Month: July 2014

Flatiron

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Tourists, tourists everywhere. When you exit the subway (N/R) at 23rd and Broadway/Fifth Avenue, that’s all you see: tourists. And they’re all looking up. At what, you may wonder? Well, either the Flatiron Building on 23rd Street, or, to the North, the Empire State Building up on 34th Street.

There’s much more to Flatiron than a few notable buildings, of course.

Let’s start with Madison Square Park. Spanning three blocks long and one avenue wide, this 6.2 acre park is where Madison Square Garden was first located before they moved it west. (Seems obvious now, doesn’t it?) Nowadays, it’s best known as the park where the first Shake Shack opened. Beyond burgers, they’ve got rotating public art installations (fascinating!) and events put on by the Madison Square Park Conservancy on a fairly regular basis. Plus, every few months, they hold Madison Square Eats, where some of the best food vendors in New York set up shop for a few weeks.

Once you’ve toured the park, walk over to Eataly to experience the mecca of all things Italian that was co-created by chef Mario Batali. Expect long lines (of tourists, naturally) and somewhat exorbitant prices for various foods ranging from cured meats and gelato to fresh pasta and exotic chocolates. Stop by their Nutella bar, in the space once inhabited by Eataly’s wine shop, for a sugar-induced coma or two, and take the elevator to the roof to try the Birreria for some beer, antipasti and salumi.

For the adults, the Museum of Sex is a stimulating way to spend an afternoon, but you may be more interested in their gift shop, filled with erotic books and paraphernalia, on the first floor.

Now, what about food? Flatiron has plenty of it to go around, some good and some not so good. Hill Country Barbecue ($$) serves up decent ribs, brisket and macaroni and cheese, but don’t count on a cheap meal—your meal ticket items add up quick! Across the park and veering on Murray Hill territory is Blue Smoke ($$), which has arguably better barbecue than Hill Country, for a slightly steeper price. Bo’s ($$) (review here) offers delicious Southern-inspired flavors and, down the road, newcomer Café El Presidente ($) (cousin to NoLita’s Tacombi, review here) has a fair selection of tacos at an affordable price point, but their esquites and rice and beans are not nearly as good as Tacombi’s. For the whiskey enthusiast, there’s Maysville ($$) (review here), which has an extraordinary bourbon list (they measure your 2 oz. drink with a jigger, by the way) and passable food that doesn’t seem to be worth the price. I would steer clear of Obicà ($$$) (review here) and try SD26 ($$ – $$$) for their Italian fare instead. If you’re looking for grilled cheese (of course you are), go to Birch ($) instead of Melt Shop ($), and sample Birch’s delectable treats and coffees while you’re at it.

After eating, unwind to the tune of live music at Toshi’s Living Room on 26th and Broadway.

And, don’t worry, Starbucks has got you covered. There’s at least four that I know of within short walking distance of Madison Square Park.

If you can stomach the shutterbugs stopping mid-sidewalk to take a selfie with a building, be my guest and spend an afternoon or evening in Flatiron.

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Citi Field

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Legendary baseball player Jackie Robinson once said, “A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.” This beautiful quote happens to appear inside the Jackie Robinson Rotunda at Citi Field, whose façade emulates that of Brooklyn Dodgers’ long-gone Ebbets Field.

You may be wondering whether Jackie Robinson was a Mets player. And for those of you who already know he was a Dodger, you may be even more confused. While the Mets may have a bit of identify crisis in their (relatively) new home, the venue itself is extraordinary.

If you’re planning a visit, I highly recommend sitting in sections 106, 107, 109 or 110, if you can swing (ha!) it. These seats are situated alongside right field and offer a spectacular view of the field. Although fan favorite David Wright may be all the way across the field at third base, you still get to see players relatively close. For cheaper seats that are still decent, go with the Pepsi Porch, which is composed of sections 301 through 305. The seats are elevated for a comprehensive vista, and Mister Softee is up there, where you can purchase a plastic helmet ice cream sundae for only $300 (I’m joking, but it ain’t cheap either).

