Road Trip: New York, New York!

Posted by Ruth Brown on August 16th, 2010

So The Boy was going to a nerd conference in Boston last week, and having never visited Beantown, I decided to tag along. On the flight over, we were tossing around ideas of things I could do there while he was doing his geeky stuff.

“Why don’t you take the train over to New York for the day?” he suggested.

Nah. I mean, six hours on a train for only a day in such an amazing city? That’s crazy talk. I wouldn’t even know how where to begin.

But the more I thought about it, the more appealing it sounded. Maaaaaybe it was worth it…

And then it hit me: are you fucking retarded? It’s New Fucking York. Go go go!

So the next day, I got up at some ungodly hour of the morning and headed to Boston’s South Station (sketchy as all hell, but free wi-fi) and jumped (stumbled bleary-eyed, whatever) on the 6:15 Acela Express to Penn Station. I haven’t done a lot of train travelling in my life, but I can certainly recommend this particular Amtrack train as a very acceptable form of interstate travel. There were comfy, reclinable seats, power points, tables, free wi-fi, clean toilets and a dining car serving hot meals (and staffed by a woman with the most adorable — to me — Irish Boston accent). Compare this with my Southwest flight to Boston, which had cramped, uncomfortable seats, no entertainment save for an inflight magazine featuring an in-depth, six-page article on… sandwiches (whole-wheat and rye breads are becoming increasingly popular. You heard it here first!), a broken toilet that held the flight up for 30 minutes, and a bag of peanuts handed to me by a divorced mother of two from Arizona (she loudly offered her life-story to the other flight attendant).

South Station at 5am. Hot tip: taking photos at a major train station on the East Coast will immediately earn you an entourage of every police officer and security guard in the place.

However, like all enclosed spaces in America, the train was blasted constantly with icy-cold air con. I had come prepared for a 34-degree (93F) New York summer day. I have no body fat. I feel the cold. So once my initial “ohmyfuckinggodimgoingtouckingnewyork” mood wore off, I got very grumpy, very quickly due to risk of frostbite and lack of sleep. But after three hours over growing grumpier and grumpier and watching the utterly boring rolling vista of Rhode Island, the epic skyline of New York’s big buildings came into view, and my mood started to thaw.

Soon I was clapping my hands and squealing audibly with delight. The chick next to me glared at me like I was retarded (whatever, bitch. Next time I’ll bring a fucking koala and see if you can contain yourself), but I didn’t care. The train rolled into Penn Station, and I pushed past that fat cynical moll, onto the platform and ran up the stairs to the outside world.

Holy fucking holy shit. I stood on the corner of 33rd and 8th Ave taking it all in. The smell of steaming hot dogs mixed with fetid garbage. The sound of people screaming into mobiles and yellow cabs blaring their horns. The gigantic New York Post Office in front of me, the Empire State building looming behind me.

I grabbed a free tourist map and unfolded it. And unfolded, and unfolded and unfolded. Jesus H Chirst. I’ve seen maps of New York a thousand times, but until you’re standing right there in the thick of it, it’s hard to understand just how big it is. Way too big to cover in only nine hours. So much to see, so little time. How could I possibly decide?

So I did what any sensible gen-y kid does in a pickle: I crowdsourced it. And the responses came thick and fast.

Lots of votes for the Empire State Building and Statue of Liberty. They did seem like the obvious choices. You’re probably going to think less of me for this, but I decided not to visit either. Hear me out: I consulted the ‘tubes. Ferries to Liberty Island had sold out days ago. I could get the ferry to Staten Island and see the statue from afar. But I estimated the entire trip would take at least three hours. That’s a third of my entire trip. Ditto the Empire State Building: online reports said it cost $20 just to get in the building, then to expect queues of up to three hours. Spending a third of my time in New York waiting in a queue with tourists? No. The building and the statue will be there next time I visit.

Instead, I decided to fill my day with something for which the Big Apple is equally famous. Something I care far more about than tourist traps. Yes, I decided to eat my way around New York.

I started walking up towards Times Square, my head spinning trying to take everything in.

