Food Enclaves of NYC: Jackson Heights

Food Enclaves of NYC: Jackson Heights

One of the most ethnically diverse regions in the entire country, Queens is unsurprisingly home to many tantalizing food options from many corners of the world. The South Asian enclave of Jackson Heights is no exception. This residential outerborough haven is home to some of the finest Indian, Bangladeshi, and Pakistani cuisine this side of the Ganges River.

If your experience of Indian food starts and ends with supermarket curry, let any one of these eateries be your introduction to a world of culinary delight. This walkable neighborhood (traffic and cramped streets can make driving here a hassle) is easily accessible by the 7, E, F, M, and R trains, as well as the Long Island Railroad.

 

Jackson Diner

This neighborhood institution was originally housed in a former greasy-spoon diner that often had trouble containing the visiting masses, with lines going out the door at times. Ownership has kept the name but moved into a more spacious location in the mid-90s to better suit the crowds their top-notch offerings attracted. For value, there’s no beating their lunch buffet, but anytime you’re hungry, you won’t regret the trip.

 

Samudra Vegetarian Restaurant & Chaat House

Don’t let the “v” word scare you away, carnivores, this eatery’s savory wares will have you forgetting all about those meat cravings. Samudra features high-quality portions at wallet-friendly prices, with rave reviews from locals and visitors alike. Try their Dosa (stuffed, crepe-like pancake with vegetable filling) or palak paneer (fresh cheese in spinach-based sauce) to get a taste of the subcontinent without leaving the five boroughs.  

 

Maharaja Sweets & Snacks

Once you’ve polished off an entree (or two), talk a walk down 37th Avenue to this raved-about sweet shop. Stocked with brightly colored favorites like burfi and galub jamun, as well as homemade ice cream, this spot’s a feast for the eyes as well as the palate. Small bites are available too if you feel like grabbing an extra samosa for later!

 

Patel Brothers

If you can envision yourself craving the flavors of India quickly after leaving, but don’t look forward to a subway journey every time, stop by Patel Brothers grocery store before you leave Jackson Heights. This chain has all the cardamom, curry leaves, and basmati rice you need to take a stab at recreating the great meals you’ve had in the neighborhood. Don’t worry, if your homemade approximations don’t live up to your memories of Jackson Heights, these fine eateries will be happy to welcome you back.

Food Enclaves of NYC: Arthur Avenue

Food Enclaves of NYC: Arthur Avenue

It’s become a cliche at this point to point out that Little Italy is littler than ever, and while it’s certainly true, that doesn’t mean that NYC is lacking for great Italian food. Those willing to take a trip up north to the Bronx neighborhood known as simply Arthur Avenue (after it’s main drag) are in for some of the finest traditional meals with a local flavor all their own.

Declared New York’s best food neighborhood by Esquire Magazine, the area also called Belmont features a long history of Italian-American culture from immigrants who came here in the early 20th century. Like its more famous equivalent in Manhattan, this cozy neighborhood might seem a little closed to outsiders at first, but after taking your first bite in one of these fine eateries, you’ll feel like family.

Antonio’s

A short walk off of Arthur Avenue, away from the tourists, should take you to this local favorite where the meats are plentiful and cooked to perfection. They might be best known for their falling-off-the-bone short ribs, which come smothered in rich sauce that could have come from any number of area grandmother’s kitchens.

Roberto’s

A favorite of the celebrity crowd, Robert Paciullo opened his two-floor trattoria which features a rotating menu of top-quality, Michelin Guide-approved dishes. Come in one night for tender risotto with cuttlefish, come back tomorrow for the tender braised rabbit. If you’re like most diners, you’ll stick around for one of Roberto’s signature desserts as well, like sbricolata crumb cake with amaretto, or his old country-style tiramisu.

Mike’s Deli

For those days when you’re not feeling as fancy, you can take in a lunch at this marketplace where the eggplant parm is a year-round hit. The owners also run the neighboring Bronx Beer Hall if your group is looking to follow up your sandwiches with some craft suds. Mike’s olives and burrata are a must-try.

Vincent’s Meat Market

For a taste of Belmont that you can take home with you, visit Vincent’s Arthur Avenue storefront for all the smoked meat, sausage, and custom beef cuts your carnivorous heart desires. Open for over 60 years, Vincent’s always-fresh meats, expert customer service, and worth-the-trip prices all make it clear why they’ve been the neighborhood’s top butcher for all these years.

