A good friend and I have a theory about Florence, Italy: the best time to visit it is either May or September, when conditions reach peak perfection – the weather is warm without being uncomfortable, the humidity of the Arno river has yet to become an unbearable breeding ground for mosquitoes, and flocking tourists have yet to descend like a pestilence that turns local places into “must-see” hot spots on never-ending bucket lists.
I think the same could be said of New York City – and we finally (FINALLY!) saw a glimpse of May flowers over the weekend. Judging by the forecast, it’s here to stay? I phrase that as a question because the snow storm a couple of weeks ago and the bipolar drop from 75 degrees to just over 40 a few weeks ago did a number on me; I have trust issues.
Much like the rest of New York, I spent as much of the weekend outdoors as humanly possible. Because my original weekend plans fell through, Saturday was one of those rare, perfect days that are impossible to duplicate – a spontaneous “let’s go where the wind blows us” kind of day (so out of character for me – I like to have everything planned to a T!).
It started off with my FAVORITE thing to eat in NYC for breakfast – bagels! I love a good bagel; I remember watching an episode of Mad Men years ago, before I even lived in the city, when Don Draper’s second wife Meghan wakes up early and leaves a note that she is running out to pick up bagels for breakfast for Don and his two kids. For whatever reason, that image – the tradition of going out on Saturday to pick up bagels – stuck in my head. Maybe I subconsciously incorporated it into my own NYC routine when I moved here!
Regardless of the reasons, my boyfriend and I leashed my chihuahua and headed out into the sun to pick up bacon, egg and cheese on toasted poppy seed bagels, paired with the BEST iced latte in town.
The day was already amazing! We’d even run into a couple of friends of my boyfriend on our way out, who were likewise looking for delicious brunch foods in the glorious weather. After enjoying every bite while re-watching Dexter (trying to fill the post-Breaking Bad void is hard!), we decided to head down to the East Village to walk around and enjoy the weather.
Beginning at Union Square, we passed through the ever-crowded but always intriguing Farmer’s Market, longing for all of the tantalizing cheeses and breads and produce and wines on display. Once we worked our way through the crowds, we decided to bypass the much-busier 14th Street border of Union Square in favor of a more pleasant walk on 12th Street. And I’m so glad we did! As we continued east on 12th, we noticed one of the area’s beautiful, elaborate townhouses had left its door wide open, where an array of colorful shoes lined the floor and some sort of candle-like scent was emanating from inside, beckoning us in. Curious, we poked our heads around, trying to figure out what the place was (Thrift store? One of those high-end shops with like 6 over-priced items on a single rack? Someone’s apartment?) until a lady noticed us hesitating by the door and eagerly welcomed us in. Then, she offered us a drink, which did nothing to clarify whether this was a private residence or a shop. Apparently, Sabah is both. Sabah is a Turkish shoe store with exceptionally comfortable, hand-crafted leather shoes that come in an array of vibrant colors. These slipper-like shoes are imported directly from a small village in Turkey just north of the Syrian border, where the master craftsman stitches each one by hand.
The store has a really cool history and setup – and our confusion at what Sabah actually is was justified – it’s literally the company founder’s former home, so in the back, behind the living/show room, you’ll see a cute little kitchen and oven. The saleswomen selling the shoes were more like friends – they mixed us Spanish Gin & Tonics with peppercorns, mint, and lime and invited us to sit down on the couch near the coffee table and look at pictures, many of them taken from the founder’s travels in Turkey. They brought us cocktails and shoes to try on, then left us alone to relax – until it was time to ask if we’d like another drink. The whole setup was meant to imitate the founder’s original “Sabah Saturdays,” where he would invite friends over for cocktails and stories while showing them the new shoes he had purchased from his friends in Turkey. I was SO tempted to buy, and so NOT pressured to do so, that I found myself wondering if they were worth the nearly $200 splurge…but as my dad always says, “Never make a big decision without sleeping on it!” They really were a dream though. To learn more about the cool story behind the store and the shoes you should definitely read this article!
After we set out again one gin and tonic happier, we popped into a couple of cool vintage thrift stores. We didn’t buy anything, but it’s always fun to look around anyways. And these were true vintage stores – not the overpriced knock-off versions of a Nordstrom Rack that basically try to sell you used clothes for the same price as new. It was fun to look at all the little knick-knacks and clothes – a Space Jams DVD, a poster of The Sandlot, old peasant tops.
