Drinking Cider at Wassail

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As we were looking for something a little different to eat and drink in New York City one evening, we decided to try a place called Wassail. Located on Orchard Street on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, Wassail describes itself as a “vegetable focused restaurant and cider bar.” It’s a cozy and comfortable restaurant, but it fills up quickly. If you plan to eat dinner at Wassail, I recommend making reservations. We sat at the bar, as we just wanted a snack and a bit to drink. We found the bartenders knowledgeable and the food delicious.

Wassail offers a variety of ciders on draft and in bottles, and the selection changes regularly. They feature a number of ciders made in New York State (and elsewhere in the United States), as well as European ciders. For those visitors who don’t enjoy cider, Wassail also offers a selection of beer and wine. As I’m less familiar with cider, I decided to order a flight so that I could sample of few different options. Wassail offers an American flight and a European flight. I tried the American flight, which on the night we visited included 3-ounce samples of Hudson Valley Farmhouse “Scrumpy” (2015), Orchard Hill “Red Label” (2014), and Oyster River “Hoboken Station” (2014). The 3 ciders were very different from each other, but all were delicious. The Hudson Valley was a young, fruit-forward cider, and very drinkable. The Orchard Hill was light and refreshing. And the Oyster River reminded me of a dry white wine, almost buttery with a finish that reminded me of a good chardonnay.

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The food menu was also intriguing – very different from other restaurants we’ve been to, with its vegetable focus. We tried the Stewed Roman Beans, with cellared vegetables, leeks, and smoked olive oil. It was rich and satisfying.

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We also tried the Roasted Turnips, with parsnips, pickled radish, and miso butter. It was another great choice, and the plating was beautiful.

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We enjoyed our visit so much, we have already been back a second time. Wassail is definitely one of our new favorites. (I’m not a huge fan of vegetables, and I’ve even enjoyed the food!)

Want to visit Wassail yourself? It’s located at 162 Orchard Street on the Lower East Side. Take the F train to either Second Avenue or Delancey Street, or the J, M, or Z trains to the Essex Street Station.

Tasting Unique Brews at Big Alice Brewing

Wanting to try some of New York City’s most unique (and delicious) beers? If so, you should head to Big Alice Brewing in Long Island City, Queens. Located just across the East River from Manhattan, it’s not too far to travel from anywhere in the city. Big Alice gets its name from the Big Allis electric power generator, also located in Long Island City. The founders of Big Alice changed the spelling to incorporate the initials for Long Island City: aLICe!

The brewery and taproom are located in a neighborhood with a distinct industrial feel – it’s situated in a brick building with an understated entrance. As you can see from the photo below, some people actually bike to the brewery. But it’s only a short walk from the subway as well.

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Inside, the taproom is cozy yet comfortable. In addition to the area near the taps, there is another seating area near the brew tanks. That’s one of the things I love about visiting microbreweries like Big Alice – I have the opportunity to see where the beers are brewed as well.

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At Big Alice, you can choose a tasting flight (either 4 or 6 beers), or you can purchase beers individually by the glass. One of the benefits of visiting a place like Big Alice with a friend – you can try more beers if you share them! We started with a 6-beer tasting flight and then ordered a few more samples as well.

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During our visit we tried the following beers:

  • Peppermint Stout
  • LIC Native White Stout
  • Galena Single Hop Blended Sour
  • Jalepeño Rye
  • Gunpowder Tea Rye Ale
  • Sour One with Kiwi Cask
  • Sweet Potato Farmhouse Ale
  • “Date Night, Bro? (coffee and doughnut stout)

Everything was delicious! Among our favorites: the Sour One with Kiwi was a truly excellent sour ale, for those who love sours. And the Jalepeño Rye, which always gets positive reviews online, was also really good (much better than I had expected, actually!). I enjoyed the Sweet Potato Farmhouse Ale, and surprisingly – that coffee and doughnut stout! And yes, it really was brewed with doughnuts! It looked a bit like chocolate milk, but it tasted like a seriously tasty stout. The bitterness of the coffee balanced the sweetness of the doughnuts. There actually wasn’t a beer that we regretted tasting, a rare feat for any beer tasting.

