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.


NYC Chocolate & Macaron Tour

Most of my group was from Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley and had never tried this style of Pizza before. Using a fork and knife to eat pizza was not something they were accustomed to.

My most recent NYC food & neighborhoods tour was different from the previous one. Last time, a bus took us everywhere, while this time my group and I started with a dim sum brunch at Jing Fong in Manhattan’s Chinatown and then went everywhere on foot and via subway.

NYC Food & Xmas Spectacular 12-6-2015 Brian
tour flyer

My 1st dim sum brunch was back in June with a Chinese friend. I was excited that our tour would start that way, but concerned that we would have no room for pizza later in the day. At brunch, I finalized my plan for the day and ate every appetizer with shrimp.

Dim Sum at Jing Fong NYC 12-6-2015
inside Jing Fong on Elizabeth Street

The tour I advertised included a walk across the Brooklyn Bridge. This is a risky thing to advertise in December. I had an alternate plan which would have cut Brooklyn out of the tour, but it was around 55 degrees and nobody in the group wanted to change the plan.

Walking over the Brooklyn Bridge 12-6-2015
walking across the Brooklyn Bridge

On the last tour, everything took more time than I allowed for. This time, everything took less time than I planned. Our walk from Chinatown to DUMBO took less than an hour. The last time (that’s a Rolling Stones song) I walked over the Brooklyn Bridge was in October 2013, on my way to a (nearly three hour) Pearl Jam concert at the Barclays Center. Only one other person in my group had ever walked over the Brooklyn Bridge.

Brooklyn & Manhattan Bridges from Booklyn Bridge Park 12-6-2015
Brooklyn Bridge on the left, Manhattan Bridge on the right

After a photo op filled walk across the bridge, we followed Tillary Street to Cadman Plaza, which turns into Washington Street, which took us to Jacques Torres only Brooklyn location on Water Street. I bought a box of 12 chocolates and let everyone else do their shopping. Most bought something. I’m usually the one who buys the most, but someone else bought a box of 25.

Brooklyn Bridge from Brooklyn Bridge Park 12-6-2015
Brooklyn Bridge from Main Street Park under Manhattan Bridge

From Jacques Torres, we followed Main Street to Main Street Park, so everyone could get pictures of the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges. After a quick walk along Washington Street to York Street to Jay Street, we boarded the F train, bound for the 2 Av Station between the Lower East Side and East Village. Most of my group had never been in the subway before.

selection at Jacques Torres Brooklyn 12-6-2015
selection at Jacques Torres

Our next destination was Bisous Ciao on the Lower East Side. They were running a happy hour special where you buy two and get one free. Everyone sampled the different flavors. Those who took my suggestion and tried the salted caramel were not disappointed. I bought a box of six and we headed to Essex Street, which turns into Avenue A.

tour group at Bisous Ciao LES NYC 12-6-2015
Bisous Ciao on Lower East Side

After a left turn on Saint Mark’s Place (East 8th Street), we arrived at Macaron Parlour, where I bought a box of six and let everyone else try the different flavors. I tend to avoid the more eccentric flavors there. “Party time” is my favorite.

Macaron Parlour 12-6-2015
me offering advice at Macaron Parlour in East Village

After Macaron Parlour, we walked to First Avenue then north to East 12th Street to Motorino. We all shared Margherita Pizzas. Even after dim sum, I ate 3 slices and did not feel stuffed. Most of my group was from Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley and had never tried this style of Pizza before. Using a fork and knife to eat pizza was not something they were accustomed to.

Margherita at Motorino East Village 12-6-2015
Margherita Pizza at Motorino in East Village

From 14th Street, we took the L train to the 6 train to 51st street to sample Japanese and Belgian Chocolates. Royce gives out a free mini box of green tea nama to anyone who checks in on Yelp. Since the refrigerator at my house usually has at least a couple different flavors of Royce chocolates, I just took the free ones, but the people in my group bought chocolate covered potato chips.

