Sometimes it’s nice to get away. It’s also essential to eat. So this New Year, I decided it was high time I combine my passions. What could have been a better way to start than by taking a chomp out of the big apple?
Having heard many a great thing about Brooklyn, I decided to make that my first stop. If it’s good enough for Posh and Becks to name their first born after, it’s good enough for Choka Bloc. Our tour guide (poor random bloke we harassed in the street) pointed us to our first New York bite:
This flashing retro beacon illuminating the bustling Williamsburg traffic is the perfect stop after any long flight – it’s open 24 hours. Whilst my friends chose breakfast-for-dinner, I sunk my teeth right into the Kellogg’s Burger; a juicy, medium-rare patty flanked with lashings of crispy, American bacon and topped with mushrooms. You may need about 27 napkins for the burger alone, but it was more than enough to hit any meat lover’s sweet spot for the night.
Be aware: prices go up by $1 after midnight.
It would have been straight-up silliness to set foot in the US of A without having a taste of chicken and waffles, which happens to be the signature dish at Choka Bloc’s next stop: Sweet Chick. Located at the heart of uber-trendy Bedford Avenue, it was almost too hip for me. Thankfully that wasn’t enough to keep me from feasting on their fluffy apple cinnamon waffles and fried chicken. If you ever find yourself around their coop, make sure you grab a bottle of Virgil’s orange cream soda, the sweetly refreshing and more-ish pick-me-up that fuelled my search for more food.
2 Bros Pizza
Meandering through the crazy streets of Manhattan on a much-awaited shopping trip called for a quick munch-stop; the perfect opportunity to see if New York’s famous $1 slice lived up to the hype. In short, it did. 2 Bros kept it sweet, fast, easy, cheesy and simple, just like Choka Bloc.
Sometimes you have these moments where you’re too tired to choose between blueberry pie, fruit punch or chocolate. So you get a coffee that incorporates all three! Gregory’s aero pressed single origin range presents Celinga Foge from Ethiopia, with unique dessert-fuelled notes that’ll keep you away from the milk and sugar, respecting the coffee in its pure, untouched form.
I know this is something you can probably get in the UK, but it still remains to me an American icon, which I couldn’t resist trying. Their double-chocolate ring with sprinkles is probably enough to put you into a diabetic coma, but it’s the perfect dessert to grab and go in the midst of exploring.
I was feeling rather lazy on my third morning in NYC, so I ventured all of 30 seconds round the corner to try the 5* recommended Charter Coffeehouse on Graham Avenue. This place became my daily local during my stay because their cappuccinos are silky-smooth, their filter coffee is deliciously zingy and fruity and their warm croissants are made with so much love, especially their chocolate and almond beauty. I can also say I had my first ever matcha latte in the big apple and, if theirs is anything to go by, this is one super green that’ll be on my palate for a while.
This beautiful Thai restaurant is as welcoming as its name, with mouth-watering dishes that made me come three times (to the venue…keep it clean). Choka Bloc loves a good lunch deal (especially one that gets you a free appetizer), presenting more opportunities to sample fried wontons, tofu in chilli sauce and beef sautéed in garlic sauce with brown rice and broccoli (for some inexplicable reason, I was trying to be healthy that day). Very little during the trip topped their standout dish, their beef bah-mee-moo-ping: grilled, marinated, tender strips of lean beef on top of rice noodles, with broth on the side. Be aware: this dish causes serious food envy, which you must handle gracefully amongst loved ones.
At last! I finally had my first taste of New York cheesecake, and it was every bit as tasty as I imagined. The cheese-to-biscuit ratio was perfect (basically a block of cheese with a single layer of buttery crumbs) and fully earned its permanently long queue outside the store for its sweet goodness.
I’m not a vegetarian, but this modest Middle-Eastern restaurant lured me in with its warmth (as did Jessie, the friendly waitress), plus I was lucky enough to catch their $5 wine offer. I wasn’t expecting to get so full from a meatless meal, but their shakshuka and fresh whole wheat pitta bread kept me going all day, and reminded me how much I love wholesome, healthy meals. I had JUST about enough room to try one of their gooey chocolate balls, dusted with coconut flakes. They travel well, so no excuse not to order them to go.
I couldn’t leave the US without trying the all-famous soul food. It was on my TV screen growing up, but never in my mouth until now. So I thought I’d take an innocent trip to Sylvia’s in Harlem. It was all plain sailing, until they put the food in front of me. Now I’ve encountered three major problems. First, I now have the task of breaking the dreaded news to my mother: her macaroni and cheese is no longer my favourite. I’m sorry, mum. You’ve been overtaken by Sylvia, the Queen of soul food. Secondly, there is not a single fried chicken shop in London that produces anything coming remotely close to Sylvia’s, with such a crunch that it was fully awarded the official Choka Bloc squeal of approval. Thirdly, the ribs. My god, the ribs! Can we please have a moment of silence for Sylvia’s ribs?