One of the best parts about Citi Field is the food. You’ve got the Shake Shack (with its customary long line; read my review here) and Blue Smoke, as well as Catch of the Day where you can grab a lobster roll for about $16. They also have Keith’s Grill (named after former Met Keith Hernandez – remember him on Seinfeld?), which serves up burgers made from a Pat LaFrieda (very good) blend of meat.

Although the culinary experience is excellent, the truly best part about Citi Field is Mr. Met, who is infrequently accompanied by his wife (?), Mrs. Met. Mr. Met has been heralded as baseball’s best mascot, and it’s easy to see why. Forever friendly, he gladly signs autographs for kids (bring your own pen) and throws T-shirts into the crowd during the seventh inning stretch.

A holdover from Shea stadium, where the Mets played for more than 40 years, the big apple with the Mets logo rises from its recess in center field when a home team player hits a home run. Be sure to have your camera ready.

Citi Field has a giant parking lot, with more spaces than they’ll likely ever need, and can be most readily accessed by the 7 train (7 express only runs on the weekdays; you’ll have to take the local on weekends). Get off at Mets-Willets Point, the penultimate stop on the line.

So, should you go to a day game or try one at night? They’re both fun and exciting, so I recommend checking out what promotions they have going on for the games you’re considering attending. You could go home with a free T-shirt or a player bobble head, if you play your cards right.

Citi Field is easily the best baseball venue in the city, so get your tickets quick before the season ends.

Coney Island

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Hop on the N (or Q or D or F) with me and take a trip to Coney Island.

Some people don’t care for Coney Island, but I’ve always been fascinated by it. It’s no resort town, I’ll give you that—nothing like Cape May, NJ, for example. Yet, it’s got a certain charm and populist quality that makes it stand out as a winner to me. People from all walks of life (and shapes and sizes, as you’ll see on the beach) come together to celebrate the summer and sand.

I recommend going to Coney Island on a weekday, if you can, but it’s tolerable on the weekend, too. I’ve noticed that it’s mostly New Yorkers on the boards, which is a plus.

For the adventurous, Luna Park has expanded to include a bevy of new, exciting rides, including an exhilarating roller coaster, the Thunderbolt. A 90-degree vertical climb sends those who dare through a 100-foot loop, zero gravity rolls, corkscrews and dives. You likely need an ironclad stomach to withstand this two-minute ride.

Erected in 1920, the Wonder Wheel is a departure from the thrills and chills of the other options at Luna Park. A sight to see in itself, it’s got the best view of the beach and ocean in all the land.

Since I have a soft spot for animals (as you’ll learn by reading this blog), I always stop at the New York Aquarium for a quick look at the walruses, sea otters, seals, sea lions, black-foot penguins and various fish. If you’re into all things aquatic, budget about an hour for this stop. It will likely take you less time, but if you happen to arrive when feedings are happening, you’ll want to stick around.

To dine, Nathan’s Famous is the best option. Try the original, off the boardwalk, down on Surf Avenue, for the full experience. Even if you don’t like hot dogs, they’ve got you covered: lobster rolls, clams, burgers and many other items populate its menu. Onions, sauerkraut and a handful of other toppings are free on the dogs. The thick, crinkle cut fries are top notch, and they even have draft beer.

Pizza from Famiglia and fried foods at Paul’s Daughter are passable and can be consumed on the boardwalk. Coney’s Cones, an ice cream parlor, serves up homemade ice cream flavors, which are decent at best.

If you haven’t been to Coney Island, make it a priority to visit this summer. But don’t write off the place in the off-season either. It’s quiet and eerie come wintertime, but Nathan’s is open (and empty for a change).

Introducing The Express

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I love New York. Who doesn’t? Everyone who comes here seems to think it’s great. I’ve been living here for more than 10 years, which, to my mind, makes me a real New Yorker. You might disagree, and I respect that. At any rate, over the past decade plus, I’ve learned a thing or two about this city, and I decided it was high time I started sharing my thoughts.

You can still find my food and music reviews over at Taylor’s Ham. That won’t change. But here, at The Express, I’ll write about places that have impressed me. And neighborhoods that really get me. You’ll have the opportunity to read about museums, random shops, places as far away as Queens which happens to be my home borough and more.

I promise it will be interesting. And I promise my perspective will be as unique as it can be.

I hope you’ll enjoy reading The Express as much as I’ll enjoy writing it.