Trains, Walks & Automobiles: Trip to the Closest A&W to NYC

A&W Fishkill Outside

Background

Back in 2009 I wrote an entry about the elusive Long John Silver's and A&W chains, the later of which had just lost its last New York City location (on Staten Island). I discovered four locations on Long Island that offered either of the brands as a co-branded location. However, by the following year only one was left. A Long John Silver's in Farmingdale/Melville, which I also recently visited but am not going to bother writing an article about. You can see my Yelp review here (it is not worth the visit).

A new A&W location has appeared on Long Island, according to A&W's store locator. However, upon closer inspection you will find it's actually past security at the Long Island / MacArthur airport.

So where can you still get the slice of Americana that is A&W? Fishkill, New York, about 55 miles north of the city.

Getting There

Hudson Line
This being a New York City-based blog, when I write about establishments outside the city, I generally focus on getting there by public transportation. However, for this location you're pretty much out luck. Interestingly, there's a rail line right next to the restaurant that is owned by Metro-North, but it hasn't seen passenger service since 1927.

I recently joined Zipcar, so I've been exploring areas where I can rent one of their vehicles far outside the city. I noticed two locations in Poughkeepsie: One at Marist College, close to the Metro North train station, and one at Vassar College, a good hour's walk from the same station.

Now, I could have made my life easy and just strolled over to Marist, but I am sort of trying to exercise more, so I took up the "challenge" of two hours of walking for some A&W.

The Journey

vassar-north-parking-lot.JPG
On a recent Saturday morning, I took an 11:45 train to Poughkeepsie out of Grand Central. It arrived a little later than its scheduled 1:38 arrival time, but I had plenty of time to make it to Vassar for my 2pm Zipcar rental. I should mention this is a very scenic train ride along the Hudson.

Leaving the station, there is a little bit of a climb to get to Downtown Poughkeepsie. Once you make it though, the trip is pretty flat from there. Navigationally it's very easy as well. You walk Main Street until you get to Raymond Avenue, take a right, and you hit Vassar College. The campus is rather large, but the Zipcar spots are only a block from there, at their northern parking lot.

Despite the train being a little late, I still made it to the parking lot early enough that I had to wait a few minutes before being in the 15-minute early grace period where I wouldn't be charged extra for the car. At 2:46pm I hopped in the Ford Focus hatchback and made my way down to Fishkill, using the Waze app on my phone. I had brought a small 12V charger to keep the phone charged. It was about a 25-minute drive down to the A&W, which is located in the back of a large plaza that is anchored by Wal-Mart and Sam's Club (welcome to the suburbs).

The Experience

A&W Fishkill Tables
This location was by far the cleanest and brightest fast food restaurant that I have visited in years. There were even some awards hanging by the register that seem to suggest my experience was not a fluke.

For a mere $5-something, I received a bacon cheeseburger, medium fries, and a medium drink. That's quite the value these days. Placing my order went quickly and the staff was very friendly.

It seems the frosted mugs may have been phased out at this location. I'm not sure if that's a location-specific thing or if it has something to do with the chain's struggles. This didn't really affect my experience, however.

Root beer is still tapped next to the soda fountain from a weird contraption that combines a tap handle-esque lever for the regular version and a standard-issue modern push lever for the diet version. Maybe I've gotten so used to diet soda, but I thought the diet root beer tasted delicious. Since the fountain on the customer side (the way it should be!) I went back for a refill.

After filling up my soda I started to have some concerns. Where is the ketchup? Where are the napkins? Is this going to be one of those terrible fast food locations where they give me two packets of ketchup and I have to also ask for a napkin or two?

A&W Fishkill Table Settings
I quickly discovered that all was well. The tables actually have ketchup bottles on them, something I don't think I've seen at a fast food restaurant in at least a decade, if ever. My table also came equipped with a napkin dispenser, salt, pepper, and artificial flowers with colorful glass beads in the vase. This is absolutely stellar for the fast food industry today.

The dining space itself had tons of light from windows on three sides, and even had TVs showing baseball on ESPN. Again, I can't recall ever seeing this at a fast food restaurant before. My phone also connected to free AT&T wi-fi - not sure if that's for everyone or just AT&T customers, but either way, not a bad offering to have.

It's sad that A&W is so rare these days, as the experience I had should be the norm for fast food.

