bowl.

Little Poland, as the name implies, serves traditional Polish food in a setting reminiscent of a 1970s-era diner.  Visiting Little Poland, I wasn’t entirely sure what I wanted to eat, so I ordered a “Polish platter”, which is made up of kielbasa, bigos (a tasty stew made up of cabbage and pork), stuffed cabbage and pierogis (they let you choose what fillings you want; I got potato and sweet cheese), all with a generous helping of sour cream.  All of it was delicious, particularly the bigos, although I left feeling uncomfortably full.

Ukrainian East Village is a restaurant located inside the Ukrainian East Village Home, a cultural center for the area’s historic Ukrainian community; the block where the restaurant/center is located is dotted with Ukrainian businesses and signs in Cyrillic.  The interior restaurant feels like an old, Soviet-bloc summer camp, with a brown wood wall and floor and paintings of rural Slavic life.  I ordered the “Ukrainian platter” at the restaurant, which had much in common with the “Polish platter” from Little Poland (the only real difference was the first word).  Ultimately, however, I would have to say that the Polish platter was much better, although that’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy the Ukrainian restaurant.  I also heard that you can order vareniki (the Ukrainian equivalent of pierogi) from the adjoining bar.

There are plenty of other restaurants in this article that I have yet to visit, although I plan to soon.  One that I’m actually very keen on trying is the Georgian restaurant; Georgian food is widely hailed across the former Soviet Union for being some of the most delicious in the world.

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New EU Law

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It looks like a new law has been passed in Europe; the top European court has backed the “right to be forgotten”, and has declared that Google must delete “inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant” data from its results when a member of the public requests it.  The test case came up in GoogleUSpain, where Maria Costeja Gonzalez tried to get an auction notice for his reposessed home taken off of Google after the matter was resolved, and he claimed it was should no longer be linked to him whenever his name was searched on Google.  He says that he was fighting for the elimnation of data that “adversely affects peoples’ honor” and exposes their private lives.

The EU court judges ruled that under existing protection laws, Google has to erage links to two pages from the results for Costeja Gonzalez’ name.  They made clear that in their view, the EU data protection directive already established a “right to be forgotten”, which seems to pre-empt lengthy negotiations within the EU over a new data protection directive which would establish this right.  Data that had to be erased could appear to be inadequate, irrelevant or excessive in light of the amount of time that had elapsed.  In addition, they said, even accurate data that had been lawfully published at first could eventually get removed with time.  In technical terms, this ruling establishes that a search engine like Google must be regarded as a “data controller” under the data protection laws in EU countries where it establishes a branch to promote and sell advertising.

The judges also clarified that there is a balancing public interest defense against deletion, especially if the individual is involved in public life.  The case is the first of over 200 cases against Google in which Spanish citizens wanted the Google to delete personal information about them from their search results.  The ruling makes clear that a search engine has to take responsibility as a “data controller” for the content that it links to, and may be required to purge its results even if the material was previously published legally.  Google, therefore, could no longer be regarded legally as a “neutral intermediary”.  According to law experts, this ruling could give the go-ahead to deletion requests of material including photographs of embarrassing photos and even social media websites, which could lead to a reimagining in the way they handle links to content of the web.

Google is disappointed in the ruling, noting that it contradicts the advocate general’s opinion and the warnings and consequences that such an action would entail.  They now need to fully analyze the implications of this ruling.

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Best NYC Barbecue

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New York is famous the world over as a center of business, culture and world-class cuisine.  However, there is one thing that New York isn’t that well-known for: barbecue.  Traditionally a southern tradition, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a truly stellar rack of ribs on the streets of this northern concrete jungle.  Nonetheless, you know what they say: if you can’t find it in New York, you won’t find it anywhere.  And indeed, if you look in the right places in this city, you’ll find that there’s some excellent barbecue.  I recently came across an article that discusses the top barbecue places in the City.

Fette Sau
A heaping pile of barbecue from Fette Sau.

