New York is the city that never sleeps. As far as I’m concerned it never stops eating either. Everyone has his or her favourite spot. Bump into anyone on their way to New York City and they’ll reel off a list of suggestions.
‘I love Katz’s Deli on Lower East Side,’ says Andrew Perkins, British Airways’ Senior First Officer, who I meet in the business class lounge before take off. ‘It features in When Harry met Sally; you’ll immediately be able to picture this long-standing bustling diner – stick with their signature sandwiches on your first visit.’
His colleague Jose Linan butts in. ‘You’ve got to try Ellen’s Stardust Diner on Broadway. It’s an old-fashioned diner where the waiting staff burst into song while you’re there, with all the latest musicals.’
I had a notebook full of suggestions, from Five Guys burger chains to Little Italy’s Pizza, before we’d even taken off for JFK.
All of my favourite food trends have come from New York – the city had me hooked at the humble cupcake, back when Sex and the City was first on. I’ve had to resign myself to going up a dress size this visit as I investigate the new foodie trends. But I didn’t expect to find amazing food quite so early on in my journey – sitting in British Airways’ business class. You know a food trend has been taken to heart when it appears in-flight, but the airline’s first-ever gourmet burger is a pleasant surprise. Our taste buds are diminished by 30 per cent in the air, so the meal includes three cuts of beef that retain the most flavour and moisture, as I’m assured by the airline’s head chef Mark Tazzioli, who tells me later, ‘It has taken months of trials to ensure we get the perfect texture and succulence… as taste buds are affected at altitude, we have created an original patty, which has proven extremely popular in taste-tests.’
It’s the kind of food that New York excels in – comfort food, made locally, with fresh ingredients and interesting twists.
So if you’re about to hit New York this winter, where do you start? The thing to remember is that New York is a city constantly digesting one trend while waiting for the next one to be served. It’s a city that thinks about food constantly, like a ravenous bear, and for every gourmet burger invented, there are a hundred pop-ups, food trucks, installations, restaurants and rooftop farms out there that call to you to taste and try.
As you can’t possibly eat everything (I know, I’ve tried), here are a few of the best food trends that are still shaping New York, and where to try them – yes, it was worth sacrificing a pair of jeans for.
BRINGING STREET FOOD INDOORS
Think New York, think food trucks, right? From tacos to truffle-flavoured ice cream, food trucks have revolutionised how we think about comfort food, ingredients and fine dining, but the whole outside bit – the standing-up one – has got a bit tiresome.
Lucky then that this ever-evolving city has taken the best tastes of the food truck and placed them happily indoors. Up by Times Square sits City Kitchen on the first floor of Row NYC. Inside are the city’s yummiest vendors, hand-picked by the organisers – from the award-winning doughnuts at Dough (oversized, stodgy Homer Simpson-style carbs that come in flavours like passion fruit with cocoa nibs), Luke’s Lobster (fresh East Coast crustaceans), or Kuro-Obi (oozy, thick steamed buns). With communal tables and views down Eighth Avenue, it’s ideal for a foodie pit-stop amidst the sightseeing.
Over in the hipster, brick and iron-girder heavy Meatpacking District, there are a couple of food halls that celebrate everyone’s favourite food trends, but in the comfort of the indoors. Gansevoort Market is a compact, street-side food hall in an old brick warehouse where you’ll find colourful shacks and stands selling everything from local veggies to ceviche, bruffins (savoury muffins), macarons and superfood smoothies. A market like this gives you a real feel of just how many pop-ups, independent food companies, bakeries and drinks’ companies New York has. Clue – it’s spoilt for choice.
Walk off the calories you ate at Gansevoort Market via the High Line nearby to the larger, more established Chelsea Market. New York’s High Line (which transformed a derelict elevated train track into a community garden and walking path) has its own collection of uber-local cafés and juice sellers, but Chelsea Market is the granddaddy of this independent, local scene.
Within the market, housed in an old Hudson River warehouse that takes up a whole block, is an urban food court that pulls in over six million visitors a year. With 35 vendors, from traditional bagels to an oyster bar, sellers of soups, cheeses, local meats, sushi restaurants and ice pops all here, this is the place to find the food trends that have become part of the city permanently.
But it’s not just about eating on-the-go or super-casual dining. There are also restaurants that have taken the love of street food to heart and created menus around it. Chomp Chomp brings the Singaporean love of hawkers to a more sedate level, with a cute, informal industrial-meets-Asian-restaurant in Soho.
