Colombian Food, Italian Ice & Taiwanese Snacks Along the 7 Train

There are plenty of great Asian restaurants in Flushing, but the most impressive site I’ve seen there is the food court at the New World Mall.

Mention of the 7 train elicits mixed reactions. Only 6 of the 22 stations connect to other lines and it’s the only subway line that serves Manhattan and Queens (it does not go out to Brooklyn). On September 13, 2015 the first new station of the new millennium opened on the 7 line near the Javits Center. This is very convenient for anyone arriving by boat from New Jersey.

Queens is known as NYC’s most international borough. Over 1,000,000 of the more than 2,300.000 residents are said to be foreign born. If you like food, culture and some nature, you can spend an exciting day along the 7 train.

During my most recent trip, I started at the new 34 St-Hudson Yards station and took the 7 train to 82 St-Jackson Hts. I’ve been to and blogged about this area before. There’s such an amazing selection of Latin American food along Roosevelt Ave. For lunch, I chose La Pequeña Colombia on the corner of 83rd & Roosevelt. I asked their friendly staff what seafood dishes people eat in Colombia and they suggested Pargo Rojo Marinado, which is more prominent is the coastal areas. $27.95 may sound like a lot of money, but most people would not need an appetizer or dessert with this entrée. It’s a whole red snapper over a bed of seafood in a creamy white sauce. A side of yuca with rice is only $3.95 and makes an excellent addition to the sauce after you’ve finished the seafood.

After a meal like that, some walking is in order. I did not have room for any of their hearty desserts and you may not either. My next destination was Flushing Meadows-Corona Park. It’s the fourth largest park in NYC and if you are using the 7 train, there’s a couple different ways to get there. I chose to take the train two stops from 90 St-Elmhurst Av to 103 St-Corona Plaza. Although this is a bit west of the park entrance on 111th Street, you can pass by The Lemon Ice King of Corona if you just walk east to 108th St and go 12 (short) blocks south to 52nd Ave. They are open all year round and have more than 30 flavors. Small cups cost $1.50 each. They do not mix flavors, so it’s worth buying a few different small cups to sample the flavors.

From there, you can walk east on 52nd Ave to 111th Street, which will put you near the main entrance to Flushing Meadows-Corona Park. It’s more exciting in the warmer months, but you can still spend hours there in the winter. If you go to the nearby museums, you can spend days.

My last stop in the park was the Unisphere. From there, the 111 St and Mets-Willets Point stops along the 7 train are just a short walk north. The one you take will depend on whether or not you are going east or west. The last stop to the east is Flushing-Main St, which will leave you in the heart of what some call the largest Chinatown in NYC. It’s certainly the largest in Queens and is different from the more famous Chinatown in Manhattan in that most of the people there are Mandarin speaking.

There are plenty of great Asian restaurants in Flushing, but the most impressive site I’ve seen there is the food court at the New World Mall. Although the Chinatown in Flushing is generally not as crowded as the one in Manhattan, the food court in the New World Mall is. There’s an amazing selection of Asian food there and it really did remind me of my numerous trips there. There’s bubble tea, Korean, Thai and everything in between, but I always liked Tea Twitter. I first discovered them at the Queens International Night Market and they have excellent Taiwanese fast food. I’ve had salt & pepper chicken at numerous places (including Taichung and Taipei) and theirs is as good as any.

Flushing gives you the advantage of two different transit options back to Manhattan. The 7 train ends in Flushing and the Long Island Railroad has a stop there as well. From Flushing-Main St. you can be at Penn Station in 20 minutes with only a couple stops between if you take the LIRR.

If you follow my itinerary, you can eat Asian, European and Latin American food and also visit an iconic park in less than one full day using one subway line. Of course you should make sure there is no construction on the 7 line, especially if you are visiting on a weekend. The subway would cost you $11 ($2.75 X 4 rides) if you start and finish in Manhattan. Taking the Long Island Railroad back from Flushing will cost more than the subway and unlike the subway, the cost varies depending on when you are riding. On weekends, the City Ticket is the best option at $4.25 one way.

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1st appearance on a travel podcast

One of the first podcasts I discovered was the Amateur Traveler Podcast hosted by Chris Christensen. 487 episodes into the podcast, I had the honor of being the guest.

Since I got an iPod as a birthday gift ten years ago, I’ve been a podcast addict. I haven’t had cable TV since early 2010. I get the majority of my news from podcasts. One of the first ones I discovered was the “Amateur Traveler Podcast” hosted by Chris Christensen.

