Like many surgeons, when Dr. Thomas Romo III graduated medical school, he hopped on a plane to India and Vietnam in order to fix cleft lips. "We felt like we had time and a reason to give back, " he said of himself and his peers who choose to travel the world doing medical procedures before settling down and developing a practice. Though Dr. Romo operated on numerous lips, he realized after a while that the program he was traveling with was only fixing a quarter of the problem. After the lip healed, the palate still did not close correctly and teeth did not grow straight. Patients would experience chronic Eustachian tube problems, resulting in earaches. Dr. Romo wanted to fix the rest of the palate, but the mission that he was with focused solely on lips. "I wanted to change the paradigm, " Dr. Romo declared. Back in New York, he began developing a plan to help children with facial birth defects through all operation stages, not just cosmetic. Dr. Romo admitted that he did not have any experience putting together a foundation, "I did not go to business school, " he pointed out, and therefore it was challenging for him to lay the groundwork of his new venture. He decided to accept only newborns through age twenty-one who were on Medicaid or required other financial assistance, with emphasis on those from the United States. As he phrased it, "Little Baby Face Foundation helps "children from Harlem to Ethiopia. "With his mission in place, Dr. Romo then recruited thirty doctors, including pediatricians, plastic surgeons, and various specialists. This impressive brain trust assembles each month to discuss fifteen to twenty children whose financial statements have been checked. They ask, "Who does this child need to see? " If they are not sure, they bring them in for a "look-see" with each of the doctors. He then went on to say that when these children come in to meet this large group of doctors, they are experiencing something unique - this number of medical professionals is rarely seen in one room. For the entire stay, including during the operation and recovery time, the child and his or her family are taken care of every step of the way: their flights are paid for, "Mario picks them up in a car service, " and they are welcomed with open arms at the Ronald McDonald House. What most impressed me about the Little Baby Face Foundation is that every doctor volunteers his or her time. It has been worked out so that no one needs to perform more than a handful of procedures each month. Occasionally, when Dr. Romo is met with slight reluctance from one of the doctors, he often responds with a poignant, yet witty response: "How much fat do you want to suck and how many boobs do you want to do? Or do you want to change a child's life? "Dr. Romo performs a significant number of the operations. He sometimes ends up doing as many as ten during the winter holidays. Speaking with him is an enlightening experience, as he is so full of energy, compassion, and joviality. He shared a few stories of patients who had touched his heart. He told me about operations that involved a Texan child with nerve paralysis and another from Harlem who was born deaf and missing an ear on one side. On the latter, Dr. Romo performed a cochlear implant and that the child "heard his name said at graduation. "Speaking about a few other patients from abroad, Dr. Romo continued to touch my own heart as he spoke of a child who came from farther afield - in Ethiopia. The girl had a large mass on her neck that no other doctor would touch. Dr. Romo said, "We had to fly her from a small village to Addis Ababa to Dubai to New York. " Not only did the girl have the mass removed, but she also got to have a New York adventure. As he continued on, I learned about a couple from England who came with their eighteen-month old son, who had a tumor falling over his eye. The parents, who were only nineteen and twenty-one, themselves, were given the opportunity to spend several weeks in Manhattan while their child was having his life changed. Dr. Romo is proud of how far the foundation has come since it began in 1990. He recently experienced a year in which he raised enough money in order to pay a small staff. One of the members of his team is his own wife, Diane Romo, who is the surgical coordinator. She deals directly with the children and has the extreme pleasure of contacting families to tell them, "We're going to bring you to New York. "Now that he has a model and a brand, Dr. Romo hopes to expand. "We can helicopter to Chicago, LA, or San Francisco, " he told me excitedly. But he is also devoted to New York, and emphasizes the concept of "New Yorkers helping New Yorkers. " He wishes that more people knew that the Little Baby Face Foundation existed. He said that a lot of hospitals are in the red, which should not be the case, since there are so many doctors willing to occasionally work for free for the sake of the greater good. His need to give to the community in any way he can is inspiring. As he perfectly phrased it for me, "I'm a surgeon. This is the only way I know how to give back. "
In 1832, the Reverend Dr. McVickar found a large group of "destitute" boys playing on Stanton Street. He asked them why they were not at church, and they replied that there was no church. He immediately started raising money to start one. He managed to find a place to worship in a tiny room over an engine house. The first assembly occurred on January 6th, 1833, on the Festival of the Epiphany, hence the church's name. Since then, it has had many homes throughout the city and merged with a few other congregations before finding its current location on 74th Street. The parish moved in 1944, over a hundred years after it was first formed. At the time, the "Far East Side" had no Episcopal churches, but Epiphany chose to move in order to meet the needs of the New York Hospital complex.
