A Foodie Weekend in New York City

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Happy Tuesday everyone! I just returned from an amazing, food-filled trip to New York City. I’ve been to the big city numerous times for numerous reasons in numerous seasons – Christmas trips, visits with relatives, job interviews, school trips, mission work, random fall weekends – but this was primarily a FOODIE WEEKEND! I had a US Airways companion pass that I needed to use by June 30, so my friend and I decided to head up to NYC to have a food- and drink-filled girls weekend. I have a lot of friends from college living in the city so it was also a great reunion with good friends I hadn’t seen in a couple of years.

We stayed in a friend’s beautiful apartment in the Upper East Side and enjoyed being able to walk to Central Park and great restaurants in the area. Since the friend who came with me and I had both been to the city before, we didn’t need to fill our time with tourist activities. I put together the perfect foodie itinerary for us so we got a taste of quite a few different neighborhoods around Manhattan. I’ve broken down where we ate by neighborhood, and would highly recommend all of these places!

Lower East Side

Russ & Daughters Cafe
This cafe is an off-shoot of the original Russ & Daughters shop specializing in smoked fish, caviar, and bagels and bialys. We couldn’t go to NYC without getting a bagel, so Russ & Daughters Cafe was our first stop for lunch when we got in on Friday. I got the Classic Board with a bialy and smoked salmon, cream cheese, tomatoes, onions, and capers. The salmon had the perfect smoked taste, the tomatoes were so fresh, and the bialy was amazing. If you don’t know, a bialy is similar to a bagel, but only has the hole in the top and is just baked instead of boiled and then baked. My friend got the Shtetl Board with smoked sable (black cod), goat cream cheese, tomato, onion, and capers. We also got housemade Blueberry Basil sodas to wash it all down with.

Stanton Social
Stanton social is a gourmet small plates restaurant that my New York friend said we absolutely had to go to. We took his advice and made dinner reservations for Saturday night. The three-story restaurant was packed and had a really cool and trendy atmosphere. Since it’s small plates, you order a bunch of dishes to share, and they come out as they’re ready, instead of all at once. There were four of us (one vegetarian, sorry Eva) and they told us 8-10 dishes were typical for 4 people but we decided to start with 6 and see how we felt after that. My favorites were the phenomenal Potato & Goat Cheese Pierogies with caramelized onions and truffle creme fraiche; the French Onion Soup Dumplings covered by a layer of baked melted cheese; and the Mexican Street Corn Ravioli with roasted poblano crema, jalapeño, cotija, and cilantro.

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French Onion Soup Dumplings

Everything we had though was delicious. The other dishes we got were Red Snapper Tacos, Chicken Arepas, and Chicken and Waffles that had Louisiana hot sauce butter that I want to put on all things, always. We felt totally satisfied after the 6 dishes, but I think it depends on what dishes you order (also our vegetarian friend obviously wasn’t eating all of them). It seemed like the dishes on the left side of the menu were a lot smaller than the ones on the right side, so I think it’s a matter of whether you order 6 little dishes or 6 larger dishes.

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Arepas and Mexican Street Corn Ravioli

The cocktails were also amazing. We tried the Strawberry Fields with Grey Goose Citron, muddled fresh strawberries, lemon syrup, fresh lemon, and a Riesling floater; and the Notorious F.I.G with Bulleit Bourbon, fresh fig, pear-cinnamon syrup, and fresh lemon.

Strawberry Fields Cocktail with pierogies to the right

Strawberry Fields Cocktail with pierogies to the right

Beauty and Essex
This was the coolest speakeasy lounge/bar right around the corner from Stanton Social. It doesn’t look like much from the outside and you walk through a pawn shop to get to it, but inside, it’s a huge three story lounge and restaurant that looks like a mansion. There are crystal chandeliers in every room, leather couches, and a grand staircase leading upstairs. It was packed. They have a list of handcrafted cocktails, and I opted for The Geoffrey with Milagro reposado tequila, cinnamon St. Germain, lemon, and Magners Cider. It tasted like an updated margarita, so of course I loved it.

Upper East Side

Felice 64
My friend whose apartment we were staying at recommended this Italian restaurant and wine bar for our dinner Friday night. We went to see An Act of God with Jim Parsons (Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory!) and were looking for some place to do a late dinner after since we’d had a late lunch. Felice 64 was just a block away from where we were staying, so it was perfect. I ordered the Risotto alle Capesante which was carnaroli rice risotto tossed in broccoli purée and served with seared scallops, buffalo ricotta cheese and lemon zest. It reminded me of my favorite pasta my grandma makes. It was delicious and I loved that they sliced the scallops up and mixed them in with the risotto. My friend ordered the Fusilli al Ferretto with homemade tomato sauce and burrata cheese. Also great – the pasta was homemade and the tomato sauce tasted very authentic. Plus burrata cheese is my favorite! (Sorry for the bad picture — the light was basically non-existent inside.)

