West Side Story
Part 2, A Gastronomic Paradise
Typical Upper West Side row houses.
Food is the essence of Upper West Side. There’s food for every taste and food for everyone's earnings and social class or age. The three major avenues running all the way through the area from north to south, namely: Broadway, Amsterdam and Columbus seem to have more restaurants and cafes than can fit in the area. In particular, in Amsterdam avenue, between the 72nd and 92nd streets, every other shop seems to be a temple dedicated to Edesia, the roman goddess of food who presides over banquets.
The Upper West Side has a serious sweet tooth. Countless cafes, pastry shops, cookie shops and bakeries try to satisfy New Yorkers’ insatiable lust for sugar! There are independent shops (like "Cafe Lalo" or "European Bakery Cafe"), as well as American (like "Magnolia Bakery") and international chains (like the European “Maison Kayser” and “Le Pain Quotidien" or the Korean “Tous les jours” and "Paris Baguette", which sound so frenchie...don't they?).
Coffee is everywhere in NYC; you can smell it in every street and shop. The good thing is that coffee culture has evolved a lot during the last decade. As a result today one can taste really good coffee in NYC, in contrast with the coffee Americans used to drink: something like used laundry water with a hint of coffee taste.
The american coffee shop or cafe is not what we are used in Europe, or Far East. The cafes here sell everything: from beverages and infusions to sandwiches and cakes to light meals, they are more like parisian bistros.
There are small, independent "real" cafés in Greenwich Village and Chelsea, but they are just rarities north of 25th street.
Starbucks is omnipresent and the only real cafe chain in the city.
The Starbucks on Broadway and 81st street, known from the film "You've got mail". Meg Ryan had her coffee several times here.
"Orwashers Bakery" is a New York City institution. Founded in 1916 by a Hungarian immigrant family, the bakery began as a small storefront in the Upper East Side. It was borne out of a desire to serve local immigrant community members and focused on the high quality rye, black and grain breads that reflected the traditions of their homeland. After being passed on from generation to generation of the Orwasher family, the business was sold to Keith Cohen in 2008.
Since then the business has been expanded, so today more and more locals, as well as visitors, can enjoy delicious artisan breads; black and white cookies; flaky, buttery croissants; and of course, airy, tender jelly donuts or plain donuts dusted with sugar or covered with dark chocolate.
At Orwashers you can find the best rugelach in town, an old-world treat: buttery cookies rolled with several ingredients and cut into slices before baking. The different fillings can include raisins, walnuts, cinnamon, chocolate, marzipan, poppy seed, apples or fruit preserves which are rolled up inside.
Rugelach is a Jewish pastry of Ashkenazic origin. It is very popular in Israel, commonly found in most cafes and bakeries, and also a popular treat among Jews in diaspora, especially in NYC. Rugelach can be made with sour cream or cream cheese doughs, but there are also pareve variants (with no dairy ingredients), so that it can be eaten with or after a meat meal and still be kosher. Cream cheese doughs are the most recent, probably an American innovation, while yeast leavened and sour cream doughs are much older.
"Momofuku Milk Bar" on Columbus Ave consistently makes a habit of sabotaging diets via Instagram, and the local branch's treats consistently live up to their photogenic qualities. The menu is imaginative in a Willy Wonka way: cereal milk ice cream, candy bar pie, compost cookies, crack pies and birthday-cake truffles complete with sprinkles are just a few options. Milk bar is an award-winning bakery from chef & owner Christina Tosi, known worldwide from her book with the same name “Milk Bar”.
Milk Bar Upper West Side on Columbus and 87th street (top). The cover of the "milk bar" book (bottom left). Detail of the shop window (bottom right).
Ask anyone in the neighborhood where you can get a good chocolate chip cookie, and odds are they'll point you to “Levain Bakery”, the tiny shop on Amsterdam and & 74th street.
I am not really a cookie person, but when my friend Myrna (a well known epicure and an excellent cook herself) told me to try Levain, I thought to give it a try. Thus, I bought a walnut chocolate chip cookie. There are no words capable to describe how unbelievably tasty these cookies are. They are crunchy on the outside, soft inside and rich in chocolate which melts in your mouth… simply delightful.
Needless to say, that I have visited Levain over and over again.
