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Road Trip: NYC Union Square Greenmarket

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When I think of New York City, I think of abundance.  You can find anything – any cuisine, any spice, any ingredient.  It’s no surprise that you can also find a farmers market any day of the week.

When I visited New York in August, I skipped  the morning session of my conference so that I could explore the crown jewel of the cities farmers markets – Union Square Greenmarket.  I was there on a Friday so there weren’t quite as many vendors as a Saturday, but there were still sufficient treasures to find.


In addition to abundant produce, you could enjoy fresh squeezed juices, pretzels and cheeses galore.  I was particularly impressed with the Valley Shepherd Creamery sheep’s milk cheeses – the pecorino was amazing.

Red Jacket Orchard Juices
Pecorino Fresco

The meat choices were plentiful as well.  Several stalls offered everything from beef, pork, chicken, rabbit and beautiful fish.  In addition to chicken and duck eggs, you could also buy emu and ostrich eggs.

Fishmonger at Union Square Market
Ostritch & Emu eggs
I asked if anyone ever bought the emu and ostrich eggs and the vendor assured me that they sell all the time.  The ostrich eggs are the equivalent of two dozen chicken eggs and he noted that people often buy them to make large omelets for parties – a novelty to please the crowd.

I found my favorite treasure of the day in one of the produce booths.  The bin was loaded with what looked like very small tomatillos.  When I asked the farmer what they were, she said the were husk cherries.  I’d never heard of them before so I bought a pint.

Husk Cherries (cape gooseberries)

Their name is deceptive as they are related to tomatoes, not cherries.  The little fruits are alternately called cape gooseberries, but again they are not related to berries.  To eat them, you peel back the husk and pull out the fruit.  They taste a little like a cherry tomato, but with a sweeter flavor and very little acidity.  I should have bought two pints so I could play with them in the kitchen.  Instead, I ran around town making all my foodie friends try them.

The next time you’re in New York on a Monday, Wednesday, Friday or Saturday, wander over to Union Square and see what treasure you can find.  The market is open four days a week from 8 am to 6 pm.  It’s worth the detour.

View the full photo set.

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Road Trip: New York City

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Most people visit New York City and want to see the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building or other tourist points of interest.  Not me.  When my friend Natanya and I went to the Big Apple for the BlogHer conference,  I wanted to see what New Yorkers eat when they eat local.

I prepared for the trip by reviewing the Edible Manhattan and Slow Food NYC websites to see what they recommended.  Since I only had one day to do it, I limited my search to Manhattan and started plotting sights on a Google Map (see below).   I intended to walk most of my tour so that I could get a feel for the neighborhoods and work off any ingested calories.  I wasn’t planning on it being in the mid 90’s, but it was still cooler than Austin.

Natanya had to work on Thursday, but before she headed to the office we were able to grab a delicious, bakery breakfast at Amy’s Bread in Chelsea Market.  You can smell the butter before you even cross the threshold of the shop, and, man, did it smell good!   We split a cheddar biscuit with egg and cheese and the flakiest croissant I’ve had on this side of the pond.  Amy’s was worth every lovely calorie.

Amy's Bread Twists at Chelsea Market

After breakfast, Natanya went to work and I explored Chelsea Market a bit more.  It was early, so a number of the shops and restaurants were still closed, but it was clear that the market has some great local food choices like Hale and Hearty Soups, Dickinson’s Farmstand Meats, Ronnybrook Dairy, and Sarabeth’s Kitchen.  A Chelsea Market progressive lunch is on my list for a future trip.

My next stop was O. Ottomanelli & Sons Prime Meat Market.  I couldn’t buy anything since we were in a hotel, but I wanted to check out this old-fashioned butcher shop that has been operating in the heart of Manhattan for 35 years.  I was astounded by their selection – they had everything from local beef, pork and rabbit to the more exotic veal sweetbreads and alligator.  They definitely earned their Slow Food Snail of Approval.

Fresh Young Rabbit

From the butcher shop, I headed to Little Italy and Di Palo’s Fine Foods.  I felt like I was back in Tuscany from the minute I walked through the door – cured meats hanging from the ceiling and the rich, nutty aroma of Parmigiano Reggiano filling the air.

