Tag Archives: mozzarella sticks

Little Italy Pizza

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I live in a pizza dead zone. There are a few places in my neighborhood, but they’re all pretty terrible, so for the most part, I abstain. I can get Joe’s through Caviar, but it takes an hour and a half, and by the time the pizza arrives, it’s always soggy and lukewarm. So when I really want pizza, I have to comb the Internet for alternatives. Can you see where this is going? Little Italy Pizza is just one of those random pizzerias I found through whatever third-party delivery website I happened to have been scouring for a nut-free pie. I claim no responsibility for this post’s existence.

Unfortunately, Little Italy is at the very bottom of my random-delivery-pizza hierarchy (which category is itself at the bottom of the pizza-in-general hierarchy). But we’ll get there. First, allergens. Before placing my first Seamless order, I gave Little Italy’s Fulton Street location a call, and the guy I spoke with assured me (through much confusion) that there are no tree nuts or peanuts used in any of their food. Whether he knew what he was talking about, I have no idea—but I’m inclined to believe what he said, given that Little Italy is just a standard-issue pizzeria, whose ilk I’ve never, ever had any (allergy-related) trouble with.

Look: I’m just going to skip over all the Fluff & Fun and cut to the chase here, because this place is so bad that I can’t even have a good time at its expense. The pizza’s so lame that I actually won’t eat it—and there isn’t much I won’t eat (or at least idly pick at) once it’s in front of me. The cheese is inoffensive, I guess, but the sauce is so sweet, and the crust is…something else entirely. It has a weird flavor, and it’s so crispy that it’s basically a cracker—plus, it’s covered with bread crumbs, which (a) give it an even less pleasant texture than it otherwise would’ve had, and (b) make for an unusually messy slice of pizza. (Seriously. I eat extra carefully and I’m still vacuuming up breadcrumbs 10 minutes after getting rid of the box.)

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For whatever reason (desperation—the reason is desperation), I’ve also tried Little Italy’s calzones, their stromboli, and their mozzarella sticks. But unfortunately, I have almost nothing nice to say about any of the above. My calzone (ham and cheese) was inedible—the cheese may as well have been made of plastic, and the ham, present only in two enormous chunks, was pretty gross, too. And the stromboli I ate (three bites of) wasn’t any better. Each and every meat inside was unequivocally bad, but it was the pepperoni that kept me from reaching bite #4. There had to have been at least 20 layers of pepperoni in that thing, and it was Hormel-quality, too. Please, no.

The mozzarella sticks were, I guess, the best of the bunch. That’s not saying much, I know. But I didn’t actually mind them in the slightest. (Maybe I just have too much of a soft spot for mozzarella sticks. But my many food-related soft spots couldn’t save the rest of Little Italy’s food.) No doubt, these were bad—the cheese was shitty, and the breading was all wrong—but I got through them, and I ordered them again (of my own free will!), too. That’s a lot more than I can say about any of the other Little Italy productions I’ve tried.

Over the last six months (which is as long as I’ve known about the place), I’ve ordered from Little Italy maybe four or five times—but that’s only because they’re open all night and they’ll actually deliver to me when no other restaurants seem to be able to. My verdict, then: There’s no excuse for giving up actual legal tender in exchange for such bad pizza in a city full of such great options…except for, you know, all those excuses I rattled off over the course of this post.

You’ve been warned.

Find Little Italy Pizza all over Manhattan.

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Roll-N-Roaster

A tray of nut-free food from Roll-n-Roaster in Sheepshead Bay

Roll-N-Roaster is probably one of the weirdest restaurants I’ve ever been to—but I say that only because I’m not used to the total foreign land that is Sheepshead Bay (and its surrounding neighborhoods), nor do I have much experience with pre-gentrification Brooklyn. Rest assured, though, that I’ve deemed Roll-N-Roaster weird in a good way. This place perplexes the hell out of me, and it takes me over an hour to get there, but God, I love it.

Located in one of a set of neighborhoods I’ve just decided to refer to as Unironic Brooklyn, Roll-N-Roaster is, first and foremost, a fast-food joint. (They call themselves “not so fast,” as for almost 50 years now, they’ve insisted on cooking everything to order, and they’re rather proud of the fact that their rolls will actually go stale, if ever given the chance.) Their main hawk is roast-beef sandwiches—and should you ever end up there, you’d be mistaken not to order one—but their menu‘s huge: sandwiches, burgers, pizza, wings, tenders, and all the sides you can imagine. Everything on the menu, save for a $60 bottle of Moët & Chandon, is under $8, and if you manage to spend over $35, they’ll give you a free pizza, sans prompting. (In fact, avoid trying to do any prompting. They’ll look at you funny.)

There are about six trillion things about this place that really should make me twitch. It’s about as far out of my way as I can fathom; the food’s not that much better than your average fast-food chain’s, but its devotees all tout it as the best stuff on this planet; it’s almost always filled with drunk and/or very strange people; the menu (and the restaurant itself) is peppered with ridiculous grammatical errors; everyone in the place—including those who aren’t drunk—seem to be of that mentally unsound sort who think artificial cheese (sorry, cheez) is an acceptable thing to even think about eating; and the place leaks insane amounts of unironic kitsch right out its wazoo.

