The supreme Cavolini (top), Bianca (lower l.), Margherita (lower r.)

A NYer and a Californian walk into The Other End Pizza Parlour

A New Yorker and a Californian walked into The Other End Pizza Parlour (formerly Playland Pizza) to sample what is being called the best pizza in New York.

New Yorker: I grew up in Queens, where if you mention “pizza” and “Cross Bay Boulevard,” most people think of New Park. The landmark neon sign harkens back to the days when Italian immigrants and their children were rapidly colonizing Howard Beach. But the real standard bearer of pizza is Gino’s. For a generation of Queens kids, Gino’s epitomized the New York slice: the crust was the perfect combination of doughy and crispy, ideal to eat with your hands, folded in half, without a lot of oil drip or gooey cheese. It wasn’t referred to as Margherita: just a plain slice, please. Occasionally, we would have a pepperoni or sausage pie, but we were mostly of the mind that when it comes to pizza, less is more. In places far away from New York, we have sampled pineapple and ham toppings, and while it may be tasty, it is not what most New Yorkers would consider pizza.

Recognizing that tastes have evolved, we decided to try out the fare at Whitney Aycock’s pizza emporium. The Margherita was wonderfully perfect: Whitney doesn’t prepare an ultra-thin crust, but it was still easy enough to eat by hand. Just tomato, cheese and some fresh mint on a perfectly charred crust, all imported from Italy.

The next sample was the Cavolini. Now, this brussel sprout topped pizza was ordered with a bit of hesitation (see “less is more” above). However this was, hands down, the best pizza I have had in quite a while. The brussel sprouts were very finely sliced, and along with the pancetta, lent a subtle flavoring to the pizza. This very tasty and aromatic combination will be my first choice the next time I eat at Whitney’s.

And don’t be afraid of Whitney. His reputation as the pizza nazi is a bit overblown. Just don’t order by the slice.

Californian: I grew up in northern California, where Round Table’s doughy-crusted pizza is the norm. Pizza may be the perfect food, not just because it’s founded on twin wonders of bread and cheese, but for its nearly endless options. With a small amount of legwork, you could eat pizza every week and never have the same pie twice.  The Other End Pizza, however, will give you the opposite problem; go once and you’ll never stop returning.  I have craved their Margherita and Cavolini (brussel sprouts and pancetta) every day since my last visit, and the Bianca (goat cheese and zucchini) was a great acidic balance to the savory flavors of the others.  All three pies wear their crown on the bottom, though.  The crust is thin but not tough, a feat that countless pizza guys from Manhattan to the moon can’t seem to pull off.  Whitney nails it, however, with a thoughtful menu, genuine local feel and three of the best pizzas I’ve ever tasted.

Uncle Louie G's

Two new sweet shops are coming to Rockaway

If you have a sweet tooth, you are in luck this summer. Rockaway Beach will soon be home to two new ice cream parlors.

Uncle Louie G, featuring ices and (soft-serve!) ice cream will launch at 92-10 Rockaway Beach Boulevard. According to their website, they will be open on April 26th.

Farther uptown on Beach 108th Street, Boardwalk Bagel is expanding into the adjacent storefront. The new ice cream parlor is expected to be open sometime this summer.

Boardwalk Bagels

Boardwalk Bagels

 

Box Jump: CrossFit London

Andrew and Kate, of CrossFit LondonToday’s Box Jump takes us to CrossFit London.  Located in a London Overground railway arch in Bethnal Green, this is the first affiliate outside of the U.S. The box is owned and managed by Andrew Stemler, who was the first Level 1 & 2 certified trainer in London. His wife, Kate Pankhurst, who is also a certified Level 1 coach, assists Andrew.

Kate is a lovely and sweet woman, but do not underestimate her. She runs an incredibly challenging WOD that left most of us recovering on the mats. Her personal story is also quite inspirational. A former magazine art director, Kate took up CrossFit in her late 40s and transformed herself. She is proof positive that the benefits of CrossFit are not limited to the young and already fit participants.

Rockaway arrives in London

The bar at Far Rockaway Shoreditch

The bar at Far Rockaway Shoreditch

Well it didn’t take very long for Rockaway to turn into a brand. With the opening of Far Rockaway Shoreditch in the heart of hipster London, our urban beach culture has gone global.

Opened by former New York resident George Dowling in October 2013, Far Rockaway Shoreditch is an “American style bar and restaurant inspired by urban street art and culture.” The sprawling 400-seat restaurant is a visually stunning space, with the walls covered in bright graffiti-style pieces of art. This paean to our surf and skate culture includes hundreds of hand painted skateboards. The seating is a multi-level mix of tables, lounges and sofas, and includes a reading room stocked with 4,000 DC and Marvel comic books.

