A Brooklyn Food Tour

by Kate on February 22, 2016

Russ & Daughters

Truth be told, we’ve had it pretty good this winter. Only one major winter storm, one smaller one and we’ve been spoiled with plenty of 50 and 60 degree days in between our 30 degree days well into December and January. Last weekend Mother Nature decided it was high time we make up for those lovely days with some downright crazy frigid temperatures. So here in New Jersey along with many other Eastern states, we dipped down into the coldest temperatures I’ve ever experienced in my life.

With temperatures ranging from -10 degrees to as low as -30 degrees in some areas, what did Mike and I decide to do? Oh, why not walk around Brooklyn when it’s -20?  This sounds like a fine idea! While we didn’t intentionally mean to pick the most frigid day to be walking about, it just worked out that way. You see, a few weeks before I was approach by FoodTourz.com with a lovely proposition, would I like to take a food tour? Would I?? Absolutely! So we settle on a date of February 14th. Aww, Valentine’s Day. It wasn’t meant to be romantic since Mike and I don’t celebrate. We just happened to both be off that Saturday.

Seeing that they offer tours all over the world, I would have loved to have cashed in that offer for place like Barcelona, Shanghai, Venice, Morocco or any other number of incredible locations however, those are quite a hike for this gal at the moment so I settled on one of the Foods of New York tours they had to offer, run by NY Fun Tours. Foods of New York Tours offer unique cultural and culinary walking tours in New York City’s most vibrant and historic neighborhoods. Centered around food tastings at local restaurants, specialty shops and ethnic eateries, the guided tours provide visitors with an insider’s glimpse at life in New York City, including its rich history, culture, architecture and entertainment.

We had our choice of The Villiage, China Town, Chelsea Market, Nolita/NoHo or Brooklyn. As I looked over what each tour had to offer, I decided it was most likely that my picky eater, non-foodie husband would eat the majority of foods presented to him if we spent the day in Brooklyn. Rest assured though, after the experience I had in New York once I find myself in other parts of the world I will be looking on Food Tourz to take another one of their tours because it was an outstanding experience!IMG_1977Living just outside Manhattan for the last 20 years, I’m sure you can guess that I’ve spent my fair share of time in all parts of the city. I don’t feel like a tourist when I go there, I can get around on the subway without any stress and I have never, not even once taken any kind of tour while in New York. Until last weekend. Mike and I drove into the East Village from Jersey. We bundled ourselves up in hats, scarves, gloves and sweaters topped with heavy winter jackets. Or at least one of us did! My husband probably wished he even owned a heavy winter jacket that day.

While there was still plenty of walking and time spent outdoors, thankfully our food tour provided us with a bus that would take us from location to location. As we boarded the small bus that would shuttle our frozen bodies around Brooklyn for the day, we were greeted by our tour guide, Laurie. She was awesome! So fun, so personable and with an amazing sense of humor. She shares her passion for the city while doing these food tours but she’s also a short film maker. Having grown up on a farm in Minnesota, New York was a big change but she loves it there. She made the whole tour feel like your were hanging out with an old friend in New York for the day.Russ & DaughtersWe started our journey in The Village with our first top on the Lower East Side at Russ & Daughters. This Jewish shop has been around for over a century and is a 4th generation family owned business. As you enter the very crowded store, you notice the left side of the store is all savory items. Rows of herring, pickles, latkes, smoked fish, bagels and cream cheese line the cases.Russ & Daughters

On the right side, all sweets. Dried fruits, candies, cookies and cakes. It was here that we had our first taste.We each had a traditional rugelach which is a cookie made from a sour cream based dough that’s filled with raspberries, currants, walnuts and a touch of cinnamon. They weren’t overly sweet, oh so tender and absolutely divine. I would have loved to have had more than one but we definitely needed to save room for what was to come!Russ & Daughters

Over the Williamsburg Bridge we went through the Hasidic neighborhoods until we came to our next stop in the Green Point section of Brooklyn. This area has a large polish population so it’s no surprise that our next stop was a traditional Polish restaruant called Krolewskie Jadlo. It was here that we had authentic pierogi filled with potatoes and cheese and let me tell you, Mrs T’s ain’t got nothing on from scratch, homemade pierogi. Served with onion on top, beet salad and carrot salad on the side and no proper Polish meal would be complete without kielbasa, of course.IMG_2028Each plate was clean, not a morsel was left behind. Next we were treated to a dessert of apple pancakes, a slice of apple is dipped in batter then fried. Traditionally call Racuchy, they’re dusted with powdered sugar then served warm. Not overly sweet, they’re the perfect finish to a delightful meal.Krolewskie Jadlo

The restaurant had a distinct medieval feel complete with coats of arms, swords and a knight outside the front door so when in Brooklyn, you take a picture with said knight.Krolewskie Jadlo

The next leg of our journey took us on the BQE (Brooklyn Queens Expressway) and into Sunset Park where you’ll find a large Latino community and where we found ourselves in a little Cuban restaurant with it’s unassuming exterior and a weathered sign outside, simply called Traditional Restaurant. To be honest, it’s nothing fancy. If I were hungry, walking in Sunset Park I would not have even considered going in there. I might not have even noticed it. Once inside we were greeted by a Cuban sandwich. Where I work has a large Cuban population so I’ve eaten my fair share of Cuban sandwiches over the years, I adore them!

