Van Horn Dishes Up Mean Chicken Sandwich

There are certain foods I love the idea of, but which never really live up to my expectations in their execution; scallops, for instance. Don’t even get my husband started on how many times I have ordered scallops in a restaurant and then been disappointed.

Fried chicken is another. I love the sound of chicken soaked in buttermilk and fried to a crunchy, well-salted shell with tender chicken within, but am frequently underwhelmed, even at restaurants I count among my favorites. It’s me, it’s not you, I want to tell them.

Finally, though, I may have met the fried chicken I always think I am going to get. It came in a huge, thick portion piled on a toasted bun with red slaw at the just-opened Van Horn Sandwich Shop on Court Street, Cobble Hill.

I don’t usually write about places after only one visit but an hour after finishing that sandwich, and I am still thinking about biting into the delicious fried chicken. A pickle and some tastily dressed greens come with the simple sandwich. There are a bunch of other Southern-style sandwiches, including a cornmeal dredged catfish, smoked pulled pork, a blt and a vegetarian version with smoked sweet potato strips, a plt. Plus, there’s a peanut butter and jelly sandwich ideal for kids, and for their parents, a beer and cocktail list.

I have to return with a group next time to justify ordering a Pimms Cup and sides of hush puppies, mac and cheese, roasted beets and collard greens.

Van Horn Sandwich Shop is a collaboration between architect Jacob Van Horn and chef Rick Hauchman, who both grew up in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and crossed paths again years later in Brooklyn. While Southern at heart and in menu, the eatery has a clean, modern feel with high bentwood stools and plenty of bar space so that eating alone, as I did, doesn’t feel conspicuous. It’s also entrenched in the neighborhood by sourcing ingredients from local producers including Caputo’s Bakery and Paisano’s Meat Market.

Until now, the location at 231 Court Street has seemed somewhat cursed. It previously housed Café Ribant, which formerly went by the name Café Mei Mei, and never really took off as either. And it was Jill’s before that. I’m rooting for this sandwich shop, and I think all bodes well, especially with much-acclaimed newcomer Brucie across the road, Strong Place and Karloff down the street and stalwarts like Quercy and Sam’s Restaurant just a  stone’s throw away.

Van Horn Sandwich Shop is at 231 Court Street, between Warren + Baltic streets.; phone: 718.596.9707.

Me + Hermès ‘Together’ At Last

This totally falls into the “why the heck didn’t I think of it” category. And yes, I know it has been all over fashion blogs and mags here and abroad but I love it and cannot resist. If, like me, you’re unlikely to have a spare $20,000 anytime soon to invest in a covetable Hermès handbag, then meet the Together bag created by LA-based accessories label Thursday Friday.

These canvas shoppers are fully lined with an interior pocket for phone and keys; what sets them apart from all the other canvas carryalls being schlepped by gym rats, diaper-toting mamas, greenmarket goers and the environmentally conscious alike is the pop-arty Hermès inspired bag print on all five exterior sides.

They’re cheeky, good-looking and practical. Trouble is, just like the iconic Birkin bag they’re “modeled” on, the Together bags sold out within weeks of their launch last year and are now back ordered.

The bags, a sort of anti-status, status symbol and sturdy enough to carry in rain, sun or snow, come in red, blue or camel and with a very manageable $35 price tag. To order, click here.

Stripes Galore at Petit Bateau Pop-Up

I have made no secret of my love of stripes, the French-Navy-striped “la marinière,” in particular and French label Petit Bateau is one of the masters of the iconic striped tee. Even better when Petit Bateau has a massive sample sale and it’s just a brisk walk away from home.

I was late to the game on this sale – it began in early December – but it is in full swing still until the end of January and there was plenty of stock at last check.

I scored a classic, long-sleeved stripey top pour moi and about five adorable shirts for the kids. Everything was at least half price, often even more; think $15 for a red + white striped boys’ cotton tee.  Like any sample sale, you have to dig through boxes and there isn’t a fitting room. The chap running the show is incredibly accommodating though and let me slip things on over my clothes. For the record, if you happen to be petite and small chested in particular, don’t worry that there aren’t many tops in women’s small – try the 12, a sort of teen/junior sizing – and it will likely work just fine.

