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Living in NYC

Stories for Friends. Advice for Strangers.

Category Archives: Food in NYC

Today was a Saturday like any other. We got up late, I made an egg sandwich, and we stepped outside to accomplish something a week day won’t afford us. Today it was a trip up to East Harlem to shop for (primarily) food. There is a Costco and a Target in a sort of outdoor stacked mall, and we like to visit them both in one trip to maximize our time. After what it took to get up there today, I’m afraid to go back.

First, for some context. We live between 1st and 2nd avenues. Both avenues send traffic in a single direction – 1st goes uptown, and 2nd goes downtown. On either avenue, the M15 bus runs every 10 minutes or so. We like this bus line because it is generally reliable, and it was one of the first in the city to feature their newest bus models (complete with backwards doors that confuse the elderly, of which there are many in our neighborhood). Within the last month or so, MTA, in its wisdom, created a new variety of bus service called “Select.” The concept is to be faster than a local bus by stopping less and having patrons pay their fare on the street, all without costing more. Since express buses cost $5.50 a ride, I’m glad to have an alternative. But today, the new service showed its ugly side, and it cost us about an hour of valuable daylight.

We got to the bus stop closest to our place, only to watch 3 of them pass us, without a nod from any of the drivers (not even the one we tried frantically to flag down). Since two of them were the elusive “Select” bus, a service neither of us had tried, we figured we should head up to where they were stopping a few blocks north and give it a shot. So we went up there and paid. While we waited, we read the sign posted at the bus stop that shows its schedule (buses, unlike subway trains, follow a specific schedule to the minute). Even though the city had made it clear that no buses on 1st avenue were following their schedule today, we wanted to give the Select buses the benefit of the doubt. They’re new, after all, and should not be jaded and bored like most of the services and people who have been around for a while. These buses also squandered our patience. After standing there for another 15 minutes, we realized we had left the apartment without our shopping bags or our shopping list, so we returned to our apartment, annoyed, but confident that a bus wouldn’t come in the time it would take us to get there and back anyway. When we returned, equipped to trek back home with way too much bulk food, there were still plenty of people there. Score? We did pass a local bus, which refused to let us get on with our Select fair receipts. This still doesn’t make sense to either of us, and Amber was quite annoyed.

Once I had talked Amber down and the bus we were allowed to ride finally came, it actually got us up there in record time. Only making four stops to 116th street meant a quick ride. All activities considered, including the 10 minute self-imposed trip back home, it took us an hour to travel 40 blocks. More than half of that time was spent watching empty buses pass us. So if you’re from around here, let me know how the Select bus works out for you. If you’re not, stick with the train unless you have a day to kill.

We love shopping at Costco because you can get a lot of shopping done at once while saving a lot of money. Our location sells Breitling watches and Burberry handbags, which is pretty funny. That’s off topic, but worth mentioning because I’m pretty sure they’re getting sued to stop. Anyway, that was our day, and now you know what it’s like to shop for food in New York. Enjoy your cars, suburbanites! We miss ours daily.

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If you have a 3-hour layover at JFK, I am sorry to say it’s not enough time to squeeze in much more than a piece of pizza. But if you find yourself in the city with a little time on your hands, you can pull off quite a bit in 24 hours. Next time you schedule a trip through one of our airports, opt for some extra layover time and try out my itinerary.

1. Visit Top of the Rock (twice)
There is nothing quite like seeing New York City’s urban sprawl from the 70th floor. You can buy one ticket for $30 that will let you go to the top of the GE Building twice in one day. Stop by in the morning, and head back after sundown. You can buy tickets at the building or online here. If you’re wondering if the view is better than the Empire State Building, it is.

