For half a century, Kessler’s has been mixing the tasteful with the everyday for its midtown east clientele...and delivering sterling results. According to owner Steven Kaiden, “we are completely focused on the neighborhood,” drawing local business people by day and a loyal crowd from the many nearby residential buildings at night. Kessler’s focuses on everyday, lighthearted drinks. “I like finding unique alcohol from all over the world to offer customers and then turning them onto it.” Instead of bigger-name brands, customers often leave with something that has a bit less name recognition, but a rich history of its own. Scouring the corners of the earth for only what he would drink himself, Steven offers a personally curated collection of wines and spirits. The results include quite a few bourbons and other American whiskeys, lots of gin, and a healthy dose of aperitifs and digestifs.
Greeting guests with a small taste of their Spanish mulled house wine, we immediately knew that we had discovered a small wonder. Aytac and Zaf, both from Turkey, are the owners. They lived in New York for many years, working in other restaurants before the two friends decided to embark on their own adventure. They opened their doors in 2007 and have had a steady flow of customers, drawing from both the locals living in the neighborhood and the strong tourist population that surrounds them. Nothing is made from scratch on the premises, as the kitchen is minute, but what they bring out of there is absolutely scrumptious. We managed to eat every piece of chocolate made by either renowned Jacques Torres or Xocolatti. Small chunks are served on a wooden platter, similar to a cheese board. Delving into their signature dessert, "21 Layer Crepes Cake" was like indulging in a piece of heaven. Thin crepes and whipped cream, topped with burnt sugar. We watched as others shared the dark chocolate fondue, dipping into their melted land of wonder with bananas, strawberries, marshmallows and finger cookies as Frank Sinatra was singing in the background. Although we did not order anything else, there is a menu filled with savory treats - Angry Chicken Lollipops, White Truffle Pizza, Goat Cheese Brulee and, of course, a cocktail menu of Chocolate Martinis and wines from around the world.
Stepping out of the culinary carnival in the main Eataly building through the side street entrance of the calm, cool wine shop next door was a soothing experience. The space is primarily filled with Italian wines, though there is a selection of local New York varieties upstairs. Also on the second floor is the “Riserva Room, ” a temperature-controlled chamber with rare wines, mainly acquired through auctions. What surprised me about the Riserva Room, however, is that the bottles are not very expensive. Despite feeling the need to whisper inside the elegant space, I noticed that many tags quoted prices under $100. We learned from Brianna Buford, the PR Assistant, that this is so that customers do not feel intimidated to try new wines. As with the rest of Eataly, Vino is dedicated to educating the public about the quality, origin, and uses of its products. There are helpful signs in the area and tastings every week. “Staff Pick” signs give shoppers individual recommendations and there are often fun promotions whose goal is to introduce customers to new labels. For example, in 2015, the wine store hid golden corks all over Eataly, offering anyone who found one a special bottle of Vino Libero. “Vino Libero” means “free the wine, ” a motto which seems to ring true throughout the store, where wine is freed from any pretension or intimidation and presented in a playful, educational way.
