Summer Activity #11: Hudson River Cafe – “View v. Food”

NYC's Hudson River Cafe for BrunchHudson River Cafe
Neighborhood: West Harlem
Venue: Restaurant, Lounge
Atmosphere: Trendy, Fashionable
People: Young, Urban, Diverse
Rating: 3

I don’t think there is another place in the world where the people love a good brunch as much as New Yorkers do. People here clamor for brunch, arranging some of their biggest, most social, most important events around 11am to 2pm on a weekend, just so they can enjoy choosing between a burger and pancakes for their first meal of the day.

And while I know that brunch is nothing more than the weekend version of a local diner at noon during the weekday lunch rush, I still enjoy having my pancakes and cocktails from time to time.

So I finally got out to a place on “100 Things to do in NYC” list that I have always been meaning to try during brunch time: Hudson River Café. Hudson River Café (697 West 133rd St, Harlem, NYC) is located a pretty good ways away from the nearest public transportation option at 133rd Street and the Hudson River. However, it’s outdoor seating and views of the water make it worthy of the trip uptown—or in my case, the trip a few blocks and avenues away.

As for the food, it wasn’t “horrible,” but the entree options on the brunch menu certainly were not eye-opening. Their menu had just enough variety that most people could find something on it worthy of eating. My vegetarian girlfriend went with the French toast, of which Hudson River did provide a pretty big helping. However, their French toast was no better than any other decent rendition I have had in the past.

I had the 8 oz. Kobe Beef burger. Unlike the French toast, the burger did not live up to even the most lenient of standards. I would have much rather have paid $25 (the cost of the prix fixe menu) and made 20 cheeseburgers at home. Hudson River Cafe’s burger was bland, tasteless, and didn’t come across as being 8 oz. worth of beef either. It was probably that frozen Kobe beef you can get at Trader Joe’s, and if that’s the case, shame on you Hudson River Café!

The fact that Hudson River Café has an unlimited drink special as a part of its prix fixe brunch did salvage their bad-to-mediocre food service. I went with the classic Mimosa, which had a nice little kick to it. Unfortunately, as we experienced with everything else we required from our waitress, we had to wait quite a while to have our drinks refilled. That may be okay when I’m ordering drink by drink, but when they have an all-you-can-drink special going on, Hudson River Café should know that they can’t be stingy with the champagne and orange juice.

In my opinion, Hudson River is a place you should definitely try out, especially if you’re interested in being around an urban, diverse, upwardly-mobile crowd. Again, the views and setting are great on a summer afternoon, and those things alone make Hudson River Cafe worth the trip uptown. However, if like me, you don’t find the food or service to your liking, I doubt you will need to check this place out more than once. I may give it another shot sometime in the future, but that future is a long, long ways away from the summer of 2011, with many other brunch venues in between.

This post was originally published on SipNsizzle.com.

Summer Activity #10: International African Arts Festival

International African Arts Festival in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, NYCInternational African Arts Festival @ Commodore Park
Neighborhood: Fort Greene, Brooklyn
Venue: NYC Park
Atmosphere: Culture and Arts
People: Community-inclined Africans & Americans
Rating: 3

The International African Arts Festival has been occurring for over 40 years now, and after 9 years in New York City and 27 years on this Earth, this July 4th was the first time I had ever gone.

To say the least, this annual festival is extremely popular and extremely interesting. You have clothes being sold, food being cooked, songs being performed and speeches being spoken. Culture and art just filled the air, and rarely do you see such high levels of artistry in a gathering this big.

If you were looking for some enlightening knowledge, you could find that here as well. People were preaching about the trials and tribulations for Africans back in the motherland and here in the United States. There were many influential people from the local community there as well to get out their messages. From council men to wanna-be governors, this place was full of influential Brooklynites and those from other boroughs and areas as well.

At my own doing, I was pretty drained by the time I made it to the festival. So there was a lot of participation or food consumption out of me. Still, I saw some interesting things that definitely have encouraged me to go back next year—this time with a little more purpose in my presence.

Summer Activity #9: Fort Greene Park, Planks-R-Us

Planking outside of Fort Green ParkFort Greene Park
Neighborhood: Fort Greene, Brooklyn
Venue: NYC Park
Atmosphere: Family-friendly
People: Families, Yuppies
Rating: 5

There are a lot of parks in New York City, and many of them have their pluses and minuses. But in my “vast” knowledge of the study that is New York City parks, I have, to say, Fort Greene is probably the best in the city.

Why?

