The Been-There-Done-That Guide to NYC

There’s much more to this city than Central Park and a pastrami sandwich at Katz’s. (Though both of those things are wonderful.) If you’ve visited a number of times and have exhausted the travel guides, or if you live here but haven’t yet had the chance to really explore, then read on.  I’ve been here 12 years, and I still come across surprises. These are some of my favorites.

blog5

Walk the length of Broadway: Sure, you’ve seen a show on Broadway, but have you walked the entire length of the thoroughfare, starting at 220th street and ending at the Battery? It’s a 13.2 mile walk, so make sure to schedule food and drink stops along the way. Celebrate the finish line with trays of square pepperoni pies at Adrienne’s on Stone Street.

Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park: Some of the best views of Manhattan are found off the island. Take the tram to Roosevelt Island (view from the tram pictured above), and walk to the southern tip. You’ll pass the former smallpox hospital, one of the most haunting buildings in the city. The park itself is pristine and sprawling. The trees are saplings and don’t provide much shade, so wait for a not-scorching day.

City Island: Eat your way through piles of fried seafood on City Island, a picturesque New England-like village off the coast of the Bronx mainland. In addition to being home to a handful of destination restaurants, the main street, City Island Avenue, is lined with familiar small-town spots, like ice cream and candy shops, art galleries and antique stores. Incredibly, it’s all within city limits.

The Morgan Library: Recently named one of the 50 Most Beautiful Places in America by Condé Nast Traveler magazine, the Morgan is something out of a fairytale. (I’m reminded of Beast’s castle library in Disney’s Beauty & the Beast). This once-personal library of 19th century financier Pierpont Morgan features a trove of rare materials like early children’s books and music manuscripts.

Unisphere and Queens Museum: Visiting the Unisphere in Queens’s Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, one gets a taste of what it must have felt like to see the structure for the first time at the 1964 World’s Fair. There is a futurist’s optimism to the design; it looks like something from a sci-fi film, one in which all nations work together to conquer challenges. Next door, the Queens Museum is home to the Panorama of the City of New York, a to-scale 9,335 square foot model of the city.

Morbid Anatomy Museum: Was Wednesday Addams always your go-to Halloween costume growing up? Do you obsessively look up strange and obscure medical ailments? Are you still not over that whole 90s witch trend? Have I got the museum for you! The Morbid Anatomy Museum in Gowanus features a fascinating collection of obscura in its gift shop, rotating exhibits upstairs and an intriguing lecture series. Oh, and taxidermy classes, if that’s your thing.

Wave Hill: This former estate on the banks of the Hudson River is a schlep to get to if you live south of Midtown, but the pristine gardens and the Jersey-cliff views make up for the out-of-the-way location. I’d venture to say this Bronx park is one of the most beautiful spots in the five boroughs.

blog4

Nargis Cafe: This Uzbek restaurant in Sheepshead Bay has quickly become one of my favorite spots in South Brooklyn. Everything here is delicious, but I especially recommend the plov (rice pilaf with lamb), fried manti (Uzbek dumplings), Tashkent salad (lamb and radish salad), lagman soup (spicy noodle soup), and ALL OF THE KEBABS. It’s BYO whatever, but there’s a $5 corkage fee per bottle, so spring for the larger size and bring a crowd. It’s always lively, especially on weekends.

Villabate Alba: Cannoli, made with ricotta imported from Sicily, is what to get at this Sicilian bakery in prime Bensonhurst. I’m also partial to the lobster tails and to gawking at the brightly colored cakes, cookies, and pastries lining the sprawling display shelves.

Taqueria El Mezcal: The tacos at this tiny Sunset Park shop are flavorful and authentic, but what really won me over was their cemita. Made on a traditional, fluffy, sesame seed-covered sandwich bun with avocado, shredded queso, black beans, and, in my case, moist al pastor pork, it might just be the perfect sandwich.

Coppelia: There’s something very old-school New York about this 24-hour Cuban diner (pictured above) on 14th Street. Past midnight it services a cross-section of nighttime revelers, from those out clubbing in the nearby Meatpacking District to local residents out for a late dinner. Dishes and drinks are inventive and way better than they need to be for a 24-hour joint.

San Matteo Pizza and Espresso Bar: This small, authentic Italian restaurant and sandwich shop is located in an unlikely spot on the Upper East Side. The Neapolitan pies are pretty good, but it’s the panouzzi, sandwich-calzone hybrids made from pizza dough, that are the real standouts.

East Harbor Seafood Palace: Come hungry and with not much money in your pocket to this Bensonhurst dim sum hall with a seafood-inflected menu. It’s the size of a small shopping mall, so while the weekends are busy, the waits are bearable. The shrimp dishes–fried shrimp wrapped in bacon, shrimp dumplings, rice noodle rolls stuffed with shrimp–are winners.

