This is actually a piece from Ferdinand Hodler, called “The Despairing Souls”. It’s currently on display at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. Our trip to NYC was so exciting and full of amazing times and GREAT eats, that we felt like these dudes on the way home; especially knowing we still have months to go until our Soldier is back home. But, home was a-calling…especially my bank account. I didn’t leave without taste-testing as many NYC food places as possible to report back to you with, though.
Author’s note: I started writing this as one blog post, but 2K words in, I decided it would be smarter to break this into two posts. I’ve spared you. You’re welcome!
Let’s jump right into the 15 places You Must visit on your next trip to NYC!
#15: Coney Island Brooklyn, NY
For native New Yorkers, Coney Island can draw a bit of suspicion. The thought of going made me cringe, but my Twinkies specifically asked to go for their birthday. Surprisingly, my family, who hail from Brooklyn, reassured me that things had changed since my last visit…in the 80’s. The last memory of Coney Island was one of dilapidated buildings, a worn and rickety boardwalk and vagabonds. There were still a few decrepit places, but the overall feel of C.I. was one of fun and excitement.
Nathan’s Famous is a NYC institution. Even those who have never visited Coney Island have heard of their infamous Hot Dog Eating Contest. So renowned is their fame, the lines to purchase a hot dog wrapped around the side of the stand. Being a busy (and HOT) Saturday, I settled for my memories of the franks and grabbed a selfie, instead. However, if you have the time and patience, try one out.
Funnel cakes at Luna Park whilst waiting for the Twinks to get their fill of rides like “The Tickler” and “Soaring Eagle”- that was the extent of my dining experience at Coney Island. Snapping a pic with a toy I stole from my 12 year-old cousin was also a highlight. Walking along the boardwalk is always a perfect way to spend your day at C.I.
If you’re lucky, you may see salseros competing to win “Best Salsa Dancer” competitions like we did. Maybe you’ll be spared the trauma of having to watch the guy in the black speedo. He shook his money-maker a bit too much, in my opinion.
#14: L&B Spumoni Gardens 2725 86th St. Brooklyn, NY (Gravesend)
Alex is my big teddy bear of a cousin. He owns a trucking company, has a thick NYC accent, honks his horn excessively, and has always been my bodyguard. But what most people don’t know is that Alex is a treasure trove of foodie knowledge. The guy knows NYC like the back of his hand, but most importantly, he knows the best places to eat in NYC.
Alex told me about L&B Spumoni Gardens, AKA “Spumoni”, when he found out we were making a trip to Coney Island. This Pre-WWII pizzeria is located in the Gravesend neighborhood of Brooklyn. I found that out after much deliberation from the Brooklynites in our crew (my Aunt and Uncle). Known for their thick, Sicilian-style pizza, there’s no shortage of business at Spumoni. They offer more than just pizza, though. Spumoni has a reputation for making the best spumoni ice cream- hence the moniker. Spumoni is the Italian frozen dessert made up of a combination of flavors. At Spumoni Gardens they serve the bright green pistachio, chocolate, and vanilla version in little paper cups.
The pizza is memorable and worth the journey to the outer parts of the borough. The thick, buttery Sicilian style crust is topped with cheese first, then followed by a robust tomato sauce. It’s messy, filling, and cheap. Basically, that means it’s perfect for a long day at the beach. In typical NYC fashion, you walk up to the ordering window, scream at guy that you want “a 1/2 pie” and hustle to find a table to devour it. Spumoni also hawks whole pies, slices and the popular round cheese pies. But, a word of advice: don’t call them pizzas. They’re pies in NYC.
That’s our last stop in Brooklyn, actually, in any of the outer boroughs of NYC.
#13: Casa Adela 66 Ave. C, NY, NY (East Village/Lower East Side)
The debate about the location of Casa Adela, a Puerto Rican restaurant in the City, may be contentious among locals. I don’t begrudge either neighborhood for wanting to claim it- that’s how good the food is. Nevertheless, the small dive of a restaurant is what I’ve always called the Lower East Side, or LES.
If there’s one thing a Puerto Rican woman loves, it’s eating good Puerto Rican food that she doesn’t have to cook. Naturally, I came here expecting a lot, and I didn’t leave disappointed…or hungry. The dining room is small…like, maybe 20 seats? Casa Adela does offer takeout, though, so if you’re up for adventure and a sidewalk show, you can get it to go and cop a squat on the nearest parked car. Be sure to take in the decor. Paintings of traditional Puerto Rican art line the walls, joining the numerous awards and commendations this little place has received.
Hungry from our flight in, we ordered typical Puerto Rican dinners. The girl Twink enjoyed a beefsteak sautéed in a vinegar sauce with onions, while the male child chose the fried pieces of chicken. I went for a staple: marinated, roasted pork shoulder. All of our meals came with a side of white or yellow rice with red or black beans, or rice with pigeon peas. The Twinks decided to play it safe with white rice and black beans; I kept it real with the arroz con gandules (rice with pigeon peas). We added twice fried plantains (tostones) to our meal and an avocado salad. Our total with drinks came to less than $50. Quite a feat in NYC for dinner.
