This installment gets into favorite treks, neighborhoods, and a few sites. I’ll add photos tonight, as (surprise!) I’m having troubles accessing them through scancafe. (The box of images and DVDs was returned today. I’ll see them tonight!)
♥ Coney Island to Brighton Beach. This walk is one of my favorites. I drag friends out here and show them Coney (pictured above), then take them down the boardwalk to Little Odessa, where Russians (and other ex-Soviets) have made their home. In the winter, the old ladies sit on benches in their furs and kvetch about their children. In the summer, everyone frolics in the sea, while Russo-Brooklyn’s finest drink beers in the boardwalk cafés, e.g. Tatiana, and stare. Then it’s to some bookstores and shops on Brighton Beach Avenue, and lunch or dinner at Gina’s Cafe or Cafe Glechik. Neither have great food, but Gina’s has that post-Soviet wanna-be-hip cafe ambiance that will make a traveler nostalgic, and Glechik is typical heavy Russian fare. It’s BYO, so grab $2 Baltika beers in the Pakistani Deli next door. The neighborhood feels more like the ex-Soviet Union than Russia does, because the immigrants have hung on to what feels like home, for better or worse. If you’re seeking the Russian gangster experience, head for one of the restaurant nightclubs, like Odessa or National (pictured below). The dancing, costumes, and shows are totally over the top. Это здорово. Bring lots of cash. Far too many born and bred New Yorkers have not had this experience. What a shame.
♥ Astoria. In 1999-2000, I lived on 33rd Ave, near 29th St and Broadway in Astoria. I loved it there. Astoria is known for its Greek community, but also has lots of Eastern Europeans (especially Bosnians) and Egyptians, which makes for a lively stroll through the neighborhood. There are great Greek cafes and lots of good Thai, Egyptian, and Colombian places. A favorite is Uncle George’s, on Broadway, a grungy Greek taverna open 24/7. No coffee is served. Neither is breakfast. Just the regular, greasy, lamb-laden menu all around the clock. (Touristy? How many “fodor’s-lugging tourists” trek out to Queens?) They serve extremely garlicky fare, with cheap carafes of house wine. The food is certainly not refined, but the experience is very Astoria, and good fun. Another favorite Euro-Astoria experience: Zlata Praha, for Slovak and Czech food and décor.
♥ On at least one occasion I walked from Astoria to Jackson Heights, to get a feel for Queens. I also adore Jackson Heights, though I recommend taking the train over walking. Some Indian friends refuse to go because it’s “dirty,” but I love the trip out to eat, shop, and enjoy. The main strip is full of South Asian restaurants, sari boutiques, jewelry stores (gold, lots of gold), music shops, and sweet stalls. There’s a huge grocery store, Patel Brothers, with great bargains on rice, spices, tiger biscuits, you name it. My favorite restaurant closed, so try your luck where you may.
♥ Staten Island Ferry to Little Sri Lanka. This is a more recent favorite. The Staten Island Ferry is delightful. I take visitors on it at least four times a year. It was always a bit of a drag in Staten Island, because the turnaround often meant an annoying wait in a nasty room, but the terminals have been refurbished on both sides, making the journey more pleasant. And I’ve found San Rasa, a Sri Lankan restaurant that’s a 10-minute walk from the Ferry. There’s a Sri Lankan neighborhood with more groceries and restaurants a further 10-minute walk up Victory Street (around Cebra St). That makes for a long return, so I usually stick with San Rasa. If you want to try Sri Lankan food, which well-prepared is amazing, without the trek, Sigiri in the East Village is worth a visit. Both are B.Y.O.
♥ Fort Tryon Park/Cloisters. If you want a break from the city but can’t make it out of town, take the A train up to Fort Tryon Park. The gardens have faded over the last few years, but the views of the Hudson River and the Palisades are stunning, and the air feels cleaner here than further downtown. The Cloisters (part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art) are a quiet, gorgeous escape from the bustle of Manhattan. There are plenty of cafes around for lunch—New Leaf in the park, and a few on 187th Street. Or grab some sandwiches at Frank’s Market and have a picnic in the park.
Okay, long enough. The third and last part of “I <3 NY” will mention the obligatory NY cultural faves as well as our biggest draw, NY moments.