487 episodes into the podcast, I had the honor of being the guest. I chose Queens for two reasons. First, because Chris had not done an episode on Queens before and second, because I always appreciated it more than anyone else I know.

click here for more info

My 1st NYC food & neighborhoods tour

This past Sunday was my first bus tour. A friend helped me reserve and nearly fill the 36 passenger bus. I designed the tour (and flyer). To say the least, it was an interesting experience and filled with surprises.

This past Sunday was my first bus tour. A friend helped me reserve and nearly fill the 36 passenger bus. I designed the tour (and flyer). To say the least, it was an interesting experience and filled with surprises.

the tour guide entering the bus
the tour guide entering the bus

Bronx & Queens

I put my flyers in over 10 restaurants and grocery stores in Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley. Around 100 of them were taken, but only 1 place brought me any passengers. I didn’t get a single phone call or email from any of the other places. I started passing out the flyers at the end of July with a payment deadline of September 1. When that date came, I had less than 10 confirmed passengers for a 36 seat bus. I was extremely discouraged, but instead of canceling the trip and refunding the few people who paid me, I decided to print new flyers with no payment deadline. The tour date was September 27 and around Labor Day weekend, the seats started filling up. It took until the week before the trip to finally reach 30 passengers.

When the day came, I was a bit nervous, but excited (in a good way). Although the tour company told me if would take four hours to get from Bethlehem to the Bronx, it took less than two. When we got to the first stop (Arthur Avenue in the Bronx’s Little Italy), I forgot how much more quiet it is on a Sunday. A few places were closed and I thought that some people would be disappointed. As our group of nearly 30 started walking along Arthur Avenue, people quickly disappeared into various shops. After 10 minutes, only a dozen people were still following me.

Brian in Bronx - Chris
Arthur Avenue

We walked northeast on Arthur Avenue towards 187th Street, where Alexandra Maruri from Bronx Historical Tours was there to greet us. I had arranged for her to meet us earlier in the month. After introducing herself, she walked my group of around 12 southeast on 187th Street towards Crescent Ave. My two favorite pastry shops in NYC are Veniero’s in Manhattan’s East Village and Artuso’s in the Bronx’s Little Italy. Artuso’s was our next stop and we spent around 30 minutes in there. I ordered two slices of my favorite (tied with Evelyn’s Kitchen in Manhattan’s East Harlem) red velvet cake and just watched everyone enjoying themselves. We were there just days after Pope Francis made his first visit to NYC. Artuso’s made “Pope Cakes” for him. When Alexandra showed Joseph Artuso the size of our group, he came out and gave us all sample cream puffs.

inside of Artuso's
inside of Artuso’s
Joseph Artuso handing out cream puffs 9-27-2015 Alex iPhone
Joseph Artuso handing out cream puffs to the people on my tour

My Uncle and his wife had lunch at San Gennaro on Arthur Avenue (Gennaro was the name of my maternal Grandfather). Others ate as soon as we exited the bus. Half of the group had lunch with me at Antonio’s Trattoria on the corner of Belmont and Crescent Avenues. Earlier this year, I ate there with a friend around her birthday and Joe came to our table sang to her. There was a birthday girl in our group and Joe remembered me from the last time and was nice enough to come and sing Happy Birthday.

Joe singing to the birthday girl
Joe singing to the birthday girl
looking over the menu at Antonio's
looking over the menu at Antonio’s

Our next destination was 31st Street near the northern end of the NQ subway lines in the Astoria section of (northwest) Queens. Some of my group shopped for Greek specialties at Titan Foods, which claims to be the largest Greek specialty store in the United States. The rest of us walked the half-mile to Artopolis Bakery on the other side of Interstate 278 (Brooklyn-Queens expressway). Since I love French macarons and they are more difficult to find outside of Manhattan, I bought four and quickly walked back to Titan Foods to buy octopus and seafood salad. I encouraged everyone to bring coolers since we would be shopping in three different ethnic neighborhoods.

Only one person on the bus had ever been to the Bronx’s Little Italy before. The same guy (and only one other friend of mine on the tour) had been to Astoria before this trip. Nobody else had been to Corona before. Our next destination was the Lemon Ice King of Corona. This is the place you can see at the opening segment of the King of Queens TV show. I never saw a full episode but I’ve seen the opening segment. A few people tried more than one flavor but I managed to buy four small cups. They do not mix flavors, so I always prefer to buy different small ones until I’ve had enough.

