the grub street diet

Reply All’s PJ Vogt Drinks a Lot of Diet Coke

“I’m like the equivalent of a two-pack-a-day guy, but for aspartame.”

PJ Vogt spends his Saturday mornings at Colina Cuervo. Photo: Christian Rodriguez
PJ Vogt spends his Saturday mornings at Colina Cuervo. Photo: Christian Rodriguez

Reply All is called a podcast about the internet, but it’s really a hypercurious exploration of the contemporary world. Co-hosts Alex Goldman and PJ Vogt are deeply engaged whether they’re talking about Spotify’s most prodigious songwriter, a beauty vlogger crisis, or “real-time, live action trolling” by Alex Jones. As Vogt explains it, he’ likes food for the same reasons as the topics he explores on his show. “You enjoy it over and over again trying to crack the code of why it is so good,” he says. “I think I have the least amount of knowledge, so it’s like I have to be this stupid detective on it.” This week, he enjoyed the rare two-tamale Saturday, hovered around a hoagie at a Game of Thrones party, and answered, once and for all, the question of whether Antoni can cook. Read all about in this week’s Grub Street Diet.

Friday, April 12
I slept through my first alarm and ran out of the door pretty late, which meant that breakfast was half a bag of beef jerky that I found in my jacket pocket. I don’t often find food in my pockets, but I’m also not proud of my breakfast situation. If I’m on top of things, I’ll do toast and lox or toast and avocado. But a lot of times it’s not unheard of for me to eat cold cuts or beef jerky. It’s really not the thing in my life that I’m most happy about.

I’m really impressed by the world of people who can get up and get out of bed and start the cooking process. It’s like in that Christopher Nolan Batman movie, where Batman wakes up and as soon as his eyes are open he rolls out of bed, onto the floor, into a push-up, and does, like a dozen. Someone cooking breakfast for themselves on a work morning is exactly as impressive.

Anyway, before work I usually go to the gym with Sruthi, my friend and co-worker. A nice thing about the gym is that they sell Coke Zeroes. I went for a run and then bought three Cokes and shoved them in various jacket pockets. I drink a lot of Diet Coke. I’m like the equivalent of a two-pack-a-day guy, but for aspartame. Anything I have to do that requires a little output of motivation, I’ll have a Diet Coke. I’ll walk around the office sometimes with an open can of Diet Coke and a closed Diet Coke in the other hand.

I once read a dog-training book and they used the phrase “food-motivated” to refer to certain kinds of dogs and that descriptor made me feel pretty seen. Before Gimlet, I worked at WNYC with the co-host of my podcast, Alex Goldman. It was a big office, and at least once a day, someone would send out an all-staff email about free food. Every time it happened, we would immediately drop what we were doing and take off sprinting with Tom Cruise velocity. Bagels, the remains of some corporate lunch, pizza, holiday cookies, it really didn’t matter.

Anyway, now, we work at Gimlet, a podcast start-up, and there’s free lunch provided by our bosses on Friday. You’re not supposed to line-up until 12. I usually start obsessing about optimal line up time around 11 a.m. Go too early, and you’re the guy lingering by the desks of the marketing department. Go too late, you have to wait in a long line. This morning, I screwed it up. I got stuck in an edit, and I couldn’t show up until 11:52. The line was already superlong. Very disappointing, but at least I didn’t mess up on a taco day.

Later, I had an afternoon snack. Sruthi got in a fight with her kids about Fruit Roll-Ups. The details were a little confusing. But somehow, to prove a point to them, she said they would go to Target and buy every single box of Fruit Roll-Ups in the store. And then they did. Which meant one of the rooms in our office was just, like, a cascading mountain of Fruit Roll-Up boxes. I kept catching myself unwrapping them mindlessly and then someone on the team would sort of smirk at me and say, “Don’t forget to write that one down for your food diary!” It’s a cool situation.

I meet some friends for dinner at Russian Samovar, this Russian vodka place in midtown. I’ve gone a few times over the years. The ceilings are low, the overhead lights are covered in pink lampshades, there’s a man playing a piano. We ate blinis and lox and drank vodka that was infused with horseradish. It’s all pretty wonderful.

Saturday, April 13
Pretty much every Saturday morning I go to Colina Cuervo, a coffee shop in my neighborhood, Crown Heights. It’s a perfect place. The food is really good, they have big windows, you can always get a table, and everybody who works there is super-friendly. I get a coffee and a very good pork tamale and read the newspaper.

