"Daily Provisions followed a long trajectory, " Max Rockoff announced as we sat down to chat about the neighborhood hot spot, an offshoot of the newly opened Union Square Cafe. I met Max, the warm and enthusiastic general manager, in late August of 2017, a few months after the Union Square Hospitality Group debuted their latest restaurant venture. "As Union Square Cafe's space grew, ours continued to get smaller and smaller, " Max told me. "We weren't quite sure where we were headed, but the space dictated the concept, " he continued. When Danny Meyer and his team found this location, a few blocks north of the original Union Square Cafe, they knew that they wished to utilize every inch of it in the most sensible way, but they were always thinking of the community surrounding them. "We had to make an unbelievable place in a tiny footprint, " Max explained. They kept asking themselves, "What can we do with this jewel box on Park Avenue and 19th Street? " They were eager to give a "gift" to those who lived nearby. When the group sat down to discuss their ideas, foremost in their minds was, "What are the daily things people want? " They hoped to provide the best versions of what their customers know and love. Max said it had to start with fantastic coffee first thing in the morning, together with some smashing breakfast treats. This would then be followed by salads and interesting sandwiches on freshly baked bread. At the end of the day, the space could provide an outstanding roast chicken that could be picked up on the way home. The final innovation by the team was “cross-utilization. ” Within the downstairs kitchen - accessible from both restaurants - there is a shared bakeshop facility. It is here that they make the incredible "house loaf" - a brown sour dough bread that is served in the restaurant and used to make many of the specialty sandwiches all day long at Daily Provisions. "There is no redundancy here, " Max asserted, "We can feed families all day long. Our breakfast is nothing crazy, it is just the best. " In fact, the bacon, eggs and cheese sandwich is one of the most requested items at almost any hour. Therefore, they offer it until 4: 00 p. m. every afternoon. "The people demand it, so we provide it. We listen to them. " The roast beef sandwich is a classic lunchtime treat, "but it is our version. " I also learned about a special sandwich that is not on the menu, but which is proving to be the real "go-to" - herbed ricotta and arugula served on their house-made English muffin. Then there is the Patty Melt - the meat is blended with grilled onions and served on housemade rye bread with melted cheese. Max shared that the team tried all kinds of cheese for their melt, and when they did a blind tasting, it was the classic American that won. The Daily Provisions team also wanted the small cafe to be a place where people could stop by and unwind, sip on some wine, work on their computer, or simply meet up with friends for relaxing conversation. Somehow, although not surprisingly, this talented and well-loved restaurant group has managed to accomplish it all. I had the pleasure of meeting a woman who came by for a glass of wine around 5: 00 p. m. She worked upstairs in the building and told me that she makes a habit of coming to Daily Provisions at the end of her day. It was so nice to watch her settle in comfortably, acknowledging members of the staff, as well as other patrons sitting around the white marble counters. When I commented to Max on how extraordinary this was, he said, "She is a microcosm of what we've become. "Max was genuinely pleased to tell me that many guests who initially visited when Daily Provisions first opened continue to gravitate back on a regular basis. "They're comfortable here. " Gushing, Max said that the best time of day is when everyone gathers on weekend mornings. He loves how the neighborhood utilizes the shop, be it for a cup of good coffee or a full breakfast. It is a place for all ages that has become a routine stop for many. "Everyone uses it in their own way. " He has found it fascinating to see how the area denizens have embraced them. "They have made us their own. " It was also quite apparent to me how Max and his staff have effortlessly enveloped the community.
