Forget the frantic and eternal search for New York’s hottest restaurant. Given the recent, unyielding heat, we wondered: What’s its hottest kitchen? While the city was steamy and stifling last week, we hit ten restaurants in Manhattan and Brooklyn armed with a “Radio Shack A120 inside/outside wired-sensor thermometer with humidity gauge.” (Some visits we green-lit beforehand; other times we just dropped by and begged.)
A few places urged us to cook their numbers, downplaying how hot their kitchens actually were. But others wanted the coveted title of “hottest.” By the end, our sympathies and massive respect went out to the kitchen crews. And, FYI for diners, in a handful of places it was as hot (or hotter) in the dining rooms as it was on the line.
Here’s what we found:
Eataly’s Rossopomodoro, 76.2 degrees
Surprise: Even directly in front of the pizza ovens it was relatively comfortable in this mega food hall, with a reading several degrees below the temperature outside at the time. So, Mario Batali’s giant tony food court, at first glance, seemed to get the award for coolest kitchen. But stay tuned for our trip upstairs
Pastrami Queen, 84 degrees
The staff was bragging about their new week-old air conditioner at this Lexington Avenue deli, and it worked. Despite vats of steamy soup, the top kitchen temperature was a comfortable — very relatively speaking — 84 degrees, about the same as outside.
KFC, 84.7 degrees
We had to try out fast food, and where better than the Colonel’s, where most of the chicken is still deep-fried. But the kitchen temperature at the 14th Street branch was among our lowest, just three degrees above the sidewalk reading.
Carl’s Steaks, 85 degrees
This Third Avenue cheesesteak parlor wasn't so bad, even directly above the grill. The big ceiling fan/ventilator that runs its length may be angled at customers, but it cools the whole place to the low 80s, same neighborhood as outdoors.
Magnolia Bakery, 87.5 degrees
Muffin trays were being loaded into oven towers at the Grand Central Terminal spot when we were told politely but firmly we couldn’t get into this kitchen. But standing even ten feet outside its open door was steamy. The spot was also nine degrees above the outside temp taken on 42nd Street at the time. (Some of the dining areas in Grand Central measured even hotter.)
La Birreria, 87.8 degrees
Staff seemed to assume our request to take the kitchen temp was a ruse to cut the 45-minute wait for a table at Eataly’s packed rooftop beer hall. The chef declined — too busy — but a reading from outside the (open) kitchen door was a steamy 87.8 degrees, and some tables in the SPF-50 sun cracked 89 degrees. The lubricated crowd didn’t seem to mind.
Cascabel, 92.6 degrees
Points for the warmest (and flirtiest) welcome go to the David Chiong–Todd Mitgang eatery on the UES. Staff with a sense of humor piled into a tight space hoping to win bragging rights for hottest kitchen. Snacking on addictive cinnamon churros, we watched readings climb up and down as the crowd did, before it stabilized at 92.6 degrees.
Nathan’s Famous of Coney Island, 92.9 degrees
The Atlantic Ocean breezes help, said staffers at this classic hot-dog joint on Surf Avenue. Still, by the fry pit, and with lines seven-deep, the temperature was 92.9 degrees, seven degrees above the Boardwalk at the time. And if humidity were a factor, this spot would score the highest.
Zengo, 93.7 degrees
Our stop at Richard Sandoval’s midtown Latin spot had absolutely nothing to do with its refreshing tequila snow cones. (But get the strawberry one if you go.) In the basement kitchen, directly in front of the wok fryers, the temperature was toasty. But the adjacent Tequila Library, a comfy 71 degrees, was by far the chilliest room we hit on the whole sweaty tour.
L&B Spumoni Gardens, 100.3 degrees
The metal shelf where they pass out the cheesy Sicilian pies was searing to the touch at this circa-1936 Bensonhurst institution. Despite a wall of fans aimed directly at the staff, every time the ovens opened the temp soared into triple digits, more than ten degrees above the already-sweltering outside reading. When we told the staff they won, there were cheers.