NYC Pizza’s I’ve Known: John’s on Bleeker

I’m on a pizza expedition around New York City, dedicated to trying it all, from fancy gastropub pies to grandma slices to dollar slices.

This past weekend I revisited one of the greats: John’s Pizzeria.

John’s is a classic, coal oven pizza place open since 1929 in the village. It’s one of the originals of the city, better than the others I think.

Sometimes you have to wait to get in, sometime you don’t. There are no slices. The walls have been scratched over the years from what seems like faux hooliganism, just people wanting to be part of a place well loved.

The inside is always a mix of locals and tourists. On this Saturday the table next to us was having a small family reunion dinner, with at least four pies surrounding their plates. I dreamed of that many pies.

The pizzas here are coal fired and quintessentially New York with a flat blackened crust, basic tomato sauce, and fresh mozzarella. These are not your artfully constructed pies. The crust and dough won’t have you singing the praises of its tang, its sourdough ferment. The tomato flavor is bright but simple. I find it’s rustic, classic charred edges unpretentiously delicious.

I always go for a medium pie of mozzarella with fresh Italian sausage to split between two. If you’re especially hungry, a larger pie will do too.  You can get beer or wine or a salad but really, you’re here for the simple pie.

Eat in or take it to go, sitting by the Hudson or in closer Washington Square Park.

John’s Pizzeria
278 Bleecker St
New York, NY 10014

 

A First Time Trip to Rome and Florence

Rome and Florence are tourist destinations unlike any other I’ve been to. They are in late May and early June also teeming with college kids finishing their semesters abroad, spilling into plazas at night. They are hot, crowded, and wonderful cities that I’d visit again in a heartbeat because sometimes being a typical tourist abroad is blissful. 

Maybe it was that we flew into Italy right as the season warmed, a welcome change from rainy spring, because the crowds didn’t bother me in the least. Sure, there were moments of waiting in humid lines. And yes, we did watch a particularly intoxicated American fall asleep at a fountain around midnight, who thankfully awoke before we had to rescue him like awkward faux mom and dad Americans we are. And yet in both cities we ate really, really well. I know that’s what everyone says about Italy but the food and the wine and the gelato and the coffee are really all I need to feel like I’d gotten away from home for a bit. Spending nights in plazas, sipping cheap peronis without needing a plan is exactly my kind of casual respite.

We flew first to Milan on a good deal with Alitalia, hustling on a high speed train to Rome. We walked around Rome by day and night for several days,  hardly ever taking the metro.  We drank two, sometimes three cappuccinos a day always standing at the counter, speeding into the day but still crashing from heat and walking exhaustion. We rode a double bicycle through the Villa Borghese, which turned out to be less whimsical vacation and more hilariously difficult, battling Italian drivers and skidding down hills while I laughed unlike I’ve laughed in while.

Rome was graffitied, gritty, and pockmarked with with hot trash piling everywhere. Yet it was also beautiful, old, and differently dense than New York City, with quiet back street cobblestone neighborhoods right around the corner from literal Roman ruins. I was most impressed by the Rome of working Italian people living their lives despite the tourism facade, stopping at coffee counters in the morning because it’s just a normal everyday ritual.

We left Rome for Florence by high speed train too, my burgeoning art history afficiando ready to lean into the tourism of such an amazing city. I stood like a child in front of so many larger than life paintings, trying to see right into the grain of the paint strokes, inspecting faces in early Renaissance frescos with amusement.

We waited in line for close to two hours, fending off so many line jumping Italian grandmas for the Uffizi.  Brian read me the entire Rick Steves walking guide to the galleries as we meandered around. I loved it thoroughly, like a kid.

We gazed upon Duomo everyday, staying right nearby. We sat in manicured parks as well as open church squares in the Oltrarno neighborhood after dark. We ate late after spending days walking up and down hills, staring at churches so much older than things I can imagine. We shared Florentine steak and pasta with house wine at a small Tuscan restaurant called Osteria Cinghale Bianco where we just happened to get a seat without a reservation.  It was absolutely one of the best simple meals I’ve had, the kind of serendipitous moment you can’t repeat.

We flew back through Milan, a funny thing to be a little familiar now with this northern Italian city I’ve stopped over in twice. We too took a moment to gawk at its epic Duomo. More summer tourists arrived for Italy just as we departed, feeling a little like we were temporarily studying abroad in our thirties.

