If I had to pick just one neighborhood for walking and eating in New York City, it would have to be the East Village. There is so much good, cheap and unusual food packed into just one or two streets – it’s a great way to really experience all the wonders that the city has to offer. It’s also just a really cool place to be – lots of funky shopping and interesting people watching for in-between courses.
I discovered the East Village early on in my adventures by doing an internet search for ‘Best dumplings NYC’. I expected to be led to Chinatown (and don’t get me wrong, lots of fantastic dumplings to have there – I’ll write about it another day), but instead found myself drawn to a place called Dumpling Man on St. Marks Place. The place is just fantastic – a small narrow shop dominated by Asian Women making fresh dumplings as you order. They have several different types: pork, chicken, veggie, shrimp and two specialty flavors each day as well. I’ve tried most of the flavors, and they are all great, but when I go now, I just go with the pork. They are sublime. To have any other flavor is just to long for the moment you are eating the pork ones again! They have some really funky dipping sauces as well, but as much as I love condiments (and I really, really do), I just go with their basic sauce that sits in bottles on the table. Again, once you’ve found perfection, there is no need to dress it up in satin. I hit this place whenever I’m in the area, and it features prominently in my favorite homemade walking tour “Just places that serve only one basic type of food” (it really needs a snappier name). Two other places in the East Village feature in this tour: Porchetta and Pommes Frittes.
Porchetta is not for the faint of heart. Or for the kosher. The entire place is about the size of my living room and the menu consists of about 10 items, including drinks. The only seating is two or three stools along the side with a tiny counter. It doesn’t matter. You are not here for the ambiance or for the relaxation. You are here for the porchetta sandwich. Here is the Wikipedia definition of porchetta:
Porchetta [por?ketta] is a savoury, fatty, and moist boneless pork roast of Italian culinary tradition. The body of the pig is gutted, deboned, arranged carefully with layers of stuffing, meat, fat, and skin, then rolled, spitted, and roasted, traditionally over wood. Porchetta is usually heavily salted in addition to being stuffed with garlic, rosemary, fennel, or other herbs, often wild.
Do you know what I call it? An acceptable way to die happy. Get the sandwich. Get a veggie side if they have one that day if you feel you need to do something to assuage your guilt. You’ll make little mewling sounds as you eat it.
Still with me? Take your cholesterol meds and lets hit the next ‘One food’ tour stop – Pommes Frites. They serve french fries. Just french fries. But really awesome, Belgian Style French fries. Not to mention sauces – they have more than 25 including Irish curry, Parmesan peppercorn, and sweet mango chutney mayo. They offer three sauces for $2.50 but it has been my experience that if you bad your eyelashes and look really indecisive, they’ll give you a taste of a couple more. The place is simplicity in a paper cone – what is more satisfying than some hot double-fried Belgian fries with dipping sauces? But save room………
The newest addition for me to the East Village is the Big Gay Ice Cream Shop. They started as a NYC food truck that got rave reviews for their amazing soft serve and original flavor combinations. Now that they’ve opened a store in the East Village that makes a perfect ending for a day of ‘One food’ places. In the summer the place has a line but is is worth every minute. Often there is an interesting character placed outside the store to amuse you during your wait. Once you get in, save yourself the stress of deciding and get the salty pimp – it’s their signature item. They take a cone and coat the inside with their homemade dulce de leche. Then they put in their homemade soft serve. Then – just to blow your mind, they inject the cone (so it’s throughout the ice cream and not just on the outside) with more of the dulce de leche. To finish, they sprinkle the cone with sea salt and dip in chocolate. Yes – it is that good.
As you can imagine, I’m pretty full after hitting all these places. I usually have to walk it off by going to another neighborhood before I can eat anymore. As a result, I have a bucket list of other great places in the area I plan on trying as soon as I can as I’ve heard great things about them: Crif Dogs, Ray’s Candy Store, Caracas Arepa Bar, Xi’an Famous Foods, Dirt Candy, and Spot Dessert Bar. All these places are within a block or so of each other. So if you only have a short amount of time in the city and want to maximize your quality eating – the East Village is the place to go!