Dear Dante: Do You Feel a Chill in Winter?

 "How difficult is it doing tours in the winter? Isn't it too cold?" - John C., Herndon, PA

"How difficult is it doing tours in the winter? Isn't it too cold?"
- John C., Herndon, PA

Do I get cold? Yes, of course! Do I wish I was sitting in a nice, warm office when it's really cold out on a tour day. Definitely...not! I love my job.  The nice part about my food tours is it's small groups, and we go in and out of our stops.  So, in the winter, we get cold and go into a warm place. Then we get cold again, and warm, etc. The flip side happens in the summer, we get hot, and then go in for a cold break. And then it repeats.    But, going back to your question, the delicious food also keep us warm!

Nice Guy Tourist: Milk Bar Bakery

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I had heard about Milk Bar because it's all over (Toronto, D.C., Vegas, and some other spots in NYC) but none within steps of the tours I give.  I had wanted to go there for many reasons but notably because of one of their signature desserts. I'll get to that in a minute, but first let me paint a picture you may share with me.

Growing up, the best part of my breakfast was the very bottom of my cereal bowl. As my cornflakes or any cereal really was coming to the end, I knew the best was yet to come:  sugary, milky goodness at the very bottom.  Now let's get back to the Milk Bar, it doesn't take a genius to know why I have wanted to visit it on Christopher Street for quite some time.  Their signature is the cereal milk soft serve ice cream.  Sure, they've got cookies, cakes, and ridiculously delicious delicacies, but this ice cream? Well, there's a reason I'm writing this post.  It took me back to being a kid (and adult) who takes his cereal down to the last spoon slurp.  The ice cream is made with milk, cornflakes, brown sugar and has a pinch of salt thrown in for good measure. In a word, it lived up to the hype

Visiting this bakery/ice cream parlor is a must. There's a reason owner/chef Christina Tosi and her place have been written about all over the place (she's written two cookbooks, too - perhaps you've hear of "momofuku?"), and have been namedropped on The Tonight Show and placed on covers of Ad Week and other notable places.  Her story and place is as sweet as the goodies inside each establishment.  I can't wait to go back.

Dear Dante...

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Are kids allowed on your tour and do you offer a discount for them?  

Andrea Plotkin
Las Vegas, NV

Hey Andrea!  Thanks for the question.  Yes, kids are definitely allowed on my tour.  I think when you travel with kids it’s often hard to find an activity that everyone will enjoy and I think my tour is it: some food, some fun facts and just some fun in general!  As far as cost goes - infants are free.  Older kids most times eat more than most of the adults but don’t worry I don’t charge extra for them. Haha!

Nice Guy of the Month: Michael Lomuscio

Michael Lomuscio (pictured second from the right) is our Nice Guy of the Month.  The Poughkeepsie, NY naive found out about our tours through friends who were surfing the web "looking for things to do in NYC." We're happy he found us on their Google search.

Michael went on his first tour with us in June 2015, walking and munching on our Greenwich Village Tour. "The tour was outstanding," he said. "All the food stops were great." His personal favorite? The Artichoke Pizza.  Off his experience on his first tour, we welcomed Michael and his friends back for their second NGT but this time on the Lower East Side.  We look forward to seeing him and his crew soon. "We will most certainly be back again and again," he said. 

"We get out-of-town family and friends that stay with us each year, and Nice Guy Tours is on the 'Must-Do' list whenever visitors stay with us."

Thank you Michael. It's people like you that make me love what I do. Oh, and who's the nicest person you know? "I would be afraid not to say my wife Kathy although, without a doubt, she really is the nicest person I know."

Nice Guy Tourist: Museum of the City of New York

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Some local people won’t go to the Empire State Building or The Statue of Liberty.  I guess it makes sense if something's in your "backyard," you'd probably be more inclined to be a tourist somewhere else. There may be a stigma of doing touristy things in the city in which you live.  That said, I’d like to think a Nice Guy Tours Food Tour is the exception, but I digress. 

As a tour guide and as a lover of all things NYC, I am not one of those people that shies away from visiting areas throughout Manhattan.  I love playing tourist.  This ongoing blog series of Nice Guy Tourist - truth be told - has given me an excuse to do that as well.  I’ve done a walk over the Brooklyn Bridge, a visit to One WTC Observatory and now, I’ve visited the Museum of the City of New York.