The Return

I took the same route back to Vassar (Waze wasn't very creative) and parked the Zipcar back in its spot 15-muntes early. After a 40 minutes of walking I was back at the train station and back at Grand Central by 8:15 or so.



Calexico Opens in Greenpoint

Calexico GreenpointCalexico has silently opened their second restaurant. It's located at 645 Manhattan Avenue, one storefront up from the Bedford Avenue intersection and Dunkin' Donuts / Baskin-Robbins. The Nassau Avenue entrance of the Nassau Avenue G-Train station is within shouting distance.

It's important to note that their hours are limited right now, being 5:30pm - midnight Tuesday to Sunday, closed Monday. This leaves Calexico out of the vibrant South Greenpoint brunch scene for the time being.

Update (1/23/2011): Wet-erase marker on the window now says "Open for Lunch". The Monday closure is still in effect.

If you're used to visiting a Calexico cart rather than a restaurant, you'll be surprised how fancy this sit-down restaurant looks. Aside from plenty of tables there is also a long bar which is stocked to full-service levels.

Takeout available and delivery will be sometime soon if this store plans to match its Waterfront District counterpart's service levels.

For now it's probably a good idea to give them a call before heading out: 347-763-2129

Lunch at Perkins on Staten Island

Perkins Staten Island

Perkins Family Restaurant and Bakery only has three locations in New York City, all on Staten Island. Since I was enjoying a very nice Saturday by taking the Staten Island Ferry, I figured I'd do something very random and have lunch here. This location is located right by the Old Town SIR station, which is only about a ten-minute ride from the St. George Ferry Terminal.

Long story short it's a chain version of the diners you see all across NYC, but with some perks (no pun intended).

First off, Perkins has a very large desert menu and sells entire pies for takeout by the register. The layout of the restaurant is essentially two mirror-image opposite L-shapes with the register/sales counter and waiting area taking up the center and the bathrooms and kitchen taking up the upper corners.

I was seated immediately and given the extremely large menu (even by diner standards). It actually took me a good ten minutes to choose what to order. What's interesting about the menu is that, since this is a chain, the calorie counts are posted, and, since this is a diner, you can actually find about how many calories you're taking in when you visit the mom-and-pop diners.

Needless to say, the calorie counts scared me away from getting fries (~600cal) with my turkey club sandwich (~800 cal), so instead I chose a side salad (~150 cal).

The service was very friendly (my Diet Coke was refilled twice without asking) and quick. Both the sandwich and salad were very tasty. The turkey club is my usual diner order, so I was able to compare, and Perkins' was a notch above what I'm used to. The salad was also better than expected. Let's face it, at a diners you often get a some old semi-brown salad with very little dark green. Perkins' salad wasn't world-class, but it was fresh.

Just about all the meals will run you about $10 - $11 with a drink and tax. Overall this is a very decent place to have a meal.
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Kenny Rogers Roasters Leaves Nathan's Coney Island

Kenny Rogers Roasters Gone
Sad news to report out of Coney Island: Kenny Rogers Roasters Express inside Nathan's, perhaps the last place on the East Coast to get KRR chicken, is being disassembled. Nathan's Famous had retained the right to sell KRR as a part of its sale of the chain to its  Philippine franchiser in 2008, but ultimately, with very little remaining brand recognition, it probably wasn't worth continuing the operation. Nathan's is already using the counter to sell its own specialties, from hot dogs to chicken and fish sandwiches.

Barring any other Nathan's still selling KRR (I know of none), it now seems the only place you can still savor its chicken in the United States is at the Ontario Mills mall in Ontario, California. Miami Subs, also previously owned by Nathan's Famous, has also removed any mention of KRR from its online menu.

Exotic Fast Food Palace on 44th Street

44th Street Food Court.jpgYum! Brands' dual-brand restaurants in the suburbs seemed like a novel idea when their rollout began in the early part of the last decade. In the suburbs you went to a KFC, a Pizza Hut, or a Taco Bell - not some combination of two of the three.

However, in New York City the concept of multi-branded food courts run by restaurant management companies is nothing new. For decades these companies, such as Riese Restaurants have run multi-brand food courts, primarily catering to the corporate lunch crowd, in Midtown and Lower Manhattan, as well as Downtown Brooklyn.

Unlike their modern suburban counterparts, the New York City food courts are generally parent-company independent. Nathan's Famous Hot Dogs may be paired with a Roy Rogers, a KFC may be paired with a Dunkin' Donuts and a Subway.