2. Grab a Bagel and Eat it in Central Park
For the tastiest bagel I have had in Manhattan, head to H&H Bagels on the Upper West Side. Order your favorite flavor or something plain and bag it into the park. Don’t bother asking them to toast it, though. They don’t have toasters, and the bagels are perfect as they come. Note that there are other locations, and this is my favorite. Don’t eat at the one on the Upper East Side, unless you enjoy being disappointed. As you walk through the park, head east and make sure you check out the Central Park Zoo. You don’t need to go in, just look at the seals for free. If you happen upon the zoo at the turn of the hour, you can see the famous clock in action, too.

3. Experience Manhattan Shopping & Landmarks
Now that you’re done with your bagel and you have the park out of your system, you are in prime, classic NYC shopping territory. Stop by Bloomingdale’s first. It is at East 59th Street and 3rd Avenue. From there, you can head southwest and see an array of shops most people could never afford to buy anything from. You will catch Bergdorf Goodman’s famous window displays where 5th avenue meets the bottom of the park, as well as the beautiful Plaza Hotel. If you head further down 5th, you will also run in to the original Tiffany’s. It’s definitely worth a browse. All of this gazing should only take you about 2 hours.

4. Ride the Subway
Manhattan’s subway system is running on some sort of undisclosed schedule, so just go under ground and get on one. Don’t be afraid of how big the maps make the city look. If you’re lost, just get off and walk. It’s never that far, and you can always grab a cab.

5. Grab a Pizza for Lunch
You can not, in good conscience, come to this city without eating pizza. This not because of some cliche. It is because the pizza here is truly the best in the world. I have to warn you, though, that some of the worst pizza ever conceived by man can be found in Midtown. My recommendation is to just skip the neighborhood entirely (Yes, that means you won’t get to see the original Macy’s.) Picking a place to recommend here is really hard, because there are lots of good places. Since you are on a strict timeline, head down to the village to get the best slice in town. You can take the A/C/E to get there. Joe’s Pizza serves outstanding pizza by the slice for $2.50. Try it with an imported Mexican Coke, and don’t go overboard (this is just an appetizer). If you just can’t wait until stop #7, swing by Mamoun’s Falafel on MacDougal Street. Their falafel is good, and it’s only $2.50 as well.

6. Explore Greenwich Village
The creativity and energy sparked by this neighborhood makes it worth your while. I want you to walk through it and stop by Washingston Square Park to look at the fountain. You can also head down through SoHo to see one of the most beautiful shopping districts in the world. This takes us to our next stop – Chinatown.

7. Brave Chinatown
I normally wouldn’t recommend this, but anyone giving this city a shot needs to know what Chinatown is all about. Go there, try to buy a knock-off Omega for $10 and grab some dumplings for the road. They are cheap and delicious. Don’t bother trying to find the “best place.” Just duck in somewhere and order.

8. See the Financial District
The buildings in south Manhattan are beautiful and impressive. Make sure you stop by the September 11 Memorial and see the massive hole the buildings left. The New York Stock Exchange is also worth standing beneath.

9. See New York from the Water – There is something that happens when you see Manhattan from one of the rivers. Personally, I would choose the East River over the Hudson, partly because I don’t like the sight of Jersey. Brooklyn has a beautiful character, anyway. You can take a water taxi from Pier 11, just a short walk from the NYSE.

10. Take a Break for a Good Brew
It’s late afternoon at this point, and you must be tired. Whether you’re into coffee or beer, a brewed beverage is in order. For coffee, try Think Coffee in Manhattan. Or, if you want to jump the gun and head over to Brooklyn, go to Gorrilla Coffee in Park Slope. For beer, let your nose and your eyes be your guide. There is no shortage of places to drink in this city, but finding one that doesn’t stink is tough. There are several wonderul beer gardens that boast a wide selection of German ales. In Manhattan, it’s Zum Schneider in the East Village.

11. Take a Cab -They are dangerous and thrilling, sometimes smelly, and always fun. Jump into the street with a hand in the air, and several people will fight over you. It’s pretty fun, and they take credit cards, so your dwindling cash isn’t an issue here. Ride the cab across town to stop #12.

