After not getting the post for yesterday AND Sunday done until this morning, I’m back to writing a post today about what we did…today! We may be currently relaxing in the hotel room, but we’ve already had a pretty full day, with some more stuff planned, so I definitely won’t get this post done before we head back out, but I’m going to get a start!
Would you believe we did another tour today? This one had a totally different vibe though, for a couple of reasons. For one thing, it was SHORTER, only lasting a little over two hours (plus it started at noon, so no early wake-up call for us) and it was on foot, so we got a LOT of steps in. Also, this was a food tour in Brooklyn, so more specific than the general borough tour we took yesterday. Does that make it sound like we just walked around and ate today? Good because that’s what we did! To be fair, we did also learn more about Brooklyn and the neighborhoods we walked through, but there was also a fair amount of eating involved (more than I expected, in fact!). And did I mention we were the ONLY people on the tour? I had just been joking with Scott that it would be fun if we were the only ones on the tour right before we met our guide, Jessie. And then she said we were, in fact, the only people. For a tour like this though, that was actually perfect as we got to have her full attention and talk to her a lot, without having to worry about trying to keep a dozen people corralled for a few hours. Also, the tour was advertised as being three hours long, but since we “walked like New Yorkers” (according to our guide), we got done in just over two hours. Huzzah!
We started the day with the long walk to Brooklyn (~4.5 miles), which we didn’t have to do, but we decided a long walk would be a good way to start the day (we walk a LOT at home, so 4.5 miles wasn’t awful for us). The sun was shining and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky as we made our way through the city to the Manhattan Bridge, stopping to take a few photos along the way. I’m not sure how long it took us to walk across the bridge, but it felt like we were on it for at least a half-hour! This bridge has both car and train traffic on it, so it wasn’t exactly a quiet, calming walk, but we did have some nice views along the way and it was a good way to start our day, so I wasn’t mad at it. I was happy when we arrived though!
And with that, we finally made it into Brooklyn! Whew. 🙂 We even had time to spare, so we popped into a local Dunkin’ Donuts for a little donut moment and to rest our feet after the long walk. Knowing we were doing a food tour, the donut wasn’t really necessary, but we hadn’t eaten anything yet, so I didn’t feel bad. We actually got a text from Jessie (tour guide) when she arrived at the meeting spot, which was super convenient as then we didn’t have to guess when to show up (the Dunkin was across the street, so we didn’t have far to walk).
Once she confirmed we would be the only two people on the tour, she jumped right in with all kinds of useful info about Brooklyn, its neighborhoods, and the food we would enjoy. From there, we started our wander around Brooklyn and soon came upon our first stop, Bien Cuit. This is a French bakery that is apparently very highly regarded, even by the French population by Brooklyn. They had all kinds of tasty treats and our sample was of one of their standards – a croissant. Oh, and if you’re wondering how things worked as far as buying the food we ate throughout the day, Jessie took care of all that. The cost of the tour includes all the food, so we didn’t have to worry about buying any of it.
As we continued our stroll through the Cobble Hill neighborhood, Jessie shared more interesting tidbits about the area. Before we knew it, we hit our second stop, One Girl Cookies. This stop felt like it was a short one for some reason, though I don’t think we spent any less time than we did anywhere else. Plus, there were COOKIES! We learned that the woman who opened the business originally made the cookies herself, out of her house. And then she opened her first proper storefront, hired a baker, and then married him. Awww, happily ever after! As with Bien Cuit, there were a variety of treats on offer, but the one chosen for us by Jessie (we didn’t have any say in what we ate as I’m sure it’s all chosen ahead of time in partnership with the places we visited, with the cost of the tour priced to account for those choices) was cookies. Mini-cookies (AKA tea cookies), to be precise. We each got three – chocolate chip, chocolate mocha, and lemon rosemary shortbread. They were all tasty, but I was especially surprised by the lemon rosemary shortbread, mostly because I thought it would be too savory, but the rosemary actually worked really well with the sweetness of the shortbread and the tartness of the lemon. All tasty and worth trying!