To be frank, I love this museum.  It is a tribute to the city and tells the story in such a fascinating way  There is a video that talks about how NYC was all farmland and how it’s grown over the years.  There is an exhibit to all zoning laws as well. As you can imagine the laws have changed throughout the years.  As you know, if you’ve been on my Greenwich Village Food Tour, some neighborhoods are historically protected.  No new buildings above six stories in the village! Can you believe it? The zoning exhibit really dives into some of those rules.  I don’t want to ruin the museum for you - there are some surprises.  I would plan to spend two-to-three hours there.  It’s located at 1220 Fifth ave (near 103rd st).  It’s open every day from 10am to 6pm.  Adult ticket is $18.  Age 19 and under is free (how cool is that!).  Seniors are $12. Either way it is worth every penny.  If you check it out please let me know what you think.  See you on a tour soon

Five Questions with Molly' Cupcakes' Brennan Gallagher

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We're here today with Brennan Gallagher at Molly's Cupcakes. He's a Pats fan, but we won't hold that against him. Here's our five questions segment!

What is Molly's Number 1 best seller?
The #1 best seller is our cake batter cupcake. It's a vanilla funfetti cake topped with blue butter cream and multi-color sprinkles filled with raw liquid cake batter.

My mouth's watering right now! OK, and what's your favorite?
That's a tough one. I love the banana cupcake with either no frosting or the butter cream because it's light not too sweet and really brings out the flavor of the cupcake. But, I'm also a super traditional guy so love vanilla cake with chocolate  frosting. I like the "build your own"  because there's not filling on the inside, it's your traditional cake. It's not as heavy - really delicious. And our vanilla tastes like vanilla. It's not yellow cake. It's vanilla cake, which not every place does.

They all sound delicious. When people visit New York City, what is the one thing they should do off the beaten path?
I
very much recommend taking the A train or the 1 train all the way up to Upper Manhattan and checking out the Cloisters. It's not going to feel like New York City. It's kind of like this old castle feel and it's an art museum so they have a bunch of old relics from years and years past. It's almost like finding the countryside of New York. Other than that, there's Roosevelt Island which is right in-between Manhattan and Queens. FDR park is beautiful, overlooks river, and has a light house. But, the best thing about New York is you can walk down any random street and find something.

What do you think the biggest misconception people have about New York City?
That
New Yorkers are rude and that's something that I thought for years and years before I go here. It's not true. New Yorkers are very happy to help until they're not - like if they have somewhere to go. [Laughs]  If you're coming to visit, don't ask the person flying down the street trying to get somewhere. People ask me all time "where's this" and "where's that," and I'm like "Sure, I'll help."

Lastly, who's the nicest person you know and don't say me!
That's hard. I'd have to say me - no. I would say my friend AJ, who is from California and lives here. He's just the purest, nicest guy I know. He'd give you the shirt off his back. It's a beautiful thing. There's something about New York. People are direct with people. There's a genuine honesty. We're all from different places, but people can come and just be in New York, and pay tribute to what the area is all about. Now my second favorite, of course, is Dante.

My Valentine to You - Yes, You!

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If you’re reading this, I love you.  Now as a human being we are supposed to love all humans and I try to do that but I fail often whether it's at the grocery store, in traffic...you get the picture.  But YOU I really do love.  

If you’re reading this I am where I am because of you.  I started doing food tours almost seven years ago and it was like when the Wizard of Oz switched from black and white to color.  I really liked this job right from the beginning.  About five years ago, I started to get the idea to start my own food tour business.  After prodding from my wife, my father-in-law and my friend Jon Chattman, I decided to take the leap.  

OK, I started a food tour business.  I know how to give a food tour.  I know some cool facts, and I know some great food stops.  I’m good at giving tours but how do I get people to come on the Tours? Well.  At first, they didn’t.  A few people here and there but not enough to really have a sustainable business.  Then something happened.  I started to get more and more five-star reviews on TripAdvisor and people were finding me there.  If you’ve been on my tour and wrote me a five-star review on TripAdvisor, I love you.  You are the reason my business is successful.  

