Monday, March 18, 2019

A Stroll Down Bleecker Street

Even before my first trip to New York, I was somewhat obsessed with Bleecker Street. It all started while I was in college, studying visual communications. A very famous illustrator who probably made pretty good money was a guest speaker at my school. During his talk, he dropped the fact that he lived on Bleecker Street in the West Village. Though I knew I didn’t quite have his talent, my life goals suddenly involved living in NY in an apartment on Bleecker. Looking back, I realize: 1) I had a bit of a crush on the guy; 2) He probably lived over a restaurant and existed in a constant fug of melted cheese and oregano. But what’s so bad about smelling like pizza all day every day? (I could probably rationalize it then. Now, not so much.)

I never did move to New York, but most of my visits to that city involve a stroll down Bleecker. In the days when a friend of mine worked at a now-defunct restaurant in the West Village, I liked to explore the neighborhood before meeting up with him for dinner. I would emerge from the Christopher Street station and, ninety-nine percent of the time, walk down a block and turn left onto Bleecker. A right turn would mean walking up the more expensive end of Bleecker, the one lined with clothing boutiques that are far less-interesting to me than restaurants. If you’re a Sex and the City fan, the original Magnolia Bakery is on that end, at W. 11th Street, but that’s about it as far as food is concerned. Unless you want to want to purchase pricey togs and accessories, head southeast.

There are also boutiques on the next two blocks of Bleecker, and I skip them all. Let’s face it--I’m a realist. I know I can’t afford anything in those shops, so there’s no use torturing myself by looking at any of it. But there are restaurants, too, like A.O.C., a little French joint where one can sit in an outdoor garden and enjoy a croque madame or duck confit while pretending to be in Paris. Modern Greek cuisine is offered down the street at Nisi Estiatorio. I like that I can get baklava oatmeal or grilled octopus for brunch and lobster moussaka for dinner.

Continue down to the next block for more food, though the walk can be mildly confusing with the criss-crossing of streets. The next intersection involves both Barrow Street and 7th Avenue. As you’re heading south(-ish, Manhattan isn’t on a straightforward N, S, E, W grid because the whole peninsula slants to the northeast), you’ll see Hummus Place and Bleecker Street Pizza on the left, though both are actually on 7th Avenue. Just keep walking straight. Once you’re across 7th Ave, you’ll see O. Ottomanelli & Sons, an old-school meat market that has been around forever. Next door is Ghandi Cafe, where the rather large menu of Indian favorites belies the rather cramped space. Bantam Bagels comes next, but you won’t find the NY classic with a schmear here--they specialize in bite-sized bagel nuggets filled with flavored cream cheese. Across the street you can eat sushi at Kumo, or, if you prefer your seafood cooked, there’s Fish next door. Craving pizza? John’s of Bleecker Street has been making coal-fired pies since 1929. You can’t get a slice there, only whole pies, but it’s worth a visit if your ultimate goal is similar to mine: taste all of the pizza NY has to offer (a lofty goal, I know.)

If you’ve ever had a hankering for ice cream flavored with, say, corn, or maybe sweet potato studded with bits of brie cheese, then you should hit up Cones. This shop specializes in helado--Argentinian ice cream similar to gelato--and sorbets, sometimes in unusual flavors. But also more familiar ones like pistachio, mint chocolate chip, and passion fruit.

Back across the street is Kesté, but this time the pizzas are wood-fired and Neapolitan-style. The crust is thin and blistered or “leopard-spotted,” and the toppings are plentiful. The menu boasts over 40 variations of white, red, and specialty pizzas including ones topped with housemade truffle burrata or porcini mushrooms and a walnut cream. There are over a dozen gluten-free pizzas, and a cheese-free vegan pie available, too. Also on this side of the block is my favorite tea shop, David’s Tea. The Canadian chain has three locations in Manhattan, but this one is my favorite. I like to snag something iced (or hot, depending on the season) to sip as I wander around, but usually end up buying quite a bit of loose tea as well. (Cardamom French Toast black tea and Coffee Pu’erh are two of my current faves.)

Murray’s Cheese is in the next block, next to Amy’s Bread, the perfect places to stock up for an impromptu park bench picnic in one of the green spaces nearby. If you’d rather eat your cheese indoors, Murray’s has a Cheese Bar up the block. The menu is predictably cheese-tastic, with items ranging from fondue and lobster mac & cheese to brie and mushroom soup, Buffalo cheese curds, and raclette for two. The dessert menu includes cheesecake, of course, but also s’mores made with a Spanish cheese called Arzua Ulloa. And now I’m seriously craving cheese, but as I’m on Whole30 right now, it’s verboten. [sad emoticon] [crying emoticon] [cheese emoticon]
A massive slice at Joe's
I have a couple of favorite places in the next block: taco joint Tacombi (with other locations in town if you can’t make it to this one); and Pasticceria Rocco. Going to Rocco’s is practically a tradition in my family; my Dad used to bring home boxes of their Italian cookies when I was a kid, and now I do the same. Their vaguely chewy hazelnut biscotti are one of my all-time favorite cookies, and I have a soft spot for their pignoli and meringue cookies as well. Rocco’s has gelato, too, but if that’s what I’m after, I go to Grom, on the corner of Bleecker and Carmine Streets. I’m a sucker for the pistacchio, but am happy with any flavor they offer. On that same block of Carmine is Joe’s Pizza, home to one of the best slices in the city.

While there are lots of tasty places on Bleecker itself, don’t be afraid to wander down one of the side streets. The first cross street after Christopher is Grove Street, and if you don’t wander, you won’t find Buvette or Via Carota, serving French small plates and rustic Italian fare, respectively. Turn left on Carmine after visiting Grom, cross 6th Ave, and you’ll find yourself on Minetta Lane which takes you to Macdougal Street and Minetta Tavern (home to one of the best burgers in the city), the enormous slices at Artichoke Pizza, plus several other eateries and cocktail lounges. The whole area is lousy with bars and restaurants that make up the many reasons I find myself exploring this area over and over again.

Posted on Minxeats.com.

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