I had not been to Leonidas since earlier in the year and that was our next (and final) destination, just a block south on Madison Ave. My favorites there are the speculoos and champagne truffles. Since I’m not in this area very often, I bought a half pound of truffles while the people in my group sampled some other flavors.

As our chocolate and macaron tour was coming to an end, we walked to Rockerfeller Center so everyone could take pictures of the tree. Our tour ran ahead of schedule so there was almost an hour before we had to meet the bus on 49th street between 8th and 9th Avenues (the bus was not allowed to drive to Rockerfeller Center).

Xmas tree at Rockerfeller Center 12-6-2015
Christmas Tree at Rockerfeller Center


My 1st afternoon in Park Slope

As part of an unexpected 4-day weekend, I spent this past Sunday afternoon in Brooklyn’s Park Slope. I had a handful of places I wanted to visit to make the nearly 30 minute trip from Washington Square Park worthwhile.

Like usual, I parked at the Newport PATH station in Jersey City and took the train to Christopher Street. After my usual sweets stops along Bleecker Street (Royce, Bisous Ciao & Popbar), I played U2’s The Joshua Tree on my new iPhone 6S and boarded the D train to the Atlantic Av-Pacific St. From there, I intended to transfer to the 2-3 line, but there was a delay. Instead, I boarded the Q train and took it one stop to 7 Av.

This area was new to me. I exited the station at Flatbush Ave. and walked 1 block south to Franny’s. Before I visited any museums, I needed to eat. I’d been reading about Franny’s for a while, and finally tried it. I had the margherita and writing this one day later, only thoughts of Luzzo’s and L & B Spumoni Gardens excite me more. It was around 2:00 in the afternoon (a late lunch for me). I got the Panna Cotta for dessert and was very glad that I did.

Margherita Pizza at Franny's
Margherita Pizza at Franny’s

I saved room for a slice at DiFara. I was conveniently along the Q line (the only one that stops at Avenue J on weekends) and there was no construction this past weekend. I called ahead since they had only recently reopened after being closed for a week, but I got no answer. Other times I wanted to visit, there was construction on the Q line, which affected the Avenue J stop.

I decided it wasn’t meant to be and walked to 8th Avenue and then headed south towards Union Street. I hadn’t been to Macaron Parlour in a while, and they have a new temporary location in Park Slope. It’s small and you can easily walk past it. I did! I ordered a box of 6 to add to the 6 I bought earlier at Bisous Ciao and got an excellent shot of the wall.

Macaron Parlour in Brooklyn
Macaron Parlour in Brooklyn

My next destination was Old Stone House. I read about it online, but was surprised when I arrived. It’s very small and located inside of Washington Park. Having resided in Pennsylvania my whole life, I’m more familiar with revolutionary war sites in my home state and neighboring New Jersey. Brooklyn’s role in the revolutionary war was even less clear to me than that of Manhattan.

Old Stone House in Brookyn
Old Stone House in Brookyn

There is a suggested donation, which I gave. I don’t see how anyone can spend more than 30 minutes in there. There’s just one small room with exhibits. Just as interesting as being inside of the museum is looking at it from the outside, as it’s in the middle of a public park and surrounded by a playground and a skatepark.

side shot of Old Stone House
side shot of Old Stone House

Before going to the Museum of Morbid Anatomy, I had to go to L’Albero dei Gelati, which I passed on 5th Avenue on the way to Old Stone House. I’d never heard of this place. Over the past couple years, I visited some ice cream shops that I read about in Time Out New York and the results were always good. This place was at least as good as any of the places I read about in Time Out and similar magazines. The largest cup they had held four scoops. With their amazing selection, I needed all four. I could have chosen more, but there were four flavors (abbreviated descriptions) that stood out from the rest: ricotta with cinnamon, olive oil, lemon with lemongrass and orange. Since I prefer to eat the heavier flavors 1st, I had them put the gelatos (cinnamon & olive oil) on top and the sorbettos (lemon & orange) on the bottom. The cup was pretty large, but I had room (since I never went to DiFara) and finished it well before arriving at my next stop.