If you’ve been on my tour and you put a picture on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram - I love you. I am where I am today because of you.  Thank you.  If you took my tour and then told someone about it, I love you. You’ve helped my family to stay fed, warm and clothed.  It sounds cheesy but it’s real. These are the facts, folks.  I am where I am today because of you.  I got a message today asking about a tour.  The lady is visiting from the UK and said, “I was at my doctors office last week and she told me I had to take your tour."  I love that doctor.  Again, I also love you all who are reading this.  

This is my Valentine to you all - thank you for sharing my posts and clicking the "like" button. You are helping a hard-working man care for his family by doing something he loves and therefore you are also making the world a better place.  I love you.  I’ll see you on a tour soon - keep in mind:  one out of every one doctors recommends me!

Love,
Dante

Nice Gal of the Month for January: Dolores Hagen

 Dolores Hagen of Aldie, VA is our "Nice Gal of the Month," and for good reason. The software test engineer ("I get to break software for a living," she says with glee) has been on three of our tours.  Her favorite "eats" on the tours have been Molly's Cupcakes, which she notes, she's been to "tons of times." That, she said, "is the one that stuck with me." But, on second thought, "Artichoke pizza was awesome." OK, so that's the Greenwich Village tour. What about the Lower East Side, you ask?  "If it was for the tour I just took, it would be a toss up between the dumplings (at Vanessa's) and Katz.  The dumplings are fab and a bargain, Katz is not a bargain but is way yummy and a New York institution," she said.  On each tour, I try to offer up a fun fact and history.  Dolores said her favorite tidbit was the history of Economy Candy and that one of the reasons that it is so affordable is that the owners of the shop actually own the building.  She said her biggest surprise on the tour was how "shocked" she was that she enjoyed the taste of the pickles from the Pickle Guys. Overall, her favorite thing about New York, and this she notes is a "really hard" question to answer, is how "nothing is ever the same, it is always fun, there are always fun surprises, great people, great shows, great food."  She added, "Visiting NYC is like hanging out with an old friend, it doesn't matter how long you have been away there is still a connection and it is never boring! Sometimes the NYC weather sucks but other than that, I'm completely in love with the crazy city but don't think I could live there. It would overwhelm me."  That's understandable. So who we ask is the nicest person she knows and why?  But, she can't say me! "Again...very difficult," she said.  "Kerry Babylon.  She is very considerate of others, an amazing friend that puts up with a lot of my crazy without snapping at me; awesome sense of humor. She is just plain sweet.   Soooooo  much nicer than I am, heavens knows why she hangs out with me!"  Oh c'mon Dolores! Nice Guy Tours loves hanging out with you!   

Dolores Hagen of Aldie, VA is our "Nice Gal of the Month," and for good reason. The software test engineer ("I get to break software for a living," she says with glee) has been on three of our tours.

Her favorite "eats" on the tours have been Molly's Cupcakes, which she notes, she's been to "tons of times." That, she said, "is the one that stuck with me." But, on second thought, "Artichoke pizza was awesome." OK, so that's the Greenwich Village tour. What about the Lower East Side, you ask?

"If it was for the tour I just took, it would be a toss up between the dumplings (at Vanessa's) and Katz.  The dumplings are fab and a bargain, Katz is not a bargain but is way yummy and a New York institution," she said.

On each tour, I try to offer up a fun fact and history.  Dolores said her favorite tidbit was the history of Economy Candy and that one of the reasons that it is so affordable is that the owners of the shop actually own the building.

She said her biggest surprise on the tour was how "shocked" she was that she enjoyed the taste of the pickles from the Pickle Guys. Overall, her favorite thing about New York, and this she notes is a "really hard" question to answer, is how "nothing is ever the same, it is always fun, there are always fun surprises, great people, great shows, great food."

She added, "Visiting NYC is like hanging out with an old friend, it doesn't matter how long you have been away there is still a connection and it is never boring! Sometimes the NYC weather sucks but other than that, I'm completely in love with the crazy city but don't think I could live there. It would overwhelm me."