For starters, Fort Greene Park is in a beautiful, all-encompassing neighborhood. Unlike Central Park, Fort Greene Park is located in area where normal people can actually afford to live. Granted, there is a diverse collection of housing options around this park that includes projects to brownstones, but that makes for a diverse experience once you’re finally inside.

Secondly, you can cook in this park! That’s something you can’t do in Central Park, and barbequing is pretty hard to do in Prospect Park. Fort Greene makes it quite easy. With grilling-allowed areas and outdoor grills for you to use, it’s very easy to fire up the grill and get a burger or steak going.

Thirdly, the park is just the right size. We all are aware of the massive size of Prospect and Central Parks. And many of you know of much smaller parks, like Thompson Square Park or Battery City Park. Not unlike momma bear’s stuff, Fort Greene Park is just right when it comes to size. It’s not so big that you can’t enjoy it all in one day. But it’s not so mall that you can’t carve out a little space for yourself. From owning area for your family barbeque, to exploring the finer statues and building located right within the park, the space here is well designed and perfectly suited for your privacy and/or exploratory needs.

Lastly, Fort Greene Park is a lot of fun. I know other parks have plenty of stuff in them, too, so I won’t make this a defining characteristic, but I know that I in particular had more fun at Fort Greene than I’ve had at any other park in New York City. In fact, my afternoon at Fort Greene included climbing trees, taking in amazing views and watching planking!

That’s right—I said planking!

As you can see in the picture of me just outside of the park entrance, I came to find out that I was not planking properly, but it was still a lot of fun, and is something I am definitely going to try again the next time I’m at a park. And according to my list of things to in New York City this summer should be happening fairly soon…

Summer Activity #8: Habana Outpost, A July 4th Option

Habana Outpost
Neighborhood: Fort Green, Brooklyn
Venue: Latin/American
Atmosphere: Outdoor Eating
People: Young, hip & urban
Rating: 4

I’ve been to Habana Outpost before—sort of. Actually, I never even went on their property the last time I went. The place was so crowded that the patrons wound up flooding into the neighboring streets of Fort Green. That effectively turned the neighborhood into a mid-day, New York City version of Miami’s South Beach—even if it was just for a couple of hours.

There was no huge crowd of people this time—at least not when I got there. I actually rolled in pretty early, around 1pm. The line was decent and the tables were more or less taken, but it certainly wasn’t the crowd it was the last time I was there. I was there with my girlfriend, and we were meeting some of her friends. They already had a table, allowing us to avoid the seat-dwellers that didn’t look like they were going anywhere for a while.

So what did I have to eat? Even though it was July 4th, I still went with the burrito. Granted, they had hamburgers and hotdogs, but I was told the Burrito there was good so I had to try it. Of course, not unlike most other Mexican food options in New York City, the burrito from Habana Outpost lacked the flavor and kick this Texan expects out of his cuisine. That being said, they do know how to mix a margarita. In fact, their margaritas were right on par with some of the best I’ve had in New York, so I definitely recommend trying one for yourself.

By the time I got my food and was engaged in conversation, Habana Outpost became more and more crowded. The line for food was now out the door, and al fresco eating area that I was sitting in became a mad-grad station for seating. The crowd was becoming very July 4th-ish, as people got drunker, louder and hungrier. It looked like the place was really picking up, and the first few minutes of this up tick turned into some interesting conversations at my table and beyond.

Needless to say, I wasn’t going to spend my entire July 4th sitting down in a fenced in diner, so I did have to cut my trip to Habana Outpost short. My opinion was already formed though: the place is a great venue for meeting people and drinking, but if the burrito speaks for the rest of their food there, Haban Outpost is not so great for eating.

Summer Activity #4.02: Miss Favela, Steak & Pitches

Miss Favela Indoor BarMiss Favela
Neighborhood: Williamsburg, Brooklyn
Venue: Brazilian
Atmosphere: Bar/Restaurant
People: Williamsburg Hipsters?
Rating: 4 Stars

It’s amazing that there are so many hidden gems in what is such a relatively small place like New York City. Miss Favela, is just off the Williamsburg Bridge in Brooklyn, surrounded by innocuous buildings, Williamsburg secrecy and plenty of passersby. However, inside is a wonderful bar and restaurant full of Brazilian dishes, wonderful serve and a heck of a band on Thursdays nights.

I went to Miss Favela’s as a part of my job’s quarterly outing. Professional it was not, however, as we were served pitcher after pitcher of sweet, dangerously potent Brazilian concoctions. Needless to say, once the drinks started flowing, so did the conversation.