I’ve actually had the pleasure of going to Fette Sau, which has been dubbed by food critics as the “king” of New York’s barbecue scene.  Housed in a converted garage, this place serves fantastic smoked meats by the pound, such as pulled pork, loin chops, brisket, smoked sausage and pork belly.  For a little bit extra, you can get a side of baked beans, which themselves are pretty meaty.  If you want my suggestion, I would say that you try the fatty pork belly, succulent and smoked to perfection.

Although it’s originally a Syracuse institution, Dinosaur Bar-B-Que has since expanded, and has locations throughout both Upstate New York and the Tri-State area.  I know several people who went to Syracuse University, all of whom have sung the praises of Dinosaur Bar-B-Que with its smoked pork ribs and beef brisket.  Lucky for barbecue connoisseurs, they have two locations in New York: one in Harlem, and another in Brooklyn.

True barbecue is meant to be only an occasional treat, which is perhaps why portions at barbecue joints are so massive, and designed to feed you until you literally cannot eat any more.  This is a concept that Hill Country Barbecue Market fully understand, as they serve patrons giant heaps of brisket and sides in the traditional Central Texas-style barbecue fashion.

Mighty Quinn's
An employee at Mighty Quinn’s chops up some ribs.

I’ve been to Mighty Quinn’s several times, and whenever I do go, the place is packed to the gills with people of all ages eager to sink their teeth into some delicious barbecue.  The last time I went here, a woman actually tried to get into a fight with me because she thought that I cut her in line!  Normally, I would have dismissed this as somebody just being ridiculous, but after I sunk my teeth into their delicious meats, I totally understood.  In addition, the line is located near the “smoking” area, where the intoxicating scent of smoked meat practically drives you into a frenzy.

John Brown Smokehouse, located in Long Island City, makes a great slab of Kansas City-style barbecue, with a menu that ranges between brisket sandwiches to pork ribs.  Their best, however, are the crispy, sweet “burnt ends” that come in both sandwich form and by the pound.  In addition, the beer garden out back offers a great selection of beers, all of which go excellently with barbecue.

In Jackson Heights, Alchemy is a legend of sorts.  There’s a bar out front, but it’s in the barbecue pit out back where the real magic happens, in the form of baby-back ribs, pulled pork, short ribs, brisket sandwiches and various other delights that you can smother in Carolina-style vinegar sauce.

Fort Reno made headlines in the barbecue scene with a bbq smoked fish sandwich that they brought to the festival Tasting Brooklyn.  While this has yet to make it onto the menu, that doesn’t mean Fort Reno doesn’t have a lot to offer barbecue enthusiasts, whether it’s St. Louis-style ribs, chicken or fatty brisket.

Dan Delaney’s brisket, made legendary at Briskettown, has caused quite a stir.  His Brisketlab series sold 2,500 pounds of meat in only 48 hours, so this is a man who understood the ways of the smokehouse.  At Briskettown, Dan Delaney opens at 6:30pm, and stays open until he sells out of mean.

Shilla NYC
Some Kalbi roasting on a grill at Shilla.

Out of all of the entries in the article, the only non-American barbecue joint was Shilla, located in Manhattan’s K-Town.  Walking through the streets of K-Town, it seems like every other building is some sort of Korean barbecue, each one offering a new type of treat.  Shilla’s got plenty of excellent treats, but their best are probably the marinated Kalbi and Bulgogi.  For those who haven’t tried Korean barbecue before, I would highly suggest it; I haven’t been to Shilla before (I’ve been to Miss Korea Barbecue, which was excellent), but it’s on the list.

Last, but certainly not least, on this list of good barbecue joints is Daisy May’s BBQ, located on the far western side of Manhattan.  Those who are interested in taking the hike to Daisy May’s shall be rewarded with wonderful varieties of ribs, chicken and numerous sides.  One big highlight is the Big Pig Gig: for $479.99, you and 11 friends can feast on a 30-pound pig, complete with fixings.

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