Meb Byrne

Archive for the ‘american’ Category

Glitter Sleuth Goes West

In american, inspiration, storytelling on August 9, 2011 at 9:27 pm

We can live anywhere.

Thirty-eight days ago, I quit the East Coast. I shoved a suitcase full of shoes and a lunchbox full of muffins into the back seat of my boyfriend’s car one grey July morning, hugged my parents goodbye, and pointed the car toward California.  Tom and I were San Francisco-bound: him for work, me for… well, I wasn’t quite sure. I had never seen San Francisco. We had been dating for two months.

Our week-long, cross-continental trek passed in snapshots, like a montage sequence in a chick flick. Here we are in Chicago, catching fireflies in Millennium Park. Here we are in Kearney, Nebraska, setting off Fourth of July fireworks in an abandoned trailer park lot. Here we are in Albuquerque, arguing and crying into our dinner plates in a tacky late-night bar. Here we are in the Grand Canyon, outrunning a torrential downpour to save my beloved Canon. Here we are in Vegas, broke and sober, people watching at the Bellagio Fountains. There’s the food poisoning Tom contracted. There’s the rattlesnake that nearly bit my ankle. There’s the $42 breakfast bill. There’s the wrecked car bumper. I scribbled notes in my Moleskine the whole way, trying to soak it all up, take it all in, not miss a thing.

In San Francisco, I took a job with a political campaign for the next mayoral election. I spent several weeks as a signature gatherer, canvassing bus stops and brunch lines, approaching every person I passed and asking for their support. I met dozens of crazy characters in the City by the Bay: the pro bono balloon animal artist at the Ferry Building Farmer’s Market; the tough-looking Latino youth with a staggering amount of political savvy; the cross-country biker from an “intentional community” in Portland; the leather-skinned philosopher writing at a tiny Italian coffee shop. I talked to fashionistas, homeless men, sunbathing hipsters, couples with their dogs, nannies with their charges. Invariably, the best conversations were the ones where I walked away with an earful but no signature. The stories these strangers told filled, and fulfilled, me to a completeness I’ve never known.

The tales Tom and I accumulated on our westward migration, and the people I still meet every day in the Bay Area, normally would not merit a Glitter Sleuth review. I have purposely kept my personal life out of my writings on this website, striving for objectivity and an authoritative air in my posts. If I’ve learned anything in these thirty eight days, though, it’s that heart-pounding, breathless, messy emotions make the best stories, and that everyone has a story to tell, if you let them.

And so, with a more narrative style in mind, and a broader focus than ever before, Glitter Sleuth is going west, too. In the spirit of Studs Terkel, Ira Glass, and Harry Chapin, I want to find not simply the places, but also the people that make this world weird, wild and wonderful. The mission statement is intentionally vague, to see where this California odyssey takes me, but the vision of the blog remains the same: to challenge you, the reader, to step outside your comfort zone, whether through new hobbies, new destinations, or new friends. Try that new vegetable. Play that new sport. Talk to that stranger on the subway.

Join me.


Niko’s Breakfast Club

In american, breakfast, chicago, diner, treasure trove on July 7, 2011 at 10:40 pm

Niko’s Breakfast Club isn’t a place you only visit once. Lodged in a strip mall off the main drag in Oak Lawn, Illinois, just outside Chicago, Niko’s draws biker gangs and big families alike with its extensive menu and breezy atmosphere.

Niko’s décor is downright fowl. A motley crew of chicken statuettes festoons the entire restaurant. Multicolored wooden chickens with spindly legs and iron weathervane roosters perch high on the cheery walls of yellow and green, while plump ceramic hens squat sunnily along banks of booths, upholstered in a kitschy floral. A neon Marilyn Monroe hangs over the dinette bar, where waitresses refill coffee quickly and with a smile.

Just as the furnishings at Niko’s extol the virtues of the chicken, its menu waxes poetic about the egg. Four pages devote themselves to cleverly branded categories, including Egg’straordinary Omelettes, Egg’citing Scramblers, and Egg’stremely Satisfying, a decadent litany featuring hollandaise in every dish. Even the children’s menu pays homage to our feathered friends, with the Little Rooster entrée of eggs, toast and hash browns.

Niko’s globetrots its way toward the toothsome, pleasing all palettes while tweaking traditional dishes and having a little fun in the process. The Irish Benny plays along nicely with the German Breakfast, and southwestern frittatas settle easily beside Eurocentric crepes and blintzes. A dozen unique combinations of hearty meats and eggs gratify the hungryman, while the health-conscious can pore over an equal number of oatmeal concoctions and mammoth egg-white omelets bursting with veggies. The playful category Toast Egg’strod’naire even forks over an array of desserts in breakfast’s clothing, including the saccharine Pecan Roll French Toast and the even more immoderate Banana Split French Toast.

