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

December 2017 Newsletter: Nice Gal of the Month

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Here's another new feature. Our customers make us who we are, and Sophia Protopapas is one of our most loyal. She's been on all three of our tours, and her smile is city-blocks wide.

Sophia was born and raised in Queens. She’s lived in Greece for three years.  The executive legal secretary has actually been on nine tours!  She has brought friends from Staten Island, the Bronx, Queens, and Ecuador. She’s brought her mentee, nice, sister-in-law, and her sister-in-law’s sister who was visiting from Portugal! She even through a Bachelorette Party with Nice Guy Tours!

The favorite thing she’s eaten on the tour is the Artichoke Pizza, and admits “I have been there many, many, many times after my first time because of the tour.”  Her favorite tidbit learned on one of our tours is the “Kat’s That’s All” story.  “I always remind you to tell that story,” she often tells me.

What she finds most surprising about going on a Nice Guy Tour is how she never gets tired even after almost three hours of walking. She’s also surprised to meet locals as well as out-of-towners on the tour.  “Food is a universal language,” she says.

Sophia’s favorite thing about NYC is the “cultural diversity we see in different pockets of neighborhoods throughout the whole city.”  Lastly, who’s the nicest person she knows and why? “Well, I can't narrow it down to just one but the one that comes to mind is my niece, Isabelle Sophia,” she tells us. “She has a heart of gold and wants to help those less fortunate than her. She proudly serves on the Safety Squad at her school, ensuring youngsters get to their classes safely. I heart her.”

Isabelle with Dante

Isabelle with Dante

December 2017 Newsletter: Five Questions with...

Alan Kaufman owner of The Pickle Guys on the Lower East Side!

Alan Kaufman owner of The Pickle Guys on the Lower East Side!

 

Are you ready Alan?
As ready as I'll ever be.

Tell me about the difference between New, half sour and full sour pickles?
All are pickles start out the same way.  Salt, water, pickling spices and garlic.  The amount of time they sit in the barrels determine what kind of pickles they are gonna be.  A new pickle is 1-10 days old.  A half sour is at least 2 weeks and a full sour at least three months.

Besides the pickles, which are your best seller what is your favorite item?
Me personally?

Yes you personally. 
I would say pineapple and jalapeno stuffed olives.

OK Alan, who is the nicest person you know?
That would be you, Mr. Nice Guy! (NOTE: I will NOT let anyone get away with this again - I really want to know about the nicest person they know!)

Can you share a tip with visitors to NYC besides, of course, coming to The Pickle Guys?
There's a lot of good food around here on the Lower East side, have Nice Guy Tours take you on a tour.  I would also suggest, what i always suggest, go to the Statue of Liberty because that's the only way I can get into a woman's head!  

What is your favorite thing about NYC?
The people.  What you see and hear about the stereotypes of NYers is not really true.  I think people in NY are friendly if you give them a chance.

How to Enjoy the Christmas Season in New York City

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New York loves Christmas. It gets dressed up in its most glamorous best and people come from around the world to see to see it. Like everything else in New York, the choices for holiday fun are endless, so Nice Guy Tours is hereto give you some tips on a few things you really shouldn’t miss during the holiday season in New York City.

See the Holiday Lights While You Shop
Rockefeller Center is the epicenter of New York’s holiday scene, and rightly so. For more than 80 years, a tree has gone up on the same spot to mark the occasion. But it’s not the only festive site to behold. Take a stroll past the posh department stores of Fifth Avenue and you’ll see how each elaborately dressed window tries to outdo the other year after year. The creativity and detail that go into these Christmas window displays are truly amazing. You’ll find windows dressed to the nines at Bergdorf Goodman, Henri Bendel, Tiffany & Co., Saks Fifth Avenue, and more. Want to shop someplace where you don’t have to completely empty your wallet? The pop-up shops at Winter Village at Bryant Park sell tons of unique, hand-crafted items—the types of gifts you can be sure won’t be duplicated. Other pop-up holiday markets which sell goods created by local artists and designers include the Columbus Circle and Union Square Holiday Markets

Go Ice Skating
Get into the holiday spirit as you spin around on the ice surrounded by some of the most iconic sites in the world. The most popular skating rinks remain the big three: Rockefeller Center, Central Park, and Bryant Park. They all have their charms and romance, and when the holiday season is in full swing, they also have hordes of people. If you want to skate a little off the beaten path, consider LeFrak Center in gorgeous Prospect Park in Brooklyn, or head to Riverbank State Park Ice Skating Rink on the Upper West Side. Both places offer a more local, neighborhood experience. If you want to up your ice skating game, try the Sky Rink at Chelsea Piers, which offers figure skating lessons for those more graceful on the ice. Sky Rink is an indoor rink and is perched high above the Hudson River for awesome views.