The restaurant is located in Shoreditch, London’s equivalent of Williamsburg and the center of the creative and digital media industry. The menu is limited to typical American-style bar food of burgers, salads, pizza and wings. The staff, including general manager Stuart Snowden, was sent to Denino’s in Staten Island to learn how to make traditional New York City style pizza. While it would be unfair to compare Shoreditch to any New York pizzeria, they do serve a decent Margherita pizza by the slice. The crust is moderately thin and easy to fold in half without collapsing, but lacks a good char. The drinks menu is a bit more elaborate, and includes martinis, margaritas and classic cocktails.

The space is also being used to promote London’s street artists. Curators Ben Oakley Gallery and the Hoxton Gallery have been overseeing the design of the space, which includes the ubiquitous Rockaway Playland neon sign. Local DJs are also spinning records on most weekend evenings.

Check out more of the amazing art at Shoreditch here.

Box Jump: Fortitude Fitness CrossFit 78702

20140218-192619.jpgSeeking a break from the relentless New York winter, Rockawayist headed out to Austin, Texas recently. Arriving in the middle of a Texas snowpocalypse, we were still nonetheless looking forward to a good old-fashioned Texas WOD. Since CrossFit Central was hosting the Fittest Games that weekend, many of the downtown boxes had limited schedules, and it was a challenge to find a Sunday WOD.

Now let me first say that as a native New Yorker, I have always had a respect for and fascination with Texas. In my opinion, it is the only other state that has a culture, history and bravado on par with New York.  I was eagerly looking forward to a Lone Star State WOD, and was not disappointed to find Fortitude Fitness/CrossFit 78702 in the hotly emerging East Austin.

Local husband-and-wife team Athan and AnneMarie Schindler run the box. Athan is a former U.S. Army Airborne Ranger and currently serves in the Texas National Guard (you can’t get much more Texan than that). In addition to being a certified CrossFit Level I Coach, Athan is also a U.S. Army Certified Master Fitness Trainer.

The box shares space with a martial arts gym, but the warm up was football-player inspired, thanks to Athan’s semi-pro days. The WOD was a good mix of overhead squats, snatches and toes-to-bar. Since my primary New York box is located in an older office building, it’s always nice to pull up the garage door and not worry about rattling the neighbors below.

Athan and AnneMarie and the rest of the athletes could not have been any more hospitable, and showed this New Yorker how to WOD, Texas-style. The box is soon moving to their own space at 828 Airport Boulevard, so look for them there in early March. Until then, they can be found at 3232 East Cesar Chavez.

My Love/Hate Relationship with Partner WODs

No, that's not me

No, that’s not me

I started at CrossFit NYC in my early 40s, determined to not only maintain, but also improve my level of fitness. A desk jockey my entire life, and never much of an athlete growing up, I approached this mysterious new culture with caution.

Fast forward three years, and I am now in my mid-40s, and in the best shape of my life.  I am a CrossFit convert, have competed in (and completed) several races, and I look forward to each day’s WOD as an opportunity for improvement.

But as much as I’ve improved physically over those three years, the biggest challenge and the real growth has been mentally.

Whenever I saw my box had posted a partner WOD, I used to emit a groan to myself. Why is that? I am usually the oldest participant in my WOD, and I was always afraid I would slow someone else down. My fellow athletes tend to work a lot faster than me, and they can throw around some serious weight.  So I would skulk towards the back of the box, trying to remain invisible: Avoiding eye contact with anyone, sometimes pretending I don’t speak English (okay not really, since we all know each other). If my coach tried to partner me up, I would hem and haw, and say “I’ll do half the reps…I’m working light today…this is my goat WOD…” Anything to discourage a partner.

But once I started to choke up the confidence to participate in those partner WODs, an amazing thing happened: I got fitter, faster, and stronger. Instead of slowing the other guy down, his speed would motivate me to work harder. And I found myself keeping pace with guys half my age. To me, that is the exceptional thing about CrossFit: as competitive as we are, we always root for and motivate each other.

I sometimes still groan when I see a partner WOD. “Oh crap, I’ll never do that Rx.” But I dig in, and seek out a partner, tending to gravitate towards guys closer to my age and fitness level. And now, instead of shying away from partner WODs, I look forward to them as an exceptional opportunity for growth. Never once have I had a workout partner who was disappointed in me.

And you know what? Sometimes this mid-40s desk jockey can kick the ass of a college athlete half my age. Doesn’t happen often, but when it does, it sure makes me feel good.

The ruins of Fort Tilden

photo(3)Since Hurricane Sandy, beach access and the trails of Fort Tilden have been closed to the public. The surge destroyed the concrete path of Shore Road, adjacent to the ocean, and left a lot of debris on the interior running trails.