Rome

seeing
All the greats are here, of course.
I loved the otherworldliness of the Pantheon the most, it felt like it belonged in Battlestar Galatica (nerd alert.)
Walking through the heart of the city to see the Trevi fountain at night.
Stranger but lovely was the Capuchin Crypt.
I found the Vatican Museum not as awe inspiring as St. Peter’s, though.
Capolitini museums were worth it for the awes inspiring Roman statues as well as the view of the forum. 

staying
The Monti neighborhood was lovely and very slice of life Rome right by the main tourist destinations. We opted to stay in a hotel there.

eating
Travestere for all dining and especially Dar poeta pizza.
A cute cafe spot for breakfast in Monti called La Casetta.
There’s a mini chain worth it called La Prosciutteria
The best gelato I had was Fanta Morgana.
Pasta Chef for street food carbonara that delicious and budget friendly.
Lunch and apperativo around Campo di Fiori
Antico Cafe Greco for a little posh old school cappuccino

Florence

seeing
Duomo! 
Walking everywhere, especially at night across the Ponte Vecchio.
The Boboli Gardens for meandering and the views.
The Uffizi
Piazza della Signoira  with a beer in the evening, observing people.
Piazza Santo Spiritu for a lively night scene, too. There was a cute cafe with to go spritz.
Leather goods everywhere, you can tell the more artisan stores if you wander a bit.
Ceramic goods from Tuscany at La Botteghina Del Ceramista
Santa Maria novella for the beautifully patterned church and the famed perfume store.

staying
We stayed right by the Duomo in a side street airbnb on the top floor. It was lovely.

eating
Aperitivo at the Santa Croce hip spot Oibò
Pizza off the beaten path at Marlborghetto
Sandwiches everywhere, in little delis tucked on so many streets.
Old school pastries at cafes like Bar Pasticceria Cucciolo and La Loggia degli Albizi
A fantastic Tuscan dinner at Osteria Cinghale Bianco

Saying Goodbye to Apartments

I’ve lived the longest on my own in the apartment building we’re about to leave in Brooklyn. It’s been almost four years in one building, crazily enough. Four years back in New York City. I’m happy to have been here and happy to move somewhere else, to buck the nostalgia people always cling to when leaving phases in life.

In my packing, I found this sketch from one of my 2015 sketchbooks. It was the year I decided to start making art again, not really caring why or how. I’m so glad I did because it brings me so much joy outside of the hot subway commute of working life in the city.

We brought both of these bookshelves to the basement a day or two ago. We found them first on the streets of Brookline when we were living in Boston. In the two apartments in this one building I kept the shelves organized about the same way in each. Funny how I repeat life patterns. It’s a bit freeing though to realize they’re old and musty, that we don’t have to keep just so many books.

Our super arranged the boxes upon boxes of books we got rid of into a free library in our laundry room basement. That made me a smile a bit and feel less like I was throwing away good reading material. My New York Times Cookbook was already snatched up by the time I returned to the basement. People are less interested in the literary and cultural theory textbooks with the used label I’ve kept way too long. Ah, ghosts of a liberal arts youth!

I’m keeping the vintage globe because a girl has got to keep some whimsy in her life, and the painting my mother did of a picture I took in France and the ye olde time looking radio. My terrarium died, of course. I’ve got no green thumb, but I’ll keep trying. I’m thinking: ferns!

I’m keeping books that have a sentimental value to me and letting go of the rest. Oh and my fruit bowl, that will live on. I love an apple a day.

I know I’ll be back to Brooklyn, maybe not to the exact spot I’ve lived in for four years, so I don’t feel any kind of fear of leaving. It’s easier to romanticize the past or the way things are than to embrace the change of the current and the future. I am so ready for getting older and moving on with whatever happens along the way.

Recently I told a last-year-of-teenage-dom teenager that every year we are dying so why fear change. She asked me if I was always 65 years old. The answer is yes, yes I have always been.

Here’s to moving back to Manhattan, where I haven’t lived since I was a college kid in 2007.

Sketching St. John Divine

I started working uptown this past spring on both a whim and a planned expedition in changing.  And I mean, actually uptown and not just above the corridor of favored lower Manhattan offices. I mean the uptown of that-certain-university in Morningside Heights.

