Beef cheeks in NYC with Kenny


I flew to NYC on kind of a whim over the weekend, so this is 2:20 a.m. version for this week.

I'm sitting, actually propped up in bed, in a DoubleTree hotel in the Financial District getting ready for a Sunday in the city with my family. I honestly don't know what that agenda is, but I'm excited about it.

You're reading this with your morning coffee, and the odds are very good, since it really is 2:20 a.m., that I'm actually asleep right now.

But I sat up after a nap from 10:30 p.m. to 2:00 a.m. and thought to myself, "I wasn't gonna write this weekend, because it's kind of a mini vacation - but it's right here in my face."

I fired up the laptop.

I wanted to tell you all about this, my third trip to the city. The flight was a Dramamine-Xanax-assisted flight. I booked my tickets about five days ago. I always choose my seat so I can be on the aisle and in the middle so I can get the hell off the thing when it lands.

I was feeling nervous as I sat at the gate and took my physician-prescribed dosage to keep me light on the plane. I had downloaded Mr. Baseball to my phone and was ready for the hour-and-35-minute flight to LaGuardia from St. Louis.

The gate usher started calling seat groups and the first person I saw get to the ticket stand looked eerily like The Wizard, Ozzie Smith. I leaned over to the guy sitting next to me and said, "Was that Ozzie Smith that just got on our plane?"'

"Uh.... I'm sorry? I wasn't actually watching anyone."

First of all, I knew he and I couldn't be friends. If you don't people-watch you're just a nerd.

Secondly, I've been watching baseball since Joe Garagiola on Saturday's NBC Game of the Week. I'm a ridiculous Reds fan so I know the damned Cardinals and that was Ozzie.

The thing about Xanax is it kind of takes the governor off our sense of humility - just a bit. Nothing narcotic at all. It's very manageable without side effects as long as you don't pour cocktails in on top of it.

As I ducked uneasily from the jetway into the American Airlines plane and looked to my left, right there was arguably the best defensive shortstop in history. You have to take the whole body of work, but you can make the case. He was traveling with someone and I said to the woman, "That's Ozzie right?"

Thank God she didn't say she wasn't "actually watching anyone." She nodded and crinkled her nose. He looked up. "Care if I grab a picture?

"Go ahead," and I did. Very gracious. I then wanted so badly to tell him I'd hold the rest of the boarders back so he could back-flip down the aisle, but they make these planes really narrow... and I only had .25 mg of Xanax.

The flight was as good as it could have been. We flew in to watch our daughter in the SOOP to Nuts fall play competition in the small town of Pelham, New York.

It was incredible - the play, the city, the people, and this small Italian restaurant called Sergio's where I had the house Sauvignon Blanc and four pieces of baked shrimp with crab meat - and an awkwardly large pile of massaged spinach in the middle.


Our daughter's play was a short drama about two women whose dog has died, and they take a 24-hour swing to an Airbnb in the Adirondacks to spread the ashes in a frozen lake.

The stink of it is they can't bear to part with the ashes and end up taking them back home. But the battle over how to negotiate the death of their pet, which seems a test-run for adopting children, helps clear the path of some underlying tensions.

I sat leaned forward in this small theater with uncomfortable chairs, completely rivoted to the first time I've ever seen Taylor on stage. It was Tony-worthy even if it wasn't. She brought all the emotion of a young woman grappling with the loss of death, and the happiness of love - all in the time it takes to bring up the lights and take them back down.

Goosebumps doesn't even describe what I was feeling sitting next to her mother, watching our daughter's first Off-Off-Off-Off-Off-Broadway gig. Whether there will ever be another one or not will have absolutely no bearing on the memory. But we hope for more.

On Saturday we went back to the theater for the second showing. It was a neat concept where the playhouse picked 24 screenplays out of about 200 from around the country. They brought the productions to this little community about the size of Fort Madison on the north side of New York City, and the guests score the day's six shows. The theater company sets aside two weeks for the productions.

The top six plays get invited back to put on their show for a cash prize. That weekend is judged by professionals from the industry. Really a cool concept that could be done locally with the right energy.

Saturday night after her final show, which I forgot to bring flowers for, we brought a Lyft back to our daughter's apartment, had a short moment with her cats while she picked up fresh clothes, and then headed out to dinner.

We stopped at a place called WarrenPeace, an eclectic gastropub on Warren Street, just a quick Subway ride from our hotel. One of our daughter's roommates, Kenny, whom she met at the acting conservatory she attended, invited us down for his shift. He went to Saturday's performance with us.

With a glass of red I ordered an Albanian fergese. This is a cheese dip with herbs, olive oil, some regional spices and beef cheek.

I enjoyed the grilled, seasoned bruschetta that you pulled through the clay pot of fergese.  I'm not sure this is the norm for others, but Lee and Taylor and I rarely eat our own meals. The plates get moved around and we sample each other's food.

It's not just a dessert thing - but it is a dessert thing.

Anyway, as we shared the meals, Taylor leaned in to me and whispered, "This is really good, but I think I got a piece of fat."

I looked down at the heavy polished wooden bar and chuckled.

"It's beef cheek," I said.  She looked at me puzzled and tilted her head slightly with a pause.

"That just a cute name for rump...?" she quizzed.

"No - rub your tongue on the inside of your cheek," I replied and she did.  Her eyebrows lifted and the look on her face was one of "Noooooooo."

I laughed and we checked with Kenny. "Yeah."

Taylor had two incredible lamb sliders with herbs, topped with a toothpick of pearl onion and petite pickles. Top shelf. Lee had sausage ravioli.

I taste-sampled a Japanese whiskey that was eerily similar to Jameson, and a smoky, or 'peaty' scotch.  Not a big fan. It was just a touch easier than an Ardbeg. If you don't know Ardbeg, think of drinking in the smoke of a wet campfire. That'll do it.

We shared a pistachio creme brule for dessert and headed to Bryant Park for a waffle. That may seem like a lot of food, but if you've been to the city you know that the walking involved in getting from point A to point B definitely makes two desserts doable.

Needless to say a couple of Achilles blisters into the hour-long walk-about in the district resulted in us just stopping for Van Leeuwen ice cream and heading back to the hotel.

Sunday will surely be a unique breakfast and Bryant Park for more sampling at their Christmas festival with hot cider, donuts, chocolate and... people watching.

The thing about New York City is they're so busy looking at their phones, they don't know you're doing it... or they simply don't care. Either way is fine with this cheeky Midwestern boy... But that's Beside the Point.

Chuck Vandenberg is editor and co-owner of Pen City Current and can be reached at

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