Note: In my last post, I wrote about the importance of living in and loving place, and I promised to write about my hometown, Winthrop, in my next post. But then we went to visit our daughter in New York City, and I just had to write about that place, the city of cities. Soon, I will write about Winthrop and its various pleasures and discontents. After all, no place is perfect.
My husband, Clif, and I have been visiting our daughter Dee in New York City for 12 years, and even after all those years, the city, in my mind, is a patchwork of impressions—neighborhoods, food, people, the subway system—almost a character in itself—smells, sounds, and sights. When I try to hold an image of New York, it constantly shifts, partly because of my faulty memory and partly because of the protean nature of this big city, where things are added and subtracted on a regular basis.
Not surprisingly, food is a beacon for me, and in my mental map of New York City, the food zones light up in various parts of the city. First there is the Chinese takeout near Dee’s apartment in Brooklyn. By New York standards, it is nothing much—adequate food at good prices—but by central Maine standards, the food is pretty darned good, as Clif might say. The sauces have a subtly missing in every Chinese restaurant in our area, and the fried tofu in the vegetable stir-fry is brown and crunchy, just as it should be. In the other direction from Dee’s apartment is an Italian bakery with canolis, a crunchy shell filled with a sweet, creamy filling that just doesn’t taste like any canoli I’ve ever had in Maine. Then, turn the corner and there is the bagel shop, with large chewy bagels that have obviously been boiled as well as baked. These three shops make a ring around my daughter’s apartment, and I have no trouble placing them in the map in my mind.
We, of course, go farther afield than Dee’s immediate neighborhood, and every year we add something new. On our last visit, in April, it was the Doughnut Plant in Chelsea, with donuts so fresh and flavorful that Dee has become a convert, stopping by regularly to grab a donut during a recent film festival.
For our trip last weekend, it was Smorgasburg, an outdoor food market with over 70 vendors. Smorgasburg is an offshoot of the Brooklyn Flea, and it is in a large lot in Williamsburg near the East River. For a foodie like me, Smorgasburg is pretty much as good as it gets. While there were a few vendors selling records—that’s right, vinyl—mostly it was food, rows and rows of vendors selling enticing things to eat—sausage, porchetta, donuts, macarons, jelly, pickles, chocolate, fish tacos, falafel, and much, much more. Smorgasburg runs through November, and if I lived in the area, which looks a little like Sesame Street, then I would go regularly and try something new each time. Well, all right, maybe with every visit I’d make it a point to get a heartbreakingly soft donut from Dough and a macaron, two crunchy little meringues held together with a creamy filling, from Vendôme Pâtisserie. The donut would be the appetizer and the macaron would be dessert. Readers, I am making myself hungry as I write this.
Although it was hard to make a choice about what to eat between my donut appetizer and my macaron dessert, I did settle on porchetta served on a roll. The porchetta, from the aptly named Porchetta, was moist, crunchy in places, spicy, and utterly delicious. It would be hard to resist getting one each time, but I am reasonably sure I would be up for the challenge.
So now I have Smorgasburg to add to my patchwork map of New York City. And lest anyone think that all I do is eat when I go to New York, I would also add to my map the Strand Bookstore in Union Square. The Strand boasts of having “18 miles of new, used and rare books.” I believe this boast. At the Strand, the shelves of books go up so high that little magic ladders would be in order, ones that could whisk you up and down and sideways and every which way.
The Strand is so big and quirky that it deserves a post of its very own. Another time, perhaps, if I can pull myself away from finding more places to eat the next time I go to New York City.