Before Sean and Laura’s visit, Anna and I made a list of things to do. The Empire State Building wasn’t on it. The Met didn’t make the cut either. However, “walking in general” and 18 different food establishments made the definite list, with 7 restaurants for the tentative list.
Hmm now how to squeeze all of that into 4 days, you ask? The only way to do it is to go on a New York Neighborhoods Food walk. In the past, we’ve done doughnut walks or pizza walks. This was a non-discriminatory tour of eating and walking. Thankfully, New York City did her part and provided pretty perfect walking weather. This is how all weekends should be.
On Thursday I was at work, but Anna, Laura and Sean went to Hometown BBQ in Brooklyn. Sean reports: “We had half a pound of brisket, half a slab of jerk ribs, mac n’ cheese, baked beans with burnt ends, cole slaw, a jalepeno cheddar sausage, a bannanna pudding, a key lime pie slice and a chocolate pudding slide. We finished it all.”
On Friday morning, after Laura and Sean went for a jog in Prospect Park, we had a leisurely Friday afternoon lunch at Scalino‘s around the corner from our house. From noon to four you can get a plate of pasta and salad for $10 (!). And this ain’t Olive Garden quality we’re talking about. Mom once declared it the best plate of pasta she’s ever had … and she’s been to Italy. Afterwards, Sean took us on the (now traditional) shopping spree where we are allowed (encouraged, actually) to put every ridiculous food item in the cart. Oreo cake roll! Huge tubs of Nutella! Little Debbie Snacks! Chef Boyardee Beef Ravioli! Essentially the dream cart of a 10 year old. Note the woman above eyeing our gluttonous cart. Sadly, the check-out lady didn’t make any comments or even crack a smile. Is she just that used to Americans’ carts being filled with junk food? At home, I displayed it in all its glory. Modern art right there. Sean and Laura love our firemen just as much as we do. For our first long walk, I took them through Williamsburg and over the Williamsburg Bridge …Where they practiced their cheerleading routine. Laura is really, really strong.
Sean and I are better at awkward photos. This is why I love the Williamsburg Bridge. It always has something for everyone. Once in the Lower East Side, we popped into Russ and Daughters. It was a real teaser. After seeing all the delicious cream cheeses, fish, dried fruit and candies, we solemnly decided to save our appetites for dinner.
We covered the East Village, NYU, and Union Square, then popped into Anna’s office. We sneaked in and then plopped down on the white couches, marveling at how fun a New York City start-up office is. All white and sleek, with a large dining room table filled with snacks and a fridge stuffed with beer and sparking water. Exactly how a start-up should look. We texted Anna that we were there, but apparently she didn’t believe us and didn’t come until a co-worker told her, “Anna there’s a bunch of people that look like you on the couches.” We thought she looked very cool in her work environment. She kept us waiting for an hour as she finished up work, but we didn’t have anything to complain about since she brought us chocolate cake, beer, cookies and a glass of milk. (Note: The founder and C.E.O. of Anna’s company on the cover of Forbes). Oh, and on Fridays people bring their dogs into work. Everyone, coincidentally, in red plaid. Perhaps another clue as to why people assumed we were related to Anna.
For dinner we ate under our old Lower East Side apartment at Cafe Katja. We started with a “Pear Williams” liquor purely because of name, but sadly the Williams kids do not enjoy the taste of alcohol very much. Fortunately, Laura drank it for us. For appetizers we had two soft pretzels with mustard and butter spreads. Anna and I had salmon with spinach, mashed potatoes and roasted root vegetables. Laura had creamed spinach with quark dumplings and poached egg. Sean had the best order of pork loin, quark dumplings, roasted sweet potatoes and mashed potatoes.
Once at home we cozied up on the couch with our bowls of Ben and Jerry’s, lit the candles above the fireplace and watched the ever-inspiring “Rudy.” Saturday was an epic food day. We ate at 11—yes we counted—shops as we meandered through the various diverse neighborhoods of Brooklyn and lower Manhattan (including Park Slope, Gowanus, Carroll Gardens, Cobble Hill, Brooklyn Heights, Dumbo, FiDi, Little Italy, Chinatown and the Lower East Side.) And yet we were never stuffed nor felt sick, because we strategically ate small portions at each place and spread them out with lots of walking. Our first stop was at our local coffee shop for a little bear shaped pastry. He was so, so good. See, just one little bear for four people. Not too crazy! With the plan of mixing sweet and savory, our next stop was a warm whole-wheat everything bagel with scallion cream cheese. The walk through Brooklyn took us over the charming Gowanus Canal. Walking through the charming neighborhood of Cobble Hill we couldn’t resist the temptation of all the cute little bakeries. We finally popped in and got a black and white cookie. Not the best thing ever, and it wasn’t even a real black and white cookie as there was no white frosting, and it had jelly in the middle. Anna tried to refuse it at first, but NOBODY refuses food on the epic food walk of 2014. Rules are that everyone has to have at least a bite of everything. Finally, we hit the Brooklyn promenade and stopped to admire Manhattan … Before continuing on to Dumbo. When Uncle John lived in Dumbo, he’d send us boxes of chocolate from Jacques Torres on Valentine’s Day and Christmas. It always seemed so special and exotic to receive fancy French chocolates all the way from New York City. Now, years later, we made it into the actual store for a cup of hot chocolate and whipped cream. It was so perfectly rich and delicious that we were happy to share one cup among the four of us. We also decided it was time to get a bit of exercise and did a few squats… Burning approximately 1.5 calories.