 

How NYC Neighborhoods Got Their Names

How NYC Neighborhoods Got Their Names

Any New Yorker can tell you that this is a city defined by its wide variety of neighborhoods. Across all the boroughs, every distinct enclave has its own character and personality, not to mention history. Making your way in and around the city starts with a working knowledge of its diverse assortment of neighborhoods.

Founded as a Dutch colony, many of New York City’s neighborhood names date back to that time. The Dutch may have left after the British took control of the city and renamed it from New Amsterdam, but labels such as Brooklyn and The Bronx (derived from the Dutch names Breukelen and Bronck) still remain as reminders of the city’s roots. Not surprisingly, many neighborhoods retain the names they’ve had since those early colonial days.

Harlem

A cultural touchstone not just for the city but for the entire United States, Harlem is one of New York’s best-known neighborhoods. This home of legendary artists, poets, and attractions like the Apollo Theater and the Cotton Club was once an outpost for Dutch settlers who needed a space to stay far from New Amsterdam at the southern tip of Manhattan island. This safe haven was dubbed Nieuw Haarlem by Governor Peter Stuyvesant, after the Dutch city a short distance from the original Amsterdam. Once the Dutch left New York, the name was anglicized to just “Harlem.”

Astoria

Many streets of New York, such as Dyckman in Upper Manhattan and Schermerhorn in Brooklyn, were named for wealthy denizens of the area, whose properties defined those surroundings. For someone with the fortune of John Jacob Astor, just a street wouldn’t suffice. The neighborhood formerly called Hallett’s Cove was never actually home to the fur trader or his family, but given the label in order to attract him to invest in the Queens district. It didn’t quite work (he only invested $500) but the name stuck.

Red Hook

This maritime district has always been defined by the port and shipping that made Brooklyn one of the country’s busiest regions. Red Hook comes from the Dutch “roode hoek,” referring to the red clay soil of the neighborhood (long since buried under concrete roads) and the geographical point jutting out into Upper New York Bay. Interestingly enough, the “hook” of Red Hook refers to the Dutch word for “point” or “corner,” not any actual hook-like geographical feature.

Coney Island

It wasn’t only geographical features that inspired Dutch settlers in naming their new territories. This former beachfront getaway, home to the famed Cyclone and Wonder Wheel, got its name from the Dutch word conyne for “rabbit” after the wild rabbit population that lived on what was then an actual island, with a river separating it from the mainland. Shifting sediments attached the island to the rest of Brooklyn while rifle-toting settlers did away with the rabbits, but the Coney Island name remains.

Turtle Bay

Unlike Coney Island, this neighborhood wasn’t identified by any animal population. Rather, Turtle Bay got its name from the Dutch word deutal, or knife. Early settlers of the bay (which was filled in after the Civil War, allowing for further buildings eventually including the United Nations complex) noticed a resemblance to a bent knife and named the bay accordingly. Thanks to its proximity to the UN, Turtle Bay is now home to many foreign consulates, making it one of the more plainly diverse regions of the city.

Rockaway

The Dutch weren’t the only ones who gave names to the various neighborhoods of the city. Several of them, in fact, descend from the language of the Lenape tribe, the area’s indigenous inhabitants. Queen’s beachfront peninsula, a distinct part of the NYC map, got its name from the old Lenape word “rack-a-wakee,” whose meaning is not certain but is thought to mean “place of sands.” Also behind the names of Canarsie in Brooklyn and of course Manhattan, this language is one of many that makes New York City the unique melange of cultures famed worldwide.

What Amazon’s Rise Means for New York City

What Amazon’s Rise Means for New York City

Amazon has changed the way we shop, but two Amazon products will change the face of New York City as we know it — and they’re not what you might expect. As much as we’ve seen Amazon innovate online, the tech giant is also changing the way we shop for basics, and that impacts local stores in every neighborhood. The issue is, of course, that mom-and-pop stores will have trouble competing with the pricing Amazon secures through the sheer quantity it sells. When looking at Amazon and its effect on brick-and-mortar stores, the company’s rise is likely to both threaten and encourage the shops that line our city streets.

First, here’s what Amazon is bringing back from the past. Remember bookstores? When Amazon Books announced its first NYC location on Columbus Circle, not only New Yorkers were skeptical. Books, printed on paper? Sold in an actual building? It seemed so…analog. Inside Amazon Books, the shelves are actually set up and stocked based on the online data collected from customers everywhere, so it’s a mix of both. The location was chosen based on data including the purchasing habits in the neighborhood. There must be a lot of Kindle owners on the west side! The next location will be at 7 W 34th Street.