In January of 2007, Oscar Farinetti founded the first Eataly in Turin, Italy, specializing in quality Italian goods. Under B& B Hospitality, the marketplace has since expanded throughout the United States. The first New York City location opened in the summer of 2010 near the iconic Flatiron building, and an expansion has been planed in the Financial District for 2016. Strolling through the epicurean haven, I saw a dazzling array of artfully displayed gourmet products. The produce section alone reaped multiple varieties of earthy mushrooms, vibrant stone fruits, and luscious greens. The cotton candy grapes and sea beans were astoundingly similar in flavor to their namesakes. Other sights included a traditional espresso bar, a butcher counter with cuts from sustainable farms, and a station entirely devoted to making mozzarella, turning out two to three hundred pounds daily. Above, ornate ceilings accentuated these wonders, paying homage to the building’s previous life as a luxury hotel. “Eataly is the gallery, the producers are the artists, and the products are the art, ” explained Italian-born Dino Borri, Eataly’s brand ambassador. He got his start working under the founder of the Slow Food movement, Carlo Pertrini, at the age of fourteen, eventually helping to open an Eataly branch in Japan. He is now based in New York as a major product buyer. He still, however, visits Italy frequently. The gallery analogy is a perfect metaphor, especially since Eataly advocates for small businesses by clearly crediting them with their products and financially sponsoring projects to accelerate capacity growth. “The majority of our products come from Italy, but we also get some locally, ” Dino told me. Some of the local sourcing has to do with shipment restrictions - salami and unpasteurized cheese are not allowed to cross over the borders, but primarily the goal is to find the freshest ingredients. One of the benefiters from Eataly's work with local businesses has been Wild Hive Farm, a small farm from Upstate New York with organic, stone-ground bread. GuS Soda also met immense popularity after hitting Eataly’s spotlight, and local farmers turn to the marketplace for a steadier income source than farmers’ markets. However, it is not just the labeling of product origins that keeps shoppers at Eataly informed. Cooking classes are offered regularly at La Scuola, recipes are provided with many of the meals, and various signs give product tips and facts. “The olive oil expert can go on for over twenty minutes in a discussion of delicate, grassy, and herbaceous varieties, ” stated PR Associate Brianna Buford, “he knows the proper tasting techniques. ” I am sure the vinegar expert is just as well trained. Passing by the highly specialized eateries, my cravings constantly wavered between savory and sweet. The newest edition when I visited in the summer of 2015, the Nutella bar, features a constantly running chocolate hazelnut fountain, ready to be poured on a bounty of appetizing creations. In the bakery section, I learned that all the hearth-baked breads come from the same “mother yeast. " Nearby, serving some of the best pasta and perfectly charred Napoli-style pizza pies in Manhattan is La Pizza & La Pasta. During my discussion with Dino, he told me, "We really made this store for ourselves. " He declared himself a primary customer for Eataly, saying, “We are what we eat. ” It is less about the fancy products than about having everything be “good, clean, fair, ” and having something for every price point. “We have introduced a new way of eating, ” he smiled. He is glad that others have begun to mimic Eataly's highly successful marketplace model, since it means increased quality for everyone. While spending hours touring Eataly, I sampled the food at some of the eateries. A favorite was the zucchini Carpaccio with fried capers, toasted pine nuts, soft white cheese, and fresh mint at Le Verdure, a veggie-centric eatery that has been a go-to place for me since it first opened. After trying the Pesce Crudo Trio, including raw pink snapper, swordfish, and steelhead trout, from Il Pesce, my photographer, Tom, exclaimed, “this is fresher than the fish my dad caught and cooked last night. ” The Manhattan Sideways Team finished off with a necessary treat at Il Gelato. By providing quality flavor, supporting small farmers and educating shoppers, Eataly has truly maximized their slogan “Eat. Shop. Learn. ”
Fabio Camardi - the charming owner both of this restaurant and Mercato on West 39th Street - announced as we walked inside his brand new restaurant that it had taken two years to complete his renovation. He went on to say that he had chosen the location because he is fond of the architecture in the NoMad neighborhood – “architecture is my hobby, ” he told me. “I built this place myself, ” he went on to say, showing me how he had added the beams in the ceiling and created the new floor made of reclaimed red and white oak. When I commented on the furniture filling the restaurant, including tables from a library upstate and an old butcher’s block, Fabio informed me that he has been collecting antiques for years. While continuing to chat about the renovation, Fabio explained that it was slow going due to the fact that the building dates back to 1865 and has achieved landmark status. Therefore, he had to wait for official permits to do any work. When the restaurant opened in