My favourite New York eats

One of my colleagues is planning a trip to America in the next few months, and I told her I’d be happy to help by contributing some “places to eat” lists. Anyway, it got me thinking about some of the great food cities I’ve visited, and my favourite meals in those cities. It’s a topic husband and I come back to a lot; usually it starts with us out for lunch or dinner…
“How good is this burger?! So much cheese…”
“Remember that burger we are in New York?”
“The one at 5 Napkin?”
“Yeah, that one… man it was good…”
“Even better because we were so tired and cold and hungry.”
“That’s right, it was the day we spent walking around Central Park…”
“Remember how much it snowed that day?! I got snow in my shoes and it melted and made my socks wet – that was crap!”

Food has a way of bringing us back, perhaps even better than photos can. It involved more of your senses – you start tasting and smelling memories, rather than just seeing them. That’s actually the whole point of the cookbook I’m putting together… but back to this post, I thought I’d revisit my favourite New York eats – delicious memories for me, and hopefully helpful recommendations for anyone on their way to New York 🙂

1. Papaya King (hot dogs)
The food: good, old-fashioned hot dogs, smothered in sauerkraut and mustard. They’re the quintessential, perfect dog.

The memory: this was our first “meal” in the city; after checking into our hotel, dropping off our bags and putting on warmer coats, we walked through Central Park to Papaya King at dusk, taking it all in. I remember seeing a squirrel for the first time in the park, taking a selfie to send to my mum, and almost crying when I realised I was actually finally in New York.

 

2. Dough (donuts)
The food: a dulce de leche frosted donut covered in toasted almonds – it was big and light and the perfect donut.

The memory: we ate this at Smorgasburg, basically an indoor food hall at the Brooklyn Flea Market. I loved Brooklyn, because it reminded me so much of my beloved Fitzroy/Collingwood area back at home, and being such a familiar setting I felt like I blended right in.

 

3. Sullivan Street Bakery (bakery)
The food: bomboloni – Italian-style, filled donuts. A vanilla and a chocolate one. And tea, and coffee.
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The memory: it was another freezing cold New York morning, and I remember very clearly sitting in this beautiful old bakery, at a slightly rickety wooden bench, with a hot paper cup full of tea that I spilled a little when I took the lid off, because it was filled to the brim. It was dimly lit, with the morning sun still struggling to push its way through the clouds, and I was so content…

 

4. 5 Napkin Burger (burgers)
The food: The Original burger – big, fat and juicy, full of beautiful melty cheese and caramelised onions, and it was magical. Still one of my favourite ever burgers.

The memory: good heavens above, I was so damn cold… we’d spent about 4 or 5 hours walking around Central Park in about -8 degrees Celsius with nasty wind gusts. The highlight was visiting the Alice in Wonderland statue; it’s an all-time favourite book of mine 🙂  I remember being seated, telling husband what to order for me, and immediately running to the bathroom to run my hands under warm water and then under the hand dryer for a few minutes.

 

5. Katz’s Deli (sandwiches)
The food: a potato knish, and a big, fat, pastrami with mustard on rye.

The memory: oh man, we were so excited about this one… we’d seen Adam’s Man Vs Food episode several times, and couldn’t wait to finally try this iconic sandwich for ourselves. We arrived first thing in the morning, and felt like we were sitting in a movie set with the place still empty bar us and 2 other small tables of patrons. We were also really grateful we’d walked there (not so grateful for the grey, sludgy snow we had to walk through), because there were serious calories consumed.

 

6. Russ & Daughters (bagels & appetizers)
The food: an everything bagel with scallion cream cheese and Scottish smoked salmon.

The memory: a few hours after the Katz’s Deli visit, and a few more kilometres walked, we dropped into Russ & Daughters, because I wanted to try a bagel with cream cheese and salmon, just like they do in the movies and stuff. I know, but screw it; when you’re in New York, you embrace the cliches.