No matter your proclivity, Niko’s dishes up solid, inventive ways to start your day. Bring a group and an appetite, and get ready to pass your plates around.

Niko’s Breakfast Club is located at 4002 West 111th Street in Oak Lawn, Illinois. Phone: (708) 422-3344. Open daily, 6 am – 3 pm.

Auntie Meb’s Lemon-Cranberry-Pecan Cookies

In american, bakery, dessert, holiday, recipe, recommended on November 21, 2010 at 9:30 am

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, here is a dessert recipe guaranteed to knock the socks off the host of your next potluck.

Auntie Meb’s Lemon-Cranberry-Pecan Cookies

1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cups packed brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1 egg
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 1/2 cups roughly chopped pecans
1 1/2 cups roughly chopped fresh cranberries

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a large mixing bowl, cream butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar and lemon zest. Beat in egg and vanilla extract until combined; set aside. In another bowl, combine flour, baking powder and cinnamon. Gradually add the flour mixture to the butter mixture. Gently stir in pecans and cranberries. Drop by large teaspoonfuls 2 inches apart on baking sheets. Bake 10 to 12 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from oven and let cool slightly before removing to cooling racks. Drizzle with lemon glaze. Eat with gusto.

Lemon Glaze:
1 cup confectioner’s sugar
Fresh lemon juice, to taste

Add water if desired consistency can’t be reached with lemon juice alone. Glaze should be soft, neither stiff nor runny.


In american, food, greenwich village, healthy, nyu on September 28, 2010 at 7:26 pm

When you need a respite from your frustrating, pedantic, work-a-day life, don’t just take a coffee break; go to Recess.

Recess, squatting on University Place at 10th Street, is a throwback to elementary school, with all the perks of adulthood thrown in. The walls and ceiling are modern, jagged, like pieces of a geometric puzzle. Mismatched striations of wood, blond and brunette, are sutured together at awkward angles and cover every surface. Zebra-striped ceiling panels, angled spotlights, and trapezoidal wall posts add to the Picasso-esque feel of the interior. A long central table is reminiscent of elementary school cafeteria tables, though this one is scattered with copies of the Wall Street Journal and the Daily News. The front wall is floor-to-ceiling glass, making it one of the best indoor people-watching spots in the Village.

The menu concept, as the cafe’s name suggests, is a grown-up twist on grade school. The sandwich menu is scant yet solid. The Mac Daddy, hearty toasted whole wheat bread smeared with macadamia-almond butter, raspberry preserves and sliced banana, is way better than any Wonderbread concoction you munched as a kid. The Say Cheese is slathered with four types of cheese and leaves your fingers greasy; pair it with the TnT Tomato Soup for a piquant match. My favorite, the Can’t Beet It, is stuffed with beets, hummus, sprouts and avocado; it practically announces how healthy it is with every bite. (Protip: when choosing a side dish, get the marinated cucumber salad.)

If you’re looking for an excuse to wake up early, a variety of breakfast toasts (including one called The Wonka- I’ll let your imagination run wild) and $2-a-cup coffee should do the trick. Recess also whips up smoothies and frozen yogurt concoctions, good for any hour of the day.

Just like Mom used to say, use the bathroom before you go. No, seriously. Recess’s restroom is decked out in wall-to-wall mirrors and a super-cool faucet system that descends from the ceiling, reminiscent of a California miner’s panning chute. This bathroom pass is almost as fun as Recess itself.

Bacon Peanut Brittle

In american, east village, nyc, om nom nom, recommended, Southern on June 24, 2010 at 7:00 am

What it’s good for: To kick off your meal of shrimp and spicy Andouille sausage piled high over creamy grits; seared brussel sprouts; complementary warm oatmeal cookies; and some of the best fried chicken in town.

Where to get it: The Redhead, 349 East 13th Street between 1st and 2nd Avenues.

In this bastion of Southern comfort food, you’ll want to start out your meal with only one dish. The bacon peanut brittle isn’t brittle per se, but individual nuts lacquered in bacon fat and dark, delicious snips of bacon. Keep your eyes peeled for the few nuts that clump in twos and threes in their sugary coating; they’re the mouth equivalent of the toy in the Cracker Jack box. Savory and sweet with a satisfying lip-smacking crunch, the small dish is large enough to bring the extras home. Believe me, you’re going to want those leftovers in the morning.