However, a walk through those closed trails on a sunny late December day reveal a clean up is underway. The trails of Battery Harris East and Battery Harris West have been completely cleared of debris. And although those old Nike missile installations have been recently repainted, Battery Harris East has been claimed anew by graffiti tags. The stairs leading to the viewing platform atop Battery Harris East are still fully functional, offering stunning views of the ocean, Jamaica Bay and the Manhattan skyline. The park is still dotted with a number of abandoned buildings, which seem largely undamaged by the storm. And they continue to be a unique canvas for graffiti.

Abandoned building

Abandoned building

Although Shore Road remains a shambles of broken concrete, a spokeswoman for Gateway National Recreation Area promised earlier this year that all park access would be reopened for the summer of 2014.

The ruins of Fort Tilden on flickr

Previous Fort Tilden coverage

Three things to know about CrossFit

It’s the time of year for new resolutions about eating better and working out more. If you are considering CrossFit, plenty of articles have already been written about the sport and the culture, and the weird lingo. However, no one will force you to don the ridiculous knee socks or start drinking straight from a coconut when you sign up for an Elements class. Here are three things to keep in mind before your first WOD:

Everything is scalable. Most WODs have prescribed weights for men and women. The Thrusters of the innocuous sounding Fran, for instance, are set at 95 pounds for men, and 65 pounds for women. If 45 reps at an unbearably heavy weight is a struggle, it will result in poor form and injury. A good coach will tell you to scale down to a more manageable weight. The idea is to master the movement and then over time, add weight, until you meet or even exceed the prescribed weight.

A box is as good as it’s coaches. CrossFit has achieved a fad status in our performance obsessed culture, and a lot of otherwise athletic people are obtaining CrossFit Level I certifications. Like anything else, developing an expertise in CrossFit takes time and experience. A trainer counts to 12 for you (sometimes three times in a row!). A good CrossFit coach will monitor your abilities over time, and encourage you to slow down, lower the weights, and help scale a movement until proper form is achieved. Unfortunately there are boxes that simply repeat the WODs from the main site by just barking out the movements. While this type of workout may leave you panting, an unnecessary focus on volume or explosive movement usually leads to injury. Which leads us to the third thing to know about CrossFit.

Form counts. While there is an undercurrent of “more, faster”, CrossFit isn’t about a balls-to-the-wall type of workout. Yes, the WODs will get loud and seem pressured, but it will never be about sacrificing form. Crashing barbells may seem a badge of honor, but really all you are doing is damaging the facility and equipment. I am fortunate to belong to a box in an older office building in midtown Manhattan, and dropping or throwing weights is strictly forbidden. This has forced every athlete to complete each movement properly, and results in better overall control and core conditioning. It’s called the Clean and Jerk, not the Clean and Jerk and Hurl.

CrossFit is a sport like any other, and more than just a workout. Learning the movements, the culture, the programming takes time, but can be beneficial to people at every level of ability.

Claudette, for the best coffee in Rockaway

photo(1)There is no shortage of donut shop coffee in Rockaway, if that dishwater blend suits your taste. But if you prefer a richer serving of java, look no further than Cuisine by Claudette on Beach 116th Street.

A long-time resident of Rockaway, and well known for her cooking classes, Claudette Flatow opened her shop in 2012 serving homemade take out food. A self-described “citizen of the world,” Claudette’s artisanal cooking reflects her Moroccan and French roots. Now the shop serves what is Rockaway’s best gourmet coffee.

Macchiato, by Yarden

Macchiato, by Yarden

The coffee bar is the brainchild of Claudette’s son Yarden. Recognizing that Rockaway lacked a quality coffee shop, Yarden sought out Brooklyn based Oslo Coffee Roasters. Founded in Williamsburg 10 years ago, Oslo is known for roasting all of their coffee beans locally. They also provided the staff with professional barista training.

So the next time someone says “if only we had a Starbucks in Rockaway,” head over to Claudette’s, where Yarden will serve a latte or cappuccino on par with Why Not or Stumptown.

Cuisine by Claudette
143 Beach 116th Street
Rockaway Park, NY
718 945 5511

HEART of Rockaway Beach

The Hospitality & Entertainment Association for Restaurants and Taverns (HEART of Rockaway Beach) was recently formed by businesses still recovering from Hurricane Sandy. Several restaurant owners have banded together in hopes of drawing attention from residents and visitors especially in the off-season.

Their first event, A Taste of Rockaway Beach, will be held on December 7th. It is described as a “restaurant crawl to celebrate the new and exciting destinations in Rockaway Beach.” A $10 pass will entitle diners to a food tasting in each of the 10 participating establishments, all within walking distance of each other. Tickets can be purchased from any of the participating businesses.

Surfside Bagels

Irish Circle

101 Deli

Veggie Island

Uma’s

Elegante

Sayra’s Wine Bar

Playland Motel

Thai Rock

Bungalow Bar

If this is successful, maybe Rockaway will finally get official recognition from the city for restaurant row.