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Friday, April 18, 2014

Urban Gadabout: Coming up -- Wolfe Walkers spring walks, World of the #7 Train, Jane's Walk Weekend

The No. 7 train to Flushing here has its most dramatic head-on view of the Manhattan skyline. Jack Eichenbaum is doing this year's version of his "signature tour," the all-day "World of the #7 Train," on May 31 (see below).

by Ken

I mentioned recently that I did a pre-Passover tour with Justin Ferate to the heart of Chassidic Brooklyn -- to the worldwide nerve center of Chabad Lubavitch, on and around Kingston Avenue below Eastern Parkway in Crown Heights South. It was the first tour on Justin's Wolfe Walkers Spring 2014 Calendar. (You can download the Spring 2014 brochure here.) When our utterly engaging tour guide from the Chassidic Discovery Center, Rabbi Beryl Epstein, asked us all to introduce ourselves and explain briefly how we had come to take that day's tour, I was tempted to offer as my reason that Justin had scheduled a tour there, and if Justin thinks it's worth visiting, the odds are awfully good that it is.

Which is pretty much my governing principle in attacking each Wolfe Walkers brochure when it becomes available. Next up on the schedule (and I don't know if there's even still space) is:
Walking Tour with Queens Food Specialist Jeff Orlick
Saturday, April 26, 2014, 1:30pm-approx. 5pm
(Note: The start time is a half-hour earlier than is indicated in the brochure. Justin just sent out this change of time late tonight, as requested by Jeff, "to ensure that we are given ample time to savor the experience.")

Here’s the tour you’ve been asking for! Join the noted Queens food specialist Jeff Orlick on this very special food discovery tour of perhaps the most diverse area in the world: Roosevelt Avenue in Queens. Experience the cultural enclaves of Jackson Heights, Woodside, and Elmhurst in one afternoon. Get an insider’s view to as many as nine cultures such as Tibetan, Nepalese, Filipino, Indian, Bangladeshi, Pakistani, Mexican, Ecuadorian, Colombian, Thai and more in one afternoon. In neighborhoods noted for their complex array of cultures and ethnicities, we’ll taste our way across the globe to demonstrate Jeff’s ultimate premise: Food is the greatest medium for communication and connection.

On this special 3-hour tour, created just for the Wolfe Walkers, we'll travel from Little Manila to Little India, then the Himalayan Heights to Bogotá through Bangkok, exploring only the most authentic foods not made for tourists. In between bites, we'll stop at some of Jeff’s best-kept secret shops for clothing, jewelry, and other authentic ethnic wares while we work up our appetites. The tour will be tailored to our needs and interests, so we’ll share our interests with Jeff and be ready for an amazing afternoon. This promises to be a one-of-a-kind experience – unlike anywhere else in the world. This isn't a lecture; it’s an insider’s experience to the most culturally rich and diverse place in the world.

Food and non-alcoholic beverages are included. The world is ours!

Limited to 15 participants. Fee: $75, advance registration only (includes tour guide, food, and non-alcoholic beverages)
There's usually an all-day bus extravaganza on the Wolfe Walkers schedule, with lunch included. For Spring 2014 it's a trip up the Hudson River to the Gomez Mill House Museum (the house, built in 1714, is the oldest Jewish dwelling in North America and the oldest home in Orange County), then back for lunch at the Buttermilk Falls Inn ("a delightful country hideaway that includes a renovated 1680 home on a 70-acre estate on the banks of the Hudson River"), stopping next at Wilderstein ("a remarkable 1852 house and estate that was owned by three generations of the Suckley family"), with a final stop at the bridge across the Hudson River from Poughkeepsie, the old Poughkeepsie-Highland Railroad Bridge, whose 1.3-mile span was reopened a couple of years ago as a recreation area, the Walkway Over the Hudson, now "the world's longest (and tallest) elevated footbridge," with "expansive vistas" over the river.
Bus and Walking Tour with Justin Ferate

Saturday, May 10, 2014, bus leaves promptly at 8:15am, returns approx. 7pm

There's a much more detailed tour description in the brochure.

Limited to 40 people. Fee: $115, advance registration only (includes bus, admissions, guided tours, luncheon, and gratuities)
Farther along the schedule are:
Saturday, May 24, 10am-1pm,
$25 in advance, $28 on-site

Sunday, June 1, 10am-3:30pm (from and to Manhattan),
$25 in advance, $28 on-site, plus bus fare
Tour led by John Simko, director of the Nutley Historical Society Museum (a splendid tour guide who led us through the museum on our Wolfe Walkers visit to Nutley last year)

Saturday, June 15, 10am-1pm,
$25 in advance, $28 on-site
Wolfe Walkers advance registration (which you'll note is required for some tours) is by mail only, by check only -- you can download just the registration form here; of course it's also included in the PDF of the complete spring brochure.

I have no idea whether there's still space (it's limited to eight people), but there's also a (free) bicycle tour with the Belgian journalist Jacqueline Goossens, who has lived in New York for a couple of decades now and is one of the smartest and most charming and funniest people you'll meet. The spring ride is CENTRAL PARK, HARLEM, AND A BIT OF THE BRONX, and it's Saturday, June 21, from 10am to about 3:30pm.


I've mentioned this famous tour a lot, but it's been a few years since I actually did it, but I'm doing it again this year. Jack, an urban geographer who for some years now has been the Queens Borough Historian, has been talking about updating some of the mini-walking tours that make up the whole adventure to take note of changes that have been taking place in those areas, so it should be even more interesting.
Saturday, May 31, 2014, 10am-5:30pm

This series of six walks and connecting rides along North Queens’ transportation corridor is my signature tour. We focus on what the #7 train has done to and for surrounding neighborhoods since it began service in 1914. Walks take place in Long Island City, Sunnyside, Flushing, Corona, Woodside and Jackson Heights and lunch is in Flushing’s Asiatown.

Tour fee is $40 and you need to preregister by check to Jack Eichenbaum, 36-20 Bowne St. #6C, Flushing, NY 11354 (include name, phone and email address) The full day’s program and other info is available by email

The tour is limited to 25 people.
Jack's public tour schedule is here, and there's also a link to sign up for Jack's e-mail list. One walk I'm especially looking forward to is a Municipal Art Society tour that has been rescheduled from last summer, when Jack wasn't able to do it. It's of WILLET'S POINT, the patch of terrain in northern Queens between Citi Field (home of the New York Mets) and Flushing, a sort of Land That Time Forgot. Jack describes it as "a sewerless, hardscrabble area of auto junkyards and related businesses that has twice beaten back attempts at redevelopment." Now, with developers lurking again, Jack aims to help us "understand the area’s important setting, confront ecological issues and learn why “Willets Point” is a misnomer." It's Sunday, May 25, 4pm-6pm, $15 for MAS members, $20 for nonmembers; for more information or to register, use the MAS link above.


The birthday of that late great urbanist Jane Jacobs provides a good clue to the timing of each year's celebraton of her visions of cities that work for their inhabitants, now celebrated widely around the world -- you can check online to see what festivities (free!) may be offered in your area.

In New York, since the Municipal Art Society took over the planning and operation of Jane's Walk NYC, it has become one of the great urban gadding weekends of the year. This year it's May 3-4, and I'm itching for the schedule of events myself. You can keep track at MAS's Jane's Walk page, where you can also sign up for updates.


There are still a fair number of tours that have space in the remainder of the March-May schedule (or just remember and click on "Tours"). The new schedule should be posted sometime around May 15, and while it's true that some tours will fill up well before they take place, if you start doing your registering when the schedule comes out, you'll be able to register for any tour you want.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Food Watch (national): Don't forget to celebrate National Grilled Cheese Sandwich Day (April 12)

For National Grilled Cheese Sandwich Day, all post offices and banks operate on normal Saturday schedules. Check your municipal authority for information about trash collections. In NYC, alternate side of the street parking is suspended. (Note: That last part is a joke. Our lawyers say you can get into big trouble misrepresenting regulations on alternate side of the street parking.)

by Ken

Who can keep track of all these holidays? Apparently not only is tomorrow, April 12, National Grilled Cheese Sandwich Day, but the whole danged month is National Grilled Cheese Month. I haven't read the legal paperwork, but this could mean that we're supposed to be eating a grilled cheese sandwich every damned day of the month.


The Zillion Dollar Grilled Cheese, available only this month at Chicago's Deca Restaurant + Bar, is served with lobster mac 'n' cheese -- "because of course."

From HuffPost's Joseph Erbentraut ("This $100 Gilded Grilled Cheese Might Actually Be Worth It"):
Meet the "zillion dollar grilled cheese" available only this month at Deca Restaurant and Bar at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in downtown Chicago. Its price tag? $100.

The sandwich features thin slices of black Iberico ham sourced from acorn-fed free-range pigs living primary in southern Spain, Ellis Family Farms heirloom tomatoes, 100-year-old aged balsamic vinaigrette and Oregon Perigord white truffle aioli, according to a press release. Even the bread -- artisan country sourdough cooked in Laudemio Marchesi de’ Frescobaldi extra virgin olive oil -- is fancier than most.

And the kicker, of course, is the cheese: 40-year aged Wisconsin cheddar infused with 24k gold flakes. Yes, 24k gold flakes.

Finally, this grilled cheese is topped with Hudson Valley foie gras and a sunny-side-up duck egg, plus lobster macaroni and cheese on the side. Because of course.


Unfortunately we can't identify the family on account of they're currently in witness protection. (Oops, we probably weren't supposed to reveal that.)

The Hearty Mariner

Sardines, guacamole, piquillo peppers, tapioca, and port wine cheese, on 17-grain bread

Lox 'n' Stuff

Smoked salmon, peanut butter and mint jelly, eggplant medalions, roasted garlic, and Velveeta, on a bialy

The Italian

Genoa salami, pickled pork snout, Nutella, hot peppers, and lemon-flavored mascarpone, on foccaccia

Baa-baa Black Sheep

Lamb shanks, stewed rhubarb, dandelion honey, and roquefort or gruyere cheese, on either brioche or croissant
(Note: we have substituted the dandelion honey for the original recipe's Vicks VapoRub, which is not recommended for internal consumption. Sometimes candlewax was used, but that's probably not recommended either.)

And try this vegan treat:

Cauliflower ribbons, sprouts, flax seeds, hay, and pumpkin-seed fake-cheese, on crusty gluten-free alfalfa bread


However you like it -- licorice and eggs, licorice-and-chive mashed potatoes, sea bass poached with licorice, licorice crumb coffee cake, etc. -- enjoy! (Yes, the picture is in color. Can't you tell?)

Monday, April 07, 2014

Urban Gadabout: New from the people who brought us "Inside the Apple" -- "Footprints in New York"

An 1847 view up Wall Streeet to the third (and currrent) Trinity Church, completed just the year before, distributed as last week's "Postcard Thursday" offering from the Inside the Apple blog. [Click to enlarge.]

by Ken

Last week's "Postcard Thursday" e-mail from the Inside the Apple team of Michelle and James Nevius (viewable as a blogpost here) had special significance for me, even though we were told that it's "not, technically, a postcard." The view at right gives some feeling of what it looks like today. It's a streetscape I haunt virtually every day, and two of the 1847 view's most conspicuous features still stand in forms not wildly different from what's depicted here. The view enlarges surprisingly well; I've tacked it up, with the relevant text, on the outside of my cubicle at work.

Looking west up Wall Street we see the then-new third Trinity Church, designed by Richard Upjohn, the one that still stands today -- and as you begin to investigate the history of New York City, you quickly discover that it's woven around Trinity Church, the breathing heart of Episcopal New York, which is to say the spiritual home of NYC money.

(The first Trinity, built in 1698, was destroyed in the great fire of 1776, which destroyed so much of the New York City of that time, still huddled at the southern tip of Manhattan Island. The second Trinity, built in 1788-90, "was torn down after being weakened by severe snows during the winter of 1838–39," per Wikipedia.)

The building with the flag on top is what we know as Federal Hall National Memorial, the successor to the building, the actual Federal Hall, where George Washington was inaugurated. Since I work half a block away, and my gym in fact is right next door to FHNM, I can vouch for the fact that FHNM is a site beloved of tourists, in even the raunchiest weather, partly because diagonally opposite it is the site of the New York Stock Exchange.

Behind FHNM (as we're viewing it), Nassau Street runs to the right (north) and Broad Street runs to the left (south). The area has been associated with stock trading at least since May 17, 1792, when 24 stockbrokerrs gathered outside 68 Wall Street, farther east, under a buttonwood tree, and signed the Buttonwood Agreement, which laid the groundwork for the New York Stock and Exchange Board, later shortened to just the New York Stock Exchange. The site at the southwest corner of Wall and Broad Streets now houses a cluster of NYSE buildings, including the landmark 1903 headquarters at 18 Broad Street.

Since I work in the adjoining building, 20 Broad, and in fact my gym is in the building directly to the east of FHNM, this 1847 view has had me mesmerized it since the Inside the Apple team of Michelle and James Nevius circulated it last week. Their "Postcard Thursday" offerings are one of the highlights of my week, and you never know what may turn up on the Inside the Apple blog.

Michelle and James's Inside the Apple is one of the great books about New York City, breaking down many of the city's historic areas geographically but telling their story historically, since the history of any site is the story of the people who lived, worked, and/or played there over time -- in most cases many layers of time, since nearly every part of the city has been undergoing change almost from the very beginning. (There are splendid links to tie people and places together.)

I wrote about Inside the Apple on July 3, 2011, after I had the considerable pleasure of doing one of the Neviuses' occasional public walking tours (most of their tours are arranged directly with clients) -- this one with James, of "Revolutionary New York." As I wrote at the time: "In an introductory note, Michelle and James explain":
The goal of Inside the Apple is to give you a different pathway into the city's long and rich history. While there are many books that focus on New York's notable events and famous people, ours is instead organized around the places where those events took place. By grounding the narrative in sites that you can see and visit, we provide concrete, tangible, connections between the city of today and its intriguing past.

People have long tried to answer the question: What makes New York unique? We feel the answer is deceptively simple: more than any other American city, it is primarily experienced on foot. . . .


. . . because today I got my pre-ordered copy of Michelle and James's new book, Footprints in New York: Tracing the Lives of Four Centuries of New Yorkers, which they've been previewing on the Inside the Apple blog for months. The new book is a further step in connecting the geography of the city with the stories of the people who have been connected to places.

James and Michelle "en route to Paris"

As Michelle and James explain in the preface:
The concept of this book is simple: We wanted to build a time machine.

Since our grasp of particle physics is weak, we decided on the next best thing, to tell the story of New York City by having each chapter transport the reader to a distinct historical era, from the Dutch village of New Amsterdam to the modern city of skyscrapers that's been built along the very streets the city's Dutch founders once walked.

As our goal is to, literally, walk in the footsteps of the New Yorkers who've come before us, each chapter is linked to a person (or, sometimes, a group of people) whose story is emblematic of that era. Some people -- like Edgar Allan Poe and Abraham Lincoln -- are universally famous. Others, such as Gertrude Tredwell or Stephen DeLancey, will only be famliar to a few. But all of them played an important role in the story of the city.

New York is so chock-full of intriguing sites that it's a historian's dream. We've been leading walking tours of the city for nearly fifteen years, and in that time we've searched out forgotten byways and journeyed to unexpected corners of the city. It's those places -- from the city's oldest house to a small synagogue on a stretch of Broadway that most people don't even know exists -- that paint a vivid portrait of New York. We talk about famous sites in these pages too, but we hope when you're reading about some of the more off-the-beaten-path sites, you may want to seek them out yourself.

The greatest joy of leading tours is the moment when a client -- often someone for whom history has always been dry recitations of names, dates, and battles -- makes that real, personal connection with the city of the past. It can happen in unexpected places -- a walk down the streets of Little Italy can evoke childhood memories. Examining gun placements in the old fort in Battery Park can suddenly illuminate the importance of the War of 1812 to someone who'd never before been able to get a handle on it. Simply walking from Battery Park to Soho -- the same path that Alexander Hamilton walked during the Revolution with his artillery company -- can do more to reveal the contours of the war for American independence than any textbook. It's our hope that the New York stories in these pages will uncover some of those hidden histories, too.

You can buy the book from your regular bookseller or via this link on the Inside the Apple website. For information about receiving Inside the Apple updates, or to contact Michelle and James, go to this webpage. Or subscribe to the e-mail list by simply sending an e-mail to with the word "SUBSCRIBE" in the subject line.