The warmly painted walls inside Veselka envelop the room in folky florals and traditional Ukrainian symbols. Hanging from the ceiling are glowing milk glass globes that seem to replace the sun or moon depending on the time of day — and it could be any time at all, as Veselka is open for twenty-four hours, seven days a week, serving a smorgasbord of pierogis, bowls of borscht, and other expertly prepared comfort foods — Ukrainian and otherwise. Wlodymyr Darmochwal planted roots for Veselka when, as one of the founders of the neighborhood Plast organization (akin to the Ukrainian boy scouts, teaching survival skills and Ukrainian language), he was asked to create a weekend study program for the boys. In response, he opened a five-and-dime style counter at the corner of East 9th Street and Second Avenue where the boys could buy paper clips, cigarettes, lighters, and, notably, bowls of borscht and other basic Ukrainian foods. The business expanded into another storefront on East 9th Street a decade later. After Wlodymyr’s passing in 1972, it was taken over by his stepson, Tom Birchard, who was later joined by his son, Jason. Today, having worked at the restaurant since he was a teenager, Jason has “done every single job possible here except cook the borscht. ”When Jason joined the team, one of his first projects was to find out, “How late can we stay open? ” It turns out the answer was “all night. ” As Tom and Jason once again prepare to expand the restaurant into an adjoining storefront on 9th Street, they are eager to continue serving the next generation the kind of traditional Ukrainian food that Wlodymyr would have had at his counter more than sixty years ago.
At Paris Baguette, the Manhattan Sideways team grabbed a tray and a set of tongs and indulged. We found each baked bread to be more desirable than the next, from the simple white loaf to the peanut crumb to the chocolate cream bread. The cakes are magnificent pieces of art. We were particularly drawn to the strawberry and fresh cream, and the chocolate and banana. A chain that originated in Korea, Paris Baguette now provides baked goods to almost three thousand stores. Although not everything is prepared in-house, the aroma alone makes it worth a visit, as does the show of people who come through Paris Baguette each day.
The inside of Nice Matin is like a bright carnival ground with three central pillars decorated with lights, wide spaces between tables, and colorful art on the walls. Above the doorway, there is an arrangement of baskets and fruit with handwritten signs and prices in euros, emulating European markets. At any hour of the day or evening, the restaurant is filled with people both from the surrounding neighborhood as well as from the Lucerne, the connecting hotel. The chef and owner of Nice Matin is Andy D'Amico, who has since gone on to develop other restaurants around the city, including 5 Napkin Burger. After attending the Culinary Institute of America, Andy worked at Parker House in Boston and at the Sign of the Dove on the Upper East Side, where he was promoted to head chef. In 2003, he partnered with Simon Oren to open Nice Matin, a venture that earned him the title of "Best Chef 2003" from New York Magazine. I met with Danny, the General Manager, who shared their elaborate cocktail list that had classics with a twist. He brought out a San Tropez, Nice Matin's take on the mojito. It had summery passion fruit foam that complemented the mint and dark rum. The restaurant has seasonal cocktails, such as hot toddies in the winter and Campari cocktails in the spring. My favorite time to dine at Nice Matin, however, is on a warm weekend morning when their elaborate brunch menu is offered, and I can sit outside.
"We are the oldest restaurant on our block. We try to keep a low profile while doing the best we can, and every day we appreciate that we are living in this country, ” said Guadalupe, who has been married to Rafael Rivas — affectionately known as Papa Bear — for over forty years. The restaurant was founded by three Cuban cousins, who took Rafael under their wing when he came to the U. S. from the Dominican Republic in his twenties. With their encouragement, he started out as a dishwasher, then a lineman, and eventually ran the show up front. When the cousins decided to retire in the mid-1980s but could not find a buyer, Rafael stepped up to the plate and asked if he could take over Margon. With years of hard work and small payments, Rafael has upheld the cousins' tradition of serving Cuban favorites, such as roasted pork, oxtail, fried sweet plantains, and rice and beans to the line of customers that stretches out the door on any given day. Little by little, each member of Rafael's family was brought from the DR to join the fold. Guadalupe — who met her husband while they were both on a tour of the Statue of Liberty — along with Rafael's brother, sister, sister-in-law, and many of their children — are all part of this warm and loving family affair. Papa Bear's smile lights up Margon — and his entire family smiles with him. They work like a well-oiled machine, serving a constant flow of customers ranging from construction workers on break, to ladies meeting for a leisurely lunch, to a gentleman in his eighties who never misses a day to sit down and enjoy his usual. According to Guadalupe, “We have the best customers. They come from all over the world. We have every accent. They visit once and then they tell their friends.