April 2016, Fabio was delighted by how friendly the neighborhood was. “They were immediately nice, ” he said. The highlight of visiting Ulivo, aside from Fabio, was seeing the “Pasta Lab. ” Unlike its sister restaurant, Ulivo focuses on pasta, with fifteen different dishes on the menu. Thirteen of those are made with help from an enormous machine that sits in the basement. “It’s the most advanced machine we have in Italy, ” Fabio proudly told me. He turned the machine on and I was able to watch as it created large tubes of rigatoni and then long strings of spaghetti, using a different setting. “The more pasta you make, the better it gets, ” Fabio informed me. Beyond the pasta lab, there was an event space that seats forty, complete with a full bar and a Faema espresso machine from 1949. At the end of the room, I spotted a special door with a porthole that opens onto the beer cooler, and, in the very back, built out of the old coal shaft, I discovered a cave where the liquor is kept. Upstairs, there is a wine cellar encased in glass with a wooden ladder next to the kitchen. I was intrigued by the row of twenty different olive oils sitting on the counter in easy reach of the chefs. Fabio makes sure that each brand is made and bottled in Italy. When I asked which olive oil was the best, he said he could not answer the question. “It’s based on your taste, like wine. ” In the kitchen itself, different meats were hanging across from a wood fire oven on the opposite wall. Along with pasta, Emanuel “Mano” Concas, partner and the chef (whom Fabio refers to as “The George Clooney of Sardinia), cooks “dal forno a legna” in the wood-fire oven. Each plate is created using a cast iron pan placed directly into the oven. Some of the more popular non-pasta dishes are the tail-in branzino and the dry-aged steak. Being familiar with the themes of good Italian cooking, I was not surprised when Fabio told me, “Everything is fresh. ” This is especially true for the restaurant’s “fritture, ” little dishes. These items include fresh octopus, cold cuts, burrata, and fried meatballs with sea salt, a dish that is particularly popular in Sardinia, where the chef is from. There are also two flatbreads on the menu, but Fabio was adamant that Ulivo is not a pizza restaurant. He simply chose the two that they do "best" at Mercato: The San Daniele with prosciutto and arugula and the Regina Margherita. Fabio shared the myth behind the latter: The story goes that Italian chefs decided to put something special before the Queen. Up until that time, pizzas just had sauce, and so they added buffalo mozzarella to make it royal, hence the “Regina. ”If there is a certain nonchalance about Fabio and his attitude toward owning two restaurants in New York, it is probably because he has a lot of experience in this world – he even went to culinary school, which is rare amongst Italians, who often just rest on the fact that they were born into a culture that puts a lot of emphasis on high-quality food. Fabio shared that he owns four restaurants in Italy, which his forty-four cousins help to run. He went on to tell me that he came to the United States in 2004 because he “didn’t like Berlusconi” (the unpopular former Prime Minister of Italy) and that he began his career in New York as a bartender (the cocktail list at Ulivo is his own creation). In addition, there are four local beers on tap, including Smart Beer, which Fabio says is the "first organic beer made in New York. " There is also a substantial bourbon list – “It’s what people want. ”I particularly loved the story of how he met his wife, who is originally from Korea: they were both attending English school. Several years later, they have two adorable children and “She’s my bookkeeper, ” he said with a smile. His wife is also responsible for the beautiful candles and dried flowers throughout the space. Fabio is playing with the idea of opening an Italian restaurant in Korea. He told me that there is no fresh olive oil available in eastern Asia, but that China had recently planted one million olive trees to try to remedy the situation. Olive oil is absolutely essential to Italian cooking, which is why Fabio named his restaurant “Ulivo. ” He stated, “There is no Italian cuisine without olive oil. ”Fabio’s vision for Ulivo is a perfect blend of traditional and modern. Though he uses traditional Italian culinary methods and pasta recipes, he embraces new technology - such as his pasta machine - and trends. When I asked what was next for Fabio, he responded, “I’m full of ideas – there’s a lot of stuff that I want to try and eat. I love to eat! ”
Everyone on West 28th between Sixth Avenue and Seventh Avenue has a story to tell about life on the garden block, but I found one of the workers at Foliage Garden's story to be the most inspiring. "I was raised in the Flower District. My entire life is wrapped up in this street, " she told me. "I invested my life here. " After 9/11, however, she made the decision to move upstate, where she felt safer raising her daughter. Not long after, she came running back to the city at the call of her dear childhood friend. Maryann Finnegan had recently lost her husband and needed help running Foliage Garden, a retail and wholesale market that sells magnificent orchids and a multitude of other plants. The part-time worker at Foliage proudly told me that the shop has been in the same location for over thirty-five years, having opened in 1981. Maryann added, "We are now the oldest plant store on the street. " She then said that what differentiates her from everyone else is, "we have our own greenhouses under glass on Long Island. "Maryann and her team have befriended many of the people who created the Flower District a long time ago. Sadly, her co-worker related that "so many of the old men have passed away. " There are still, however, a few remaining who have wonderful stories to share. "There is so much history on this block, " she continued. "We were once called the Times Square of Flowers. " She described a time when every single storefront was filled with flowers. Today, she is pleased that she came back to Manhattan. "I can put up with anything here because I still love it - it's my passion. "