I’ve only been living in Portland for a few months, but man, what a culture shock. Portland has always felt small and quiet to me, but it suddenly felt a whole lot smaller, and I realised just how accustomed to the place I had become. For once, I wasn’t the only one j-walking, and drivers didn’t stop politely when I did — cars just plow through, pedestrians or no, right light or green. There are cops everywhere, but they could give a shit. Smelly, muggy, crazy-busy, and full of unashamedly rude people and black-market tourist stands, the whole place reminded me a lot of Hanoi, actually — a city I love for all of those reasons — but with bagel shops instead of banh mi and old Hispanic women pushing me out of the way, instead of old Vietnamese ones.

Then the big neon lights came into full view. Madam Toussads, Planet Hollywood, Conde Nast, Hershey’s. Cops everywhere, tourists everywhere, chaos. I walked past all the theatres, themed eateries and mega stores gawking like a yokel. Whatever. I was just one of thousands snapping pictures with my jaw hanging open.

I walked up to the Rockafeller Centre to gape at the Letterman Show studio. But as I arrived, something caught my eye. Holy hell, it was Rupert Jee’s Hello Deli… AND THERE WAS RUPERT JEE. I had to buy something. I walked in, grabbed a Diet Coke out of the fridge, and apologised as I fumbled with my change. “It’s OK,” Rupert Jee smiled as I finally forked over some crumpled bills and scampered away, skolling my Hello Deli Diet Coke. Deliciously carcinogenic, as always.

Touristy necessities out of the way, it was now time to get down to some serious business. Many people online suggested that I couldn’t possibly visit New York without eating a bagel. I agreed.

Now I’ve had bagels before. I worked down the road from Glicks in Melbourne and I’ve tried them in Portland. But I just don’t like them that much. I have a whole thing with bread: I like it in a supporting role to other ingredients, but not as the star attraction. It’s dull. Bagels are big and chewy and doughy and boring.

But I was in New York and if I was ever going to be won over by this otherwise much-loved baked good, it was here. And in the interests of thorough research, I was adamant that I must eat the best, most quintessentially New York bagel in the city. This was easier said than done.

Now, one of my favourite food nerd sites, Serious Eats, did a good article looking for the best bagel in New York and the site’s editor, Ed Levine, also penned an extensive piece on the beauty of the bagel for the NYT. According to my reading:

  • The bagel must be boiled and baked in-house, and should be less than a few hours old
  • Bagels should be warm — either be fresh out of the oven or toasted — and served with the traditional “schmear” of cream-cheese (lox is also acceptable, but not for me)
  • The outside should be crispy, the inside chewy and yeasty

A few people on Twitter had suggested H&H Bagels, which is indeed one of the iconic bagelries of New York. More importantly, Yelp told me there was an H&H within walking distance, on the other side of Hell’s Kitchen, an area I was keen to check out. So off I trooped, expecting to walk straight through West Side Story or run into the Westies. Not so much. The area appears to be super gentrified, full of swanky looking bars and trendy ethnic cuisine. However, as it was early in the day, said swanky bars all had their cellar doors open to change beer kegs and restock supplies, and it was a treat to see beyond the made-over façades into the original cobblestoned worlds below.

Eventually I found my way to the edge of town, to the corner of West 46th and 12th. Two big Hs loomed over-head. Thank God. It was almost 11am, and I hadn’t eaten a bite all day, intent that a bagel must be my first meal in New York, and eager that my palate be as fresh and untainted as possible in order to truly appreciate the first bite (obsessive? Moi?).

Inside was a rather dank and unimpressive. But I’ve been to enough Asian bakeries back home to know that sometimes the scungiest looking bake shops produce some of the finest breads. Up the back, a man stood pulling bagels out of a giant oven. In a case up the front, my options were displayed: onion bagels, poppyseed bagels, sesame seed, garlic, cinnamon raisin, sourdough, pumpernickel, whole wheat… oh shit. This I hadn’t prepared for. What was the “right” bagel to eat in New York?

Apologies for the crappy picture, but you get the idea: many bagels.

