Bohemian Rhapsody: What Starving Artists Don't Want You to Know About How Much They Eat and Where They Eat It

June 20, 2012 3:09 PM EDT | By Anthony Smith
Greenwich Village
We'll show you how to navigate the most expensive streets in the city to find all the stuff you can afford on a young artist's budget. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

These images are all cliches, even if the story checks out: Greenwich Village, 196x. Beatniks in horizontal stripes drink too much coffee and dance the night away, even in the daytime. Spoken-word poets with the smell of stale cigarettes in their hair make an art-- a high art, at that-- from the caesural pause. The bongo was a punctuation mark that brought everything to a head, syntactical or otherwise. Crime ran rampant out in the streets; kids ran wild everywhere else.

Long before American Apparel's unnervingly thin models who look out at you, barely looking; long before Criminal-era Fiona Apple took her clothes off and sank into that bathtub in front of all those people; long before Kate Moss's equestrian impulses, there were the American beatniks of Greenwich Village, a youth generation that spurned its parents' money in favor of lifting its shirt and exposing its ribcage.

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A half-century later, they've stabilized their rent and settled into culturally normative ways. When I lived there with my roommate, we got a lot of noise complaints-- perhaps the most telling indication that times have changed and everyone grows up and gets crotchety. For better or worse, bored-and-affected cashiers rest their elbows over the only counter culture that still exists in Greenwich Village. And everywhere we used to flock holds a small, copper plaque which insists the site a city landmark. The inscription on it, God bless it, passes on a copywriter's take on what used to be and why it should still be important: "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to drink free."

The cynicism is unfair, perhaps: lots can change in half a century. But Greenwich Village (and the West Village, if you buy that there's a distinction) is now one of the most expensive neighborhoods in the entirety of New York City. Still, in spite of its new, exorbitant rent prices, it still preserves some of its sixties feel by hiding some of the cheapest, best eats in town. Put on your beret, grab your first-edition copy of Howl, and head on down to any of these hip haunts.

We'll start with the cheaper ones, then work our way up-- but in the spirit of the starving artist on a budget that accidentally comes to the West Village not knowing that what was once the wild west is now a dude ranch, they'll all be cheap eats.

1. Mamoun's Falafel

Yes, yes, this isn't exactly a scoop. Mamoun's Falafel is the cheapest eat you can find in the village that won't put a hamper on your health. I think there's better falafel in the city, like Cheep's and Oasis, but you really can't go wrong here, especially if you ask the gruff guys behind the counter to drown your under-three dollar falafel in a ton of white sauce. Their freaking incredible hot sauce is to be taken but not to be taken lightly; it has a slow, intense burn that builds with each bite. I'm a big fan of spicy foods, but I've often woken up after a night of heavy drinking with no hangover but a tongue that felt like I'd been making out with a smelt the night before. Careful.

2. Bagel on the Square

These guys have saved my life on more than one occasion, on account of the average post-Bohemian doesn't keep anyone's schedule but his own. That's why a twenty-four hour bagel joint (that delivers!) is a welcome sight for sore eyes. Their homemade cream cheese spreads run the gamut from the solid standards (good scallion spreads, lox spreads) to the wonderful (green apple spreads, bacon spreads) to the over-the-top (their garrish bacon-horseradish cream cheese is a little much).

But whatever you end up ordering, these guys do it really right. If you're in the mood for one of the classics, grab a Cinnamon Raisin bagel with Scallion Cream Cheese. If you're feeling more adventurous, try their homemade French Toast Bagel with Green Apple Cream Cheese. Never mind that you're eating a bagel at 3:30 AM while watching a rerun of The Colbert Report; you're just doing you.

2. Dosa Guy/NY Dosas

For six dollars, you get a feast proper from the nicest guy in New York City. His cart, located on the sunny south side of Washington Square Park and smattered with all the compliments he's received throughout his years of service to the community, doles out delicious dosas in the afternoon hours. We wish her were there longer, and that his doses were the gigantic, unfolded-over kind like you get in restaurants, but we understand why we can't do it that way.

But let's start with the basics: you can understand a dosa as India's take on the crepe: a giant, delicate, flaky pastry stuffed with spiced potatoes and folded over onto itself. It comes with a small side of lentil soup, dipping sauces, and a fantastic coconut chutney. Try to avoid peak lunch hours here, as you'll be competing with NYU students who all know to grab some grub while the getting's good, especially between the scholastic months of August and May. In the summer, it's mostly a straight shot to you and your dosa. Just make sure to catch it when the time is right.

3. Fish 

So let's say you're not that hungry, but you want to blow eight bucks on the best-kept secret in town? Head on over to Fish, where eight bucks (clams, bones) gets you their Red, White, and Blue Special any time of day: six Blue Point oysters, and a glass of red wine, white wine, or beer. You read that right. And you can keep as many coming out to you as you want.

I'll admit: Blue Points aren't my favorite oyster. But they're nowhere near bottom of the barrel, either. And when the price is right, they're just perfect.

Everything else on the menu is pricy, which is great because you literally don't have to get anything else on their menu.

4. Rocco's (Currently Closed and in the Process of Re-Opening)

While doing my research today, I was heartbroken to learn that my favorite Italian restaurant in the city (there, I said it, deal with it), its neon sign located just footsteps from the Bleecker Street promenade, went out of business fairly recently. I cannot number how many afternoons I spent with my girlfriends, eating the sweetest melons wrapped in the saltiest prosciutto. More importantly, I will never forget their signature dish, the best in the city: a gigantic plate of gnocchi gorgonzola. It came, and will come again someday, with gnocchi that tasted as though it was rolled from a cloud. The chef tops off his perfect potato noodles with a gorgonzola cream sauce that somehow managed to hold all the complex flavors of its namesake cheese without being too cloyingly cheesy.

The result was a masterpiece: the best-executed pasta dish in all of New York, inspiring a gluten-sensitive, lactose-sensitive eater like me to soldier through it and pay for the consequences later. Set a google alert to "Rocco's Gnocchi" and sprint, don't run, to its new location whenever it swings its doors wide again. 

**

Take the 1 train to Christopher Street or the Orange and Blue lines to West 4th, grab any of these bites, walk on over to the pier, and enjoy the best day you've had in ages.



 

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