New York City On The Cheap, Part One

By Chef Judi Gallagher

First, in full disclosure, the Upper West Side of Manhattan is like home. I grew up in Connecticut, jokingly called a suburb of New York. My relatives came from Westchester, Manhattan, New Rochelle and Yonkers. Thus, Zabar’s, that amazing store of smoked salmon cases, pickled herring, barrels of fresh roasted coffee and cinnamon Danish, could be my corner market. I feel at home when I pass H & H Bagels, and yes, contrary to some whispering concerns, the bagels are still as good as ever.

As my career and food critic credentials began to ascend, I confess to living the life that includes stays at Pierre Hotel, Gramercy Tavern dinners (still one of my favorites), breakfasts at the Four Seasons, and dinners at Del Posto, Scarpetta and Shun Lee on the East side.

On a recent trip I had a mission – enjoy New York City on the cheap; well, let’s call it New York on the less expensive. Less money does not mean any less of the unique culinary experience that is so characteristic of New York City. So, I am proud and confident to share.

Where to Stay:

One The Avenue Hotel
On The Avenue Hotel

OTA (On the Avenue, Broadway at W77th) is a moderately priced hotel that is ideally located and the concierge service is outstanding.

Day One. When you are budgeting meals for my New York On The Cheap plan, make sure you put aside $4.00 each day for a chocolate chip walnut cookie from Levian Bakery, 167 West 74th Street. You’ve found it when you see a long line outside a tiny bakery located below street level. The cookies here are jumbo warm gifts from heaven. Ok, forget what I said about putting aside $4 and spend double that for two cookies. Eat them right away while they are still warm and oozing chocolate.

The Jewish deli experience. For the price of one pastrami sandwich at the touristy Carnegie Deli, you can score a bowl of matzah ball soup with noodles, Diet Dr. Brown Cream Soda, a half pastrami on rye with a full bowl of pickles and a complimentary side of coleslaw at Fine & Shapiro’s Kosher Deli, 138 W. 72nd Street. No waiting, lovely service.

After a long walk through Central Park, I head back to the Upper West Side for a simply delightful supper at the Hummus Place. This is a little neighborhood spot (with several other locations around the city). The Hummus with Tahini is certainly enough for two to share. You can order several different appetizers for $3.00 each. Go for the eggplant, the sauce is amazing. Then try the crunchy Israeli salad and an iced tea. You’ll spend about $22.00 before tip.

Levain Bakery

Confession. I went back to Levian Bakery, since it was on the way (proud to say I got there just before closing) and bought yet another cookie. Total cookie expenditures for first day is now $12.00.)

Day Two: Walk to H and H Bagels for a fresh poppy seed bagel and a container of scallion cream cheese. Next up, the Zabar’s experience. Two slices of thinly cut smoked salmon from the grumpy smoked salmon slicer just like I remember. I sat on a park bench on Broadway, eating my bagel with smeared face, in the middle of NYC traffic. Zen moment – I am one with the universe.

After an excursion to Filene’s Basement to adhere to penny-pinching theme (no Bergdorf’s this trip), I scored two summer dresses for the price of one. Off I went for another power walk (free of charge) and watched the street musicians in the park and savored the thought of lunch at Union Square Café. I think the way to do the best New York restaurants is to plan the big meal at lunch.

Union Square is a hopping place. Check out the green market before meandering over for exquisite chicken pillard with crispy vegetable salad. With an iced tea and an order of orange pound cake with ricotta cream, it’s my highest check yet, but that’s because I bought two ladies lunching to my right a dessert. Strangers for nearly a New York minute, these two were the consummate “ladies who lunch” routinely everywhere in Manhattan. It was a delight to have them observe my fascination as I continued to dive into the moist citrus cake with culinary lust. Total bill including cappuccino is $52.00 without tip, but I saved 12 bucks by not buying chocolate chip cookies that day.

Follow me next month as I continue taking my bite out of the Big Apple without a bite out of my wallet:

Coming up in June:

• What nights to dine for the best deals

• Dim Sum delights for a steal of a meal

• New York’s finest chocolates fit my budget

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