7 (Sun) February 2016
at Koronet Pizza
-Morningside Heights, New York-
Mission to USA + Personal Deviation, Day 2 (see previously 7.032 Manhattan).
In New York. Here to attend a global meeting on NCDs at the United Nations, Tuesday to Friday. Plus to give a guest lecture on global health law at TU tomorrow. Got in yesterday, a day early, both to eat and to better adjust to the time shift — obviously more the former. Flying back Saturday.
A whole free day before a full week of work.
First, lunch with my cousin KS — youngest patrilineal cousin, who lives in the city, whom I hadn’t seen since 2009.
The Smith was his idea.
When I lived in New York from 1991-1992, generic hotdog stands could be found on every street corner. Nothing but. A basic dog sold for a buck, an additional $0.25 for saurkraut, $0.50 for chili. Being a “poor” college student — not really that poor — I ate hotdogs all the time — because they were so good. Sadly, the carts have since been largely replaced by trucks selling middle eastern fare — which isn’t inherently a bad thing, just saying. Nathan’s, on the strength of its brand — though I can’t recall ever eating Nathan’s back then — would appear to be the sole survivor.
On my next visit to the city, I hope to cover Gray’s Papaya.
As mentioned tangentially in various prior posts, my freshman year of college was at Columbia University.
I will always cherish the memories of the food that I enjoyed during that time, even though I wasn’t really into food back then.
1991, the year that I entered college, is widely regarded as the year of political correctness mainstreaming. As such, we were officially — yes, officially — prohibited from using the term “freshman” because PC-proponents had successfully argued that it discriminated against female students; instead, “1st-year” was the permissible term. We were further advised, though not required, to spell “woman/women” as “womyn.”
My favorite food memory of Columbia will always be Koronet. Purely because of the size, the shock sure to delight every time, at least once a week. At $1.75 for a cheese slice, the best bargain in the neighborhood. The pizza itself was good, but not amazing.
This evening, 25 years later, a cheese slice cost me $46.50. Too tired/lazy/flush to take the train — while I’m generally capable/eager to use the NY subway system, getting from Midtown East to Morningside Heights would’ve been a major hassle — I took taxis both ways — $22 getting there, $20 back. Plus $4.50 for the slice. Totally not worth it, but totally worth it.
At the time — a few years before Seinfeld — Tom’s Restaurant had recently become a hot topic of pop culture — particularly for students at Columbia and Barnard. Tom’s Album, a compilation featuring various takes on Susanne Vega’s song “Tom’s Diner” — “I am sitting in the morning at the diner on the corner” — including the instantly iconic trip hop remix by DNA, played ad nauseam at campus parties that fall semester, had just been released in September 1991. The song was about the restaurant, where Suzanne Vega had been a regular customer as an undergrad at Barnard.
For me, it’s more significant as the place where I was introduced to the toasted bagel with fried egg, lettuce, and tomato, described in a prior post as “without question or qualification, my favorite sandwich of all time (see generally 1.324 Toasted Bagel Sandwich…) — the post also mentions Tom’s.
Probably because I was full from the pizza, the sandwich this evening didn’t seem that great. Also due to the absence of lettuce, it felt too heavy.
Living in Morningside Heights, bordering Harlem to the north, once represented the closest thing to a ghetto experience that poor little rich kids could dare to enjoy — indeed, students were mugged on occasion — a fleeting flirtation before graduating and moving on to better parts of the city.
Of course, much of the ethnically diverse student body actually hailed from the inner city — regarded skeptically/cynically/bitterly by some, partly as a negative reaction to political correctness, as undeserving beneficiaries of affirmative action.
Hip hop music was widely embraced at Columbia as an integral cultural component of the native environment. In my fraternity — comprised mostly of WASPs, Jews and Asians — our favorite party anthem was Public Enemy’s “Can’t Truss It,” a song about slavery from the album Apocalypse 91…The Enemy Strikes Black.
When Spike Lee shot a scene at Columbia with Denzel Washington for the film Malcolm X in early 1992, the campus went nuts.
(Woody Allen also shot scenes with Juliet Lewis for Husbands and Wives at Barnard in late 1991, just before the Soon-Yi scandal was brought to light.)
In the spring of 1992, as we watched news reports of the LA riots following the Rodney King verdicts, a classmate remarked that he was happy to be safe in the slums of New York.
Now unapologetically gentrified — even Harlem having undergone its own renaissance — nothing of the old Morningside Heights remains beyond Koronet and Tom’s. Gone are the Chinese joints, the Irish dive bars, the Korean corner bodegas. Replaced by brunch joints, juice bars, organic delicatessens. Rich little rich kids move from their dorms upon graduation to high-rise condos a couple blocks away.
If only Morningside Heights had been like this when I was there.
Then again, I would’ve gone broke. And died of fine dining.
This may be the busiest post in the history of GMTD.