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Coffee, Croissant and Heartbreak

22 Jan

It has been a while since l last posted and I am sorry to say but this isn’t for you the reader, rather therapy for me. I know there are many who do not appreciate the exhilarating highs and depressing lows that football can deliver but for me as I remain 3000 miles from ‘home’ it is a tangible handle on my old life.

Having a quality coffee shop close by has quickly become an essential signifier of any good neighbourhood. Thankfully mine is closer than most meaning that I can literally wake up and smell the coffee. I have no daily need for caffeine, rather it is a rare treat and hence I cross my fingers for the best barista.

Today it was a good one, a perfect cappuccino from my favourite coffee wrangler made me smile in the freezing cold. It was only a short walk to Floyds which as to be expected for such a big game was full and noisy by 8.30am. A tense first half low on incident was followed by drama, action, intrigue and finally devastation.

I left bewildered, unable to accept that from being so close to elation my day was now drowned by the despair of defeat snatched from the jaws of victory. If an emotion can be melodramatic yet genuine then this was it. Not even an excellent chocolate croissant devoured on the trudge home would elicit an upswing in mood.

Now I am left with the Sunday blues and questions of what if???????

 

COURT STREET GROCERS

12 Dec

There is nothing greater than the sandwich.

It pretty much encapsulates how I got into food, and to this day is still the thing that gives me the most pleasure.

I am not sure how it happened but bread was my first food love. The natural progression was then to fill the bread and from the  humble yet disgusting combinations of tuna, hard-boiled egg and ketchup to slightly less revolting concoctions, my love affair with the sandwich began. I will often spend far too much time and money going from store to store picking up ingredients just for the joy of putting it together myself. However sometimes you need to concede that the professionals have an edge and allow them to do the work for you. Hence how I came to be at the Court Street Grocers.

Somewhat implausibly for a store that only opened in late 2010 they won the 2011 Best General Store in NY Magazine, but over the last 12 months they have really grown into it. The store sells a selection of hard to find foodstuffs, some of which harp back strongly to the owners youth, others just delicious but not readily available. They also sell cheeses, salamis, dairy, seasonal fruit and some sweet treats, most notably  delicious ‘rugelah’ crafted by the owners father,  which are not really rugelah at all, but more strudel bites.

I digress, Turkey Club on Pullman.

It is at the back of the store where the magic really happens in a small open kitchen where all the sandwich ingredients are prepared in-house. Just reduced in price to a more palatable $12 this sandwich is of the kind that makes you fall in love. The ‘club’ supposedly invented in Upstate NY is often to be found on hotel lobby menus but rarely ever done right.

Court Street nails it on the head. On top, moist white turkey meat (and no this is not an oxymoron) with lettuce and bacon, then toasted bread with mayo all stacked on top of the more flavourful brown meat that has been confited and reheated on a grill to give it some crunch. Much like any great restaurant dish this sandwich has a perfect balance of textures, flavour and aesthetics.

While $12 plus tax and service should you wish is not cheap, it is large enough to be a very satisfactory meal, even better when rounded off with their signature rugelah.

NYC is a sandwich town so there are many good options in my neighbourhood alone, Van Horn does an excellent Southern fried chicken with pickled red cabbage. Ted and Honey have a fantastic pulled pork with coleslaw, and Frankie’s sandwiches are all great but try my latest favourite the roast beef with pepperoncini’s.

Tokyo Bike Takes Manhattan

16 Oct

As a wedding present to my wife I bought her a bike. In part it was because I wanted to have a cycle partner for those days when nothing is better than exploring a city by bike, but also because I knew she coveted the Blue Gray Bisou Tokyo Bike more than any other.

We followed the signs from home that led us onto the narrow Brooklyn Bridge bike path and into the city heading towards the Hudson River where there is a picturesque path which travels up the west side of  Manhattan. From here it is a tranquil ride to anywhere from the West Village all the way up to Columbia University and beyond.

We however, had a lunch date in mind so crossed into the Village to check out the Spotted Pig. Long waits abound in the evening but we only had to wait 10 minutes for our spot looking directly into the tiny kitchen at lunch. I knew before I arrived that I had to try the much blogged about burger but Angela struggled to choose between the battered pollock and thrice cooked chips and the pumpkin salad. For some reason she picked the salad….

Lunch turned out to be delicious, the unadorned burger was juicy and flavourful (I opted to leave off the Roquefort cheese), the salad was apparently good and we enjoyed the devilled eggs and a not quite chocolate nemesis cake. (having worked at River Cafe I had hoped the chef, April Bloomfield had ‘borrowed’ the recipe). The service was the best I have experienced in a long time and reminded me how good a waiter can be. It was personable without being in your face and absent until needed, just the right balance.

We left very satisfied and with nothing pressing we entered the West Village and mooched for a good couple of hours. There are an almost unlimited number of nice stores, cafes and restaurants in this neighbourhood and should you become bored with them you are close to the Highline or The Hudson River Greenway, both are a great way to walk off lunch.

