Matt LeMay is a musician based in Brooklyn, NY, the platform manager for bitly, author of Elliot Smith’s XO, and writer for Pitchfork. Matt has become a friend over the years, and now that we both live in New York he is one of my go to guys to talk to about food.
When I decided to relaunch this blog with a focus on food and drink I knew that there was no one better to start off with that Matt, and I’m extremely excited to bring you this interview. Matt is a truly adventurous eater.
When did you first realize your love for food was more than just hunger?
When I was a kid, I was actually a crazy-picky eater. Just, like, meat and potatoes, no flavor, no spice. The first time I had Indian food, I put ketchup on it. The first time I had “hot” salsa, I cried.
I grew up in New York City and never had a fake ID, so cheap restaurants were pretty much the only places where my friends and I could hang out in high school. My friend David took me to Pho Viet Huong on Mulberry Street when I was in 9th grade, and a few weeks after that we started making our way through one of Robert Sietsema’s incredible Village Voice cheap eats lists. My palate caught up with my sense of adventure, and I wound up spending a ton of time at Congee Village, Overseas, The Natural Restaurant (R.I.P.), Rai Rai Ken, lots of awesome Asian restaurants downtown. Good food became a huge part of my life.
Some of my picky eater tics have been slow to die; I didn’t eat sushi until I was in college, and I’ve only started enjoying bell peppers in the last year or so. Which is crazy, because bell peppers are delicious.
Do you have any current favorite NYC Cheap Eats?
Oh yeah. There’s a food crawl I do in Flushing that starts at Xi’an Famous Foods and ends at Nan Xian dumpling house — piles upon piles of food, and it comes out to about 8 bucks a head. I’m a fan of the whole Sripraphai / Chao / Ayada Queens Thai food trifecta, though Chao strikes me as the clear champion.
Those are all pretty obvious/canonical outer borough Chowhound destinations, though. In my day-to-day, I find myself hitting up the new-ish Baohaus on 14th street pretty often, and making a detour to Dos Toros when I’m jonesing for a proper San Francisco-style burrito and the Chipotle test kitchen in Chelsea won’t cut it. The chicken parm and meatball subs at Best Pizza in Williamsburg are my weekend lunch indulgences. I’ve actually been trying to cook more, so I’m relying less on mediocre weeknight Williamsburg cuisine like curry chicken noodle soup from M Noodle Shop and “Mittles” sandwiches from Sunac.
You are a pretty adventurous eater, but you mentioned that you are starting to cook more. What have you been cooking? Any dishes you have been particularly proud of?
I’m starting with pretty bush league stuff — cous cous and pasta, salad and stir fry. I found a recipe for lentil salad on Serious Eats that looked fantastic, and I botched it SO badly. I overcooked the lentils and turned the whole thing into this really gross paste. Every ingredient I added seemed to make it even worse. And, of course, I had no idea how much actual food two cups of dried lentils would become, so I wound up making about 10 servings of this stuff. On the plus side, it actually didn’t taste that bad when I spread it on a toasted pita and covered it in Sriracha. Sriracha is the great savior of mediocre food, both take-out and home-made.
Last summer when I was looking for a restaurant for a first date you gave a great recommended of Brooklyn Star, and suggested starting with the pig tails. Pig tails were a bit out of my comfort zone, but we ordered them anyways and have been making our way through the rest of the pig ever since (the Pig Ears at Husk in Charleston, SC most recently). Any new pork recommendations?
Let’s talk about country ham, Tom. Country ham is the shit. It’s amazing. It’s so salty and so tough — like a pig crystal. Pig in its purest form. You can get it shredded up at Momofuku Ssam Bar, you can get it shredded at Egg in Williamsburg, but you CANNOT GET A COUNTRY HAM STEAK in New York City. The best country ham I’ve ever had is at a place called Southern Kitchen in New Market, VA. You can smell it from like five miles away. If you ever see country ham steak on a menu, order it. If you aren’t slightly overpowered by its pungent majesty at first, it isn’t real country ham.
What is the most adventurous thing you have eaten in the recent past?
I’m pretty much down to eat anything these days; can’t remember the last particularly adventurous thing I ate, but I LOVE chicken feet. If you get one with a callus it’s, like, extra-stringy bonus meat. Mmmm. I had some pig intestines in Hong Kong that were awesome, and some clay pot pigeon that was… fine.