The Museum of Morbid Anatomy is near the relatively new Whole Foods Market Brooklyn, which I’d been to a few times before (when I drove in). It’s a black building, which makes it stand out from everything else in the area. With a student ID you can get in for $6. The exhibits are upstairs. Although the figures on display may be disturbing to some, I would not include myself in that list. Like the Old Stone House, it would be difficult to spend more than 30 minutes there (unless you get a snack downstairs and/or take advantage of their reading room upstairs). The exhibits are in one small room and there is someone to explain them and answer questions.

Museum of Morbid Anatomy in Brooklyn

From the Museum of Morbid Anatomy, it’s a short walk to the 4 Av F-G station (or the 9 St D-N-R) station. I boarded the F train with York St (last stop before Manhattan) as my destination. I made it as far as the next stop (Smith 9 Sts) and decided to get out to take some pictures. The sun was beginning to set and I sensed an excellent photo op. From the Manhattan and Queens bound platform you look down at Gowanus Canal and lower Manhattan is off in the distance. The buildings along the canal are gritty and industrial looking but the further out you look, you start to see the skyscrapers of lower Manhattan.

shot from Smith 9 St station in Brooklyn
Gowanus Canal

Less than 10 minutes after exiting the train, I caught the next one and exited at York Street. Since this past summer, I’d been wanting to visit Bldg 92 in Brooklyn Navy Yard. Although it looks close on a map, it was at least a 15 minute walk along York Street to Flushing Ave. When you start to see the Navy Yard, you are only around “halfway there” (that’s a Soundgarden song). By the time I got to the entrance around 5:15 (that’s a Who song) it was dark outside.

mural outside Brooklkyn Navy Yard

Like Old Stone House, Bldg 92 is free. Unlike the area around Old Stone House, there’s not much else to see around Bldg 92. For dining or sightseeing, you have to go back towards the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridge underpasses. One to Two hours is an ideal amount of time to spend at Bldg 92 (unless you show up 45 minutes before they close, like I did).

Building 92 Museum at Brooklyn Naval Yard
Building 92 Museum at Brooklyn Naval Yard

Like Old Stone House, Bldg 92 covers the Revolutionary War, but the difference is that at Bldg 92, that’s just the beginning. Bldg 92 covers all the way up to the 21st century. The story is rather interesting from a civics perspective, but I have no interest in the technical aspects of shipbuilding. As a result, I skipped some of the exhibits. There are three floors and I spent the longest amount of time on the first floor. I stayed right up until they closed at 6.

After my 3rd museum visit of the day, I was tired and was hoping to find a cab to drive me back to the 23rd Street PATH station. This really says something, because I only remember using NYC cabs twice in my entire life. No such luck! The cabs I saw did not notice me and the streets you take to get between York St station and Brooklyn Navy Yard and pretty desolate (by NYC standards). I walked all the way back to York St station without getting a cab.

Before catching the PATH train, I had to make one more macaron stop (La Maison du Macaron). Everything I saw in Brooklyn was new to me, which says a lot since I’ve been there dozens of times both on foot and behind the wheel of my Prius.

My 1st time exploring Long Island City on foot

This past weekend, I walked around Long Island City for the first time. The reason for my visit was Gantry Plaza State Park, but I ended up having one of the best Italian dinners of my life.

This past weekend, I walked around Long Island City for the first time. The reason for my visit was Gantry Plaza State Park, but I ended up having one of the best Italian dinners of my life.

famous “LONG ISLAND” sign at Gantry Plaza State Park

Like usual, my day started by driving to the Newport Centre Mall, parking my car and catching the PATH train into Manhattan. Like I typically do, I got out at Christopher Street to take an obligatory stroll along Bleecker Street. Since I had not been there in more than one month, Royce Chocolate and Bisous Ciao were obligatory visits. At Royce, I bought my usual Champagne and Au Lait. At Bisous Ciao, they had the best selection I had ever seen in my dozens of visits since 2014. I bought a box of 12.