Fortunately, my decision was made easy: “The plain ones have just come out of the oven,” said the girl behind the counter pointing to a big barrel of steaming shiny Os. Perfect. I grabbed some cream cheese from the fridge (this is one controversial aspect of H&H: unlike most delis, they do not schmear your bagel for you. I understand why this pisses people off, but it worked out well for me, because I wanted to try my bagel in both plain and schmeared form), a plastic knife from the counter and forked over a couple of bills.

Outside, I sat on the window sill and removed my bounty from its paper bag. It was so hot I could barely hold it, but I was starving, so I bit in. Fresh from the oven: check. Crispy shell: check. Soft, chewy inside: check. Taste… boring. I’m sorry, New York, it’s not you, it’s me. this was a great bagel, but it still tasted like plain dough, and plain dough just doesn’t get my motor running.

I carefully ripped in to the dough and schmeared my cream cheese. I don’t know how, but this made all the difference. There was nothing special about cream cheese — it was plain Philadelphia, I’ve had a thousand times before — but once combined with the chewy bagel, the two met in lovely harmony: the cold, soft, sour cheese against the warm, yeasty dough. I’m still not quite sure what all the fuss is about, but I’ll admit it was entirely enjoyable and I gobbled it down (though in fairness, I had been awake six hours without food at this point).

My belly sated (for the minute), I walked to the Hudson River and hailed a cab (I thought briefly about whistling, but something tells me it wouldn’t have worked quite like it does in the movies). I wanted to see at least one museum or gallery. I could easily have spent the entire day doing just this alone, but they’re not going anywhere. The Museum of Modern Art is annoyingly closed on Tuesdays, so I consulted The Boy, who has visited New York before: Have you been to the Met? No. Have you been to the Guggenheim? No. Have you been to the Museum of Natural History? Yes. That settled it: we would visit the Met and Guggenheim together when we next visited New York; I was off to see dead animals.

And dead animals I saw. I’m embarrassed to admit that my initial reaction was: “Hey, where’s all the interactive exhibits?” Being raised on a steady diet of ScienceWorks, I’m accustomed to education served with a healthy side of touchscreens, animatronics and voice-overs. There’s none of that new-fangled junk here, just old bones, stuffed animals and artifacts.

They had attempted to enter the 12st Century with an iPhone app guide, which would have been great if the building wasn’t made from thick brownstone and granite walls, that kills internet and wifi reception. Nevertheless, it was cool. I enjoyed the monkeys and dioramas, but clearly the best bit was the dinosaurs. I was eight years old again and staring up at these incomprehensibly large fossils in the Melbourne Museum.

Look at this one!

What the fuck was that?

I spent a good deal of time wandering around the museum, but it’s school holidays here at the moment, and eventually the shrieking groups of Summer Camp kids got to me and I had to escape.

I checked back with Twitter. A friend had suggested this blog post on where to eat in New York. The bagel I’d done, pizza was for later, pastrami and hot dogs were out due to their dead animalness, but one suggestion caught my eye: “New York’s best cookie”, eh? Right near the Museum of Natural History, eehhhhh? Sold! I looked up the address and made my way into the Upper West Side. This area was quite purty. Lots of beautiful old buildings, stoops straight out of Sesame Street, parks and playgrounds.

I made my way over busy Amsterdam Ave, and almost missed the place amongst all the giant delis and grocery stores. In the end, my nose found it before my eyes did. Wafting up a small, hidden staircase behind a fruit and veg store was the unmistakably mouth-watering aroma of warm butter and chocolate. The siren scent pulled me down into the hot and steamy little basement bakery, where a display filled with freshly-baked brioche, bombolini, scones and muffins stood waiting. Both those would have to wait for another day; the treasure I had come for sat on a small wooden shelf: “Chocolate Chip Walnut Cookie”, “Dark Chocolate Chocolate Chip Cookie”, “Oatmeal Raisin Cookie”, “Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Chip Cookie”… woah. Back up there. It’s no secret by now that my weakness is peanut butter, and once combined with chocolate, I am basically helpless. I had to buy both.

