IACP Checklist: 16 essential NY eating & drinking experiences

Have you already booked your ticket to New York for the IACP annual conference?  Excellent. 

Now lean in and listen close, because this longtime New Yorker is going to tell you everything you need to know while you’re in town. Shhh…don’t tell the locals I told you any of this.

First, a few ground rules for blending in. Walk fast – pretend you’re late for a meeting and you’ll fit right in. No meandering, rubbernecking at the buildings or blocking the sidewalk by walking four abreast. When in doubt, wear black – a bonus: it hides food stains! Buy a Metrocard and use public transportation. For God’s sake, don’t call NY “The Big Apple” or “New York City.”  It’s New York. Period. We like to pretend that nothing exists outside of the city. Tip well. Doubling the tax on your bill is an easy shortcut. Tip bartenders at least one dollar per drink; two is better.  Get the hell out of Times Square. Yes, yes, it’s our home base for the conference. It’s also a tourist trap and a culinary wasteland. Photograph the lights and the crowds… then affect the proper disdain and go elsewhere to seek even a shred of New York authenticity.

Where to go? Here are a few suggestions, specifically for IACP visitors:

1. Any indie coffee shop. I have nothing against Starbucks, but face it, you could have it anywhere. My favorite coffee shops are 71 Irving and Stumptown in the Ace Hotel. A final note – if you spot an Internet access terminal in a coffee shop — RUN. It’s like an early warning signal that the coffee will suck.

2. Anywhere in Brooklyn and/or Queens. Jackson Heights. Red Hook. Williamsburg. IACP has some good optional tours — sign up. If you’re an independent adventurer, go have pizza at Roberta’s and eavesdrop on Heritage Radio Network, which tapes in the back.

 3. Arthur Avenue. Skip Little Italy, and head to the Bronx.

4. Astor Wines & Spirits. Pack a box full of hard-to-get potables and ship it home.

5. Bemelman’s Bar at the Carlyle Hotel, or another great hotel bar steeped in New York history and featuring an excellent cocktail list.

6. Chelsea Market. The Food Network is located here, along with lots of food-happy shopping outposts.

7. Eataly. Batali, Bastianich, Barolo, bagna cauda, birreria…..

8. Kalustyans. This Indian market recently expanded its space, and will blow the minds of spice-lovers. It’s also good for hard-to-find cocktail ingredients like bitters and syrups. And it provides a convenient excuse for snacking your way through Curry Hill’s other Indian eateries.

9. Kitchen Arts & Letters. A great indie cookbook store. Ask about any book, from any place or any time. These guys are amazing.

10. Momofuku. Anything in the Momofuku family will do, whether it’s Crack Pie at one of the Milk Bars, a quick bite at the Ssam Bar (and a drink at new, uber-hot Booker & Dax), or a full-on wine dinner at Ma Peche.

11. New Amsterdam Market. Weekends only; check the calendar. In addition to all the artisan food vendors, take in the cobblestones and the East River, and imagine you’ve travelled back in time.

12. Pegu Club, or another great cocktail bar:  Lani Kai, Employees Only (west side) Death & Co., Cienfuegos, Amor y Amargo (east side) all are excellent options for of-the-moment cocktails. So is Clover Club in Brooklyn. Although there are a bazillon other wonderful (and newer, hotter) bars in NY, I’m deliberately suggesting these because you’re assured of A) a great drink and B) name recognition bragging rights when you go home.

13. Russ & Daughters – Bagels, lox, appetizing, and loads of history.

14. Second Avenue Deli, for a true kosher pastrami sandwich. (Hint:  it’s relocated and it’s no longer on Second Avenue. Pretend you already knew that bit of NY trivia.) Katz’s is an acceptable second choice, though it’s not kosher. Carnegie Deli is for tourists; avoid it.

15. Union Square Greenmarket. Especially early on a Wednesday, when the chefs shop (keep an eye out for restaurant kitchen jackets).

16. Zabar’s – the one on the Upper West Side, for both food and local color. The one on the East Side is for sissies.

If you have a suggestion, please feel free to add a comment before March 29, when the IACP conference begins!