See a Live Show
The Rockettes have performed those amazingly choreographed kicks in front of legions of fans for almost a century now, so the Radio City Christmas Spectacular is a crowd favorite year after year and a must if you’re looking for traditional New York City holiday entertainment. Prefer a thoroughly modern Christmas hit? The most lovable of Santa’s helpers is on Broadway in Elf, a musical based on the hit 2003 film about a confused orphan who grew up in the North Pole and suddenly finds himself navigating love, the workplace, and cranky New Yorkers.

Get Discount Broadway Show Tickets at the TKTS Booth (See it after the Food Truck & Cart Tour!)

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One of the biggest reasons people come to the Big Apple is to see a Broadway show. But in a sea of choices, how do you decide on the best one? Some people want to tick off items on their bucket list and come specifically for the long-standing musicals that have stood the test of time, like The Lion King or The Phantom of the Opera.

Others want to try their luck at the TKTS Discount Booth in Times Square, where the price for same-day tickets can be slashed by up to 50 percent. This is a great option if you want to save a little cash and enjoy the unpredictability of it—the offerings are different from day to day, so you won’t ever be totally sure what you’ll see.

And by the way, a matinee performance pairs perfectly with a Food Truck and Cart tour with Nice Guy Tours. The tour ends at 1:30 p.m. at the TKTS Booth so you have plenty of time to get to your afternoon performance.  

So, if you’re going for discount tickets, here are a few tips. The TKTS Booth in Times Square opens for matinee ticket sales at 10:00 a.m. on Wednesdays and Saturdays, and 11:00 a.m. on Sundays. Those are typically the three days of the week that matinees are offered, although always check the particular schedule of any show you want to see because times vary.

Aim to get in line around 9:30 a.m. and come with an open mind and a sense of adventure. You won’t know exactly what will be offered at discount prices until they open. I recommend downloading the TKTS Mobile App a week or so beforehand. Check the app every day for an idea of what productions are going for half price. You’ll start to see a trend and be able to make predictions based what’s been available in recent days.

Here’s a sample of recent half-price offerings:

A Bronx Tale
Based on the 1993 film starring Robert De Niro, A Bronx Tale tells the story of a young man growing up in the mob-ruled world of the 1960s Bronx. Expect some variations from the movie, but two of the film’s stars do heavily influence the play: De Niro co-directs and it was written by Chazz Palminteri, whose real life the story is based on.

Kinky Boots
This is a musical for people who love glitter and sparkle, and also Cyndi Lauper, whose talents won her a Tony for Best Original Score. Kinky Boots is a heartwarming tale is about the friendship between two men who could not be more different from each other. It is musical theater at its best, which means you’ll want to break out into song along with the stars on stage.

Once On This Island
This is a sweet love story about a poor girl who falls in love with a wealthy boy, and all the drama that forbidden love creates. The tenacious peasant girl, Ti Moune, enlists the help of powerful island gods to help her track down the boy she loves, and the story is set against the backdrop of the easy island rhythms of the Caribbean.  

Waitress
Based on a movie of the same name starring Keri Russell, Waitress is an inspiring story about a woman who finds herself in a bad marriage, and who sees her talent for making incomparable pies as her only way out. Six-time Grammy nominee Sara Bareilles wrote the original music and lyrics to this age-old story about a woman remaking herself just when she least expected she would have to.

Avenue Q
Avenue Q is an off-Broadway, coming-of-age tale about a college grad named Princeton. Princeton is a puppet and yes, this is the play with the puppets that spout four-letter words, and sing about racism, coming out, and the dirty materials that a creature can find on the Internet. The play is hilarious, and you simply forget that there are people controlling the puppets because the talent is astonishing.

Jersey Boys
After years on Broadway, this beloved musical is now running off-Broadway. The cast is smaller by four, but that and a smaller theater also means better overall seats, and lower ticket prices. Jersey Boys tells the true story of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons, and even if you’re not of their generation, you won’t be able to help but love the dance numbers and legendary songs, including “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” “Walk Like a Man,” and “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You.”

I hope whatever you see is amazing, but the only thing I can guarantee you is this: if you take my Food Truck and Cart Tour beforehand, you won’t have to worry about food during your show.

 

 

A Walk Across the Brooklyn Bridge

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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.

About the Brooklyn Bridge: everyone who comes to New York should walk across it at least once. It’s a little over a mile long and the views are spectacular. You can see the Statue of Liberty out in the harbor on a clear day, and there’s a sense of wide open space, which is not an easy feeling to come by in New York.

