On my recent trip to New York City, there were so many exciting things I wanted to do I started to feel a bit panicked. (is that just me?) The first thing on my agenda of course was booking a local Food Tour. As you know this is the thing I normally do when I land anywhere and I was so excited to be doing one in New York. They are different everywhere, but the main thing I like about all of them is that you get a bit of local food scene news, some gossip and a bit of a tour of the popular places in local food (especially if you ask your guide lots of questions). This is only ever a small peek and a great way to get acquainted with a city.
As you can imagine there are quite a few choices of Food Tours in New York and a great variance of price. I wanted to do a tour of the famous Chelsea Markets and I also heard that Foods of New York Tours not only have a Chelsea Market tour but they throw on a walk along the “The High Line”, one of New York cities great draw cards. More about that later. That meant that Foods of New York Tours won the race hands down for me.
The tour begins at the market, and getting there for the 10 am start was just as much of an adventure for us as the tour itself. Two Sydney girls with zero navigation skills and a time limit can be interesting. You can download an app called HopStop to help you navigate public transport like a boss, that way you don’t have to keep unfolding this map.
I imagined the tour was going to be more of a “market” tour of raw ingredients and farmers stalls. This isn’t the case. The market is housed in a 117 year old building that’s a block long and a block wide near the Hudson river in the meatpacking district (Chelsea). It was once a biscuit factory making use of the beef lard that came from the meatworks in the surrounding area. All of the goods were sent out to parts far and wide on the railway line that ran through the area. The building has been refurbished, retaining some of the elements of the factory but it’s now an urban market with a wide range of grocers selling fish, vegetables, meat, coffee, cheese, spices and a large selection of prepared foods. It attracts around 6 million visitors annually, so it’s a well known New York City destination. I have heard it said that this is a bit of a tourist trap, but I disagree. It’s a great place to get a Lobster Roll, a coffee or gelato. You can find local ingredients and cheeses from all over the USA. I love to see what’s in season in vegetables and fruit and see what locals are cooking with, and all the prices seemed very reasonable.
This is where we meet our tour guide Curt Upton.
I have never had a guide like Curt. Within the first 10 minutes he had met everyone on the tour, introduced himself and his dog Michael (via a picture on his i-phone), found out what everyone did for a living and why they were there and then surprised all of the tour group by remembering both their names and what their interests were. He related each and every aspect of the tour to each person, including them in one way or another, and drawing them in. That may have included introducing a shop or stall owner that came from the same place as the person on the tour, it may have been extra attention explaining a product at the butcher shop for a cattleman or a little quip about Pate to a French woman on our tour. He was cheeky and funny and very very knowledgeable. Go on his tour. Period.
We start the tour in one of the old vaults at The Chelsea Wine Vault.
This is where I buy the two special items I featured on In My Kitchen October. The wine in cans and the thermo clutch. You can see some of them above.
The adventure varies according to a few factors but rest assured it will be informative and outrageously entertaining. $80.00 (AUS) will provide you with so much more than the brochures say. In fact you will be refusing food in the end…….ahem even I did. After 9 years as a tour guide, Curt has a close relationship with a few locals. He promised a special surprise at the end of our tour and he come through on this promise by taking us to a special place with a view. More on that later.
The first stop is Eleni’s Bakery where we had a miniature red velvet cupcake, just one of the goodies baked here at Eleni’s. Since 1997, Eleni’s has been making hand made hand iced nut free cookies and custom made cookie boxes for all occasions. They look like pictures on the wall but they are all cookies.
Next stop is Dickson’s Farmstand Meats. We share a plate of Tartare beef and inspect the pates, rillets, charcuterie and sausages and peer through the window as they put the sausages on the grill for lunch.
We wind onwards through the historic building while Curt makes jokes and ushers people out of our way like we are VIP’s on a royal visit. The market starts to get crowded from about 11 am onwards.Lucy’s Whey was opened in Chelsea Market in New York City 2009. It’s a stall specializing in artisanal American cheeses & gourmet grilled-cheese sandwiches. The cheesemonger at Lucy’s is passionate about telling the stories of the unique farmstead cheeses she finds and the craftspeople that create them. We try a Cabots Clothbound Cheddar, one of my favourite American cheeses from Jasper Hill Farm, Vermont. Then an extraudinarily good cheddar and fig preserve toasted sandwich is offered, and scoffed by all.
Just across the corridor from Lucy’s Whey is a tiny shop called The Filling Station. It’s a unique shop from a company that strives to be environmentally friendly by refilling containers ( their’s) with all kinds of Oils and Vinegars, Exotic Salts, Facial & Body Scrubs and Craft Beer both local and imported.Our next stop is Sarabeth’s bakery. Sarabeth is a well known pastry chef who began her journey making preserves and now has five outlets in New York. These include restaurants as well as bakeries selling her gourmet preserves.Curt shares some stories about Sarabeth and goes on to share some of his own extensive cooking and entertaining stories. We try some soft and spongy scones with a few of the well known Sarabeth preserves including the one that first attracted NYC attention and made her famous, the Orange Apricot Marmalade.
Our next stop is at Tuckshop’s Chelsea Market outpost turning out savoury Australian mini pies, plus salads & house-made sodas. There are all kinds of flavours but we try the traditional beef made froma minced beef base. We are encouraged to crack the top and squeeze in tomato sauce “the way they do in Australia.” Here we chat to the 20 something Aussie behind the counter who is working and living the dream in New York. The mini pies are served with a kale salad of all things with a lemon tahini dressing.