The ambiance wasn’t Michelin star-worthy, but the food, service and familiarity were. Stop by Casa Adela’s and get a taste of PR.
Stay at: Andaz Wall Street 75 Wall St. NY, NY (Financial District)
Now, while I wouldn’t normally include a hotel in a food blog, I was so impressed with the Andaz that I made an exception. It’s not easy to “wow” me with a hotel. Normally they lack amenities I desire, the location is horrid, or the accommodations aren’t up to par. Granted, I’m working on a limited (non-baller) budget, but I do try to select upscale places in which to lay our heads.
The Andaz was a home-run. I’m a member of the Hyatt’s World of Hyatt program so booking was easy. The ultra-modern facility was easily accessible to public transportation, had a restaurant on-site (although I never ate there), and had amazingly friendly staff. Complimentary coffee and tea were available throughout the day, and there was a free wine happy hour in the lobby each evening. The hotel provided complimentary sodas, water and snack in each room, as well as a mini-bar with very reasonable prices on hard liquors.
What surprised me the most, besides the sophisticated room, was the helpful staff. Our first room had a leaking shower door. I walked out of the shower to a floor that had flooded whilst I was “Adele-ing” it. I notified the front desk, and they promptly moved me when they realized they wouldn’t be able to fix it quickly. Sure, the move wasn’t convenient, but the care made up for it. Later in the week, our A/C went on the fritz. Understanding the great discomfort and the fact that I’d already had issues earlier in my stay, the manager comp’d an evening for my troubles. All this, and smaller details, have made the Andaz my go-to hotel in the City.
#12: Bluestone Lane Coffee Various NYC Locations
Surprisingly enough Bluestone Lane Coffee is a chain! The small coffee shop located in the heart of NYC’s Financial District evoked a small, independent vibe, so finding out it was one of many was a shocker.
Touting itself as an Australian-influenced coffeehouse, Bluestone is blowing up all over the East Coast. After reading that they seek to change the perception of, “Grabbing a quick cup of joe,” to make it more of an experience, I knew they were to be the first breakfast spot on the trip. To know me is to know my coffee addiction. I have no shame in it, I’ve embraced it and I’m okay with me. Bluestone Lane is literally steps away from our hotel. We popped in and stood on line to order their infamous salmon toast. The boy-Twink opted for a chocolate croissant.
We saddled up to the wall-side breakfast bar and dug into our lemony-salmon toast. Like most restaurants in the city, Bluestone Lane in FiDi acquires its bread from the notoriously amazing Balthazar Bakery. Their lightly toasted multigrain bread is the base for a cream cheese, salmon, and dill topping. The salmon toast tastes of lemon juice, and avocado can be added for an additional fee. BLC also has a variety of baked pastries, as well as other toasts- turmeric sweet potato and the smashed pea and coconut yogurt toast piqued my interest. Ultimately they lost out to the classic.
The cappuccino I ordered rounded out our first breakfast in NYC. Dropping close to $40 wasn’t ideal, but seems about average in the city. (wait ’til you see #12’s bill!)
#13: Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum 1071 5th Ave NY, NY (Upper East Side)
I was verklempt with delight when my babies asked if we could go to the Guggenheim. I’m an art-lover, so for me, that’s a symbol of great parenting. It took all that I had not to broadcast it on social media- you know? Tell everyone how cultured, and crap, my kids were?
The Guggenheim is a piece of art in its own right. Designed by the lauded Frank Lloyd Wright, the museum has been the backdrop of many a movie. Even my husband, who eschews art museums, recognized it.
“That’s where the shoot out in The International went down, right?”
“Yes, dear. Hundreds of precious works of art, and all you know is that’s where Clive Owen almost got capped.”
“Yep. Men in Black was filmed there too.’
Our Twinks take after me, thank God.
I’m grateful for programs like Blue Star Families. Blue Star Families partner with hundreds of museums around NYC and the country to provide free admission to military families. This was our first year utilizing the program and my wallet thanked me. If you want to save money, the Guggenheim offers “Pay What You Wish” every Saturday from 5:45-7:45pm. I think that’s ample time to check out the amazing works of art at a fraction of the regular admission price.
Our favorite exhibit was the 19th Century Parisian Display honoring Joséphin Péladan’s Salon de la Rose + Croix in Paris. Works of art from the likes of Hodler (like the one at the beginning of this post) are found there. Artwork like Brancusi’s Girl (I made my girl take a picture next to her) as well.
Anicka Yi’s, Life is Cheap, was the most…interesting. Yi cultivated strains of bacteria from the streets of Chinatown and Koreatown to display here in this piece.
Bonus: American Museum of Natural History
Central Park West at 79th St. NY, NY (Upper West Side)
Who doesn’t love Night at the Museum? My kids *ahem! Hector and me, too* LOVED the movie so much, we make sure to visit AMNH every time we’re in NYC. Who knows when the museum will come to life? Unfortunately, “Rexy” is gone. Fortunately, for military families, at least, the museum is also a participant in the Blue Star Museum program.
