Sometimes it’s fun to act like a tourist and see your home through fresh eyes. That’s what we did yesterday, when we joined a Manhattan Walking Tour of the West Village that had tempted us with a great low-price offer on Gilt City. Blessed with unseasonably warm weather, the company of good friends and a fabulous tour guide, we spent a leisurely 2 hours or so wandering through charming streets, learning a bit of history, architecture, fun facts and neighborhood gossip while sampling the unique culinary offerings of one of my favorite neighborhoods in New York.
Here’s a tiny bit of what we saw, learned and ate –
A Little History
Here are just two of the fun facts we learned-
Did you know that the reason the streets of the Village are so circuitous is because they followed the paths of stereams? And that those streams still can be heard running uner the streets? Minetta Lane is one such street. (Here’s a fabulous blog post I found about a building with a tube that dips down into the Minetta stream and fills with water whenever the stream rises. Read the comments section of the post for more underground Manhattan steam stories).
Hudson Street is named appropriately, since it used to run alongside the river. After decades of landfill along the west and south sides of Manhattan, however, Hudson St now runs three blocks inland.
A little Architecture
We wandered off the main drag through winding streets past carriage houses and old horse throughs, saw the a teeny building covered in keys, the oldest house in NYC, the narrowest house in NYC, a former toy shop and the largest children’s play house ever built, and of course the building where Friends supposedly lived. And learned about landmark designation, and how some retailers are shamelessly getting around the rules. And what it means to be “86’ed”. (Hint – It has to do with an address we passed by…)
A lot of Gorgeous Blue Sky
You see more sky in the Village, where there are fewer tall buildings.
A Little Noshing
This was a culinary tour, after all, and in this regard, it did not disappoint. Here’s where we went and what we tasted –
We skipped the exquisite chocolates and went straight for a classic NYC Egg Cream made with the requisite Fox’s U-Bet Chocolate Syrup, milk and soda water. The Chocolate Bar has been credited with reinvigorating the egg cream after a long hiatus from the culinary repertoire of modern New York, though some would argue that the Egg Cream was doing just fine before they came along, thank you. I’d ague that an egg cream is a lower fat alternative to a milk shake and that it tastes, well… invigorating.
The Italian bakery has three branches – the other two are in Italy. The glass-windowed bakery is the heart of the store and was in action when we arrived. The focaccio were deliciously fresh and reminded me of Rome.
Biscotti, made with prune or figs or chocolate, were practically right out of the oven. They cut them right in front of you. I bought a box home.
A NYC institution, with another store in Brooklyn. We bought sweet sausage with fennel to cook for dinner tomorrow night. Then we had rice balls – a first for me. Breaded, not fried and perfection!
The marinated artichoke hearts and mozarella were the best I’ve ever eaten (and I’ve eaten many before, trust me…)
Best baba ghanoush I’ve ever had. Eaten in Washington Square Park, just the way it should be.
A Little Off Tour Shopping
You can’t walk by this wonderful independent book store without stopping in. So we did.
Understandably small in winter, but still wonderful.
Also not on the tour (maybe it should be?) . We stopped there on the way home, having heard so much about this store that sells – are you ready? – SALT. I picked up a tin sampler set of finishing salts – salt that’s put on food at the time you eat it, as opposed to salting your food while you cook it – and already have fallen in love with the black diamond salt.
But that’s another blog post for another day…
Manhattan Walking Tours offers small group guided tours around Manhattan. Thanks to Alex for a fabulous tour. Look for us on the Wall Street history tour one of these days soon!