That's understandable. So who we ask is the nicest person she knows and why?  But, she can't say me! "Again...very difficult," she said.  "Kerry Babylon.  She is very considerate of others, an amazing friend that puts up with a lot of my crazy without snapping at me; awesome sense of humor. She is just plain sweet.  Soooooo much nicer than I am, heavens knows why she hangs out with me!"

Oh c'mon Dolores! Nice Guy Tours loves hanging out with you!

 

Nice Guy Tourist: Lower Manhattan’s Changing Skyline (One World Trade Center and the Oculus)

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I recently played New York City tourist-for-a-day in Lower Manhattan. My first stop was One World Trade Center, where the highlight, of course, was the unbeatable view from the observatory, but the whole experience was really something to see.

First, there’s a pre-show on the ground floor—a digital media exhibit that takes you through the background and construction of the building. Then you step onto the elevator, which zips up to the 102nd floor in no time at all. Actually the 47-second ascent in the “Skypod” is a mini-history lesson in itself, as 500 years of history unfold in a floor-to-ceiling LED virtual technology display. Manhattan’s skyline rises with you on your way up.

At the top, there’s another short video and finally the screen opens up to the most amazing views you’ll find in New York City.

At 1,776 feet, One World Trade is the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere. The observatory has a 360-degree view so you can see the entire island of Manhattan, the Statue of Liberty, plus much more. If you’re lucky enough to go on a clear day, the view goes on for at least 50 miles and you can even see the curvature of the earth! With views like this, it’s no wonder the observatory sees as many as 12,000 people on their busiest days.

The three-story observation deck is operated by Legends Hospitality, the group that also runs sales and concessions at places like Yankee Stadium and Cowboys Stadium. On the 101st floor of One World Observatory, you’ll find refreshments. Grab a cup of coffee at One Café, a beer at One Bar, or stay for lunch or dinner at One Dine, which offers a seasonally-inspired menu and a full bar.

My second stop was less than a half-mile away at the surreal building known as the Oculus. This transit center, officially named World Trade Center Transportation Hub, connects New Jersey’s PATH train system to NYC’s subway system. It’s also a shopping mall with more than 100 retail stores inside.

The Oculus is unmissable for its bright, white, unique architecture—it was designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava to look like a dove in flight. In addition to the thousands of commuters that pass through the Oculus, tourists flock here for photos inside the stark white building. The white, ribbed columns that make up the interior infrastructure play with the light that streams in and create an optical illusion of sorts—which is to say, this is probably one of the most photogenic spots in the city, and there’s a perfect viewing platform to take those Instagram shots.

Like One World Trade, which has been called the most expensive office building in the world, the Oculus went way beyond its original budget. It was supposed to cost $2 billion and in the end topped out at almost $4 billion—about the same price tag as One World Trade. But in the end, these buildings are now a permanent part of New York’s fast-changing skyline, as well as symbols of progress and sites of inspiration.

Dear Dante: People Watching in NYC

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As a New York City tour guide, people often ask me what my favorite thing to do is besides eat.  It's a loaded question really, because there is so much I love about the Big Apple, but it's a no-brainer really. People watching is my favorite. To be a bit more specific, a highlight - long before I even started Nice Guy Tours - has been to sit in Washington Square Park (preferably on a spring, not-too-hot day) and drink coffee as people pass by.  I think it captures the spirit of the city.  In those moments, we are all equal there. 

People always say it's good to drown out the outside noise (and most times that's accurate), but in this case I can't. I love watching people racing to work, walking and laughing amongst friends, walking their dogs, and everything in-between. In many ways, this setting is a visual soundtrack to my New York City.

The Best Coffee Shops on the Lower East Side in Manhattan

 Cafe Grumpy

Cafe Grumpy

Every day before I start a tour, I arrive early, sit in a café with a cup of coffee and collect myself. It gives me just a few minutes to think about how I want my day to unfold. There’s no lack of coffee shops in Manhattan, but I love some of the cafés on the Lower East Side in particular. Their diversity reflects the culture of the neighborhood itself, and they all seem to want to make the world a better place: they source their coffee thoughtfully, and they largely shun the coffee-to-go model and strive to create a community with their customers. Here are a few cafés to visit on the Lower East Side. They all serve amazing coffee, and they’ll all draw you in so you want to stay a while.

Café Grumpy
Stop in here to get your week going on a peaceful note, especially if you have a busy week ahead of you. Grab a seat in front of the window and watch the day begin to unfold before your own hectic schedule kicks off. Café Grumpy obtains their beans solely from “socially and environmentally responsible producers,” and they have their own roasting plant in Brooklyn. If you really love the coffee, you can buy some and take it home with you. They also have a fun selection of Café Grumpy merchandise like mugs, hats, and T-shirts if you’re shopping for unique souvenirs.

Ost Café
Ost Cafe got priced out of the East Village in early 2017. Grand Street is now their sole location, where their main goal is still to serve a quality cup of coffee. Their menu is rooted in the owner’s Central European heritage, but also strives to be appealing to the local clientele. Ost Café is perfect for a mid-week pick-me-up. There’s plenty of seating available, sun streams in through the windows, and there’s always a friendly buzz of conversation. Come with a friend or find some peace on your own as you take some time to head into the second half of the week.

Black Cat
Unlike the model which seems so prevalent in today’s coffee shops, everything about the Black Cat invites you grab a seat in one of their many comfortable chairs, order a cup of coffee, and hang out for a while. Their goal is to stay true to the old model coffee shop—a place where people linger for hours, discussing whatever current events are in the air. Owner Aaron Ho actually teaches at a local university, and encourages customers to come here for meetings or study groups; there’s Wi-Fi and even a printer for customer use. Oh, and the cat paintings that line the walls can’t help but make you smile. They also have weekend free entertainment, so step up to the open mic, see a movie, or come for an academic lecture.

Round K
They made the news recently for two unique coffee drinks—an egg cappuccino, which is a variation on a traditional Korean coffee drink, and a matte black latte, darkened by coconut ash and cacao powder. If you’re not feeling adventurous enough for an egg cappuccino or a black latte—complete with black whipped cream—try another fusion drink such as a Korean chai latte infused with ginseng, cinnamon, chili pepper, and black sugar, or if it’s alcohol you’re after, a Kimchi Bloody Mary. Obviously, owner Ockhyeon Byeon likes to keep things interesting; he also rotates the food menu to keep it fresh.  Round K is definitely one of the most interesting cafés in the neighborhood.

Caffe Vita Coffee Roasting Co.
One small café on the Lower East Side and another in Brooklyn are their only East Coast locations, as they are primarily a Pacific Northwest endeavor. They’ve been importing coffee directly from environmentally sustainable farms and roasting it themselves since 1995, so it seems they’ve earned the right to call themselves “pioneers of the Farm Direct movement.” The seating inside is limited so it’s not a place to linger for long, but it’s worth a stop for their delicious coffee.

Stop into one of these local cafés the next time you’re on the Lower East Side, and let me know what you think!

Exploring Italian Heritage in New York City

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In 1923, Adolfo and Rosaria Baldizzi left their home in southern Italy and sailed to New York on a ship called the S.S. Suffren. They cleared the hurdles at Ellis Island and began to set up their lives in the New World. They had a son and a daughter, and eventually moved into a small apartment on the Lower East Side, in an area that was known as Little Kleindeutschland (Little Germany). The building that housed their small apartment was condemned as a safety hazard in 1935 and all of the families at 97 Orchard Street had to relocate. In 1992, the building was restored, and transformed into the Tenement Museum, and the Baldizzi family apartment became a window into immigrant life in New York City. Adolfo and Rosaria’s daughter Josephine was contacted, and able to describe her memories of her childhood in that apartment.

She remembers that her parents loved music, and that Rosaria cried a lot because she missed her mother back in Italy. She remembers her father loved American cowboy movies and she has a memory of visiting her mother once, in a sweatshop where she worked on top of keeping their apartment sparkling clean.

The Baldizzi’s story is one in a sea of millions. Immigration to the United States—from countries around the world—reshaped the cultures of U.S. cities and states. In the 2000 census, residents of New York State listed Italy as their country of ancestry more than any other country, so Italian immigration in particular certainly redefined New York.  

The Tenement Museum is only one stop on an exploration of Italian heritage in New York; the culture left its mark all over the city, and whether it’s part of your own family story, or just a piece of American history that you’re interested in, there are plenty of places to get a taste of Italian culture in New York.

Little Italy
Italians began immigrating to America in large numbers in the mid-1800s, when conditions in Italy were politically and economically difficult. After arriving in New York, they flocked to Lower Manhattan, sticking together in one neighborhood in order to support each other and retain some of their Old World customs. Manhattan’s Little Italy is a magnet for tourists nowadays, but still has its charms, most notably the narrow cobblestone streets and slew of Italian restaurants and bakeries. If you’re interested in the historical aspect, stop in at the Italian American Museum; for art, try the Center for Italian Modern Art. And for 11 days every September, the Feast of San Gennaro keeps the streets lined with religious processions and parades in honor of the Patron Saint of Naples. Sample some of the best Italian street food around, and enjoy the celebration.

Arthur Avenue
Some people complain that Manhattan’s Little Italy became a tourist trap years ago, and that in order to really experience good Italian food in New York, you have to head up to the Bronx.  The Belmont section of the Bronx—also known as Little Italy in the Bronx or Arthur Ave.—became a largely Italian neighborhood around the turn of the century, when record numbers of immigrants from around the world were coming to America. Many Italian immigrants were laborers, and the Bronx offered job opportunities in construction and landscaping. Now, it’s worth the trip uptown to see what goods are for sale at the Arthur Avenue Market, or have a meal at Roberto’s, which is consistently named among the best Italian restaurants in New York City, or experience the laid back attitude and southern Italian comfort food at Dominick’s, where waiters recite the menus and have a knack for recommending the perfect meal. Customers are seated at long tables to encourage socializing, so don’t be surprised if a regular strikes up a conversation with you.

Greenwich Village
While Greenwich Village has developed a reputation as being a haven for artists and free-thinkers, the Italian immigrants who settled here in the late 19th and early 20th century have left their mark, too. A lot of the Old World culture can be seen in longtime neighborhood businesses like Pasticceria Rocco, Porto Rico Importing Co., and Gene’s, a classic Italian restaurant open since 1919. The original owner of Caffe Reggio, which opened in 1927, is credited with bringing cappuccino to America—the café’s original espresso machine still sits on display. And finally, St. Anthony of Padua Church was created in 1859, primarily to cater to the large numbers of Italians that were streaming into the neighborhood. The construction of the present location on Sullivan Street was completed in 1888. It is the oldest Italian-Catholic serving church in the U.S.

Take a walk through New York City’s Italian history, and don’t forget to indulge in some amazing food while you’re at it!

December 2017 Newsletter "Dear Dante"

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"I hear the pizza in the city is unbeatable, but I don't have time to try them all, Where can I get the best slice in New York?"
-Neil P.  Los Angeles, CA

Hey Neil, thanks for the question. That’s a tough one - I know some folks fight over the best.  MY FAVORITE is the Nonna Maria pizza from Bleecker St. Pizza.  We go there on the Greenwich Village tour so I got you covered. I’m also toying with the idea of a tour titled “The History of Pizza” so keep an eye out for that soon. 

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December 2017 Newsletter "NYCE" Tip

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Every month I will share a tip about navigating NYC with you guys.  Whether you’re a local or an out-of-towner I’m hoping you can use this info.  


You’ve probably heard about NYC hot dogs and always wanted to try one.  Most of the vendors you see sell the same product.  Some might buy cheaper hot dogs but in my experience many of them use Sabrett's brand all-beef hot dogs, which are my favorite.  

OK, so here is the tip...Whether you plan on buying a hot dog or not DO NOT just ask for a hot dog.  I repeat!  Do not just ask for a hot dog.

What question you should ask first?  You’ll have to find out in the January newsletter.  Stay tuned as I will have a man-on-the street video expose of the hot dog truck and cart industry that you will not want to miss! 

December 2017 Newsletter: Nice Guy Tourist

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A Walk Across the Brooklyn Bridge
As a Yonkers guy, I’ve spent a lot of time in the Bronx and Manhattan, but I recently took a walk across the Brooklyn Bridge and I was surprised by its beauty, its fascinating history, and also by what I found on the other side. I love that I get to take people around New York on walking food tours, but sometimes I like to be a tourist, too. READ MORE