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.)

vmacocsoak_2097663589183-1-IMG_5721

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.

DSC04726-edited

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.

DSC04725

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.

DSC05058

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

DSC05049

DSC05053

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

DSC05051

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.)

DSC04723

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.

DSC04722

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.

DSC05064

DSC05068

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.

Manhattan Sunset from Long Island City

There are countless photographs of the New York City skyline, and multiple ways to recreate those images. One evening this summer, I went searching for the right location to watch the sun go down over Manhattan. I found the perfect spot at Gantry Plaza State Park in Long Island City, Queens. From the park there is a beautiful view of midtown Manhattan across the East River. Here is a photograph that I took of the skyline after the sun had set and the skyscraper windows were twinkling.

nyc sunset from lic

We looked up the time for the sunset so that we wouldn’t miss it. The skyline was beautiful even before the sun disappeared, and the longer we waited after the official sunset time, the better the view became. I recommend going on a partly cloudy day. As the sun goes behind the buildings in the distance, the light reflects off the clouds. The view changes minute by minute, making for a spectacular experience. (We’ve now gone several times. Each time the sunset was beautiful and different than the time before. But there was a lot less color to the sky the night the sky was clear.)

One of our visits to Gantry Plaza State Park was at the time of the bi-annual “Manhattanhenge” sunset, also known as the Manhattan Solstice. The Long Island City riverfront is an ideal location for viewing this unique sunset, where the sun lines up with the cross streets of Manhattan as it sets. I captured this picture on that occasion:

20150603_201009_resized_1

Depending on where you are at along the riverfront, you can see a number of Manhattan landmarks. As you look to your right towards the northern part of the East River, the Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge is in the distance. (It’s not the most picturesque bridge in the city, but still an interesting landmark.) In the middle of the river towards the bridge there is Roosevelt Island, with Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park at its tip. (I think I might have to explore this area sometime soon!) Directly across the river in Manhattan is the United Nations. And nestled among the taller buildings spanning the horizon are two iconic skyscrapers: the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building.

20150603_203152_resized_1

If you have a little extra time to explore, the park has additional features that make it a unique destination. In the previous photo you may have seen a sign glowing red towards the right—that is the vintage Pepsi Cola sign located on the edge of the park in Long Island City. The sign used to be situated on the roof of a Pepsi bottling company along the riverfront. When the old building was torn down to make way for luxury apartments, the sign was relocated to a prime spot in the park. Here’s a close-up view of the sign, which stretches 8 stories above the grass. (And here’s a link to a New York Times article about the sign.)

20150527_182726_resized

There are also the gantry cranes located next to the piers. Originally used to load and unload materials from boats along the waterfront, today they are another symbol of Long Island City. Here is a view looking back at one of the gantry cranes from the end of the pier, with luxury apartment buildings in the background.

20150603_194859_resized

I took this second photograph of the cranes on another, cloudy evening. This photo shows some of the cranes’ architectural details. As a bonus, Manhattan is across the river in the background.

20150527_183426_resized

If you keep your eyes open, you may even find some other unique photo ops. Here, I caught a view of Manhattan once again, this time framed by one of the gantry cranes and some rosebushes.

20150603_202009_resized

And a short time later, I spied this tiny piece of railroad track. Most likely it was originally part of a railroad line that transported items between boats and nearby factories. But now it makes for a special photograph, literally the “Tracks to Nowhere.”

20150603_201826_resized

What can you do once the sun has totally set? There are numerous restaurants in Long Island City, including several along Vernon Boulevard near the station for the 7 train. On one of our visits to the riverfront, we stopped at the Rockaway Brewing Company to try some local microbrews. I tried their “Black Gold,” a Nitro Stout. It was smooth and rich and creamy. The evening that we visited, the Brewery was hosting a pop-up food venture upstairs above the tap room. It was the perfect place to relax for a while with a beer and a snack after watching the spectacular sunset. Rockaway has an events calendar on their website previewing some of their delicious upcoming events, so check it out! We will definitely visit again.

Getting here by subway? I try to use public transportation whenever possible, and Gantry Plaza State Park is easily accessible by subway. You can take the E or the M to the Court Square-23rd Street Station, the G to the 21st Street-Van Alst Station, or the 7 train to Vernon Blvd-Jackson Avenue.