But wait! We weren’t done exercising. After climbing to the top of the Brooklyn Bridge, we did a bit of stretching. At the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge we stopped to watch the street performers, but left once they got too aggressive asking tourists to hand over 20 dollar bills. Heading north, we arrived in Little Italy, for the one item of the whole day that really didn’t taste good. We thought that a little block of cheese would be a perfect break from the sweets, but the mozzarella and prosciutto roll turned out to be disappointingly tasteless. Nevertheless, onwards through Chinatown, I had my first black bean sesame cookie, which was surprisingly tasty (if you can get over the fact that there are beans in your dessert). The highlight of any food tour is always Doughnut Plant. After much debate, we went with the cranberry relish and cream dough seed, a creme brûlée, and a peanut butter & banana cream donut.
With a stroke of luck, I cut into the banana cream donut to find it filled with jelly. So Laura showed them the mistake and we ended up with a free donut! Plus it turned out that the jelly one was even more delicious than the banana cream so we were happy to end up with both.
At every location, we meticulously cut every item into four pieces. If you ever go on a food walk, it’s important to bring an even number of people so that treats can be divided fairly. I’m proud to say that we were very dignified and never fought over the portion sizes or broke out into a food fight. We are classy people after all.
Walking hand-in-hand up the best street in New York City (Orchard Street), we arrived back at Russ and Daughters. Russ and Daughters wins the prize for best shop experience. The store itself, which was established in 1914, is still ever so charming with its white tiles, candy jars and old fashioned cases filled with fish. And even though the shop was crowded, our cheery server gave us free slivers of lox to sample and carefully cut our bagel into 4 perfect slices. We all crouched down to watch him majestically layer on the cream cheese, tomatoes, onions and lox. After complimenting his work, he replied with a smile “I’m a professional!”The trusty shoes that allowed us to walk for 5 hours through New York without a single blister or pinch.
The finished product! Don’t worry they didn’t skimp on the sesame seeds- it’s just upside down. By then it was starting to get dark (curse you Daylight Savings!) so we hopped on the F train back to Park Slope. We secured a cozy booth to watch the Notre Dame game at The Dram Shop. The game turned out to be depressing, but the wings and fried chicken salad were just what we needed. Walking home we made an impulse stop at our first stop of the day to get another bear pastry (Yes, he is that good) as well as a slice of rice pudding pie. Of course, if you give us a sweet dish, you’re gonna have to give us a savory/spicy dish to complement it. So a block from our house we picked up a bubble tea and a Vietnamese sandwich made with fake pork.
Back at home, we repeated our cozy routine of Ben & Jerry’s on the couch, while watching an old movie. This time we made the mistake of choosing “While You Were Sleeping,” which really started to drag. Next time we’ll do the right thing and watch “You’ve Got Mail.” We started Sunday morning off right with brunch at Juventino.
We shared two savory dishes and two light dishes, while we took turns reading aloud from the New York Times Style section. A bowl of granola and fruit, a green salad with cheese crisps, the best biscuits and gravy ever, and Mexican eggs benedict (not pictured). Molly’s market was conveniently just a block away. No matter how many times I’ve been there I still get excited to return. So much cuteness, so many delicious treats. We picked the sweet potato/black pepper muffin, the pumpkin crumb cake and the famous St. Louis gooey butter cake. The NYC kids enjoyed their astro-turf while we enjoyed our treats. Having read about City Bakery for years, we had to squeeze it in before Sean and Laura left. Since they had their luggage with them, we took the subway into Manhattan and ordered the infamous City Bakery pretzel croissant and hot chocolate. The pretzel looked a bit burnt and sad, but it actually lived up to the hype. It’s deliciousness may be explained by the rumor that it’s 50% butter. We didn’t like the hot chocolate as much as Jacques Torres, but the marshmallow melted perfectly. Laura and Sean bravely agreed, despite carrying luggage, to a long walk up 5th Ave from 14th street all the way to 75th street. On the way, we made a pit stop in Russia. Walking up 5th Ave we were able to cross off a few tourist destinations: The Manhattan Public Library, Bryant Park, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and Central Park. We took the obligatory Central Park photos, then walked to the Upper West Side to admire fancy brownstones. More importantly though, we waited in the long line at Levain Bakery to get a massive chocolate peanut butter cookie and a chocolate chip walnut cookie. The cookies are so fresh and warm that the insides pull apart in a gooey, delicious mess. Disclosure: Reaction may have been dramatized. Afterwards, Anna had to go home to do some work, but we went to Astoria to meet Molly and the babies (who were thrilled to see us) at the playground. To be fair, I caught Lochy at an off-moment. It was fun to watch them run around the playground and answer Jude’s anatomy questions (yes, the gallbladder is an involuntary organ). Finally, we finished this perfect food-filled weekend at Molly’s with a spicy Indian dinner.
Come back real soon, Sean and Laura, there are still hundreds of NYC dishes to taste!