A New York food pilgrimage from Katz to lobsters

by Forager on July 21, 2011

Being “The Tourist” is usually an unsavoury concept for those who deem themselves as worldly and widely travelled. They are words that are spat out with arrogant contempt and unbridled pity when you’re in the know and count hole-in-the-wall joints and speak easy underground bars amongst your “local hangouts” and are on first name terms with the cheeky barrista at the corner cafe.

But before we hang The Tourist out to dry, there is a time and place to assume the despised tourist role too – most appropriately, when visiting somewhere like New York for the first time.  You’d be forgiven for bypassing the glitzy touristy cafe flanked by large tourist buses in another city or town in preference for somewhere more quaint and local, but having long read and heard about iconic New York foodie spots from friends, family, press articles and travel shows, it would seem silly to not find out what the fuss is all about. So, we devised a gustatory pilgrimage that would allow us to tackle as many iconic albeit touristy foodie spots as possible and have it culminate in a luxurious picnic spread in Central Park. With the plan in place, it was time to get our walking shoes on and start collating our picnic!

First, before we could begin to tackle the task at hand, we needed energy for our mission. And I fervently believe that gorging yourself on a coma-inducing, gargantuan amount of cold cuts slathered in sauerkraut is the perfect energy booster. That’s right, we’re starting the pilgrimage with Katz’s Deli.

1. Katz’s Deli

Anyone who has been to New York will inevitably recommend Katz’s Deli. At all hours it seems to be crammed to the hilt with tourists and locals alike all jostling for precious counter space and a chance to order their famous sandwiches. But a sandwich is a misleading term for the dozens of layers of deliciously slow roasted cold cuts, slathered in additional condiments, that are well – sandwiched – between 2 slices of bread.  It was at once a sight to make my inner glutton purr with Pavlovian delight and make my inner health-conscious scientist tut disapprovingly at the amount of meat I was about to ingest.

Whilst standing in line, we struck up a conversation with a New York local who’d just returned to New York after a 6 year stint interstate – and they’d made a beeline for Katz’s to satisfy their 6 year roast beef on rye craving. With such endorsement, we had to try it – with a splodge of mustard and tartare relish. It was delicious, and as expected, disgustingly filling. Although the one sandwich between the two of us was more than sufficient, we couldn’t bypass the signature pastrami reuben sandwich smothered in cheese and sauerkraut that was at once meaty, savoury, and juicy with molten cheese and moist, tangy sauerkraut. And for the record, no, I couldn’t get my mouth around that tower of meat sandwich. The complimentary helping of enormous pickles was a welcome tart touch and appetite lifter but we thought could have had a stronger more pickled punch to them. They seemed only par pickled. The only recourse was to find better pickles direct from the experts.

Katz's Deli, where Harry met Sally, pastrami on rye

The never ending queues at Katz's Deli for their mammoth sandwiches and that infamous table where Harry met Sally.

Katz's Deli, Pastrami Reuben, sauerkraut, swiss cheese, dressing

Katz's Deli's Pastrami Reuben on rye - layered hot smoked Pastrami with sauerkraut, Swiss cheese and a creamy dressing

Katz's Deli, Roast beef sandwich, rye

Katz's Deli's roast beef sandwich on rye

2. The Pickle Guys

The unmistakable scent of pickles – that familiar, slightly acrid, nose prickling acidity will hit you before you lay your eyes on the bulging red barrels containing a rainbow assortment of pickles. I love indulging my sour receptors and have been known to demolish whole jars of cornichons in a sitting. This was my candy store equivalent and the staff at The Pickle Guys were only too accommodating to my pickle habit doling out generous tastings from the barrels of behemoth pickled sour and hot gherkins, olives, cherry tomatoes – everything and anything, pickled and bobbing around in some variety of mustard, coriander, chilli or dill seed pickling marinades. We left with a quart of mixed gherkin pickles and some tasty clove and chilli sweet pickled pineapples.

The Pickle Guys, New York

The Pickle Guys - pickles galore: gherkins, capsicum, spiced pineapples, cherry tomatoes, olives, turnips and more

3. Russ & Daughters

No New York tourist trail would be complete without a trip to an appetizing store and the most famous of these is undoubtedly, Russ & Daughters, a 4th generation business that started very humbly, with Joel Russ selling Polish mushrooms on strings trying to make enough money to buy a push cart.