One interesting aesthetic detail is the store places its books with the cover facing out. This is the way you would see the book online, but it’s also a pleasant surprise compared to the library style of a row of book spines. Somewhere, book designers are rejoicing. It’s all set up to encourage shoppers to come into the store and spend time using a mix of information and intuition to buy. Something is charming about bringing bookshops back to the city. What this means for the neighborhood is more foot traffic and a destination for shopping which could encourage related businesses to establish themselves nearby.

There could be another effect of the arrival of Amazon Books. As a massive store, Amazon can set trends. Smaller, beloved bookstores of New York could potentially benefit from the rise of book shopping. What if book readings and poetry nights could actually receive a boost from the competition? Amazon Books, in bringing back the bookstore, might revitalize a whole reading culture again. The New York Public Library will always be great, but books can use all the help they can get.

The other product that will change the face of New York City is Amazon Fresh. There are many home grocery delivery services, and even entire home meals pre-packaged and delivered ready to cook from companies such as Blue Apron. But New York is still a city of bodegas and corner delis. Amazon, with its recent agreement to purchase Whole Foods, is going to own a significant share of the food business. Small shops will have to be more gourmet, specialty, or stand out in other ways.

Farmers markets are another business that could be impacted by Amazon. Shopping locally is especially important at these markets, because it supports the people who grow the produce and make the foods directly. Here’s a list of NYC farmer’s markets that can be sorted by day and area so you can find one nearby. Some of these local businesses may already be online, but they will have to compete with online ordering more and more each year.

What will really cause a change in New York’s streets could be the way all shops function. Amazon loves to use data to make suggestions to customers, enabling customers to shop. Currently, AmazonFresh lets people select items online which are delivered to their doorstep.  n neighborhoods without much fresh organic produce, this could be extremely beneficial to people’s health. If people get in the habit of shopping from home for essentials, they may stop going out for groceries at all.

One certain downside? Amazon’s takeover is unlikely to be beneficial for jobs. Grocery stores operated by Amazon will probably be heavily automated, letting people scan and check out without ever speaking to a person, or simply driving by to pick up pre-selected items. Isn’t part of New York’s charm the surly shopkeeper, the friendly butcher, the always-there bodega owner? This balance of convenience and human contact is difficult to achieve. New York will have to think carefully about how to preserve neighborhood shops, which define our streets and have become a part of our daily lives.

The Best-Ever Theme Bars in New York City

The Best-Ever Theme Bars in New York City

New York is a mix of cultural influences and has seen the rise and fall of many creative eras. The best theme bars either retain an element of old New York and make it the focal point, or transport the bar hopper to another place entirely. Here are some of the best places for a night out on the town, though you might forget where you are.

Beauty Bar

231 East 14th St

Salons are a place for gossip, and so are bars, so the proprietors of this chain put the two concepts together for a successful bar/beauty parlor. For $10 the manicure and martini special is just that. Open since 1995, the bar has comedy nights and other shows. It is especially popular for women having bachelorette parties. Now with locations across the river in Brooklyn and across the US including San Francisco, Las Vegas, Chicago, Denver, and Dallas.

Reunion Surf Bar

357 West 44th St  

Named for the island Ile de la Réunion off the coast of Madagascar, the space is full of surf influence and island drinks. Christmas lights adorn the ceiling, pineapple slices adorn the drinks, and surfboards are posed as decoration in every nook. The owners include a musician and a former handyman, but both their business profiles start with their favorite surf breaks. The sister restaurant Playa Betty’s (320 Amsterdam Avenue) serves California style tacos and beach food.

Slaughtered Lamb Pub

182 West 4th St

A werewolf themed bar…spooky! Complete with a werewolf lounge and dungeon, this English style pub is named after the historic London pub of the same name where allegedly werewolves roamed.

Trailer Park Lounge & Grill

271 West 23rd St

The Trailer Park Lounge announces proudly that it was voted one of the top five kitschiest restaurants in America by the Food Network. It serves hamburgers, fries, and other staples of the American diet. Every wall is decorated with vintage items that would fit in not only in a trailer park but also in the 1950s. The burger & beer lunch special is just under $14.

The Rusty Knot

412 West St

Water surrounds New York City, so it’s only fitting to include a couple of maritime themed bars. Drinks on the limited menu are fit for a sailor, with a pickle back, dark & stormy, mai tai, singapore sling…you get the idea. Food is basic chips and tacos, because food is not the point.