I found out that the first person to cross the bridge when it was finished in 1883 was a woman named Emily Roebling. On her trip across, she rode in a carriage and carried a rooster, which apparently symbolized victory.

And the bridge was a victory. Even after tragedies and deaths and setbacks, Emily saw to it that the bridge became a reality.

The Brooklyn Bridge was the first steel-wire suspension bridge in the world. Its opening day was presided over by the U.S. president and the governor of New York, and was proclaimed to be the eighth wonder of the world.

But let’s back up a little. Emily’s father-in-law John Roebling was a Prussian immigrant and brilliant civil engineer. He built bridges and buildings, and he had a son named Washington, who was equally gifted. Washington was sent to study at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and then he served in the Civil War where he made a name for himself building suspension bridges for the Army. By 1865 he was promoted to Colonel, and he was married to Emily Warren Roebling.

In 1869, with John’s architectural designs, construction of the Brooklyn Bridge was about to begin and John and Washington were the chief engineers. The effort was unprecedented. About 600 workers—nicknamed “sandhogs”—labored away under dangerous conditions. By the time the bridge was completed, nearly 30 men had died in accidents, explosions, and other mishaps.

The bridge took 14 years from start to finish, and neither father nor son fared very well. Early on, John’s foot was crushed by a boat and he died from tetanus a few weeks later. The massive task of chief engineer was left to Washington.

Years earlier, to prepare for the bridge’s construction, Washington went to Europe to study the technique known as caisson construction. Caissons were large wooden boxes which were sunk into the bottom of the river to allow the men to work inside them, excavating the riverbed, laying granite, and building the bridge. To keep water out, compressed air was pumped into the caissons, which put the men in danger of decompression sickness when they rose back to the surface.

One day Washington was working in a caisson and ended up with this illness, also known as “the bends.” He was left partially paralyzed and too sick to head up the construction progress any longer.

This opened the door for Emily Roebling to step in. With the two chief engineers tragically sidelined, she brought the bridge to its completion. Emily went back and forth from home to construction site, delivering messages to and from Washington, and updating him on progress.

Emily adapted so quickly to the huge task in front of her that she quickly became the chief engineer. At the bridge’s dedication ceremony, Congressman Abram S. Hewitt said she would “thus be inseparably associated with all that is admirable in human nature.”

Time for Lunch
When I exited the bridge on the Brooklyn side, I went in search of some lunch and what I found was yet another family drama.

You can’t miss Grimaldi’s—the pizza restaurant with the line of people out the door every day, rain or shine, even before they open for business.

A couple of doors down is Juliana’s, whose website says that the owner Patsy Grimaldi is New York City’s “most celebrated pizza proprietor.” So—and stay with me for a second, it’s a real saga—Juliana’s is owned by a Grimaldi but Grimaldi’s is not.

Here’s the story. Patsy and his wife Carol opened the original Grimaldi’s on Old Fulton Street. The pies, made with Carol’s homemade fresh mozzarella and cooked in a coal-fired oven, earned them devoted fans.

When Patsy and Carol retired, they sold Grimaldi’s—name and all—to a longtime customer named Frank Ciolli. Ciolli turned Grimaldi’s into a brand. It became a popular chain restaurant, which Patsy believed led to a lower standard of ingredients. Original Grimaldi’s fans complained to Patsy that the pies just weren’t the same, and since Patsy had sold his name, too, he had a reason to be concerned.

In a turn of events, Ciolli was nearly evicted from his Grimaldi’s location. After a dispute with the landlord, he moved a couple doors down to 1 Front Street. Patsy and Carol leased the place Ciolli left vacant and Patsy named it after his mother, Juliana.

Patsy and Carol, to the great delight of their fans, returned to making pizza in their original location and in that original coal-fired oven.

Some say the two are bitter rivals. Ciolli sued Patsy, accusing him of trying to steal back his business, but the case didn’t go anywhere.

In the end, though, the most important question is, who has the best pizza? I couldn’t tell you because I was eating a lobster roll at Luke’s Lobster, but stay tuned. I plan to put Grimaldi’s vs. Juliana’s to a taste test, and you’ll read about it here.

A Walking Food Tour with Nice Guy Tours

very nice.

very nice.

On the Lower East Side, we might duck into Katz’s Deli and try the most mouth-watering pastrami on earth, or stop at Kossars Bialy's and experience what a true bagel tastes like. But it’s not only about the food—I’ll tell you the history behind these tried and true New York eats, too.

As CEO (Chief Eating Officer) of Nice Guy Tours, I get to share with you the city that I love through the food and stories that have shaped it. Everything we eat on my tours has a story behind it—like Katz’s Deli, who has been perfecting their recipes since they opened back in 1888! 

