The Flavor of the Big Apple
There's one sure way to enjoy the flavor of the Big Apple: Take one of the city's food tours
Working as a graphic designer, Lefkovic would devise eating itineraries and share them with colleagues and friends. In 1999, he advertised weekend food tours in a New York magazine and got about 60 takers. The calls kept coming.
Two years later he quit his day job to devote himself full time to Foods of New York Tours. He now employs three full-time and two part-time staffers, plus 15 guides who take people on five different neighborhood tours seven days a week, 360 days a year.
As the year was winding down, Bandolik estimated that 35,000 people will have taken a company tour in 2013, and that more than 250,000 will have done so since its inception. Lefkovic has competition, however. More than a dozen food tour companies are operating in the city now, though Bandolik claims Foods of New York Tours has the most tour guides and does the greatest volume. (Not that big is always better. With up to 16 people on a tour, it’s hard to fit the entire group into some of these historic stores and pint-size restaurants, making at least some of the tour more of a sidewalk introduction than a real culinary experience.)
As for the clientele, Bandolik says Foods of New York Tours gets “a nice mix,” with about 72 percent of its customers American, 11 percent Canadian, 7 percent Australian, 5 percent from the United Kingdom, and the rest from somewhere else.
“And we do get a good percentage of locals,” she adds, referring to the New Yorkers who come on dates, with visiting guests or just for a fun afternoon. Most of the American out-of-towners have “already done the Times Square thing,” Bandolik says. “They’re trying to see things on a deeper level. And they’re looking for food.”
We don’t have far to look for food. Mineau has just distributed small cups of peach gelato from Dolce Gelateria as we stand on the Barrow Street sidewalk. No sooner have we finished it than we’re off to Rafele, an Italian restaurant owned by a friend of Lefkovic’s. Mineau previews the place, gushing about the
Opened six months earlier, the restaurant doesn’t offer much other than the friend connection in my view. The eggplant rollatini is just so-so, and the restaurant is nice, though hardly distinctive.
But after all the standing outside, a sit-down snack is a welcome respite.
We get another sit-down break at the pretty blue-tiled tables of our next destination, the diminutive Milk & Cookies Bakery on Commerce Street, which offers us rich chocolate chip cookies the size of a saucer. The popular bakery, which specializes in homemade ice cream sandwiches and design-your-own cookies (you select the dough base and the mix-ins), also sells founder Tina Casaceli’s Milk & Cookies cookbook (Chronicle Books, 2011).
“Does everyone feel that sugar rushing to their veins?” Mineau asks as we waddle out and head down the charming street, bypassing the former home of Washington Irving.
Thankfully, after six stops for rapid-fire eating, there’s a break in the action. It’s time to digest some trivia instead. Mineau brings us to a red brick structure on Bedford Street and tells us it’s the narrowest house in the Village—9½ feet wide outside; 8½ feet wide inside. At various times, Cary Grant, John Barrymore, Margaret Mead and Edna St. Vincent Millay have called it home.
After a stop in front of the famous Cherry Lane Theatre—where Mineau tells us Barbra Streisand got her start as an usher—followed by a brief walk and explanation about a couple of former speakeasies nearby, we head back to Bleecker Street.
It’s time to wrap things up in the second-floor, glass-enclosed tasting room at Murray’s cheese shop, which overlooks a frenzy of shoppers below. In air-conditioned comfort, we’re served slices of three lovely cheeses—ewephoria sheep’s milk Gouda, 5 Spoke Creamery Tumbleweed (a Pennsylvania cheddar) and manouri (a Greek semisoft product). Then Mineau slips out, returning a few minutes later with a box of anisette toast, biscotti and cannoli from Rocco’s pastry shop.
Somehow, all of us find room for those last little bites.
If You Go
Getting there: Though you can fly or take the train to New York, by far the cheapest and easiest way to go is by bus, via Tripper or Vamoose, both of which offer service from downtown Bethesda. I usually take Tripper Bus, which leaves from the southwest corner of Elm Street and Wisconsin Avenue and arrives in New York at 31st Street and 8th Avenue. One-way trips are $27 (www.tripperbus.com). Vamoose buses, which leave from 7490 Waverly St. and arrive at the corner of West 30th Street and 7th Avenue, one block from Penn Station and Madison Square Garden, start at $30 each way (www.vamoosebus.com). With either company, a one-way ride takes from four to 4½ hours.
