Good Eats: John's of 12th Street

"Do you use the internet? Facebook, Twitter? Tell your friends about us," urged Mike, a tall, roundish man in a pastel pink shirt that hinted at his jovial disposition. Not that Mike, co-owner of John's of 12th Street, had to twist my arm in order for me to talk up his restaurant.

John's of 12th Street, or simply John's as it's called by loyal customers, is the 10th oldest continuously operating restaurant in New York City. Founded in 1908, the Southern Italian menu (read: eggplant rollatini, spaghetti and meatballs, et al.) has managed to stay relevant and perhaps even progress ahead of the times by offering a complete vegan Italian menu in addition to the classic fare.

Basically, every restaurant should be as smart as this one. My carnivorous husband can order Baked Lasagna with meat sauce while I order Seitan alla Rosa? (Seitan is a meat substitute made of wheat gluten. This was smothered in artichokes, peppers and mushrooms with Marsala wine sauce. Get on that.)
Suddenly every debate on where to have dinner and what type of dinner we were going to have (healthy vs. comfort vs. veggie vs. meat) seems ridiculous. John's has the best of every world and brings it to you with a smile.

I was nearly reduced to tears by the service alone. In true old-school Italian fashion--old habits die hard--every waiter was a young, pleasant, attractive man. Zero complaints about that, although my husband asked me why I was smiling so much. Tables had linens, waitstaff used crumbers, no one was rushed and music volume was kept in check.

I'm not sure if the Pinot Noir was starting to overthrow my good judgement, but I was so enthralled at discovering this gem that I nearly passed over the dessert menu. Then I saw one word: Lulu's.

Lulu's Sweet Apothecary is just about the best vegan ice cream you'll find. It doesn't matter that it's missing cow's milk, eggs, and sugar. It swiftly kicks 'normal' ice cream to the curb. I opted for two scoops of cookies n' cream. I got three. I said we'd share it and asked for two spoons. I shared nothing.

John's of 12th Street does something that is increasingly hard to do in New York dining: it bridges classic and modern menus without sacrificing personal style. Finding a vegan meal in a restaurant that doesn't channel Woodstock and Janis Joplin is rare. Eating it in a refined, familial environment is special. Giving customers healthier options without abandoning your culinary point of view (i.e.: veggie burgers and other random vegetarian dishes) is an accomplishment.

Grazie, John's. Now go check it out!


Make Thanksgiving dinner like a 3-year-old.

Thanksgiving is a holiday that requires no shopping, no wrapping paper, no major responsibilities aside from cooking and eating. Family and friends, just cooking and eating together for an entire day every year. There is no mystery behind my affinity for this holiday. I've already pulled out my favorite spiked cider recipe that I plan to have brewing all. day. long.

I have to say, I've never really been into the savory side of the menu. The turkey, vegetables, biscuits are all fine and good, but the desserts are what really win me over. Brown sugar, pumpkins, marshmallows and cinnamon-covered apples are around every corner--the scents that begin to linger in the air are enough to make me swoon.

I'm borderline embarrassed to admit that I love when I take a shower after a day of baking and that familiar butterty-brown sugar smell starts to emanate from my hair. Actually, I'm not embarrassed at all. It's everything you could ever want in a fragrance.

My family members are stout traditionalists when it comes to holiday meals. The stuffing must be Grandma's, the sweet potatoes must have marshmallows, and so on and so forth. While I'm on pie duty (pumpkin, apple and coconut custard), I'll admit that this year I'm tempted to make cupcakes. Pumpkin cupcakes, but cupcakes nonetheless.

Strange, you say? Watch this video and see if you don't find yourself completely sold on the idea:

Right?? Did you see how happy he was? C'mon, give these babies a chance!

Happy and healthy Thanksgiving to you all!


Croissants and cobblestone.

So is it showing? Can you tell that I've been too busy for Pip Cooks?

That was a trick question. If you were silently nodding in agreement, you fail. There's no such thing as too busy for this site, although I've certainly been acting otherwise.

Work, cleaning, cooking, some friends, more work. You know, the usual.

I have to let you know, though. I've gotten a glimpse at paradise. They call it Montreal.

Le Petit Hotel in Old Montreal
I traveled there to work for a very brief two days, but I must say, I think I fell in love a little.
If you like French food, pleasant people, clean cities, old fashioned architecture and cobblestone lined-streets, you're in luck. If you're into croissants, coffee and enjoy cute hotels, you've hit the lotto.

This little neighborhood spot was exceptional in the sense that they take the most normal lunch and bakery items and launch them into the stratosphere with amazing flavors, textures and ingredients.

Flakiest croissants, frothiest cappuccinos, coolest peanut butter-sea salt-cayenne cookies. Also, super-nice people. Canadians clearly have a lot to be happy about.

The takeaway lesson for me was this: Choose whatever you like to do--as simple and mundane as you think it may be--and just do it well. Like, really well.

That's when the magic happens.