Now, this photo doesn’t really do these cookies justice, but they are really freaking big. Six ounces, apparently. The peanut butter biscuit looked and smelled like utter decadence, still soft as a pillow with the peanut butter chips melting inside. I bit in, steeling myself for an explosion of warm, salty goo. Yeah, not so much. Don’t get me wrong, this was an amazing chocolate cookie: dense, decadent and almost obnoxiously rich and buttery. But the peanut butter didn’t really cut through. More of a pleasant after-taste than the big nutty hit I’d been expecting. Still, it was so, so soft, so so chocolatey, and despite my disappointment, I couldn’t stand to leave it to get hard and dry, and suddenly all six ounces had disappeared.

I immediately realised my mistake.

You see, despite my love of chocolate-flavoured treats (though not really chocolate itself, curiously), I can only tolerate them in small amounts. I was now too full to enjoy or appreciate the famous cookie I had actually come to try. But it would have been wrong to let it sit in my bag all day, getting cold and old without trying just a little. So I took a small nibble. God damnit. Now this really was the perfect cookie. Crunchy on the outside, the same super-soft filling, and an delicious and distinctive walnut flavour, offset with semi-sweet chocolate chips. And I was too full to eat it in its prime. This is not the first time I have been let down by peanut butter promising so much then screwing me over. It’s like an abusive relationship, yet I just keep going back, convinced that next time it will be different.

Ah well. I promised myself that from then on I would stick to others’ suggestions and not let myself be lured away.

The next suggestion from Twitter was Zabar’s. I love grocery stores, and this was really close by, so I walked over to check it out. As James Sherry would have said, it was a-mazing. The most incredible range of cheeses, olives, sauces, coffees, fish, pastrami, nuts, dried fruit and a bakery popping out bagels, bundt cakes, babka, rugelach and blackout cake, matched only by the incredible range of people purchasing them. This was a great suggestion, and somewhere I never would have found on my own.

But with about seven pounds of cookie still churning away in my stomach, I decided it was time to focus on something other than food for a while. I was keen to check out Central Park, and an old schoolmate had suggested on Facebook that I rent a bike and ride around. I walked into the next bike shop I saw, and walked out with a rickety comfort bike. I peddled in behind a group of cyclists and just followed the path until I’d gone around the whole park. The entire trip took about an hour, including stops to look at all the amazing things housed inside. This is less a park and more a really green suburb. There’s a swimming pool, tennis courts, fountains, playgrounds, lakes, baseball diamonds, a theatre, sculpture gardens, people walking, running, riding in pedicabs and on horse-back.

I stopped half-way to get a bottle of water from one of the hundreds of ice-cream and hot dog vendors stationed around the park, and noticed this:

Restaurants chains in New York have to display calorie counts for all their products, and I guess all these vendors work for the one company, so they have to as well. I understand the reasoning behind it all, but eh, it kind of takes the fun out of a simple summer ice-cream in the park, no? Thank Dog that cookie didn’t reveal any of the sins inside (who am I kidding? I would have eaten it anyway).

Anyway, the ride around the park was another great suggestion I never would have thought of myself. Central Park is as big as it is beautiful, and it would take the better part of a day to see the entire thing on foot.

Fortunately, all that cycling had given me my appetite back (it doesn’t take much), which was just as well, because it was well and truly time for lunch, and the destination I had in mind was right around the corner from the bike shop.

The Shake Shack, for those living under a rock, is probably the most hyped burger chain in all of the East Coast at the moment. It is basically New York’s answer to In ‘n Out burger (which I also made a point of visiting when in San Fran earlier this year, although their limited vegetarian menu meant I could only sample a shake, which was nothing to write home about): no frills American hamburgers done well. It has received raves from the likes of New York mag and Serious Eats, and is listed at number 4 on Urban Spoon’s Top 100. It is also renowned for having crazy lines, but I could see that this particular outlet wasn’t too busy and decided to strike while the iron was hot.