A composition of a walnut chocolate chip cookie and the beautifully crafted Lavain paper bag.
In "Lavain Bakery" you'll also find: oatmeal-raisin and chocolate-with-peanut-butter-chip varieties, muffins, baguettes stuffed with butter and jam, oatmeal raisin scones, brioche, walnut and raisin sticky bans, sour cream cakes, lemon cakes, chocolate rolls, fruit tarts and even crispy pizzas.
The line here may seem daunting, but it moves quickly and is worth the wait. Maybe the line is the reason that recently, a new big shop opened just one block north of the original tiny shop, also on Amsrerdam Ave (between 75th and 76th streets). Big, shiny and apealing, the new shop is now able to accomodate even more cookie funs.
The tiny Lavain Bakery on W74th street and my first walnut chocolate chip cookie.
The new "Lavain Bakery" on Amsterdam ave.
If you are yearning for cupcakes then the ultimate place for you is located on the corner of Columbus and 69th street. "Magnolia Bakery" is a popular chain of bakeries, which opened its first location on a cozy street corner in the heart of New York City’s West Village (Bleecker Street) in the summer of 1996. From its inception, Magnolia Bakery has been cherished for its classic American baked quality goods, vintage decor and warm, inviting atmosphere. At magnolia Bakery they serve more than 150 fresh, handmade menu items: from cakes, cupcakes, cookies and bars to icebox desserts, cheesecakes and seasonal pies. All these are made hand, on the premises throughout the day.
The sweet smells in the bakeries are just irresistible.
Magnolia’s desserts captured the attention of a worldwide audience after being featured on the hit TV show "Sex and the City" and in popular movies such as "The Devil Wears Prada" and "Prime". Its reputation continued to grow through mentions on TODAY, The Martha Stewart Show, Regis & Kelly, Weeds and more.
At Magnolia bakery I had some great red velvet cake and the best red velvet cheesecake in New York, second only to one I had some years ago in Kobe, Japan (but, this does not count, because comparing the “western-type” cakes in Japan to those elsewhere is just meaningless... the Japanese are just unmatched).
The doughnut (or donut) is a NYC icon. We are all trapped in stereotypes like the one of the NYC cops eating doughnuts in their car to be strong and chase away the bad guys. The NYC doughnut can be homemade or purchased in bakeries, supermarkets, food stalls, and franchised specialty vendors. Actually, doughnuts are everywhere. Dunkin’ Donuts has hundreds of shops in Manhattan, but certainly it is your last choice, when there are available delicious handmade donuts like those in “Orwashers bakery”.
Donut filled with cream.
Donuts filled with blackcurrant jam.
While food resembling doughnuts has been found at many ancient sites, the earliest origins to the modern doughnuts are generally traced back to the olykoek ("oily cake"). Dutch settlers brought olykoek with them to early New York (or New Amsterdam). These doughnuts closely resembled later ones but did not yet have their current ring-sized shape.
One of the earliest mentions of "doughnut" was in Washington Irving's 1809 book "A History of New York, from the Beginning of the World to the End of the Dutch Dynasty": “Sometimes the table was graced with immense apple-pies, or saucers full of preserved peaches and pears; but it was always sure to boast of an enormous dish of balls of sweetened dough, fried in hog’s fat, and called dough-nuts, or olykoeks: a delicious kind of cake, at present scarce known in this city, excepting in genuine Dutch families”.
According to anthropologist Paul Mullins, the first cookbook mentioning doughnuts was an 1803 English volume which included doughnuts in an appendix of American recipes. He also traces its origins to the oliekoek that arrived in America with the Dutch settlers in the early 18th century. By the mid-19th century, the doughnut looked and tasted like today's doughnut, and was viewed as a thoroughly American food.
Hanson Gregory, an American, claimed to have invented the ring-shaped doughnut in 1847 aboard a lime-trading ship when he was 16 years old. Gregory was dissatisfied with the greasiness of doughnuts twisted into various shapes and with the raw center of regular doughnuts. He claimed to have punched a hole in the center of dough with the ship's tin pepper box, and to have later taught the technique to his mother. Smithsonian Magazine states that his mother, Elizabeth Gregory, "made a wicked deep-fried dough that cleverly used her son's spice cargo of nutmeg and cinnamon, along with lemon rind," and "put hazelnuts or walnuts in the center, where the dough might not cook through", and called the food 'doughnuts'.