But something about sitting at one of their (many, many) tables is so inexplicably comforting that I can’t quite bring myself to feel any sort of frustration with anything while doing so. For real. This isn’t just some attempt to slip in a few of Roll-N-Roaster’s downsides without being unnecessarily mean to the place over the course of my write-up; there really just is something about it that’s somehow managed to grant it immunity from its flaws. Maybe it’s the place’s sheer distance from the stress and demands of the real world (well, my real world). Or maybe it’s just the greasy-ass comfort food. I suppose we’ll never know.

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I suppose, too, that I should get to talking about allergens. This’ll be brief, because at Roll-N-Roaster, the deal’s pretty simple: There are no tree nuts (or peanuts) present in the kitchen, and I’ve been told that their bread shouldn’t contain any traces of nuts, either. They do serve a few desserts, and while I’m not sure whether those are free from cross-contamination, I do know that they don’t explicitly contain any nuts—so on that front, I feel comfortable with a simple policy of, uh, not ordering any. (I’m used to it; probably, you are, too.)

Before getting into the food, though, I want to spend a little time on the restaurant itself. It’s pretty big—by my Manhattan-born standards, at least—with, like, two or three rooms jam-packed with tables. (The above photo doesn’t do the restaurant’s size much justice.) Aesthetically, it reminds me of a rest-stop McDonald’s, and strictly speaking, that’s an insult, but I actually don’t intend it as one. Apparently, the folks at Roll-N-Roaster haven’t messed much with the restaurant’s decor since its opening in the early 1970s. And why should they? It’s roomy, clean, and functional—and it pairs well with the food.

The counter at Roll-n-Roaster

Anyway. Like I said, Roll-N-Roaster’s menu is big. But I tend to stick to the roast-beef and ribeye sandwiches and some combination of fries, onion rings, mozzarella sticks, chicken tenders, and corn fritters. I avoid their cheez (which you can get on anything you “pleez,” according to at least four separate signs) like it’s the fucking plague—but I did try it once (Sam’s doing), just to be absolutely sure it’d be fair of me to go on hating the stuff. Unsurprisingly, it tastes like all the rest of the processed cheese in the universe: gross, plasticky, not-cheesy, and just generally reprehensible.

Onto the sides.

Sans cheez, the fries are good. They’re shaped like little pickle chips, and they’re thin and usually pretty crispy, which is nice. They benefit a lot from the salt that’s available on every table, and they could use some dipping sauce, too, but it’s not as if they desperately need any. They’re all right on their own—and Roll-N-Roaster’s honey mustard (my sauce of choice) is about as good as their cheez. (I didn’t manage to get any pictures of the fries, but they look like this.)

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The mozzarella sticks and onion rings, however, are better than all right. In fact, both are legitimately good. The mozzarella sticks are nice and creamy on the inside with a thick-enough, crunchy-enough outside, and the marinara sauce they come with isn’t as cloying as most shitty marinaras are. (Actually, as these things go, it’s pretty good.)

And the onion rings are even better. These are of the onion-ring archetype that sits at the back of my mind forever whispering at me to order the onion rings! each and every time I see them on some godforsaken menu. 85% of the time, I end up disappointed; usually, what arrives is greasy and bland, and the fucking onions always fall right out at first bite. Trash. But these are actually pretty great. They’re thin-ish and crispy, and they have enough structural integrity to not, you know, fall the fuck apart just because you’ve shot them a funny glance. Such a relief.

The corn fritters—on a good night—are a lot of fun, too. (I mean, they’re deep-fried balls of battered corn. What’s not to like?) The corn itself is a little watery, but whatever it’s surrounded with is good enough to keep me from caring much about the corn itself. The fritters are almost like deep-fried corn pudding, really…if corn pudding were a lot more underwhelming than it already is. Regardless, I enjoy these, and I order them pretty regularly.

A roast-beef sandwich with onions and extra gravy from Roll-n-Roaster

But the main event of my Roll-N-Roaster meals (and of any reasonable person’s, I’d say) is definitely the roast-beef sandwich—which I like to order with roasted onions and plenty of extra gravy. The bun is decent, though nothing life-changing; the roast beef itself (which they unfortunately no longer offer rare or medium-rare) is above average, but certainly not incredible; the onions are solid, but a little too thick-cut; and the gravy doesn’t have all that much flavor. Together, though, these components amount to way more than the sum of their parts—especially once you’ve lifted the bun and sprinkled some much-needed salt atop the meat.

I should probably mention, too, that I’m a pretty big fan of the ribeye sandwich as well. It’s so greasy—it’s basically a hunk of pan-fried steak on bread, after all—and massively flavorful, too, even without onions or gravy. (In fact, onions and gravy don’t do much for this sandwich; more than anything else, they just tend to sog it up and detract from the meat itself.) I don’t understand it. This sandwich shouldn’t be so delicious. But it is.

I don’t know, man. Weird shit goes on at Roll-N-Roaster. I can’t explain any of it, nor can I explain any of my feelings about it. All I can say is that these sandwiches are strangely enjoyable, and that the restaurant is strangely pleasant. I can’t shed any light on the phenomenon; I can only confirm that it’s real.