There are pants, tunics and a smattering of skirts and underwear too, but the real boon is in the tops.

The sale is at 219 Seventh Avenue, between Third + Fourth Streets. Cash and credit cards are accepted.

G’Day Australia Day

My American husband’s birthday coincides with Australia Day, so every year we toy with the idea of celebrating both events in one place. We’ve thought about the big black-tie shindig at Cipriani but the price tag is too steep, so we usually wind up downing Coopers and kangaroo in the (heated) garden at Eight Mile Creek.

Well, it’s almost that time of the year again.

G’Day USA kicked off January 15 to 29 with a string of events designed to showcase Australian business prowess in the US. The program spans eight cities including NY, LA, Boston, Houston and San Francisco, and events include conferences, forums and product sampling covering new business, art, education and tourism.

For Americans, Australia Day is the Aussie equivalent of July 4 Independence Day, complete with fireworks and a national holiday. Every year, January 26 commemorates the arrival of the First Fleet at Sydney Cove in 1788, the hoisting of the British flag there, and the proclamation of British sovereignty.

The official national day Down Under is marked by an address from the Prime Minister and the Order of Australia and Australian of the Year awards. That, and a whole lot of partying and beer-swilling, as well as some level of national pride from old and new Australians alike. Though, from my experience (and I have been away a long time …) Aussies aren’t big hand-on-the-heart patriots in the same way as Americans. It is, afterall, a nation built largely by convicts and with a longstanding guilt borne from mistreatment of indigenous Australians, the Aborigines.

History aside, New York-based Aussies with a spare $250 could grab a ticket and a gown or dinner suit for the Australia Day Black Tie Gala on January 28 at Cipriani Wall Street. Better still; try convincing your company to buy a ten-seat corporate table for $2000-plus.

One of the highlights at this year’s New York event, hosted by G’Day USA and the American Australian Association, will be performances by cast members of the upcoming Broadway version of Priscilla Queen of the Desert. But be warned, this event always sells out fast.

If that’s not your scene, I suggest beginning Australia Day with a flat white and a breakfast pie at one of Tuckshop’s three downtown Manhattan locations  – they opened a third in Chelsea Market in November – or at DUB Pies across the river in Brooklyn.

For dinner, Eight Mile Creek is one of my faves, with its special three-course Australia Day Dinner for a fixed $42 that includes kangaroo skewers with a pepperberry ketchup and a rack of Australian lamb or seared tuna, and best of all the dessert plate with a mini pavlova, sticky date pudding and lamingtons! When you’re done with dinner, head downstairs to the bar for the drink specials and party until 4am!

Another biggie is the annual New York Magpies event to be held Saturday, January 22 at Nevada Smiths on Third Ave. It’s a gathering of football-and-beer-loving Aussies complete with Tuckshop’s meatpies, Keith the Koala handing out Tim Tams – a beloved Australian chocolate biscuit – Aussie music and of course plenty of footy and cricket on the tvs. For tickets go to

Or check out The Sunburnt Cow, The Sunburnt Calf, Bondi Road or Brooklyn’s Sheep Station. And for watering holes within stumbling blocks of each other, head to The Australian or Van Diemens, where the beer and wine will be flowing.

Hello Sailor – Again

Straight from the runways to the stores, it’s all about stripes for Spring 2011. To be sure, stripes are never out of style – think Coco Chanel in a classic French-sailor striped tee or “la marinière,” Audrey Hepburn or even James Dean, proving even pretty, bad boys can rock horizontal stripes.

You cannot step into high street retailers Forever 21, H&M, Zara or even Old Navy right now without stripes jumping out at you. These pics (above) show just a smidge of what’s on offer at Forever 21 in New York’s Union Square. There’s traditional blue and white, nautical red, white and blue and even knotted nautical-style rope belts and a quirky Popeye t-shirt to accent the theme.

