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Photo by Colleen Marshall

Travelling by the Book: A Bite of the Big Apple

Colleen Marshall —

New York City, one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world, is renowned for its food. On a recent visit, food was the organising theme for our exploration of the city.

New York City is home to the world's best restaurant, Eleven Madison Park, where the three Michelin-starred restaurant  will set you back $US295 for an 11 course tasting menu. Our budget didn't quite stretch that far, but we didn't need to spend a fortune to have a good meal in New York.

We stayed in the Upper West Side, and after checking into our accommodation, we set off in search of food. Our first meal was hot dogs and papaya juice at Gray's Papaya on Broadway. It was best described as a New York experience, and one that I was in no hurry to repeat! Our evening meal was a different story, and one we did repeat on our last day - gourmet burgers with crinkly-cut fries at Shake Shack in Columbus Avenue, behind the American Museum of Natural History. The original Shake Shack kiosk is still in Madison Square Park, and was preceded by a hot dog cart run out of the nearby Eleven Madison Park kitchen. 

The next day we caught the subway into lower Manhattan and walked across the Brooklyn Bridge. We walked into downtown Brooklyn and continued on to Boerum Hill to lunch at Mile End Deli, a Montreal-style Jewish delicatessen. Here we shared matso ball soup, the Larry David, Smoked Meat Hash, potato latkes with apple sauce and sour cream, and a pickle platter. After our huge meal, we strolled slowly past the brownstones on Joralemon Street, and then back to the Brooklyn Bridge along Brooklyn Bridge Park, taking in the wonderful views of Manhattan and across New York harbour to the distant Statue of Liberty. We caught the East River ferry upriver, enjoying more views before getting off at East 34th Street, so we could walk past the majestic Empire State Building

Our exploration of midtown included visits to the New York Public Library, Bryant Park, and Grand Central Terminal. We had lunch at The Grand Central Oyster Bar, a famed institution in the basement of the station. It was here in 1975 that Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis held an interview with the press to plead for the restoration of Grand Central Terminal, which had been slated for demolition. Her pleas were heard, money was pledged, and the beautiful Beaux Arts building was saved. We ordered a mixture of sweet and briny oysters from both the Pacific and Atlantic oceans - New Zealand (Coromandels), Prince Edward Island, Maine and British Columbia. All delicious. New York has a long association with oysters. The aboriginal inhabitants had been feasting on oysters for over three thousand years, which grew in adundance in oyster beds along the lower Hudson River, the East River and on the islands in the harbour (which the Dutch settlers named Oyster Islands). When Europeans first arrived in Manhattan, there were huge oyster shell middens all over Manhattan island. Over time these have been used as landfill and shells are occasionally rediscovered during excavations for new buildings.

In Greenwich Village we visited the Whitney Museum of American Art and the High Line, a beautifully landscaped urban park created on top of a disused elevated railway line. It was inspired by the Promenade Plantée in Paris, and in 2009 the first section of The High Line was opened to the public. In 2016 it attracted more than 60 million visitors. We wandered through the Chelsea Market, which was heaving with tourists. We found ourselves on Bleecker Street where I spotted Magnolia Bakery, famous for its cupcakes after its appearance on Sex and the City. I bought some decadent Red Velvet New York style cheesecake, which we ate in the park across the road. Evening was closing in, so we began looking for somewhere to have a meal. Serenditiously we stumbled upon Buvette in Grove Street, a French bistro oozing chicness and charm.  Like moths to a flame, we were enticed inside, and shared some classic French fare - steak tartare, tartinette, poulpes aux olives, and lobster à l'Americaine (Maine lobster pot pie).

We stopped off at La Birreria, the rooftop bar in Eataly, for wine, beer, a cheese platter and a great view of the Flatiron Building. We ate wood-fired oven pizza at Roberta's in Bushwick, reputedly the best in the city. To get there, we caught the J train which crosses the East River on the Williamsburg Bridge, from where we had some more great views of the city,  and we returned on the L train which travels through the 100 year old Canarsie tunnel under the East River. In the Lower East Side we tried some delicious bagels from Black Seed Bagels, and ate a late lunch at Russ and Daughters Cafe, a Jewish delicatessen, of borscht, pickled herring and chopped salad. 

On our final day we had lunch at another Jewish delicatessen called Barney Greengrass, located on the Upper West Side, which is Anthony Bourdain's favourite place for breakfast.  When we arrived the shop was busy and cluttered with boxes of supplies, as Rosh Hashanah, Jewish New Year, was being celebrated the following day. We shared the smoked fish platter of Nova Scotia salmon, sable and sturgeon, which was served with bagels, cream cheese (schmear), coleslaw, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, olives and pickles. I had Dr Brown's black cherry soda and my son had cream soda and a pastrami sandwich. From there we walked across Central Park to visit the Metropolitan Museum.

 On my flight home I decided to watch a film I hadn't seen, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, because it was set in New York. There was a scene where the boy Oskar and his father were eating in a deli, which I recognised immediately - it was Barney Greengrass. In a later scene Oskar returned to the deli with his grandfather, and they were served by the very same waiter we had! 

Recommended guides to NYC:

 300 Reasons to Love New York. Marie-Joëlle Parent.

New York: An Inspired Wander Through the Manhattan and the Brooklyn Boroughs. Alexandra Carroll. 

Insider Brooklyn: A Curated Guide to New York City's Most Stylish Borough. Rachel Felder.

The Big Oyster: History on the Half Shell by Mark Kurlansky is a unique history of New York from a molluscular angle.  

New York Cult Recipes. Mark Grossman has recipes for some of the food tasted above. 

On the High Line: Exploring New York's Most Original Urban Park.  Annik La Farge showcases the art, design and plant life of the High Line.