Cuban SandwichIf you’re not familiar, a Cuban sandwich is ham, roasted pork, pickles and swiss cheese. The sandwich is then pressed so it become toasty, thin, warm and the cheese becomes melted. It’s spectacular, trust me. But the Cuban sandwich I had at this little local place is beyond amazing! There was one distinct difference from other sandwiches I’ve had before. Their version is made with garlic and mayo spread on the bread. That garlic took an already amazing traditional sandwich into a spectacular meal. When I arrived at that table, I was sure I would only be eating half the sandwich because I was full from the amazing Polish food we had just had but one bit of this warm, toasty, garlicky Cuban sandwich and before I knew it, the whole thing was gone.

Sunset ParkAs we rolled ourselves out of the restaurant we braved the subzero temperatures to trek up a big hill into Sunset Park which happens to be the second highest natural elevation in Brooklyn. The cemetery is the first, in case you’re wondering. From there we had spectacular views not only of the city but of beautifully bare trees, vast stairways entering and exiting the park and steep, car-lined streets.Sunset ParkOnce frozen, we returned to our bus where we headed to Table87 where we were treated to coal fired pizza and craft beers because you most definitely cannot go to New York without having pizza. At this point in the tour I was pretty sure I would be simply having a bite or two of the pizza then handing my slice over to Mike. I was officially full of some very very good food.Table 87Alas, this thin crust pizza crisp fresh from the coal fired oven where you can watch your pizza being made right before your eyes, was so outstanding that I had no problem at all firing that slice right down and wishing I had a second. Homemade red sauce, fresh mozzarella and basil on a perfectly crisp crust was absolutely irresistible.

Table 87Table87 makes their own roasted garlic in the coal fired oven that’s a perfect complement to their Margherita pie. Mike and I share a flight of craft beers on tap. My personal favorite was Sweet Action by Sixpoint Brewery. Definitely seeking that one out!Table 87Having already visited four distinctly different Brooklyn neighborhoods we drove through Carroll Gardens, named after  Charles Carroll, an Irish immigrant who was the only Roman Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence. The name also reflects the large front gardens of brownstones seen throughout the neighborhood. After a short drive through Carroll Gardens we traveled to DUMBO which stands for Down Under Manhattan Bridge Overpass.DUMBO

In DUMBO we visited the Brooklyn Bridge Park and saw Jane’s Carousel which is a carved, wooden 48-horse carousel built in 1922 which was restored and placed in the Brooklyn Bridge Park on The East River but the real destination of our DUMBO visit was one of my most anticipated stops, Jacques Torres Chocolate.

Jacques Torres Chocolate

Here we were treated to high quality, handmade artisan chocolates. Jacques Torres is the youngest person in history to be names Best Pastry Chef in France. He is now the Dean of Pastry Arts at ICC (International Culinary Center.) Currently there are nine Jacques Torres shops in Manhattan and Brooklyn where he specializes in fresh, hand-crafted chocolates using premium ingredients free of preservatives and artificial flavors. In 2014, he moved production to a 40,000 square-foot state-of-the-art factory in Brooklyn’s Army Terminal.Jacques Torres ChocolateI tried four bonbons, with flavors like chai tea, port and champagne, each one better than that next but I also treated myself to a cup of the Wicked Hot Chocolate. If you ever find yourself inside a Jacques Torres Chocolate shop you absolutely MUST have the Wicked Hot Chocolate. Smooth, creamy hot chocolate with cinnamon, allspice, ancho chili powder, chipotle chili powder and more. It’s the absolute perfect balance of sweet with a hit of spicy that will warm you from the inside out which was the perfect ending to our frigid subzero outing.

As we boarded the waiting bus to head back to The East Village where our ice cold cars awaited us, I didn’t want it to be over. We toured Brooklyn for over 4 hours. Me, the one who never had any desire to do anything “touristy” desired nothing more than to keep going, to see more, to do more, to eat more! Taking a food tour gave me a whole different perspective than any trip I had previously made on my own. I visited places I had never been before nor would I have likely found on my own. I also learned a ton not only about the food, the restaurants but also about the neighborhoods we spent time in.IMG_2174I cannot sing the praises of this food tour loudly enough. It was an amazing experience that both my husband and I enjoyed immensely and would certainly do again, even in our own backyard of New York or while traveling worldwide. There’s much to be learned, enjoyed and experienced when going on a food tour through FoodTourz.com and next year, if Valentine’s Day is like this one maybe Mike and I would consider celebrating it every year.

Enjoy!

~K

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