Big Alice constantly adds to beers to their repertoire, so you may not find every one of these beers on tap when you visit. But, based upon our experience tasting their beers, you will not go away disappointed. And Big Alice is classified as a farm brewery, meaning that they source their ingredients from farms in New York State.

How do you get to Big Alice Brewing? It’s located at 8-08 43rd Road, between 9th Street and Vernon Boulevard in Long Island City. The closest subway station is the Court Square-23rd Street Station, where you can catch the E, 7, or G (and the M on weekdays). While you’re in the area, check out the Top to Bottom Mural Project, which is only a short walk from the brewery.

Dinner at Upstate, Craft Beer and Oyster Bar

Not too long ago I heard about Upstate, a craft beer and oyster bar frequented by locals in Manhattan’s East Village. Loving both craft beer and seafood, I knew we had to check it out. The restaurant is narrow and cozy. If you don’t get there early, you’ll likely have a wait, but it will definitely be worth it.

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One of the things that Upstate is known for is their Happy Hour. For $12 dollars, you can get 6 oysters and a New York craft beer. Upstate carries a variety of oysters, based on what’s fresh and available on any given day. Not all of the oysters are part of the happy hour special, but we were able to try several varieties with our beer. They were all delicious, and expertly prepared. Upstate features New York craft beers, with a beer menu that changes weekly. There’s always something new to try (and there are wine options for those who don’t love beer).

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Upstate is proud that they don’t have freezers in their kitchen, and no freezers mean that everything is fresh and the menu changes regularly to reflect what’s available and in-season. We tried the bay scallop ceviche, which was served with cherry tomatoes and microgreens. The ceviche was bright and refreshing.

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For our main course, I had the linguine with clams. The dish was rich and satisfying, with a generous portion of steamed clams and a flavorful broth. My dining partner ordered the seafood cioppino. There were large portions of fish, sea scallops, mussels, clams, and head-on shrimp, all served in a tomato broth and beautifully prepared. The broth was delicious, and we sopped it up with the accompanying bread. Both dishes came in covered stainless steel bowls, and our server removed the lids after placing our food in front of us – it made for a great presentation, and the lids then served as a depository for our empty shells.

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At the end of our meal, our server brought thin slices of whiskey cake, a moist, delicious end to our dinner. It was the perfect finish – not too sweet, but something I’d never had before. (I’d say it’s worth coming here for the whiskey cake alone!)

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Want to check out Upstate yourself? The restaurant is located at 95 E. 1st Avenue in the East Village. If traveling by subway, you can take the F train to the 2nd Avenue station, or the 4 or 6 trains to Astor Place. If your a fan of street art, keep your eyes open as you walk from the station to the restaurant, as this is an area with a variety of painted murals.

Sampling Farmhouse Ales at Transmitter Brewing

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A trip to Transmitter Brewing takes a little more effort, but it’s definitely worth it. If you are a fan of traditional farmhouse ales, a visit to Transmitter Brewing is a must. Theirs are some of the best I’ve had in a long time.

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It’s a small location, tucked under the Pulaski Bridge in Long Island City, Queens. There’s no taproom, but there is a small tasting room where you can taste some delicious beer. Behind the garage door next to the tasting room entrance is the actual brewing facility. You can take a peek at where the beer is brew, and there is also a small seating area if you are with other people and want to purchase beer to drink on site. Transmitter brews their beer in larger, corked bottles – perfect for sharing. You can also purchase bottles to take home for later consumption.

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We sampled three beers during our visit: the G1 Golden Ale, the F4 Brett Farmhouse Ale, and the H4 Italian Plum Sour Farmhouse Ale. My favorites were the G1 and F4, as I’m not a fan of sours, but another taster who really enjoys sours said that the H4 was also delicious. If you’ve never tried one before, farmhouse ales generally have a fruity note, with a little more body to it – some have an earthier, slightly funky taste. The yeast is usually suspended in the beer, making it a little cloudy. (I’ve been told that the yeast in the beer is actually healthy for you, although I’ve never confirmed that!) They are very drinkable beers, but robust and a little rustic. There’s a lot of flavor packed in the bottle. Transmitter regularly brews new beers, so there’s likely to be something different every time that you visit.

