Week 21: The Terrifying Bike Culture of New York and Saltie Sandwiches

Unless you possess unlimited funds for taxis, like Samantha, Carrie, and the rest of those sultry minxes from Sex in the City, transportation in the Big Apple is about making cold, hard choices. You can opt for the subway, which is affordable, sure, so long as you don’t mind marinating in a wealth of filth where rats the size of cats reign supreme. Or you could decide to buy a car. On one hand, it’s great for supermarket runs and escaping upstate, on the other hand, it becomes akin to Chinese water torture when trying to track down an open parking spot in downtown Manhattan.

Then there’s the third option, the one I have just recently begun to explore, and the topic of this week’s blog post: biking. Of the three, it is surely the most financially sound and health-conscious choice, one that doesn’t require seeking out unicorn parking spots or battling rodents that could maim a panther. Statistically, it makes sense, as over fifty percent of automobile trips in the city are under three miles, a very bikeable distance. Biking in New York, however, is also about as safe as juggling active chainsaws while swimming in a pool of disgruntled crocodiles.

But we’ll get to the dangers later. First, a bit on NYC’s fiendish bike culture. Cycling in New York is a popular means of transportation – it’s one of the prime reasons you see so many fit, healthy people strutting the streets of this fair city. People love bikes and bike business is booming.

As such, bike parts are quite valuable, making bike theft a lucrative and hyper-common phenomenon. Take a ten minute walk in the city, chances are, you’ll pass by a bike where the seat’s been jacked. Just as likely, you’ll see just the frame remaining, pathetically locked to a street sign like a naked child who has lost his way. So while biking is popular, making sure your bike doesn’t get stolen, along with maintaining and transporting said bike, is really just a pain in the ass.

Such pain-in-the-ass issues gave rise to 2013’a innovation, Citi Bike, a “bicycle sharing system.” Essentially, it’s a system where bikes are kept at electronic docks around the city, and, using a Citi Bike Key, you can access them at your pleasure. Therefore, Citi Bike emerged as an opportunity to cut down on traffic and emissions, creating an affordable, convenient means of transportation, to which I said: “Hell yeah, sign me up.”

What I didn’t realize is that biking in New York City means you have to actually bike in New York City. And that, my friends, means being ever vigilant to avoid the lethal douchiness that rules these filthy streets.

This lethal douchiness comes in three categories:

1.)   Automobilists: At any moment, a car, SUV, or tractor trailer truck could bash, smash, or splatter you. That’s the reality. Cars, especially taxis, have little patience for their two-wheeled, motorless cousins, and will not hesitate to tailgate your scrawny back rubber tire until you get the hell out of their way. Yet while they carry the highest potential for destruction, they’re far too timid of the ensuing lawsuit that would occur if they actually splattered you, and are therefore not the douchiest of your biking threats.

2.)   Pedestrianists: Worse are the walkers of New York. When “fear of God” was being placed into people, these douche clowns must have been out at Chop’t. Strutting out into the middle of the road like “I dare you to hit my ass,” these sociopaths think themselves immortal as we bikers must weave in and out of their ponderous forms. The only advantage to these pestering bipeds is that, if there ever comes to be an accident, they’re going to take the brunt of it. 

3.)   Compatriot Wheelists: The worst of the three categories is the other bicyclists on the road (and by extension, skaters). Ironically, bikers are bikers’ arch nemeses: haphazardly going full throttle the wrong way on a bike lane, carelessly cutting you off to make a left because they don’t have the patience to ride behind you momentarily, and sporting bike shorts so skin-tight, they leave absolutely nothing to the imagination. Those fascists.

But despite the horrendous danger (and style) of it all, I love biking in this city. Something about cruising over the Williamsburg Bridge at eleven at night, the illuminated city at your back as you pass over the placid East River, the cool summer wind ripping over your helmeted head (seriously, you gotta wear a helmet). Atop those two wheels, I feel I’ve obtained a new perspective on this mad rat race, something ineffable and electric.

Week 21: Saltie

Saltie is a surprise for two reasons.

The first is its name. When one decides to name their restaurant “Saltie,” adorn it with sea captain figurines, and feature menu items like “Scuttlebutt” and “The Fisherman’s Daughter,” it might lead others (like yours truly) to believe they’re walking into a seafood eatery. 

But it’s not. In fact, finding seafood, or even meat, on the menu is a struggle. Less than half of the sandwiches feature any sort of meat or fish; there are sardines in the Captain’s Daughter, the Balmy features chicken liver paté and ham, and the Little Chef does have mortadella, but aside from that, egg finds its way in as the protein in the vast majority of the sandwiches here.

So basically, I was tricked. This is, in fact, the second week in a row in which my sandwich choices have been completely meatless, a rarity for this typically flesh-hungry savage hedonist charmer. How am I supposed to be satisfied off eggs? I was craving a fat piece of fried fish and, possibly, some tartar sauce saturated chips (or fries, for the uncultured).

As it turns out, these sandwiches were crack. And I have no idea why.

The second surprise was how the fusion of the listed ingredients could produce one of the best sandwiches I’ve had in this town. The chef at the helm, Caroline Fidanza, (also the culinary genius behind Little Chef), is committed to two very excellent things: sustainability and innovation. Somehow, she takes two pieces of bread, puts a bunch of obscure stuff in the middle, and really makes you think.

The basis for all of her crack sammies are two square, thick pieces of the softest Focaccia bread you’ve ever sampled. It makes you believe that all sandwiches should be served on such bread. But after that, there is no commonality between the hodgepodge of innards offered at this sandwich haven.

I sampled two, which could not have been more different.

The first was the Scuttlebutt, which I ordered for the name alone. I love “scuttle.” I love “butt.” It was the natural progression. This dates back to an old sailors’ term for the “butt,” or cask of water on the ship, which was “scuttled,“ or was punctured, so that water could come out. The term eventually became synonymous with gossip, as sailors used to shoot the shit while gathered around the scuttled butt, much as we do around the water bubbler.

What this has to do with the sandwich, I have absolutely no idea. Nor do I understand how these ingredients were assembled, and why they make sense together. The is comprised of a hard boiled egg AND a pickled egg (because you clearly need both), topped with bitter soft feta, black olive, and capers, and then smeared with pimentón aioli.

You might be sitting there, asking what the hell the big deal is. I don’t know why it works as well as it does, so stop asking. Regardless, I found myself wishing I had three more of these flavor bombs to follow. Trying to keep it fresh, though, I sampled another entry on the menu, the Spanish Armada, which possesses only two ingredients: potato tortilla and pimentón aioli.

But this too requires explanation. The Spanish version of the tortilla is not what we think of (i.e. not the flour or corn flatbread). Rather, it’s the Spanish take on the omelet, commonly served as tapas. Made from a mixture of potatoes, onions, and eggs fried in a pan with olive oil, the Spanish commonly employ it in sandwich form, creating something called a bocadillo.  And Saltie’s Spanish Armada bocadillo is something truly lovely. The mushy, fried potato-egg taste between the focaccia bread caused me to moan uncomfortably loudly in between bites, scaring other Saltie patrons far, far away.

Again, when I think about it, I’m not sure why something so simple was so unbelievably delicious. Perhaps the appreciation of this sandwich place transcends the logical and cannot be explained, much like my experience biking in this city (did you see how I tied those two together? Smooth). Regardless, you have to go. They also have pastries, salads, and drinks. Go. Now. You can thank me later.