If you’re looking to fill a half day in New York City and cover a large swathe, the Manhattan Walking Tour will definitely do that for you – especially if you combine a walking and food tour like I did. If you’re looking for a tour guide with a ‘New Yorker’ vibe – friendly and knowledgeable but with wry humour and a boatload of opinions on NYC, its property prices and its developments – Nancy is definitely it. As opposed to feeling like the audience of a piece of theatre meant to entertain you, Nancy is your blunt-speaking history teacher who lets you wander through the key attractions in a more unguided way.
The food tour was a small one – just myself, my travel companion and another couple, making a total of five. We stopped frequently along the High Line stroll as Nancy explained everything from the teepee art installations, to the 3 floor Zaha Hadid penthouse rented by Ariana Grande and Sting, with rooms retailing for 5 million USD (casual). We walked past a private school by the side of the High Line that had – as she explained with a laugh – caged playgrounds on the roof for New York’s elite children, and spotted the London Terrace building in the distance, built by Henry Mandel to resemble an ocean liner. Also a regular suicide spot. After awhile, you learn to roll with it but I appreciate the grittier, darker stuff that other tours might normally leave out.
The tour took us all along the High Line walkway and down to the Chelsea Market and Meatpacking district, as well as a truly beautiful view of New York city from 10th Avenue, before heading to Greenwich Village for the food portion of our combined tour.
Greenwich Village was originally the countryside for those who wanted to get away from NYC and escape yellow fever, cholera and other lovely diseases. Unlike the rest of Manhattan’s neat grids, the streets have the curving chaos of Sydney’s CBD roads, which was a result of Greenwich Villagers converting cow paths into streets. Nancy pointed out interesting aspects you’d normally miss as tourists, including brown street signs denoting heritage listings, and one of the last petrol stations in New York City.
I’d say overall that Manhattan Walking Tours’ food choices are all about tradition – local, longstanding and well-known places that have won various accolades for their wares along the way. In a city full of food outlets vying for attention, that’s not an easy feat. It means the food choices skew towards safe, classic flavours which is good for picky eaters and older people.
Aux Merveilleux de Fred
Aside from France, this is the one international branch of Aux Merveilleux de Fred, which is a famous patisserie chain. It’s perhaps unusual to begin a food tour with dessert but the cold, melt-in-your-mouth airy sweetness of the praline meringue was something to behold – I’d never had something that literally felt like you were consuming a cold, sweet cloud of sugar that evaporated as soon as it touched your mouth. Perhaps a little too sweet for me – one was definitely enough – but definitely worth a try.
Li-Lac, as the longest, continually running chocolate factory in NYC, certainly holds a bit of that feeling of history in its vintage interior – at the time, decorated for Halloween. This is the place for two classic pieces: soft, salted caramel and chunks of 72% dark chocolate, made with West African cocoa, which had a smooth, no-frills, accessible flavour.
Nancy’s ‘real takes’ on NYC continued as we strolled through the leafy streets of Greenwich
Village and their iconic townhouse/brownstones from the 1800s – for example, you can tell
that buildings with 12 steps were from the 1860s as opposed to 1830s because street
sanitation didn’t exist and they had to build the front door higher to avoid the putrid smells. They’re now private homes retailing for cool figures like $9-20M USD. On the walking portion, we also walked past Carrie Bradshaw’s iconic home from Sex and the City, the famous ‘Friends’ house and Off Broadway, the oldest house in Greenwich Village, and the narrowest house in NYC (House 75.5), which is only 3.25M wide.
Bleeker Street Pizza
We walked past Lombardy’s, which is the first pizza shop open in Soho and where pizza –
which used to be sold as a whole pie but sliced according to how much money one had at
the time – was first invented in NYC, but squeezing through the Bleeker Street Pizza crowd (the store featured on the Food Channel) was where we were finally headed to enjoy a slice of classic ‘Nonna Maria’ New York Style pizza. I heard awhile ago that true Neopolitan style pizza should have its toppings close to sliding off and that’s what this pizza was certainly doing – the tomatoes were fresh with no hint of artificial flavour and mozzarella very fresh and delicious. For the record, the correct way to eat New York Pizza is apparently to fold in half and roll it.
Bantam Bagels as a brand took off on a pitch to Shark Tank and has now expanded into every Starbucks and supermarket across America. Their only physical ‘flagship’ store in Greenwich was our next stop, and features a large variety of both sweet and savoury bagel balls. I wouldn’t say it was especially mindblowing but I could definitely see myself snacking on a box of cream cheese bagel balls fresh from the oven, they were surprisingly filling for such a small snack.
Faicco’s Italian Specialties
I entered Faicco’s very much feeling like I was on some sort of movie set – everything was vaguely vintage, from the machinery to the products on the shelf, complete with the
cheery staff speaking to customers in rapid Italian. One regular customer – completely
unprompted – launched into an enthusiastic recommendation of how amazing the owners and food was, upon seeing my camera and the tour group’s curious faces. The sandwich – utilising what seemed like every single possible cut of Italian ham – was the definition of generous.
We finished with tea, coffee and cannolis right across the road from Faicco’s, in what I
can only describe as the ‘classic’ Italian diner, complete with profiteroles and various baked
goods. Though it was also quite sweet for my tastes, I enjoyed the crunch of the cannoli,
which is famous for being made-to-order, homemade and its filling which uses ricotta
cheese and not mascarpone to give it an extra creaminess and substance, and some hot tea was the perfect way to unwind after a very thorough tour.
For more information on Manhattan Walking Tour, visit their website or call +1 914-564-0461.