Those who follow you on twitter (which is almost at the 2,000 mark) know that you are huge coffee drinker, and on a recent trip to San Francisco you drank over 15 cups of coffee. What are your top three favorite coffee spots(NYC or nationwide)? and what exactly does MOAR mean?
In New York, I’m all about Abraço. Their espresso drinks are flawless, and their iced coffee beats Blue Bottle at its own game. Ninth Street Espresso is a close 2nd, followed by Gimme! Coffee. In the summer, Cafe Regular Du Nord in Park Slope makes amazing granita — real granita, just espresso, cream, sugar and ice.
“MOAR” is an internet-y spelling of “more” generally reserved for gluttonous creatures such as cats, li’l fat kids, and me. See: http://ohinternet.com/Moar
It’s interesting how only one shop with a location in Brooklyn ended up on your list! I need to get downtown more often to drink coffee.
I try to make coffee for myself when I’m at home, otherwise I’m sure there would be more Williamsburg places on the list!
What was your holiday drink of choice this year? Alcoholic and otherwise?
Truth be told, I’m mostly a red wine-with-dinner kinda guy these days. There’s a friendly and impeccably curated little wine shop around the corner from my apartment called Vine Wine, and I usually find myself there a couple times a week. When I go out, I’m drinking whiskey and/or whiskey-based cocktails (the smoked old fashioned at Brooklyn Star is a personal favorite). I love good beer, but I don’t drink it as often as I used to. Come to think of it, my intake of liquid these days pretty much consists exclusively of water, coffee, and wine.
When you were playing with Get Him Eat Him the band started a sandwich blog. Are there any meals that you would like to revisit from your time on the road touring (or that you could recommend to a hungry traveler)? I seem to recall you talking about the Beacon Drive In Restaurant in South Carolina several times.
Oh man, the Beacon. Such an amazing microcosm of all that is wonderful and all that is terrible about America. I’ll leave this one to the Internet Archive: http://bit.ly/yDsYXg
One thing I did to keep myself sane on tour was to play a little game called “find the unhealthiest breakfast in the country.” The Classen Grill in Oklahoma City won, with a giant bowl of sausage gravy topped with biscuits, eggs, bacon, cheese, hash browns, and more sausage gravy. I think the dish may have been called “the floating islands.”
Henry’s in West Jefferson, OH (about 45 minutes outside of Columbus) has the most amazing pie in the country. But the best — the VERY best — was driving through the Southwest during the green chili harvest in the late summer. I think we ate five lunches on the drive from Phoenix to Dallas. We also hit a swarm of locusts and got pulled over by the Texas State Patrol.
Do you have any songs that were largely inspired by food or beverage or both? Where did the name Get Him Eat Him come from?
At the height of Get Him Eat Him’s sandwich blogging, we were approached by a writer from the Boston Globe to do an interview. Her first question was, “when did you start writing songs about sandwiches?” I explained that none of our songs have ever been about sandwiches, and the interview was immediately aborted.
There’s a line about “the meal that you made” in the last song on our first album, which in my mind was very specifically about the time my high school Internet girlfriend cooked me frozen ravioli. There are alcohol references in a couple songs, one coffee reference, and one cigarette reference. (I hate cigarettes, but I like the word “cigarette.”)
The name came from a comic that our keyboard player Raf drew with his friend Erin, in which two seals chase after a fisherman. One seal says, “get him,” and the other one says “eat him.” Our original name was “Grumble Grumble” (which is very much a Legend of Zelda reference), but we got a lawyer letter from the Chicago band Grimble Grumble. During our first day of name change deliberations, I made some comment about how “Get Him Eat Him would be a pretty awesome name for a douchey hipster band.” After a solid day of racking our brains… it didn’t sound so bad.
Matt has played in many bands over the years. From his days touring, playing guitar, and singing in Get Him Eat Him (who released two wonderful albums on Absolutely Kosher, as well as various hand made EPs and 7”s). He has played in or is currently playing with Lame Drivers, Kleenex Girl Wonder, and Mr. Dream. This past December his solo material got a beautiful debut from Stereogum which you can listen to here:
follow @MattleMay on Twitter.