Get a taste of brunch and neighbourhoods on a leisurely New York City weekend break
New York transforms itself on summer Sundays. The loud streets and crowded sidewalks make way for an altogether more relaxed city with natives and tourists gearing down to enjoy often sultry weather in one of the world’s greatest playgrounds.
Brunch is a slightly weird concept – much at odds with this Englishman’s view of a perfect Sunday lunch, eaten well after 2pm and involving roast meat, vegetables, potatoes and Yorkshire pudding, but it just works in Manhattan (and perhaps nowhere else quite as well).
Places for brunch are ubiquitous but of varying quality – the problem is that the better the place the longer the line. Now queuing is a national sport to a Brit , and given that the lines have a certain vibe in themselves, this normally tedious waste of time becomes part of the ritual – in New York, it is surely the fantasy of all tourists to blend in as if local.
For some reason, the much maligned Upper West Side (UWS), which I have always found quite charming, overflows with places serving this otherwise odd breakfast/lunch hybrid and in and amongst some rather underwhelming establishments are some gems.
Perhaps the most famous is Sarabeth’s (www.sarabeth.com). There are a few outlets in the city, but in the UWS, the original can be found at Amsterdam Avenue between 80th and 81st and although over-sweet for some, the quality is undeniable and the price - expect to pay $25 per head as a minimum - reflects it.
Any amount of guide books, iPod apps and other publications will point you towards their own recommendations and it is worth keeping your ear to the ground, but part of the fun is tracking down your own place and then walking around trying to find it. Yes, I know the grid has logic, but the UWS always throws me somehow.
On a recent visit a simple Google search brought an array of places – you will need many Big Apple Sundays to sample the quality places on offer - but the gamble of choosing Telepan (www.telepan-ny.com) on W69th near Colombus was rewarded with an interesting and well executed menu that doesn’t over rely on egg dishes. A fixed price of $28 per person was fair but can be easily inflated by alcohol and coffee.
Post brunch, New York offers all of its traditional sights, sounds and activities, but a trip out of Manhattan can be rewarded with a vibrant neighbourhood experience. In particular, and continuing the theme of blending in with the locals, mingling in and amongst families, couples, gangs of friends in parks, bars, shops can be an unforgettable New York (or even New Jersey - see below) experience.
Here are some suggestions:
This is an excellent Sunday playground which struggles under the contrived acronym derived from Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass in Brooklyn. Although this area was once achingly hip, that ridiculous sobriquet was lost as soon as it came on to the radar of ordinary mortals via today's fast moving global media (I wonder how long new interesting neighbourhoods will have to mature in the future before being swamped?).
Easily accessible by subway (take A C line to Jay Street or the F to Jay Street), Dumbo is classic Sunday afternoon territory - bars, shops, jumbled streets, people watching, day dreaming, oh, and a magnificent view of the Manhattan skyline from a beach!
Wander down to historic Fulton's Landing under Brooklyn Bridge - the new beach is nearby - for excellent ice cream at the Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory. Long lines, and you pay for the setting but the ice cream is pretty good and, well, just have a look around you - an iconic skyline from under an iconic bridge.
Even longer lines - there is something of a theme developing here but they are testament to how good New York City Sundays really are - snake around Grimaldi's (www.grimaldis.com) - a Brooklyn institution because of its longevity and coal fired brick oven, which have not been allowed in Manhattan for some time, apparently.
Now, I have to say that I buy in to all of the New York hype and fantasies apart from pizza - it's just not that great when you've had Florentine perfection or even the better end in the UK, but I am in a very tiny minority!
Dumbo is clearly not for dummies, though, and is a picture perfect Sunday afternoon in New York City.
Only a few miles from Dumbo is the slightly grittier neighbourhood of Williamsburg.
Here you can find the exception to my unscientific, and likely to be highly scorned, views on New York pizza.
Fornino on Bedford Avenue (187 between 6th and 7th) serves excellent thin crust (the key, in my view) pizza with authentic fresh ingredients rather than the gooey cheese and tomato mess found elsewhere.
Williamsburg (take the L to Bedford Ave) has an excellent Sunday afternoon atmosphere - it has a more "lived in" feel than Dumbo, perhaps because the residents appear to be well established and genuinely local
Regular PATH trains take you under the Hudson to Frank Sinatra's birthplace; Hoboken in New Jersey.
As you emerge from the station on a summer Sunday afternoon, the first thing you hear is the sound of sports fans watching games in the many neighbourhood bars of this lively town.
Further in, bars, shops and restaurants offer a near New York Sunday experience.
To make the most of summer Sundays in New York, steer away from the main attractions and go native - even if you don't venture out of Manhattan you could try the Upper East Side around 2nd and 3rd Avenues for another neighbourhood crawl - just take things slow and blend in.
Finally, Manhattan accomodations are, of course, plentiful, but the all suite luxury of the London NYC rarely fails to deliver.