At first I thought, well this will be the commute, when considering the working life up here. But after a few meandering walks around the campus, and down Broadway into the the west nineties, I was sure it was the right change. I kept thinking during the walks about those essays about leaving New York, those inflated ideas of New York we grab onto.

Morningside Heights is also full of charm, students, bookstores, and slower cafes than those downtown. It is most notably to me home to the looming neo-gothic glory of the Cathedral of St. John Divine. Every time I rest on it’s steps, or venture inside for a moment in its cavernous-like interior, I feel the pangs of a long lost crush on Joan Didion. Just this past week I was remembering how I clung to her narrative for a long time but that now I feel a natural distance from her detached prose. I kept her books when cleaning my apartment for the move uptown still. Either it was sentimental or silly, I don’t know.  I know she too felt a particular connection to the cathedral, though, the way it witnessed ups and downs in her life. 

When I’m walking up Morningside Drive in the morning arching my way onto the campus, I always stare up at the Cathedral’s spires, feeling a bit like I’m coming around to the beginning of a life in New York. The church is always inspiring me to sketch, to look at it from a side street, in awe of it’s giant prowess in such a small beautiful neighborhood. 

Maybe I’ll join the ranks of those wistfully thinking about loving and leaving New York from this iconic neighborhood or maybe i’ll just mark this as another part of the journey.  I’m happy to entertain my own version of Goodbye To All That even if I’m thinking right at this moment that I never want to be so far away I can’t still get lost in the giants of Manhattan’s avenues.  Of course, that gracious feeling I have walking around is more often than not buttressed by finding myself crammed into a hot and sticky heatwave subway car or watching a pigeon eat my fallen slice of pizza on the street.

I wouldn’t change it, though. 

Cathedral of St John Divine.
1047 Amsterdam Ave,
New York, NY 10025

It’s worth taking a tour around the inside of the Cathedral. So many artists have had a part in shaping the vision of the church in the 21st century, and it’s mission to serve the diverse people of the city.There’s a Keith Herring Triptych inside as well. It’s one of the oldest buildings in the New York!

Home for the Fourth of July

Spending the Fourth of July at home is always a hectic dance of vacation days, bus trips, and wrangling which of my family members I can see. But despite the complicated maneuver, I think it’s a tradition I want to keep up for years to come. Though I do love the emptiness of New York City during a summer holiday, it’s nice to go back to my childhood house in the trees, joining in some good old debates about what time to grill while at it, even if it drives me a little batty.

I split my time in both New Hampshire and the suburbs of Boston which means I’ve think a lot about trips I can tag on while in New England. Of the many things I miss about living in that region, I miss the most the fact that you can just get in a car and be in another state, at the beach, or in the mountains, with ease. 

This year in New Hampshire we aimed for relaxation and quality time, but I’m proud we got to at least one of the many local breweries in the state without trying. Perhaps next year we’ll take the week off to rent a lake house for a day or two in the northern part of the state. I once went to the White Mountains in summer, thinking they were absolutely glorious.

Around Boston we didn’t make it to Walden Pond as I dreamed of but explored a less touristed local lake to see a friend, one I didn’t even know existed, which quenched that same thirst for suburban lake lounging.

We spent time playing mini-golf and eating ice cream in the farm stand of my youth, like classic Americans surrounded by dads in American flag t-shirts. We even played candlepin bowling like New Englanders with weird traditions (I am one of them) right where I used to spend my most favorite awkward years in junior high losing at skee-ball.

(I lost at mini-golf but didn’t do so bad at bowling, thank you very much. )

We even found time to stealth away in a car,  driving into Cambridge to visit our favorite bookstore in Harvard Square. I stopped into one of the best vintage stores I’ve ever been to, picking up something red white and blue by serendipitous accident.

We capped our brief visit to Cambridge by sitting down for a meal at a classic greasy spoon with a friend, the kind of free-standing diner that are almost all but gone in New York City. All-day-breakfast feels a lot of like home, reminds me of getting rides into the city as a teen or skipping class to get breakfast sandwiches at the now closed diner counter of my hometown. 

Sometimes it’s pretty alright to go home for a while, treating where you’re from like a different destination than it’s always been. 