I decided to try the ‘Shroom Burger — it being the only vegetarian burger  — and the cheese fries, because that seemed to be what everyone else was ordering. I had intended to get a peanut butter shake but that bloody cookie had ruined me. There was no way I could enjoy such a thing after ingesting that much liquid peanut. But I wanted to try some of their “frozen custard”, because I’ve never tried this particular ice-cream variant and have a friend who regularly raves about it. The regular menu offers vanilla or chocolate and then there’s a special flavour each day. Today’s was blueberry. Boo. Yesterday’s had been salted caramel. Argh! If there is one other flavour that I love almost as much as peanut butter, it is salted caramel. First MoMA now this. Why do you hate Tuesdays, New York?

I decided to try my luck anyway (I have an adorable Australian accent, remember). I ordered my burger and fries then asked the girl at the counter if she had any salted caramel left. She checked and said I could have a leftover pint if I wanted. A whole pint! And she only charged me $4 — about the same price as a small cone of the other (lesser) flavours.

Despite the stories of hour-long waits, my brown paper bag appeared after about ten minutes. I grabbed my swag and headed to the park across the road.

I have to say, I was pretty dubious about the food inside. The burger looked like something from McDonald’s and the fries clearly weren’t hand-cut. Also, where was the cheese and “shroom” promised in my burger, and what was that big fried ball?

I bit in and it all made sense:

The mushroom and cheese were deep-fried together into one patty! Genius. And it wasn’t the cheap flavourless American cheese you get so often over here. It was a mix of muenster and cheddar, according to the website. It oozed out, melty and delicious, engulfing the fresh lettuce and tomato. That’s the good. The bad is the bun, which tasted exactly as it looked: cheap and sweet and eerily similar to the McDonald’s one. The highly vaunted  “shack sauce” was good, and would’ve made a wonderful counterpoint to the cheese, but it came spread far too thin, and was instead simply overpowered by the filling. Nevertheless, this was a really tasty burger. Not gourmet, but just right for when you want something junky.

Likewise, the chips were much, much better than they looked. They were indeed the kind I used to buy from Coles and cook in the oven as a uni student, but whatever oil and seasoning they used made them incredibly addictive. The “cheese” sauce was nothing like the flavoursome goop in the burger. It was exactly as dull and synthetic as it looked. I opted to scrape most of it off in favour of the free ketchup provided.

Then the custard. This was like a much thicker, richer version of soft serve. There wasn’t as much caramel flavour in it as I’d have liked, but it was pleasingly salty, and in the hot sun, I had to stop myself from devouring the entire pint (see? I’m learning valuable life lessons here).

Next stop was the Lower East Side. My absolute favourite book growing up was called All of a Kind Family, a collection of stories about a poor Jewish family with five daughters living there in the early 1900s. They ate sour pickles out of a big wooden barrel at the local deli and got scarlet fever and celebrated Passover and Purim and didn’t own any books and I found it all utterly fascinating and made my mum read it over and over and over again (sorry mum. That chapter where they have fun dusting must have gotten really old). I had to see it for myself.

So I descended into the murky, muggy depths of the New York subway. I guess I understand why people hate it so much. It’s dark and boiling and smells like wee. On the other hand, it goes all over the city and the trains seem to come ever five minutes or so, and I thought it was quite good. With apologies to my high school jazz band teacher, I caught the B train down to Broadway-Lafayette Street and emerged from the underground in a very, very different part of the city to the one I had come from. I know the Lower East Side is plenty hip these days, but it’s still pleasingly scungy. I saw drug deals and gangs and plenty of people who looked like they could and would knock my block off.

I also found Jewish delis. One friend on Twitter had suggested trying some matzoh ball soup, but as that’s not very vegetarian, I promised I’d eat something else at a deli. I know Katz’s is the ultimate cliché, but it was a day for indulging in clichés, so I dutifully went anyway.

Inside, it was big and confusing and full of people waiting for their pastrami on rye and corned beef. I took my ticket and waited. And waited and waited and waited.

And the lines didn’t get any shorter. So I decided to fob off Katz (whoever he is) and find a less touristy deli.