Here’s a display in the tasting room that shows some of the previous beers that have been brewed.

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How can you get to Transmitter Brewing? If traveling by subway, take the 7 train to the Vernon Blvd./Jackson Ave. station. When you get off the train, walk south along Vernon Boulevard, crossing both 51st Avenue and Borden Avenue. Turn left on Borden and then right on 11st Street. You will walk parallel to Pulaski Bride. After you cross 53rd Avenue, Transmitter Brewing is on the right. You can also get to Transmitter Brewing by way of the Long Island Railroad, getting off at the Long Island City station. The tasting room is only open limited hours at this time: Fridays from 5:00 – 8:00 pm, and Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 5:00 pm. (But check Transmitter’s website to verify times before you go.)

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Dinner with New Friends at Pies ‘n’ Thighs

One of my favorite things about traveling is meeting new people, particularly the locals. Through my travels, I’ve made new friends, discovered out-of-the-way destinations that weren’t in any of the guidebooks, and genuinely had a great time – all because I tried to talk to local people during my stay. So when Marion, an English travel blogger, commented on a couple of my posts and said that she was going to be visiting New York City for the first time in January, I decided it was my chance. I reached out to Marion, asking if she and her travel companion would like to meet up at some point during their visit and offered to show them a bit of the city from a local perspective. Although I was afraid Marion might be put off by my boldness – after all, we had never met! – she agreed to my plan. I suggested that we meet up at a subway station in Long Island City in Queens at 3:00 pm one afternoon, and that is exactly what we did!

It was a fairly blustery afternoon, so I proposed that we start off our time at the Rockaway Brewing Company, which was only a few blocks away and had just opened for the afternoon. I knew it would be a great place to sit and talk and get to know each other better, and Rockaway’s tasting flights meant that we could sample a variety of craft beers. It turned out to be a perfect option! (I previously described our visit to Rockaway Brewing Company here.) It was so fun hearing about their adventures in New York City during the preceding days as well. (Wondering what Marion and her travel companion did during those previous days? She’s described them here!)

Knowing the sun would set about 5:00 pm that day, I next suggested that we walk a couple of blocks to Gantry Plaza State Park, where we could look across the East River and watch the sun set over Manhattan. It was cold and windy, but there was a beautiful sunset. As the sky grew darker, the skyscraper lights twinkled like diamonds. (I’ve previously blogged about this sunset location here. I think it really is one of the best views of the city, featuring the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building, the United Nations, and Roosevelt Island. In fact, one of those sunset photos is the header photo for my blog.)

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Needing to warm up, and wanting to introduce my new friends to some quintessential American food, I suggested that we travel back to Manhattan to eat at Pies ‘n’ Thighs. Pies ‘n’ Thighs has two locations; one in Brooklyn, and the other on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. We went to the Manhattan location, which was easy to reach by subway from Long Island City. It was the perfect way to end our visit, as the restaurant is cozy and warm. Pies ‘n’ Thighs is known for its fried chicken, pies, and doughnuts, among other delicious things. It’s Southern-style comfort food at its best.

As we continued our visit, we ate some delicious food. Marion’s travel companion ordered chicken and waffles, a traditional Southern dish. If you’ve not had it before, it’s exactly how it sounds: a large waffle, topped with pieces of fried chicken. It’s always served with maple syrup, and this version also came with some luscious stewed cranberries to balance the sweetness of the syrup.

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Marion and I both ordered the chicken biscuit. It’s a chicken sandwich, made with a large buttermilk biscuit. The boneless chicken breast was fried, creating a crispy exterior and juicy interior. The chef spreads honey butter on the biscuit and drizzles a spicy hot sauce over the chicken breast. The combination is perfect – hot and spicy, crispy and tender, sweet and salty! We also ordered baked beans, Pies ‘n’ Thighs’ own special recipe, made with bits of smoked brisket and barbecue sauce. It was a delicious meal, made all the better by the company I was keeping.

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It was a great experience to meet new friends, and hopefully I will have the opportunity to travel to England and see a few of Marion’s favorite spots from her perspective in the future! I always enjoy seeing any location – even my own city – from someone else’s perspective.