The Twinks actually went to the museum twice. Once with me on the BSP ticket (free) and once with our Aunt to see the Titanosaur exhibit. Obviously, we know who the cooler adult was. We strolled through Central Park to get from the Guggenheim to the AMNH. It was a beautiful (hot) twenty minute walk, and we were able to see the prettiest park in NYC. Stop off at one of the many food trucks parked along the curb in front of the museum before starting your tour and you’ll be good until dinner.
Pio Pio 210 East 24th St. NY, NY (Midtown East)
So…I didn’t get pictures of Pio Pio because I’m greedy, that’s also why it isn’t rated. Consider this its Honorable Mention. But it was good, so go try it for lunch. They have great lunch specials which feature their famed Peruvian chicken and a side for $12.
#12: Clinton St Baking Company & Restaurant 4 Clinton St. NY, NY (LES)
Saturday morning was greeted with shouts of, “MOM!!! STOP CRYING AND COME OUT OF THE BATHROOM!”
It was my Twinks’ 12th birthday. I don’t do well with my children getting older. Since they were…well, born…I’ve been mourning the day that they will walk out of my home never to live with me again. It’s painful. So, this year’s birthday the only thing different was the bathroom I bawled my eyes out in. Nevertheless, we needed to go out into the world. I donned my darkest shades and we Uber’d it to Clinton St. Baking Company.
Despite arriving five minutes after opening, the wait was thirty minutes for this popular cafe. We added our name to the list and parked it on the outside benches. A group nearby was also celebrating a birthday and that made me want to well up again. Looks of terror from the Twinks staved off the tears.
We were seated and served by David and Felipe. David was our waiter, but Felipe was hustling to get our incidentals, so much so, that I need to give him some love too. Obviously, a mimosa was required for a day fraught with this type of emotion. Coffee. Coffee was needed in copious amounts as well. We ordered their signature blueberry pancakes, chocolate chunk pancakes and the latka with salmon and creme fraiche. Coupled with our a la carte eggs and bacon, alongside our beverages, we waltzed out- full- to the tune of $102.
Clinton St. Baking Co. is taking full advantage of their popularity by charging a bit of a hefty price on things like my mimosa ($10), and orders of eggs ($6). It was a once in a lifetime thing for a special occasion, though, and I’d highly recommend going to try their pancakes. Beware, they only accept cash during daytime hours.
#11: Cheese Grille 188 Allen St. NY, NY (LES)
The Twinks always get to choose their meals on their birthday. Unfortunately for the Soldier and I, we’ve raised foodies. Nothing says, “Stop raising bougie kids,” like your daughter saying, “I could really go for an aged chèvre grilled cheese.” Bougie, indeed.
Our lunch choice was spot-on, though. The convenience of ordering from the back of an SUV as you’re being driven through insane NYC traffic is underrated. Cheese Grille has the most seamless, efficient online ordering system I’ve ever dealt with. I was able to place our order for our Crispy Goat and Little Italy Grilled cheeses within minutes. Knowing that they’ve received praise for their spicy tomato soup, I added that and onion rings to the order as well.
I’m just going to put this out there. I’m totally stealing their Crispy Goat sandwich. You can judge all you want when I’m posting my version of the chèvre, goat gouda, bacon and avocado deliciousness and trying to pass it off as mine. I’m not even trippin’. This lunch to-go set us back $42.
You Have to Go to: Midtown Comics 200 W. 40th St. NY, NY (Midtown)
Remember my cousin Alex? Well, in addition to being a food guru, he’s also a Sci-Fi geek. The man probably has every Star Trek movie/memorabilia/comic book ever written. Naturally, when he found out that the Twinks were also nerds (no offense), he had to bring them to the “Walmart of Comic Books”. At least, that’s what he calls Midtown Comics.
Once again, my cousin knows what he’s talking about. This place is two floors crammed full of comic books, posters, figurines and everything in between. I stood in a corner judging and checking Instagram, while my Twins were probably peeing on themselves. We walked out bogged down with Batman comic books, courtesy of Cousin Alex, and I walked right into…
#10 Maoz Falafel & Grill 558th 7th Ave. NY, NY (Midtown)
Maoz is another franchise that upsets me because there’s not one located in my city. It’s a vegetarian falafel hut (which also serves chicken for you meatheads). What I love most about Maoz is the toppings bar that allows you to create a one-of-kind falafel pita (or bowl, your choice). One Twink ordered chicken shawarma, while the other and I had falafels. Stuffed into pitas, you’re left to your own devices at their generous toppings bar. I piled mine with shredded cabbage, tahini, carrots, peppers, cucumber and a spicy cilantro sauce that made me want to lick the paper my pita was wrapped in.
Sheer deliciousness; my pita is in the bottom left of the picture above. Ooh and aah to your heart’s content.
…so there you have it folks, Part 1 of my Must Visit Places in NYC. Check back next Wednesday, July 19th for Part 2. Next time you’ll find out why we were all gussied up in the picture above. Pin this post for later and take me with you on your next journey to the Big Apple.
If you have a hankering for some food after all this chatting, check out these recipes that remind me of home: