My meet-cute with New York City took place in 1999. A horse my grandfather and uncle had co-bred, Charismatic, was favored to win the Belmont Stakes for the Triple Crown. I flew up with my parents and brother to watch the excitement unfold.
Devastatingly, during the big race, the thoroughbred broke its leg and finished third. This I blamed on Long Island.
Offering solace was the city, with its sprawling swagger, sensory deluge, and gritty sophistication. It swiftly and aggressively earned a place in my affections.
Several more visits ensued, including a friend’s bachelorette party, where I was increasingly intrigued by New York and its many haunts, especially the little-known cafés and hideaways. For whatever reason, I was always there in the summer, when the city was at its muggiest and most potent.
My most sweltering summer there took place a few years ago, when I attended a program at Columbia University. In addition to writing and attending classes, I got to know Morningside Heights better. I quickly found that one of the best ways to do this was eating my way around the area. Along Broadway and Amsterdam Avenue, a slew of quirky eateries became favorites, from the famed writers’ hangout The Hungarian Pastry Shop, to Nussbaum & Wu (for bagels and attitude), to many hole-in-the-wall Mexican joints (the neighborhood abuts Harlem). While I explored other parts of town as much as I could, I focused most of my attentions on the Upper West Side.
So it was with anticipation that I had a chance to rekindle my affair with the City that Never Sleeps a few weeks ago. One of the most intriguing ways to explore a city is through friends that live there. Every neighborhood has its gems, and the savviest guides are the locals. On this trip, I visited friends in several different areas and sampled some tantalizing dishes and beverages along the way.
Here is a brief tour of a few of my stops. Maybe you’ll understand why I’m already coveting my next rendezvous with the city.
The Flatiron Room http://www.theflatironroom.com/ (Photo courtesy of The Bourbon Review)
I stopped by to join in The Bourbon Review‘s http://gobourbon.com/ 5th year anniversary party, which attracted a host of well-wishers and Southern expats. Swanky, with a vintage vibe, this hotspot boasts an encyclopedic array of whiskeys.
A sister restaurant of the illustrious Eleven Madison Park, NoMad puts out the red carpet for your taste buds. You can’t go wrong with anything you order here, but don’t miss the foodgasm-inducing roast chicken with truffles for two.
You can eat the Eastern European comfort food here any time of day, but this quintessential East Village spot is best late at night. Try the potato pancakes with applesauce and sour cream. You won’t regret it.
The chain lives up to the hype, with a mouth-watering menu of paninis, a vast display of homemade chocolates, a butcher counter, and a profusion of pasta. Pick up a sopprasetta sandwich and chilled champagne for an al fresco lunch with friends. (We laid claim to the breezy rooftop of our friend’s office, the Tiffany’s headquarters).
Habana Outpost Brooklyn http://www.habanaoutpost.com/locations/location/habana-outpost
Grilled corn, pork tacos, guacamole, frozen mojitos, and hipsters. Enough said.
Café Loup http://www.cafeloupnyc.com/ (Photo courtesy of Ashley Baker)
A classic New York spot more interested in generous pours than pretension. Order the burger, fries, and the house Mure Royale, and you’ll be set for a night on the town.
Worth mentioning for the exceptional Elderflower Fizz, a concoction of prosecco, elderflower cordial, lemon juice, grapefruit bitters, and soda. Intimate setting in Fort Greene, Brooklyn.
Yes to the Sazerac, Gold Rush, Paloma, and whichever other tongue-tingling creations you desire. Knowledgeable barkeeps and two locations in Brooklyn.
Go into feast mode, and order Lebanese treats such as baba ghannouj, haloumi topped with charred corn, Phoenician Fries with garlic whip, and the Black Iron Shrimp. If you’re there for brunch, try the zesty homemade Bloody Mary.
The Meatball Shop http://www.themeatballshop.com/
You’ll never know how badly you needed them until you visit this place. Customize everything about your dish, from the type of meat and cheese to sauces such as spicy meat, pesto, and parmesan cream. Don’t forget about the cookie ice cream sandwiches.
As a Bluegrass native, I couldn’t skip this restaurant with the Kentucky namesake. Our group sampled every entrée family style, the food-lover’s preferred approach to eating. Grit cakes, Arctic char, hay roasted oysters, and bourbon cocktails galore.