A few doors down, I had passed Russ and Daughters — also a famous old deli, but better known for its seafood than sandwiches and it didn’t look too busy. Inside, it was the complete opposite of Katz’s: small but bright and clean and full of warmth. “Is it your first time here?” asked the man behind the counter as I gawked at the huge array of cream cheeses, salted fish and pickled vegetables on display. I nodded. “Well take your time and look around then!” he said, before showing me a bunch of old pictures from the deli’s early days.

“Is there something you’re after?” In fact, there was. A month or so ago, The Boy and I were at Kenny and Zuke’s for Sunday brunch. Not in the mood for my usual eggs benny, I decided to sample some of the traditional deli items on the menu. “After all, it could be ages before I get to visit a real New York deli,” I said to him at the time. I tried a veggie Reuben (nicely cheesy, but a bit monotone — I suspect it only works properly with meat), a potato and onion knish (meh), noodle kugel (awesome. Noodles for dessert! With custard, cinnamon and sultanas) and something called an “egg cream”. The waitress explained it contained neither egg nor cream, but was an old chocolatey fizzy drink from New York that people lost their shit for. It wasn’t quite what I expected — despite being made with chocolate syrup and milk, it’s quite light and mild — but I loved it and decided that if I were ever in New York, I’d have to try the real deal.

“Do you make egg creams?” I asked. “Do we make egg creams? DO WE MAKE EGG CREAMS? I tell you, we make the best egg creams in all of New York!” he shouted, and summoned one of the clerks over to make me one. “You make egg creams?!” exclaimed an older gentleman behind me. “Why, I haven’t had an egg cream since I was a boy. I’ll have one, too!” Soon, half the store was ordering egg creams. The clerk made them up from a proper old fashioned glass seltzer bottle and presented each in a big clear cup with a foamy head.

“Have you ever had an egg cream before?” the man asked me. “Yeah, but not in New York. In Portland, believe it or not.” “Egg creams in Portland!?” he laughed, “Well go on! Try it! Try it!” I took a sip. Despite the massive amount of ice cream and chocolate I had already ingested that day, this was just refreshing and perfect — more seltzer than sweet — and I sucked it down quickly. “So?” “Better than Portland.”

“It’s better than Portland!” he cheered.

I said my goodbyes and was about to leave, when I saw two big wooden barrels in the corner. Oh my God, it was barrels of pickles! Just like All of a Kind Family! I ordered two. “Half sour or full sour?” the clerk asked. I had no idea what he meant, but I wasn’t in New York to do half of anything, so I ordered the full sours.

I sat on a bench nearby, watching the famed cultural melting pot in action. I pulled out a pickle and bit in. Oh man. Let me just say this: you have not eaten a pickle until you’ve eaten a New York deli pickle. Yeah, it was sour (full sour, one presumes), but there were about 500 other flavours in there, all at once. All in a little, fat fermented cucumber. Delicious.

I wandered round the shops and sites of the Lower East Side for a bit longer, then up to the East Village, where musicians carried hard cases through the streets, and ballerinas still in their leotards glided out of dance studios. I’d probably say it was something like Rent, if I’d ever bothered to see Rent.

My destination was just as hipster as all the guys walking round on this 30-degree day in scarves and fedoras: the Momofuku Milk Bar. For those unfamiliar, David Chang’s Momofuku restaurants are the current darlings of the culinary world, and the spin-off milk bars (there’s another one in midtown) have a cult following all of their own, with a reputation for creating crazy and crazy-delicious treats. The most famous item at the milk bar is the “compost cookie” — a biscuit filled with bits of pretzels, potato chips, coffee grounds, oats, butterscotch and chocolate chips — and this was the bounty I sought. As it was three for $5, I also picked up a chocolate-chocolate cookie and, because I will never learn, a peanut butter cookie.

Could I have eaten them then and there? Yes. I can always eat. But I wanted to actually enjoy the flavours, not force them down, and they were packaged, so I didn’t think it would make a difference whether I saved them for a day. Plus, the poor Boy was stuck back in Boston working, so I figured I should bring something back to share.

