Oh, how I missed the New York brunch queue.
In Ireland, restaurants take reservations for brunch – it’s crazy. You can book a time, turn up at that time and eat shortly afterwards.
Unlike in New York where you cannot book a time, turn up at a time, wait for a hundred years and eat when you’re already so hungry that you have fainted between four and six times.
A couple of weekends ago, I went somewhere distinctly average where we were the only table in there – red flag number one – and endured the mediocre food and lack of atmosphere for the sake of frugality, hunger and impatience.
However, last weekend, I found myself standing outside a restaurant for 30 minutes waiting for food which, in the grand scheme of things, is nothing. I have waited for almost two hours before.
I usually don’t even mind the wait because I’m about to order a steak or a burger or some well-cooked, beautifully presented MEAT. I always order red meat when I am out in New York because I do not cook meat when am “in” in New York. There are several reasons for this.
Firstly, it’s too expensive. Secondly, to get good quality meat you have to fork out big bucks. Thirdly, and most importantly, I cannot afford aforementioned good quality meat.
So on a day to day basis I function as a vegetarian. In fact, from Monday to Friday, I’m basically vegan. But not for any political or interesting reasons, and if I could eat red, rare, basically still alive steak on a daily basis I would. But not in New York.
Where I lived in Dublin, right by the sea, my choice of grocery stores were an organic market and a locally sourced butcher. I would pick up fresh greens, fresh meat, fresh everything and cook it with the French doors wide open and the sea breeze whipping through the apartment. Glorious.
In Bushwick, the environment is not so dreamy. My local C-town supermarket has all the basic essentials, including fresh (if a little grubby) produce. Some of the produce is so fresh, it is literally alive.
Next to the vegetables are two street-side open warehouses full of chickens crammed into filthy cages, excrement spilling onto the road accompanied by screeches, feathers, and a flurry of dust with a faint whiff of chicken urine.
Walking by, I wrap my scarf around my face and wretch through the smell, trying to avert my eyes from the blatant animal cruelty and the sad little chicken eyes staring at you, and all I can think of is that movie Chicken Run and how they must all be fantasising about escape from the smell of their own slow demise.
It’s depressing as heck, and when I walk past the stacks of chicken bits wrapped in cellophane in the building next door, the smell comes back to haunt me and I can’t pick it up.
Places like Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s don’t tend to keep livestock on site which makes the purchase of meat the calm, friendly and normal human event that it should be. Shopping at C-town literally drives you to the life of a vegetarian.
As strong as my sympathy for the chickens may be, my sympathy for my own stomach trying to digest them is even stronger. I won’t be putting that in my body any time soon.
So I live on yams and beans and grains and vegetables and congratulate myself on my money-saving, waist-shrinking, heart-healthy diet, inadvertently saving the entire Animal Kingdom and simultaneously becoming a Victoria’s Secret model, and then it gets to the weekend and I begin to hanker for a hanger.
Which brings us back to Sunday afternoon, standing on the sidewalk waiting for the sweet taste of grass-fed beef (which, folks, FYI, is just normal beef in Ireland – they all eat grass – what the hell are you feeding them over here?) but lo, we are not at a normal restaurant. We are at a bloody (actually, entirely bloodless) vegan restaurant. VEGAN.
While standing outside in this blissfully balmy winter, a pickup rolls by and a group of goth-like creatures proceed to menacingly flip us off.
I have to agree with them. What kind of pretentious rubbish is this? It’s only because one of my roommates is a vegetarian and she’s been desperate to try this place – Champs Diner – for ages.
They do fake beef! Fake bacon! Fake chicken wings! It’s the dream!
I have a hangover that could kill a small child so am in no position to argue, but looking through the menu I am horrified by all of the fake meats. They have a bacon cheeseburger which freaks me out so much, and I can’t get my head around all of the taste-test engineering that goes into fabricating such delicacies.
A burrito with seitan, wings made from tempeh, scrambled tofu instead of egg. It’s the menu from hell.
Until I see mac’n’cheese and suddenly the world becomes a brighter place. Fake cheese is delicious. I can get behind this.
And nachos – I like nachos. So we order a pile of stuff to share, and the waitress is a beautiful blonde angel, and the atmosphere is extremely cheerful and chill and I’m feeling positive.
The food is incredible. It’s the most delicious mac’n’cheese I’ve ever had. I am convinced they are LYING to us because it cannot not be real cheese!
The burrito tastes meaty as heck. The bacon is crispy and salty. The burger is satisfying and delicious.
We leave in a state of food-coma paralysis and for a moment, I wonder if I’m getting phantom meat sweats. One can only dream.
So as Monday rolls in I’m on day 10 of no meat and no dairy. Can one become an accidental vegan because one is too poor to buy meat and too freaked out by dying chickens to eat chicken products?
Will New York – the home of the burger – knock my meaty ways away?