Please note that the meal was complimentary. However, the opinions expressed in my blog are 100% my own!
It has been a while we were talking about going on a food tour, when I received an email inviting us to one of the tours organized by Like A Local Tours, a company that proposes food tours in the Flatiron area as well as Brooklyn. We decided to try the Flatiron History & Food Tour. Ok, I admit that I was more interested by the food than by the history, but was in fact quite pleased to learn a bit of the past of this area I often visit. It was also a good occasion to take the time, in this fast paced city, to stop and admire the architecture of the buildings we passed so many times in front of, without even noticing how beautiful they were.
Our tour guide, Robert, was fantastic: very friendly and knowledgeable, giving us some interesting pieces of information as we walked from one place to another. The meeting point was in front of Eataly, the famous Italian marketplace opened few years back by Chef Lidia Bastianich, Joe Bastianich and celebrity Chef Mario Batali.
We went inside, admiring the architecture, as well as enjoying a double espresso made at Caffe Vergnano, a coffee shop opened in 1882 in Italy.
I was literally mesmerized by the coffee machine they were using, that was not only huge, but also beautiful, like the Rolls Royce of espresso machines. We then crossed the street, and ended up at Madison Square Park, home of the first two Madison Square Gardens. And guess what? We ended up at Shake Shack, right after they opened, explaining the short line in front of us.
When I think that the first time I tried this place I did not like it...Well, I changed my mind and I am a big fan of their burger, not the wait though...
Jodi went for their 'shroom burger (crisp-fried portobello mushroom filled with melted muenster and cheddar cheeses, topped with lettuce, tomato and shack sauce) and I decided to try their Park Burger, a limited offer, made with applewood smoked bacon and a cave-aged jasper hill raw cow's milk cheese sauce. To help digest all of this, I got a vanilla milkshake that was delicious. There is no question that this place is worth trying, despite the long wait you may face when going there: Danny Meyer's burger chain is one of the best. When I think that it all started with a food cart at that location, before this flagship kiosk opened in 2004. And now, they have restaurants across the US as well as in UK, Turkey, Russia and Middle East.
Then, we walked to the Flatiron building where Robert explained to us the origin of the expression "giving them the 23 Skidoo" that was unknown to me to be honest...Here is an extract from Wikipedia:
Perhaps the most widely known story of the origin of the expression concerns the area around the triangular-shaped Flatiron Building at Madison Square in New York City. The building is located on 23rd Street at the intersection of Fifth Avenue and Broadway, the latter two of which intersect at a very oblique angle. Because of the shape of the building, winds swirl around it. During the early 1900s, groups of men reportedly gathered to watch women walking by have their skirts blown up, revealing legs, which were seldom seen publicly at that time. Local constables, when sometimes telling such groups of men to leave the area, were said to be "giving them the 23 Skidoo".
We then walked to Obica (means "that's happening right before your eyes" in an old Neapolitan dialect), an Italian restaurant we passed by so many times.
At the entrance of Obica, you cannot miss the old signage from The Exchange Buffet, that is said to have been the first cafeteria in the US; signage that the owner found when building the restaurant. This is definitely an incredible piece of history and it is great that they kept it.
This restaurant is huge, with a large dining room upstairs, as well as a room downstairs that is perfect for private parties. It had an interesting feel, modern and rustic at the same time, with definitely some warmth, thanks to the exposed brick, wooden bar and tables. Menu wise, they offer the usual dishes you would find in an Italian restaurant, but with some particularities. For instance, Obica being a mozzarella bar, you cannot miss this divine cheese that they ship twice a week from Italy. We got to try their burrata that was spectacular: so creamy, light and refreshing, that I was glad that Jodi paced herself...
We ate it with some house made bread that I would have finished if I did not know a pizza would be served later.
I was definitely curious about the pizza that is Neapolitan style, made with triple-0 and whole wheat flour, the dough being left to rise for 48 hours. They cook it in a Valiorani gas oven made in Italy.
The pizza we tried was the Pomodoro Biologico e Mozzarella, made with organic tomato, Mozzarella di Bufala and basil. This was really good and I liked the texture of the crust that was delighfully crispy.
We also tried some foccacina that is like pizza crust brushed with olive oil.
After sampling all of this, we definitely want to go back to Obica for dinner! But we had to leave and our next stop was in the corner of Broadway and 20th street, where we stopped in front of a beautiful cast iron building that today house Brooks Brothers and offices, but used to be owned by Lord & Taylor who opened a store there, in 1870, in this area known as Ladies' mile. We then crossed the street to go to Beecher's, a cheese shop that opened in 2011.
If you are a cheese lover, you have to see this place, where they make their flagship cheese right there, using a process called cheddaring. Yes, their flagship cheese is simply called flagship and it is gruyere made with the same process as cheddar.
They make cheese most of the day, using milk stored in the huge tank that is in the back of the room on the ground floor.
At Beecher's, you can either sit upstairs for a casual meal, or go downstairs, in the cellar, where you can have a meal surrounded by cheese that is aging up to 18 months.
After trying some samples, we tried their grilled cheese, made with the flagship cheese.
This was a very good grilled cheese: not too greasy on the outside, the bread was crispy and they were definitely generous with the amount of cheese.
The last stop was Breads Bakery.
Jodi kept talking about this place since she tried their croissant at her friend Tessa's place. So here we were, like VIPs, going in the back of the kitchen, where we looked, envious and trying not to drool, at the delicious viennoiseries and breads they make.
First, we saw the rolls they prepare for Burger and Lobster, a place located close by that serves lobster rolls and...burgers.
Then, the challah bread that looked succulent.
As well as the croissants, croissants aux amandes and cinnamon buns.
Or preparing bread before putting it in the oven:
But we were there for one reason: their chocolate babka that has been named the best in New York City by New York Magazine. I tried a babka last year and was not that fond of it, but after trying this one, I am sold! It was spectacular!
They prepare it with French butter (explaining the flakiness), nutella and Belgian chocolate. Imagine that Jodi does not like nutella, but inhaled her slice (to my disappointment, as I was hoping for some more...). I would go to Breads just for this, but there were other items like the rugalah that I certainly want to try.
We finished the tour full and glad we experienced it: Like A Local Tours is definitely worth considering if you want to indulge while learning history about this amazing city.
Enjoy (I did)!
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