12. See Some Impressive Art
Skip the museums. There are two options here, both with the weary tourist in mind. If you love the theater, a trip to this city would not be complete without seeing a show on Broadway. Don’t bother with discount tickets – they’re a pain, and you’re on a timeline. Drop some serious cash on the show of your choice. When you come out, you will get to see Times Square at night, and you will be close to the Top of the Rock again. If you’re not into the theater, catch an IMAX movie at Times Square. You’ll get the same much-needed rest.

13. Visit Lincoln Center at Night
Lincoln Center is the cultural art megacenter of New York City. head up to 65th and Broadway and behold the complex at night. The light and the impressive fountain make it a breathtaking sight.

14. Eat a Nice Dinner
Ok. You’ve been to the Top of the Rock twice. You’ve run around Manhattan like a crazy person. Depending on your constitution, you may be hagard and road weary at this point. That’s nothing a steak won’t fix. Get on a train to Brooklyn and try out Peter Luger. I have never been there, but it’s supposed to be the best. Plus, you will be near Williamsburg. It’s the perfect place to spend your last few hours experiencing some New York nightlife. Eat too much meat and get a cab up to Willliamsburg. When you’re there, I want you to find a speakeasy and get a drink you can’t pronounce. You’ll need to do your own recon on that, but if you’re in the area give me a call and I’ll help you out.

15. Wave Goodbye from Brooklyn Heights
The view of Manhattan from the promenade in Brooklyn Heights is breathtaking, especially at night. Go over there in a car service (I’ll tell you why in a minute) and put your eyes on that skyline. Snap a picture or two and head back to your car. If you trust a cab to get you there, I can’t guarantee that you’ll be able to catch another one to get to the airport. Don’t come crying to me if you miss your flight. Have your car service take you to the airport. It should cost about the same amount to JFK or LGA from Brooklyn Heights. If your flight is out of Newark, change it.

I hope you enjoy your full day in New York. Follow this itinerary and you’re bound to get some sleep on the plane. Any questions? I’d love to hear them.

Important Travel Notes:

Bring Cash – Lots of places just don’t accept the fact that we are a plastic society. Somehow New York missed the memo. With the taxes here, it doesn’t surprise me that half the places you will go are cash only. Make sure you have some.

Ask For Help – New Yorkers do not mind helping tourists out. If you’re lost, don’t stand in everyone’s way with a puzzled look on your face. Just ask the person closest to you.

The Bus Only Takes Quarters – If you plan on taking the bus back to La Guardia, or at any point in the trip, you will need exact change unless you have a metro card. That’s 10 quarters per ride. Bring a change purse, I guess.

Every once in a while, I imagine my little blog with a tag cloud on the homepage. Wouldn’t it be nice to lay out the topics of my posts in a concise, graphical way? I think it would. But then, each time I think of the tag cloud and how wonderful it would be, I get concerned that the biggest words in the cloud might end up being “bagel” or “bagels.” I just don’t think I could live with that.

The bagel shop across the street, which is more like a large gourmet deli, is my favorite place to grab one before work. It’s surprising to me, because it’s one of those places that has just about anything, including udon, which is delicious for lunch. For it to end up on my list of top-tier breakfast sources in this district is simply shocking. But the whole wheat bagel is that good. And now, when I walk in, the bagel guy starts making “the usual” for me before I ask for it.

That is the reason for this post. I’m officially a regular somewhere. If I’ve been looking for an indication of arrival, I very well may have found it at the corner of 28th Street and 5th Avenue. Cheers!

P.S. – If you’re reading please say hello. Many times I find I’m writing for myself. I would much rather write for you.

I promise I am not completely obsessed with food. Tamara recently asked me about a few places a friend recommended in the city. On the list was Magnolia Bakery, which is widely considered the best cupcake baker in New York. I think this is both an overstatement and an oversight of one unassuming bakery in the east village.