Wondering what Marion thought of our visit together? Head over to her blog and read about the 6th day of her New York City adventure! (It’s located here.)

Visiting Rockaway Brewing Company

I recently learned that an English travel blogger I’ve been corresponding with, Marion, was traveling to New York City for the first time with her son Mark. (You can find Marion’s blog, Love Travelling, here.) We arranged to meet in person while Marion was here. I wanted to take them somewhere beyond the usual tourist destinations in the city and decided that Long Island City would be our starting point. The plan was to taste some beer at Rockaway Brewing Company’s taproom before walking the short distance to Gantry Plaza State Park, by the East River, and watching the sunset over Manhattan.

Rockaway Brewing Company is located in an old brick manufacturing building that has some great murals painted on the side.

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Here are a couple of photos of the murals on the side of the building.

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A sign painted on the side of the building appears to explain the bicycle theme:

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Because we arrived at the taproom at 3:00 pm on a Thursday, right after it opened, we had the place to ourselves for a little while. We took advantage of the intimate atmosphere, talking about Marion and Mark’s adventures in New York City to that point and learning more about the beer. Rockaway offers 8 beers on tap, as well as a couple of special beers, as demonstrated by their chalkboard. Some of the beers are always available, while others are seasonal. Here’s the list of what was on tap during our visit. (They also serve draft cider from Descendant Cider, a local cider maker – a great option if you are with someone who doesn’t like beer.)

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The brewery has two set tasting flights: the “classic” flight, which consists of beers that are regularly available, and the “other” flight, which are the seasonal beers. You can also choose to mix and match. On this occasion, I decided to create my own flight, as seen in the photo below. From left to right, we have the Helles, the Winter Whistler, the Extra Stout, and the Nitro Black Gold Stout.

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All four beers were delicious. Rockaway makes very drinkable beers. As you can probably tell from the tasting flight I selected, I have a soft spot for stouts. Both of these stouts were absolutely delicious and still distinctly different from each other. They had a smoothness, with the Extra Stout having more distinct chocolate notes, and the Black Gold having a lovely suggestion of coffee so often present in a good stout. I would definitely order any of the beers I tried again. The bar manager also gave us bags of Cape Cod kettle chips to snack on, which was a nice touch.

It was a cold day out, and the tap room was nice and cozy. There’s nice seating in the bar area, but there is also another space upstairs which is perfect if you come with a small group of people. Another fun thing about Rockaway – they often host pop-up dining options that change regularly. The food is usually available on weekends only, so we didn’t get to sample anything during our Thursday visit – but that just provides an excuse to come back again! Check the brewery’s events calendar if you’re interested in one of Rockaway Brewing’s pop-up food events.

On the weekend, the brewery also offers tours of their brewing room. I actually went back last weekend to take the tour since it wasn’t offered during our Thursday visit. (The second visit also gave me the chance to try beers I didn’t try the first time! They were all delicious too.) The tour was interesting and informative, and I was left with a new appreciation for the process of putting beers into cans! Here are a couple of photos I took from the tour.

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Rockaway Brewing is one of my favorite places to go in Long Island City, and a great destination to take visitors. If traveling by subway, take the E or the M to the Court Square-23rd Street Station (the M train only runs Monday through Friday), the G to the 21st Street-Van Alst Station, or the 7 train to Vernon Blvd-Jackson Avenue.

Food and Drink at Threes Brewing

I had the opportunity to check out Threes Brewing, located at 333 Douglass Street in Brooklyn, this past weekend. Threes Brewing describes itself as a brewery, bar, and event space. It also has a rotating kitchen residency, where local restaurants take over their kitchen space and offer a special menu for a few weeks at a time.

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The entrance to Threes Brewing is small but welcoming. I expected that the interior of the space would be small as well, based on the store front, but it actually has quite a bit of space inside–the rooms are long and narrow. The front part is primarily restaurant seating, and the bar is towards the back. The bar is a comfortable space. Liquor bottles and glassware are neatly arranged on industrial-style metal shelving, with beer, wine, and cocktail options listed on chalkboard signs above. The brewing operations are barely visible behind the shelving.