Coach Jellybean, a man who was only introduced to us by his universally-used nickname, has endless good humor. He told us, "I am world famous on the Upper West Side among kids aged nine to twelve. " He added with a cheeky smile, "I'm a big deal. " He is often spotted on the street or at the zoo by gaping mouthed kids who are shocked to see their coach outside his natural habitat. It is not surprising that he is recognized so frequently, since two to three hundred kids go through the batting cages each week. It is, after all, the only place in Manhattan with an indoor facility. Jellybean took us past the large bank vaults that are a permanent part of the Apple Bank basement and into the Green and Blue rooms chatting enthusiastically. The Center can host six different classes at the same time, thanks to its size and equipment. It has every kind of pitching mechanism one can imagine, from a big ancient beast that is still "one of the best machines in the business" despite its age, to an LED display that lights up to resemble an actual pitcher. There are even simulators that can show where the ball would end up going in Yankee Stadium (with handicaps for younger batters). Not only does it motivate kids with a little firework display for home runs, but it also serves as a helpful statistical tool for older players hoping to improve their technique. One of the most impressive machines was the "pro-hitter" which can shoot out balls at 100mph and can basically mimic any kind of major league pitch. Jellybean also showed us the party room, which was decorated on one side for the Mets and on the other for the Yankees, in an effort to appeal to fans of both teams. As I was admiring the countless photographs of kids that lined the hallways, Jellybean pointed out that the center is not just for children. Far from it: the facilities have been used for bachelor parties, special needs adults, and even "big league guys" who want a place to practice in between seasons. The Center is also popular among foreign tour groups who want to try out America's pastime while visiting New York. Jellybean was particularly proud of the charity events that the Center hosts, where people pledge money for hitting pitches at a certain speed. After our tour, I took the time to speak with Jason, who told me more about the programs that the Center offers. There are tournament teams, after school programs, summer camps, and birthday parties, weekly classes, and, during the warmer months, outdoor leagues. He explained that the space's main purpose is to "Promote the experience of baseball. " When I asked how the Baseball Center accomplishes its mission, he replied without hesitating: "the coaches. " Some of the coaches played in college, some are former professionals, and some are still playing, but what binds them all together is their love of the game and their ability as teachers. "A good player doesn't always make a good coach, " Jason admitted, and assured me that each of his coaches is thoroughly trained as a teacher. With a grin, he told me that a mother had recently said to him, "I don't think I've ever seen so many men who are good with children. " With pride, Jason pointed out the sign that marked the Baseball Center as a designated New York City "safe house. "Though Jason has seen some real baseball stars come through the Center's programs - including Clayton Kershaw of the LA Dodgers - he was pleased to tell me of a child who had been coming for years, and had recently been offered a full ride to Stanford via baseball. He went on to say that he enjoys seeing every child thrive, no matter what level they ultimately achieve. He told me that his favorite part about working at the Baseball Center are those happy moments when he witnesses a child get their very first hit. "It's magic, " he gushed. It is a personal victory not just for the child, but for everyone at the Center. "We are a part of each child's team. "
After about a decade of residing on the corner of Madison and 74th, Marche Madison decided to open a wine shop to complement their deli and cafe. While chatting with the manager, Sammy, I learned that it is primarily people from the neighborhood who frequent the store. Because of this, Maison du Vin carries many high-end wines in order to cater to its Upper East Side clientele. Sammy emphasized, however, that this does not necessarily mean that they only offer expensive bottles. She also pointed out that there is a section of kosher wines, as well as a shelf full of local and organic wines.