Foods of New York Tours: In addition to the Original Greenwich Village tour, which I took last June, Foods of New York Tours offers four other eating/walking options, all of them lasting about three hours: Chelsea Market/Meatpacking District; Central Greenwich Village/SoHo; Nolita/NoHo (north of Little Italy/north of Houston Street); and Chinatown. The Chinatown tour, which includes three sit-down mini-meals, costs $65; the others are $49 ($35 for children 12 and under). Tour capacity is 16 people. Tickets must be purchased in advance, and are available online at www.foodsofny.com through Zerve.
Other Food Samplers
Foods of New York Tours claims to have started the trend in 1999, but there are plenty of other food tours out there these days. Here are some of the possibilities:
Ahoy New York Tours & Tasting: I took this eating/cultural walk through New York’s Little Italy and Chinatown in 2012. Led by owner/operator Alana Hoye, an international relations and history buff, it covered some terrific places, including a tiny fried dumpling shop aptly called Fried Dumpling that only sells one item, pork and scallion dumplings; Alleva, a cheese shop in Little Italy that dates back to 1892, where we tasted some amazing fresh mozzarella and prosciutto; and Ferrara, the legendary Italian pastry shop, where we ogled the displays of sweets and downed mini cannolis. Tickets, which must be purchased in advance, are $49 for a three-hour tour. They’re available at ahoynewyorkfoodtours.com through Zerve. Tour capacity is 12 people.
Famous Fat Dave’s: Featured on the Travel Channel with Anthony Bourdain, the Cooking Channel, PBS and a host of other outlets, Maryland-raised Dave Freedenberg gives private tours in a New York City Checker cab. Stops are made for pizza, pickles, cannoli and much more. Minimum tour lasts two hours and costs $240 for the first eater and $120 for each additional eater and each additional hour. To schedule a tour, contact email@example.com, or for more information, go to www.famousfatdave.com.
Noshwalks: Myra Alperson, co-founder of the now-defunct Hungry Pedalers Gourmet Bicycle Tours in New York, has abandoned the bikes, but not the scope of her eating tours, which now cover all five boroughs on foot. Alperson, who also writes a newsletter called Noshnews (www.noshnews.com), leads more than 30 different three-hour tours over the course of a year, including to Brighton Beach, Staten Island and Southern Washington Heights, generally at a cost of $50 each. See www.noshwalks.com for tour and registration information.
New York Chocolate Tours: This company leads three different tours, each to five chocolate shops. The Luxury Chocolate Tour heads to the posh European boutiques of the Upper East Side; the New Cuisine Chocolate Tour hits stylish, avant-garde SoHo; and a brand-new tour to Union Square pairs chocolate with wine. Tours are two to three hours long, include two chocolate samples at each shop and start at $59. Go to www.sweetwalks.com to reserve through Zerve.
Enthusiastic Gourmet Food Tours: A former manager at Bloomingdale’s and Macy’s, Susan Rosenbaum studied cooking at several New York City schools and received a culinary certificate from New York’s The International Culinary Center. She gives small group tours (a maximum of eight people) of Chinatown, Little Italy and the Lower East Side. Tours are three hours and cost $50. See www.enthusiasticgourmet.com for ticket details.
A Slice of Brooklyn Pizza Tour: This bus tour, started by Brooklynite Tony Muia, takes visitors for sit-downs to two Brooklyn pizza parlors—Grimaldi’s
and L&B Spumoni Gardens—and shows them the sights, including Brooklyn Bridge Park, Coney Island, the fancy homes along Shore Road, and the locations where movies such as Annie Hall, Goodfellas and Saturday Night Fever were filmed. The tour is about 4½ hours and costs $80. See www.asliceofbrooklyn.com for ticket information.
Carole Sugarman is the food editor at Bethesda Magazine. To comment on this story,