Archive for the ‘Food’ category

The Feast of San Gennaro

September 20, 2007

Okay, it’s September, it’s NYC, I’m not Italian; but I’m going to the Feast.

St. Gennaro (AKA St. Januarius) is the patron saint of Naples.  That’s something I just recently learned and have to admit that too many mafia movies had me thinking of Little Italy only in Sicilian terms.  The Feast of San Gennaro is Little Italy’s biggest celebration and is a magnet for tourists and the occasional ankler (your host).  I’ve been there over the past couple of years, but each time was at a quiet point at the end of the Feast, so I never got too much of a sense as to how crowded it was.

Well, this year, I bested myself big time.  I went there on the first Saturday of the festival and then I went on Wednesday night (the actual Feast Day of San Gennaro).  In a word:  crowded.  In a few words:  really, really crowded…oh, and lots of food and a carnival atmosphere.

Here’re some pictures from Saturday.



The Feast is held mostly on Mulberry Street and goes all the way from Houston Street in the north (okay, about 20 yard shy of the end of the block) to Canal Street in the South.  This is traditional Little Italy, although it used to include a couple of other blocks, but which are now mostly Chinatown and a bit of SoHo.

Saturday’s crowd was massive.  But I suspect there’s a bit of trick to it.  Mulberry is a pretty thin street, but they add all the stands to the edges of the street.  That makes a thin street even thinner.  It would have a crowded feel if there were just a few dozen people and not a couple of thousand (I guess).  The crowding drives up the energy, of course.  And that’s the sort of thing I thoroughly enjoy.

Parts of the Feast are totally dominated by food vendor after food vendor.  The best of them are ones that are just extensions of the restaurants.  Lots of NYC restaurants dominate the sidewalks outside, but in the Feast they get to take over a lot of the street.

As I was exploring on Saturday, I became a bit discouraged with the situation.  I kept seeing a lot of standard NYC “street fair” vendors.  I see street fairs each and every weekend.  You wanna buy socks?  Wallets?  Linens?  The street fairs have them plus a lot of other boring stuff.  The fairs also have a lot of food vendors, typically dominated by gyro, smoothie, and crepe suppliers.  Boring and repetitive and not attractive to me.  And I was seeing some of these same food vendors at the Feast (thankfully, no sock and wallet guys).  One thing that the Feast of San Gennaro has done that’s warmed my heart is to not have that junk.  Instead, they are very ethnic.  And, yet here they were.

So, I wandered down to the lower reaches of Mulberry and thought I’d check out a bit of authentic Little Italy:  the Church.  When I’ve seen it before, they’ve had money next to the statue of the saint.  This time there was more.



I’d seen the bills attached to some cardboard before, but this time it was on the statue.

The statue of Mary was similarly bedecked.


So, I left on Saturday feeling a little discouraged.  The street vendors had busted through and it seemed to be a really nice version of a street fair, but a street fair nonetheless.

And then I went on Wednesday night and the Feast was back in order.  The vendors didn’t get up quite as near Houston as on Saturday, but it seems that most of the street fair places were gone.  Good.  (Hey, I know those people work hard but I see them everywhere on the weekends and the repetitiveness is not to my taste.)

Lots of games and other stuff for the kids.20070919-feast-of-san-gennaro-01-game.jpg

They didn’t seem to be doing the business they had on Saturday, but fewer kids were out on a school night.  That’s fine with me.






One character I certainly didn’t see on Saturday.


Two snakes, one iguana, and two parrots.  I would have noticed him Saturday, don’tchathink? 

And there was food.  And more food.  And a bit more.  And after that, more food.

The mainstay of the Feast of San Gennaro is?  (Answer:  sausage and peppers!)  It’s everywhere.


But don’t let the “peppers” fool you.  It’s about 95% onion.  They’ll put a few bell peppers on the top, but it’s onions all the way down.

Okay, what do you think this guy is selling?


It’s the other mainstays of the Feast:  zeppoles and calzones.

Now, zeppoles are a mainstay, but they ain’t the only choice for dessert.


The above is just one of many.  The cannoli people are everywhere, too.  I love me a good cannoli.