It seems every place is screaming Hello Sailor for Spring.

Giddy Up on Carroll St Bridge

I’ve been wondering about this quaint sign hanging from the Carroll Street Bridge since I first noticed it late last year on one of my daily walks over the Gowanus Canal.

I cross this bridge four times a day – to and from my children’s school – and cars zoom by, and cyclists go any direction they want. Most, I am guessing have never even noticed the sign, which hangs high above this New York City landmark, and most certainly wouldn’t slowdown to avoid a paltry $5 fine!

It turns out it’s a neat reproduction by the DOT of an original sign that hung over the Carroll Street Bridge back when horses and carriages not lead-footed car drivers plodded from Bond to Nevins Street. Five dollars was, no doubt, a lot of money then.

For fact freaks, the Carroll Street Bridge was opened to traffic in 1889 by the Brooklyn Department of City Works (when Brooklyn was a city). It’s one of the oldest bridges in New York City and one of only two retractile, or sliding, bridges left in New York, and the oldest of four left in the US. There is a retractile bridge at Borden Avenue in Queens and two others in Boston.

RIP to the Friend I Barely Knew

Almost one year ago to the day, my Godmother died. She had been sick for a very long time with an invasive cancer that chewed through her body and her spirit and finally won. My parents were in New York for Christmas, visiting from Australia where my Godmother, my fathers’ elder sister, also lived. I wept at the time, mostly for my father who felt guilty being away when the inevitable happened.

Today, I wept again; steadily and perhaps irrationally.

I returned from a festive lunch with family friends at a local Italian joint and was told our doorman for the best part of this year had died suddenly and all too young. Curtis was not just the guy who signed for my parcels or buzzed me into the building; he was the one person I chatted to daily about the weather, the kids, whatever; he played soccer with my children and chased them around outside.

Curtis was a good guy who years ago gave up the rat race after he suffered a massive heart attack. But he kept smoking – a lot. He told me once that he wished his children wouldn’t smoke, but that he had been doing it so long, he couldn’t give up now.

I expected to see him this morning when I stepped out early with my yoga mat slung over my shoulder, but the super was at the door, wearing an awkward smile. Upon returning late this evening, he said Curtis has passed earlier in the day from heart problems.

I have wept uncontrollably since, for a man I scarcely knew. I can’t spell his last name; tell you his address or his birth date. Though I know he was barely past 50.

Is it selfish that I will miss his chatter each day when I head outside, or his weather forecast before I leave, or his kind words for my children? The last exchange we had was Thursday afternoon when the kids told him silly jokes and he laughed heartily. Curtis is survived by his two grown children, one of whom also works in our building. My thoughts and prayers go to his family.

Happenings like this make me embrace New York even more. We have had so many doormen and maintenance men through the years, many whom my children have become attached to. There was Angel who helped my son build a robot dragon; Robert who joked around with the kids and snuck them candy when they thought I wasn’t looking, and Anthony, who told my daughter she was beautiful and tickled my son until he giggled uncontrollably. They all left for one reason or another, probably immune to the impact their leavings had on us.

For big-city kids, and their parents, these men who earn minimum wage and work around the clock, are the equivalent of uncles or close family friends. They are often times a link to people and cultures we might not otherwise get to know.

Most importantly, they are friends. Rest in peace Curtis, we will miss you.

Clodhoppers to Chanel:a journey in shoes

I have horrible feet. Really ugly, wide, hard-to-fit feet that at any given time are plastered with at least one Bandaid and a myriad of shoe-related injuries. My feet are clearly not meant to be trapped in shoes; either that, or I’m not meant to walk as far as I do each day in footwear.

I saw a guy on television last week who rarely wears shoes. Dubbed the “barefoot professor” by his students, Daniel Howell has made a career – and written The Barefoot Book: 50 Good Reasons to Kick Off Your Shoes – about his barefoot endeavours. An Associate Professor of Biology at Liberty University, where he teaches Human Anatomy & Physiology, Howell has long hiked and run barefoot and decided to extend it to the rest of his life out of comfort and curiosity.