 Fourth of July Notes

A Brewery Crawl of New Hampshire (someday!)
Martha’s Exchange in NH
Memorial Beach in Marlborough MA
Kimball’s Farm for minigolf in Westford MA
Acton Bowladrome in Acton MA
Harvard Bookstore in Cambridge MA
Oona’s in Cambridge MA
Deluxe Town Diner in Watertown MA

 

 

Queen’s Night Market

Food halls and markets are popping up all over New York City this year but they’re often a bit pricey for what is still fast and casual food.  That’s exactly what makes  Queen’s International Night Market, open in the summers since 2015, a welcome respite on the food scene. The market is far less about a hip location or culinary trick.  It’s a place for first-time entrepreneurs to introduce their foodways to curious New Yorkers of all kinds.  The idea is directly inspired by the colorful night markets of Taiwan. The Taiwanese immigrant who runs the market emphasizes the cultural relationship to food and lower priced smaller portions with every vendor he signs on. If you’re looking to try a plethora of hard to find dishes from a range of countries, this is the place!

A few weekends ago a trio of us made it out on a whim to the market, a surprisingly easy plan to hack on a Saturday afternoon of lounging about the city. It’s location in Corona Park Queens take some time to reach if you’re coming from our neck of the woods but it’s easily managed by the subway nonetheless if you’re hungrily motivated. The mood is family friendly and boisterous. As the New York Times emphasized in the a market profile just this week, there is a lot to be enjoyed at the market by just soaking in the colorful atmosphere. I too loved the friendly giant inflatable maneki-neko.

My advice on visiting is really simple: graze. Oh and bring cash. Come later in the evening if you want to avoid the bigger family crowds. If you’re resourceful, bring some wine in a travel to go cup (yes, I am that girl but also don’t rude with it) so you don’t have to imbibe in the drinking area that’s removed from the market.

Queen’s International Night Market
Every Saturday Apr 22 – Aug 19
Sept 30th – Oct 28th
Flushing Meadows Corona Park, Queens

 

What we ate:

The Keema Palata at Burmese Bites.
Mochi Waffles at Moffle Bar.
Takoyaki at Karl’s Balls
Taiwanese Cakes at Catmint Wheelcake 

And some yakisoba and jian bing that I can’t remember where we bought from!

 

 

Happy Summer (almost) Coney Island Art Walls

http://www.ninachanel.com/
Nina Chabel Anbney
John Ahearn

I don’t know why but I’ve under visited Coney Island in the past few years. To remedy the situation the other Sunday we woke up and headed straight to the beach during a late Spring heatwave that I think is  a harbinger of a humid Summer season to come.

The beach was packed in that great, characters-of -New-York way. I forgot to bring my sketchbook instead reading the Sunday paper in the sand.

I was particularly energized by the Coney Island Art Walls for the season, presenting a diverse set of local artists. Nina Chanel Abney’s work is a riveting set of political abstraction and figuration. She is one to watch in contemporary art.

Here’s to more Coney Island for the season to come.

To do: Beach lounge and dip your feet into the water! Luna Park. People watch. Coney Island Art walls, walk the boardwalk and peer. Weekend fireworks and Spinners games are next on my list.

Eat: Coney Island Brewery. Hot dogs, duh.

Swedish Things in The City

Two year’s ago I took a week long trip to Stockholm because (of course) the flight was a great deal. Flying Norwegian, we spent our days just walking the city, stopping for coffee, and enjoying the late setting sun.

I think all the residents of Stockholm were out that week in May, basking in this eternal sun after a long winter, lounging in the many parks that dot this city of islands. I’m not sure I’ve been to such a lush, European city of water and trees before.

Everywhere we went we were greeted by warm, lovely people and distinct art and food. Ever since I’ve harbored a Scandinavian crush.

For a slice of Sweden in New York City, here are a few noteworthy to me:

Coco Balls! I remember eating these both at a cafe for fika, the art of a slow downed coffee break, and at the airport before leaving. They’re chewy, dense, and satisfyingly sweet with coconut on the outside. I have yet to ventured a try at making them myself but the Swedish inspired coffee shop in Brooklyn and Manhattan Swedish coffee shop Konditori. The owner is a Swede transplanted to Brooklyn. They stock other fika delights like kanelbulle, too.

