Archive for the ‘Blog Articles’ Category

Maine Men

In October 2009, two twenty-something guys opened up Luke’s Lobster— a seafood shack in New York’s East Village. Less than a year later, they expanded, setting up a second, larger Luke’s on the city’s the Upper East Side. Here, in a new GQ blog series, Ben Conniff reveals why he and Luke Holden quit their day jobs to dive into the shark-infested waters of the N.Y.C. restaurant business—and how they’re scrapping their way to the top of the heap

from GQ, July 29, 2010

One afternoon in July of 2009, my cell phone started buzzing. I had recently sent an article to a popular food magazine, and my editor’s name was blinking on my screen. I’d been freelance writing for some decent publications in New York, but money was still tight. My editor was writing to say she loved the story. She was even going to pay me this time. As soon as the story ran. Sometime in 2010. Exactly one year ago today, I opened my laptop and turned to the place where everyone goes when they discover something missing in their lives: Craigslist.

I was ready to stop writing about food and start making it. But no restaurants were looking to hire an Ivy League keyboard pecker whose only food-service experience was seven teenage years spent eating the merchandise at a Connecticut doughnut shop. Surfing Craigslist was a real Hail Mary, and that day it paid off: I came across an ad for a nascent lobster-roll business looking for someone smart, talented, and hardworking to help create something special. I was none of those things. But I was sure I could learn.

lobster-roll-in-hands.jpg

Luke’s Lobster roll

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The Penny Palate

I recently started a new blog called the Penny Palate, dedicated to eating and drinking cheap in New York City, at restaurants and bars and at home. In our current economy, it’s a classy site for the unabashedly stingy. Here’s a full description of the site from its about page:

from The Penny Palate

picture-11Please, sir, may I hear some more?

We know you’ve heard it before. “You have to be rich to do anything in New York.” Whether it’s a skeptical suburbanite or your I-banker friend who’s happy to drop the equivalent of your entire paycheck at swanky bars, there’s a pervasive sense that there’s no fun to be had in this city without paying a steep price. We don’t buy it.

The Penny Palate is devoted to rooting out the cheap food and drink that skeptics are too lazy to find. As Wall Street swirls deeper and deeper into the toilet, cheap restaurants are flourishing and more and more establishments are getting in on the action with “recession specials.” The heady days of the extravagant spender are past, and the hour of the penny pincher is here.

Our daily postings will tell you where to grab lunch when your wallet’s light, what bar serves up cheap drinks and free grub at happy hour, and even how to cook dinner and entertain without breaking your piggy bank. We’ll include special categories like a “Happy Hour of the Week;” “Tuck for a Buck,” which points you to great food for only a dollar; and our favorite, “The Circular Jerk,” epic journeys in food shopping and cooking led by the treasure map that is the circular.

We’re not talking Frank Bruni’s “cheap” $65 sushi special here. We’ll never recommend anything over $10, so when we say cheap, we mean it. So let’s raise a 2-for-1 pint to the thrifty New Yorker. This site’s for you.

As Old as the Blues

from the Playboy Blog, 11/13/08

edwardsA 93-year-old doesn’t take the stage the way most musicians do. It takes a lot longer, and may require spotters on either flank. So when David “Honeyboy” Edwards made the trek to center stage at the B.B. King Blues Club & Grill and settled ever so slowly into his chair, I had to wonder, does he still have it?

Born in 1915, Honeyboy is one of the last original Delta bluesmen still walking the earth. He’s a contemporary of the legendary Robert Johnson, and actually wrote some of the songs that Johnson made famous, including “Sweet Home Chicago.” But despite his age, Honeyboy put on an energetic show. His voice, a bit deeper and gruffer than Johnson’s, was still strong, his lyrics as unintelligible as ever. Honeyboy’s guitar rhythms were a bit more lax than they were in the old days, but his accompanists, Michael Frank on Harmonica and Rocky Lawrence on second guitar, followed his lead smoothly. And when it came to soloing, Honeyboy showed that his fingers and creative mind were still impressively nimble. He raised his eyebrows at the crowd whenever he hit a particularly mischievous twang, and Lawrence contributed delighted cackles and howls at Honeyboy’s most impressive riffs. But the band never stopped to soak up the love from the crowd, chugging relentlessly from one song to the next without rest.

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Beerfest, Part II

beerfest

from the Playboy Blog, 11/7/08

After my thorough drenching at the NY Brewfest, I was happy to see that the Brewtopia Great World Beer Festival was being held indoors at Pier 92. Of course, Mother Nature responded with a gorgeous fall day. It also wasn’t particularly fortunate that I was hitting up the festival the morning after Halloween. This meant a long subway ride with a hangover vicious enough to make me question my will to live, and miss my stop. But once I meandered over to the Hudson, it took just a few sips before I was floating once more, and ready to get down to the business of picking a favorite.

Best beer: Tröeg’s Troegenator Double Bock

The Troegenator was a pleasant surprise: rich, warm, and malty but not overly sweet, a common failing that leads me to avoid double bock in general. It was also quite smooth for its 8.2% abv. The brew was a perfect complement to a tasty (though regrettably $8) bratwurst sandwich from Helmut’s Brats & Pretzels.

Worst Beer: Schmaltz Brewing Jewbelation 12

Mix one part Hershey’s chocolate syrup and one part Dubra vodka. Shake. I imagine Schmaltz’s recipe is a bit more nuanced, but the effect is about the same. The 12% abv is a plus, though.

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As time goes by

With the work of the Duff Young Foundation at a brief pause, I’ve decided to abjure a regular paycheck and freelance full time. I’ll continue to write for the Foundation, but devote most of my time to my own stories. Here’s my most recent blog post from Duff Does Africa describing the situation:

As time goes by

September 29, 2008

Saturday has passed, and I remain at my computer in my Brooklyn apartment. A crisp fall breeze has blown out the city’s muggy summer stench and soon colored leaves will litter my back porch. And I will be here to enjoy the fall weather longer than I expected.

America’s current financial malaise has taken its toll on everyone, and it’s no surprise that a businessman like Duff has found himself with extra work. Indeed, Duff is struggling under the weight of a load of unforeseen business responsibilities, and they’ve left him without the time and energy to go to Liberia and carry out the plan.

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Getting soaked in more ways than one

from the Playboy Blog, 9/16/08

Mother nature kindly dumped barrels of rain on New York City last Friday. But that didn’t keep thirsty souls from flooding into South Street Seaport that night, where over 80 craft breweries had pitched tents for the third annual New York Brewfest.

There are difficulties inherent in attempting to write about a five hour long, all-you-can-drink beer marathon. It’s not easy to shoulder your way up to a bar through a crowd of guys twice your size in bright red Duane Reade ponchos. But looking back, my biggest problem is just remembering what the hell happened, especially on a night when any notes I may have taken quickly turned to mush. Here are the brief highlights I do recall…

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My bad, actually Africa’s doing just fine

from Duff Does Africa, 8/21/08

In today’s New York Times, Roger Cohen bubbles over with optimism about Africa’s current situation and prospects. Apparently Cohen just came back from Ghana, one of a small handful of African nations with relatively decent governments, and he’s extrapolated Ghana’s modest success onto the rest of the continent.

Unfortunately, Cohen’s rosy view of Africa’s current state is deluded. “Vodaphone had bought a majority stake in Ghana Telecom for $900 million…and I’d heard much about 6 percent annual growth, spreading broadband, and new high-end cacao ventures,” Cohen reports. “I don’t think that picture is exceptional these days for Africa, where growth averaged close to 6 percent last year.” What Cohen fails to take into account is that a lot of that 6% growth is fueled by opportunistic Chinese and Russian companies who strip mine and destroy the local environment, or companies like Firestone, which has been operating a virtual slave labor camp in Liberia. Moreover, no matter where the cash flow comes from, the amount that touches Africa’s poorest citizens amounts to less than a trickle. Most of Africa’s pseudo-democracies still operate on old patronage networks, in which profits go to friends and political networks, not roads and schools.

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Get Out Of Your Garage

from the Playboy Blog, 7/31/08

If you want to make it big as a musician these days, selling CDs isn’t going to cut it. Much like our shopping, dating, social interaction, and (ahem) media, the music industry is now dominated by, and reliant upon, the internet. But for music, this may not be a bad thing.

Enter GigMaven.com, a brand new website that connects under-the-radar musicians with performance venues. The process is simple: the venue posts open dates in their calendar, interested bands apply, the venue filters through the information compiled on the bands’ pages to find the perfect fit, and the best band gets the gig. The simple online process removes snail-mailing sample CDs, days of phone tag, and scrambling to find last-minute acts from the process, leaving each party more time to do what it does best: play music and sell us beer.

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Change Some Can Believe In?

From the Playboy Blog, July 3, 2008

As a longtime Obama fan, I’ve been preparing for the excruciating anxiety of poll-watching in the months leading up to November’s election. What I wasn’t prepared for was the pain of seeing Obama bend to conservative interests as he attempts to woo independents and moderate Republicans. When I read yesterday’s New York Times headline, “Obama Wants To Expand Role of Religious Groups,” my liberal conscience wanted to reach for an ice pack.

But wait. As it turns out, the Times headline—in fact, the entire article—was misleading. It implied throughout that Obama simply plans to continue and expand President Bush’s White House Office of Faith Based Initiatives (WHOFBI). Barely allowed in a criminal 5-4 Supreme Court decision, the WHOFBI directs federal money to help faith-based—and only faith-based—charities apply for federal grant money, giving religious groups an automatic advantage over secular ones. Obama’s plan, the President’s Council for Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, actually rights Bush’s wrongs. It opens funds to secular community groups as well as religious ones and requires rigorous monitoring to ensure that federally funded charities do not proselytize or discriminate when they hire staff.

Why didn’t the Times mention this radical difference, which makes Obama’s policy, unlike Bush’s, constitutional? Continue reading

Nobody Does It Better

from the Playboy Blog, 5/1/08

In one of my favorite Paul Simon songs, the time-tested songwriter laments, “down the decades every year, summer leaves and my birthday’s here, and all my friends stand up and cheer and say ‘man, you’re old.” He wrote that almost a decade ago. And yet, as Simon wrapped up his month-long residency at the Brooklyn Academy of Music last weekend, he pulled out the same fresh, unadorned voice and playful humor that have been his trademark for all those decades. And in the process, the old man outplayed all the young disciples who came to honor him.

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