The Feast doesn’t cover a big area, but it covers the area it does have very tightly.  I do enjoy it and am delighted that my initial concern didn’t hold for the whole Feast time. 

I haven’t mentioned that it does encompass parts of some of the sidestreets, but it does.

And I’ve saved the “worst” for last.  Everyone reading this blog who has been to the Feast is wondering when I’m going to mention him.  Drown the clown.  Or, drown the insulting clown.  He’ s a clown figure who sits in a dunking booth and spews out minor insults to passerbys, or more directly at the people who are throwing baseballs at the lever to send him into the water.  As I was walking nearby on Saturday, I was right behind a family and the kids saw him and got excited.  “Mom” said something like “Oh, your father can’t stand him” and “Dad” responded “He always makes fun of my nose.”  The kids laughed and the last I saw they were on their way to try to drown the clown.


Guss Pickles Redux

September 13, 2007

I got me my mighty good pickles.

I had an opportunity to get down to Orchard Street a little while ago and decided to check out Guss’ Pickles again.  It was open.  As I had mentioned, the storefront is a sham.  They roll out the barrels for you to buy from.


That’s Pat Fairhurst, the owner.  She sells a mighty good pickle.  I got the spicy…oh, yes I did.  And it was very, very spicy.  Actually, I bought two.  Here she posed with them.


I know you’d need to know what she sells.  It isn’t just pickles.  She has a few others.  I haven’t (yet) partaken of anything other than the half-sour and the SPICY!!!!!!


Pickles, tomatoes, sour/sweet kraut and peppers, capers, mushrooms and artichokes.  Me, I like the spicy pickle. 

In support of the small businesswoman, and if you’re at all interested:  she does a mail order business and can be contacted at (212) 334-3616.  The hours are 10am-6pm (Sun-Thurs), 10am-4pm Friday, closed on Saturday.  But I already told you that part.

Oh, the address is:  Guss’ World Famous Pickles 85-87 Orchard Street, NY, NY  10002.

She’s a nice person and she makes a mighty good pickle.


Union Square Food Exhibition

September 10, 2007

On 9/8, there was something going on at Union Square (remember “something’s always going on at Union Square”) and I decided to take a look.


There were the normal artists and farmers’ market, but this time there was a second sort of farmers market going on.  It was actually an exhibit by a number of diverse food groups.  And there was music.  Pretty good music, if I say so myself.


The style started off as straight-out bluegrass.  They did a version of Hank Williams’ “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” in an upbeat bluegrass style that I thought was terrific.  And, amazingly enough, they then launched into some Brazilian folk tunes.  (Hey, Brazil Day was last week!)  It was great.

And I wasn’t alone in thinking it.  A number of people were up and dancing.




Yes, haybales in Manhattan.

I did some wandering around looking at the exhibits and was initially pretty mystified.


What the heck does NYC have to do with farming, aside from consuming their produce and hosting marketplaces?  Historically, NYC had a lot of farming, but that’s gone, ain’t it?

Actually, no.  You don’t have regular farms in NYC anymore (that I’m aware of – NYC’s pretty big so who knows), but there are a lot of community gardens where people do grow produce.  Well, that’s not going to feed more than a very small number of families in total.  But, it does beautify the neighborhoods.  I don’t know whether there’s any direct need of farm bills for NYC residents, but the goal of this group was to get people thinking small and locally.  Hey, I’ll still eat my produce from Flordia, Peru, California, and Chile, but I’ve got nothing against those who are trying the 100-mile idea.  (Maybe the lower demand will lower the prices on some of the stuff I buy.)

At first I was a little more skeptical, but then I found one group that was promoting the growth of herb gardens.  Not a bad thing, I thought.  And then I ran into this guy.


He was great.  A nice guy and an actual beekeeper in the Bronx.  I wonder if he considers the bees his “livestock”?  Why not?

And then there was a group called “Just Food”, who were promoting “food and justice for all”.  Who’d oppose either of those (although I’d insist that “all” buy their own food).  Their main exhibit was under their table.


But I have to admit that I’m opposed to chicken-keeping in city limits.


