Phil Rosenthal may live in Los Angeles, but New York will always be home for the creator of “Everybody Loves Raymond.”
And on the second season of his Netflix travel food show, “Somebody Feed Phil,” premiering Friday, the Queens native comes home.
amNewYork spoke with Rosenthal about the show’s NYC episode, his guests and going to — gasp — New Jersey for the best pizza.
I wanted to chat with you about the New York episode.
It might be the best one we’ve done I think.
What makes you say that?
Well any time you can tie the personal to the show, I think it strengthens it. And of course I’m a New Yorker. I lived there the whole first half of my life. I’m back every month or so. I’ll never not be a New Yorker. The food scene’s amazing.
There were some places I hadn’t heard of.
You want to do a mix. You want to do the old and new, especially for a city like New York. I say early on in the episode, my goal was to do a definitive New York episode, and I very quickly realized that you can’t. First of all, it’s too big. Second of all, everyone’s done a New York episode for everything. What I can do that no one else has done is my New York.
You were born in Queens?
Yes. I was in Queens for a couple years. Then we moved to Riverdale until I was 9. From 9-17 I was in Rockland County. I went to Hofstra. Then I moved into the city in 1981 until 1989. I was living in Washington Heights. I worked in Times Square for a few years. Plus the whole theater scene is there too. Off and on we would do gigs.
That must have been an interesting time to be in the city.
I’ll say. It was before the Disney-fied Times Square. As a 21-year-old you would get propositioned nightly by very friendly ladies. Now you get propositioned by Elmo.
It was during that time that you first went to Peter Luger?
The discovery of that place was almost the discovery of some sort of ancient tribal ritual, that was of a religion you wanted to join immediately. It wasn’t my first great steak. The best steak that I had, maybe the only steak that I tried outside of my mother’s house that I thought was extraordinary was actually in midtown. It was Gallagher’s, which is still there also. I heard it’s very good still, too. They said if you like this, you got to go to Peter Luger.
And then you were converted.
Oh yeah. I even have the card. You have to pay cash unless you have their card. I have that.
There are a lot of personal places in the episode, but were there any that you went to for the first time?
Trying JJ [Johnson’s] food. I thought he was extraordinary. I feel he’s such a great find for the people. I advise everyone to follow him wherever he goes. And the Indian cafe in the Queens temple was great. And Ice & Vice is new to people I think. There’s so many. I could only scratch the surface.
How did you select places for the episode?
I [got] a lot of advice. And some of the places are new to me because I’ve just tried them in the last few months. Like Ice & Vice I had for the first time before the episode. I said we have to go here, it’s the new favorite ice cream. I had not been to Razza’s in Jersey City, so you’re seeing that for the first time. We all know how great that is, if you’ve been there.
But it’s in New Jersey!
Domenick [Lombardozzi] makes a very good point in the episode — the Jets and the Giants are in New Jersey, too. And I think anywhere you can get within a half-hour of midtown is fair game. That includes Stone Barns. That includes Razza. This is the New York metropolitan area. It still counts as New York. We’re in the orbit.
It still might ruffle some feathers.
I don’t care. Even The New York Times said it before I did — the best pizza is New York is in New Jersey. I want people to not get upset that I’m saying New Jersey. I believe insane tribalism must end.
To be open-minded.
Yes. That’s the point of the episode, the point of the series.
Were there certain people who you got the New York recommendations from?
Ed Levine, who’s the pizza expert. He recommended Totonno’s and Razza. By the way, Ed was the one who told The New York Times about Razza. He’s featured in their review even. We’ve been friends for many years and I knew that I wanted to go there with him. And he says we should do Totonno’s also because their story is terrific. So we did that. I knew I wanted to go to Di Fara because that’s legendary. And I had to leave out a bunch because you can’t do them all. I had to leave out Joe’s on Carmine, that killed me.
How did you pick the places for your picnic in Central Park with the ballerinas?