From there, I walked to Jacques Torres Chocolates (SoHo location), where I bought a box of 12 chocolates. Although I’d walked past the NoHo location before, I never bought anything because it was around 90 degrees outside and I had a full day of walking ahead of me.

I typically don’t eat Thai food in NYC because there are so many good places in Pennsylvania, but my friend that was traveling with insisted that we try a Thai place (with a five star rating on Yelp). Since our plan was to catch the F train from W 4 St-Wash Sq station, we found a place off of West 3rd Street with a four star rating on Yelp. Khao Thai Kitchen opened recently near NYU. They offer 1 free Thai Iced Tea or Ice Coffee if you check in on Yelp. My friend and I shared a mango salad with shrimp as well as a seafood paradise. It was just enough to hold us over until dinner time since we didn’t have lunch until after 2:00.

As we walked towards the W 4 St station we came across Kulu Desserts on West 3rd Street. It looked somewhat interesting to me, and my friend insisted we stop. I got the mango Pomelo and my friend got the Mixed Fruit with Glass Jelly. I’d recommend trying Kulu. They also have a location in Flushing as well as one between Sunset Park and Bay Ridge in Brooklyn, just steps away from the 8 St N train stop.

We finally boarded the F train to 42 St and then took the 7 to Vernon Blvd-Jackson Av. I read about Gantry Plaza State Park on Time Out New York’s web site and had been interested ever since. I wanted to go last month, but ended up visiting Brooklyn instead.

famous “PEPSI-COLA” sign at Gantry Plaza State Park

We walked west on 50th Ave., which leads right into the park. It was a challenge to put my camera down. Amazing shots of Roosevelt Island, Midtown Manhattan, as well as the Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge were at every turn. We walked north to the 11th Street Basin and then took 46th Street east back to Vernon Blvd. I’d been hearing about the Long Island City Flea & Food for a while. Unfortunately, it was closing by the time we walked past it. Another example of going to see one thing, but stumbling upon another. Since I love going to Corona and Flushing, I will definitely check out the LIC Flea & Food next time I go in that direction.

Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge
Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge
facing Midtown Manhattan from Gantry Plaza State Park
facing Midtown Manhattan from Gantry Plaza State Park
United Nations from Gantry Plaza State Park
United Nations from Gantry Plaza State Park
Midtown Manhattan from underneath the iconic
Midtown Manhattan from underneath the iconic “LONG ISLAND” sign in Gantry Plaza State Park
looking out at Midtown Manhattan from the bushes of Gantry Plaza State Park
looking out at Midtown Manhattan from the bushes of Gantry Plaza State Park
Midtown Manhattan from the 11th Street Basin in Long Island City
Midtown Manhattan from the 11th Street Basin in Long Island City
Gantry Plaza State Park
Gantry Plaza State Park

Tall Building in LIC

Long Island City
Long Island City

Since my friend chose our lunch spot, I was in charge of our dinner plans. My understanding of Long Island City is that it’s an up and coming area, but I never associated it with a specific ethnic food or group. However, as we walked along Vernon Blvd, the Italian places kept looking better. After passing a couple, I decided we should forget about my idea to take the F train to 23rd St and eat at the nearby Grimaldi’s and instead try a place in LIC. I chose Testaccio between 47th Road and 48th Ave. Our server was from Italy, which is always a good sign. We shared a Carpaccio Di Manzo, Gnocchi alla Sorrentina as well as a mushroom risotto with truffle oil, which was one of their specials. This place was as good as any Italian restaurant I can remember (not including places I only visit for pizza). It reminded me of a place I ate at two nights in a row in Florence back in 2006. Between this restaurant and the LIC Flea & Food, I definitely have a reason to come back to this neighborhood.

Long Island City at night
Long Island City at night

After dinner, we took the 7 to the F to 23rd St to get the PATH back to Jersey City. Well, before we could do that, I had to stop at La Maison du Macaron. Like Bisous Ciao, they had the best selection I’d ever seen there. I love anything with pumpkin and macaron shopping is always great in the fall because most macaron shops offer chestnut and pumpkin inspired flavors.

The 16th best small town in the United States

I enjoyed my dining experience much more than during any trip to Harrisburg. Carlisle has things that people travel to the big city for, but is laid back and manageable like a small town.

With a population of under 20,000 the borough of Carlisle was ranked the 16th best small town in the United States by in 2015. It’s located in south-central Pennsylvania bordered to the north the PA Turnpike (I-76) and to the south and by Interstate 81. Known to many outsiders as the home to the United States Army War College and Dickinson College, Carlisle also has a variety of restaurants that rival nearby Harrisburg.

A good place to start your day in Carlisle is the U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center. If you are driving south on Interstate 81, you will see the Army Heritage Trail’s cabins and tanks off to your right. The visitor center has ample parking and is located right off exit 49. They open at 10 and close at 4:30 except for Sundays, when they open at noon. You will likely spend most of your time in the visitor center since they have exhibits which date back from the Civil War to the present. The Army Heritage Trail (bordered to the west by Interstate 81) is open from dawn to dusk and covers the same period as the museum itself.

U.S. Army Heritage Trail

From there you can head west to downtown Carlisle. The most interesting cafes and restaurants are west of the junction of Hanover and High Streets. Although you cannot get French macarons in nearby Harrisburg, you can get macarons, hand-made chocolates, gelato, crepes and other desserts at Helena’s Chocolate Café & Creperie (located next to the Carlisle Theater). They are open 7 days and they can have anywhere between 5 and 12 different macaron flavors depending on when you visit. The combination of all the foot traffic and no other places that sell French macarons nearby means the flavors can sell out fast. In fact, they have flavors that I rarely see in Manhattan such as cinnamon and oreo. They have various to-go boxes, which can hold anywhere from 2 to 10 macarons and their crepes, desserts and gelato are worth sitting down for.

If you make a left out of Helena’s and cross High Street at Pitt Street, you’ll arrive at the Cumberland County Historical Society (closed Sundays). Upstairs, they have exhibits which explain how Cumberland County got to where it is today. Of particular interest are the exhibits on the building of the Pennsylvania Turnpike as well as the Native Americans that occupied the area before European settlers arrived.

From the visitor center, you could walk to History on High (across from Helena’s), which houses the Cumberland Valley Visitors Center (closed Sundays & Mondays). Once inside, you can get info on other local attractions as well as purchase books and other souvenirs. It’s possible to arrange walking tours from the visitor center, but with a map, you can locate 13 of the 18 historical markers in Carlisle without going more than a couple blocks from the junction of Hanover and High Streets. At the corner of High and West Street you can see where George Washington stood in October of 1794. You can also explore the grounds of Dickinson College, which is the Alma mater of the only United States President from Pennsylvania (James Buchanan, who graduated in 1809).

There are several options for dinner. Café Bruges (Belgian), Andalusia (Spanish & Moroccan tapas) and Trattoria Piatto (Italian) are affiliates of Helena’s. There’s also Issei Noodle, which is an interesting combination of Japanese ramen and Vietnamese Pho and also the only place in Carlisle which serves bubble tea.

I chose White Elephant Thai Cuisine for dinner and I’m glad I did! In addition to a standard Thai menu of nearly 70 items, they have specials every weekend. It’s BYOB, but they have some very interesting non-alcoholic drinks. Like some of the other restaurants on High Street, there is parking in the back. I ordered the coconut soup for an appetizer and the garlic scallops (weekend only) for my entrée. For dessert, I had my eyes on the tapioca coco, but at the last minute, I decided on the sea salt caramel gelato. The owner is always experimenting with new options, so it’s a good idea to stop back frequently. When I do, I’ll save room for the tapioca coco.

Although I consider myself a city person, I enjoyed my day in Carlisle just as much as I enjoyed my last trip to Harrisburg, which is more than double the size and the state capitol. Although the Susquehanna River does not run through Carlisle and they don’t offer as many options for museums, I enjoyed my dining experience much more than during any trip to Harrisburg. In summary, Carlisle has things that people travel to the big city for, but is laid back and manageable like a small town.