2010 was a big year for Fany Gerson. A native of Mexico City and a former pastry chef at Eleven Madison Park, she spent the spring and summer launching her business, La Newyorkina, which sells traditional Mexican ice pops and sweets. But as winter approached, business began to slow down, and a good friend of hers suggested that they open a doughnut shop together. Fany was skeptical at first—“Bed-Stuy didn’t seem like the obvious place for gourmet doughnuts”—but in spite of her reservations, she accepted the job. After long discussions with her business partner about textures and flavors, Fany set out to create the perfect old-fashioned doughnut, thick and hearty, but also light. “We wanted a doughnut that would taste good naked, ” she told me “and we knew it was all about the dough, hence the name. ” Finally, after endless tweaking and experimenting, Fany hit on the perfect recipe, and three weeks later, Dough opened its doors in Brooklyn. It was the beginning of a wonderful partnership. Throughout the fall and winter, Fany devoted most of her attention to Dough; as the weather grew warmer and doughnut sales declined, she had time to develop new flavors and recipes for La Newyorkina. But it has not always been easy to balance the two businesses, especially since Dough’s second location opened in the fall of 2014. “That first summer, ” Fany recalled, “the hot weather unexpectedly affected the doughnuts, and I had to adjust my recipe last-minute and work on La Newyorkina at the same time. ” She smiled, and added, “I don’t get a lot of sleep. ”But in spite of the difficulties, it is obvious that Fany loves what she does. She gave me a fascinating tour of Dough’s kitchen, enthusiastically pointing out where the dough rises and how the doughnuts are fried, about one minute on each side. “Most places make their doughnuts in the morning, ” Fany explained, “but we take it a step further. Our doughnuts are fresh and warm whenever you come in. ” Once the doughnuts are fried, they are ready for the final touch—the glaze. I was eager to ask Fany about this stage of the process, since Dough is known for its exotic flavors—some of its best sellers include hibiscus, mocha almond, and dulce de leche. “Inspiration is everywhere, ” Fany told me, “but a lot of my flavors come from my memories of Mexico. ” She invented the hibiscus flavor, for example, on a hot day when she was craving the refreshing hibiscus water that she used to drink back at home. “We needed a colorful doughnut, ” she told me, “but I didn’t want to use coloring. And it occurred to me that hibiscus has a beautiful natural color. ”Some of Fany’s flavors have become so popular that customers complain if she takes them off the menu. “We have a few flavors that rotate, but not many, ” she told me. “We have to give the people what they want, but we also try to keep it interesting. ” Some of Dough’s best-selling staples include salted chocolate caramel, café au lait, and nutella, although Fany’s personal favorite is the cinnamon sugar. “I also like the tart flavors, like passion fruit and tropical chile, ” she told me. “The glaze is a nice contrast to the richness of the doughnut. ”I was surprised to learn that, in addition to producing hundreds or even thousands of doughnuts each day, Dough runs a wholesale operation at night, selling doughnuts to nearby coffee shops and supermarkets. To keep the business running smoothly both during the day and at night, Fany estimates that Dough employs thirty or forty employees total. Dough has been hugely successful, and Fany told me that they will soon be opening another location in Manhattan. “It’s hard, ” she told me, “I’d like to see the business grow, but I’m hesitant to do franchises in other cities. ” Instead, she prefers to keep Dough personal, developing new products and flavors and expanding on a smaller scale. “We’re trying new things every day, ” she told me, “and we’re growing organically. ”After the tour, Fany led me out to Dough’s front counter. “Would you like to try one? ” she asked, and after a moment of deliberation, I chose the dulce de leche doughnut. The smooth caramel flavor of the glaze paired perfectly with the crunchy slivered almonds on top, but the best part, as I expected, was biting into the soft, airy dough, still warm from the oven.
Every time I am walking with someone new, I find myself winding past Breads Bakery to have us try yet another delicious bite of their freshly baked goods. I cannot call this a hidden gem, by any means, as the lines are sometimes out the door. In a matter of a few weeks from when Uri Scheft and Gadi Peleg opened, they have managed to be written up everywhere. They have even been cited as having the best rugelach and babka in different periodicals, but I must encourage all who visit to sample Breads' take on focaccia - the multigrain version. If it is not still warm from the oven, then take it home, heat it up, add a bit more olive oil and savor every bite. Another that I cannot resist are the flaky cheese straws. Direct from the oven, they are impeccable. In fact, fresh is king here, and the baked goods are often fresher than the vegetables around the corner. While most bakeries have their employees come in during the night to pump out a days worth of starchy creations, Uri's staff at Breads Bakery has fresh bread coming out just in time for each of the mealtime rushes. Uri was raised in Israel, but went back to his parent's roots in Denmark for his training in baking. He then traveled and worked in Europe before returning to his homeland to open up his first bakery in Tel Aviv. Many years later, Gadi was traveling in Israel and discovered Uri's Lehamim Bakery. It took several more years of persistence, but ultimately the timing was right and Uri made the huge decision to move to New York and partner with Gadi to open up shop near Union Square. The store itself feels modern and spacious, with one counter for bread and baked goods just as you enter on the left, and another further back with sandwiches and drinks. Extending further back another 75 feet are the kitchens. Customers can watch bakers ease proofed dough off rolls of canvas onto an adjustable conveyer belt, which feeds into the carefully regulated ovens. Unlike Sheft's locations in Israel, he got to design this one from the ground up so the technology involved is sometimes just as amazing as what comes out of the ovens.