Another alluringly but strange snack I enjoyed in Sweden was salty-sweet licorice. I learned it’s quite an acquired taste, though.  Luckily for me (and all you New Yorkers who don’t know it yet) you can find all your licorice delights and more at Sockerbit on Bleeker Street in Manhattan

Even before I went to Sweden, wooden clogs were ever so trendy in New York City. I bought my first pair of many at the Brooklyn Flea by Nina Z, a Swedish expat who brought the well known wooden shoe to Brooklyn in 2008.   I’ve just about worn my pair into the ground. A hint to those who lust after her beautiful clogs: she often has a sale section at the Brooklyn Flea.  I very much love the summer collection styles this year.

I hope to get back to Sweden someday. If not, I’ll be grateful a momentary glimpse at another place, finding the city’s imprint right here in my own.

 

Smoked Fish at Shelsky’s

Shelsky’s is on a drag of Court Street in Brooklyn that is busy and appealing to browse, a frequent haunt for me off of the F train.  It’s also right around the corner from a great walking strip of antique stories on Atlantic as well as the delights of both Sahadi’s and Damascus for middle eastern prepared foods and pastries.  And it’s easily followed by a long meander to Brooklyn Heights, a favorite neighborhood of mine every since watching Moonstruck in my room as a lonely middle schooler.

Shelsky’s is perfection of smoked fish and cream cheese on an everything bagel or bialy. It is an old school Jewish deli with a modern twist, an engaging palate giving the lox-and-cream-cheese a rebirth.

Much of what’s sold at the deli counter is made in-house or sourced from top Jewish food purveyors across the city. The appetizing shop brings the main stays of the like of the Upper West Side’s glorious Zabar’s, so Brooklynites don’t have to go that far for quality smoked fish.

It’s quite busy at breakfast or brunch during the weekend. I’ve found the best time to find yourself in the beautiful smoked fish heaven is the late afternoon, for that either late lunch or early pre-dinner snack. We always split a sandwich, sitting at the counter in the front.

I use to be a bialy novice before Shelsky’s.  Yet a delightful combination of the Gaspe Nova, Smoked Whitefish Salad, Pickled Herring, and sour pickle, on  bialy convinced me otherwise.

Remember to wash down with a Dr. Brown for that classic New York City Jewish deli flavor experience.

Shelsky’s
141 Court St,
Brooklyn, NY 11201

Hong Kong Travel Guide

 

When I was a teenager I loved Wong Kar Wai’s Chungking Express. Returning from Hong Kong a few months ago, I drifted in and out of sleep on a long Friday night rewatching it. The colors! The food! The melancholic feeling of being lost! What a classic mood of a film, a love letter to a city at a moment before it transitioned away from British protectorate, into an unknown future identity.

I said goodbye to my twenties in Hong Kong this past January, funnily enough, walking the same paths in the movie, lingering on the harbor, getting lost inside wet markets, the neon signs coloring my memories.

On the very last last day of our week in Hong Kong, Brian and I had a flight at one am with an early afternoon check out from the rented apartment in the vertical tower blocks of the the mid-levels. With hours to kill, we took the escalators downtown, dropping our bags at the central station to meander without a plan. (oh to know the joys of a city without the terrorism fears of New York City when it comes to storing luggage!)

We walked the city like locals, taking the double decker trams to the edges. Riding on the other side of the road never stops making me feel blissfully queazy. We spent time mingling in and out of the never-ending busy shopping districts, packed with contrasting images of a place so iconically Chinese and also so singularly Hong Kong. I bought coffee and Korean beauty products, hanging around teens. I was the outsider looking in as we communally shopped for orange lipsticks.

We wove through old-school canteens, the ever present Australian cafe culture, and high-fashion malls right up against hole in the wall restaurants.

We waited in line to eat Michelin starred duck on rice that was literally prepared by a man in the front with a penchant for chopping extremely fast and hard with decisive whacks.

A few backpackers sat with us at a tiny circular table, marveling when I told them we were really that much older than their hostel friends.

“You came all the way here, for your birthday?” the Toronto native who must have been no more than twenty said to me. He had just met his Thai friend at their hostel,  who helped us all know how to order pork and duck correctly.

Our momentary friends were heading off to travel South East Asia on different tracks, departing from each other in just a few hours from this meal.

We went to hunt down egg waffles as our dessert of choice afterwards, stopping to walk past the old post office in Wan Chai.