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Cascabel Taqueria
We went here for brunch on Sunday because we couldn’t leave New York without doing bottomless brunch. And what goes better with bottomless brunch than Mexican food?! This taqueria offers refined Mexican street food and bottomless drinks for only $15 (a really good deal considering most drinks in NYC cost $15 for one). The best thing about the bottomless deal is that you can try as many of the eight drink options as you want — you’re not confined to just one drink. We tried the Sangria, La Lola (grapefruit juice, cava, and aperol), and the El Capitan (cava, passionfruit, and domain de canton). They were all so good! For food, I ordered the Chilaquiles with chicken and fried eggs and my friends got the Carnitas Benedict on cornbread with chipotle hollandaise. Everything was delicious!

Little Italy

Ferrara
Ferrara is a famous Italian bakery that you have probably heard of before. They have the best cannolis you’ll ever have. I always get the chocolate dipped ones. I also love their lobster tail pastries. They are huge and stuffed with so much cream they feel like they weigh two pounds each! You can get mini ones, too, but who wants that?! Go here for dessert and coffee one night or grab a sweet afternoon snack.

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Nolita

Cafe Habana
This little Cuban cafe has become known for their Mexican-style Grilled Corn and the affordable price they offer great food at (corn is only $3). There is a sit-down part of the restaurant and also a to-go counter around the corner where you can grab and go. We stopped in for an afternoon snack of the corn. It really is served true Mexican-style, grilled and coated with Cotija cheese and a sprinkle of hot chile powder on top. Be careful — the chile powder is very spicy, but you can always order it without. I wanted to eat this corn every day! We also got a side of plantains because I can never resist plantains.

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Chelsea // Chelsea Market

On Saturday, we went to Chelsea Market, a specialty food and product market, for lunch. We sampled dishes from a few different places. Here were my favorites:

Los Tacos No. 1
This place probably had the longest line but trust me, it’s worth it to wait in it. These are true Mexican and West Coast-style tacos, and the Carne Asada taco I had was one of the best I’ve ever had. The steak was so tender and flavorful, and was topped with guacamole, salsa, and onions and wrapped up in a corn (or flour if you prefer) tortilla. My friends also loved the Pollo Asado and Nopal (a type of edible cactus) tacos.

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Mŏkbar
We have a lot of ethnic food options in Birmingham, but traditional ramen is not one of them, so I knew I wanted to have some while I was in NYC. Luckily, we came across Mŏkbar in the market, serving Korean-style ramen. I got the Classic with pork broth, braised pork, and seasonal vegetables which included greens and mushrooms and added a poached egg to it. The pork was incredibly tender and flavorful, as was the broth. So much better than ramen from Cup Noodles!

Mokbar Ramen and Carne Asada taco from Los Tacos

Mokbar Ramen and Carne Asada taco from Los Tacos

Doughnuttery
This place makes the cutest mini donuts and you can watch them being fried right in front of you. You have the option to coat them in a variety of flavored sugars. We got a dozen and tried them in flavors of Urban Monkey, Mulled Green Apple Cider, Cheeky Peach, and Fruity Cereal. They were all really good and we loved their little bite-sizeness. The best part though was the Beer Caramel that we got to dip them in. It really tasted like beer mixed with caramel and it was amazing, especially with the Mulled Green Apple Cider donut.

Pro Tip: After you fill up at Chelsea Market, walk it off on the High Line right near by — the elevated park on an old railroad track. It’s beautiful and has great views of the Empire State Building.

Financial District

Loopy Doopy
If you venture down to the Financial District (I know you want to see the new Freedom Tower), this rooftop bar at the Conrad Hotel serves alcohol-infused People’s Pops in glasses of Prosecco. Yes, you read that right. I will now be dipping all my popsicles in Prosecco. You choose your flavor of pop and then they drop it in the glass and you can enjoy it and beautiful views of the Hudson and Lady Liberty. I opted for the Pear Vanilla pop and my friends got Peach Ginger and Blackberry Mint. It’s also fun because the pop you choose flavors your Prosecco. But this isn’t a place to stay and drink all day — these cocktails will set you back $20 (before tip). Definitely a one and done place!

Let me know some of your favorite foodie spots in the Big Apple!

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Gip’s Place

If you had told me a year ago that I would be living in Alabama and visiting juke joints in the middle of nowhere, I never would have believed you. Even though I’m from the South, I was going to live in New York City, didn’t you know? I was going to go to the clubs and trendy restaurants, and wear an LBD and heels all the time. Yet here I am in good ol’ Alabama, eating some of the best Southern food in my life, wearing jean shirts and dancing to blues music. And guess what, I’m absolutely loving it.

How I came to end up here instead of NYC and why I love it so much is a whole blog post of its own, but today I want to discuss what I did Saturday night – an experience I would have never had in NYC. I went to my first juke joint: Gip’s Place. Gip’s is an establishment for Alabama folk, located in Bessemer, AL, about 18 miles from Birmingham. I have to say, this was like nothing I’ve ever experienced in my life. Below is my “memoir” of Gip’s Place.