Greek "patousa donut" and "loukoumades".
The variety of american donuts is mythical.
THE GREEK "Loukouma".
In Greece, the fashionable multicolored American donuts is something that only recently arrived in the country… actually, those came into our life when of Dunkin’ Donuts opened their first shop in Athens. Nevertheless, the round covered-with-sugar donut, with the hole in the middle, goes well back in time and was one of the favorite treat for kids my age and older. This traditional donut we call “loukouma”. Loukoumades (plural) are sold everywhere mainly by street vendors, but mostly outside primary schools. I remember me as a school kid to buy loukoumades from the “loukoumatzis” (loukouma man) through the railings of the school yard. And then, when I was in my university years the first donuts arrived in Greece. My favorite one, and the most popular, was the “patousa”: a donut shaped as a human sole with raisins inside and covered in sugar glaze! I also very well remember my long summer holidays on Naxos island, where me and my friend Maria lived on chocolate covered and filled huge donuts.
An important update (Jan.2023): The "beard Papa's" on Broadway has closed, but there are 3 locations in NYC to enjoy (two in Manhattan and one in Queens. Check the here: Beard Papa's
The story goes like this: “A long time ago, there was a small bakery in Osaka, Japan. The store was small, but everyone knew about it and loved the delightful sweets that filled the town with a pleasant aroma. Everyone also loved the head baker, who always wore a smile on his face and was called Beard Papa after his fluffy, white beard (I cannot imagine a Japanese with a fluffy full beard… but never mind). Beard Papa baked all day and night to keep the townspeople happy, because nothing made his day more than seeing everyone enjoying his baked goods. One day, a group of children visited his store and asked, “When are you going to come up with a new treat? All of us can’t wait for you to work more magic in the kitchen!” When Beard Papa heard this, he knew he had to think of something quickly. He could not let the townspeople down, and he wanted to surprise everyone with the best pastry they’ve ever had. Beard Papa thought and thought. Then, as he strokes his fluffy white beard, it suddenly hit him. “I’ve got it! My fluffy beard. I’m going to make an original recipe for cream puffs that are just as fluffy and lovable as my beard! They don’t call me Beard Papa for nothing.”
Papa's puffs became more and more popular as time went by. And here we are! The best Japanese puffs arrived at the heart of Upper West Side….at the same building block with my hotel!
Hidden between two shops on Broadway Avenue (between 77th and 76th) and overwhelmed by the much bigger and fancier neighboring “Maison Kayser” stands “Beard Papa’s” or simply “the best cream puffs ever”.
The idea is simple: 3-4 different shells (all crispy and tasty) filled with different flavors of light custard cream (vanilla, chocolate, green tea, cookies, strawberry, hazelnut…to name some), baked on the spot every day, to be consumed the same day only!
Needless to say, that visiting Bear Papa’s was my daily ritual on my way back to the hotel after my long walks in the city.
Blackcurrant cheesecake puffs.... just devine!
Bagels have a long history going back to 17th century Ashkenazi Jewish communities in Poland and the rest of Eastern Europe. The first known mention of the bagel, in 1610, was in Jewish community ordinances in Kraków, Poland.
Bagels are traditionally shaped by hand into the form of a ring from yeasted wheat dough, roughly hand-sized, that is first boiled for a short time in water and then baked. The result is a dense, chewy, doughy interior with a browned and sometimes crisp exterior. Bagels are often topped with seeds baked on the outer crust, with the traditional ones being poppy or sesame seeds. Some may have salt sprinkled on their surface. There are different dough types, such as whole-grain or rye.
Bagels can be eaten as they are or staffed with all kind of cheese, vegetables, meat and antipasti. The most traditional of all is the begel filled with smoked salmon and cream cheese.
Even though there are different varieties of bagels which people value worldwide (especially in North America), there is only one city that made it as its “official food”: NYC.
How did it started? Once cleared from Ellis island thousands of immigrants headed straight to Manhattan’s lower East side and that meant a lot of mouths to feed. Jews from eastern Europe brought with them a cheap street food that has become New York's iconic breakfast. What began as an inexpensive street food is now served in over 50 different ways in shops like the "Black Seed bagels".