 

7. Levain Bakery (bakery)
The food: probably the best chocolate chip cookie in the world. Also, a delectable chocolate chip stuffed brioche.

The memory: It was another freezing cold start, with the most snow either of us had ever seen. We again walked through Central Park to get there, and I remember making my way down a set of stairs and feeling like I was in a fairy tale. I was in my own world taking photos of the perfect whiteness, oblivious to the fact my husband was taking photos of me, too. Defrosting in the warm little store with my cookie was the best!
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8. Momofuku Milk Bar (sweets)
The food: crack pie and birthday truffles. We had them in Toronto, and again in New York. Magical, magical pieces of sugar.

The memory: we were walking back to our hotel at the end of another long day/night, delirious with exhaustion and excitement. Then, I saw the neon pink sign; we stopped mid-stride, looked at each other, and ran in. We walked the few blocks back to the hotel with our goodies, collapsed onto our bed, and stuffed our faces like little kids with their lolly bags after a big party.

 

9. Crif Dogs (hot dogs)
The food: hot dogs. Lots of them. The BLT, the Jon-Jon Deragon, the Tsunami

The memory: we’d heard about this place on Anthony Bourdain’s The Layover, and were pretty keen to give it a try when we saw him there with Mr Momofuku David Chang. We were the only ones there when we arrived, the guy who was serving us was so much fun, and we had the best time just being there. It was the second last day of our week in New York, and we had a blast stuffing our faces with hot dogs and laughing and talking about the past few days!

 

10.  Four & Twenty Blackbirds (pie)
The food: the most magical black-bottomed oat pie and a pot of Earl Grey tea.
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The memory: this is one of my strongest travel memories. We’d spend the day in Brooklyn, and I wanted to try the pies here after seeing them all over Instagram, but we also wanted to cross the bridge back to Manhattan before dark so I could get some photos. We/I got so caught up in my pie, we didn’t realise the sun was rapidly going down outside; by the time we got out, dusk was coming and we hauled ass to the Brooklyn Bridge. We didn’t get to photograph it in daylight; we got the most perfect dusk light and sunset we could have asked for, and one of the most magical moments I’ve ever experienced.

 

11. The Halal Guys (street food – Middle Eastern)
The food: gyros bowls, only USD$7.00 and chocked full of rice, lamb & salad. And topped with pita bread.

The memory: this was our last meal in NYC, and it was the best way we could have possibly ended the week there. It was cold, but not raining, we joined the line and waited patiently for our bowls, and the line moved pretty quickly. We were served with smiles and laughs, and left the cart to find somewhere to sit and eat. I remember vividly sitting on a cold floor outside a fast food restaurant and I was wearing a black and white flowered dress with black tights and knee high black boots. We were amongst dozens of other people who were sitting around the streets with their dinner, all kind of exchanging smiles when they realised they were all eating the same thing, like we were all united in our choice of street food over restaurant fare, and we were all pretty happy with ourselves.

Franklin D Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park, New York City

Franklin D Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park, New York
http://www.fdrfourfreedomspark.org/

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“In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms. The first is freedom of speech and expression – everywhere in the world. The second is freedoms of every person to worship god in his own way – everywhere in the world. The third is freedom from want – everywhere in the world. The fourth is freedom from fear – anywhere in the world. That is no vision of a distant millennium. It is a definite basis for a kind of world attainable in our own time and generation.”
— Franklin D. Roosevelt, January 6, 1941

The Franklin D Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park was dedicated almost three years ago – a stunning four acre park that memorialises those four freedoms. You can read more on the website, but their mission statement reads:
The Four Freedom Park Conservancy’s mission is to operate and maintain Four Freedoms Park, a public space dedicated to celebrating and honoring the life and legacy of President Franklin Roosevelt and the Four Freedoms through educational initiatives and public programming.