New York is full of pizza shops, and its residents pride themselves on knowing their pies. Satisfying a New Yorker’s pizza craving can be a difficult task, but & Pizza does so in spades, serving a fabulous and delicious array of large, creative, sixteen-inch personal pies. When the Manhattan Sideways team visited & Pizza at their first location in New York, we spoke with Calvin, the Community Manager for the brand. “New York is a city that appreciates creativity and artistic angles, and our pizza does just that, ” Calvin said. Originally founded in Washington DC in 2012, & Pizza decided to expand their market and open their twenty-second spot here in Manhattan during the summer of 2017. The restaurant serves unique pizzas alongside classic menu items such as a Margherita. “Pizza in the industry is kind of stale, but we decided to shake it up, mix things up. ” Calvin noted. The American Honey, a pie with spicy tomato, mozzarella, pepperoni, arugula, red pepper flakes, goat cheese, and Mike’s Hot Honey, became a big hit on day one. The unique honey flavor combines well with the pizza’s other ingredients. Another favorite is the Farmer’s Daughter, a pizza with spicy tomato, spinach, mozzarella, Italian sausage, egg, red pepper chili oil, and parmesan. While many customers choose to stick to & Pizza’s pre-determined “Hits” menu, others love to build their own creation, adding unlimited toppings for a flat price. Patrons are also encouraged to add any toppings of their choosing to the “Hits” items, creating a virtually unlimited combination of flavors. Pizzas are cooked in under two minutes, a key to churning out customers during the busy lunch hours. Calvin told us that he loves to eat the restaurant’s pizza and to add his own twist to classic menu items. “I always wonder, what will this pizza taste like with pepperoni, or that one with hot honey? The possibilities are endless. ”Also on the menu are & Pizza's homemade sodas, with innovative flavors such as mango passionfruit and Ginger Berry Lemonade. As with their pizzas, the staff suggests pairings on the soda machine, allowing bold new flavors to arise. Every & Pizza location has a unique design that caters to the neighborhood, and the Flatiron store is no exception. This one is nicknamed “The Point” for its location at the tip of the Flatiron District. The entire store is specifically designed to fit around this pointed theme; the repurposed and recolored subway tiles on the wall are fitted to be pointed, the utensil holder is angled, even the mirrors in the bathroom are pointed. The store’s black and white interior, the color scheme of the & Pizza brand, creates a beautiful aesthetic that customers love, Calvin said. On the ceiling, the light structure mimics the intersection of Fifth Avenue and Broadway, the store’s location. In order to pump up customers and create a fun atmosphere, & Pizza blasts loud music throughout the store. “When we first opened up, " Calvin told us, "people kept on passing by and asking, ‘Is this a club? It looks so fun in here! ’ We have live DJs on Thursdays and Fridays, and people enjoy stopping in just for the music sometimes. ”One of the other wonderful aspects of & Pizza is their dedication to working with the local community, wherever they are located. At this location, they have partnered with David Chang’s Milk Bar to create a unique cream soda and cream soda-flavored cookie, both of which are only available in New York. The art on the walls was done by New York artists Rubin and Frisco Smith, both in black and white to fit in with the rest of the store. At the end of our conversation with Calvin, we asked him about the & Pizza name. “We believe in the power of ampersands, which binds and connects things, just like us. We combine creative ingredients, we combine local artists, we connect the community. Everything we do stays true to the ampersand. ”
My husband and I discovered a market called Kalustyan's when we first lived in the city, over thirty years ago, however, they have been a staple on Lexington Avenue since 1944. It is a terrific place to find all kinds of interesting Middle Eastern and Indian ingredients at very low prices, but it was not until recently that I learned that they are also the owners of Curry In a Hurry, just around the corner. Since the 1970s, the restaurant has been a lunchtime staple in Curry Hill, as this neighborhood is known. With a large buffet, complimentary unlimited salad bar, outdoor tables and chairs and upstairs seating that overlooks the street, local residents and workers have more than enough reason to return on a regular basis.