On the way to our next stop, we heard a fun story about a Trader Joe’s we walked by. What’s so interesting about it? The building it occupies dates back to the mid-1920s and it was originally built as a bank. And, before that was built, somewhere near the site was an important Revolutionary War site, where George Washington himself is said to have observed some of the battles. Neat! You can read more about it here. And after you go see it yourself (if you’re so inclined), be sure to also hit up our next food stop, Damascus Bread & Pastry (also in Cobble Hill). It’s been owned by the same family since 1930 and they bake up all kinds of tasty Lebanese treats (savory pies, baklava, etc.). After having a couple of sweet treats at our first stops, it was nice to go for something more savory this time – a spinach pie. I must confess that spinach is NOT my favorite veggie, so I would have picked something else if I’d had a choice, but it was actually pretty good. And instead of splitting one as we’d done with the croissant, we each got one. It was at this point that I started to get a little full and was hoping I wouldn’t be dragging myself home by the end of the tour. I mean, that probably would have been worth it, but it wouldn’t have been very comfortable. 🙂
Moving on from Lebanese pies, we traveled a short distance to Table 87, famous for their coal-oven pizza. Finally, some pizza!! Other than sampling the pizza from our hotel’s restaurant (it is an Italian restaurant, which is great, but it still doesn’t scratch that NYC-style ‘za itch), we hadn’t had any yet, so we were excited to try something authentic. We learned some interesting tidbits here, particularly the fact that coal ovens aren’t a thing anymore because they aren’t good for the environment (burning coal, after all). So if a place is using one, it’s because it’s very old (pre-1950s, I think Jessie said) as ovens that age are allowed to continue operation, but no new ones can be built. Also, Table 87 is also famous for being on Shark Tank, where they got a funding deal to make their pizzas available to order online, allowing the coal-fired goodness to be shipped all over the place. I’m sure that was hugely helpful during the pandemic when restaurants couldn’t be open! We also learned about how the tap water in NYC is apparently very good and that it impacts dough in such a way that it positively contributes to the flavor of both pizza and bagels made here. So much so that people in nearby states will sometimes have NYC water brought in so they can replicate NYC food! I’d never heard that before and it smells like something that locals tell tourists, but who knows. It sounds like something restaurants and foodies would do!
After our pizza stop, we had a little bit of a longer walk and wander to get to our next stop, so Jessie filled the time with more fun facts and interesting info about Brooklyn and NYC. We talked about brownstones and how prevalent they were, even though brownstone itself was both expensive to work with and not the best material to build a house from (there’s always brick behind the brownstone facades, apparently). She also told us that the brown street signs you see sometimes (see below for an example) mean that the entire street is a historical landmark. It was neat to hear that, even in a huge city NYC, communities will (sometimes, at least) come together to try and protect important buildings so they won’t just be knocked down. We strolled down Verandah Place, which is one of those streets that’s entirely protected as a landmark and how the buildings that are now houses used to be stables. Really cool to learn about those little things in a big place like this! Oh, and speaking of buildings, we discussed the fact that, way back when these neighborhoods were being built, the people had no desire to have really tall buildings (Manhattan had that covered), so that’s why nothing is taller than a few stories. People wanted churches to be the tallest buildings so they could easily serve as landmarks, especially as churches were (and, for some, still are) so important to the neighborhoods then.
Our second-to-last stop was a refreshing one, especially on a warm, sunny day – Italian ice at Court Pastry Shop, in the Carroll Gardens neighborhood. Being a lover of all things pastry (well, carbs in general), I was excited when we walked up because I was thinking there would be some delicious donut involved. Sadly not, but the Italian ices we did get (pineapple for me, lemon for Scott) were very tasty and the perfect treat for a late-summer day. The ice was so finely ground up and totally smooth – not at all what I was expecting (I was visualizing more of a snowcone-type treat). Although the cup it came in looked small (see below), it was actually a good amount and I couldn’t even finish mine!