Biometrics, Bicycles and Bernstein

25 Sep

The overflowing pond at Green-Wood Cemetary following Irene

It’s funny how two such benign words when pulled together can have such great meaning. When you mention ‘Green Card’, most people in most places around the world instantly know what you are talking about. My personal quest to get my hands on one and the benefits it brings is in process. Some time in the next few months I will have jumped through all the correct hoops, having paid all the correct people to get the right paperwork I need to be considered a legal alien.

It was the day after Hurricane Irene struck and had it not been for the fallen trees and branches littering the streets you would have never known. The sky was an unbroken blue, but somehow the sun was restrained, making the five-mile ride a pleasure rather than an endurance test. My Biometric appointment (finger prints, photographs and signature) was out in Bay Ridge a distant suburb of Brooklyn and since the trains were still a little unreliable after the 48 hour shut down I saddled up and peddled my way out.

Each neighbourhood I passed had its own identity stamped on by the immigrants that had settled it. Italian, to Polish, to Mexican, Chinese and the Hasidic Jews until at some point near Bay Ridge they seemingly melded together so that one street had a synagogue, the next a giant church and still one more a Chinese community centre.

Once inside the process was pretty painless, just one of those soulless waiting rooms with an LED number screen waiting for the count to reach 34. I read a very funny story from Calvin Trillin’s Eating With The Pilgrims and before I knew it my number was up.

Ever prepared I had found a couple of eating options for the way home. I left Bay Ridge and cycled towards Sunset Park and had some Tacos. They were tasty enough, very cheap and best of all served with the kind of luminous Fanta that they banned in the UK about 20 yrs ago. However this was by no means the highpoint of the day, as just around the corner lay Green-Wood Cemetery, a landmark I had read about but never visited.

Much like Highgate and I am sure Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris, Green-Wood has a gravitas that extends beyond just visiting its silent residents. Being the highest point in Brooklyn it played a pivotal role in the revolutionary war with the British. It also happens to be one of the largest green spaces in NYC with views to the Statue Of Liberty and deep into Manhattan. Unfortunately bikes are not permitted into the grounds which seems obscure since cars are, but on foot you are able to spot details that may otherwise have passed you by. Hence it was whilst reading up on the history of the revolutionary war that I stumbled upon Leonard Bernstein’s grave. Not that I have any great connection with the composer, it just amused me to have spotted his modest headstone amongst the many grander memorials.

I spent a good hour wandering the grounds barely scratching the surface of the 478 acres. Green spaces like this are so rare and valuable in a city so densely populated. The cemetery offers weekly tours on their own trolley bus, that I am sure give a real insight into the history of the whole place, (this is definitely one of those ‘Not For Tourists’ NYC gems). I on the other hand wandered aimlessly until I decided to head back to the land of the living, only stopping on my way out to have a quick chat with George, the security guard who happily filled me in on his spooky experiences of working nights.

And They Call It Tiki Disco…….

11 Jul

It doesn’t matter where you are in the world people always find a space to party. Sometimes whole economies are based upon it, other times the Party finds its space in the cracks where no one else is looking. I found this one by accident and it seems like one to savour. I have been to the Full Moon Parties on Koh Phangan, and experienced the mega clubs of Ibiza and now in Bushwick I have found Tiki Disco. Although the scale is incomparable the happy vibe and care free attitude of this place easily matches any of those beach blow outs.

My journey was a cultural odyssey. I cycled past throngs of people enjoying Sunday cook outs in Fort Green Park. Towards Bedford Avenue I was delighted to pass through an enclave of Hasidic jews, these people live such an extraordinary life right in the middle of such ordinary suburbia. Then there were streets dominated by Latino families and businesses, until I reached Bushwick where, Chinese builders merchants, the New York Loft Hostel and Roberta’s all combine in an industrial landscape.

This looked like the party of the summer, the only thing missing was the beach and the beautiful setting. Much is being said about Bushwick as a new center for artists, with a ready supply of loft and studio space all right on the L train to Manhattan, the building blocks are there. The only price of these conveniences is a gritty landscape of industrial buildings, poorly paved roads and a dilapidated housing stock.

But still none of this mattered to the hundreds of people who wanted to party. Tiki Disco is a bi-monthly event during the Summer at Roberta’s and it seems the masses are tuned in. Apparently a big name DJ in from LA was swelling the numbers but even so the line around the block was impressive. Once past the door (it is free to enter) there is wood fired pizza available from a mobile oven, two bars one more makeshift than the other and the Tiki tent where frozen Margherita and Gin ‘n’ Juice kept the crowds happy. The music, the blazing sunshine, killer drinks, it was the atmosphere I had seen before in those beach paradises, everybody rocking shades and happy vibes.

This part of town seems relatively lawless compared to the manicured streets of Manhattan and fancier parts of Brooklyn so I imagine this kind of party is pretty unique. I am sure in years to come when this area has gone through the almost inevitable gentrification process these parties will be looked back upon with awe and envy  as people reminisce on more simple times when throwing a party was just about opening the doors, turning up the music, and allowing the drinks and ….. to flow.