Jon Eisen is not only one of the partners of Between the Bread and its director of strategic growth, but he is also heir to one of the pioneers of the venture, which has delivered sandwiches to office workers since 1979. Ricky Eisen, Jon’s mother and the company’s president - who was born on the outskirts of Tel Aviv - decided to use large-scale catering to bring healthy meals to her clients in a more efficient way. Jon claims that the result was the first catering company in New York City. Ricky’s idea to use only healthy and local ingredients proved to be a pivotal moment in the way catering to corporate clients is done today. In 2013, Ricky put her son in charge of the retail and café side of the business, which up until that point had been secondary to catering. Recognizing the recent popular trend of eating healthy and local, Jon quickly began streamlining the production process, including installing digital cash registers to track customer orders. This lead to a doubling of revenue. His success prompted Ricky to name him partner in 2015. Despite these changes, the core of the business is still the same: using organic, fresh, and seasonal to serve “high quality meals. ” And to hear it from Jon and the head of brand strategy, Victoria Rolandelli, this core seems to resonate well with customers. Between the Bread opened two more locations in October 2015 and has plans to have a total of twelve locations throughout the city. Located in the Chelsea Terminal Warehouse, the 27th Street Between the Bread is in a massive space that was previously an unloading station for trains. In the not-too-distant future, once Hudson Yards is complete, it is Jon's hope that they will become the "new Chelsea Market. "
No matter what time of day we have stopped by Grey Dog, the restaurant is pulsing, but in a quiet, relaxed sort of way. Despite the lines to order food from the menu on the chalkboard and the crowded tables, everyone is calm and content. Apparently, this has been the vibe since two brothers opened their first restaurant back in 1996 on Carmine Street. Today they have expanded to four different locations, each one incredibly successful. The formula seems to be quite simple – a chill atmosphere, easy-going but efficient staff, a menu that covers all of the basics with a bit of a flair, hefty portions and, most importantly, everything tastes great. Beginning early in the morning, there are pancakes, French toast, eggs, homemade granola and coffee being served. As the day progresses, lots of sandwiches, salads and other creative dishes are available for lunch and dinner. Without a doubt, if I lived nearby, I would also become a regular.
If one were to close their eyes and walk into Hill Country, there is no doubt that in an instant they would know what kind of food was being prepared. At Hill Country, they take their barbecue very seriously. The food is prepared in their very own custom meat-smoking room, and everything is done in the style of Central Texas barbecue. The atmosphere is kitschy and relaxed, with live American music most nights of the week.
Since its inception, Cafe Mogador has become a beloved East Village institution. In fact, it gained such a devoted following from both New York locals and celebrities that it later opened a second location in Williamsburg. The two successful restaurants, which specialize in inventive Moroccan-inspired dishes, owe their fame to the family that has continued to run both cafes. Cafe Mogador was founded by Rivka Orlin, who was born in the Moroccan city of Mogador that has since been re-named Essaouira. Though she and her family later emigrated to Israel, Rivka fostered a passion for both cuisines as she spent her childhood cooking alongside her mother. When Rivka and her brother moved to New York, there was no question that they would dedicate their new business to celebrating their heritage. The cafe is now known for Moroccan classics such as succulent braised tagines, warm homemade pitas, and a variety of dips, as well as its unexpected fusions with other cuisines, from Middle Eastern Eggs Benedict to duck confit.