A hundred years ago bagel was not about gourmet it was about survival. For 50 cents a day, bakers worked 14 hour shifts in cramped basement kitchens producing 800 bagels an hour. Conditions were so harsh many bakers collapsed from heat stroke.
There are numerous shops around NYC which handmake and freshly bake bagels and it is difficult to tell which are the best ones. Upper West Side has a big variety of bagel selling shops, like "Broadway Bagel" (Broadway and 101st street), "Absolute Bagels" (Broadway, between 107th and 108th streets), "Tal Bagels" (Broadway, between 91st & 90th streets), "Orwashers Bakery" (Amsterdam and 81st street), "Bagels & Co" (Amsterdam between 79th and 78th streets), "Bagel Talk" (Amsterdam between 78th & 77th streets), "H&H Midtown Bagels East" (Columbus between 86th & 85th streets), to name some. Also, all supermarkets, delis and smaller food stores sell bagels. The NYC bagels are a city legend.
The Upper West Side has a homey, residential feel, so it's no wonder that the area excels at that most comforting of meals: brunch. Come very hungry to Columbus Avenue's always-packed "Good Enough to Eat", which offers generous portions of food with a side of cow memorabilia festooning the walls. Good Enough to Eat was founded by Carrie Levin in 1981 as a result of her desire to create and serve “good, old-fashioned American food” with only fresh, raw ingredients. The eatery became a huge success, noted first for its all-day, bountiful breakfasts featuring omelets with Granny Smith apples and sharp cheddar, pancakes, waffles staffed with bacon, cinnamon-swirl French toast and buttermilk biscuits. It became even more well know when it began offering homemade soups, huge sandwiches, and classic Turkey and Meatloaf dinners, establishing Carrie as one of the first Chef’s in NYC to create and celebrate “traditional” American cuisine. Dishes which won't do much for your diet, but they may lift your spirits.
You'll forget you're in Manhattan at "Sarabeth's" (Amsterdam Ave. Between 80th & 81st Streets), whose atmosphere evokes Montauk, Long Island, more than the big city. Known for its colorful homestyle cooking, warm atmosphere and family-friendly service, locals and visitors have felt at home at this very first Sarabeth’s location for nearly 30 years. This upscale, green-awning classic specializes in fun twists on old standbys: dishes include a crisp potato waffle paired with chicken apple sausage and short-rib hash with eggs and jalapeño; a bloody mary can be ramped up with poached shrimp, braised short rib hash, lemon & ricotta pancakes and a yummy selection of French toasts.
In a city that takes bagels and lox seriously, "Barney Greengrass" rises to the occasion—and also serves plenty of other fish, soups and sides. Barney Greengrass (as is the dine-in portion of "Zabar's") is a place where you see generations of visitors and Upper West Side locals dining together: old-timers, who could have ordered a bagel with a schmear 60 years ago, next to kids who first stepped in there after the advent of gluten-free rugelach. Barney Greengrass opened its doors in 1908 (its current location dates to 1929) and unless you look out the window, you'll feel like you stepped into a time machine.
"Barney Greengrass" on Amsterdam (between 86th and 87th streets).
In a city where restaurants can be a flash in the pan, "La Caridad 78" Restaurant-Comidas China y Criolla (Broadway on 78th street) is an elder statesman, having faithfully served Upper West Siders since the sixties.
Founded by Chinese entrepreneurs who emigrated to Cuba and fled Castro’s revolution a generation later, the restaurant presents working people’s Cuban and Cantonese fare to its loyal patrons, who include taxi drivers, artists, cops, writers, and boisterous Hispanic families.
There’s no fusion here; each cuisine is presented discretely. The Latin dishes, consisting of numerous stews and grilled dishes, are the most compelling. Arroz con mariscos is a mound of bright orange rice imbued with saffron and paprika and bejeweled with scallops, shrimp, and squid. Red pepper strips and green peas add color and crunch. The bistec en salsa de tomate is a thin but charred top sirloin steak in a sprightly tomato sauce spiked with garlic and onion slivers; certainly the most valued dish of the establishment.
The Chinese specialties tend toward stir-fried dishes with simple white sauces and nostalgic (and bland) curiosities like egg foo young and chop suey, harking back to the days before spicy regional cuisines like Szechuan and Hunan captured New Yorkers’ palates. Though renovated several times over the years, the utilitarian décor, the menu, and the ample portions remain unchanged.