Ankling to the West Indian Day Parade

September 7, 2007

Monday morning.  Labor Day.  Famous Ankles is tired and needs to do some personal chores and absolutely, positively, undeniably needs to have a day off from wanderings and blogging.  Until the TV story:  the West Indian Day Parade is today!  It’s big, it’s glorious, and it’s one of those events you can’t miss!  “Oh, yeah?,” I reply.  I’ll miss it.  I wasn’t going to go all the way back to Brooklyn just to see a parade.  No way.  I was still weary from Brazilian Day’s wanderings and waitings.

And, then I went to the West Indian Day Parade.

A lot of what you’ll read in the following may be indicative of my state of mind, but I don’t think so.  There’s no doubt that the West Indian Day Parade is huge and it has attractions that I really haven’t seen at other parades.  But, it isn’t a particularly good parade.  The downsides are such that, in the Famous Ankles pantheon of great NYC parades, the West Indian Day Parade ranks near the bottom.

That’s a bit of heresy, I guess.  Overall, I didn’t enjoy the parade.  Yes, the colors were eye-blinding.  Many of the women were wonderfully attractive.  The music was so loud that it shook my bones more than the Puerto Rican Day Parade did (and that’s saying something).  But….

Take a look at the pictures.  I’ll give some commentary; but look to see what you don’t see.

I took the subway down to Nostrand Street and found that the parade had already started.  However, it’s a very slow parade (as you’ll find out), so I didn’t miss much.

There were colorful women.


The parade is held on Eastern Parkway.  As you can see, it’s a pretty wide boulevard.  The cool thing about having the parade here is that the parkway is paralleled by a sidestreet on each side.  Vendors were jammed all along the pathway.


Incidentally, curried goat generally sold for $8.  I didn’t partake (I’ve had occasions where street food has caused…difficulties.  I’ve mentioned that I seldom indulge).  The interesting food item that I haven’t seen before was a type of fried fish.  It seemed to be a fish, head and all, that had been rolled in a light dough and then fried to a crispy brown.  I don’t know about the bones and such.  I didn’t partake. 

The first spate of marchers went by pretty quickly.  There was a delay, so Famous Ankles started to take a walk.  I first headed west and caught up to, and passed, the earlier marchers.  But I was heading toward Grand Army Plaza.  Been there, done that.  I wanted new ground.  So I reversed and headed into the heart of Crown Heights.

The crowds were big.  I had heard that 3 million were expected.  Now, I eventually walked most of the parade route and I saw a WHOLE bunch of people.  But 3 million?  I didn’t keep track so I’ll have to let the official counts (whereever they are) be my guide.


I will say this.  Lots and lots of cops.  This event can have a violent side.  I later heard that three people had been shot.  As far as I know, not at the parade.  I didn’t see any suggestion of violence and I went everywhere.  But the parade is just part of the larger festival so it may have happened over the different evenings.  Maybe that’s where the rest of the 3 million were.


Traditional costumes.  Yeah, that’s what they were…traditional costumes.



Like I said.  The parade was slow.  There was a lot of waiting around.


So, I kept up my walking.  Famous Ankles is peripatetic, so it was off to the sidestreet and continuing on to the source of the parade:  Utica Street.

Lots of music and spectators on the side.  This group was actually a bit lively.  And loud.  Oh yeah, loud.


And the parade actually seemed to have stopped.  I noticed that it had been something like half an hour since I had seen/heard any marchers.  I took a long look down toward the direction they were to come from.


Nothing.  I began to wonder if the parade was over.  It wasn’t.  Not by a long shot.  Maybe after 45 minutes total, they started up again.  This time, with a lot more colors and brightly dressed women.


Rhetorical question.  Do you not see what I wasn’t seeing?  Ain’t it amazing?  (Okay, two questions.  But look at the crowd.  That’s where you don’t see it.)

I didn’t know how to classify these costumes.  In my notes, I just called them “colorful” or “colorfuls”.



At this point, the parade of “colorfuls” became jam-packed.  They all didn’t have the full huge costumes, but they made up for it in numbers.


(Do you not see it again?)  The music was loud.  In the Puerto Rican Day Parade, the music would thud throughout my chest.  Here, that plus through my skull. 