The Ship

158 Lafayette St

A cocktail lounge with a different nautical theme, this space is all sleek metal and quiet booths made from sails, ideal for small groups. The menu includes chicken liver foie gras, homemade ricotta, and vegetable tartine. Drinks are sophisticated with one called the Bartender’s Choice, a surprise drink for those in the mood for adventure at sea.

The Way Station

683 Washington Ave

A Doctor Who themed bar and self-described “nerdvana.” The scene is complete with a blue TARDIS in the back and a small stage. Performances include musical guests and karaoke. Drinks include Sonic Screwdrivers named after various incarnations of the Doctor as well as other characters.

Gotham City Lounge

1293 Myrtle Ave

A comic book themed bar with a secretive lack of web presence. Their Twitter is the best way to find out about movie nights, discounts for voting, and other community events.

Otto’s Shrunken Head

538 East 14th St

This tiki bar points out on their website, “Manhattan is after all, an island.” They serve rum drinks and no food, except for the occasional BBQ or food contest. The signature drink comes in a custom tiki mug, and other beverages include a flaming bowl and a selection of drinks served in tiki glasses that can be taken home for an extra charge.

Burp Castle

41 East 7th St

A “temple of beer worship” and place for fans of Belgian and other beers to find unusual favorites. The tap list changes frequently and the best way to find out what is being served is to ask. Free pomme frites are served during happy hours. It’s a community environment, with meetings of the New York City Home Brewers Guild held here, but it’s not for parties. Bartenders are known for shushing the crowds to encourage more focus on the beer.

A History of Harlem (And Why It’s Hot Right Now)

A History of Harlem (And Why It’s Hot Right Now)

The Harlem neighborhood is an emblematic part of Manhattan, but few know its beginning as Dutch farmland and later as a key point for George Washington during the American Revolution. Now, it’s a hot neighborhood for its restaurants, cultural heritage, and central location. Knowing Harlem’s history, and its many phases of change, is essential to understanding why it is now one of the newly hot places to live in New York City.

Harlem is a large area of Uptown, from the East River to the Hudson River, and from the bottom of Washington Heights at 155th Street down to around 96th Street. It is commonly divided into Central Harlem, West Harlem, and East Harlem (often called Spanish Harlem).

Harlem was formally incorporated in 1660 as New Haarlem, named after the Dutch city of Haarlem. The Dutch settlers recognized the flat lands would be good for farming, in part because they saw Manhattans and other Native American tribes farming there. Later, the Dutch tried to change the name to Lancaster, luckily without success!

During the American Revolution, George Washington established a base in Harlem to fight off the British troops. He successfully pushed them back, marking his first American victory. To retaliate, the British burnt Harlem down, starting the first in a series of rebuilding and rebirths for the area.

By the 1820s, Harlem had only a few families and was difficult to reach from other areas of the city. Prominent American figures held large areas of land, including Alexander Hamilton and the Roosevelt family (several generations before President Roosevelt would be born). Harlem was considered the countryside, and the land was mostly used for farms.

It wasn’t until the mid-1800s that real development began. In 1832, the arrival of the New York and Harlem Railroad (now Metro North) changed everything. It was the first street railway in the world and one of the first railroads in the United States. At first, it used horses, then steam engines, and finally electricity. With reliable transportation in place, Harlem was finally a viable place for development. Many cultural centers were established over the years, including the City College of New York in 1907. The easy access to transportation is one of the reasons Harlem is popular right now.

Harlem has seen a diverse flow of residents, most notably black, Jewish, Italian, Puerto Rican and Latin American populations who were pushed out of other areas of the city. In the early 20th century a large population of black residents fleeing the Jim Crow laws of the South established homes in Harlem. Prohibition, The Harlem Renaissance, housing policies elsewhere in the city and the Harlem Riot all had an impact on the area, but it has come back each time.

Because so many of the multi-ethnic influences are preserved, Harlem is now experiencing an economic renaissance as people move into the area to experience the arts and culture. Historic buildings and sites to visit include the home of author Langston Hughes (20 East 127th Street), the home of Alexander Hamilton Grange (West 141st Street and St Nicholas Avenue), and the many historic churches and theaters such as the Apollo Theater (253 West 125th Street). There are also many popular restaurants and bars which draw crowds.

For people looking for their next home, the architecture is a major draw for Harlem, especially in areas such as Mount Morris Historic District where historic townhouses sit along tree-lined streets. Also popular are beautiful brownstone apartment buildings, many of which are in the process of being modernized on the inside. New residents of Harlem have the benefit of experiencing the history of New York City, with all its diversity, while also participating in the growth and yet another rejuvenation of the area.