In the early 1800s, Washington Square Park used to be a mass burial ground. On the side of the park stood a 300-year-old hanging elm tree, whose sole function was precisely that – to hang convicts and criminals. They were then thrown into the burial ground nearby. Talk about a convenient location!
Fast forward 200 years to a sunny Saturday afternoon last week when Julia and I stood underneath the branches of said elm tree, listening to Meredith, our tour guide, regaling us in these historical facts. Today, the park is no longer a mass burial ground, but it has transformed itself to a popular hang-out spot in the heart of Greenwich Village, one of the most sought-after (therefore very expensive) neighborhoods in Manhattan. On that particular afternoon, a crowd formed in the middle of the park to witness some kind of a performance while a grand piano stood a few feet from the Arch begging to be played. That particular afternoon also happens to be our scheduled Greenwich Village Food Tour with Free Tours by Foot.
In a place as big as New York City, it’s easy enough to consult Trip Advisor/Yelp/Urban Spoon/what-have-you for a list of popular restaurants, but the amount of information offered can be very overwhelming to sort through. I mean, a quick search on Yelp yields 34,517 results! This is where Free Tours by Foot come in! They’re focused on a certain part of the city (like Greenwich Village or Lower East Side) and are usually led by a local who has gone through most, if not all, the restaurants in the area and hence can make sound recommendations on who has the best what. Here is a recap of what Greenwich Village has to offer.
At 3 for $1, these falafels serve to be a snack choice that is both delicious and budget-friendly. Have them as soon as they are out of the frying oils and don’t forget to dip them in the mixture of tahini and the hot sauce! Just be careful with the hot sauce – we’ve been told it’s deadly! You’ve been warned.
Located a quick walk down the street from Mamoun’s is the Artichoke Pizza. Its highly-famous bechamel sauce is made from a tightly-guarded recipe that is only known to the owners. Topped with cheese and artichoke and sold at $4.75 per slice, it is a delicious and (very) filling lunch meal! So filling, in fact, that our guide told us to only buy 1 slice and share it with a friend if we were to come back there for a meal.
Faicco’s Italian Specialties260 Bleecker St., New York, NY 10014
From Artichoke, we crossed 6th Ave. to Bleecker St., in the West Village. Our first stop on this side of Avenue of the Americas (another name for 6th Ave., as written on the road sign) was Faicco’s Italian Specialties where we tried their arancinis, or cheese-filled, deep-fried rice balls, for $1 each. I wasn’t a big fan of these, but then again, I’m quite the anomaly in the food industry – I don’t like Nutella – so don’t take my opinion too seriously.
Bantam Bagels offer a different way of eating New York bagels: instead of serving them piled with your choice of topping, the bagels here were filled with them. Plus, they are bite-sized, so you can try many different flavours at once, without feeling too full and too guilty afterwards. Both Julia and I opted out from trying them because we each had a massive bagel for breakfast that morning, so we were “bageled out”, as Julia would say, and didn’t feel like eating anything else remotely resembling a bagel. However, the oohs and aahs coming from the rest of group were enough to tell us they were delicious!
Located on the busy corner of 7th Ave. and Bleecker St., this pizza joint can be easily missed were it not for the signs that screams “The Food Network named us ‘Best Pizza in NY'”.
True to this title, the thin-crust, Tuscan-style Nonna Maria Pizza we got was amazing! The tomato sauce was ridiculously delicious and the crispy, oven-roasted basil topping was to die for. This was our favourite stop for the food tour!
We ended the tour here at Sugar & Plumm, a chic chocolatier and dessert store displaying a colourful array of artisan macarons. The graham crackers, creme-brulee cookies, and raspbery macarons offered to us as samples were enough to fill our cravings for sweets. Save for a cup of latte, I didn’t buy anything here as things were priced way over my budget. The latte? That was well-priced and yummy!
This food tour was my favourite activity during our weekend in NYC. Not only did we learn of budget-friendly eats in the city, we also learned about the interesting history of the areas, something that is easily missed if we didn’t have a guide to tell us. Meredith was very friendly, helpful, and knowledgeable as she gave us one recommendation after another as to where to eat in the city. The fact that the tour is only focused on a specific area of the city also helps to break this massive city into bite-sized pieces that’s much less intimidating (which I loved!). Oh and did I mention they are pay-what-you-can tours? Incredible! So, next time you’re in NYC, be sure to check them out!
Have you been in a food tour? If so, where? Were you surprised that I didn’t like those arancinis? Me too! I mean, I’m Asian – we LIVE on rice. You’d think rice balls, deep-fried, AND filled with cheese would be an amazing recipe for culinary greatness, right? Nope.