I was wearing earplugs.  Good earplugs.  (That’s one of the prime rules of parade-going.  If someone tells you to take earplugs…TAKE EARPLUGS!)

I guess when they call it the West Indian, some people take “Indian” more seriously than the “West” part of it.  Okay, there is the American West.


Others just loved the regalia, whereever it came from.  Yes, those West Indian Vikings are the stuff of legend.



I’m going to end this post.  It’s just too long with too many photos so far.  I’ll continue with more photos in a later post.

However, here’s the solution to the thing you didn’t see.  Crowd excitement.  There was none.  None.  Even during the music, I really didn’t see enthusiasm.  I’ve brought up the Puerto Rican Day Parade several times.  In that parade, even at well before the beginning when the crowd was just standing around, there was whooping and shouting and, well, excitement.  Flags being waved (seldom seen in the West Indian Day Parade even though most people seemed to have one in hand).  Whistles being blown (I only heard one at the West Indian).  People with horns and other sound-makers (unnoticed by me at the West Indian).  The only times there was excitement was when one of the DJs on the float would demand the crowd wave their flags or whatever.  They tried (the DJs, that is).  The only place with some excitement was the sidestreet.  They were having a good time….but not a Puerto Rican Parade kind of excitement either.

Overall, I’m not at the parade to see the floats (most are boring).  Nor the politicians.  And not even the music.  I’m there to share in the experience, and when people are bored…it’s not a great experience.


The Shake Shack at Madison Square Park

September 5, 2007

The Shake Shack is legendary.  And now that Famous Ankles has partaken, he’s ready to pass supreme judgement on the place.

You don’t know the Shake Shack?  You must be new to NYC.

Okay, you’ve heard of the Flatiron Building?

Flat Iron Building in Manhattan

The building is shaped like an old-fashioned flat iron.  That is, it’s wedge-shaped.  It’s real name is the Fuller Building, but no one ever, ever calls it that.

Anyway, the Flat Iron building is on 23rd St at the intersection of Fifth Avenue and Broadway.  Anytime Broadway crossed an avenue, it creates a “square”.  (The most famous being Times Square where it crosses 7th Avenue.)

Well, the square next to the Flat Iron building is called Madison Square.  Yep.  You’ve heard of Madison Square Garden.  It’s not here.  Well, it used to be…twice, actually.  The current Madison Square Garden is way over to the west.  But the first two versions of it were right here, at Madison Square.

So.  What are the current glories of Madison Square?   Ummmm…they’ve got some metal trees….

Madison Square Park trees

And….it’s a nice, family-friendly place.

And…it has the Shake Shack.

The Shake Shack

Don’t let the empty seats fool you.  Let the line be your guide.  This place is popular.  Wildly popular.  Strangely popular.  I’ve never been here when there was a line less than 50 people long, and they serve FAST.  I’ve seen the line with at least 200 people.  And they’re all so patient.  It’s a NYC thing.  You go to the Shake Shack and buy a burger or hot dog or ice cream or shake.  They give you a little signaler (a vibrating gizmo you see at a lot of very busy restaurants) and send you out to wander the park while they fix your food.  After 10 minutes or so, you get your food and sit out in the local areas and eat.

I’ve seen this place at least a dozen times and turned down the opportunity to experience the wait and the food about 11 times.  This time I stayed and ate.  I ordered the “Shack Burger” and a strawberry shake.  I got the food and ate it.  It was $10 and it was fine.  It just wasn’t legendary.  It was fine.  But I don’t know why it has the cult following.  I coulda gone to Burger King up the street and gotten more for less.  It wouldn’t have the ambiance, but I could have just wandered back to the park.

I guess it is something that I don’t get.  There’s some reason for the long lines.

But, I can fault them for something that happened a few months ago.  It was “Barbeque NYC” and the city had brought in first rate BBQ makers from all over the country.  And they served their food at Madison Square Park.  Just a few yards from the Shake Shack.  And it was great BBQ.  GREAT BBQ!  It’s nearly impossible to fine good BBQ in NYC, and they had GREAT BBQ.  And people lined up at the Shake Shack for burgers and hotdogs.

NYC gourmands.