Tiki Disco
Roberta’s
251 Moore st
Brooklyn
 

Beach Life

22 Jun

As much as my last post sang the praises of Brooklyn, city life can still be a grind. My partner and I had the opportunity to play summer-house as friends very kindly gifted us theirs. For a week we fantasized about the beach and fresh air, until finally the day came when we could leave behind the grit and grime of the city.

Our timing was perfect. While 90c sunshine is great at the beach, it is not quite so much fun when your window ac unit rumbles away struggling to cool off the apartment. After a hurried rush for the train we sat back and gazed out of the window as the city gradually bled away, first through unfamiliar neighbourhoods then into suburbia and finally countryside. We ate a picnic inspired by Paris as I had earlier stopped off at Epicerie Boulud and picked up the holy trinity: Cheese, Salami and Baguette.

One road in, one road out…..

We arrived late so it was only when we awoke the next morning that we could appreciate our luck. The plan was to hit the beach early so using the bikes our thoughtful hosts had left us we followed their advice and made a quick breakfast stop at Mary’s Marvellous. We filled up on a delicious egg and bacon sandwich and pretty good pain au chocolate.

Atlantic beach is miles of uninterrupted sand, with a gentle breeze and the kind of tranquility seldom found. The water was far too cold to swim so we opted instead to walk the tide allowing our feet to be cooled by the large breaks and our minds to be scrubbed by the salty air. A bike tour of the coast road was idyllic until I managed to get a little excited and went over the handle bars, a dust down and with minor scrapes and wounded pride we decided it was a good time to get out of the midday sun and head back to our tranquil paradise.

We could not get the hot tub to work, but who cares, we instead toasted our luck upon having a plunge pool to cool down in. When we could not get the TV to work we instead turned the music up (it took a good 30 minutes to work the stereo out too) and laughed at our Luddite ways. Our time away was too short to let our technological ineptitude spoil the relaxation.

Wild Turkeys

Dinner was Indian from The Hampton Chutney Co who also have a branch in Soho, but while the food was just as tasty I could not imagine myself sat in the city watching an almighty storm blow in. We rushed home just in time to avoid the downpour, and agreed that while we only had half a day left another early trip to the beach via Mary’s was in order.

I do not think I have ever experienced such a quick route to serenity, normally it take at least a day to get into holiday mode but here it just felt so easy. We made our train with minutes to spare and sadly watched as the city leaked back into our world. Stepping off the train in Brooklyn was the reality check you never want, back to normality.

Hence the moral of today’s story is; friends are good, friends with beach houses are better!

*We stayed in Amagansett, (apparently Paul Macartney has a place there too) a beautiful little town past East Hampton on Long Island. There are several places to stay in town all very expensive during peak season,we passed a very lovely looking place on the beach called Ocean Dunes.

I (Heart) Brooklyn

20 Jun
View of the Statue of Liberty from the Brooklyn Bridge

View of the Statue of Liberty from the Brooklyn Bridge

When I say to friends back home that I have moved to New York I almost invariably correct myself and say ‘Brooklyn actually’. It is similar in some ways as when you are in a foreign country and someone asks where you are from, and, instead of stating the actual town or suburb where you live, you defer to the largest city you think they have heard of.

Brooklyn I will admit does not have the cache of Manhattan, but from an ‘insiders’ (I am by no means an insider, legend has it that it takes 10 years before you can call yourself a New Yorker) perspective it is where I want to be.  Manhattan is fantastic if you want sights, museums, culture, food, and shops, they are all there in abundance. But this is true of London, Paris, Sydney, and countless other cities around the world. What makes a place unique and exciting is the new wave of culture that is developing behind the scenes.

Berlin is a classic example whereby an underground scene developed and forced the city to look at itself again to the extent that it is now viewed as one of the coolest cities in Europe. I believe in time Brooklyn will be recognised in the same way, as for all the undoubted glamour of Manhattan the most exciting new developments are coming from Brooklyn.

My mission is to convince as many people as possible to pay this city of Brooklyn the respect it deserves. Yes visit NY and see the Empire State Building, visit the Highline and the glitzy Meatpacking District, soak up the atmosphere of the Village and enjoy the delights of Central Park and the world-class museums of the elegant upper east side, but do not forget to cross the river and see things from the other side.

Head down to Dumbo and get the best perspective going of lower Manhattan. Check out Prospect Park and the Botanic Gardens, equally as impressive as its island cousin (the same architects laid out both parks), head into Williamsburg and see how 15 yrs of gentrification has turned a desolate wasteland of industrial buildings into a hipsters hotspot and even marvel at how they too are now being pushed out by the developers who have reaped the benefits. If you are feeling really adventurous move further east towards Bushwick where a new generation of young creatives are wreaking their own havoc.

So while the t-shirt may still read I LOVE NY  the truth is that BROOKLYN has my heart.