Meat Counter at Di Palo's Fine Foods

Di Palo’s has every type of Italian ingredient that you could dream of and it was tempting to buy some of the more difficult to find items.  Of course, the idea of trying to haul it home was enough incentive to only take pictures. One of my favorite treats at Di Palo’s was watching them pull mozzarella in the back room.   Definitely not something you see in the neighborhood market every day.

Pulling Mozzarella at Di Palo's Fine Foods

As I stood on the sidewalk outside Di Palo’s trying to get my bearings, I was stunned to realize that Chinatown was one block away.  Really?  I can walk one block and go from Little Italy to Chinatown?  I certainly couldn’t pass up that opportunity.

Mushrooms in Chinatown
Bizarre Seafood in Chinatown
I loved walking the blocks, investigating the unusual fish, vegetables and meats.  At this point, I was seriously jonesing for a kitchen and time to experiment.  Instead, I visited with merchants, took pictures and fantasized about cooking ingredients of which I know little.

I was tickled to find a store that sold nothing but chopsticks (Yunhong Chopsticks) and bought a set of chopsticks for my sister and brother-in-law who use them often.

Yunhong Chopstick Store

After three hours of walking around, I was getting a little overheated and needed to figure out a lunch plan.  I ducked in a coffee shop for an iced latte and to cool down.  As I read my Edible Manhattan, I noticed that one of their recommended dining spots was across the street.

Little Giant is a small, neighborhood restaurant, serving what they call “Seasonal American” food with high quality local ingredients.  The menu is packed with fun selections, but my choice was made when I saw the Duck Confit BALT (Bacon, Avocado, Lettuce & Tomato.)  Did you catch all that?  Duck Confit!  Bacon!  Avocado! Lettuce & Tomato!  I would have felt guilty if I hadn’t just walked 6 miles through Manhattan.

Duck Confit BALT at The Little Giant

I grudgingly ignored the potato chips (ok, I tasted a couple) and half the sandwich because I had plans for dessert.  Less than a block away is Il Labrotorio del Gelato, a local gelateria that is part kitchen, part science lab.  Unlike it’s West Coast rival Humphry Slocombe, this ice cream shop isn’t trying to push you to your limits, but with flavors like Tarragon Pink Pepper, they are playing with their food.  When I spied two of my favorite flavors in the cooler, I chose to play it safe and got small scoops of the cinnamon and espresso gelatos. Sometimes, you just want a classic.

Espresso & Cinnamon Scoops

By 2:00, the ice cream wasn’t the only thing melting on the sidewalk, but I had one more stop to make.  My friend Jenna said I had to check out Kalustyan’s, a spice shop in the Curry Hill neighborhood which is affectionately named for its bevy of Indian restaurants.  Calling Kalustyan’s a spice shop is a little unfair – it’s more like the spice version of Epcot Center for foodies.  There were so many spices that I didn’t recognize from all parts of the world that it was disorienting.

After walking through the shop a third time not knowing where to start, a man next to me asked the clerk for dried Persian limes.  I had to know what he was talking about and followed them through the packed aisles. After finding this treasure, I was emboldened enough to pick a few more unusual goodies to bring home.  Prepare yourself for some playful recipe testing on the blog this fall!

For a Texas girl, being able to find so many exotic foods in one day, so close together, was a bit mind boggling, but I had a fantastic time exploring New York’s diverse neighborhoods and I still only scratched the surface.  The next time you’re in New York, try diving into a new culinary world.  I bet you’ll love the way it tastes!

View the full set of New York City food tour photos.

Map of our 2010 NYC Food Finds

View NYC Trip in a larger map

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Road Trip: Local Eats in Buffalo

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Earlier this year, some friends invited me to join them for a week at the Chautauqua Institution, an organization committed to lifelong learning that runs 9 weeks of programs during the summer outside of Buffalo, NY. I always loved summer camp as a kid and jumped at the opportunity to relax and feed my brain for a week.