Lemon Ice King of Corona - Jenny

Our next (and final) destination was Flushing. Everyone on my tour was American-born except for one German-born woman who I never met before the trip and my Chinese-Malay friend who helped me reserve and nearly fill the bus. We had a dinner reservation for 20 people at Szechuan Gourmet. We got 2 different tables with spinning sections in the middle which makes it easier for everyone to share food. Szechuan Gourmet is known for spicy food, which I cannot eat. I managed to find an entrée which was not spicy, but we ended up being in there for two hours. Experiences like this are so much better when you have a Chinese friend with you. This was no exception as she helped everyone navigate the menu.

I really enjoy the food court at the New World Mall (intersection of Roosevelt Ave. & Main Street in Flushing). I suggested that anyone who was not joining us at Szechuan Gourmet should try the food court there. Nobody ended up doing that, but two other groups of people tried different restaurants and they each enjoyed them.

Like the ride from Bethlehem to NYC, the ride back to Bethlehem went fast. Many people slept, but I was not even tired. My adrenaline was rushing all day. I didn’t eat as much as I normally would because I was (sort of) working. Like I often do, I thought we would need less time at the stops than we actually did. We ran behind schedule all day and with the exception of the ride between Corona and Flushing, traffic was not to blame. The average person just moves slower than I do and no more than two people had ever been to any of the places we visited. Only my Chinese friend had been to Flushing prior to this trip.

It seemed like one minute we were crossing the Whitestone Bridge and the next minute we were at the Bethlehem exit off Interstate 78. I tried to give people as many historical facts as possible. The microphone in the bus was not working properly, so I just went in the middle of the bus and spoke as loud as possible. Although I didn’t make much money on my first trip, it was an excellent learning experience and I got an unexpected applause (and tip) at the end. I handed out a survey on the way back. Everyone wanted more time in the Bronx’s Little Italy, they had mixed feelings about Astoria. I was the one who enjoyed the Lemon Ice King of Corona the most and they had very mixed feelings about Flushing.

Pizza, Macarons & Other Sweet Things in Manhattan & Queens

In total, we visited 3 pizzerias, 5 cafes (4 for macarons, 1 for Belgian wafels), an Italian Ice stand and an Asian food court. That’s more than 10 places where at least one of us ate something. The funny thing was that we ate small portions at each place and neither of us felt sick, stuffed or whatever you may call it. We felt satisfied both with the sights we saw and the food we ate.

Over Labor Day weekend, I had the pleasure of taking a friend to New York City for her first visit. We drove from Eastern Pennsylvania to the Newport PATH station, arriving around noon. Since this would be my friend’s first visit to the big apple after 12 years in the United States, I wanted to make it memorable. That would not mean taking her directly to Times Square. New York City has (sorry, Chicago!) the best pizza in the country and the most options for French macarons of any city I’ve been to outside of France. Since my friend is in the restaurant business, I thought a food tour would be the best way to show her my favorite city in the world.

In addition to never visiting New York City, my friend had also never been in an underground train. We parked at the the Newport mall in Jersey City and took the PATH train into Manhattan. Fifteen minutes later, we exited at Christopher Street. Why start in the West Village? Well, in addition to being the first PATH stop in Manhattan, Bleecker Street also boasts one of the best Neapolitan-style pizzerias in New York City (Keste) and is home to the critically acclaimed salted caramel macaron (at Bisous Ciao). We made a left out of the PATH station and then a right onto Bleecker Street. It took less than five minutes to get to Keste, where we shared a Regina Margherita. My friend loved the fresh tomatoes.

Less than a block (make a left out of Keste) away, the next stop on our food tour was Royce Chocolate. This was special because my friend spent years working for a Japanese company and had the opportunity to visit Japan on multiple occasions. She always said that Japanese chocolates were her favorite. Between their four locations in New York and New Jersey, I’ve visited dozens of times and have a routine. If I have none at home, I get one box of Champagne Pierre Mignon and one box of Au Lait. My friend did not ask for my advice this time and she bought a white chocolate bar as well as a box of Praline Truffles. One great thing about Royce is that they individually wrap everything you buy in a small bag with an ice pack, which is supposed to keep the chocolates cool for seven hours. When it’s over 80 degrees and sunny, this really comes in handy. Some flavors sell out early, but you don’t have to worry about making Royce your last stop since they will never melt with the ice pack.

