Famous Fat Dave is a cabbie. He's also a gourmand, and he's also a bit of self-promoter (we say that admiringly), and so we found in our inbox a few weeks ago a press release from Mr. Fat Dave pushing his "Five Borough Eating Tour on the Wheels of Steel." There was no question we were interested, and there was no question who'd go a-touring; this was the perfect assignment for Gawker mascot (and glutton for all things) Andrew Krucoff. After the jump, Kruc, avec photog, hails Fat Dave's cab, picks up his roommate and a pair of comedians to help punch up his material, and heads out for a night of taxiing and eating, taxiing and eating.
While the Frank Bruni chose to rampage the country in search of chili slaw dogs and chocolate-covered cheeseburgers, I opted for Famous Fat Dave's Five Borough Eating Taxi Tour to conduct my million-calorie march. For the uninitiated, Famous Fat Dave is a self-described "pickle man/ cheesemonger/hot-dog vendor/food writer/cabbie who has eaten it all." Driving the cab since 2001, he soon started using his yellow chariot to offer informal, unmetered, scale-tipping culinary tours of fair city.
Sensing this was not a solo mission, I enlisted comedian David Wain (Stella, Wet Hot American Summer, The State) and my wee roommate Becca Greene, of The Royal We. The last minute addition of actor/writer Ken Marino, another alum of The State and partner with David on The Ten movie, made sure we were cramped — and illegal — with a total of five passengers in the taxi.
David Wain likes pickles.
Famous Fat Dave has several specialty tours to choose from and he planned to take us on a four-hour "Midnight Munchies" loop that was guaranteed to rock our bowels. He cautioned that we would encounter a full range of emotions: anticipation ("I can't wait to slurp down the yolk of an ostrich egg; I hear it can keep you hard for hours"), excitement ("roast beef and cheese whiz, holla!), nervousness ("donde esta los banos?"), over-indulgent shame ("someday I plan to volunteer for the real meals-on-wheels program"), unrequited love ("damn you sweaty shwarma, what about my feelings?"), gutsy determination ("I will own your sweet-pickled ass"), relief ("plop plop, fizz fizz"), and satisfaction ("I am safe in bed now").
The tour started at 10th Street and Fifth Avenue, just a bit after 10 p.m. We were off to Brooklyn, and there were in-taxi appetizers for the ride — the palette cleansing duo of pickles and cheese. FFD used to work at Guss' Pickles and so knows his way around a sweet or sour barrel. He can talk for hours about pickles, but fortunately it was only minutes later when we moved on to the sweet sheep's milk of Ewephoria Gouda. A good start; our collective mood was split between "why am I here?" and "I hope I have something to write about."
Get tartar sauce in a cab and someone's bound to reference Travis Bickle and "cleaning the cum." Let's attribute that one to Mr. Wain, right after delivering the first fart of the night.
First stop was Henry Street Ale House in Brooklyn Heights for fried pickles and tartar sauce. Hot enough that you almost forget what you're eating until the fried casing slips off. Here Ken offered his simple eating philosophy: "Fry it up, I'll eat it." After deep probing of the considered possibilities, his list included asparagus, apples, cactus, and even chicken.
Wain's Sweet Math Skills: "Fried candy = doubleplusgood."
We skip straight to dessert when we arrive at the Atlantic Chip Shop to eat fried Twix and Reese's Peanut Butter Cups. Twix was the overwhelming favorite, mostly likely due to its cookie-center that preserved shape and crunch. Fried Reese's, on the other hand, had a gooey exoskeleton quality to it.
Famous Fat Dave: "Spumoni Gardens is the spiritual center of Bensonhurst."
Spumoni Gardens, a Brooklyn landmark, is the place to go for the best Sicilian thick slice and spumoni, an ice cream treat served in squeeze cups. It has a large outdoor patio (FFD: "This place is straight outta Grease") that, while mostly empty a bit after 11 p.m. on a Wednesday night, is disco magic on a weekend. By which I mean crowded, loud, and sweaty. After much communal consumption and swapped spit-takes, we concluded this was not a tour for germophobes.
We put that concept to a greater test at Sahara in Gravesend where we inadvertently made a shwarma sex tape.
Here's some dark, grainy food porn: It looks like we're performing cunniligyro on each other. We were bonding like a family unit, even if the night increasingly felt like an awkward foster-home field trip or The Surreal Life: Taxi Edition. On the emotion scale, David noted we were "just hitting our shroom groove."
This man did not order the Veggie Medley.
It was after midnight, and we were off to cruise Sheepshead Bay — which none of us joyriding passengers had visited before. Oh what a sight at night: foggy lights shimmering off the water, rows of boats, empty streets, stories of burned bridges and Andrew Dice Clay getting his start here at Pip's. Did I mention the water and boats? We half-expected Robert De Niro to be strapped to the car's undercarriage. It was a good setting for Ken to tell us about Diggers, his soon-to-released movie about clam diggers on Long Island's South Shore in 1976. Think Diner, but with clam diggers on Long Island's South Shore in 1976. And, one hopes, without Steve Guttenberg.
Let the good times Roll-n-Roaster.
We pull into the famous Roll-n-Roaster parking lot right as The Cars' "Let the Good Times Roll" begins on the radio and the magic moment wasn't lost at any of us. Ken farted. We came here for one reason: roast beef-and-Cheez Wiz sandwiches. We were not disappointed. Can I say "party in your mouth" with a straight face? No, I cannot, but that was the general consensus as we mainly moaned and gutturally groaned with gluttonous glee. Too bad the locals mocked us. They could smell the Manhattan in our hair and clothes.
Here, a retro Roll-n-Roaster commercial.
Things get a little hazy from this point. Next on the a la carte menu was fried cigarette, an Eastern delicacy flavored with oregano, which was supposed to hold us over during the ride to Flushing. Did it? Tough to tell with the other distractions. Fog is an occupational hazard to be expected. And late-night construction, we all realize, can lead to traffic snarls. But unfettered flatulence and getting lost are not, I thought, usually part of the bargain. We hit all four. Hell was breaking loose and to make matters worse, every radio station played Van Halen. Text messages and calls to loved ones increased.
Here's Famous Fat Dave with a street map at a gas station. So psyched.
On the emotion scale, we were at "I hope my dead body doesn't end up in the trunk."
Flushing, 1:40 a.m.
Miraculously, we arrived safe and subdued at San Hai Jin Mi to sample Korean beef bulgogi. FFD swears by this place and engages in spirited, if untranslated, conversations with the staff. While the rest of us slowly picked at the beef, his enthusiasm refused to die and he suggested we extend the tour to another part of Queens for a "pork truck" and the "worst part of New York" for broccoli rabe. This prompted Ken to wonder if we could go to LeperTown for knishes, a clear sign the better course was to head back to the city.
H&H Bagels, Broadway and 80th, 2:30 a.m.
On the home stretch with Queensryche's "Silent Lucidity" running through our minds, we held a celebratory shoeless dance-off and split hot bagels before the staff lectured us about their photo-snapping and shoes policy. It was a bittersweet end to a truly weird night.
Weird, I said. Yes. But also recommended, highly. Final emotion: "Mama, I'm coming home." To take a big dump.