Just off the top of my head — best takeout in New York. All these things started appearing. I’m sure I missed a ton, but these were the ones off the top of my head. And the ones that maybe you don’t figure ballerinas would dig into, like pastrami sandwiches and fried chicken. That was one of my favorite segments.
You see White Gold Butchers’ Erika Nakamura and Jocelyn Guest in the episode. Did you hear about them leaving?
Yes. But I’m imagining it’s staying open and will be run by somebody else. Is that what’s happening?
As long as it’s open. Listen, it happens. That’s life, nothing lasts forever, everything ends. That’s the message I’m trying to get out to people — you don’t know what’s going to happen, so go now. I’m trying to get you to travel. I want you to go while your legs still work, while you still can. We can’t see the future, this may be all we have.
Right, with these legacy places, you think, I’ll get to that.
And then the next day they’re not there. I bet people thought that Carnegie’s Deli would last forever.
Did you hear Glaser’s closed? No more black and whites.
Oh. Where did I have a great black and white? Oh, here in LA. Somebody’s doing their take on a black and white at an old-school Jewish deli [Freedman’s]. They’re doing an idealized version of a black and white that’s actually a soft, almost cakelike cookie. We’re used to black and whites being big, hard and dry. I could see a New Yorker getting into an argument — “It’s supposed to be hard and dry. That’s LA in a nutshell — soft.”
Feeding Phil in NYC
In the hourlong New York City episode, Rosenthal eats a lot — often with some famous faces. Here’s where he goes:
- Peter Luger Steak House: Rosenthal digs into a seemingly endless spread of hamburgers, lamb, steak and multiple desserts (including a bowl of schlag) at the Williamsburg steakhouse. On hand to help are out-of-town chefs Massimo Bottura, Nancy Silverton and Elizabeth Hong.
- Totonno’s: The first stop on Rosenthal’s pizza crawl with Serious Eats founder Ed Levine is this Coney Island institution.
- Di Fara: Then it’s on to Midwood to see the legendary Dom De Marco in action.
- Razza: The last stop is across the Hudson to this Jersey City upstart, where they’re joined by actor Domenick Lombardozzi.
- Pilot: Professional oyster enthusiast Julie Qiu schools Rosenthal and guests including Al Roker in bivalves at the Brooklyn Bridge Park boat bar.
- White Gold Butchers: Rosenthal visits the Upper West Side restaurant’s former star butchers, Erika Nakamura and Jocelyn Guest, with comedian Judy Gold for elevated BECs, hot dogs and chopped cheese.
- Zabar’s: Rosenthal and Gold run loose and do some shopping in the Upper West Side food store.
- Chefs Club: Rosenthal tries JJ Johnson’s Afro-Asian cuisine during his residency at the NoLIta restaurant.
- Temple Canteen: Rosenthal heads to the South Indian eatery, in the basement of a Flushing temple, with guests including Floyd Cardoz of Bombay Bread Bar.
- Nathan’s: Rosenthal gets hot dogs for the TV crew at another Coney Island institution.
- Ice & Vice: Rosenthal and comedian Elaine May find their favorite flavor at the Lower East Side experimental ice cream shop.
- Russ & Daughters Café: Rosenthal schools Tracy Morgan in Jewish appetizing, from latkes to lox, at the Lower East Side cafe.
- Central Park picnic: Rosenthal invites some ballerinas on a picnic for a spread that includes sandwiches from Faicco’s, Katz’s and Harry & Ida’s, fried chicken from Charles Pan Fried Chicken, dan dan noodles from Han Dynasty, egg creams and, for dessert, a cake by pastry chef Paulette Goto. (As for how they had the whole Great Lawn to themselves, Rosenthal said it was closed — except to them — for seeding.)
- Blue Hill at Stone Barns: Rosenthal heads out of the city to Dan Barber’s celebrated restaurant and farm in Pocantico Hills.
- The Rosenthals: Rosenthal wraps up the episode at his parent’s apartment, where he and Daniel Boulud enjoy his mom Helen’s homemade matzo ball soup — and Boulud takes some notes.