Over the last several years, while walking on the side streets of Manhattan, I have had the pleasure of finding shops and restaurants fully decorated for each of the seasons and their holidays, from sparkling Christmas lights to red, white, and blue July 4th banners. When I visited Caravaggio in late October 2015, I was surprised by this splendid restaurant's harvest decorations, including some extraordinarily large pumpkins. The Halloween decor blended seamlessly into the modern design. In one nook, it felt more like an art gallery, as there were original Matisse prints on one of the walls. Brothers Giuseppe and Cosimo Bruno from Salerno, Italy claim that there are a few million dollars worth of artwork in their restaurant, which opened in 2009. In addition to the Matisse prints, the back wall is decorated with a mural painted by Donald Baechler, depicting children's expressions at a ballgame. It is appropriate that Caravaggio should be so art-centric both due to its name, an ode to the famous Italian painter, and because of its proximity to Museum Mile. We spoke to the chef, Isauro "Luis" Rosas, who said that while the restaurant does get its fair share of tourists, he feels that Caravaggio is a neighborhood restaurant where the locals dine on a regular basis. Luis is no stranger to cooking for fine dining establishments, having previously worked at Tocqueville. "I'm having a beautiful time here, " he said, explaining that he has appreciated how for the past six years, Caravaggio has been able to combine traditional Italian cuisine with a modern, upscale presentation. Luis invited Olivia, Tom and me into the kitchen where he whipped up a Duo Tuna dish with both carpaccio and tartare, as well as a herb-steamed branzino. We watched him garnish a creamy plate of gnocchi before he brought out an elaborate olive oil cake, complete with chocolate mousse and candied chestnuts, for us to photograph. Against the priceless art on the walls, the food holds its own and is just as eye-catching.
Angus Wilkie, who describes the location of his semi-hidden gallery, Cove Landing, as "squirreled away on 74th Street, " is no newcomer to the art world. His career had an unexpected beginning: whereas many people hope to one day have a gallery of their own, Angus started with an eponymous gallery on Grand Street. He showed me an artistic photograph of himself as a younger man, gazing out from behind the windows of his gallery with a large dog on the doorstep. During this time, he wrote a book on Biedermeier furniture. This book was part of the reason why he then got a job at Christie's for ten years in the European Furniture Department. Angus told me that his time at the famous auction house allowed him to "sharpen [his] teeth and work on other things. " He continued writing, penning a number of articles on decorative art. He knew, however, that he would one day return to having his own gallery. "I always wanted to be a dealer, " he shared. "Being a dealer is in my blood, somehow. "In 1997, Angus and his partner, architect Len Morgan, bought a building in Lyme, CT, and began renovating it. The town called the old building "Cove Landing, " which Angus decided was a perfect name for a gallery. In 2000, he opened Cove Landing (the art gallery) on Lexington Avenue. In 2013, he moved to 74th Street. Angus claims that most of his knowledge of furniture was learned through osmosis. "It's like learning a language, " he explained. It takes years of looking at different pieces to discover what they are saying - the little signs that furniture shows and the signals that the trained eye can pick up - and then share with a customer. In the anthropomorphic world of furniture, Angus is a true anthropologist. "I have a weird dialogue with objects... they reveal a real character and story to me. " Despite crediting his knowledge to his experience, it quickly became apparent that Angus was an avid reader, and seemed to have the learning of a true academic in addition to the skills gained through many years in the field. He told me stories of exhaustively researching different topics, both for his business and his own curiosity. "I love to know the history of materials, " he said with a smile. For example, he showed me a 1920s box made of shagreen, a material that comes from stingray skin. He was eager to know "What's the story of shagreen? " By reading everything he could get his hands on, Angus discovered that the first mention of shagreen came from the eighteenth century, when Turks would use it on weaponry. It then reached its heyday in the 1920s when Jean Michel Frank, the French interior designer, brought it into style - hence the origin of the box. Angus then wrote an article on the substance. His love of materials is obvious in his collections. Angus showed me around his October 2015 exhibition, called "Treen, " an old English word that means "made of tree. " The gallery was filled with utilitarian items such as snuff boxes, butter tubs, and other functional tools, all made from one piece of wood with no joinery. Some objects' purposes were obvious, while others were more enigmatic. There was an eighteenth century "priest, " a wooden mallet used for hitting fish on the head in order to kill them swiftly. My eye was caught by a beautiful piece that Angus informed me was an Anglo-Indian turban stand, as well as a clever folding swift for winding wool. "I like things that are slightly mechanical, " he commented. The last show at Cove Landing had been cheekily titled "Stoned, " and included work in marble, hard stones, and other geological materials. Although Angus does not get as much