Two weekends ago, I had the brilliant idea to take the last flight to New York City after teaching two classes for the sole purpose of meeting friends for dinner the next day. They were attending the IACP conference and while I didn’t get my act together in time to attend myself, I figured if everyone was congregating in one place, then I should be there too. When Camont alumni gather, you go. It was a good decision; I saw a lot of friends, met some new ones that I’ve only known through Twitter and over the course of two days I ate. A lot. You just don’t get a bunch of food people together without a little nosh of some sort.
It’s been a few years since I’ve been to New York City and there were more places to investigate than I had time. With an uncommon free day on my hands, I decided to ditch the itineraries and just wander to see where my feet took me. I had a few post-it’s stuck to my map just in case (always prepared!) but a good brisk walk was in order. First up: The High Line.
While I can see the appeal of the Statue of Liberty or the Empire State Building, I’d rather be wandering this one. The High Line is a west-side park built on a historic elevated freight line. Walking along the landscaped paths, high above traffic was rather spectacular, a little bit of calm in the big city chaos. The skies were clear, the wind a little brisk and the views were stunning. With my $6 latte, big sunglasses, scarf tied just so and Jay-Z hollerin’ in my earbuds, I was a walking cliché – the typical urban hipster. I liked it.
On my way to the trail start in the Meat Packing District, I passed a wonderful little store I’ve visited before – Chocolate Bar. I love this place and picked up a few chocolate bars for the road – salted pretzel, caramel and key lime – as well as a freshly made, rich hot chocolate spiked with two shots of espresso. THAT certainly added a certain spring to my step.
I took the stairs off the path around 23rd Street and headed east for a lunch date across town near Union Square. I wanted to check out Doughnut Plant on West 23rd but had some navigational issues. I passed it twice. I don’t know if it was the spectacular weather, my doctored hot chocolate or the additional espresso I stopped for at Joe the Art of Coffee, but my attention span was crap. I’m sure the last thing I needed on top of all that caffeine was sugar but doughnuts and coffee are the perfect pairing, are they not? So I kept walking.
After finally locating the shop doors, I stopped to admire the doughnut pillow décor. Nice idea. I spent what seemed like an eternity staring at the speed racks of freshly made doughnuts, back to the menu, and back to the doughnuts trying to decide what to order. Focus issues. After the lady behind me not so discreetly cleared her throat, the following doughnuts went into my paper sack: Crème Brulee (delicious), Blackberry Jam Filled (pretty good), Brooklyn Blackout (very chocolate-y if a touch dry) and a Tres Leches (still very moist the next day). One question begged to be answered: is it doughnut or donut? Discuss.
Later in the afternoon, I headed further east toward a place I’ve been curious about for some time: Momofuko milk bar. I bought the cookbook late last year, have made a few things and was interested in trying more. The pastry chef, Christina Tosi, has a very unique concept that I find fascinating. A menu built around very familiar ingredients – cereal, cinnamon buns, loads of sugar – she gives them a good yank and a twist to create some delicious – and very sweet – things. This woman likes her sugar. Into the sack went some cookies for later (sweet corn, compost, blueberry & cream.) They were a bit doughy/underbaked for my tastes but had great flavor and were very original. A cup of cereal milk ice cream was happily passed over the counter, topped with a coating of cereal crunch. This one made me smile – it tasted exactly like the milk left over in your bowl of morning cornflakes. I didn’t really know it at the time but the best was yet to come.
The star of the show by far was a hefty magical carbo-bomb known only as “The Volcano.” I had a vague recollection of reading about these things on Serious Eats a while back so I added one to the sack at a healthy price of 8 bucks. Best move I ever made and I didn’t even know it until the next day back in Chicago. A sturdy yet delicious dough encased a marvel – bits of really smoky bacon, a tangle of caramelized onions and a thick brick of cheesy au gratin potatoes. This was magnificent – a knish on steroids. Easily the best bit of tastiness from my trip.
There was much more merriment, far more than should have been possible in only 2 days. In the end, though I was exhausted at the start, it was exactly what I needed: good times with good friends. All the wonderful food was just a nice little bonus.
The moral of the story? Even if you think it’s not possible to get away for a day or two, do it. Squeeze it in. Make it happen. Sleep in and eat well. Don’t make many plans and just wander around. See where the day leads you. There’s always an adventure and probably a good snack just around the corner. You just have to take the time to let it happen.
Chocolate Bar – 19 8th Avenue (between Jane & W 12th)
Joe the Art of Coffee – 131 west 21st street
Doughnut Plant – 220 W 23rd St (between 7th Ave & 8th Ave) and 379 Grand St.
milk bar – Manhattan: 251 E 13th St; 15 W 56th St; 561 Columbus Ave. Brooklyn: 382 Metropolitan Ave; 360 Smith St.