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For my first beer, I ordered the Threes Brett Duck Porter, which is brewed in collaboration with Greenport Harbor Brewery. It was a delicious dark beer, with mild coffee/chocolate notes. The porter was good by itself, but it also paired well with what I ordered for dinner.

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Threes Brewing’s rotating kitchen is currently occupied by the folks from Roberta’s Pizza, which was a real treat. I ordered a white pizza (appropriately called the “White Guy”) and added mushrooms. I had heard about Roberta’s before but hadn’t had the chance to try it. Let me just say that it lives up to its reputation! The pizza was delicious. The crust had that perfect pizza texture–chewy, but still soft. There was that slight dust of flour on the bottom and the char of the air bubble along the edge. The cheese was plentiful but not overwhelming, and the ricotta actually lightened the pizza a bit. The mushrooms added another layer of flavor. This was a good-size pizza. Two people could definitely share it as a snack, and for many people half of one is enough for a meal.

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Wanting to try a second beer, I ordered Threes Vliet, a pilsner. (I know, quite a change after drinking the porter!) The Vliet was a good choice, light and crisp, with a dry finish. Threes offers two sizes for its beers, .25L and .5L. I appreciate having the different size options, as sometimes I don’t want another full-size beer. It also give visitors the chance to try more beers.

Will I go back to Threes Brewing? Absolutely–and probably before Roberta’s Pizza is no longer there. (Roberta’s is only there through December 13–hurry in while you can!) I look forward to seeing who the next resident of the rotating kitchen is as well.

How do you get to Threes Brewing? There are a number of options by subway. Take the 2, 3, 4, 5, B, D, N, Q, or R to Atlantic Terminal, or the F or G to Bergen Street. Complete directions are available here on the Threes Brewing website.

Grand Central Terminal’s Holiday Fair

It’s that time of year when everyone is shopping for holiday gifts, and New York City offers many options for completing your shopping list. One of my favorites is Grand Central Terminal’s annual Holiday Fair. This year’s Holiday Fair hosts 74 different booths, guaranteed to offer a variety of gifts for anyone you may be shopping for. The Holiday Fair takes place in Vanderbilt Hall, a convenient location.

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With 74 booths to choose from, I’ve chosen some of my favorites to focus on for this article. The first one to catch my attention was that of Danielle Gori-Montanelli, who makes jewelry, hats, and other accessories from high quality wool felt. Danielle’s designs are fun, colorful, and whimsical, with close attention to small details. Here’s one of Danielle’s hats. The detail work on this hat is delightful.

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She has some fun pins as well.

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My favorite pin was this one. And while I was talking to Danielle, another woman came up proudly wearing one of them on her coat lapel. She said that she had received so many comments about it!

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Finally here’s a picture of a sophisticated necklace made of black and white felt. I loved the architectural elements in this piece.

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Next, I found the booth for Nöel Nomad, which carries beautiful Christmas ornaments and decorations made by women in Kyrgystan. The ornaments are adorable–there are numerous different animals, as well as angels and nativity scenes. These ornaments would make great gifts and stocking stuffers.

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One of my favorite thing at Nöel Nomad was the nativity scene, complete with yurt! Look at the lovely embroidered details on the yurt.

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Another favorite: With Love, From Brooklyn. This shop focuses on artisan foods and other items, with the focus on products made in Brooklyn. The booth had so many things to choose from: Mast Brothers chocolate bars; Fatty Sundays chocolate covered pretzels; Field Trip beef jerky; illustrator Claudia Pearson’s New York-themed tea towels and coffee cups; Salty Road salt water taffy; caramels from Liddabit Sweets; The Jam Stand’s delicious jams; and spreadable bacon from The Bacon Jams. Yes, I just said that–spreadable bacon jam. I tasted it. Although I was skeptical, it was actually delicious! (I’m sure I left a few Brooklyn-based businesses out–my apologies!) But they definitely had some great stuff!

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One fun product at With Love, From Brooklyn was W&P Design’s Carry On Cocktail Kits. If you know someone who enjoys cocktails, these kits would make unexpected and fun stocking stuffers.