Starters include finger lickin’ spicy chicken wings and delicate summer rolls, all served up on brightly coloured plates that ape the cheap and cheerful atmosphere of an Asian food market. Don’t miss the BBQ stingray – tender and juicy, it’s a staple of Singaporean cuisine not often recreated elsewhere but done at Chomp Chomp with aplomb by Chef Simpson Wong, who has a trio of fine dining restaurants in the city. While he’s following a recently well-trodden path of fine dining chefs opening more casual eateries, there’s no pretension here – he has tamed the best hawker-style food without losing its soul. (Did I mention the banana fritters with chilli flakes? Who needs expensive ingredients when you have these?).
While you’re in this part of town, the best place to sleep off a full meal is the Gansevoort. It’s bright, brash and one of the Kardashians’ favourite places to stay in the city. With views over the Hudson River from its rooftop club it’s not hard to see why. Rooms have a kitsch pop-up feel that echo the local environment, and the ground-level restaurant, The Chester, is great for lazy people-watching.
FARM TO TABLE
Manhattan’s Meatpacking and Greenwich districts merge together in a criss-cross of tall buildings laced with fire escapes that bind the bricks together. This part of New York has that fabled buzz of the city; yellow taxis honk horns, women slink past in cutting-edge tailoring, while drip-feed coffee bars prop up bearded creative types. Among all of this is Rosemary’s, a neighbourhood Italian all-day restaurant that’s ditched the heavy pizza and pasta and focuses on Tuscan-inspired seasonal dishes. Even though it sits on the corner of a busy intersection, the restaurant has its own rooftop farm.
The farm is a work in progress, only three seasons in, but the restaurant’s commitment to uber-local ingredients is not just symptomatic of a trend, it’s almost expected now in this city. The restaurant has had help from Brooklyn Grange, the largest urban rooftop farm in the world, in Queens.
These guys lead the way in urban farming, with 40 beehives, herbs, wildflowers, vegetables and eggs all being produced up in the air. What the restaurant can’t produce it often buys from local food markets and Brooklyn Grange, and this sense of community is palatable. With small sharing plates based around one ingredient in season such as cabbages or radishes, cold Italian meats and home-made mozzarella, Rosemary’s takes Italian comfort food and creates an NYC-worthy spread of delicate simple tastes backed up with oily, pillow-y, moreish focaccia.
Of course it’s not the only restaurant in New York to produce some of its own ingredients. Every borough has an array of farm-to-table eateries, from fine dining options such as ABC Kitchen in the Flatiron building in Midtown to The Farm on Adderley in Brooklyn. As real estate is at a premium, New York leads the way in vertical and hydroponic farming, which gives its restaurants such choice when it comes to uber-local ingredients.
For a hotel that places the same importance on nature and sustainability, check into the organic 1Hotel Central Park. It has converted a gorgeous old brick building into a forward-thinking mid-range hotel that really wears its natural heart on its sleeve. Expect high-tech meets hemp linen with recycled materials down to the smallest details. It’s also home to knockout new eatery Jams by Jonathan Waxman that again is all about simple food, created locally. (Book in advance for the restaurant).
FRIED CHICKEN & WAFFLES
Name a comfort food that gives you more of a coveted sweet-and-sour hit than the relatively new pairing of fried chicken and waffles… go on. You can’t. This belt-breaking combination has found plenty of love among hipster restaurants in New York and London, but the humble Pies ‘n’ Thighs on Lower East Side in Manhattan kicked off the trend nearly 10 years ago. The retro-looking red-and-white diner was once a tiny kitchen under the Williamsburg bridge with six stools. Now in two locations, the premise is simple – there’s chicken and waffles and there are pies. Neither is going to help me fit into my jeans, but then that’s not what comfort food is about – and the chicken and waffles sure are comforting.
The chicken is crispy, salty and has a real taste to it (unlike most processed chain-restaurant chicken), while the buckwheat waffles are light but not too sweet, and the cinnamon butter is absolutely necessary. And even though the food might be simple, there’s no scrimping on ingredients – all of the chicken comes from a nearby farm, which doesn’t use antibiotics and raises the birds humanely. This transparency with ingredients is a theme that winds its way through almost every menu now in New York, where expectations over food provenance are some of the highest in the world.
One man who knows exactly where his menu comes from is Scot Rosillo, otherwise known as the bagel guy. Manhattan might have been all about the ‘cronut’, the doughnut-croissant hybrid that made everyone sugar-high for a while, but Scot has been inventing new versions of the bagel since 2000.
He’s taken years to develop a technique to create the bright rainbow swirls of bready goodness that he makes in his Brooklyn bakery’s basement every day. Each one is created by hand, with a roll and flick technique that he makes look easy. And of course colour isn’t the only thing he plays with, there’s the different flavours, too – from pumpkin spice bagels to savoury numbers, and then different types of cream cheese.
This is bagel heaven.