New York City’s food scene is not all about street cart hot dogs, grab-a-slice pizza and giant chewy pretzels. Although hugely iconic there’s so much more to discover and there is amazing grub everywhere. So with a burgeoning waistline and blisters on my feet join me on my eating extravaganza and find out the best (and worst) places to eat in the most exciting city in the world.
Food poisoning was not what I had in mind when I was contemplating New York’s thriving food scene. Some dodgy calamari at a Mediterranean restaurant in Hell’s Kitchen was a nasty kick in the stomach but after two days of suffering I was back with a heightened hunger. And so in this first blog post on my feasting in Manhattan where better to start than breakfast and brunch.
Duncan and I visited Kava, an Art Deco styled cafe with sumptuous red sofas, black leather seats and wooden panelling with funky jazz setting a sophisticated tone. Their steel cut oatmeal topped with fresh berries and granola was the best I’ve ever had. I know its just porridge for god’s sake but it was the plentiful topping that made it special. The waitress instantly recognised the Brit in me when I asked for mine to be made with milk; it’s apparently not the done thing for virtuous New Yorkers. If going down the savoury route then try their breakfast sandwich filled with omelette, bacon, tomato and avocado – perfect for replenishing your energy after a night on the sauce! Their brew coffee is excellent; piping hot and nice n’ smooth.
All New Yorkers love their coffee but most of these are crammed into the 200+ Starbucks seeking the familiarity of bucket-size lattes. Many extra blocks were walked to find a good brew and I discovered many independents whom take their craft very seriously indeed, with some roasting their own beans.
Stumptown Coffee on 8th St has the most sophisticated brew bar I’ve ever seen, where I marvelled at the utmost detail and care given for just one cup of coffee. Irving Farm Roasters in Lower East Side gets top marks for the best cappuccino: rich, velvety smooth and with hazelnut tones. It’s a shame the enjoyment was tarnished by ear-bashing music! If a nice day grab an iced latte from Third Rail and sit in Washington Square Park soaking up some jazz and watch some street performers. Pick up a coffee at Ninth Street Espresso in Chelsea Market and buy some artisan foodie treats. On my travels Culture Espresso and Kaffe were all bonus finds serving first-rate coffee.
Worth the dough
After three failed attempts to get a seat in Amy’s Bread café in Hell’s Kitchen I decided a takeout from their Chelsea Market store was the only option. Amy is reputed to be a legend in the bread making world and all the breads are made by hand using the best ingredients in small batches and a slow fermentation process – a sure sign that it’s going to have maximum flavour. As well as an impressive range of daily breads using 20 different doughs they produce gorgeous pastries and stunning cakes, like the cheekily named Monkey cake and the very indulgent Definitely Devils chocolate cake.
Today, bread won the internal sweet/savoury battle and I meandered back through the busy market with a coffee and clutching a couple of Amy’s speciality sticks. I ate my breakfast up on the nearby Highline with a view of The Hudson river sparkling in the glorious sunshine while chomping on a wholewheat oat pecan with raisins – which was moist and full of flavour – followed by a chocolate sourdough, which blew me away with hits of unsweetened dark chocolate and chewy tangy crumb.
Over the last few years there has been an explosion in juice bars in Manhattan. I noticed it the last time I visited but they are literally everywhere. There’s big brands such as Jamba Juice and independent juice ‘labs’ selling liquefied vegetable and fruit concoctions that could set you back up to $12 a time – even the ubiquitous Starbucks has jumped on the bandwagon. It provides an ultra quick way for affluent, health conscious New Yorkers to get a nutrients hit, as who wants to sit around eating vast quantities of kale and celery every day. I really enjoyed my regular ‘Hangover Killers’ and ‘Tower of Power’ but I’m certainly not affluent, so it will probably be back to Tropicana when I return home. Sigh.
