Shake Shack, Tom Colicchio's Craftbar, Union Square Greenmarkets and Beecher's Cheese - New York City
New York might be all hustle bustle - the persistent sound of honking car horns hits you as soon as you step onto the street - but there are patches of greenery and calmness throughout the city. Union Square Greenmarket is a welcome oasis among the skyscrapers, popping up on alternate days and offering city workers - and tourists! - a chance to mingle and purchase fresh fruits, vegetables and gourmet products.
Shoppers at the Union Square Greenmarket
The Union Square Greenmarket first started in 1976 with only a handful of farmers offering their produce to city folk. Today the market sprawls across the entire square. During peak season, there are up to 140 farmers, fishermen and bakers each day, travelling from the far reaches of New York, New Jersey, New England and Pennsylvania. In the summer months, they can expect 60,000 people browsing their wares.
I can never resist a farmers market, not just because it allows you to see what is in season and chat with the producers, but it gives such an insight in how people eat. Prices give you a benchmark on what is commonplace and what is luxury (or out of season), and then of course there's always the chance to people watch - and buy a few treats as well!
Kale walnut and nettle walnut pestos
New Yorkers, it would seem, make no hesitation in paying for good quality fresh products. You can't help but be uplifted by the sight of bountiful produce: luscious ripe strawberries, straight and tall asparagus stalks, blooming florets of broccoli and teetering towers of shiny apples.
And look out for walnut pestos made with kale and nettles coming soon to a market near you!
Fresh bunches of asparagus
Fresh broccoli florets
Root vegetable rainbow: radishes, carrots and beetroots
The neat stacking of vegetables was also impressive!
Sunshine and shoppers
Beecher's Handmade Cheeses
We'd ended up in the Union Square / Flat Iron district of New York and found ourselves spending much of the day here - every place in this post is within six blocks of each other. Beecher's Handmade Cheese was on our list but the promise of the World's Best Mac & Cheese made us all stop in our tracks immediately.
Cheese production within the Beecher's store
Beecher's started in Seattle's Pike Place Market, expanding to New York eight years later in 2011. Before founder Kurt Beecher Dammeier started the business, he had no cheese making experience, just a long-held love of cheese. He attended a cheese making course and hired Brad Sinko, a former manager of his family cheese business, as his chief cheese maker. Over time Beecher's has acquired its own dairy herds.
Milk being pumped into stainless steel troughs
In both the New York and Seattle locations, the public can watch the cheese making process through glass windows. It's a fascinating view of steel troughs, white hygiene suits and glimpses of cheese in various stages of production.
Fresh cheese curds
Both facilities now make cheese 24 hours a day to keep up with demand. The New York facility can produce up to three tonnes of cheese a day.
Raking up the cheese curds
Curds being stacked into moulds
Beecher's "World's Best Mac & Cheese" US$6.50
But we'd come for the World's Best Mac & Cheese, a title given by Beecher's themselves! It's a modest serve for US$6.50 but after a forkful we realise why - it's incredibly rich. The penne is swathed in a thick blanket of heavy molten cheese. They use two kinds of cheese in the sauce - their Flagship and Just Jack cheeses - which is melted into a bechamel sauce with garlic powder and chipotle chilli powder.
The secret, Dammeier says, is to slightly undercook the pasta before adding the bechamel, allowing the pasta to finish cooking to al dente in the oven. If you want to experience the cheesy goodness yourself, you can find the Beechers "World's Best" Mac & Cheese recipe here.
Milk pail seating
Only a few doors down the road we find Craftbar, one of the more casual restaurants run by Top Chef head judge Tom Colicchio. The voice of reason, the guy who pulls no punches, the quiet onlooker who puts more doubt into contestants' minds with one raised eyebrow than anything he could voice, has always been one of the best things about Top Chef. Recipient of five James Beard awards, Colicchio knows good cooking and good chefs.
We press our noses up against the window, check out the menu, and vow to return for an early dinner.
Craftbar dining room with pig portraits
At 6pm there are several people propped up at the bar but we're the first people in the dining room. There's a relaxed and comfortable feel to the place that puts us at ease straight away. Service is warm and attentive, and although there's no linen on the table, the stemware gleams and the cutlery is heavy.
Chicken liver pate with strawberry compote US$10
Suze and I had both been lusting after the chicken liver pate and it's a sensuous turret of delight. There's a heartier and meatier taste to this offering, an oomph and gutsiness I prefer over the light and airy mousse we'd eaten at Bouchon. The liver has been roasted and pureed with shallots and bourbon, and the stronger flavours of the pate are countered well with mustard seeds and a bright and zingy strawberry compote.