After speeding along back country roads and driving for what feels like an eternity into the middle of nowhere, you turn into an old run-down neighborhood. The neighborhood is dark and quiet, but you know you’re in the right place because cars line the streets and you have to park four streets away from what you believe to be your destination: Gip’s Place – a real-deal, authentic juke joint. You grab your cooler packed with an assortment of local beers (Gip’s is BYOB) and head up the quiet street. But suddenly it’s not so quiet anymore. The faint sound of blues music is drifting towards you on the cool night wind, swirling into your ears with the promise of a toe-tapping, hand-clapping good time.

When you reach the top of a hill, you see it. A shack with a curtain of twinkling Christmas lights immediately catches your attention, but then you look around and notice you are surrounded by what looks like a collection of mini fair tents and shacks, all strung with lights. Someone taps you on the shoulder, drawing you out of your Christmas-light trance. “That will be $10.” You have to pay to go to Gip’s, but rumor has it that Mr. Gip is using the money to pay his neighbors to not complain.

photo (1)Slipping back into a trance, but this time drawn by the music, you make your way to the light curtained shack. You are greeted by swing-dancing bodies, a live blues band and walls plastered with photos of blues legends, neon signs and other memorabilia, including a bumper sticker saying, “If you don’t love Jesus, go to Hell!”

You’re now part of the crowd, clapping your hands, dancing and enjoying the soul-cleansing sound of true blues music. No one makes you feel like a stranger at Gip’s Place, whether it’s your first time or your 50th.  The lead singer of the band, wearing a shimmery metallic shirt and sunglasses, rocks out under a sign saying “Gip’s Place – Home of the Blues.” And you immediately know this is true. This is how blues was born – in tight-knit communities in the deep South, coming together over a shared love of music. 

Suddenly the band stops. A man with a black, wide-brimmed cowboy hat on his head, mardi gras beads around his neck and years of stories on his face takes the stage. That’s Mr. Gip, someone whispers. Mr. Gip, who is said to be in his late 80s, maybe older, quietly sits down, picks up a guitar and begins to play. He somehow manages to drink a Bud Light while playing and everyone gives him the respect he deserves for establishing this place – a place where true Southerners can come together to celebrate the foundation of a culture and the identity of a region.

You get back in your car at the end of the night and you drive back along those dark, country roads. But they don’t seem so dark and long anymore. They feel like a passage; a guide to take you back to your roots.

 

Mexican Street Food – The Good And The Not So Good

Prickly Pear Margarita and delicious guacamole

Prickly Pear Margarita and delicious guacamole

My friend and I were given gift certificates to Cantina, a Mexican restaurant in downtown Birmingham, so we decided to try it out this past weekend. I was super excited about the restaurant because they specialize in Mexican street food, which I love. However, I was a little disappointed in certain things about the restaurant. I’ve had some amazing Mexican street food before (see end of post), but this definitely did not live up to my expectations.

First off, the positive. We began our meal with guacamole (of course, I can never pass up guacamole) and I have to say it was some of the best guacamole I’ve ever had. It wasn’t bland like some guacamoles and it wasn’t overly limey or spicy. It was a perfect balance of guacamole ingredients and was topped with pico de gallo. We devoured it and even got a second order of it after we finished our meals! I also got a prickly pear margarita which was really delicious. It was pretty sweet, but I like sweet drinks so I didn’t mind. Plus a salted rim helps to cut the sweetness.

Unimpressive tacos...chicken on the left, fish on the right

Not my favorite tacos…chicken on the left, fish on the right

Now, for the not so great. We were pretty disappointed with our main entrees. I ordered one Taco de Pollo – tequila marinated chicken, cilantro mayo, salsa verde and pico de gallo – and one Fish Taco – tilapia fillet, slaw, avocado, cilantro mayo and chile de arbol salsa. Sounds delicious and flavorful, right? Wrong. There was nothing bad about these tacos, it’s just that there was no flavor. With all that was on them, you’d think you’d get some great flavors but I was really unimpressed. Another thing we were frustrated with was the fact that they would only accept one of our certificates, despite the fact we were paying separately. They told us that coupons are one per table, which seems a little ridiculous if everyone is on a separate check and you all want to use your gift certificates. So much for a free meal. And maybe we shouldn’t have ordered that extra guacamole…

I probably wouldn’t go back to Cantina for the food but it is a nice place to grab drinks and guacamole. However, we have to go back anyway now to use our second certificate! 5 orders of guacamole? I think so!

So what was my amazing Mexican street food experience?

The best Mexican street food I’ve had was at a place in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, called Papacitos. I went up to New York City in December and my friend, who lives in Greenpoint, kept raving about the tacos from this place. She took me one afternoon and now I have to say I’m just as obsessed as she is (if only I was close enough to eat it every day). The pork in my anjito pork taco was so juicy and had such a wonderful flavor that I don’t think any other Mexican street food can compare to. They were wrapped in homemade tortillas, and the best part was they were cheap! Even cheaper than Cantina’s…