NYC is a real melting point of all peoples of the world and the same applies to all kind of “ethnic” cuisines. Nevertheless, as Americans of Mexican and Cuban origin outnumber other ethnicities, Mexican and Cuban food is omnipresent.
If you want cheap but good quality Mexican food though, you do not have to look much around: just pop into one of the many "Chipotle Mexican Grill" restaurants. Chipotle is an American chain of fast, casual restaurants (today with shops in many countries), specializing, since 1993, in tacos and Mission-style burritos. Its name derives from chipotle, the Nahuatl name for a smoked and dried jalapeño chili pepper. Chipotle's menu consists of four items: burritos, bowls, tacos, and salads. The price of each item is based on the choice of chicken, pork carnitas, barbacoa, steak, tofu-based "sofritas", or vegetarian.
Additional optional toppings are offered free of charge, including: rice, beans, queso, four types of salsa, sour cream, cheese, and lettuce. My favorite is chicken burrito with guacamole, sour cream, black beans and brown rice. Try it!
"Playa Betty's" beach atmospere.
At Playa Betty’s they serve it up wholesome, fast (that is very questionable, though: I had an excellent service, but I heared several people complaining), and in a very colorful, youthful and funky environment. You enjoy your food under neon signs, surf boards and palm trees!
So, grab some friends, throw some surfboards into your old VW microbus and take an imaginary trip down the west coast eating overstuffed San Diego style burritos, chilly and lime glazed salmon, vegetarian enchiladas, Santa Monica salad, tacos, Dharma bowls, cali-style club sandwiches, tempura battered mahi mahi and for those with that sweet tooth: Mexican chocolate flan and churro ice-cream sandwich.
"Playa Betty's" (on Amsterdam and 75th street) is not just a restaurant, it’s a culinary road trip down the California coastline. When we say California-style Beach Food we mean the whole coast of California from a Mendocino County food truck to Los Angeles health food to the best of Baja California!
At Playa Betty's.
None really knows the origin of the (ham)burger and there are lots of disputes around this subject. Nevertheless, what's for sure is that we all have mostly associated the burger with the American cuisine. Alas, not with the great American cuisine, but with the humble American cuisine, what we call “the fast food”! Because of “fast food” the burger is misunderstood and most people do not prize it as much as it deserves. But, people who value food no matter of its name or origin LOVE the burger. I am one of them.
New York’s Upper West Side is a hamburger heaven. One can find from gourmet to “grab and go” burgers. There’s something for everyone’s taste. One can even find great Kosher burgers! There are fancy burger restaurants and more basic ones. The list is huge, so I will go with only two of them: a simple one and a fancy one.
For me the best Burger shop is the "Shake Shack" on Columbus and 77th street (across from the American Museum of Natural History – one block from Central Park).
This is the second Shake Shack baby that opened, back in 2008. From humble beginnings—a hot dog cart in Madison Square—Shake Shack now boasts locations not only all over Manhattan, but in many places all over the US and far faraway places like Dubai. The place in Upper West Side is a cozy, airy and full of light enclosed sidewalk café, where you can dine on simple but super tasty beef burgers, cheeseburgers, portobello burgers and chicken burgers.
Many people come here also for the hot dogs.
One is for sure, after you finish your burger, do not go away without having the famous shack frozen custard. It comes into two flavors, chocolate and vanilla, and then you supplement it with nuts, cookies, fruit and many more.
“Five napkin burgers”, on Broadway and 84th street, is the definition of the seemingly contradictory term “Gourmet Burger.” Five Napkin Burger, now with multiple locations around the city, started life as a menu item at Andy D’Amico and Simon Oren’s “Nice Matin” French restaurant (Amsterdam and 79th street). The décor is something between an old New York sidewalk diner and a New York cool bar.
Burgers here are very greasy, that's where the name comes from: you need lots of napkins! Try the “truffle burger” sided with sweet potato chips and the “marguez”, which is a Moroccan harissa spiced lamp/beef burger with yogurt and oregano roasted tomatoes. Beer varieties abound. And please, try the onion rings, served in a towering stack. For dessert choose something very American, like NY style cheesecake, brownie sundae or root beer float (go for the Coney Island hard root beer.