Croque Monsieur US$15
Is there any surprise that Suze ordered the Croque Monsieur? I love that the offerings here seem to carry through what Colicchio often implores contestants - to not overly fancify food but deliver what is promised, and deliver it well.
It's one helluva Croque Monsieur, with good quality bread that's been basted with butter and then grilled until the surface is outrageously crunchy. There's a generous huddle of country ham and dijon mustard but it's the oozing puddle of melted gruyere cheese in the middle that will make your day.
The homemade kettle chips on the side are brilliant too - sliced just the right width so they have an earth-shattering crunch but thick enough to provide a sense of substance.
Buttermilk fried young chicken US$27
with BBQ heirloom beans, Anson Mill white grits and braised escarole
And did you expect me to order anything but the buttermilk fried young chicken? It arrives in its own Staub oval cocotte, heaped with a pile of golden fried chicken. It's got everything you're looking for: juicy tender flesh and a sheath of crunchy fried batter that you just can't stop eating.
Anson Mill white grits
The barbecue heirloom beans are hearty, with a toothsomeness that comes from cooking dried beans from scratch. Under the chicken is a bed of sauteed escarole - from the endive family and slightly less bitter.
But it's the Anson Mill white grits that are the groundbreaker. Thick and fluffy, buttery and rich, it's a lightbulb moment akin to eating stove-cooked porridge made by an Irish grandma. All other grits I'd eaten so far on this trip pale in comparison to this one. The texture is creamy, the grits swollen with butter, and you can feel it sticking to every rib on its way down. This stuff is awesome.
Bowl of popcorn US$10
Buttered popcorn ice cream, cherry, hot fudge and caramel corn
We share dessert. A bowl of popcorn that turns out to be a buttered popcorn sundae, scattered with real cherries and clusters of caramel corn, all drizzled with hot fudge sauce.
Confit duck art
I love the irreverent approach to the artwork here too.
Shake Shack - Madison Square Park
And you can't visit New York without visiting Shake Shack. We'd heard so much about the burgers - and the queues - we knew to arrive extra early to beat the lunchtime crowd.
We head to Madison Square Park, home of the first ever Shake Shack, originally set up as a temporary hot dog cart in 2001 to provide snacks for visitors to a temporary art installation. In 2004 they won the bid to open a permanent stand, designed by architecture firm SITE Environmental Design. It's an impressive facade, deliberately designed to be harmonious within the park, and the hanging fairy lights overhead give a festive, almost magical, atmosphere.
Shake Shack pick-up counter
At 11.30am the queue is manageable, with only a dozen in queue. By the time the clock hits 11.50am, however, the queue has exponentially swollen to a hundred. There are office workers, uni students and tourists all patiently waiting in line. I notice a couple of lunch couriers re-packing orders for deliveries all over town. Impressively the Shack Shack site also boasts Shack Cam with live videostreaming of the current queue.
Double ShackBurger US$7.20
with cheese fries US$3.70 and Shack-made lemonade US$2.50
Lunch is a Double ShackBurger, a double patty cheeseburger with special Shacksauce. I love how the slices of tomato peek out just beneath a fringe of lettuce. There's not much bun here, dwarfed by the patties which are super soft - perhaps eerily so - and layers of melted cheese. Overall I'm more of a fan of In-N-Out burgers but the fries are better here.
Glorious melted cheese
Even without the hot lava of melted cheese across the top, the crinkle cut fries are addictive, with crunchy outsides and fluffy innards. The cheese sauce - a mix of cheddar and American cheeses - just makes it even better.
Beecher's Handmade Cheese
900 Broadway, New York, New York
Tel: +1 (212) 466 3340
Open 7 days 11am - 9pm (cafe closes 8pm)
Craftbar New York
900 Broadway, New York, New York
Tel: +1 (212) 461 4300
Monday to Friday 12pm - 5pm
Saturday and Sunday 10.30 - 4.30pm
Monday to Wednesday 5pm - 10pm, Thursday to Saturday 5pm - 11pm,
Sunday 5pm - 9.30pm
Shake Shack - Madison Square Park
Madison Square Park, southeast corner near East 23rd Street
11 Madison Avenue, New York, New York
Tel: +1 (212) 889 6600
Open 7 days 11am - 11pm
Union Square Greenmarket
Union Square, Manhattan, New York, New York
Tel: +1 (212) 788 7476
Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday 8am - 6pm
>> Read the next USA 2013 post: Carlo's Bakery and Doughnut Plant
<< Read the first USA 2013 post: Cronuts at Dominique Ansel Bakery, NYC
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10/02/2013 02:05:00 a.m.