NEW YORK — As we sit in a booth at Maialino in the Gramercy Park Hotel, devouring a roast-pork-and-fried-egg sandwich good enough to heal the sick, two of Ed Levine’s staffers start dishing about their boss’s myopia in selecting his favorite haunts for “Serious Eats: A Comprehensive Guide to Making & Eating Delicious Food Wherever You Are.” Apparently, Levine wanted to lard a category or two in Serious Eats’ debut book with New York City restaurants, which could have instantly undercut the national scope of the project.
Neither national editor Erin Zimmer nor New York editor Carey Jones are looking to start a fight with their boss at our breakfast table. They’re essentially teasing a guy who has been scouring the deepest recesses of New York for good eats, serious or otherwise, long before either of these transplanted Californians smelled their first bag of rotting garbage on the streets of Manhattan. (My first cheap shot, and I’m just in the second paragraph!)
(Michael S. Williamson/WASHINGTON POST) - Ed Levine makes a careful study of the Pattison Avenue sandwich from Taylor Gourmet. It features roast pork, broccoli rabe and sharp provolone cheese on a classic Italian sesame seed sub roll.
Cheap Eats Smackdown
See the full results of the cheap eats smackdown.
In a way, Zimmer and Jones are showing off their management skills. Despite their youth — Zimmer is 26 and Jones 25 — they’re proving they can counsel one of the most singularly focused minds in food writing, the author of “New York Eats,” the contributor of numerous articles to the New York Times (my fave: his look into the dark underbelly of Gotham’s bagel world) and the founder in December 2006 of SeriousEats.com. These editors have learned how to take a big bite out of Levine’s Big Apple bias. And all Levine can do in return is laugh at his employees’ chutzpah. He knows they’re right. He’s a homer all the way.
This is exactly what I was afraid of when my own boss and I devised our little project, a riff on Serious Eats’ new book, in which the site’s editors and writers combed the country for the best burgers, sandwiches, breakfasts, bakeries and the like. We decided to do what no city in its right mind should ever attempt: We decided to go toe to toe with Levine’s beloved New York City. Could Washington’s best eateries and dishes stand up to those found in the five boroughs? And if they did, would Levine even admit it? Could he be an impartial critic?
Perhaps due to my own prejudice — I imagine that New Yorkers view the rest of the country like Baryshnikov must view “Dancing With the Stars”— I figured it’d be virtually impossible for Levine to deem any dish, let alone an entire establishment, better than a parallel found in New York. But I also figured that Washingtonians, by dint of our long-standing inferiority complex with our northern neighbor, tend to fawn over too many dishes placed under our noses in Manhattan, as if the City That Never Sleeps also never makes a mistake. Neither position would be helpful in this smackdown.
To be fair, I have to say that Levine is my kind of eater. When he finds something he likes, he likes it with every quivering molecule of his being. That dish, that restaurant, becomes his friend for life. He is not afraid to gush, and he’s not afraid to criticize. Now 59, Levine came of age before irony was cool, and his opinions and thoughts often reflect that. His honesty can be startling, as many of his generation intend their sincerity to be: a slap to those in power who lied over and over again. Levine can even say something like, “We want to tell the stories of all the people who populate the food culture and tell the stories of all the delicious foods we encounter,” and you don’t immediately cringe.