The Grub Street Diet

Nightlife Columnist Michael Musto Drinks Coffee Like a Machine, Buys His Jelly at the 99-Cent Store

The <em>Village Voice</em>'s Michael Musto, out on the town.
The Village Voice’s Michael Musto, out on the town. Photo: Melissa Hom

Trust a nightlife columnist — in this case, the Village Voice’s Michael Musto — to be nonplussed by New Year’s. “I go out every night,” he explained. “For me, it’s nothing special. It’s like a holiday for amateurs.” Musto’s sleeping and eating schedules run like clockwork, right down to his thrice-daily cups of coffee and nightly seven hours of sleep. But old habits, unfortunately, die hard: “I thought I would start a new food agenda, but I fell back on the same delicious habits. No guilt here. I’ll start the diet January 1 next year.” Read on in 2011’s first New York Diet.

Friday, December 31
Every day I start with a bagel or some other starchy item. In this case, I had a twist challah roll from the 99-cent store, toasted, with apple jelly. It’s called Best Yet brand from D’Agostino’s. And I had it with coffee I made myself, Chock Full O’ Nuts with milk, no sugar. I have three coffees a day, always with milk, no sugar. I actually have like ten different types of coffee in my cupboard, but that is one of my faves. I don’t like specialty coffee so much. I’m not like a big Illy person — though I do have a can of Illy. I just like your old-fashioned deli kind of coffee. To me, that’s Chock Full O’ Nuts, Maxwell House, and Folgers. It’s comforting.

I had lunch at a place called Jack on University Place and 11th Street. They have a $10 lunch special. I had a chicken quesadilla. They have salads, they have a crab-cake sandwich, mahi mahi. They have a nice assortment. Unfortunately, they don’t let you substitute coffee for your beverage. A beverage is included in the special, but you can’t have coffee. You can order coffee, but it’s $2.95. That’s their bread and butter, I guess. It’s an iron-clad rule at Jack’s, for some reason. I’ve tried it on like twenty different wait people. Can I substitute coffee? And they’re all like, Absolutely not. So I always get a Diet Coke there as part of the special, and then I go down the block and get a cup of deli coffee for a dollar. But the chicken quesadilla was made with grilled chicken, black-bean puree, Monterey Jack cheese, on a grilled flour tortilla. It came with tomato salsa, but it wasn’t hot. It was just kind of mild and perky.

Dinner was at Bar 6, and for an appetizer I had a steamed artichoke with kind of a very interesting orange dipping sauce. I’m not sure what it was. And then for the entrée, I had a merguez sandwich, which was really delicious and came with little pickles. And for dessert, which I usually don’t order, but it was New Year’s, I had an apple crumble à la mode with vanilla ice cream, and of course a Diet Coke. And a coffee. I had both. I was like, buzzing out of my mind. I brought in the New Year just so caffeinated, I was ready to explode at midnight.

I don’t drink any alcohol, so it’s always either Diet Coke or juice or seltzer or coffee. I only drink water in coffee, or in soda, which is not quite the same as drinking water. I definitely don’t drink enough liquid. My father always told me, drink water, drink water, and I always thought he was crazy, but now I realize he was right. You should drink more water.

At one point I ended up at a friend’s house in between all these parties that night, and he put out some carrot sticks and celery sticks, so I had a couple of those. And then before I went to bed, I end every day with fruit for some reason. Most people start the day with fruit, but I think it makes a nice kind of summation to the day, so I had two kiwis and an orange. I think the skin is the most delicious part, and it’s filled with all kinds of nutrients. And pesticides.

Saturday, January 1
I started the day with a toasted Thomas’s cinnamon raisin swirl bagel with mint-apple jelly by Crosse and Blackwell. I usually have three or four jellies at a time and just alternate every day to jazz things up. And similarly, I have a stack of bagels and rolls and bready things, and I alternate every day as to which one I’ll have, because it gives you the comfort of the familiarity, and yet you feel like it’s something different than yesterday.

