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Friday, December 16, 2005

The Lower East Side

New York's Lower East Side is packed with history. It's long been home to thousands of hard-working immigrants, and it's estimated that 80% of New Yorkers can trace their roots back to the LES.

We visited the Lower East Side Tenement Museum today, a fascinating look into the heritage-listed buildings on Orchard Street. A tenement simply means a building for lots of people, and in the 1870s they sprung up like wildfire here in the rapidly burgeoning garment district.

The rooms have been restored to different time periods and not only was it sobering trying to imagine 8 people living in a one-bedroom apartment, but the resourcefulness and resilience of the people here was much admired too. Leather-look wallpaper was achieved by lacquering potato sacks on walls, and the decorative plaster motifs on the walls are wonky because they were handpiped with a piping bag, rather than using a mould.

We attended both tours: "Getting By -- Immigrants Weathering Hard Times" and "Piecing It Together -- Immigrants in the Garment Industry".

Like most immigrant gateways around the world, the LES has come full-circle and what was once rundown and undesired is now hip and happening and escalating in rental prices. Much of this is apparent in the types of shops now proliferating the neighbourhood, but as always, I only had eyes for the food.

I loved the idea of Gus' Pickles, a shop entirely devoted to pickles, gherkins, sauerkraut and olives. The sidewalk was crammed with giant 5-foot-high pickle barrels and the friendly female vendor was more than happy to provide free samples.

We did some serious taste-testing at The Donut Plant, which offers a peek into their kitchen producing a mouth-watering array of both yeast and cake donuts. I had the vanilla bean yeast donut which was good but even better was their coconut cream donut--a square of yeast donut filled with milky coconut cream and dunked in a freshly shaved coconut encrusted glaze. Two sticky thumbs up.

If I'd had more room I would've investigated the pomegranate donut (with a crown of ruby red jewels), the Valrohna chocolate donut, the custard one, the sticky bun, the .... drool. The donuts are a little pricey at about $2 but hey, welcome to New York right?

Two doors down was Kossar's Bialy, maker of the bagels little cousin, the bialy. A small circle of chewy goodness encrusted with enough garlic to repel all of Transylvania. Guaranteed vampire security for only 50 cents. Bargain.

We had lunch at Broomedoggs, a nifty hot dog joint with a long benchtop of DIY fixin's. I had the bratwurst pork sausage in a bun, a modest-looking affair served in a square cardboard box. Getting $5 worth was easy, piling my bun high with mounds of sauerkraut, pickle slices, chopped onion, and lashing of relish and mustard.

Did someone say mustard? There was mustard relish, ketchup relish, spicy mustard, honey mustard, cajun spice, chilli flakes, celery salt, sriracha chilli sauce, potato chip dust (crushed up potato chips!) and pineapple cumin mustard. And damned if I didn't manage to get every single variant onto my sausage in a bun (the pineapple cumin mustard was the clear favourite by far).

This was knocked back with a bottle of genuine root beer and followed up with a visit to Il Laboratorio del Gelato. Oft worshipped by NYC foodies for their scientific approach to innovative flavourings, we were disappointed to find that their famous dark chocolate gelato wasn't on offer today. I had the grape sorbet which came in a goregous deep crimson colour, and the toasted sesame, which tasted much like a sesame snap converted into ice cream. Both were very tasty.

My buddies sampled pear, mango and the honey lavendar as well. The lavendar flavour really came through although eating lavendar always makes me think I'm nibbling on a perfumed drawer liner, but maybe that's just me.

There was a pit-stop too at Babycakes as well-- a pretty cupcake parlour with gluten-free goodies. And you think that was it? Ha. I had yet to meet up with Robyn. You think I eat everything? She eats more.

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posted by Anonymous on 12/16/2005 05:00:00 pm


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