Make another left out of Royce and in less than one block, you’ll arrive at Bisous Ciao. Their salted caramel macaron is my personal favorite. If someone were to ask me what is so great about French macarons, I would take them to Bisous Ciao and have them try their salted caramel. Along with their blood orange, salted caramel made Time Out’s list of the best macarons in NYC. Since my friend is Thai, she tried the Thai Tea, along with the sour cherry. Earlier this year, the Bleecker Street location started serving pastries and drinks and now offers seating.

After three stops in the West Village, it was time to head to my favorite neighborhood in NYC for food: the East Village. The W 4 St-Washington Square subway station is right around the corner from the 200 block of Bleecker Street. From there, you can either take the F train two stops towards Brooklyn and exit at 2 Av or take it one stop towards Queens and then take the L train towards Brooklyn, exiting at 1 Av.

Our next stop was Luzzo’s for a bufala pizza. Although my friend preferred Keste, this is my favorite thin crust pizza in the country. They just recently started accepting all major credit cards.

Bufala at Luzzos East Village NYC
Bufala at Luzzo’s in the East Village

If you make a right out of Luzzo’s and then make the next right at East 12th Street, you will arrive at Motorino. We stopped here for a Margherita, knowing this would be our last pizza for the day. Motorino plays the best (in my opinion) music of the three places we had pizza at. It was also the first place where I had Neapolitan-style pizza in NYC. As a 30-something, there’s something special about hearing 80s pop music in a small pizzeria. Songs that I don’t have in my iTunes library and never intend to have there sound better in a small pizzeria.

After Motorino, we got back on 1st Avenue and headed one block south to Veniero’s (on East 11th Street), which is my favorite pastry shop in Manhattan. As their sign says, they’ve been in business since 1894. There’s a reference to their cannoli in the film CBGB. I’ve been here dozens of times and have never been in and out in under 10 minutes. There’s always a line, but it’s worth the wait. My favorite is the camilia, but I usually get the blood orange delight as well. My friend opted for Tiramisu and a berry tart.

We got back on 1st Avenue and headed south for three blocks and turned left onto Saint Mark’s Place (8th Street). Halfway between 1st Avenue and Avenue A is Macaron Parlour (my favorite place for macarons). Both of their locations have seating, free water and a restroom. The macarons are as large as any I’ve seen in NYC and also cost less than the ones at Bisous Ciao or La Miason du Macaron.

Although nobody would consider $15 for a box of 6 macarons to be a bargain, you can take a class to find out what goes into them, how easy it is to get the shells wrong and just how much practice it takes to get good enough that you’re not throwing out more than you are able to sell. I took a class at Macaron Parlour’s East Village location in the summer of 2014 (taught by co-owner Christina Ha), which reinforced the respect I have for the art of macaron making.

No other place that sells macarons in NYC has as much of a down to earth feel as Macaron Parlour. Even their other location on the Upper West Side has the same kind of vibe. They have some unique flavors in addition to the standard ones. My friend and I each got a box of 6. I think that the absolute must-try flavors at Macaron Parlour are giggity, s’mores and party time, all three of which use chocolate. To complete my box of 6, I got caramel fleur de sel, lemon basil and rosemary olive oil. They have some rotating flavors as well. Depending on what they are, I sometimes get a box of 12. My friend also settled for a box of 6, although she prefers the more fruity flavors.

Our final stop in the East Village was Wafels & Dinges at Avenue B & East 2nd Street. I normally get a wafel with Nutella and spekuloos, but this time I replaced the Nutella with dulce de leche. My friend chose a wafel with ice cream, but seemed unsure of which flavor ice cream. I insisted she try the spekuloos flavor. We shared our two choices and I enjoyed both. She did as well. They sell their spekuloos spread by the jar and since I had none left at home, I got a jar to go.

We picked up the F train at 2 av and took it up to 23 st to try more macarons. La Maison du Macaron is conveniently located on West 23rd street near the F, M & Path lines. Their flavors change more frequently than either Bisous Ciao or Macaron Parlour. Like Macaron Parlour, they have a little café, (including a restroom) as well as some other pastries, including marzipan. I prefer to buy the Bergen marzipan that Veniero’s sells.

From La Maison du Macaron, you can walk 13 blocks north up either 6th or 7th Ave to Macaron Café (also between 6th & 7th Avenues). Although they have three locations in the greater midtown area and one in Tribecca, we chose the one on West 36th Street because it was the closest. Macaron Café has the most impressive array of flavors. What makes them unique is their seasonal options. Depending on the time of year, you can get pumpkin cinnamon, gingerbread or 4th of July. When I visit one of their locations, I get flavors I am unlikely to find elsewhere like chestnut, orange blossom, tahini sesame and crème brulee. Their coconut and Nutella macarons made the Time Out 2015 list of best macarons in NYC.

My friend is Thai and so far, I had only taken her to Belgian, French and Italian restaurants and cafes. Her only request for the day was to see Chinatown. I find Manhattan’s Chinatown to be too crowded, so after leaving Macaron Cafe, we walked to the 5 Av stop on the 7 train and boarded the train to Queens. This allowed her to take both an underground and elevated train. We exited the 7 train at 103 St-Corona Plaza and walked east to 108th Street and then 12 short blocks south to The Lemon Ice King of Corona. It’s not the most conveniently located place, but the variety of flavors and quality more than make up for it. They don’t mix flavors, so my friend and I tried a total of 5 different small cups at $1.50 each.

Our next destination was Flushing (my favorite of the 3 largest Chinatowns in NYC). From The Lemon Ice King of Corona, you can walk east to 111th Street and then head north to the 111 st stop on the 7 train. This will put you only two stops away from the Flushing Main St station. Knowing the area, I decided to show my friend a trick. The Q58 bus stops right outside The Lemon Ice King of Corona. It’s about a 20 minute ride to Main Street in Flushing and I wanted her to experience a city bus as well. We were also tired from all of the walking. The Q58 bus takes I-495 (Long Island Expressway) through Flushing Meadows Corona Park and then along College Point Blvd. The subway lines do not run along these roads.

After arriving at the corner of 41st Road and Main Street in Flushing, my friend commented on how it looked like Bangkok. I spent a week in Bangkok back in 2013 and have visited other Thai cities since then. Her observation made sense to me. The only obvious difference would be Chinese and Korean characters in place of the Thai script. Although there are plenty of restaurants in Flushing, we chose to eat in the food court on the bottom floor of the New World Mall. I know to some, the idea of eating dinner in a mall food court may not seem like the best culinary experience in the best foodie city in America, but at the end of the tour, we both agreed that our side trip to Queens may have been the highlight of the day. One of my best dining memories in Asia was eating at the hawker stalls in Singapore. This was very similar in terms of the food options. It took around five minutes to find a seat. We settled on Tea Twitter, which also has a stand at the Queens International Night Market. We had both eaten way too much to fit a full meal, so I got the salt & pepper chicken, she got the basil chicken and we shared. This cost us a total of just over $10. We almost finished our two plates and then took the short walk back to the train station.

Hanging sneakers from Platform of Flushing Main Street LIRR station
shot of hanging sneakers from platform of Flushing Main Street LIRR station
IMG_5359
shot from the top of the steps at the (Penn Station bound) Flushing-Main Street LIRR station

IMG_5355

IMG_5357
graffiti at the bottom of the steps up to the (Penn Station bound) platform at the LIRR Flushing-Main Street station

Since my friend had the chance to ride the subway both underground (in Manhattan) and elevated (in Queens), I decided it would be nice for her to ride a nicer (regional) train. We took the Long Island Railroad back to Penn Station. The trains run between Flushing and Penn Station every 30 minutes on weekends and take less than 20 minutes. The train cars are nicer and there are only two stops between the two. We had a few minutes to wait on the platform, which gave me the chance to take some nice photos. Once inside the train, we were talking so much about what a great day it was, that before we knew it, we were at Penn Station. Taking this route back to Manhattan allowed my friend to see two NYC icons that she would not have seen otherwise: Penn Station and the Empire State Building (lit up at night). After taking a few more pictures, we boarded the (very crowded) PATH train back to Newport.

Empire State Building 9-6-2015

In total, we visited 3 pizzerias, 5 cafes (4 for macarons, 1 for Belgian wafels), an Italian Ice stand and an Asian food court. That’s more than 10 places where at least one of us ate something. The funny thing was that we ate small portions at each place and neither of us felt sick, stuffed or whatever you may call it. We felt satisfied with both the sights we saw and the food we ate.

September 27th is the big day!!!

For more than 10 years I’ve been paying to go on guided tours and making mental notes, saying to myself….”I can probably do this, if I had an area I knew inside out.”
 
Earlier this year, a friend invited me to go on one of her NYC tours and I finally said, “If she gives me her contacts and a little guidance, I can DO THE SAME THING (that’s an ELF song).”
 
It took me a day to make up this flyer and reserve the bus. If this my 1st trip is a success, I have a Brooklyn & Staten Island one I would like to do as well.
 
The point of these trips is to take people to places they would not normally go to, but might enjoy if somebody took them.