A food stroll through the Lower East Side

New York is one of those places, maybe THE place, where you can have a laundry list of food places that you want to hit. At least I do. I keep a running list of restaurants I want to try (which is always growing as new additions open), and markets to shop in. Well, I finally made it to a few on my list today, in a neighborhood I haven’t spent much time in since living in New York – the Lower East Side. First, a stop at Il Laboratorio del Gelato, on Orchard and Broome was in order. Not the best weather for gelato with the pouring rain, but one taste and it was worth it. I tried the Pistachio and the Dark Chocolate. Trying to balance the umbrella with the cup, I dug in. Both were dense, creamy, and not overly sweet, the way a good gelato should be. Next, Essex Street Market, a place that carries a part of historical New York into the present. The Essex Street Market has been around since 1940, opened as a location for the area’s pushcarts and street merchants to do business. As with so many things in New York, the Market has evolved to meet the needs of the neighborhood, providing a welcome culinary continuum.

My first stop was Saxelby Cheesemongers. Since I’m basically obsessed with cheese, I can never pass it up. After the trip to Vermont, I find myself checking to see which artisanal Vermont cheeses are carried where. To my delight, they carried quite a few, as well as many from the Northeast. I had a nice chat with Anne about artisanal cheeses, my grad program, etc. It’s clear she has a passion and a commitment to all the wonderful artisanal cheesemakers out there. I decided to go with a little Jasper Hill’s Bayley Hazen Blue and the Cabot Clothbound Cheddar. Mateo and Andy really know what they’re doing up at Jasper Hill. The Bayley Hazen Blue is smoky, nutty, and creamy without the tang of many Blues. The award-winning Cabot Clothbound Cheddar is well-balanced and rich, where you can practically taste what the cows have been nibbling on.

The great thing about The Essex Street Market is that you can walk in and find things that are practically non-existent in many mainstream grocery stores, but without the high price tags of a “specialty” store. All kinds of meat, seafood, and produce line the aisles. I saw papayas as big as my head, and almost every kind of dried chile you can think of. I was looking for jars of nopalitos (cactus) and queso fresco for an ensalada de nopalito, and some plátanos. Viva Fruits & Vegetables was a one-stop shop for all.

As I grabbed my bags, my only thought as I was leaving The Essex Street Market was, “Why haven’t I been here sooner?!”

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Erin Laverty is a Master’s candidate in Food and Culture Studies at NYU. She is a regular contributor to Kiwi magazine and is developing a deep appreciation for artisinal cheeses and all things terroir.

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