From here, we walked to our final stop, Brooklyn Farmacy and Soda Fountain. This place has been around so long (since the 1920s) that pharmacy was really spelled with an f when it opened! That’s way back when it was actually an apothecary, but these days it’s a soda fountain, where locals go to get tasty treats. Sadly, thanks to the pandemic, it’s only open for takeout, so you don’t get to sit at the old-fashioned soda fountain counter, but I love that places like this still exist and are still thriving. Thanks to our aforementioned NYC-style walking (though Scott and I both felt like we were slowing our usual pace!), we actually got to Brooklyn Farmacy about 15 minutes before they opened, so we chatted for a bit before going inside to get our egg creams. Have you ever had an egg cream? If so, you know it has neither egg nor cream in it. Huh? Yes, that’s right – an egg cream is made of seltzer water, milk, and flavored syrup, so it’s kind of a like a thinner, slightly carbonated milkshake. I’ll be honest and say the description didn’t appeal to me that much (carbonated milk?!), but we were of course still going to try them. Scott got vanilla, while I got chocolate and, while neither of them were amazing, we both agreed the texture and flavor worked better with vanilla than chocolate. Don’t get me wrong – I love a good milkshake and I especially love a great malt, but the combination of these ingredients together wasn’t my jam. But hey, the experience was still fun!
And that was the end of our food tour with Jessie! Truly a great experience and we had perfect weather for it. And what a fun (and tasty) way to see and learn more about Brooklyn, especially since the food/restaurants were chosen to show off the city’s diversity and different cultural groups. Regular readers won’t be surprised to learned that we booked it through Viator and we both definitely recommend it. It’s not a big time commitment and doesn’t require an early start, so if you like to eat and want to explore more of Brooklyn, this will be perfect. We paid ~$80 each, which may seem a little steep, but that does include all the food. Definitely worth it!
Will it surprise any of you to learn that we went back to the hotel to relax a bit afterwards? Well, not entirely true, as we first walked to Dumbo (that’s Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass) to grab a photo of a neat view of the Manhattan Bridge. I had never been there before, though Scott visited on a previous trip with a friend of ours. It was about a half-hour walk from where we ended our food tour, so we figured WHY NOT put some more steps on our feet? 🙂 It was a really neat view, so I’m glad we did!
Okay, THEN it was time to head back to the hotel to relax for a bit. We decided we would pause the ol’ pedometer and instead took a Lyft back to the hotel. It was so nice to sit down! And don’t worry, this time I used some of our time back at the hotel to work on this blog post (though it’s now Wednesday morning, so I clearly didn’t finish).
Being our last night here, Scott had made a dinner reservation for us. Jolene is a quaint little place in NoHo (near Bowery) that calls itself an “American bistro” and has some pretty tasty food. We got two items from the snack menu (arancini and Spanish chorizo with manchego and olives), one from the vegetable menu (roasted sweet peppers with ricotta), and two entrees (chicken milanese and the cheeseburger). Too much food? Hmm, possibly. But it was all so good! They also brought us a little bowl of pistachios to enjoy with our adult beverages, which was a nice way to start the meal. While their menu isn’t big, it’s certainly enjoyable, so I recommend a visit. It’s a little on the pricey side (again, no surprise), but I think that was more because of the drinks than anything else. We did pay ~$175, but that was for three shared plates, two entrees, and three drinks, as well as the tip. So actually, not that bad! It’s not a big place, but we actually got a small table outside, where the weather was perfect. Give them a try!
As if alllll of this wasn’t enough for one day, we decided on Monday that we would add one more thing to our Tuesday itinerary – Edge NYC! Sure, it has an “edgy” name (see what I did there?), but it’s just a fancy name for an observation deck. It’s a really new one though, as it first opened in March 2020, just days before the pandemic. So, obviously it didn’t get used for awhile when everything shut down, but I’m glad it’s back now. I’ve previously visited observation decks at the Empire State Building and Top of the Rock, so I was happy to add another one to the mix. This one operated much the same as all of them – buy your ticket (we pre-bought ours online), go through a security moment, have a photo taken (so they can sell it to you at the end), and then go up an elevator (this time to the 100th floor) and enjoy the views. We chose an evening viewing time both because it fit with our schedule and because we thought it would be awesome to see the lights of NYC at night. And the views were great! Not a cloud in the sky, a nice breeze, and it didn’t feel too crowded, which was VERY nice. Not only can you enjoy great views across the city, but you can also go to a section that has a clear floor, allowing you to look straight down. Of course, lots of people were taking advantage of that, though it was clear some of them didn’t want to be there. 🙂
Okay, that is IT! This turned into another big post, but we were able to do a lot, so there was a lot to say (and show). In about a half-hour, we’ll be leaving our hotel to head to the airport (thankfully only about a half-hour drive from here), thus bringing our first post-COVID trip to an end. We were able to take one more quick-ish trip out this morning, so look for another post about that soon.