Goa Taco: The pork belly taco as this fusion-y spot on the Lower East Side (with weekend showings at Smorgasburg) was one of my most memorable recent meals. It was perfectly constructed: tender, crispy-skinned pork belly, buttery paratha (an Indian flatbread), red slaw. The entire dish is a master course in how to make fusion cuisine that elevates instead of dilutes.

Wangs: I’m still confused about why this Park Slope takeout spot isn’t a bigger deal. My husband and I have to restrain ourselves every time we walk by, and we’re usually passing by after a filling dinner. Their specialty Korean jumbo fried chicken wings are sticky, crispy, spicy, heavenly. Get them, and the cornbread with salted scallion butter and Thai chili pepper jam, and prepare to fall in love.

blog7

Luckydog: This low-key bar on Williamsburg’s Bedford Avenue is a dog- and beer-lovers’ dream. It’s an specially good spot for gawkers who don’t actually have a pet of their own. The adorable back yard is like those dog runs you’re only allowed to observe through a chainlink fence, except here, you’re face-to-face with an array of fluffy puppy butts. On a recent weekend night, the place was filled with as many as a half-dozen pooches, from terriers to Pomeranians to labs. Oh, and the beer list is pretty good, too.

The Double Windsor: I’m a huge fan of this comfortable, airy Windsor Terrace bar, and not just because it’s less than a 20-minute walk from my apartment. It’s the rare spot where one can get an expertly made cocktail, a sought-after beer, and a stellar burger.

Blueprint: “Laid back” and “craft cocktail” aren’t words usually used to describe the same spot. The cocktails at this Park Slope bar are as good if not better than those at more sceney lounges. There’s also a lovely little backyard and a very generous happy hour until 7 p.m.

Covenhoven: There’s absolutely no pretension at this beer nerd’s haven in Prospect Heights. Pick a bottle from their expansive fridge (price vary depending on whether you’re taking out or drinking in) or try something on tap. The backyard, with its small, elevated grassy expanse and iron cafe chairs, is perfect for wiling away summer afternoons.

Ear Inn: Billed as NYC’s oldest bar, this Hudson Square institution has been slinging alcohol continuously since 1817, even during Prohibition. Most out-of-towners go to McSorley’s and miss out on this eccentric spot. Here’s why it’s a can’t-miss: the atmosphere is classic New York, the drinks and food are simple and well-made, and the crowd–a mixture of low-key locals, a post-work crowd, Soho deserters, and a smattering of tourists–is a microcosm of the city.

Red Hook Bait and Tackle: This eclectic Red Hook bar pairs well with a visit to the Morbid Anatomy Museum, mentioned above–the welcoming interior is covered in tchotchkes and an array of taxidermy. It’s not just about the decor, though. It’s also standout for its friendly, laid-back vibe. This bar is the kind of watering hole every neighborhood wishes it had.

My New York

I have some exciting news: I’m officially a New Yorker! According to conventional wisdom, a resident earns the right to call him- or herself a New Yorker after living in the city for a consecutive decade. My 10th anniversary was just a few weeks ago, on September 26th. That was the first day of my magazine internship in 2004. I was terrified and bright-eyed that first sunny morning, arriving at work nearly 40 minutes early. In that time, the city has kicked me around, picked me back up, consoled me, gutted me, loved me and inspired me. I often compare living in NYC to being a teenager–all of your feelings about the city are amplified to an almost unbearable level; the highs are deliriously high, while the lows are crushingly low. No one is blasé about this place. In order to celebrate my time in this great city, I’ve compiled a list of my favorite places, memories and foods from the past 10 years.

Favorite Memory: As far as nights out go, both my bachelorette party and recent 30th birthday at competing Russian supper clubs Rasputin (now closed) and Tatiana were insanely fun. On a more sentimental note, it’s hard to pick a favorite inspired memory, but most recently, I remember my husband and I standing on our tarred (unauthorized) Brooklyn rooftop on the Fourth of July, watching dozens of fireworks displays from as far away as central Jersey. We could see other people standing on their roofs and hear the echoes and cheers from our neighbors all over the borough as the fireworks started over the Hudson. The city felt incredibly small at that specific moment.

Favorite Thing I’ve Eaten Recently: The brisket at BrisketTown.

Best Pizza: This is actually a three part question. Whole New York-style pie: Guiseppina’s. Slice: Prince St. Pizza for square Sicilian-style slices and Joe’s for traditional. Neopolitan pie: Franny’s and Don Antonio.

Best Bagel: Absolute Bagels and Murray’s Bagels. If I want a great smoked salmon sandwich, Russ & Daughters.

Best Burger: Reynard for a fancy burger. J.G. Melon for a restaurant-style burger. Shake Shack for fast-food style.

Favorite Dessert: Lady M crêpe cake.

Favorite Place to Collect My Thoughts: The Brighton Beach boardwalk. Something about all those old Russians strolling near the beach makes me feel like I’m far away.

Favorite Walk: Down Manhattan’s Westside waterfront, starting at Riverside Park all the way down to Battery Park.

Favorite Place to Explore: Queens! There’s so much to see. I have yet to get to the Bukharian Jewish enclave of Rego Park. It’s the place to eat one of these.

Favorite Restaurant in the Neighborhood: I love the ramen at Prospect Heights favorite, Chuko. James, a modern American restaurant in the same ‘hood, is a close second.

Favorite Bar in the Neighborhood: The Double Windsor in Windsor Terrace. They have good beers, a tasty dark-and-stormy cocktail, and a chill, neighborhoody atmosphere that’s not too divey.

Perfect Day in the City: It’s almost unfair to try and pick a perfect day–there are so many directions in which the day can go! Different “perfect days” can be suited to fit a particular mood or season. The following, though, would be a great Manhattan-centric summertime itinerary. Homemade bagel sandwiches (smoked salmon from Blue Apron Foods and bagels from La Bagel Delight, both down the street from our apartment) then a visit to our local greenmarket followed by a stroll through Central Park and a visit to the Met or Neue Galerie. If we went to the Met, we’d grab a drink on the museum’s rooftop. Then, a burger and beer at J.G. Melon. If we’re not too tired, a leisurely late afternoon movie at classic-movie house Film Forum and a dinner adventure in Brooklyn or Queens–maybe Uzbek food in Sheepshead Bay or Greek in Astoria.

Favorite Tourist Trap: I’m a sucker for the High Line. The converted elevated train track is a feat of urban design surrounded by some of the best architecture in the city.

IMG_1988IMG_1890IMG_3126IMG_2028IMG_1271

From top: Fireworks from our rooftop; a clam pie at Franny’s; the Brighton Beach boardwalk; the unisphere in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park in Queens; the view from the Met’s roof

Summer Date Ideas by Neighborhood: Park Slope

summerdateideas2

I’ve often employed the following rigidly tested formula for NYC events: NYC + seems fun + free = usually not worth it. Free events, especially really fun-seeming ones, tend to be uncomfortably crowded. There are, however, ways around this. Mainly, don’t go directly into the scrum. One of my summer bucket list activities is sitting outside a show at the Prospect Park Bandshell. True, the acoustics aren’t amazing, but you can still make out the words to every song, and you have all the space in the world to spread out. There’s only a little over a week of performances left ! Media darling St. Vincent, preforming on August 9th, is sure to draw a big crowd.

1. Picnic: Before you head over, you need provisions. If you’re coming from central Slope, grab a few classic banh mis at neighborhood staple Hanco’s.

If you’re trekking from North Flatbush, El Gran Castillo De Jagua makes an extremely filling Cuban sandwich. It’s less than $7, and big enough for two. Or, you can go all in with a rotisserie chicken dinner and sides.

There’s also R&D Foods (from the team behind 606 R&D restaurant) in Prospect Heights, which offers a wide assortment of sandwiches, veggies and sides by-the-pound, drinks and sweets.

picnic1

Sandwiches and sides from R&D Foods

A word about alcohol consumption: it’s technically illegal to drink in public in NYC, but many people do it anyway. I think colorful beer cans that resemble soda–21st Amendment Hell or High Watermelon beer–are a good bet and are safer than glass bottles in terms of attracting the least amount of attention. The key is to be discrete. My husband once witnessed a group of corporate softball league players in Prospect Park get tickets for consuming Brooklyn Brewery beers. Those rowdy hooligans!

2. Concert: Now it’s time to settle in. I prefer the north side of the bandshell, near the ticket entrance. The ground is flat and easy to sit on and there’s ample grass coverage, which isn’t always true for the south side of the stage. The major caveat is you have absolutely no view of the performance.

But! There is a major advantage to sitting here. When we parked ourselves outside the National concert a few weeks ago, multiple people came by to give away free tickets (why? I don’t know). We had the chance to enjoy the second half of the show from inside the concert area, free of charge. There are no more paid shows (well, technically every show asks for a suggested $3 donation) on the Celebrate Brooklyn! schedule for this summer, but definitely something to keep in mind for next year.

picnic2

concert2

Thank you, random stranger, for the free National tickets

3. Drink: Leave before the end of the show to beat the crowds and grab a seat at The Double Windsor, a nearly perfect iteration of what a cozy neighborhood bar should be. They have over a dozen craft beers on tap, in addition to well-made versions of beloved cocktails like Dark & Stormys. They also serve a truly delicious Pat LaFrieda beef burger if you’re still hungry post-picnicing.

thedoublewindsor

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: