The colder weather is not making life easy for this aspiring street food blogger, but thankfully there are indoor markets, such as the Chelsea Market on 15th and 9th Avenue, which is the focus of this post. Chelsea Market, according to Wikipedia, is located in the building that used to house the National Biscuit Company, which incidentally, invented the Oreo cookie, which can only be a good thing.
I visited Chelsea Market two years ago in the summer of 2012, just as the hipster movement was becoming mainstream. I remember being very taken in by the grungy, underground feel of the place, with it being a former factory and all. I was very much looking forward to pay another visit to the place and see what had changed and what didn’t. Also, having the benefit of having more disposable income the second time around, I was hoping to try more food than I did the last time.
The first thing you notice when you enter is that the Market is actually a lot smaller than you would think. There is a walkway from the entrance at 9th Av, that leads through the building. When you exit at 10th Avenue, there are restaurants, shops and bars on both sides. I decided I had to check out this European bakery, called Amy’s Bread, where I laid eyes on a Ham and Swiss quiche. They say that real men don’t eat quiche, but that’s not true. Everybody eats quiche, real men admit they do. When I was in Nice, France in April this year I was having one for breakfast every day for the three days I was there, from this little bakery on the corner of the road, with a very nice French lady eager to speak to us in English.
The ham and swiss quiche looked promising and it did certainly smell good when served up. While I liked the filling, I felt that the pastry to filling ratio was a little too high for me, and, the bottom of the quiche was a little burnt, unfortunately. Nevertheless, the filling was good.
I then wandered into this seafood hall called the Lobster Place, a brightly-lit, ridiculously crowded place stocked with the freshest looking seafood and a very tempting sushi bar. As I entered I saw Japanese tourists carrying plates of the largest, reddest looking lobsters I had ever seen – and boy did they look good. Unfortunately, I do not have THAT much disposable income, so I settled for a chowder, which was supposed to be quite good. I was going to go for the classic New England clam chowder, but I saw a scallop and bacon and a lobster bisque option. I went for the scallop and bacon, and I was really glad with that choice. The chowder was so flavorful – salty with the sea and enriched by a glorious bacon back note. I would highly recommend doing that if you’re on a budget, or perhaps try the lobster bisque that I saw other folks making a beeline for.
Lastly, I decided I needed a burger to wash it all down, and went to Friedman’s Lunch for a takeaway burger. A proper beef burger with fries would be the best way to end the day. I had the Friedman’s burger, medium rare, which was cooked to perfection. Many times you don’t get a perfectly cooked burger, dark and caramelized on the outside, soft and pink inside, but Friedman’s did it just right. You’re allowed other toppings as well: lettuce, tomato, onion, bacon, cheese, mushrooms and avocado. I settled for the veggies, Swiss cheese and bacon (again), which I believe you can’t go wrong with anyway. The fries were very well-cooked, but I had too much to eat by then that I unfortunately couldn’t finish them all. If I were to be critical, I would say the patty needed a good twist of seasoning, which was a shame, because the actual cooking of the patty was spot on and the buns perfectly toasted. But, hey, everyone’s a critic.
Perhaps I don’t sound too enthusiastic about Chelsea Market, which is true, because Chelsea Market left me pining for London’s famous Borough Market, which I miss greatly, with its cooked food and produce stands run by people from all over the world. Chelsea Market is not too expensive, and dishes out quite decent grub, but lacks a certain market vibe – it feels more like a decked-out hipster food hall than a bona fide market, and I admit I am being harsh here. I guess it’s an expectations problem. What impressed me at Chelsea Market, though, were the grocery shops, specifically BuonItalia and the Manhattan Fruit Exchange. BuonItalia especially was great, selling every type of pasta you could imagine and lots of types of cheese and other Italian goodies, for reasonable prices as well. Definitely worth a trip just to take a look at what they have available. Also impressive, coffee from ninth street espresso, which was aromatic, full, proper coffee that, at $2.50, was a decent price for your standard pour.
What Chelsea Market does well though, is reflect what New York is. They’ve fit a mind-boggling, almost overwhelming array of shops and variety of cuisines in what is a very small area. You can get almost anything you might want here, everything will seem expensive, but if you look hard enough you could find a good deal. There will be hits and misses, bored-looking hipsters, tourists in New Balance sneakers and mums with kids in tow, it will be hustle and bustle but if you take your time to scratch beneath the surface you just might unearth some gems.