“Five napkin burgers”, on Broadway and 84th street.
Pizza is a traditional Italian dish whose origin goes back to Roman times, but its modern version was invented in Naples in the 19th century. Pizza was brought to the United States with Italian immigrants in the late nineteenth century, and first appeared in areas where Italian immigrants concentrated. The country's first pizzeria, Lombardi's, opened in 1905. Nevertheless, it became the popular food we know, after World War II, when veterans returning from the Italian Campaign after being introduced to Italy's native cuisine proved a ready market for pizza in particular.
It is via the United States that pizza took its worldwide status.
The pizza variations in the US are countless: New York-style pizza, Chicago-style pizza, Detroit-style pizza, Greek pizza, California-style pizza, etc. New York-style pizza is a style originally developed in New York City by immigrants from Naples. It is often sold in generously sized, thin, and flexible slices. It is traditionally hand-tossed, moderately topped with southern Italian-style Marinara sauce, and liberally covered with cheese essentially amounting to a much larger version of the Neapolitan style. The slices are sometimes eaten folded in half, as its size and flexibility may otherwise make it unwieldy to eat by hand.
If you long for some really good pizza in Upper West Side, then look for “The Bettola” on Amsterdam (between 79th and 80th streets). Bettola is a family feel progressive Italian Restaurant, culmination of culinary passion, creativity and global influences.
The cuisine is offered in a warm and cozy space washed in warm shades from the wood burning oven and a piano where you can catch Chef Vlado playing. I did not have that pleasure to listen to Vlado playing, even though I visited the place twice.
Vlado is a self-taught chef who makes every recipe his own. Vlado is also an accomplished musician, songwriter and composer; and he has his own band.
A yummy afumicatta (smoked Mozzarella, cherry tomatoes, hot sausage) and the humble Margherita in the background.
Bettola offers innovative twist to authentic Italian dishes. The menu includes delicious dishes like Sausage Fettuccine, Lemon Chicken, Pasta al Pesto, homemade Gnocchi, Shrimp Prosecco, Veal Cacciatore and Chicken Parmesan; but I love the pizza. The menu has only 8-9 different pizzas, but they are made of a crispy, perfectly baked into the wood oven base, topped with the best ingredients. I tried the Afumicatta (smoked Mozzarella, cherry tomatoes, hot sausage), the humble Margherita with delicious mozzarella and the Salsiccia (tomato sauce, mozzarella, hot sausage, caramelized onions and basil).
The service is great and you can enjoy passersby through the big windows.
I cannot wrap up the Upper West Side culinary stroll without mentioning Gray's Papaya, the hot dog iconic restaurant on Amsterdam and 72nd Street. Gray's Papaya stays open 24 hours a day year-round and is famous for its inexpensive, high-quality hot dogs. The "papaya" in the name refers to the papaya fruit drink sold at the establishment. The restaurant was founded in 1973 by a former partner of Papaya King, Nicholas Gray.
In the June 1, 2006 issue of Time Out New York, Gray's Papaya's hot dog was ranked first over its competitors Papaya King and Papaya Dog.
On March 3, 2008, The New York Times reported that Gray's Papaya had endorsed Democratic candidate Barack Obama in his campaign for the 2008 U.S. Presidential Election. Anthony Bourdain featured Gray's Papaya on his Travel Channel show "No Reservations" (season 3, episode 9).
Gray’s papaya has been in so many films and shows that to make many actors feel jealous about: Michael J. Fox and Gabrielle Anwar enjoy Gray's Papaya hot dogs while chatting about the piano player on the street corner from the window of the restaurant in 1993's "For Love or Money"; Matthew Perry's character in the 1997 movie "Fools Rush In" makes mention of his preference for Gray's Papaya hot dogs, and his wife, portrayed by Salma Hayek, special-orders them to Nevada; it features in the 1998 Tom Hanks–Meg Ryan romantic-comedy, "You've Got Mail"; it is in the background of the phone box scene with Samuel L. Jackson and Bruce Willis in the 1995 film "Die Hard with a Vengeance"; on the show "Northern Exposure", doctor Joel Fleischman, a homesick New Yorker, has Gray's Papaya FedExed to him at his new post in Alaska; it appeared in "Sex and the City" in the 2002 episode "Plus One is the Loneliest Number"; in the episode "The Limo" of the sitcom "How I Met Your Mother", Ted takes Robin to Gray's Papaya to ease her hunger on New Year's Eve and in the episode "Desperation Day", two of Robin's colleagues leave McLarens because some guys offer them hot dogs at Gray's Papaya; in the fourth season of "Castle", Episode 08 (Heartbreak Hotel), Richard Castle mentions Gray's Papaya in order to cheer up his daughter who is trying to get over her break up... just to mention some!