Having since eaten the cookies, I can report thusly: the compost cookie is a predictably odd textural and flavour experience. There are crunchy bits, sugary bits and salty bits, although the underlying cookie is still incredibly sweet, soft and buttery. The best bites are the ones that contain a range of different ingredients all at once. It was tasty and fun guessing how each mouthful would taste, but I suspect this cookie has mostly garnered so much press because the idea is weird. It was good, but not mind-blowing.

The chocolate-chocolate was actually more exciting. Initially flavourless, after a few seconds of biting in, the taste of semi-sweet chocolate cake built up in my mouth until there was this incredibly big, rich flavour playing at the back of my throat. It’s a really, really odd sensation, and each subsequent bite was the same: totally bland, followed by a huge hit of chocolate cake a few seconds later.

Finally, the peanut butter cookie was a good peanut butter cookie. Nothing more, nothing less. Oh peanut butter, you’re such a tease.

Cookies secured, I headed up to Union Square, which was full of two things: junkies and squirrels. Oh my god, squirrels! Eating acorns! An old Korean man and I stood there feeding them bread for some time and grinning, while the junkies looked at us like we were insane (Note for Americans: we do not have squirrels in Australia. I still find them exciting).

After sitting and people (and squirrel) watching for some time, I started checking out all the ice cream trucks peppered around the square. But I wasn’t just looking for any old ice cream truck, I was looking for the most famous ice cream truck in the city: the Big Gay Ice Cream Truck. Known for its unique flavours like wasabi pea dust, curried coconut, caramalised bacon and olive oil and sea salt, this truck has received huge press from everybody and everywhere.

I was super, super tempted by the olive oil and sea salt, but remembering my valuable lesson from earlier, I went with the most famous flavour: the salty pimp. The chick in the truck started by putting a mountain of vanilla soft serve into a cone, swirling lines of dulce de leche all around it, sprinkling on sea salt, and then dipping the whole thing in chocolate. I let the chocolate set juuust enough before sinking in.

OK, THIS is salted caramel. Each bite was a big smack in the face of super sweet dulce de leche, hunks of salt and melting chocolate. Utterly everything it’s cracked up to be. Though I will note that the soft serve and cone are pretty stock standard and a bit underwhelming once the topping is gone, but I suppose that’s always part of any ice cream van experience (unless it’s that one with the Flake down the middle. Remember those?)

I decided to head back to Times Square for a bit more exploring and took out my phone for directions. Holy shit, it was 6:30?! When did that happen? I jumped in a cab, hoping I’d still have a little more play-time left, but got my very own taste of an authentic New York traffic jam.

I arrived back an Penn Station with 10 minutes to spare. I stood outside and soaked in the city for a little longer, then sighed and descended into the boiling depths below.

My plan had been to cap the day off with a slice of real New York pizza. I spied a pizza place in the station. It looked vaguely fresh and hygienic, and I was this close to buying a piece… but at the last second, I just couldn’t do it. Not because I couldn’t fit it in, but I realised I’d gone to so much trouble to eat only the best and most famous of everything else in the city, it would be a shame to end my day with a sub-standard, luke-warm slice from the subway. Pizza would have to wait for next time.

Realising I’d gone the entire day without purchasing a single piece of tourist tat, I bought a couple of “I [heart] NY” postcards, before hopping on the Acela Express back to Boston.

Stay tuned for tales of deep-fried pickles, indoor lightning storms and PBR cocktails in Beantown.

  • Eating Melbourne

    Thank you so much, I loved reading this post and reminiscing about my trip to New York last year.
    Bit disappointed I missed the Big Gay Icecream truck, putting it on the list for next time!

  • Ruth

    Oh, do. Foodcarts so often don’t live up to their hype, but this one really did. I’d loved to have tried the olive oil with sea salt, too.

  • Cindy

    Holy crap! You packed a lot of NY awesomeness into a short trip. :-)

    Thanks for telling us about the ‘real’ compost cookies over at where’s the beef?.

    – Cindy.

  • Hungry

    Epic tales of consumption cuz, if i ever go to NY i will eat what you have eaten and spy on junkies and small wildlife!