Perfect Day in NYC: Essex Market

Saturday was one of those days that was a perfect NYC day, one of those days where I really can’t believe that I live here and I appreciate everything. And trust me, there are plenty NYC days that suck with the crowds, the unpredictable weather, subway breakdowns, stressful apartment searches and job hunts, the terrors of dating, and overpaying for everyday items. But Saturday was not one of those days.

The day started off on a high note as I biked 13 miles around Central Park, in a sunny non-humid 70 degrees with all the trees and flowers in full bloom. Yes, I’m aware that this sounds cliché and maybe it is, but it’s also true and I had so much fun! Then David suggested that we go to the grand opening of the new Essex Market in the Lower East Side, and you all know I love a good food market, so I happily said yes and off we went.

I visited Essex Market two months ago because it specializes in Latino food, and rumor had it that I might be able to find Salsa Lizano there (the key condiment to make Tico Gallo Pinto). I didn’t, but it was helpful to be introduced to another shopping center that might prove useful for future recipe development. I’m ashamed to say that prior to this blog I had never been to Essex Market, even though it bills itself as “New York’s most historic market” – it began as a collection of pushcart peddlers in 1888. Since then, it’s been a center of the Lower East Side community, changing vendors as the demographics of the neighborhood around it shifted. When I visited in March, I learned that they had been renovating a building across the street to serve as the newest iteration of Essex Market. And the grand opening was Saturday!

And what an opening it was! Shoulder-to-shoulder with what seemed like the entirety of the Lower East Side, we bumped and collided our way through mountains of spice and racks of ribs to finally enter the longest and slowest line, watching three hassled Dominican workers slice, smush, and fry made-to-order plantains. By the time I got to the register, I had been watching them make tostones for so long that I had to order some for myself.

Lunch was enjoyed on the upper balcony floor, with a Caribbean live band and middle aged women dancing happily. It was worth the wait, the plantains having a crispy exterior but soft and fruity on the inside. But perhaps the biggest surprise was the mozzarella empanadas: shredded mozzarella cheese, red onion, finely chopped red/green peppers, and a hint of cilantro inside a fried empanada shell. So good I nearly forgot to take a photo!

We were also treated to a “food demonstration” from Samesa, which was more free tasting than demonstration (no one complained about this). It worked, because now I want to try their restaurant and put their Tahoney (tahini + honey) on everything.

The day closed, of course, with ice cream from the Lower East Side Ice Cream Factory, which offers fun flavors like horchata or, if you’re me, white chocolate raspberry cheesecake. Another piece of NYC history renovated and upgraded – definitely worth a visit!

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