It’s always interesting to be around people you see in a work environment all day take it to the bar and get little looser than they would behind their desk. I talked to a few people that I barely even see in the office, and even got to know them a great deal more. Of course, what’s funny is the following day, both of you know that you had quite the riveting conversation the next day, but you’re not sure if you should go back to passing each other by as usual or bringing up that N.S.F.W. joke you told at Miss Favela’s the night before—I’m just saying.

Anyway, if you’re in the area, definitely check out Miss Favela’s. Then again, you will never be in the area, unless you feel like going for a jog to this place after you’ve spent the majority of your evening in the heart of Williamsburg’s nightlife. Still, Miss Favela’s is well worth going out of your way. The Steak and Onions I had with beans and rice was cooked to perfection. Not to mention, the appetizer plate they brought was every bit as interesting as it was cholesterol-threatening. And if I didn’t say enough about the drinks already, let me assure you they were that good. One of my friends with us actually saw somebody bring the fresh strawberries into the building. Next thing we knew, there were pitchers of strawberry-based libations in front of us, and they each had the consistency of a smoothie with any trace of alcohol hidden behind the robust taste of fresh fruit. Not exactly a “man’s drink,” but damn was it good.

I tried some of the food of my other table-mates, including a bean platter made with eggs and banana, and a fish platter that made me dream of being on the beach. Among all the dishes served, there was not a bad platter in the bunch, and I think just about everybody who wanted to eat left Miss Favela’s satisfied.

Amist the great food and great conversation I was having, the waitress eventually approached me and asked what company did we work for and what did we do. I told her we were in digital marketing, and she immediately began pitching me on a new app she helped create for the Mayor’s office. It was pretty loud in there, so I could barely hear her, but I believe the app was designed to promote volunteerism in New York City. Whatever it was, by the time she was done telling me about, I believe she asked me to give her strategic tips on releasing it right then and there. Seemed a little odd to me, so I pretened as if I had too much to drink and told her I’m in no position to give advice right now. Call me crazy, but that’s a bold request when a brother is eating his dinner, no?

I almost forgot to mention the band. I don’t know the band’s name, what kind of music they were playing or if they are used to playing when nobody is in the restaurant, but our group of 17 people was about the only entity in the building, and we all enjoyed the soft background music. Whether we were knee deep in conversation or giving them the occasional applause, that band was playing their hearts out. Much love to them and their passion for their music. And much love to Miss Favela’s for one heck of a quarterly outing!

Bad June for the List, A Good July on the Way!

It was a horrible June for the 100 Days, 100 Things initiative that I put upon myself! I have no excuses, no reasons, nor any explanations for what happened. When it was all said and done, I completed just 8 summer activities in the month of June.

Horrible!

But like I said in my post about Macondo, I am coming back with a vengeance in the month of July! In fact, in order to get back on track by the end of the month, I would have to complete about 50 different things in the month of June. I am not going to go for 50, but I think accomplishing 45 things is going to be my target for July. Arbitrary I know, but it does represent just 1.5 things per day.

So how am I going to make sure that I am going to do more in July than I did in June? They say good things come in threes, right?

1. Knocking off the After Work Spots First
As you can see on my list of New York City summer activities, going to ten after work spots represents just one “thing” on the list. That said, there are plenty of restaurants and venues on that list that I can try out after work. From Ayza Wine Bar to a Mets Game, there are more than enough things on my list that can make an extension of my workday. Obviously, that’s easier said then done, so…

2. I’m Making a Schedule
As of July 5th, you will see dates on many of the places I can try after work. I have taken the time to go through both my work and personal schedule to make sure that I can accommodate these dates, so the time is certainly there. My ability to workout after work is the only thing that is harmed by this schedule, but as of late, I’ve been doing my best to be much more of a weekend warrior, burning 2,000 calories per weekend, so maybe I can keep up with my personal goals for the summer while maintaining my pursuit of New York City dominance.

3. Changes to the Lists
Fortunately and unfortunately, you will see some changes to the list over the next month. Let me reiterate, I’m not changing anything on the list because it’s too hard, I’m making changes that encompass the ever-changing entity of life. If I get to go to somewhere awesome that would have been list-worthy had I known about it, that venue/activity will certainly take the place of something that barely made the list in the first place. As you know, I have already left the “New York City after work spots” and “burger venues” up to chance, so I don’t see why some of the rest of the list can be subject to that.

Additionally, I’m still open to suggestions. If you think there is something my list of summer activities that can be replaced by something better, bigger, cheaper, then by all means, let me know in the comments section below. I certainly will take anything and everything into consideration, especially in the month of July. Lord knows I need to make this month as memorable as possible or this whole project is going to blow up in my face.

So please wish me well and send those ideas along!