A gleaming example of diverse fast food experience is offered at the food court on the corner of 44th Street & 8th Avenue, two blocks north of the Port Authority Bus Terminal and a block west of Times Square. Here four chains (Subway, Arthur Treacher's Fish & Chips, Nathan's Famous, and Church's Chicken), as well as a pizza counter, are all under one roof. It is furthermore of note that this is Church's Chicken's only location in New York City, and one of the very few of Arthur Treacher's*.

The entire food court was overhauled in early 2009 and now boasts a very clean interior.

*Note that Arthur Treacher's website keeps a very spotty list of locations (it is even down at the time of this writing). This and several others in New York City are not listed.
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New York City's In-N-Out Burger Clone

Address: 311 East 23rd St at Park Ave South. 6-Train to 23rd Street.

Fresh-N-Fast Outside
In-N-Out Burger, a highly-regarded, simple burger chain, only stretches as far east as Nevada and Colorado. Their statement on franchising will probably keep it this way:

"In-N-Out remains privately owned and the Snyder family has no plans to take the company public or franchise any units." - In-N-Out "History"
How do you capitalize on this geographic restriction out East? Start a clone of course! First, create a brand name and color scheme similar (but hopefully distinct) enough to draw in cravers of the real thing. Then set up your menu in a similar fashion, and you're all set!

Let's face it: New York City is the capital of borderline cease-and-desist fast food clones. There was the "Subs Ur Way" in a yellow-and-green color scheme in Greenpoint (which lasted all of two months), and, of course, the infamous hundreds of KFC brand capitlizers, be it Kennedy Fried Chicken, Kansas Fried Chicken, or even New Kantaky Fried Chicken.

Enter Fresh-N-Fast, our new In-N-Out clone, which opened its first location by the corner of 23rd St & Park Avenue South.

While In-N-Out's restaurants generally offer spacious seating, this first Fresh-N-Fast location only has a few barstools along a narrow consumption counter along its left side. The menu boards could hardly be a closer match though. The only real dissimilarity is the fact that In-N-Out's grilled cheese sandwich is a "secret menu item" while at Fresh-N-Fast it's out in the open. Take a look at the comparison below:

In-N-Out Menu BoardFresh-N-Fast Inside
In-N-Out Menu Board by roboppy via Flickr

Finally, let's get to how the food actually tastes and what the experience is like. Long story short, the burger was very good (perhaps a notch under Shake Shack) and the fries were world class (similar to but a notch above Five Guys). Price was comparable to the other "upscale burger chains", a double cheeseburger and fries will cost you around $8.50. The service staff appeared somewhat confused overall - at one point it seemed they thought they had already cleared my order. The kicker was when the cashier was asked if "Animal Style" was offered here. The response was "Oh, like In-N-Out?" While you can't get "Animal Style" exactly like In-N-Out, the nearly-identical special sauce and liquid cheese is offered on the side.

Diehard In-N-Out fans will probably scoff at this clone. However, unless you plan on flying out to Las Vegas for lunch, this is the next best thing, and it tastes good. What more can matter? Fresh-N-Fast plans on opening further locations throughout the city.

Submarina California Opens in Astoria

Address: 31-43 Steinway St, Astoria, Queens (Steinway Section) - G,R,V to Steinway St.

Submarina California OutsideNew York City's (and the East Coast's) first Submarina California opened this past Thursday in Astoria, Queens. The sandwich shop is located in the back of a Häagen Dazs.

I visited on opening night and a corporate manager from San Diego was present, still mentioning rules to the staff and providing other guidance. I was immediately informed that I could get a six-inch sub, chips, and a drink for $5. I went for the turkey club, which was carefully prepared. In fact, the mustard, the only sauce I chose, was spread across the bread with a knife. An interesting vegetable available was alfalfa sprouts, which I also chose.

Unfortunately the sandwich photo I took was mysteriously lost by my TweetDeck iPhone app. The sandwich was large and certainly tasted refreshingly different than Subway or Quiznos - the closest comparison would be Jimmy John's, a 875-store chain of sub shops mostly found in college towns.

I highly recommend giving Submarina a try. You can even have a dessert from Häagen Dazs at the conclusion of your meal!