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One final fun thing from With Love, From Brooklyn: Boundless Brooklyn’s DIY Model Kits, including the ubiquitous New York City water tower. These kits have recently been featured in the Late Show with Stephen Colbert. There are also occasionally gallery shows, with artist-painted versions of the water towers. Here’s a photograph of a completed (but unpainted) water tower.

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In another row, I discovered The Owl Workshop. One side of the booth had adorable organic cotton baby clothes, many with New York-specific screen-printed designs.

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On the other side, there were tiny handmade outfits and accessories for dogs.

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Just down from this stall was Verrier Boutique’s handcrafted paper items, included prints (both framed and unframed) and delightful sparkly cards. Verrier Boutique is the brainchild of mother-daughter team Ashleigh and Jude Verrier. If you are looking for a unique greeting card for birthdays or holidays, these cards would do the trick for sure! And the prints are bright, fun, and creative. (I particularly loved the New York City-themed Christmas cards, one of which is featured below.)

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As I thought I was getting closer to the end of the Holiday Fair, I found MarieBelle New York Chocolates, which are made in Brooklyn. MarieBelle’s chocolates are sumptuous–rich and creamy. And they are presented in a way that makes them appealing, perfect for gifts (or for your own eating pleasure, as they’re hard to resist). MarieBelle’s signature ganache chocolates are screen-printed with edible cocoa butter designs; each pattern signals a different flavor, but also turns them into works of art.

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MarieBelle is also known for their gourmet hot chocolate:

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And, for stocking stuffers, MarieBelle has delicious chocolate bars. One version has sophisticated packaging and comes in flavors like Japanese Macha, Choco Banana, and Espresso. The other is playful and features saucy vintage pinup girls!

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Finally, in the very last booth, I found another treasure, called Emma. Emma has no website, but her work is amazing. Everything in her shop she made by hand, either using crochet or knitting. She has beautiful scarves, hats, and headbands in a variety of soft, colorful yarns, but she also had some unique hats and neck pieces that are avant-garde, truly works of art. I thought I would feature of few of those special pieces here.

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While you’re at Grand Central, make sure that you allow time to explore. The Terminal has beautiful architectural details, and there’s a food court with some delicious food and drink options on the lower level Dining Concourse. It’s also a good opportunity to see the model train exhibit at the New York Transit Museum’s annex, which is free.

Because the Holiday Fair takes place in Grand Central Terminal, it is easy to get to by public transportation. The 4, 5, 6, 7, and S subway lines all stop at Grand Central, as do numerous buses. You can also take the Metro North Railroad.

Bridge and Tunnel Brewery

DSC02395-editedLast weekend I visited Bridge and Tunnel Brewery‘s new tap room in Ridgewood, Queens. Currently served in a number of restaurants and bars in New York City, Bridge and Tunnel recently moved from nano-brewery to micro brewery status. One reason why this brewery intrigued me was its back story: Bridge and Tunnel’s founder, Rich Catagna, started the brewery in his garage. He recently just opened the new location, complete with tap room, at 15-35 Decatur Street in Ridgewood. (Currently, the tap room is open on Saturdays; check the brewery’s website for announcements about any additional hours.)

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I hadn’t been to this area of Ridgewood before. The area close to the brewery seems fairly industrial, but don’t let its location intimidate you. Behind Bridge and Tunnel’s small entrance is a warm, cozy space–the perfect place to hang out with friends on a Saturday afternoon.

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The bar is small but comfortable, and Rich has built long wooden tables for his guests to sit at. Guests are welcome to order local food for delivery, and there’s an excellent pizza place close by. There are also wine barrels set up with bar stools for additional seating. On the day I went, the space was filled with friends and neighbors, but I immediately made friends even though I came in by myself. It’s that kind of place–you feel immediately welcome, and you’ll definitely enjoy yourself.

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Now for the beer. I have to admit I was a little skeptical, as I have had my share of bad craft beer. But I really, really enjoyed it. I got a sampler so that I could try four beers: 20 Spot and a Switchblade Coffee Cream Ale, Sewer Alligator Spiced Honey Wheat, Angry Amel Dunkelweizen, and Bone Orchard Vanilla Porter. (In addition to tasting great, the beers have great names, with great stories behind them!)