While the digital age has allowed us to streamline many services, there are some art forms that must remain analog. One trip to Best Shoe and Bag Original Repair on W21st Street in Chelsea and you’ll be convinced that the time honored art of cobbling is one that can’t be replaced. It’s an art that has been passed down to owner Marcia Sailema from her father, who ran the shop for decades until he retired in 2015. Marcia said that in addition to helping her dad run the family business, she took classes at FIT to sharpen her skills in repairing luxury shoes and bags, which are the businesses specialty. “I learned so much industry vocabulary that I never knew before – like the way that the first part of a shoe design is called the last — and ‘the last comes first! ’” she laughed. She quickly acclimated to the delicate art of making much-loved, long-worn bags and shoes look like new by making delicate leather, paint and stitching matches to designers from Dior to Chanel and in fragile vintage pieces. The intricate work — which Marcia proudly showed us can make a nearly unusable bag or shoe look fresh off the shelf – has led to a loyal customer base. For Marcia, it’s a labor of love. “I really like working on the bags, ” she said, admiring a classic Louis Vuitton monogram bag that she’d recently completed repairs on. “Look at these zippers! ”
Merakia occupies the space that housed Kat & Theo from 2015-2017 - and while the restaurant maintains the same ownership as before, it also has a different mission. The modern Greek steakhouse prides itself on its meats and classic seafood items, while maintaining a classy, hip atmosphere in its cavernous space on 21st Street. “We built a new team… and a new vision, ” managing partner James Paloumbis shared with the Manhattan Sideways team when he spoke of the switch from Kat & Theo. He then went on to highlight Merakia’s differences from other Greek restaurants. “It’s not white and blue like every other place in New York City. Our menu is not the copy paste of any other place. ” The menu is heavy on steaks and seafood, boasting their signature lamb on the spit ("the only restaurant in the city to do so") while, surprisingly, offering some robust meat-free options as well. “Everything is farm to table, we use fresh ingredients, [and] we make everything from scratch on a daily basis. ” James told us that part of his mission is to bring back the adventure of going out to eat, a phenomenon he has noticed declining over the years. “People don’t like to go out anymore just to eat. You can eat at home, you can eat down the street, you can order your meal online. But to get an experience of nice service, some nice flavors, nice music, nice drinks - it’s worth your while to go out again. ” Husband and wife team behind Kat & Theo - Renee and Andreas Typaldos - seem to have orchestrated a smooth transition from their previous restaurant. As their past executive chef, Paras Shah, believed, "there should be a movie written about the couple's romantic backstory and that he “couldn’t have worked for better folks. ” Andy is originally from Greece, and the restaurant was named after his parents, Katerina and Theodosios. Andy came to New York on a scholarship from Columbia and met Renee, who is from the Bronx. He took her out on a first date “with holes in his shoes and with no winter jacket, ” according to Renee. She added, “The romantic, poetic way people get together. ” Today, they are paying homage to Andy's Greek heritage and according to James, “People have to trust their stomachs and their palates with a restaurant, so that’s what we’re trying to do here. Trust us - our food is fresh, our food is made with care, and we love what we do. ”
Calvary-St George’s church moved to Gramercy Park in 1832. It has a strong history of influential members and it was here that Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence was set. In addition to movie nights and summer programs for children, we witnessed a small, delightful concert performance along the sidewalk while walking one day.
Perhaps the attitude of “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, ” works well at Society Billiards. They seem to know that sometimes a classic pool hall is just what people need. Extremely spacious and stocked with countless pool tables, anyone looking to get lost in the game will be sure to love this dimly lit, relaxed, yet classy spot.
As we peered behind the counter at Joe, we saw what looked like a machinist’s shop or a technological artist’s studio, and yet the rich aroma of coffee was unmistakable. Joe is a place for serious coffee, and they hope to make serious coffee-drinkers out of their customers. The front of the shop holds a regular coffee bar, with three stools, and a display with some useful coffee tools for at home brewing. The majority of the space, however, is filled by the coffee studio in back where customers can watch the machines whir and the experts work their magic. For those of us not as knowledgeable in the coffee arena, Joe offers regular classes on topics ranging from brewing technique to what they call “coffee theory. ” While they have several locations throughout Manhattan, Joe's on 21st street serves as the “pro shop” and headquarters.