We had lunch at Le Pain Quotidien at 11th and Broadway, which I usually hate. I always thought tartine, their specialty, was French for “rip-off.” I don’t want half of an open sandwich or whatever it is. Just give me a whole sandwich. And I also hate the way the coffee comes in a whole pot. Like, I just want one cup. They bring you a whole pot and a bowl, so you’re kind of drinking coffee out of this weird bowl. But this time I actually warmed up to the place, and I liked my tartine, which was rustic tuna with hummus and white beans with dried tomatoes and basil pesto. Five-hundred-seventy calories. It was actually kind of tasty, and I didn’t mind the openness of the sandwich, and I almost gave in to the bowl of coffee.

Dinner was at Westway Diner, which is on Ninth Avenue in the Forties, and this was really starting the new year in a terrible way, because I had a Swiss burger deluxe, hot sauce on the fries. It came with pickle, tomato, and lettuce, and I kind enjoyed the wrongness of starting the New Year with a Swiss burger deluxe. When I do order burgers, it’s usually not even deluxe, and not cheeseburgers, so it was really whole hog. Coffee with the burger. It’s just three cups a day. It’s like a science. My worst nightmare is when you’re in a restaurant, and you’re halfway through with your cup, and they automatically refill it, because I want just the one cup, and then I don’t know, how much more do I drink to make it a one-cup opportunity. Problems, problems.

After the dinner, we were going to see Dracula, and I really needed something to get the taste out of my mouth, so I got tropical-flavored Skittles. That’s just what they had. It was very good-looking, but it was a little dull-ish, and I didn’t think Norman Mailer’s son acquitted himself that well as Renfield.

I had a small grapefruit before I went to bed. I never get a cold, I have so much vitamin C in my system. It’s battling it out with the caffeine in there.

Sunday, January 2
I had a microwave toasted onion pocket with mint jelly. Just plain mint jelly. I have mint jelly, apple jelly, and mint-apple jelly. It’s called Mehadrin Bakery, from the 99-cent store. The store is called Jack’s, which is no relation to Jack’s restaurant on University that I went to. It’s a chain. There’s one on 31st Street, and there’s one on 39th Street. It’s really amazing.

I found myself working all day and not going out for lunch, so I prepared myself a little lunch. I boiled some Mama Caruso ziti pasta, and I had a can of Coronna white clam sauce. Both of those items are from the 99-cent store, so I had a $2 lunch, basically. It was delicious. It was really wonderful. And I made coffee. Oh, and I also made a side dish — again, from the 99-cent store — of roasted peppers, which I put together into a little salad with oil, vinegar, spices, and lemon juice, so it was kind of a fully balanced Italian meal. I’m Italian.

I ordered dinner in from Mee Noodles on Second Avenue, and I had a small hot and sour soup, baby shrimp with chile sauce, white rice, a can of Diet Coke, and coffee. Mee Noodles is a really good take-out place. They deliver in like, ten minutes, and they always get your order right. The hot and sour soup is good, because it’s zingy. It tastes authentic. It doesn’t have that watered-down feeling you get with some restaurants. The baby shrimp with chile sauce was maybe not the best choice for me, because it’s kind of a sweet dish, so it almost tastes like dessert. But I did manage later to have an entire box of Dots, which I just happened to have from Walgreens. And the problem is, once you open one of these $1.29 boxes of candy, it’s hard to not finish the box. That’s my main problem, I think. I could like, tape it up and put it in a cabinet, but then I’ll just pull the tape off.

Fortunately there was no event that night with food. Another hazard of my job, which is also a benefit of my job, is that I’ll sometimes go to three things a night with buffets and dinners, so the temptation is often to pretend you didn’t already have two full dinners and enjoy the third one, not wanting to be impolite. This is kind of a slow period right now, where there aren’t dinners every night.

This might sound like a horrifying food week for me, but it was actually a better one than usual.

Monday, January 3
Monday I started with a cinnamon-raisin bagel, toasted, with mint jelly, coffee, and milk.

Lunch was at a place called Virage on Second Avenue near my office, and I had the lunch special, which is a three-egg omelette, and you have a choice of two fillings, so I got salmon and feta cheese. I always get the salmon, but for the second filling I’ll sometimes put onions, mushrooms, tomatoes, things like that. And it comes with roasted potatoes on the side. And it comes with a little mini-muffin, which I gave to my friend, because I’m not big on dessert things at lunch. I think that would be a horrible threshold to cross, because then you’d get used to it.