My favorite was the Vanilla Porter. One of Rich’s friends had made cheesecake bites with a Vanilla Porter caramel sauce, which really complemented the beer. This would be a great pairing for a holiday party. The Coffee Cream Ale was a lovely surprise as well. It had a subtle coffee flavor, but different than the dark coffee-flavored beers I’ve tried in the past. I enjoyed the Dunkelweizen too–it is a great drinking beer.

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The brewing takes place in the back half of the space, currently separated from the tap room by a high metal fence. The lighting makes it a feature of the space.

How do you get to Bridge and Tunnel Brewery? As usual, I got there by public transportation. Take the L Train to the Halsey Street stop. The brewery is only a few short blocks from the subway station.

New York City Wine and Food Festival

A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to go the the 2015 New York City Wine and Food Festival (NYCWFF). The Festival offers many different events, ranging from meals cooked and hosted by famous chefs to cooking classes, wine tasting events to cocktail and spirit classes. This year, we attended an event known as the “Grand Tasting,” a food and drink extravaganza spanning a six-hour time period.

The adventure begins as you stand in line waiting to get in. Each person gets an arm band with two special tags. The first one gets you a special wine glass, used to taste a variety of wines throughout the venue. The second tag gets you a swag bag as you enter the venue. There are numerous goodies (primarily food, of course!) in the swag bag already, but you can add many more samples and coupons. I even won a cookbook by spinning a wheel at one table!

Once we entered, we realized how large the Grand Tasting actually is. The first table we came to offered special made-to-order mini martinis, made with a Swedish vodka called Absolut Elyx. Finished with a twist of lemon peel, it made for a fun start to our adventure.

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Over the course of the next few hours, we had the opportunity to taste a number of delicious beers, a variety of different spirits and mixed drinks (my favorite was some delicious aged Puerto Rican Rum that reminded me of a good Scotch or Irish Whiskey), and, of course, the wine. If you wanted something other than alcohol, there were stations with bottled still or sparkling water, as well as a Coca-Cola station handing out adorable mini bottles of Coke.

There were so many delicious bites of food! From a mac and cheese station, I tasted one version with sauteed wild mushrooms (the earthiness of the mushrooms complimented the creamy pasta), and another version with luscious chunks of lobster. There were multiple types of ceviche–the swordfish ceviche from the Mexico pavilion was particularly refreshing, as was one made with shrimp from another table. Then came tacos, nicoise salad, a take on a grilled cheese with a “shot” of tomato soup, chicken legs with salsa verde, chocolate, … and much, much more.

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One particular highlight, beautifully presented: Chicken liver mouse with hibiscus gelee and curried pine nut granola, presented by Orchids at Palm Court. This restaurant is located in Cincinnati, Ohio, demonstrating the geographic range of festival participants. Here’s a photograph showing their presentation:

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And then, something fun (and terrifying)–a sweet and spicy treat with a secret crunchy center. Yes, I tried it: cotton candy-wrapped crickets, sprinkled with something spicy. It wasn’t as bad as I feared or as good as I hoped. (Although I felt like I had a cricket leg stuck in my teeth afterwards!)

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Between the food and the wine, it really was important to pace ourselves. The event planners provided several ways to take a break, including seating areas scattered throughout the venue, and, most exciting, cooking demonstrations by numerous famous chefs. If you’re a fan of the Food Network (one of the event’s sponsors), you most likely could find your favorite chef at one of the special offerings. We watched Geoffrey Zakarian (Iron Chef America, Chopped, and the Kitchen), who demonstrated how to make a cocktail (the “Dark and Stormy”), a simple salad, and spaghetti carbonara. It all looked delicious, and he also took questions from the audience. I also saw Anne Burrell (Secrets of a Restaurant Chef, Worst Cooks in America), and Carla Hall (The Chew, former contestant on Top Chef). After each cooking demonstration, the chefs stayed around and signed their cookbooks for members of the audience.

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The best thing about going to the Grand Tasting? The NYC Wine and Food Festival is a charity event, with money raised going to the Food Bank for New York City and No Kid Hungry. Will we go again next year? Absolutely! The Grand Tasting is worth doing again, but we will probably spread our wings and try some of the other festival offerings next time–there are so many intriguing possibilities!