Hong Kong is forever etched into my last days of being twenty nine now, a neon-colored vertical city a city with a history of people upon people, an iconic style, a culture of freedom, and now me humbly greeting a new time in my life.

Turning thirty has meant coming full circle, returning to the start. I have a sense of gratitude right now to feel, in that way, at home with that always-there-self, almost surprised she has always always been there.

 

Where We Stayed

Using points (thanks Chase Sapphire Preferred!) I booked Brian and I two round trip tickets for a ridiculously low amount of money, I’m talking, cheaper than flying from NYC to LA kind of deal.

Good to know: January before the Chinese new year is a slower season but not cold or rainy. It was like stepping into early spring or late fall in the middle of a snowy New York existence. I wore denim on denim the entire weekend like a true vagabond, not washing a single thing in my carry on.

We flew Asiana to South Korea and onto Hong Kong. The service in economy was excellent! They even served in-flight bim bim bap. I wish I had taken my hot sauce tube with me, though. 

Having had great success in traveling with Airbnb, we saw no reason not to use it here as well. After a little neighborhood research, we thought as first timers in Hong Kong SoHo was a great spot to explore on foot most of Hong Kong island.

We were in the mid-levels to be exact, that dreamy other-worldly escalators and tiny-itsy-bitsy skinny towers giving the entire area a great drastic mash up of things I was expecting and not expecting. It felt like San Francisco a little bit, with those winding street packed with people and minibuses.

What We Did

Really the very first thing we did out of both interest and relief was ride the escalators after walking with carry-ons strapped to our backs. The view of them criss crossing between buildings ushered  a sigh of relief to my aching back.

Hong Kong has the longest covered outdoor escalator system in the world! It’s free and you can ride it up pretty far, meandering to Victoria peak even if you’ve got time. The area is steeply hilled, packed with streets full of both Western and Chinese markets. 

In the morning commute, the escalator changes direction to go down. We rode it more times than I can count. It’s a great way to people watch.

SoHo is a very hip packed part of the city, a mash up of West and East. I don’t think I’ve ever heard so many French speakers in one area before (well outside of Montreal and France.) It was a nice location for nightlife, coffee, and street markets.

On a few nights we also headed to the Tsmi Sha Tsui East Promenade, riding the cheap Star Ferry into the harbor, to catch the laser light show on the other side. Any place that wants to install lasers on skyscrapers and have them daily put on a show is pretty alright with me.

In exploring around Hong Kong Island, we stopped at Man Mo Temple on Hollywood Road, took the Peak Tram to Victoria peak, including a slow hike around the peak with those iconic views of the central skyscrapers. There are several hikes that look fantastic on the peak and all around Hong Kong, too, if you’re looking for something harder.

In more of our Hong Kong Island walks, I enjoyed the Mao figurines and antiques of Cat Street, and the local stores and cafes of both Sheung Wan and Wan Chai. I peered into enough herbal medicine stores and giant shopping malls to fill a lifetime.

 We also took Trams to Causeway bay, an area packed with people and stores.  Riding the trams is actually an excellent budget activity because you can get off and explore whatever you came across.

On Kowloon island, I loved the frenetic energy of Mong Kok as well as the Jade, Flower, and Bird markets.  Being us, we also found two bookstores worthy of noting in these areas: Kubrick’s and Hong Kong Reader. Nian Lin Garden was a nice respite, too. 

The tram to the Big Buddha was closed, so we decided for just a day trip to Lamma Island. This hike was moderate and great. I enjoyed the fishing village at the end, where we sat outside and drank beers in what felt like mild, late summer air to us. The locales thought it was cold. 

What We Ate

The food in Hong Kong is amazing and diverse, at once fancy and regular, cosmopolitan and everyday.  I found the most joy in eating the street food and at cheap  dim sum joints.

The notes of what we ate barely scratch the surface:

Wonton soup everywhere
Dumplings Wang Fu
Cooked Food Centres
One Dim Sum
Egg waffles
Tasty Congee and Noodle Wonton
Tai Cheong Bakery for Egg Tart!
Hong Kong French toast
Din Tai Fong for amazing soup dumplings
Joy Hing Roast Meat
Fancy midday dim sum at Duddells

What I read:

Monocle Guide to Hong Kong is excellent.
I always trust Lonely Planet, too.