Dinner, I got a take-out order, a tandoori chicken platter from an Indian place in my neighborhood. It doesn’t even have a name, this place. It’s on Lexington Avenue. It’s a tandoori chicken leg with rice, potatoes, and peas, and naan bread. Normally it comes with a sausage, but I always ask them, instead of that, can I have a vegetable dish, and that’s why I got the potatoes and peas. I don’t want two meaty things, and the sausage thing always looks kind of scary to me. I had a coffee from a nearby deli.

Before I went to bed I had two small kiwis. These are from fruit stands. You know these fruit stands that have popped up all over the city? I used to go to the farmers’ market and buy bags and bags of apples, but it became too annoying to ride ten bags of apples on my bike back to my house, so now I go to these fruit stands, which are on almost every corner.

Tuesday, January 4
I started with a challah roll with Sunny Harvest brand orange marmalade. It was a whole new thing. Now it’s getting really daring.

Lunch was back at Jack’s on University with the $10 special, and I had the crab-cake sandwich, which is so delicious. I would have it every day, but I don’t know, it seems like it would probably be deadly if you had it all the time. And it’s made with lump meat crab cake with tomato and homemade remoulade sauce, served on a parker house roll. It came with a green salad. And a Diet Coke with the lunch — because they don’t let you substitute — and then I went to the deli and got a coffee. So then I have to walk my bike and drink coffee with my other hand. It’s very treacherous, but I manage.

I went to this nightclub, Feinstein’s at the Regency, to see Lorna Luft sing songs of her mother, Judy Garland, so this was a comp press dinner. I started with a steakhouse wedge salad, which is one of my favorite things, even though I don’t really like blue cheese dressing per se, but something about the wedge smothered in blue cheese is just heaven to me. I don’t know why. I’ve really fetishized this to ridiculous proportions. Because if you just said, Here’s some blue cheese salad dressing, I’d be like, ugh, get it away. But there’s something so basic and crazy about just a wedge of iceberg covered in blue cheese that’s very special to me. But I usually have that at steakhouses. I guess that’s why it’s called a steakhouse wedge salad. For an entrée, I went for a grilled chicken breast sandwich, which was pretty basic. It came with melted pepperjack on a brioche bun, and on the side they had a little thing of ranch dressing for the sandwich, but I didn’t use it. And they brought a cone of French fries, which I’m proud to say I didn’t finish. And I kept offering my friends some, which I normally don’t do, because I’m not a sharer. But I had had enough fries for the New Year. And I had, again, a Diet Coke, and coffee with milk.

I had four bananas before I went to bed. It seems like when you go to these fruit stands, it’s four bananas for a dollar. I always get four and I eat four.

Wednesday, January 5
I started the day with a toasted bagel, cinnamon raisin, with … what jelly? The green one, I think. And coffee and milk.

I had lunch at a place called the Barking Dog in my neighborhood, on 34th Street. I had a sausage, pepper, and onion hero, which comes with French fries. And I once substituted the salad there for the fries, and they charged me $2.50 without telling me that was the policy. Now I just stick with the fries and I deal with it. But it seems like everything comes with fries nowadays, don’t you think? It must be so cheap to mass produce them. And it seems like even at really upscale restaurants now, a $68 steak comes with fries. Everything comes with fries! It’s the all-American deadly dish.

I went to a Times Square deli with seating, because I was on the run. I had a six o’clock screening of Mumbai Diaries. I had some indeterminate chicken thing — it looked maybe barbecued — which came with yellow rice with vegetables sprinkled in. Also, coffee with milk. I get very panicky. Most people eat dinner probably at eight-ish, but I grew up eating dinner at five, five-thirty, and it’s hard for me to get out of that routine. And I get very panicky. If I had to sit for a six o’clock screening without having eaten, I would really start sweating. It’s a weird feeling. And probably not the most glam way to end my food week.

Nightlife Columnist Michael Musto Drinks Coffee Like a Machine, Buys His Jelly a