Sucking on my Green Goddess I felt good. The vivid green juice contained kale, fennel, cucumber, apple, pineapple, thyme and blue green algae. You watch, blue algae will be the next superfood! The Butcher’s Daughter, dubbed the ‘vegetable slaughterhouse’ is a bright and airy café in Nolita and does inventive juices and smoothies, as well as an exciting food menu. It’s healthy but you won’t be running for the nearest burger joint afterwards. Another massive draw is the wacky dressed waiter, Greg. Sporting an enormous afro and wearing leopard print trousers, a velvet jacket and winkle pickers, it was like being served by a young Jimi Hendrix, circa 1960s. Ace!
Olivia the waitress urged me to try the spicy Caeser kale salad with avocado, crispy shallots and almonds because, “the flavours and textures are so unexpected”. She was right and it also had a nice lip tingling heat from the chipotle dressing. Follow it up with a raw cacao brownie and you’ll be very happy. Their brunch dish of poached eggs with curry hollandaise on smashed avocado with roast potato hash was excellent. The hollandaise was silky and light, apparently made from a clever combo of oils and egg yolks. Duncan was even enjoying his adzuki bean bacon in his full English breakfast. Although he admits he didn’t realise that’s what he ordered!
This all sounds terribly healthy so far but many indulgences were enjoyed too. And starting the day with a jaw-stretching bagel packed with rich cream cheese and lox is as guaranteed as hearing the word “awesome” when in New York. Derived from the Yiddish word for salmon – laks – this is the Jewish answer to the burger. Delis across the city offer their own variety but only a handful offer the real deal. Russ & Daughter’s is one of them.
This New York institution in Lower East Side has been serving the highest quality of smoked fish since 1914 and is run by fourth generations of the Russ family. That’s pretty amazing. Jo, a 10-year-employee is soon skilfully slicing lots of beautifully thin salmon, piling it generously into a hand-rolled poppy-seed bagel smeared with a double layer of cream cheese – it’s worthy of the rave reviews. Grab a takeout from the shop or pay through the roof to dine in style at their bustling café on Orchard Street.
Murray’s Bagels near Greenwich Village seemed also worthy of a visit but definitely don’t go at the weekend. It’s chaos! Service was so painfully slow I wanted to jump behind the counter and make it myself, but the long queues were surely testament to the incredible food so we stuck with it. Some slow-motion zombies took 40 minutes to make a smoked salmon bagel that had so much cream cheese I had to execute a scrape-off operation with a plastic knife. The quality of the bagel was bang on but I could barely taste the wild smoked salmon that was buried underneath. Ending up in a right mess and grumpy from the ridiculously long wait we left Murray’s cursing.
I can’t possibly finish my post on a negative note – it seems so wrong. Generally the food was fantastic and bad experiences were few and far between. So, here’s a quick roll call of other top foodie spots to visit:
- Try the Roadhouse at organic burger chain Bareburger: a bison burger with pepperjack cheese, apple grilled onions, avocado, red piquanté peppers and smoked paprika mayo. Yes, it’s as good as it sounds.
- Arrive hungry at the Two Little Red Hens bakery and devour a huge wedge of the best cheesecake in New York. If you’re lucky they’ll still have the autumn special of spiced pumpkin – divine.
- It may be a bit touristy but Katz Deli still does one of the best brisket sandwiches in town. It’s tender, juicy and darn good. Be warned, it’s big – you won’t eat for the rest of the day!
- Go to Jacob’s Pickles with a raging hangover then have the Southern BLT: buttermilk fried chicken sandwich with fried green tomato, pickle slaw and bacon.
- Step back in time with a lunchtime dim sum feast at Nom Wah Tea Parlour in Chinatown. Fill you boots with tasty dumplings washed down with Long Jing tea, China’s national drink.
Join me on my second post where I go loopy for lobster rolls, eat ‘the best pizza in town’, buy a kilo of NY honey, venture across to Brooklyn, and work ‘tirelessly’ round the many amazing food markets and emporiums. No wonder Americans are loud because they have plenty to shout about!