On wards to Liddabit Sweets- Candy Shop Liddabit Sweets is a tiny candy company based in Brooklyn, specialize in handmade candy bars, caramels, honeycomb, lollipops and more. Every single thing is measured, cooked, dipped, wrapped, and packaged by hand.The next place is the one I kind of expected to find here at the market. It’s called the Manhattan Fruit Exchange.This is the largest wholesaler in New York City supplying up to 500 restaurants a day. The one here at Chelsea market is a retail store where they try to provide one of the largest ranges of fruit and vegetables available anywhere else in New York. That includes everyday fruit and vegetables to exotic mushrooms, tropical fruits, fresh herbs, baby veggies, grains, nuts, dried fruits and fresh-squeezed juices. It all looks incredibly fresh and high quality and the prices are extremely good.
Buon Italia is next. It has no polished shop fit out in fact there are lines and lines of boxes filled with food treasure like a big open warehouse.This is a source for all things Italian — oils, vinegar, cheeses, charcuterie, pastas (fresh, frozen and dried), grains, spices, tomatoes and more. There is an excellent selection and again reasonable prices. We head to a table out the back that serves as a homely cafe. Here they serve regional snacks and coffee. We try an artichoke crostada and peek into the counter at the huge wheels of parmesan and cured meats.
The next place we visit is Gourmet Baskets. This store’s business is in customized mail-order gift baskets & food hampers but it also makes plenty of other sales thanks to its selection of cookies, candy and other sweets including chocolates and caramels as well as gourmet imports like teas and jams. There are all kinds of baskets and containers to make your own hampers too. We all try some flavoured sea salts with vegetables and sea salt caramel.
As we leave the market building Curt asks us if we need to take a bathroom break. Whether we do or not he is determined to take us to “the most expensive and amazing toilet in NYC”. So we head in through the foyer and downstairs at the sleek, opulent restaurant & lounge of Iron chef Masaharu Morimoto’s pricey NYC Japanese restaurant, that is right next door to the market. It doesn’t open till 12 so I suspect that Curt has struck some kind of deal with them. We all take our turn in the bathroom. The toilets are large and beautifully lit, the lid over the seat opens itself and then flushes on completion. There are giggles and screams and Curt questions each of us on which of the multitude of buttons we have pushed. There is an attached drier and a vibrating heated seat and I would imagine some kind of washing mechanism. I am not game to push all of the buttons. The most fun is extracted from everyone and most especially a French lady. When she returns Curt asks her if she needs a cigarette, she is a little confused but we laugh anyway.
We head outside into the sunshine and past warehouses still working in the meatpacking trade, on our journey to the Highline Park, up above the street. We all pile into an elevator and when the doors open you can see why this is one of New York’s most visited tourist attractions. A park in the sky.
This is the view from Highline Park.
When the area changed and the railway ceased being used it fell into disrepair. Once the lifeline of the meatpacking district it became a remnant of another time and was slated for demolition so the area could reach into a new time. Instead the black steel columns that once supported abandoned train tracks now hold up an elevated park—green walkway, a place to meet and sit and take in the view. This part of the park begins at Gansevoort Street and extends to West 20th Street, crossing Tenth Avenue along the way, opened in the summer of 2009. A second section is planned to open, extending the park ten more blocks, roughly 2.33km, to 30th Street.
We only walk a single section of the elevated park before going down onto Gasevoort street. We walk past the famous Standard Hotel, that Curt tells us has been the scene of many sordid tales. We pass Hogs and Heifers the bar that was the inspiration for Coyote Ugly and we peek inside to see bras hanging from every square inch of the walls and ceilings. Our last tasting spot The Gansevoort Market is in a re-purposed warehouse with a variety of popular counter-serve eateries, produce stalls & more. There are a bunch of well known outlets; sushi star David Bouhadana has Dojo Express, an offshoot of his hit Sushi Dojo, the Donostia has a tapas counter, and Feel Good Food is serving its healthy Latin Lunch food. Ed’s Lobster Bar also has an outpost, Tacombi is serving tacos from a VW bus . Plus there is coffee, crepes, pastries, groceries, a Greek yogurt bar, and a counter devoted to pork. It’s a good looking place for a quick bite before hitting the clubs in the area, or sit out the back in the skylit sitting area with a green house feel. We try a Focaccia from Cappones Salumeria it’s our last bite and not many of us can manage to finish it.
You can see the end of Highline Park in the picture below and the Museum of modern art behind that.
So we have one thing left to do, and that as promised is a special treat. Curt takes us into the foyer of the “Gansevoort Meatpacking NY Hotel”. It’s a gorgeous young fresh trendy hotel ( $598 per night) with a rooftop bar Zerzura. The roof top bar also encompasses a pool that is being used by hot young bikini clad babes and guys sipping on cocktails. The outer circle and far side of the rooftop has lounges and suntents and private little areas hidden from the DJ’s mixing table. I know it sounds funny but we probably wouldn’t get any other opportunity to see this because we simply would not be allowed up here in the evening when all of the beautiful people are filling the lounges.
This bar has 360 degree views and every conceivable angle of that skyline is special to me. There are many other rooftop bars to look out over, the water and the distant buildings of other districts. We take the opportunity to include a bit of Australia in our photos.
75 Ninth Ave, New York, NY 10011, United States
open 8am to 8pm
Foods of NYC Tours :firstname.lastname@example.org. They answer emails very quickly.