That’s enough silence. Now to sing their praises. To say that the meat fell off the bone is an understatement. It practically ran away from the bone, making them the easiest ribs I’ve ever eaten in my entire doggone years. Sylvia, bless your soul (food) with your sassy hotsauce, you absolute queen. My trip to Sylvia’s (may she rest in peace) officially ruined home cooking for me, in the most beautiful way imaginable.
Now I must admit. This place is hip-looking, to the point where I almost missed the chance to go in because I thought it was closed. Just power through the bars on the windows, because what’s waiting inside will be well worth it. The hip-scale is officially tipped by their generous burritos, served at approximately the size of my head. My chicken chipotle burrito kept me happy and full all day.
The most beautiful way to finish my trip was with an even more beautiful brunch at Lella Alimentari. This friendly Italian delicatessen introduced me to the Piadine: a thin flatbread sandwich, similar to a crepe but twice as satisfying. A simple cotto and feta piadine was more than enough to hit the spot and possibly mark Italy as the next destination on my gastronomic journey.
Sometimes even Choka Bloc puts the burgers down every now and again, especially if it’s to explore the amazing cultural opportunities New York has to offer.
If you’re a theatre bug looking for a way to pass the time between meals, get buzzing down to a Friday night comedy imrov sesh at Magnet Theatre. For $10, you can see comedy improvised from confessions submitted anonymously from the audience. So if you want to see your deepest, darkest secrets, fears and fantasies played out in front of you on stage, Magnet is the place to be. Plus there are free improv, musical comedy and storytelling workshops for those wanting to get in on the action.
If you want to see the best of the city, check out what walking tours are on offer. They’re operated by friendly guides who know New York like the back of their hands. Keep your eyes peeled for the pay-what-you-can tours to keep your budget happy.
Look, I know it’s naff, but a girl’s got to shop, especially with the sales on! I’m glad I let my friends coax me into learning how to shop patiently, as I bagged a stunning Calvin Klein bag that would have cost me about a month’s rent back home. Perseverance definitely pays off, as does a Macy’s card, which will get you 10% off of your first purchase if you’re a tourist.
Museum of Sex
This was one of my favourite food-less activities in New York. As a lover of all things risqué, I got to explore a world where there are no boundaries, no subject is too dirty and no detail is too hairy. Photographer Bill Bernstein’s Night Fever collection took me the New York disco days of the 1970’s, “…a time when gay men, people of color, women and others systematically persecuted and repressed felt as free as they did…”. The Hardcore exhibition left a pang of sadness for me, as it was showing Deep Throat, the first ever blue movie, starring Linda Lovelace at the beginning of her tragic career. I perked up with a whiskey sour, a glass of champagne and (for an extra $3) a romp in Jump for Joy, their temporary exhibition – literally a bouncy castle lined with boobs. Apart from eating, learning is one of my favourite activities, as a trip to the Museum of Sex exposed me to a plethora of sex-educational delights, including the history of the condom, the first ever sex doll and the sexual habits of banana slugs. Google auto- apophallation and thank me later.
I simply couldn’t leave a trip to New York devoid of a visit to MoMa, the Museum of Modern Art. The standouts for me were the 1960s Collections, plus the Francis Picabia exhibition.
I had a bit of time to zip over to Queens to see MoMa PS1 and boy, was I glad I did. PS1 isn’t a place to kill time. It’s a place to bring it well and truly to life and thank the heavens for the abundance of it, even if you have to locate those heavens from James Turrell’s Meeting, where the ceiling literally opens up, and the sky becomes a natural backdrop for his sunset-inspired light installation. There is one word for PS1. Trippy. No offence to the other MoMa, but this former school is where they keep all the good stuff, from Mark Leckey’s soundscapes to Sascha Braunig’s Shivers, both of which you’ll have to stop yourself from reaching out and touching. Plus, your admission ticket from MoMa will get you into PS1 for free. There’s art in every nook and cranny, including video installations in the floorboards and tiny painted mice to greet you in the stairwell. You will never be bored at PS1, as it’s a never ending maze of experimental art, which absolutely must end with a well-deserved glass of wine in their classroom-style bar. Now excuse me while I bombard you with more pictures. Enjoy! I certainly did.