footfall on a side street, he relishes the opportunity that the space gives him to create more curated shows. He sends out beautiful cards to his followers for each new exhibit, which then leads to a "captive audience" of Treen collectors, or people who are simply curious about what the gallery is displaying in the next exhibit. Angus appreciates the fact that since the space is truly a little apartment, clients can see how the pieces look in a home setting. The main objective, however, is to sell the furniture underneath the decorative objects. He assured me that the way his gallery was currently set up, with curious Treen covering most surfaces, was not usual. "It is incredibly crowded in here, " he said with a slight frown. "I usually like a very spare, edited look. It is purposefully zen and open. " Despite Angus' disclaimers, I felt a sense of calm. Everything was arranged in a way that best displayed Angus' love, in his own words, of "silhouette of form. "
If you do not already know of Levain Bakery, it is time that you did. Imagine my excitement to finally be on West 74th Street and able to introduce Tom and Olivia, members of the Manhattan Sideways team, to this exceptional bake shop that they had been hearing about for over a year. Knowing their love of anything freshly baked, gooey, and sweet, I had no doubt that this was going to be a special day. I have stood on the line to enter Levain many times with friends and family to purchase cookies. On this particular day, we were ushered inside and had the absolute pleasure of not only meeting the lovely ladies who have been baking their phenomenal cookies for the past fifteen years, but also getting to go behind-the-scenes to observe where the baking takes place. Unexpectedly, much of the history of this well-loved, independent Upper West Side bakery is tied up in athletics. Connie McDonald and Pam Weekes met while doing competitive swimming at the YWCA. Connie told us that when she arrived at the Y not knowing a soul, Pam warmly invited her to join her group. At the time, Connie worked in investment banking and Pam had a job in fashion at Norma Kamali. As their story goes, the two women, who had become fast friends, decided to train together for the Ironman. The constant physical strain left them very hungry, which inspired them to talk about opening a bakery. Whereas Pam grew up loving baking and "never had store-bought bread" in her house, Connie spent her childhood in a sweets-free environment and had done very little baking before meeting Pam. In 1993, Connie left her career and enrolled in Peter Kump's New York Cooking School. The two women started worked in wholesale at One Fifth Avenue, making bread for restaurants. They quickly started looking for a storefront, even though, as Pam said, "We had no money. " They were very close to opening on Avenue B and 3rd Street, but the deal fell through on the day they would have moved. Once again, however, they were led in the right direction by an active lifestyle: One of their friends was running in the park and then jogged along 74th Street on her way home. She spotted the vacancy, told the women, and in 1995, the two opened their bakery, naming it after a French word for a bread starter made with flour, water, and yeast. Contrary to what people may derive from the long lines continually wrapping around the block, Levain was not an immediate success. As Connie said, "When you start a business, you aren't immediately rolling in dough. " After several years of literally rolling in flour-filled dough, the two women admit that the bakery is doing very well. In fact, they have opened another location in Harlem and one in the Hamptons. When I asked if they had further expansions in mind, the women shook their heads. "We are very involved in everything, " Pam stated, mentioning that the bakery also does a high volume of mail order. Another shop would make it more difficult for the two women to be as hands-on. Also, as Connie commented, "We've never had a big business model – we just want to be a neighborhood bakery. "When we stepped outside to take some photos of the two women in front of their store, Pam broke away to look at the customers happily sipping Levain's locally roasted coffee around the doorway. "This is great – sometimes we forget how fun it is just to hang out here. " Connie nodded and added, "We used to hang out with the neighbors a lot more. " She described a day early on in their tenancy, before people came from miles around to sample the cookies, when the two women planted a tree and attracted a "block party" of passersby. As if summoned, one of their neighbors walked by as we were speaking to Pam and Connie and greeted the two owners. She was with her son, who had worked for Levain in the past, and so we witnessed a warm reunion. "I came in at the ground level, " the customer said, explaining that she was one of the first people in the door when the bakery opened. She then added, "These women are animal lovers of the first order. They give the dogs of the neighborhood so much love, and so stopping by Levain is a huge part of me and my dog's walk. "Connie and Pam told us that there are many customers who have been with them since day one. One neighbor, they said, came in on the first day they opened with his newborn, and now that baby is in college. "We love being on a side street, " added Connie, gushing about all the wonderful people she has met on 74th. Pam nodded, saying, "We are not cold or anonymous. " Despite the long line and the amount of press, Levain continues to be a warm, neighborhood - and, might I add, outstanding - bakery.