Submarina California Inside

Arby's Opens in Downtown Brooklyn

Address: 372 Fulton St., Downtown Brooklyn - Jay Street / Borough Hall A,C,F Station

Arby's Brooklyn 1
The long-awaited "World's Most Beautiful Arby's" opened last Thursday on the Fulton Mall. Aside from the amazing historic interior, this Arby's also features an "Arby's Express" counter by the entrance which is generally line-less and only serves cold sandwiches.

If you want any of the traditional menu items you must queue up along the right wall and place your order at the back counter. You then receive an order number and then wait for your order to the left side.

This Arby's features suburban-style self-serve soda fountains and sauce pumps. There's even a "ring if the service was great" bell by the door on your way out. Ring it and the entire staff will shout "thanks guest you're the best." Cute, but it can get a little ridiculous during the heavy lunch crowd.

Overall I was very satisfied with my Large Beef & Cheddar Combo order on the day after the grand opening.

Arby's Brooklyn 2
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Checkers Expands in Brooklyn and into Queens

Just this past June Checkers opened their first Brooklyn location on Court Street. Since then Checkers has rolled out across Brooklyn with several new locations opening. Late summer also brought a location in the Financial District and recently a location in Jamaica, Queens has opened, giving Checkers a presence in all five boroughs.

New locations in Brooklyn & Queens:


Brooklyn:

1611 Broadway at Eldert St (Bushwick): I visited this location yesterday. It's another non-typical Checkers, seating 19 and having no drive through. For a photo and a longer review, check out BushwickBK.com's article.

970 Flatbush Ave. at Albemarie Rd (Flatbush) : I've got nothing on this location except that Google Maps pairs it with Papa John's.

797 Pennsylvania Ave at Linden Blvd (East New York): This one ran into some problems getting its signs approved. No word on if it's open yet. Based on the permit applications, this location will have at least one drive-through (remember, Checkers likes having two). My guess is it will be more like the Staten Island location with no seating but a pick-up window.
Here is the most recent Google Street View capture - my guess is it's replacing the car wash:

 

Queens:

83-45 Parsons Blvd at Coolidge Ave (Jamaica): No word on this one either, but Google Street View shows two red canopies behind a McDonalds at the same address. It certainly looks like a drive-through.


Remember that the last two locations above are listed on Checkers' website but there's no other confirmation that they're open. Use the location finder to get the most accurate phone number and give the location a call before heading out.

Columbian Chicken in Queens: Frisby

Address: 83-17 Northern Blvd, Queens. 7-Train to 82nd St / Jackson Heights to Q33 bus (LaGuardia Airport-bound) to Northern Blvd.

Frisby in QueensColumbian chicken chain Frisby, ("Pollo Frisby") only has one location in all of North America, and that happens to be right here in New York City on Northern Boulevard in Jackson Heights, Queens.

At first glance Frisby looks like you're average fast food chicken chain: There are brightly-lit signs out front, posters advertising product everywhere, and even a mascot. However, the experience is somewhat different.

I always stand out when I wander into a fast food establishment for the first time. I stand there, neck strained upward, glancing at the menuboard for several minutes. This tradition was interrupted today as the manager handed me a printed out menu.

Frisby's menu consists of fried chicken items and sides. I ordered a combo of chicken wings and fries. However, Frisby's definition of "chicken wings" is not in tune with the common U.S. fast food definition: They are literally big fried wings of chicken.

After placing my order (and paying the $7.99 plus tax) the experience became truly unique. I was given beverage cup and a metal pole with a number attached to it and asked to sit down. I filled up my cup with Diet Pepsi, not even bothering with a lid or straw. I also grabbed some napkins and then sat down at a table.

Almost immediately a member of the staff came over and placed down a placemat, which was essentially a tray liner. I also received three packets of honey, two packets of ketchup, more napkins, a lid, a straw, and, the best part, two plastic gloves! About a minute later the same staff member brought me my food on a tray, which she unloaded onto my placemat.

I was a bit bewildered by the gloves. I obviously recognized their purpose, but the idea of eating with them on seemed very strange to me. I compromised with my inner-anxiety and put one on, leaving my other hand in the more accustomed uncovered state.

The chicken with honey tasted quite great, while the fries were average. I got through the meal rather quickly and cleanly (the glove served its role well). I was not responsible for clearing off my table, something I'm quite used to from my days in  Germany and Austria.

Ultimately, a dinner at Frisby is worth experiencing. I plan on returning again in the near future to try something else off the menu, especially the extensive side dish list.

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