Coney Island Mermaid Parade

In american, event, nyc, smile-inducing, street food on June 23, 2010 at 9:40 am

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In the sweltering New York summer, there is one place on everybody’s mind: the beach. Just a hop, skip and an N-train ride away, one beach above all features the craziest cast of characters: tattooed and dread-locked vegans, Latina mamis and the boys who want them, babies screaming in the heat, all muddled in the sandy, boozy cocktail that is Coney Island.

Last weekend, the usual suspects were there. Bare torsoed men showed off beer guts and whittled waists, skin either bronzed or a pimply alabaster. Septuagenarians with rumpled faces and crooked smiles sported sun hats and looked dazed. Ladies drew stares with creatively exposed breasts and stomachs and rolls of fat. The plasticky smell of sunscreen permeated the air, wafting over bespectacled faces and questionable yet enthusiastic dye jobs.

On Saturday, though, the high-wire crackle of amusement park energy was cranked up a few notches. A new cast of characters appeared: a pink haired pirate, a glut of Viking hats with horns, the occasional kilt. A crush of humanity stood six deep all along Stillwell Avenue, from the subway to the Cyclone, holding their cameras aloft. Little girls perched on Daddy’s shoulders and strained their necks. Grown men clamored up lamp posts and fire hydrants. What were they climbing to see?

The Coney Island Mermaid Parade, of course.

From what this blogger could glimpse, the parade was a mish-mash of flatbed pickups and pedestrians- a low-budget, sticky-sweaty Greenwich Village Halloween parade, if you will. Both on and off the parade route, the outfits were fantastical: pinup girl hairdos and 50s rockabilly fashion, goth girls with paper Japanese parasols, Day-Glo wigs and neon sequin stretch bikinis, fishing nets, feathers, leather, cleavage and torsos smeared in glitz and grease paint. Everything was homemade, without the glossy finish of so many NYC parades. As more and more bystanders poured out of the subway station, the throng started scaling chain link fences to bypass the impossible-to-navigate parade route.

The parade, still cocooned in the impassable crowd, looped up onto the boardwalk that overlooks the coastline. Sensory overload set in: sweat, wood, water, sunsparks off the ocean dazzled. Hawkers hawked mango flowers on sticks and dried snacks in plastic bags. The beach was hopping too, with sunbathers packed to the shore, trying to sip summer in through their pores. Obese little boys, tummies protruding from oversized swim trunks, hopped about the sand, past stoic little girls dressed as Ariel in ratty red wigs, clutching Mom’s hand. All shades and shapes of people, all showing too much skin, welcomed in the first official day of summer with salt and sun and the oom-pa-pa of the Hungry Marching Band winding into the distance.

This article was picked up (in a very small way) by the NY Daily News. Thanks, guys!

Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Annex NYC

In american, exhibit, museum, music, nyc, recommended on December 28, 2009 at 9:57 pm

The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Annex, a branch of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, OH, opened in Soho one year ago. Before the museum sadly closes on January 3, I highly suggest a trip to rekindle your love of music, youth and dreams.

The Annex is a wonderful homage to rock ‘n’ roll music, deeply respecting its roots, and focusing on the progression of the genre throughout American history. The museum’s exhibits covers the greats, of course (the Beatles, the Rolling Stones), but also ventures into more recent territory: London’s punk rock movement through the Sex Pistols and the Clash, the birth of hip hop with Grand Master Flash, and even modern artists like Amy Winehouse and Coldplay all receive attention. More than anything, the museum acts as a conduit through which to remember the importance and power of this revolutionary art form, whether you’re sixteen or sixty.

Upon entering the Annex, all visitors are given a state-of-the-art headset to hear the myriad television screens stationed throughout the museum. Sensors in the headphones detect which screen you’re standing nearest to (and thus which screen you’re most likely to be watching), and plays the soundtrack to that television’s film clips. The system allows you to individualize your experience, lingering over Tina Turner but skipping Billy Joel, reading each letter written from Paul Simon to Art Garfunkel but buzzing past Madonna’s corset from the Blonde Ambition tour. The Annex succeeds entirely thanks to this technology, continuously piping iconic songs to your ears and immersing you in the music.