What a walking food tour is
It’s pretty much exactly what it sounds like. On a typical tour, we sample food at about seven different places, eating our way through New York’s most iconic neighborhoods, while I tell you a story or two about the people and places who have made this the great city it is today.

There’s no place like New York for walking and eating, and that’s just what we do. We eat a little, we walk and talk, we eat a little more—walk, talk, eat, repeat—the perfect recipe for creating long-lasting friendships.

If you wear comfortable walking shoes and bring a healthy appetite, I’ll make sure of two things: 1) you come away with a full stomach and some great memories; and 2) you know where the heck you’re headed in this crazy city, even if that means I hail you a cab or march you to the subway myself. We’re not called Nice Guy Tours for nothing!

Really, though. I care about my customers leaving with the impression that New Yorker’s are a pretty decent bunch of people.

As part of that, I make a point to bring you only to places where the owners and staff are friendly. You won’t get some cranky guy behind the counter, and no one will give you glaring looks for taking up a table for too long.

Like at Artichoke Pizza, where I tell you about the spectacular success of two great guys who started out working in their family’s restaurant on Staten Island, and are now about to open their 17th restaurant. Oh, and we’ll try their authentic New York pizza, too. You’ll find out how they prepare it just a little out of the ordinary from other pizza you’ve eaten.

What you can expect to eat on a Nice Guys tour
The food scene in New York runs the gamut from pricey and pretentious to laid-back but unbelievably tasty. Nice Guy Tours lean more towards—you guessed it—the simple, delicious meals that have been nourishing New Yorkers for longer than I’ve been alive.

On the Greenwich Village Tour, for example, we’ll stop at Mamoun’s Falafel, the oldest falafel restaurant in the city. Mamoun’s has been family-owned and operated since the day they opened their doors. Their falafels are created from a family recipe that’s more than four decades old; then they’re fried to golden brown perfection, served inside a toasted pita and drizzled with tahini.

So simple but so good.

What a walking food tour is not
Alright, we talked about what a food walking tour is. I’d like to take a second and tell you what a tour with me is not.

It’s not crowded. I keep my tours to 12 people maximum, so you’ll never have to crowd around or stand behind some tall person while you try to hear out what I’m saying. I like to get to know everyone on my tours.

It’s not led by anyone but me. I hope you read (and write!) glowing reviews on Facebook or TripAdvisor about Nice Guy Tours. Wink, wink. If you do, know always that I was the tour guide then and I’ll be the tour guide later.  

It’s not boring. I give you a little history lesson on the places along the tour, but I love telling the most interesting stories I know. Also, there’s food. How could you get bored?

And of course, you’ll get a great sense of New York’s historic neighborhoods as we walk. Watch the city transform from block to block and street to street. Nowhere is this more apparent than the Lower East Side, where we’ll stop in at Yonah Schimmel Knish, named after a Romanian immigrant who peddled knishes to the millions of people who lived and worked on these streets during New York’s peak immigration era.

Now this establishment sits alongside expensive boutiques and hip fusion restaurants in this trendy neighborhood where the rent has soared in recent years.

Learning by eating
And finally, I love when my customers have a great time but I also like people to feel they’ve learned a little something. Like, did you know that Neapolitan Express, part of the Food Truck and Cart Tour, is passionate about the environment? They not only want to serve you an insanely delicious slice of pizza, they also make a point of being eco-friendly by using only organic, non-GMO ingredients, and running their food trucks on natural gas fuel.

So, maybe you’re visiting New York from abroad, and a Nice Guy tour has totally changed your perception of American food and the history that goes with it.

Or you might have come from another American city and eaten a chicken Kati roll from Biryani Cart for the first time. I’ve even been known to introduce true blue New Yorkers to places they’ve never tried before.

Whoever you may be, I welcome you on a food walking tour with me, and I look forward to sharing my city—and some of New York’s incomparable food—with you!

Nice Guy's "Famous Chicarron!"

Jorge and his wife were visiting from Puerto Rico. Their daughters live in Connecticut and DC so the whole family was on the tour recently. At one point, Jorge and I were walking ahead of the group and he said to me "make sure you get my telephone number from my daughter so when you your wife come to Puerto Rico I make you my famous chicarron". What a nice guy!

Call it a Comeback

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So last year this young lady Kyla and her mom Heidi took my tour to celebrate her 13th birthday. They came back to celebrate her 14th birthday. I was so happy to see them and show them around. When I saw Kyla was wearing the T Shirt I gave her last year it touched my heart. So nice to see you guys again. Hope to see you soon