It’s just perfect because you can sit there in morning drinking coffee and reading the Times and then somebody’s like two feet away from you doing their thing. You’re being alone, but not alone.

My friend Vlad was visiting Brooklyn with his enormous, adorable dog, a smiley pit bull named Toad. A bunch of us met up at Do or Dive, this bar in Bed Stuy, a bar which I am shocked to learn … also makes tamales? Turns out they’re surprisingly decent, too. It was a two-tamale day.

There’s this place near the office called Sweet Polly that everybody seems to like a lot. It’s the same when you learn a new word and everyone seems to be saying it.  I’ve had multiple conversations where they’re like, “oh there’s this little place that nobody’s ever heard of” and it’s always Sweet Polly. They don’t tell me why.

I met some work people there for drinks and food. I tried to order a shrimp cocktail and ended up with a shrimp roll — like a lobster roll that you get in Maine or wherever — instead, which was equally fine. The real mistake I made was that the bartender was talking about these Star Wars–themed Tiki mugs they have, and the elaborate Star Wars–themed cocktails they sometimes make. Being a dumb nerd, I wanted to try it. I drank a few Jawas and immediately felt like a horse had kicked me directly in the brain.

Sunday, April 14
I made bad choices, and those choices led to a hangover. I went back to Colina Cuervo, where they have this breaded chicken sandwich that is like anti-hangover heavy artillery. I called in the big guns, and the big guns seemed to work. If there’s a hangover that it can’t beat, I don’t want to have that hangover.

There are two bodegas on my corner, and after breakfast I went to the one I like better, because it has more Diet Coke. Every single morning, the guy who works there makes the same joke, and this morning was no exception: My Cokes came to $6, but when he rings me up, he says, “$600.” I told him, “That’s pretty steep,” which is what I always say. Then he gives me my change.

I met Sruthi at the gym and was suddenly starving. They sell food there, and so I bought a bag of what I thought were chips. It turns out they were something called Beanfield’s brand chips. They are chips made out of three different kinds of beans. I do not want to disparage the hard work of these chip manufacturers, but they are not for me.

That night, I went to a Game of Thrones viewing party that had maybe the best food I’ve eaten in my life. I think this must be why people get into the Super Bowl. There were chili dogs. There was a dip. There was a Hodor Hoagie the size of studio apartment.

The moment they dropped the Stark-Targaryen flag on the food, I was just fully on it. There was this soft sandwich bread, salami, lettuce, lots of classic cold cuts, generous amounts of mayo. It was kind of just your hoagie all-stars.

Monday, April 15
I realize that I’m on the last day of this thing and I have literally not prepared one bite of food for myself. I cook very, very rarely. If I’m doing great in life and all the systems are firing, maybe once a week. I feel like there are more people like me than maybe care to admit it. I started to imagine what an internet comment section might say about this, and the thought did not make me feel super good. So for breakfast, I made some toast and lox, like the healthy and normal adult human I am.

For lunch, I made avocado toast. I really like making it, and I also always feel a little embarrassed doing it, like, “ha ha ha ha what a cliché of a millennial.”

I ate more Fruit Roll-Ups. Any flavor is good for me.

One of my best friends is this guy Antoni. We met over a decade ago, when we were students in Montreal. We both moved down to New York around the same time and we were roommates for years. Back then, I wanted to make radio documentaries, and he wanted to be in movies.

Now, I make a podcast, and he’s on Queer Eye, teaching people who can’t cook or take care of themselves to cook and take care of themselves. Back before that was his job, he got sort of a trial run on me, his slovenly, kitchen-inept roommate. He is such a good cook. Such a good cook. On Queer Eye a lot of times, he’s cooking something healthy. But he would make just really decadent, rich restaurant food for us.

Not everything he taught me stuck, but when I do cook, it’s usually something he showed me.

On this night, I made spaghetti. For the sauce, I used this recipe from Marcella Hazan, who I only know about because of Antoni. She has a great classic Italian cookbook that’s appropriately called The Classic Italian Cookbook. I don’t cook that often and I can’t cook much, but I’ll take a recipe, like this or Samin Nosrat’s cast-iron steak, and I’ll do it a thousand times just to get really, really good at this one basic thing.

Anyway, her tomato sauce is just San Marzano tomatoes, half an onion, and a stick of butter. Even I can’t mess it up. It’s delicious, every single time. You end up with sauce that tastes rich and decadent the way, like, really good pizza does. And then somebody tastes it and they’re like, “Oh, you must know what you’re doing.” You’re just like, “No. no. I don’t’’

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