Delis, groceries, food markets and supermarkets are part of the American culture and way of life. They play important role in everyday life, not just as places where you go and buy food, but as places of exploring tastes, widening your perspective of life and meeting people. New York market places are characterized by fruit/flower "decorated" exteriors and packed interiors. They are a world by their own and need to be discovered by tourists, too.
Personally, I love supermarkets and none of my trips is complete without visiting a local supermarket. One can learn so much about a country's people and culture by just browsing around the aisles and by checking the different products on the shelves.
When it comes to knowledge gain, taste is a sense as important as it is sight or hearing.
The famous Joe's Market shopping bag.
Trader Joe’s Market stores are not just places you buy good priced food, they resemble more to art galleries than supermarkets. There are several of them around, but while staying in Upper West Side I loved to shop from the one on Broadway (just opposite the 72nd Street Metro station). Good prices at the most pleasant environment.
The welcome mural at Trader Joe’s Market on Broadway.
It all started in the 50s as a small chain of convenience stores. Way back in 1958, Trader Joe's shops were called Pronto Markets. In 1967, the founder, the original Trader Joe, changed the name to Trader Joe’s. The stores became bigger, the walls decked with cedar planks and employees donned in cool Hawaiian shirts. Most importantly, they started packaging innovative, hard-to-find, great-tasting foods under the “Trader Joe’s” name. That cut costs and save us money.
NYC inspired paintings at Trader Joe's.
NYC inspired paintings at Trader Joe's.
“New York is Zabar's...Zabar's is New York”, is the motto of the most famous deli in New York City. For more than eighty years, and 3 generations later, Zabar's family business is still going strong and continuous the story of an Upper West Side legend.
Zabar's is frequently referenced in popular culture. It is mentioned in the 1998 film You've Got Mail (*), and in episodes of popular TV shows like Northern Exposure, Will & Grace, How I Met Your Mother, Mad About You, Friends, Sex and the City, The Nanny, Seinfeld, The Simpsons, The West Wing, 30 Rock, Law & Order, Gossip Girl and many more.
(*) It is the scene where Kathleen (Meg Ryan) stands at the “cash only” line but had no cash with her. The argument with the cashier and the other customers is solved after the intervention of Frank (Tom Hanks).
Louis and Lillian Zabar (who, in the 20’s, came to the States from Ukraine) started the business. Back in 1934, they opened a 22-foot-wide shop along NYC’s Broadway on W80th Street. Louis was a real stickler for quality, roasting his own coffee, and personally visiting smokehouses to sample and inspect the fish – rejecting far more than he accepted.
Zabar's cafe occupies the small space of the original 1934 shop.
Zabar’s owners has always been searching for the new and wonderful. Without question, this point has accounted for some memorable moments. Back in the 1960’s, they introduced New York to Brie, in the ‘70’s they brought sun-dried tomatoes and gnocchi, and in the ‘80’s, they got so excited about caviar – and wanted everyone to taste it – that their prices set off a so-called “Caviar War”. The publicity, though, was not always positive. In 2011, Zabar's briefly got nationwide attention from news outlets when a reporter for New Orleans' Times observed that the store's product labeled "Lobster Salad" actually contained no lobster. Finally, Zabar’s dropped the name, and today the product is called just “Zabar’s salad”.
Zabar's has everything beyond your imagination.
Over the years, the business kept growing, and today they span practically the entire block front. If your steps (or the metro) ever bring you to Upper West Side, you should not miss visiting this NYC landmark: watch hand-slicing meltingly delicious smoked fish behind the deli counter, explore the tastes of the latest artisanal cheeses, smell the fresh-baked batches of rugelach, spy on the roasting of special coffee blends!
The only Banksy mural in Upper West Side. Zabar's took the initiative (and the cost) to protect this piece of street art.