I’m not into politics, nor do I care for politicians. I know next to nothing about my own country’s political history (and not even sure it’s worth worrying about considering the iPhone wasn’t even around yet the last time we had a prime minister run a full term), much less about a country on the other side of the world, no matter how big a world power they may be. For the most part, I don’t care. But those words up there hit me hard when I visited the FDR Four Freedoms Park in January; I was reminded of the concept of freedom (more so freedom from ourselves) writing this post on Wednesday night, and reminded again more specifically of the words themselves last week while I was putting together this article for Outlet Magazine. 75 years ago, in the midst of yet another world war (the speech was meant to help rally the American public against the threat of the Axis powers), this man had the strength and courage to speak up about the freedom that should be afforded to EVERYONE, EVERYWHERE IN THE WORLD. And what really got me, still gets me, is how relevant those freedoms are, today maybe even more so than when they were first expressed.

Freedom of speech and expression: how many instances have we heard of in recent years where journalists have been made victims? Or even just regular every day people speaking out about their beliefs?

Freedom to worship god in your own way: how many people are persecuted and killed over religious differences, not just every day, but every hour?

Freedom from want: did you know that the 85 richest people in the world hold as much wealth as the 3.5 BILLION poorest?

Freedom from fear: imagine living on constant fear of bombings, rape, drive by shootings, poverty, homelessness, abuse…

 

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The park itself is beautiful; from the pictures I’ve seen, it’s bright and colourful in summer, but it was another level of stunning in winter. You can visit any day except Tuesdays, when it’s closed, and you can take the cable car over – it’s a gorgeous view looking over the city on your way across. Everything about the island was perfect, from the decrepit old smallpox hospital to the modern design of the island by Louis Kahn, it is magnificent. It doesn’t get the attention of Central Park or The Empire State Building, but as far as I’m concerned, it’s a must visit in New York City. And while you’re there, take a moment of peace to appreciate how fortunate you are to have at least had the freedom to travel to such a beautiful place.

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A view from above: Top of the Rock, New York City

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Well, if you’ve stuck around this long, allow me to thank you for joining me this week as I reminisced my way through New York… Truly, it’s one hell of a city, and I’m already planning my return (seriously). I thought it only fitting to end the week off with this post; there haven’t been many other times in my life where I have felt both literally and figuratively on top of the world to this extent…

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Taking the elevator up to the 67th floor of the Rockefeller Center on a cold but clear January day was exciting, but walking outside and up the stairs to the 70th floor was something else. From way up there, out in the fresh, open air, I could see so much more than I ever could have imagined possible in the middle of such a big city. From one side, Central Park sprawled through the middle of the metropolis. From the other, the Empire State and Chrystler Buildings sparkled in the morning sunshine.

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Do yourself a favour when you’re in New York, don’t bother waiting in the ridiculous line to get to the top of the Empire State Building; surely when you take your photos of the New York skyline, you want that to be in there! Buy an express pass for the Top of the Rock, visit early in the morning if you really want to skip the crowds, and enjoy the most gorgeous view of the city without the long waits  : )

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Shop here: Strand Bookstore, New York City

Strand Bookstore
828 Broadway, New York
http://strandbooks.com

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Hope you’ve been enjoying your virtual trip to New York so far this week 🙂 If you’re a bibliophile like me, chances are you may have heard of Strand Bookstore; it’s renowned for being home of almost 20 miles of new, used and rare books. No mean feat when real estate is such a precious commodity in NYC!

A family business (like so many are) started back in 1927, Strand now has over 2.5 million books to choose from with staff who are not only knowledgeable about what they’re selling, but also big readers and book lovers themselves. Instead of the standard hovering and annoying staff you often find in big stores, these guys are actually really helpful in finding what you’re looking for (and in a store this big, the help is much appreciated).

Strand has become a bit of a city institution, and now not only sell books, but also host a range of events such as book signings and readings, book swaps and Q&A panels. Go with an empty carry bag and a stacked wallet, because with that many books, it’s impossible to leave without a few!

Stay here: Da Vinci Hotel, New York City

Da Vinci Hotel
244 W 56th St, New York
http://www.davincihotel.com/

 

Next, you’re going to need somewhere to stay as a base while you’re exploring this wonder city. And accommodation is a seriously tough topic for visitors to New York. I learnt a few things in my few years working as a travel consultant. You need a transit visa if you want to leave the airport on your 16 hour Air China layover in Beijing. You cannot go to Phuket over Christmas holidays for $1000 per person when you’re booking in November. If you can’t afford travel insurance, you can’t afford your holiday either. No, the $1100 per person sale fares to Los Angeles are not available with Qantas in school holidays. And a week’s worth of accommodation in New York costs a fucking fortune. This was a stress point when we were booking our trip, because at that point I was no longer working as a travel agent and no longer had access to the slightly better prices afforded to us.

I spend hours on Google, checking out endless photos and reviews before I came across the Da Vinci Hotel. Reviews weren’t horrible, nor were they amazing. It seemed a solid 3 star hotel, clean and comfortable, although the rooms were small. Fine by us; I don’t give myself credit for much, but when I travel, I’m not a princess. I don’t need enormous rooms with fluffy bathrobes and room service and all that crap. I just need a bed and a clean bathroom. And this seemed to fit the bill. And the part that seemed too good to be true? 8 nights cost us only AUD$1250.00! For real!

So, it was with a little trepidation that we gave the address to our cab driver when we arrived into New York; we pulled up at a slightly old but cute building attached to an Italian restaurant, complete with the requisite tacky Italian chef statue out the front clutching the day’s special board. Only 3 blocks from Central Park, a few minutes walk to Columbus Circle and a few metres from Broadway, first impressions on location were fantastic. We ended up walking almost everywhere during our week long stay, so 10/10 for location of Da Vinci!

As for the hotel itself, honestly, I fell in love with it within 10 minutes of being there. The staff at the front desk couldn’t have been more lovely and accommodating, checking us in quickly and running us through some of the hotel amenities:
– 24 hour front desk
– restaurant downstairs, under the ground level of the hotel, which also provided room service!
– all rooms with private bathrooms and toiletries
– bar fridges in rooms
– free WiFi
– safety deposit boxes

Our room itself was more that sufficient, particularly for the price we paid!

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It was clean and small but very comfortable. We had a fantastic heating unit that kept us warm through the snowy nights, and decent sized table in the corner of the room where I took this photo from which we were able to fit both suitcases underneath, and spread our crap out on top of. The bathroom was also really clean and had enough space to move around in pretty comfortably.

The other thing we really loved was the simple complimentary breakfast spread put on each morning; we were welcome to make ourselves a cup of tea or coffee, as well as grab a muffin or pastry on our way out each morning. Better again, because I love tea and it was almost impossible to get a take away cup of tea at the end of the night (seriously, even the McDonald’s on the corner near the hotel didn’t do tea! Incredible!), the lovely ladies at the front desk were more than happy to fill the kettle and boil some water for us when we got back in at the end of the night for a cuppa. Its those little, personal touches that make ALL the difference, particularly when you’re there for a week!

But everyone knows that the most important thing in New York is to choose accommodation in a good location. Approximate walking distances from the hotel to big ticket locations are:
– 12 minutes to Rockefeller Plaza
– 28 minutes to Empire State Building
– 23 minutes to Grand Central Terminal
– 15 minutes to Central Park Zoo
– 32 minutes to Central Park’s Great Lawn
– 10 minutes to MoMa
– 33 minutes to Madison Square Park

Also, it should be known that the pizzas they’re making in the restaurant under the hotel are not only an ungodly large size (as you can see below – that’s a large) and a great price ($16.00), but surprisingly absolutely delicious!

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If you’re visiting New York, do yourself a favour and consider spending a little less on fancy accommodation so you can spend more money experiencing the city! I mean, how much time do you really wanna be spending in your hotel room in a city like New York anyway?! Da Vinci was the perfect base for a week in NYC, I’d recommend it to anyone and will absolutely stay here again on my next visit!