Judah Friedlander Thinks Manhattan Pizza Has ‘Gone Downhill’


Comedian Judah Friedlander says hes as messy an eater as his character Frank Rossitano on 30 Rock Every T-shirt I have has stains on it and hes obsessed with food. Friedlander lives in Queens, where he insists that everything from Mexican food to gasp bagels is made better than in Manhattan; he spends time between stand-up gigs brooding over the decline of the New York pizza slice since he came here in the eighties. The self-proclaimed World Champion of the World is performing at the Funny for Fido benefit at Carolines on June 3. Read his New York Diet to see whats so great about where he eats.

Saturday, May 16
Saturday I went to a Dominican place in Woodhaven, Queens: La Flor Paraiso #4. I got a whole rotisserie chicken to go, with red beans, and I usually get the yellow rice, but they offered up the white rice, so I was thinking maybe thats the fresher rice, and decided to go with that. The chicken, its fall-off-the-bone tender. You can eat it all with your hands or a fork; you dont need a knife. I think that spanned a couple of mealtimes. I eat at weird hours. All I know is that I was really hungry and I pretty much destroyed the chicken in one sitting. I didnt finish all of the beans.

I dont remember what else happened that day. I can tell you what I had the weekend before that Im still obsessed with. I had a gig in St. Louis. Nice people, St. Louis, but Ive never seen an entire city fuck up a pizza so bad. I get a ride from the airport to the hotel. We pass by an Imos pizza, which is a large chain there, and the guy starts getting a boner for this pizza place. So I go Hey, hows this place, and he goes awwww, dude, that place is the best in the city, you gotta go there. Its an institution. They make it St. Louis style. When I looked at it, I thought I was on some kind of hidden-camera prank show. The cheese they use, Provel, is part provolone cheese product, part Swiss cheese product, and part white Cheddar product. When it melts, its just kind of a gluey consistency, and when it dries its just kind of plastic. It stinks like, literally, it smells bad. The dough, they probably fucked it up as bad, or worse, than the cheese. They make their pizza with no yeast, so I would like to say its like a cracker or a round matzoh, but its like a really shitty stale cracker. And then they have barely any sauce on it and it seemed like it came out of a can 50 years ago. Ive never seen a place miss all three elements of the pizza.

Sunday, May 17
Sunday I met up with a friend and went to a place I normally wouldnt go to and hadnt been to before: Relish, a diner in Williamsburg. I usually go to more dive-y places. I got the huevos rancheros with egg whites. I was being healthy. It was actually excellent. It had black beans in it, pico de gallo, avocado, and it was a large portion. I also had some grits with Cheddar cheese. Not great grits, but decent grits.

I play competitive Ping-Pong at a Korean club in Flushing. Its nytabletennis.com. Theres no bar or anything; Its just for Ping-Pong training. The lady that owns it recommended a Korean restaurant to me thats excellent: San Soo Kap San. So that night I went there again. I got the beef bulgogi, which is excellent, and they give you tons of other stuff. They gave me miso soup. I also got a fried pancake with just scallions in it normally its got seafood in it, too and that was really good.

Monday, May 18
I was running around the city the whole day. I had a little bit of Trader Joes mixed-berry granola at home. I ate it with bananas and put some cherries in there.

I had some stand-up shows in the city at night and I decided to go to Paquitos which I hadnt been to in a year at like 11:30 or 11. I was so hungry that before I walked in there, I got a slice at the pizza place on the corner at First Avenue and 9th Street. It was your basic New York slice, pretty good. At Paquitos, I got their asado burrito. Its grilled chicken. And Im huge on this, by the way I get my rice on the side. I hate burritos that serve you a pound of rice and then theres a little bit of bean in it. I get it with tomatillo sauce and I add hot sauce as I go, too. Its like Bennys Burritos, but blows it out of the water. Thats for people who dont like flavor and think theyre cool because theyre eating at Bennys Burritos. Paquitos isnt that crowded, but its good.

Tuesday, May 19
I had to go into the city for something during the day, so when I came back I stopped off in Ridgewood, Queens, and I went to Muncan butcher shop because there was a parking spot open and I was like I cant not go in there. The owner is Romanian, I believe, but grew up in Serbia. As soon as I step out of my car, a good twenty yards away, I can smell this place and I start itching and going crazy its that good.

They make their own bacon; they make double-smoked bacon. I just got a quarter pound of homemade ham, a quarter pound of Swiss cheese, and some ajvar sauce (like a Croatian eggplant dip). My moms side is Croatian via Pittsburgh. My dad is Russian Jewish via Brooklyn. And Im big on both foods. I like pretty much all food, but eat that Croatian food, man, and you just feel the power in your veins. I also bought some cevapci seasoning mix so I so I can make my own. Cevapci is a ground beef and lamb combination, like kebabs. After the snack, I walked across to the street to Corato II and got a slice that was fucking great, because Im still jonesing from the shitty pizza I had in St. Louis. I also got tomatoes with fresh mozzarella to go for later.

I had a crazy night. Best Week Ever was having some kind of Twitter party, so I got a banana at a deli and swung by there real quick. Then I had a show at the Times Square Comedy Club.

Then, Im on the show 30 Rock, okay. Once a year the networks have what they call their Upfronts, where they basically sell their big TV shows to the advertising agencies and announce their new fall lineups. My agency has a fancy showbiz-y party once a year in New York because of these weeks, and I have to go. It was at this private club called Norwood, which is on 14th between Seventh and Eighth. They had some grilled cheese sandwiches cut into little one-inch squares. So I had some of those. But the big deal is that I met Bobby Flay. His wife is repped by the same agency, so thats why he was there. I shit my pants. Im a massive Bobby Flay fan. If I had to pick a favorite restaurant in New York, I would say Mesa Grill. I just went there for my 40th birthday. Whenever my folks visit, we go to Mesa Grill. He hits you with flavors that one, you havent had before, or two, you havent had in that combination before. Their filet mignon is not expensive at all for a high-end steak and its outstanding. So I had a lot of fun meeting and hanging out with my favorite chef besides my mom, who is also a big fan of his. That was a landmark.

Then I went to the Comedy Cellar to do my show. Its right downstairs from the Olive Tree Caf, where all the comics hang out. I eat there a lot because I perform there a lot. Im usually there weeknights after midnight. Theyre Israeli-owned, so its a mix of Middle Eastern and American food. I had a chicken kebab platter with two chicken skewers. I got it with horseradish mashed potatoes that have fried onions on top, and it comes with Israeli salad. I also got a little side of hummus. And their homemade hot sauce just kicks ass. The dude across from me stole the pita bread and I was stuffing my face so fast I wasnt even paying attention. I actually didnt care that he stole it, because I had to go on. I went on at 12:20 or something like that, and afterwards I got a strawberry shake at the same place. I usually dont do that, but sometimes you gotta go for it.

Wednesday, May 20
I had a voice-over gig and was running late, so I just got a banana from a fruit stand outside the building, went up and did the thing, and then I just had a slice from Rays pizza on Sixth and 11th Street, which is one of the original Rays.

Me and my friend Ben Bailey, who hosts the TV show Cash Cab, actually made a movie called Meet Me at Ray's about five years ago. We still havent finished editing the thing. We play these two idiots who try to meet up for food at Rays Pizza but keep going the wrong way. It was short. Our goal is to have it finished this summer. This Rays is very special to me because its the first one I ever went to, in 1982 or something. It was the shit in the early eighties, but now its just not what it used to be. Manhattan pizza has fucking gone downhill. You used to be able to go to any place and they were all good, and a lot of them are fair to mediocre at this point. When I bit into it, the dough, halfway through the pizza, split in half. Thats a bad sign right there. The dough should be a little crunchy and skinny and have strength to it. They put on a ton of cheese, but its not even the tastiest cheese. So youre getting a shitload of okay cheese. The dough wasnt horrendous; its the kind of dough you would be happy with in L.A.; in New York, you should be offended by it. But it still makes me happy when I drive by the memories of it from when I was a kid.

Thursday, May 21
I went to a Bosnian-owned place, Sarajevo, in Astoria. You go to the counter, tell them what you want, and they bring it to you. Theres two main things I get there. One is the cevapci. You can either get five skewers they give you a lot of food, this place or ten skewers. Then they give you a circular piece of fresh bread. Its very doughy, chewy, and you can either cut it open and put your meat inside it, you can eat it with it, or not eat it, whatever you want. Theres two things you gotta get with the cevapci. One is the ajvar, which I already mentioned. And the other is kajmak. Its got the consistency of butter, but its really tangy like sour cream, with a little onion and garlic. You eat it with raw onion also. It makes you feel like a man.

The other thing I get is burek. Its phyllo dough and all different fillings inside. I get the potato, so its sort of like hash browns in the middle. They had a new dessert they gave me: a full apple thats skinned and baked with some baklava stuff inside, and whipped cream on top. The meal was unbelievable. Two Slovenian girls who used to work at the Boston Comedy Club, Kandi and Anna Kitich, first introduced the restaurant to me several years ago, and Ive been going ever since.