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May 20, 2008 10:28 AM

Places You Can't Walk By Without Getting Something

Ah, Manhattan: such a mixed-blessing. A city of incomparable variety and gastronomic splendor, with ten thousand different ways to satiate one's cravings, and an equal number of ways to swiftly drain one's bank account.

But more than the many fine restaurants that require dress attire, friends, and reservations to enjoy, it's the small, quick places that do me in: the bakeries, ice cream shops, delis, specialty markets, produce stands, and occasional street vendor. There are certain places in the city I can't walk by without stopping in to enjoy a quick treat and/or bring something home for later. It's for this reason that I often avoid Bleecker Street entirely during financially lean times.

It may be laughable, but the one place I simply cannot pass without getting something is... not a "place" at all. It's an ice-cream truck. Like a fat, giddy schoolboy, my eyes light up whenever I spot one of the dozens of blue and white Mr. Softee trucks that roam the city streets, peddling an assortment of summery soft serve concoctions that are to me the equivalent of crack cocaine. And like a well-conditioned Pavlovian pooch, the salivary glands kick into overdrive whenever I hear that obnoxious Mister Softee jingle heading my way. Remember Eddie Murphy's comedic riff on "the ice cream man coming to town" -- where kids would stop whatever they were doing and "lose their $#@! mind?" That's me. "ICE CREEEEAMMM!!"

Of course, it's not only Mister Softee.

I find it difficult to pass H&H Bagels without popping in to bring home at least a few of their warm, chewey beauties (and one to enjoy on the spot). And Zabar's next door? I can't walk by without stopping in for a quarter-pound of their delectable smoked salmon. Similarly, passing the Doughnut Plant and Kossar's Bialys means I'm going to lose a few dollars (and gain a few pounds).

I can't seem to walk through Chinatown without stopping every few feet to take advantage of bargain buys on bunches of Chinese broccoli, baby bok choi, asparagus, and tomatoes (so much less than my local grocer!). There's also a little Chinese bakery -- the name of which escapes me at the moment -- from which I absolutely have to stop in and get a yummy char siu bao (bbq pork bun).

Chinatown also has The Chinatown Ice Cream Factory (for a scoop of Amond Cookie - my favorite) and The Egg Custard King (for, well, egg custard tarts, naturally) -- two places that are sure to get my business if I'm in the area.

I won't burden you, dear reader, with the full list of places I find it hard to pass -- I'd be writing for the next half hour. But I am interested in yours. I think this may be a good way to turn people on to small treasures around the city.

So... which places do you find it hard to pass without stopping to buy something? Gelato at Grom? Cupcakes at Buttercup Bake Shop? A slice of pizza at Joe's? A couple of franks at Papaya Dog? A dosa from the Dosa Man cart? Something as ordinary as a venti mocha frappuccino at Starbucks (like my sister)?

Hit reply and share your favorites.. I expect I'll add a few of them to my own mile-long list!

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  1. Economy Candy, because someone I know will love what I buy.

    Il Laboratorio del Gelato.

    10 Replies
      1. re: Captain

        Yes, I've heard good things about both places.

        Does Economy Candy make their own candy, or is it a candy shop of brand-name items? What do you tend to get?

        Favorite flavors at Il Laboratorio del Gelato?

        1. re: sanangel

          yes, il lab is wonderful--toasted almond, toasted sesame, cinnamon, thai chile chocolate are favorites, but there are loads of great options.

          grandaisy bakery (though i prefer sullivan st, i pass grandaisy more)

          ronnybrook farms. no passing up their creamy peach yogurt drinks, even when it means hauling them around for far too long.

          don't even get me started on arthur ave--even if i intend to pick up just one specific thing, i *always* end up with ricotta from calabria pork store, pizza dough from madonia, fresh mozz from casa della mozzarella, and large ricotta ravioli from borgatti's

          1. re: rose water

            What do you find is the difference between granddaisy and sullivan st?

            1. re: Produce Addict

              Personally, I find the difference negligible. The separation didn't happen that long ago -- perhaps they will drift apart over time. But right now they appear to be using the exact same recipes.

            2. re: sanangel

              Not sure if Economy Cnady makes any of it's own candy, but I doubt it does. What I tend to buy are brands of candy that I know are basically pure sugar, because that is what my wife loves. So, pixy sticks, fun dip, smarties, spree, etc., etc. are good choices.

              My favorite flavors at Il Lab, probbaly cinnamon and pistachio.

              1. re: sanangel

                Economy Candy is a shop of brand-name items but the selection is GIANT. I always walk out of there with something different.

                1. re: kathryn

                  they do sell hand-dipped chocolates by the pound in a case by the cashier, but i don't know where they are made.

                2. re: sanangel

                  Ecomony Candy is the place to get the stuff you loved as a kid. Commercially made, but also good for some of the hard to locate things like violette candy etc.

              2. Pork pies at Myer's of Keswick. It's sick. Even if I've eaten already, I've been known to get them as dessert. They are "pies," after all. If they were to close, it would be like "Trainspotting" in my apartment.

                1 Reply
                1. re: JungMann

                  =D good thing you have a nice, healthy, geographic separation...

                2. i can't resist new (to me) restaurants / carts at all. i'm a sucker for the new and mysterious.

                  in the realm of the known foods... it's, ah, er...

                  ... those silly, overpriced masarepas from street fairs. i know i can make better at home, but the smell of grilled sweet corn masa and toasted cheese gets me every time.

                  1. Pastry shops. I can't stand to pass a pastry shop without getting something.

                    Blackhound, Financier, Payard, Andre's Cafe, it doesn't matter. If I pass it, I'm getting one.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: planojim

                      156 e 45
                      japanese rice balls..incredible..unique

                    2. Abraco - small espresso shop by my apartment. They have the best cured olive oil cookies (they're shortbread-like and salty). The ricotta filled pain perdu, olive oil loaf cake, and donuts are also hard to resist.

                      And if I see the Wafels and Dinges truck...look out!

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: kathryn

                        I cannot pass up an olive oil cookie from Abraco either. So good!! I always seem to stop and get a mini brownie from Tisserie in Union Square and a mini napoleon from Rocco's whenever I'm nearby.

                        I wish Doughnut Plant made mni stuff cause I always get a Tres Leches when I'm in the area :(