By Ken Alan
Throughout my years of being a full-time concierge, I’ve always considered myself a knowledgeable resource for clients seeking suggestions about the city of Philadelphia, thanks to having a countless supply of Bro’ Love connections, knowing the lay of the land, and being a lifelong native. Indeed, Philly and its environs have always held a “like-the-back-of-my-hand” familiarity for me.
New York City, though, well, that burg had once been a murkier scene to fathom. When asked where to dine or what attractions to visit, my stock responses usually fell toward recommending some cheesy chain restaurant along Times Square, or, “MOMA and Central Park are great, I hear…”
Feeling out of my depth while realizing the most exciting city in the world is just a quick shot up NJ Transit, I have remedied the situation many times over, by traveling to and from Manhattan at least twice a month throughout the last seven years. Usually, each trip takes me to a different neighborhood entirely. And when I am not heading up to NYC, I’m online, studying the unlimited supply of restaurants, attractions and those invaluable insider’s tips.
Though I have a fondness for the tony “boutique-ness” of Soho, and I’ve currently been digging Harlem and its unbridled culinary renaissance, my perennial favorite New York neighborhood is one of its oldest: Greenwich Village.
Nowhere is the vibrant energy of its people so present; a wide-eyed student population from NYU mixing comfortably with deeply-rooted locals. All the while, an unending flow of excited tourists wander through this ever-gentrifying section.
I know many who consider NYC’s nexus to be Times Square. I say it’s Washington Square Park, which trades jostling crowds, obnoxious merchants, neon, and bus fumes, for fresh air, trees, performers, fountains and the iconic arch. For all there is to do in the Big Apple, sometimes, just sunning on the lush lawns, walking the dog, playing a game of chess, or watching a master chalk-writer in action, can be the best big city recreation of all.
Trying to find the perfect place to brunch on a recent wandering & wonderfully gray n’ rainy Sunday, I discovered Le Pescadeux — a cozy dry spot for a relaxing early-afternoon repast. This diminutive red brick and wooden beamed bistro certainly fit the bill for me, offering Quebec maritime cuisine with an occasional Cajun (Acadian, actually) twist. Bouillabaisse, mackerel tartar, sautéed P.E.I mussels & Andouille sausage; fruits de mer and Montreal brisket are not only reflective of the fare of our northern neighbors, they provide a refreshing variation to Scandinavia’s highly touted (over-hyped?) cuisine that’s trending here in the states.
Okay, so there are some who will cling to the notion that this bistro’s “NoHo” (north of Houston/South of 4th) situation is not technically “The Village.” Whatever.
Le Pescadeux’s 90 Thompson Street location — tromping ground for old poets and a young Bob Dylan is, to me, “Village-y” to its core. And with a plate of poached Eggs Florentine in front of me, a jazz trio lightly bopping, and the gentle drizzle outside, there is no better weekend brunch around.
Pizza purists traveling the boroughs to find the perfect pie know all about Numero 28 and its straight-from-Naples brick oven, which produces some of the most authentic Neapolitan delights in town. The place is typical of the neighborhood; rustic and boisterous with rushing waitresses who brusquely (with an underlining tinge of maternal love) get-to-you when they get-to-you.
The oblong pies are blistered in all the right places and they’re replete with fresh ingredients (try the margherita and the 5-formaggi pizza — they are both standouts). Three sizes are offered: 14”, 18” and a shareable 29-incher. Snag a sidewalk table during warmer months and take in the Village’s vibe within the very core of the Big Apple.
For an overall NYC-to-the-Max experience, stroll down Bleecker Street from Seventh on to Fifth Avenue. Along this colorful and energized stretch resides the stinkiest nirvana around: Murray’s Cheese Shop (254 Bleecker St.). I enjoy stopping by for a pungent lesson in “Cheese-101” from Murray’s mongers while tooth-picking my way through some of the finest hunks of heaven imaginable. If you ever want to find out what a Zagat Survey-rated “29” tastes like, then head over to Murray’s and indulge in the best quality cheeses in NYC.
Another Village fave is Bleecker Street Records, where I check out their vinyl stacks, including vintage and out-of-print records, posters, tee’s, and other rock N’ roll memorabilia. When I want to time warp, this funky little record shop will takes me on the perfect mind trip.
Try Bleecker Street-wandering on a Saturday afternoon. Window shop the shabby-chic stores, duck into a café, a bakery, and by all means, make sure to scan for deals when the sidewalk merchants are out with their wares. (Unlike the hawkers on nearby Canal Street — many of whom feign not knowing the English language — the vendors here will engage you in friendly conversation, and maybe offer a good deal in the process.)
Finally, no visit to Greenwich Village is complete without a visit to Cones (272 Bleecker Street). This small parlor offers artisan-crafted ice creams, gelato & sorbet, and they have a wide assortment of esoteric flavors, including dulce de leche, corn (yes, corn ice cream), hazelnut, and here’s a potent one for you, Johnnie Walker Black. (Lick-up = Hiccup!)
The sights, sounds and flavors of Greenwich Village are ultimately, never-ending and always interesting. This famous section of New York City is definitely a favorite recommendation for this concierge, and it can definitely be the perfect place for visitors to explore any time of year.