The winding exhibits consist of these television screens flashing clips of rock ‘n’ roll shows, and, near them, costumes pieces or musical instruments used in those performances. The collection of artifacts is extensive and evokes wonderful memories: Johnny Cash’s boots, Elvis Presley’s sequin-emblazoned jumpsuit, Elton John’s sunglasses, James Brown’s velvet cape, Bruce Springsteen’s studded leather jacket. Scribbled drafts of song lyrics, set lists once taped to the stage at CBGB’s, letters from John, Paul, Ringo and George to their fans, are barely legible on yellow pad and crumpled loose leaf paper. An alcove devoted to guitars ranges from Clapton’s simple acoustic to metallic silver and Day-Glo green electric contraptions. The space is used marvelously, creating the thrown-together, haphazard sense of an underground concert space with exposed brick walls, white paint, graffiti and band posters.

The museum’s final, self-contained exhibit is entitled “John Lennon: The New York City Years,” a tribute to John Lennon’s experiences in New York created by his widow Yoko Ono. The exhibit is housed in a bright white room, with John and Yoko’s art films, interviews and concert footage playing on the four walls and glass cases of artwork and song scribblings placed in the center. At the entrance hang John’s iconic New York shirt and belt buckle; at the exit, the brown bag of his bloody clothing, given to Yoko after his death. More than a few spectators cry.

The Annex pays homage to its hometown, New York City, as a significant player in the history of rock ‘n’ roll, with a fun room devoted to the city and its venues. An interactive, rainbow-lit map of Manhattan lets you locate hundreds of famous performance spaces and read about their varied histories. From hip hop and R&B way uptown, to folk music in the Village, to punk and New Wave on the Bowery, the Annex encourages visitors to explore the city for themselves and make new memories of rock ‘n’ roll. Before the Annex closes its doors forever, go visit this wonderful museum and get inspired to do just that.


Founding Farmers

In american, dc, restaurant on July 17, 2009 at 10:28 am

Find yourself longing to be down home on the family farm again, but don’t want to leave the luxuries to which you’ve become accustomed in the big city? Head over to Founding Farmers, a chic take on Americana.

Located at 1924 Pennsylvania Avenue, Founding Farmers takes classic American fare and dresses it up. The portions are hearty and huge, and the extensive menu features something for everyone. The restaurant’s draw is its commitment to sustainability and green living: all the fruits, vegetables, meats, fish and dairy products served in the restaurant come from local, independent family farmers.

The restaurant is clean and modern with huge windows. The interior features dark wood and feels like a farmhouse. Bare glass bulbs are suspended in a line above long wooden tables, perhaps once made of rough-hewn pine boards, now shiny with varnish. Luminescent cotton clouds swath overhead lighting, in a modern tribute to the prairie sky. Large glass jars of pickles, peppers and tomatos, soaking in brine, line the shelves and walls surrounding you.

The food tastes like it was made in a bright country kitchen by a strong, substantive woman using a large knife. Appetizers include warm corn bread, full of surprisingly sweet kernels, which arrives in a small cast iron skillet with whipped butter. A sextet of devilled eggs are filled with mashed lobster, crab, and salmon; the three seafood fillings are chunky and light, a nice departure from mayonnaise-laden picnic fare.

Salads incorporate creative ingredients like caramelized onions and dried figs. The seventeen vegetable salad comes in a hefty glass mixing bowl, fit for two people or several rabbits. The late harvest salad showcases good, strong flavors, but risks being overpowered by an unyielding bleu cheese. Stick to a half-portion of greens, and leave room for the stick-to-your-ribs entrees. A surprising array of traditional country standards, including short ribs, meat loaf, pot roast, pork chop, and several cuts of steak, all make appearances on the menu. Salmon, marinated in either apricot-infused maple syrup or an herb-lemon glaze, is served on a birchwood trencher. The outstanding grilled cheese sandwich features gooey Gruyere and Vermont white cheddar, which stretch into strings as high as an elephant’s eye. The thick toast of the sandwich is buttered, chock full of grains, and delightfully bitter.

If Founding Farmers occasionally misses the mark, it is when the cuisine strays too far from comfort food and heads into the realm of DC cocktail party fare. The bacon-wrapped dates, too large to fit into your mouth and too complicated to bite in half, are mushy and bloated with an overly-acidic feta cheese. The candied bacon lollis sound innovative, but come out as your basic chunk of meat on a stick. That said, the bacon itself, like all the meats at Founding Farmers, is great: thick, hearty, and never crispy or flabby.

Polish off your meal with the famous doughnuts, or a giant slice of cake with ice cream. The multi-layered carrot cake is pocked with plump sultanas and robed in velvety cream cheese frosting. The red velvet cake (also with cream cheese frosting) and the yellow cake (with chocolate) are similarly oversized, reminiscent of down-home drug store treats. To bring you home, order black coffee and sip while you soften into your chair and think of home.