Butter Lane Cupcakes

The name just sounds delicious, and the cupcakes truly are. Get a shot of frosting if you don’t like to eat cake. They make smaller treats than most of the famous bakeries, but in doing so they have achieved the perfect density and richness. Their frosting is unbelievable, too. My top pick is a banana cupcake with lemon frosting. If you want to give them a shot, today is your day. Go to livingsocial.com and buy the coupon they are advertising today. 6 cupcakes for $8 is a steal.

For those still convinced that Magnolia is better, I can’t disagree. Personally, I think their banana pudding is better than their baked goods. Happy Tuesday!

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Today I stopped by Pick a Bagel on 2nd ave and overheard someone order an egg sandwich on a flat poppy bagel. Intrigued, I ordered mine flat as well, only I get mine toasted with butter. The result? A breakfast revolution. The bottom cut of the bagel has always been my favorite. Now, both sides are like the crunchier bottom half, and they are both bigger. I’m not sure if everyone serves flat bagels and I am only now discovering them, but I plan to look in to it.

Can it be found? And how?

Yes. you might say it’s hard to find. A quick search will yield plenty of alleged points of sale. Most are sweat tea counterfeits. However, those who diligently seek it are rewarded. It would be unfair not to mention Daisy May’s BBQ first. My friend Devin wanted to check this place out when he came to visit last winter. Deep into what I thought was Chelsea, on 11th avenue somewhere in the 40s, we traversed the broadening spaces between each avenue, one after the other. We arrived. Devin’s beef rib was enormous, delicious, and probably worth writing about. So I will write about their tea instead. It comes in a mason jar (they appear to be mass-produced for a day’s supply), and it is sickening sweet and minty, just the way I like mine.  Next.

I ate at Wendy’s by the Empire State Building for lunch today (2.99 value meals? At least once a week), and I perused the beverage selection as  I waited in line. Behold, a vat of brewed sweet tea, poised next to the NYC standard unsweet tea. Incredulous, in the Shakespearean sense. I pursued it. I am drinking it now as I type, and it is every bit as delicious as it was in South Carolina and Florida. I have no idea if all of the locations in New York serve it, but anyone looking for the real thing is sure to find it at 5th Avenue and 34th.

Where else can you get good sweet tea in New York City?

Margarita, fried pickle chips and a menu.Fried pickle chips and a gigantic margarita are what lured Amber and me in to this upper east side bbq joint. Like most restaurants in our neighborhood, Southern Hospitality (Timberlake’s place) doubles as a bar. So really, it’s a happy hour spot dressed up in southern accoutrement. But we’ve heard good things, and after determining their brunch was probably overrated and not worth the money, we found another opportunity to give it a shot. Amber and I approached it last night, Groupon in hand, hungry.

It is right around the corner, so we were hoping for the best. An important criteria for me in judging an eating establishment is smell. If it’s a good bbq restaurant, it should smell like smoke. This place almost smelled of the wrong kind of smoke, but the doors were open and it was a nice day, so we sat near the entrance on stools at a bar-height table.

Our margarita and fried pickles came first. Both were delicious. (Especially the margarita – apparently it has JT’s sig tequila in it.) Amber got the pulled pork sandwich, and it checked out. I ordered wings (at 25 cents a wing, I couldn’t resist). 15 wings seemed like a good pairing with the pickles and margarita, so I went for it. When they arrived, I was delighted to discover that their wings are still whole when they serve them. Most places separate the drums and count one wing as two. Not here. My ill-prepared stomach now had 30 wings to deal with. They were delicious – lightly breaded, gloriously fried, perfectly spicy – and we found out that the participants in the trivia game we were caught in the middle of got happy hour bar prices all night. So despite the agony we felt later at our fullness, and a primarily sleepless night notwithstanding, we hope to return and try some more things on the menu. For BBQ, I’m certainly glad a place this good is right around the corner.