He said he was even removed from an airplane en route to New York because he did not have on shoes: he had to go to Old Navy for flip flops before they would let him back on the plane. It seems odd that in this post shoe-bomber age, with shoe removal and pat-downs the standard for air travel, a shoeless man is viewed as a threat. But I digress.

Given access to unrealistically clean streets and spotless floors, I may go barefoot too. It’s no surprise then that I am not a shoe person. Handbags, YES, but shoes, not so much.

I’ve marveled but never embraced the passion my friends have for their shoes; the Carrie Bradshaw-esque love affair with sky-high, feather and bauble-adorned shoes queued on closet shelves. Love fashion as I do, I haven’t braved a Manolo Blahnik sale or a Christian Louboutin frenzy because skinny shoes with pointy toes just aren’t an option for me. Or so I thought until I wandered recently into a newish consignment store m.a.e. in Park Slope.

The owner, a self-proclaimed “shoe girl” with a predilection for Manolos and a size 10 foot, opened a whole new world of shoes to me. She waved off protests that my feet were too wide for pretty little shoes and sat me down with a stack of beauties in swag of different sizes until I found pairs that fit and looked fabulous. Because of the long pointy toes, I had to go up a size or so, but many of the shoes actually worked.

My spirits lifted: I couldn’t believe that for all these years I’ve dwelled on horrid childhood experiences as confirmation that gnarly, wide feet should be hidden in Doc Marten’s and the like.

my foot = a pasty

I recall someone close to me (you know who you are) likening my feet to pasties, a broad semi-circle pastry stuffed with meat and vegetables (see right), and calling the shoes of my youth clodhoppers!

I strutted out of m.a.e. with a dainty pair of vintage Chanel black + white kitten heels, and a new confidence about shoe shopping. I’m still not quite ready for the Louboutin sale, but at least now I will bother to keep on trying shoes to see what works.

m.a.e. isn’t just about shoes; there are a couple of racks of designer-label clothes and some handbags too, but the shoe selection sets the place apart from other neighborhood consignment stores. Beacon’s Closet it is not. There is a definite bent towards Manolo Blahnik, either gently or barely worn, and at a fraction of their retail prices. The last time I stopped by there were vintage Gucci loafers and pumps as well as plenty of Prada, and some Chanel and Ferragamo.

m.a.e. is at 453 7th Avenue, between 15th and 16th streets in Park Slope, 718.788.7070.

Graffiti Be Gone

Spotted on a recent stroll up Carroll Street towards Third Avenue – the Graffiti-Free NYC  truck removing spray-painted scribblings from a residential building. I had never seen the truck in the neighborhood and I certainly wasn’t aware of the City’s Graffiti Free NYC Program, which offers free graffiti removal to properties throughout the five boroughs.

 If you want a graffiti-busting van to come cleanup your site, you can call 311 or fill out a Forever Graffiti Free form. Typically, a cleaning crew will show up within about 35 days after the City is notified there’s a problem, and either repaint or power wash away the graffiti.  If you want to do it yourself, Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Paint Program will provide supplies and paints for community-based and volunteer groups to plan and execute their own cleanup projects.

I’ve written before how much I like topical or artistic graffiti but sadly much of it polluting local walls is just juvenile vandalism, and for that ilk there’s Graffiti Free NYC.

It’s the Simple Things

It’s the little things, like picking pumpkins with the kids and then carving silly faces into them that make a windy weekend a fun one. We headed to the Red Hook Community Farm for the 5th annual Red Hook Harvest Festival. Besides a farm market and live chooks and bunnies, there are always great local food stands – The Good Fork, iCi, and the Lobster
among them this year – and the pumpkin patch. Somehow in 12 years in the US I had managed to never carve a pumpkin. So today, that changed. The kids were happy and dare I say, I was too. It is the simple things really …