A tray of food from Roll-n-Roaster

Oh, and by the way—if it doesn’t go without saying—stay far away from the pizza. Really.

Find Roll-N-Roaster at 2901 Emmons Avenue, between 29th Street and Nostrand Avenue. (Take the B or the Q to Sheepshead Bay and walk the mile to Roll-N-Roaster. It’s not too bad a walk—you’ll pass lots of weird-ass restaurants, at least. Alternatively, drive. There’s even a parking lot.)

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Big Daddy’s: no nuts, plenty of kitsch

The Mr. French Dip from Big Daddy's

Big Daddy’s is a lovely place. Honestly, it’s a terrible place—but it’s lovely, too. Bright, loud, busy as hell, and absurdly kitschy…if that’s your scene, you’ll be in love.

Alternatively, if you’re like me, and you don’t feel at home under super-bright lighting or with jukebox classics constantly threatening to overwhelm your conversation, but you do have a nut allergy—well, you’ll be grateful to be able to eat at a diner, at the very least.

I’ve heard over and over that Big Daddy’s is nut-free, but they don’t categorize themselves as such on their website, so I wanted to make sure. I’ve spoken to servers and they’re always confident: no nuts on the menu, nor in the kitchen. Still, I wanted to know—are they truly nut-free, in the they-vet-their-vendors-and-I-can-eat-a-slice-of-pie sense, or do they just happen not to have any (intentional) nuts on the menu?

In an attempt to get some real answers, I called Big Daddy’s and spoke with a very understanding representative. She asked me to forward her a list of my questions so she could double-check on the answers, as she didn’t want to risk misleading me. Fair enough. Half an hour later, I had the following reply in my inbox:

Hey! So everything that is made in house in guaranteed to be completely nut free. However, with some of our cakes and breads that we order (of course there are no nuts in the food itself) there is no guarantee that there is no cross contamination. I don’t know exactly which [menu items] are and aren’t [guaranteed nut-free]. Our menu is really big and I would just be guessing on a lot of the things. That’s more of a question for the kitchen and unfortunately there is no way of contacting them. If you had a few specific questions I could find out but theyre too busy to go over the whole menu with me and tell me what is what.

She also forwarded me an email from the director of operations:

Off premise bake goods are not guaranteed but no in house nuts. I wouldn’t eat 7 grain bread or off premise cakes.

Of course, I’m sure you’d be able to speak to a server (or even a member of the kitchen staff) about just what’s made in house and what isn’t, should you ever have a question about a specific dish. In my experience, the employees at Big Daddy’s tend to be pretty understanding—but you may have to push a little harder than usual to get your server to double-check on anything, since they’re so used to telling those with allergies that everything’s 100% nut-free.

Anyway, because their in-house food is guaranteed nut-free (and because servers will readily assure you the restaurant is totally nut-free), I’ve categorized Big Daddy’s as truly nut-free. Despite all of the above, it seems to be a pretty safe place to eat—especially if you avoid the muffins, cakes, and certain breads, which isn’t all that hard to do. (And if your allergies are particularly sensitive, to the point that you’re uncomfortable eating commercial ice cream that’s been run on shared lines, you’d be wise to avoid their shakes, too.)

[Note: Since writing this post, it’s come to my attention that Big Daddy’s is even less nut-free than I’d thought. Their Triple Chocolate Disco Shake (chocolate ice cream, Frangelico, crème de cacao) does explicitly contain a nut product (hazelnut liqueur), which doesn’t bode well for Big Daddy’s. In my eyes, it’s not the liqueur itself that’s the problem, but the ignorance the liqueur betrays. How has it managed to slip under the nut-free radar—as in, why does nobody ever think to mention it—and what else might have done the same?]

As a rule, the food is on par with your average diner’s. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it good, but it isn’t terrible, either. I usually order the Mr. French Dip (pictured above) or the Original Big Mac Daddy—both with tater tots. The Mr. French Dip is somehow both too bland and too salty, but what can I say? I have a soft spot for baguettes—including mediocre ones. The Big Mac Daddy is (you guessed it) a burger with Big Mac sauce. Not bad, on a good day. The mozzarella sticks (sorry, the Really Really Good Mozz Styx) are decent, and I’ve been known to order the Monty Hall, What a Deal! (turkey, ham, and swiss on white bread—fried) on occasion, even though I always end up regretting that decision.

And yes, the menu is filled with dish names like those above. Ordering is always embarrassing. But if you can get past the kitschy menu and the even kitschier atmosphere, Big Daddy’s is fair place to eat. On occasion. If you’re really craving diner food.

(One thing I can endorse without disclaimers or reservations, though: the malted milkshakes. I like the vanilla Plain Jane, but if you can get them to malt the Cookie Monster—vanilla with Oreos—well, that’s my official recommendation. I’m sure the ice cream’s made on shared lines, though, so…maybe one reservation.)

There are three locations in NYC: one in Gramercy Park, one on the Upper East Side, and one on the Upper West Side. I’ve been a bit harsh, but I do think they’re worth a try.

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