I flew in the night before we were to leave for Chautauqua so that I could explore Buffalo a bit.  I had heard good things about the city from my friend Jodi Bart of Tasty Touring, but in my mind, Buffalo is one of those dying Rust Belt cities like Detroit.  Not having had good experiences in the Motor City, my expectations were low.

Buffalo surprised me.  While it’s true the city has shrunk in size as industry has moved away, Buffalo has reinvented itself as a center for higher education and the health care industry.  The city has a vibrancy and optimism that was refreshing and the friendliness of everyone I met was contagious.

For my short visit, I consulted Edible Buffalo for guidance on a restaurant and market to visit. They recommended Trattoria Aroma in the Elmwood Village neighborhood, Buffalo’s version of SoCo, for dinner.  The restaurant is charming with a bustling bar and a large patio area for al fresco dining.

Guests are greeted at the door by a chalkboard listing the daily local produce and featured farms.  The menu is packed with locally sourced dishes, name dropping a local farm in almost every dish.  I selected an appetizer of grilled local asparagus, with prosciutto, shaved parmesan cheese, a fried farm egg and a drizzle of truffle oil.

The dish was luscious and I could not help but groan a little with pleasure as I savored the first bite (slightly embarrassing when you are sitting by yourself.)  My server heard me and said, “Amazing, right?”  I happily nodded my agreement.

For dinner, I ordered a pasta dish that featured local produce.  The ripe squash, chard mushrooms and tomatoes tossed with a delicious handmade pasta was rich and surprisingly satisfying for a vegetarian dish.

Trattoria does a fantastic job of highlighting the best of Buffalo’s local meat and produce in their creative offerings and it was a lovely place to start my adventure.

Saturday morning, I got up early and visited the Elmwood-Bidwell Farmers Market, located in a small parkway in the same neighborhood as Trattoria Aroma.  The producer only market was bustling this early July morning with plenty of offerings for any craving.

My favorite part of visiting markets outside of Austin is finding goodies we don’t have.  The first booth I saw as I entered the park was a produce stand with cherries. C-H-E-R-R-I-E-S!!!!!! I’m sure there were other vegetables and fruits on the table, but I could only see the cherries.   I bought a bag and exercised immense self-control to not eat it immediately.

The harvesting season in Buffalo begins in late May/early June and the market offered much of the produce that we see in early spring in Central Texas with an abundance of lettuces, Swiss chard, sugar snap peas, turnips, onions and asparagus.   Blueberries, raspberries, currants and gooseberries were also plentiful.

As I wandered through the stalls, I was delighted to recognized so many farm names from the menu at Trattoria Aroma.  I mentioned to one farmer that I had enjoyed their eggs and asparagus the night before at dinner and she beamed with pride.  “It’s nice to work with such a great restaurant,” she said.

The market offers a number of prepared foods and meats as well.  You could fill your fridge with smoked sausages, chicken, rabbit or beef.  White Cow Dairy sells a variety of bottled yogurts and juices including low-fat yogurt.  You can buy a complete pasta dinner at the Pasta Peddler who sells both handmade dried pastas and jarred sauces and even pair it with a nice wine from one of two Niagara based vineyards.

I found popcorn in three varieties for the low price of $1/bag.  I bought one of each for Carla Crownover of Austin Urban Gardens who has missed popcorn immensely during her year without a grocery store challenge.  One vendor was selling Cherrywood Grilling Chips and I bought a couple of small boxes in hopes that I can convince Marshall Wright from Eat This Lens to smoke some bacon with it.  

There is even a salsa vendor, Saltamontes Salsa.  I gave the owner, Ron Glatzhofer, a mildly hard time about salsa in Buffalo until I learned that he had lived in California for many years.  The salsa was tasty, although not spicy enough for me.  I did buy some of his Buffalo Wing sauce which had plenty of kick.

The Elmwood-Bidwell market offers a great introduction to the local food scene in Buffalo and I had no problem filling my market bag with goodies for our vacation house.  When I was done shopping, I meandered across the street to Caffe Aroma (owned by the same folks as Trattoria Aroma) to grab some coffee and watch the World Cup game.  It was a pretty terrific way to start a week of vacation and I’m looking forward to the next time I can shuffle off to Buffalo.

View the full Buffalo Road Trip photo set.

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