New York City, America’s most famous concrete jungle, is full of an amazing amount of crazy to feast your eyes on. In my opinion, NYC is like an urban Disneyland – it’s fantastical, symbolic, and depending on where you are in the city, sometimes doesn’t even feel like a real city at all. I’ve often questioned the livability of New York, when it’s perpetually full of tourists, and and seems like the epitome of an urban jungle – how real is this?
The answer: very real, but you have to know where to look. Forget Times Square, Broadway, the Empire State Building, and the Statue of Liberty. They’re simply facades, and, in my opinion, don’t represent much about what New York is about, rather they represent American ideals that appeal only to some of the city’s visitors, and probably few residents. What makes New York real, is what I believe makes any city real…the food.
Now, I’m not talking about the high-end, celebrity chef cuisine, I’m talking about the basic goods this city has become known for. Don’t get me wrong – I’ve done the Batali and Flay dining experience, as well as a few other high-priced restos, and they’re totally delicious. However, I recently learned that even if you’re on a budget, you can still eat your way through New York, and love every minute of it.
Our trip menu ended up being completely varied, and we only spent about $100 each on all of our meals over three days – great success! We began our mornings with yummy pastries and capps from Dean & Deluca, which accompanied us on our walk through Central Park, and snacked on Magnolia’s famous cupcakes in the evening (Tom was obsessed with the chocolate orange one), after a really awesome burger and sweet potato fries dinner at Bill’s Bar and Burger in the Rockefeller Plaza.
We indulged in hot chocolate from Max Brenner in Union Square (the Mexican spicy one was the best hot chocolate I’ve had in a long time), and grabbed a colourful bag of M&Ms from the wall at the Times Square mega-store, taking care to watch how heavy our bag was – it’s very easy to rack up a huge cost there!
Walking was obviously a priority for us throughout the trip, and one afternoon was a particularly ambitious speed journey to fit in our two separate lunch stops. From our hotel on W 48th we dodged crowds through Times Square and into the Penn Station area around W 34th so that Tom could finally savour the KFC Double Down, a concoction I refused to let him have while it was in Canada. After watching him consume a heart attack, I got him to walk off a mere bite’s worth of calories by trekking down to W 3rd and Sullivan, near Washington Square Park, so I could indulge in my favourite, Peanut Butter & Co. I swear, that Cinnamon Raisin Swirl sandwich is the best PB sandwich ever created. The PB cookies are also to die for, made even better by the fact that you can order a glass of skim milk with your treats. Thumbs up, guys!
One of my favourite areas of NYC is the Meatpacking District, as well as next-door Chelsea, and after stumbling upon a free local wine and tequila tasting in the Chelsea Market (yes please!), and wandering up on the High Line and down on the ground, we grabbed a few glasses of wine at different bars before settling into Pastis for a luscious French bistro dinner of calamari, fish & chips for Tom, and, naturally, moules frites pour moi. Having been to Balthazar, Pastis’ younger SoHo sibling, Pastis has always been on my radar. Finally, as a treat from my parents (ie, this wasn’t included in the $100 food budget), I made it to Pastis, and it was great. But then again, I instantly fall in love with places who serve wine in small glass tumblers (see: Rodney’s Oyster House).
But finally, a new experience recommended by my friends, was our food farewell to the city. They told me I had to go to Grimaldi’s Pizzeria in Brooklyn, I listened. I’m so relieved I did, because even though it was a chilly, snowy trek over the Brooklyn Bridge, we miraculously made it to Grimaldi’s to find a free table. Why is this miraculous? Because Grimaldi’s is so popular that the website’s directions tell you to look for a line-up outside. I actually panicked when I didn’t see a line because it was President’s Day and I was worried they weren’t open. Thankfully, we got in, and had one of the best pizzas I’ve ever had – a large with things like onion and sausage and pepperoni and mushrooms…customisable and ridiculously good. I didn’t even care that I’d just eaten half of the biggest pizza I’d ever seen…that’s how good it was.
Some people don’t like New York very much – they find it big, and dark, and unfriendly, and busy, and, yes, I’ve even heard people call it ugly. Now, call it what you want, but if you avoid going to New York because of those urban Disneyland characteristics, you should be aware that you’re missing out the best parts of the city; what makes it a truly great destination. I agree that there are some parts of NYC that are unappealing, but that’s consistent with any city or destination, I promise you, but if you venture down to New York and focus on making the trip all about food, you can have the most exciting, mouth-watering, creative, diverse adventures.
I know I did.