Many times, when I see decorative cakes with towering sculptures of fondant and intricately molded details, I find myself preferring to look at them rather than eating them. This is not so with Bill Schutz's masterpieces at Creative Cakes; the perfectly crafted desserts, each made with a chocolate fudge base and buttercream frosting, are absolutely worth devouring. Bill never realized that he would make a living baking cakes. Back in high school, he would create cakes for girls' birthdays in his youth group. "I was doing it for the fun of it out of mom's kitchen, " he explained, and then went on to tell me that he had never received any professional training as a baker. "It came naturally. " His hobby stuck with him, even after he earned a degree in biology. In 1979, he began working at a cake shop. The Creative Cakes company became Bill's in 1985, and he has been astonishing people with his edible creations ever since. Bill was pleased to tell me that most of his business has come via word of mouth, with the frequently uttered reaction to his desserts being, "Where'd you get that cake? "Bill is adamant about his chocolate-fudge-and-buttercream-frosting combo. If someone is desperate for a vanilla cake base, he will pop open a box of Betty Crocker, but otherwise he sticks to his tried-and-true recipe. His tasty decorative cakes, which he has constructed in every shape from Yankee stadium to personalized Monopoly boards, have been especially popular among celebrities. The small storefront is filled with photographs of famous figures cutting into his cakes. Sports Illustrated even put a picture of Muhammad Ali holding his 50th Birthday cake, made by Bill, on the cover. Bill was especially excited when Michael J. Fox asked him to make a cake. He has always been an enormous fan of the actor, and when the party planners found out, they invited Bill to meet him. When I asked Bill if there was a particular cake that stood out in his mind through the years, he pointed to a photograph of one that he made for the Statue of Liberty's 100th Birthday. It was an enormous construction, covered in a detailed architectural icing design, featuring the Statue of Liberty at its center. He also showed me a cake that was covered in colored writing - "I love the way my writing turns out, " he laughed. It had been requested by an employee at the Museum of Modern Art. He called it a "head trip" when someone who worked in the art world requested one of his cakes. When asked if he had a favorite creation over all these years, he replied, "Once they're made, I'm always proud of them... I put my heart and soul into each one. "I was very happy to hear from Bill that the specialty cake community is a kind and close-knit one. When I pointed out a cake in his book that had an image printed on it, as opposed to his usual detailed icing work, he proudly said that his wife helps him with the photo printing, since she is better with computers. He added, however, that he often suggests people go to Edie at Cakes 'N Shapes if they want a printed cake, while she often sends those who want free form cakes Bill's way. When I commented that it seemed like a very friendly, joyous industry to work in, Bill agreed. "It's nice because you get to make people happy. I'll never be a billionaire, but I love my job. "
The Church of the Resurrection is one of the few examples of a church that has essentially stayed in the same building since its founding in New York. The current building was completed in 1869, only a year after a group of Episcopalians, who lived on the farm-filled Upper East Side, began their congregation. It was designed by James Renwick Jr., who was also responsible for the magnificent Grace Church.