My first lunch as a bonafide New Yorker, in the summer of 2000, was a chocolate egg cream and the most overpriced egg salad sandwich in the history of New York at Lindy's, a restaurant where no self-respecting Gothamite would ever eat a second lunch. Seven and a half years later, on a bone-chilling early January evening, I took the F train a few stops into Brooklyn, then walked 20 minutes through Park Slope to Franny's. A few months earlier, I had one of my best New York meals ever there, and I wanted to eat another clam pie before I moved to New Orleans.
My beloved Prosecco with Wild Celery wasn't on the menu that night, so I ordered another simple syrup-based cocktail, and took a seat at the window bar facing Flatbush Avenue. It had been a long time since I enacted my ritual of eating out at nice restaurants alone, and I felt a little out of sorts. As I sipped the cocktail, which didn't have quite the same luscious zing, I looked out the window and realized how kind of sweet it was that the last restaurant I was treating myself to in New York was just a few blocks from the apartment where Jon lived when we first met.
I remembered the time early in our relationship when I fell in my tall shoes and skinned my knee while walking from his apartment to the subway stop that's right by Franny's. I can picture my exact red and black outfit from that early summer morning, and how seeing my knee covered in gravel and blood made me feel like a kid after a bike crash instead of a 22-year-old on the way to a Park Avenue office.
I pictured how magical New York was when I first moved there. My first Staten Island Ferry ride, replete with fresh champagne grapes and chocolates from Dean & Deluca. Popping a bottle of champagne, eating chocolate cake and waving sparklers on a friend's fire escape to celebrate her first job. My first NYC birthday dinner at a run-of-the-mill Mexican restaurant in SoHo ("It's all down here from hill," I drunkenly sighed to a friend while waiting for the subway). Feeling justified to take long lunches because it was Restaurant Week. A sad three-course meal for one at Artisanal and a few months later my first lobster roll at Mary's Fish Camp, both to comfort myself when my Dad was fighting cancer. And all the expensive meals I was treated to when I worked in publishing, from Gramercy Tavern to Nobu. While that early magic never quite disappeared, it did begin to fray during my last years there.
Just as the plate from my trio of house-cured soppressata, pancetta and coppa was switched out for my pizza with clams, chilies and parsley, Jon called. "I'm on a date with New York right now, I'll call you later." I tore off a slice and sunk my teeth into that masterful, blistery, creamy, juicy, spicy, salty pizza. It was superb. It was. But it was also heavily weighted, as though the instant I finished the last drop of clam juice that dripped to the plate, every ounce of New Yorker in me would drain away.
Thankfully, though the City can indeed be harsh, it's a little more forgiving than that. A few months after leaving, I'm so happy to have more space, green, time, and less noise. But I'm also starting to miss it like you miss an old friend from whom you've moved away. I'm certain I've only begun to understand that friend's lifelong impact on me. And, I've yet to eat a good slice of pizza.
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The summer I moved to New York, I was nursing an unrequited crush on the drummer from the band Guster. It came about during a few loud conversations in various music venues, but went no further than an invite to my first New York rooftop party, where I felt awkward and young and realized I had a lot more to learn as a new New Yorker than where to get an egg salad sandwich.
As I walked to the security gate at JFK at the end of January, Guster's song "Satellite" began playing softly overhead. I paused, shrugged my shoulders bemusedly, and got in line.
The minute I got off the plane I began to shed layers. When I exited Louis Armstrong Airport, I spotted Jon leaning against our new, sparkling blue car. My first lunch as a New Orleanian was an Abita rootbeer and a fully dressed oyster poboy at Parkway Bakery. It's the kind of place where no self-respecting New Orleanian would want to admit they hadn't eaten, at least twice.
Photo on the Staten Island Ferry, by Sara Miller, October 2000