Foods of New York: Chelsea Market & Meatpacking District
Savory originals, Italian delicacies, and destination restaurants are all included on a sightseeing tour of a different kind. A tour that not only dives into the history of the Chelsea and the Meatpacking neighborhoods of Manhattan, but the foods and flavors that help to define and embody the local culture.
Today’s Chelsea Market lives in the once factory of the National Biscuit Company (Nabisco), which in the 1890’s was in mass production of Saltine Crackers and Oreo Cookies. For over 60 year’s the National Biscuit Company, went on manfacturing some of the countries favorite packaged baked goods –Vanilla Wafers, Fig Newtons, Barnum’s Animal Crackers, and the Mallomar.
In 1959 the factory closed the doors of its Manhattan factory and for the next 30 years – 22 structures, making up 2 million square feet of space sat empty in an area of the city that began to deteriate and fall victim to crime, underground sex clubs, and gangs. In the 1990’s, investor Irwin B. Cohen organized a syndicate to buy the old National Biscuit Company for $1.0 million. It was Cohen’s purchase of this space in the 90’s that would change the history of Chelsea and the Meatpacking District forever.
Today the Chelsea Market is home to over 35 specialty food vendors, the lofts above are offices/studios for The Food Network, MLB, and the O Network. The old factory floors have been kept original and weave through the central market, as you wonder past an entanglement of unused ducts, old baking elevators, a broken pipe waterfall, the original train shed, old signboards and other original details. Cohen wanting to create a remembrance of what this space was in the past has left fragments of the National Biscuit heritage all over the complex.
Foods of New York does a tour throughout the Chelsea Market and Meatpacking District, tour guide Diana (rhymes with banana) was passionate and full of details that pertained to all audiences. She shared her enthusiasm about food and love for new york. We walked the Chelsea Market stopping to drool and sometimes taste the deliciousness being offered.
Chelsea Market Tastings:
- Amy’s Breads – artesinal French-American bakery (Est. 1992) – TASTING: Fresh french baguette
- Ronny Brook Milk Bar – offshoot from the farm (Est. 1950) – TASTING: Chocolate Milk made with natural coca beans
- Sarabeth’s Bakery – gourmet American bakery (Est. 1981) – TASTING: Biscuit & Jam
- Lobster Place – high end wholesale / retail fish market (Est. 1974) – TASTING: Lobster Bisque, New England Clam Chowder
- Buon Italia – wholesale/retail Italian specialty food shop (Est. 1997) – TASTING: Speck, Mortadella, Artichoke Spread, Cioppino Onions
- Chelsea Market Baskets – gourmet specialty food shop (Est. 1997) – TASTING: Cheese with carmelized onion con feit
- Eleni’s – Classic American bakery (Est. 1985) – TASTING: Red Velvet Cupcake with buttermilk frosting
After wiping the drool from our chins, we exited the market to continue the tour in the Meatpacking district stopping for a private showing (not during opening hours) of two destination restaurants, Morimoto & Del Posto. The coined term “destination restaurant” describes a dining experience that is strong enough to draw customers from outside the local community. These two restaurants are said to have drawn customers from as close as the Tri-State area and as far as cross country, possibly even further.
Morimoto opened it’s doors first in Philadelphia in 2001 and later in New York’s Chelsea District. Masaharu Morimoto, best known as chef of the world reknown Nobu restaurant and for his role as an Iron Chef. This is not your a-typical sushi restaurant, the sushi is not served with wasabi or soy-sauce — an don’t you dare ask for some, as those two common staples are believed to decrease the flavor of the fish. A chef’s menu or “omakase” is a multi-course tasting menu designed to allow you to experience the true delicacies of Morimoto’s cusine and come highly recommended ($120 a person). If your a sushi-lover ready to step outside your box Morimoto is a great place to start.
Del Posto, Mario Batalli’s baby, has been awarded 4 stars by The New York Times, the first Italian restaurant to be given 4 stars since the 1970s. They also hold the record for the most extravagant dining experience in New York, conclusive of a 12-course tasting menu for two at the small cost of $1269.00, before wine :). Del Posto’s decor and ambiance are that of luxury, deep colors, private dining spots, and a endless wine collection. A special experience sure to go down in the books. It is even said that all plates are served to a table of guests at precisely the same time, whether you are a table of 2 or 8.
After opening our eyes to the type of restaurants that now exist in the neighborhood, Diana led us to the Meatpacking District. A part of the city that is rich with history — one in which many people wish to turn their heads too. In the 1900’s this area was home to over 250 slaughterhouses and meatpacking plants, but as the times and technology enhanced they were able to move these plants outside the city and import the products in from New Jersey. In the 1980s only 10 slaughterhouses still existed and the area became known as a center for drug dealing and prostitution. Over a dozen sex clubs surged in the area. At the center of the scene was the members-only club, controlled by the mafia, it was forced to shut down by the city at the height of AIDS prevention. The area began to become somewhat of an outlaw.
In 1997, restaurantuer Keith McNally, saw the area as an opportunity, he dreamed up and opened Pastis. The motto, “If you build it, they will come,” did not work for McNally. New Yorkers were not ready to give up the stigma of the preceding years in the Meatpacking district. McNally devised an ingenous plan, when his other restaurants were full with reservations, hosts and hostess would offer up Pastis, however the catch was to provide limo service to and from the restaurant for free! Something a New Yorker cannot pass up is a free limo ride. McNally’s theory worked, within a few year’s the Meatpacking District had lost its negative stigma and transformed into grand loft apartments, designer boutiques, and world reknowned restaurants.
Today the area is home to some of the city’s hottest nightclubs, boutiques and showrooms like Diane Von Furstenberg and Catherine Malandrino, and the newly added Highline Park.
As we wandered through the Meatpacking District we were bought into Macelleria, a local Italian restaurant, in which everything is made with the utmost perfection. Chef’s are Italian immigrants and know their food! If you find yourself wandering the area, steer clear of the tourist traps and head straight here. At Macelleria we endulged in a sit down tasting, making you eagar to simple stay for another meal.
Meatpacking District Tastings:
- Macelleria – Italian Steak House (Est. 2000) – TASTING: Sit down tasting, Homemade pasta with Ox Tail Ragu
All in all the tour was fantastic. I would recommend this to anyone looking to experience a New York different from which you already know or at least a side you would like to know better. When searching for a food tour try out “Foods of New York” they run tours through many different Manhattan neighborhoods and give you an insight and taste into the life a local New Yorker.
Other Foods of New York Tours:
- Explore Chinatown, Food and Culture Walking Tour
- The Original Greenwich Village, Food and Culture Walking Tour
- Central Greenwich Village (and a bit of SoHo), Food and Culture Walking Tour
- Nolita/NoHo, Food and Culture Walking Tour