On a perfect summer day, the Sideways team sat down for lunch at Tacombi, a relatively new and thriving addition to Manhattan’s Mexican food scene. Sitting at one of the higher tables near the front of the restaurant, with a breeze blowing in from 24th street, one can’t help but notice that the restaurant practically gleams (at the time of writing, it is just about seven weeks old). Even the painted sign advertising “Frutos Naturales” above the juice bar looks as if it was finished that morning. We sampled a variety of tacos and other Mexican staples (including their remarkably flavorful rice and beans), as well as some of their fresh-squeezed juices. Although all of it was delicious and satisfying, we were particularly taken with a few of the dishes we tried. Their El Pastor tacos, prepared with pork roasted and marinated with pineapple for two days before serving, were tender and savory. For our vegetarian readers, the Quesadilla Maiz Azul, prepared with dried chili sauce, Chihuahua cheese, and corn on a blue tortilla, and the Black Ben Y Sweet Potatoes taco, are must-haves. And, for the scorching summer days to come, their pineapple juice with ginger and mint takes refreshment to another level. Our food came with sides of salsa verde, salsa roja, escabeche (a mix of pickled vegetables), and radish and mint, as well as an optional extra-hot habanero sauce for the adventurous — all fresh and prepared in-house. Fresh, in-house, and local is the name of the game for Tacombi’s executive chef Jason DeBriere. Everything from the tortillas — which, if you come at the right time of day, you can watch them make in their tortilleria — to the guacamole, to the meat used in their tacos, is prepared fresh every day. DeBriere even goes personally to markets around New York City to select the vegetables for the escabeche. Alan, a chef at Tacombi with whom we had the privilege of speaking, described DeBriere as a mago de comer, which roughly translates to “food wizard. ” “He never cuts corners, ” he added. He also emphasized the dedication of every chef in the kitchen to making everything fresh every day, as well as making locally sourced ingredients a major priority. “We’re just trying to produce traditional Mexican food, ” Alan told us. “We’re not trying to do a fusion with American food. ” This philosophy extends to their breakfast menu, which is full of traditional Mexican breakfast dishes like their huevos rancheros and fresh-baked breakfast pastries, like their fruit-filled empanadas. With its open, relaxing atmosphere and exceptional Mexican cuisine, Tacombi is a great place to stop by for any meal. “We want to create a space that does more than welcomes you, ” Alan said. “It transports you. ”
As I walk the side streets of Manhattan, I am constantly seeing the destruction of the past. Thus, it was refreshing to find a new establishment, like the Refinery Hotel, embracing, and even perpetuating the city’s history: through its refurbishment, its restaurant, Parker & Quinn and even its branding. The Refinery’s building, (with its own entrance on 38th Street or through the restaurant on 39th) originally named the Colony Arcade, was once the millinery hub of the Garment District and continued as a hat factory until the 1980s. With hat-making tools, sewing machines and other manufacturing objects integrated throughout the Hotel’s interiors, the Refinery bridges materials of the past with a luxury hotel experience. Their rooms feel extra spacious with high-ceilings, custom-made furniture and stunning hardwood flooring, a rarity in hotels for sure. Besides drawing on the building’s millinery history, the Refinery recalls the past in their lobby lounge. Soon after the building first opened in 1912, Winnie T. MacDonald opened a ladies’ tea salon on the ground floor where she offered female shoppers a place to rest, to socialize and to get an extra kick in their cuppa gin or whiskey. Today, Winnie’s Lobby Bar continues as a resting place for weary travelers in need of a drink, conversation or entertainment – as there is an added bonus of live jazz Monday through Friday evenings between the hours of 7: 30 and 10: 30. I was completely enchanted by the lobby, the art and the guest rooms, but the surprises did not stop there. The lovely woman, who showed us around, then took us to the rooftop bar, which offers another breathtaking view of the Empire State Building and its surroundings. I was most impressed when introduced to the in-house mixologist who mentioned that he had worked for NASA. Before concluding our tour, we walked through the other end of the lobby to enter Parker & Quinn, which dresses up American comfort food in a delectable looking menu and atmosphere. With chandeliers of depression-era glass, wide booths and decorative tiles, this restaurant emanates that same vintage feel as the hotel.
A line out the door at lunchtime certainly caught my attention. When I inquired, I was told that the food is fresh, the sandwiches are terrific, and that their Mediterranean menu is worth the wait. Thus, the Manhattan Sideways team queued up along side everyone else, as who would not trust the word on the street? Meeting the two animated Israeli owners, David and Yariv, was an added bonus, as we secured one of the few tables to sit and eat our freshly made dishes. We eagerly delved into the bowl of hummus, the hot pressed mozzarella sandwich and the strips of zucchini with lemon, olive oil and toasted almonds. We left with a full understanding of why people are willing to stand on line. Although, we also learned that Picnic Basket is expanding their kitchen in an effort to accommodate more people at a faster pace.