Our trip down memory lane landed us at Handsome Dan’s Snocone & Candy Stand , a veritable childhood fantasy. Sour gummy worms! Salted fish gummies! (huh?) Green apple soda! Not to mention the myriad snocone flavors and homemade chocolates behind the counter. You could find candies from all over the world here…so of course we settled for Ring Pops and Cry Babies. (Does anyone else remember Cry Babies, those uber-sour, tear-shaped, Sweet-Tart like candies that come in a box? My fourth grade class was obsessed with them).
Forgetting that it takes actual hours to consume one Ring Pop, we continued to walk around the East Village while sporting our candy accessories like the adults that we are, weaving through Tompkins Square Park and into Alphabet City, taking pictures of the street art and admiring a part of the city that is edgy and cool, slightly removed from the hustle and bustle. If I could live anywhere in NYC, it would be here.
After going nearly as far East as we could, we began to make our way back inwards when we decided that the bagels had officially ceased to fill us – it was DINNER time. When there are soooo many places to choose from, sometimes we end up with what the Italians call l’imbarazzo della scelta – ‘the embarassment of choice’ – which basically means that when you have so many good options, it can be hard to decide. It’s sort of embarrassing to be put in the position of having to turn down something so good!
Eventually, though, the perfect little window at the front of the restaurant lured us into Bar Virage on 11th Street and 2nd Ave, shielding us from the colder elements and traffic noise while still providing a breeze and ample sunlight. Boasting “contemporary Mediterranean cuisine,” Bar Virage incorporates both middle Eastern and Greco-Italian influences with dishes such as calamari pasta, pita sandwiches, hummus and falafel, and steak frites. And their cocktails were OMG amazing – seriously. I don’t usually order a cocktail unless I’m really in the mood for one, or a menu item looks irresistible, but at Bar Virage I was again faced with l’imbarazzo della scelta – I wanted all of them! But I landed on the “City Breeze,” a delightful mixture of vodka, peach de vigne lillet, lemon, and prosecco; my boyfriend ordered the “7th st. smash,” a concoction of malibu rum, strawberries, lemon, pineapple juice, and prosecco. I don’t know which one I liked better.
We ended up ordering enough food for an army, starting with crispy calamari. I don’t normally love calamari – I like it well enough, but not enough to order it on my own. My boyfriend loves it, and usually lets me have my way (muahaha!) when it comes to appetizers, but this time we went his way – and I am SO glad we did. It was seriously the best fried calamari I’ve ever had – SO crispy and light! I mean…just LOOK at it:
And that spicy mayo aioli was the bomb (do people say that anymore? Maybe the day’s nostalgia hasn’t fully worn off yet). I didn’t think the appetizers and drink could be topped, but my chicken shwarma pita sandwich and crispy shoestring fries proved me wrong. And for $15….it felt like I was actually stealing from them. I could only eat half and brought the rest home for my lunch on Sunday.
Aah, Sunday. The day of rest. The day we did NOT rest from full-on channeling our 600 pound spirit animals when we ventured out to the Insta-famous Vaccaro’s Bakery on Steinway Street in Queens to try the fabled “Donnoli.”
A donnoli is a heretical cross between a donut and a cannoli where you “ditch the shell and keep the cream” – so good because it’s so…wrong. But also so, so right.
With too many options yet again (#firstworldproblems), I went with my gut (which at this point was begging for stretchy pants) and got the donnoli stuffed with cream, topped with peanut butter and cocoa puffs, then dipped in chocolate.
Cue my premature death-by-heart-attack. It’s okay though, because the last thing I did before death was eat a donnoli.
You can watch how they make them here:
🙌🏼Wow! Huuuge THANK YOU to #TasteMade for this Crazy AWESOME video on the #DONNOLI !🤘🏼😎🍩 @tastemade Bakery | Queens, NY #BigVinny 👑 #CakeKingofQueens #vaccarosbakery #vaccarosbakerynyc #vaccarosnyc #cakeking #nyc #newyorkcity #queensny #longislandcity #nycfood #nycfoodie #astoriaqueens #brooklyn #manhattan #cakeboss #longisland #nyfood #eeeeeats #nomnom #nycdessert #foodgram #grubshotsnyc #foodnetwork #foodstagram #foodbeast
How did you guys spend your weekend? Did you try ALL the food? Did you probably make the
less equally fun decision to spend your days playing sports, biking, or going for a hike in the sunshine? Or did you decide to eat your way through your given city like we did? And most importantly, which donnoli flavor would YOU choose?! Let me know in the comments!