One thing New Yorkers and well-traveled foodies always warn people about is to NEVER EAT IN TIMES SQUARE. It’s tourist trap central, featuring comically-large, multi-story versions of national and worldwide chain restaurants. That’s where you have your oversized Olive Garden, your astronomical Applebee’s, your stupendous S’barro (someone once said they have the best pizza in New York!), and I swear we passed some kind of combination prodigious Planet Hollywood and brobdingnagian Buca Di Beppo. (“I’M AT THE PLANET HOLLYWOOD! I’M AT THE BUCA DI BEPPO! I’M AT THE COMBINATION PLANET HOLLYWOOD AND BUCA DI BEPPO!”)
But when we took a cab down to the Richard Rodgers Theatre to see Hamilton (only the greatest musical of all time!), my wife and I both clocked Junior’s (https://www.juniorscheesecake.com/), another one of those legendary, old-school Jewish New York restaurants. I was a little surprised to see it, because I thought Junior’s was a Brooklyn thing, and I knew we weren’t going to make it into Brooklyn on this trip. I barely gave it a second thought, because on the rare times we go to concerts, plays, and stand-up performances at home, my wife is usually too tired to go out for a bite afterwards. When I lived in Gainesville (go Gators!), I loved going out for food with my friends after a show. To this day, food always tastes the best to me at night, after doing something fun.
But after being completely blown away by the awesomeness of Hamilton, my wife said she could eat, and we both immediately thought of how close we were to Junior’s. It turns out there are two separate Junior’s locations in the Times Square/Broadway area, and they’re open late to accommodate the after-show crowd. Little did we know that we would end up taking in a second Broadway show on this trip, or that we would end up at both Junior’s locations! I’m so glad we did, though. Since this was the only restaurant I didn’t research in advance, it ended up being the most pleasant surprise.
This is the 45th Street Junior’s location, at 1515 Broadway. It looks old, but it was founded in 2006. (The original location in Brooklyn was founded by Harry Rosen in 1950.)
Like so many of the iconic Jewish delis of decades past, Junior’s served us free cole slaw (good) and dill pickles for the table.
My wife’s chocolate milkshake was good enough to bring anyone to the yard. Dig that Junior’s glasses have instructions for mixing up the perfect egg cream, with seltzer, milk, and chocolate syrup (go Fox’s U-Bet or go home).
I have to admit, I wasn’t expecting anything special when I ordered onion rings, but I am an onion ring aficionado, this is The Saboscrivner, and we have a little recurring feature on here called
[NEW YORK POLICE SIREN SAMPLE!]
RING THE ALARM!
And these were godly onion rings. I didn’t know what to expect from their thick batter coatings, but they were crispy-yet-yielding on the outside, and soft on the inside, with a slight sweetness. If I had to describe them, it was almost like a funnel cake-style batter, or like a really good old-fashioned sour cream cake doughnut, but with a crunchier outer layer — and of course not that sweet. I’ve never had their equal and doubt I ever will again.
This was the combination corned beef and pastrami Reuben sandwich we ordered to share in our post-Hamilton afterglow, and it was a winner. The rye bread was buttered and lightly grilled to perfection, as opposed to too many Reubens where the bread is toasted hard to the point of being burned, and you can’t even take a bite without the sandwich flopping apart. Both meats were sliced thin and lean, but this would not be our only pastrami experience on this trip, fear not. They served the Russian dressing on the side, which was great because my wife is always hesitant around sauces and condiments, whereas I generally love them, and I feel like we ended up with more this way. Needless to say, some of my onion rings took a dip.
And finally, the piece de resistance — a slice of Junior’s famous blueberry cheesecake. We both love cheesecake, and we both agreed this was the best cheesecake of our little lives — so much better than Florida mainstay Publix, and streets ahead of the Cheesecake Factory. It was perfect in every way, to the point where I almost feel guilty posting this pic and raving about it, knowing my dozens of readers (baker’s dozens?) can’t just pop off to Junior’s to score a slice for themselves.
Our last day in New York, we realized we didn’t have any set plans for the evening, so we decided to see Chicago, a musical we had never seen live before. We love the 2002 Best Picture-winning movie, though. Since the Chicago revival is the longest continuously-running show in Broadway history (since 1996), it didn’t have the hype that Hamilton did, and were were lucky to score excellent and affordable fifth-row orchestra tickets. It razzle-dazzled us, especially Desi Oakley, whose adorably sexy and hilarious lead performance as coquettish murderess Roxie Hart, blew away the A-list actress from the award-winning film. Plus, we’ve been digging Fosse/Verdon, the FX miniseries about the mercurial director-choreographer and his dancer-actress-muse, and they aired their making-of-Chicago episode mere days before our New York arrival. Call it fate, call it luck, call it karma, but I believe that everything happens for a reason!
Our luck just kept improving, because the Ambassador Theatre, where we saw Chicago, is right next to the other Times Square-area Junior’s location, 1626 Broadway at 49th Street, which opened in the summer of 2017. And after how much we loved it the previous night, my wife was more than up for an encore performance. This one featured the mid-century “space-age” design I love so much, that was so popular from the postwar years into the early 1960s. It was cool to see this new version of the rotating “Junior’s” sign that the original location in Brooklyn has.
My wife ordered something I probably never would have gone with, but it knocked our proverbial socks off: a brisket sandwich served on crispy-fried potato latkes, served with au jus and some of the freshest, chunkiest applesauce ever. This thing was huge! The brisket was pretty good (we’re both too used to smoked barbecued brisket, and this could have been improved by being a little fattier), but the latkes (AKA potato pancakes, goys and girls) were among the best we’ve ever had. And yes, you eat them with applesauce.
I spend so much of my life thinking “What am I, chopped liver?” that along the way I became a big fan of the stuff. I had yet to try chopped liver at any of our other NYC deli destinations, so tonight was the big night. It came served simply, two big scoops with some thin slices of bread, which could have been toasted or grilled to hold up better to the weight and creamy richness of the chopped liver. And as much as I love onions, raw red onion is a little much for me, so I left those alone.
I asked my wife if we were going to indulge in another slice of Junior’s heavenly cheesecake, but she was already enchanted by seeing a slice of red velvet cake being walked out to a nearby table. She loves red velvet cake far more than I do, but hey, anniversary trip, and who am I to stand in the way of her continuing good times? She loved it, and even I liked the bite I had. Fear not, fearless readers — even the two of us, together at this late hour, couldn’t finish the whole supersized slice.
So that was Junior’s. I hadn’t planned it into our schedule at all, but fate intervened, and we ended up there twice — two different nights, two separate locations. And Times Square or not, tourist trap or not, everything we ordered transcended our expectations.
And here’s a helpful hint from your old pal The Saboscrivner: Orlando denizens, you CAN treat yo’selves to Junior’s cheesecake locally, at Pickles Deli in Longwood, on State Road 434 right off Exit 94. They ship it in from New York and serve plain, raspberry swirl, chocolate “skyscraper,” and carrot cake “skyscraper” cheesecakes by the slice. So forget the Factory and try Junior’s for yourselves. Plus, Pickles is pretty great too. Expect a review at some point this summer!