Russ & Daughters, Polish mushrooms on a string

Mushrooms on strings hanging in the shop window at Russ & Daughters - a reminder of the store's humble beginnings

The term “appetizing” is one commonly used amongst the strong New York Jewish contingent. It is used as a noun to describe kosher bagel accompaniments – so ‘appetizings’ includes lox or smoked salmon, cream cheese spreads, whitefish and dairy products. We collected a good cross section of their appetizings, including 4 types of smoked salmon; caviar and cream cheese spreads; chopped liver spread; prized new catch Holland herrings with chopped onion (consumed by dangling above your gullet by the tail for maximum hedonistic pleasure); wasabi infused flying fish roe and of course, lots of bagels.

The appetizing counter at Russ & Daughters New York

The tempting appetizing counter at Russ & Daughters.. what to buy..

Appetizings, lox smoked salmon, cream cheese spreads, new catch Holland herrings, whitefish

Appetising appetizings (left to right): lox (smoked salmon); cream cheese spreads & flying fish roe; new catch Holland herrings; instructions on how to enjoy the new catch Holland herrings; smoked and dried fish; salads and more spreads; and marinated whitefish

The store clerk looked on dubiously as we ordered one item after another. When we asked him whether we had enough for a picnic for two he just laughed at our gluttony.

Russ & Daughters, New York

Starting our picnic package at Russ & Daughters

4. Murray’s Cheese Shop

The dearth of readily available raw milk cheeses in Australia is good reason to eat your fill of them when you leave the zealously controlled dairy standards on Australian shores. Murray’s Cheese Shop is the United Nations of the cheese world – the display counters are crammed with delicious cheese specimens from all over the world. With the staff’s help we sampled judiciously until we settled on 2 types of raw milk cheeses: Scharfe Maxx, a raw cow’s milk cheese from Hatswil, Thurgau, Switzerland; Tomme de chevre Aydius, a raw goat’s milk cheese from Pyrénées-Atlantique, Aquitaine, France and Tickler Cheddar, a strong bitey English cheddar from Devon. With good intentions to leave, we spotted the prosciutto and decided our picnic had to be expanded to include a few thin rashers of prosciutto and because no one can have enough pickles, some pickled mixed mushrooms and antipasto.

Murrays Cheese Shop, New York

Murrays Cheese Shop - something to please everything cheese lover

Heaving under the weight of our shopping, we trundled on to Chelsea Markets where we’d find the centrepiece of our picnic spread.

5. The Lobster Place

Having perused through the fresh produce in Chinatown and seen how very affordable lobster was in the States compared to Australia, I was determined not to leave New York without having first gorged myself silly on disgustingly excessive quantities of the delectable crustacean. But staying in an apartment with few cooking utensils & even fewer ingredients at my disposal meant cooking the lobster ourselves was not practical. So the Co-pilot led me to Chelsea Markets, an enormous converted warehouse space in the Meatpacking District of New York. The original warehouse structure has been retained, with brick, pipes and metal abound, but refitted to fit in a plethora of food and clothing stores – and the throngs of people these stores bring. Inside we found the Lobster Place where the sight of enormous clams, crabs, oysters and of course lobsters had me darting around the store pointing excitedly and strategising ways in which we could eat as much of the store as possible.

The Lobster Place, Chelsea Markets, fish fillets; bottarga, squid ink, caviar

The Lobster Place - a very impressive array of all things seafood. Massive oysters, clams and mussels; the best variety of ready made marinated fish fillets; bottarga and squid ink and caviar - under lock and key

But given it’s namesake, we were here for lobsters and lobsters they delivered in spades. There was none of this stringy-bits-of-lobster-you-need-a-microscope-to-spot business, or pieces of coloured seafood extender masquerading as expensive crustacean. Whole cooked lobsters were a mere USD$11.95/lb (or about 0.5kg)! So affordable was the lobster that generous fleshy chunks of lobster adorned sushi rolls or you could get a lobster roll jampacked with lobster meat. At the lobster bay at the back of the store we spotted staff casually shelling lobsters, filling a giant pan piled high with succulent pink chunks of freshly cooked lobster meat. If I’d been able to get any closer and had that staff member not been wielding a very large sharp knife, he might have looked away and looked back to find me looking as innocent as possible when one’s cheeks are crammed full of stolen lobster.

Lobsters galore at the Lobster Place, Chelsea Markets, New York

Lobsters galore.. they have them fried, steamed, in rolls, shucked and dressed...

Gigantic Maine lobsters stared at us from their tank enclosures and we stared back hungrily. To satisfy this lobster craving we decided only a 4 pound beast would do. Once bought, it was freshly steamed to order and conveniently prepared for easy access lobster gorging. That’s 4 pounds+ or about 2kg, for AUD$44. No wonder they can afford to make lobster rolls and burgers here. This was promising to be a picnic to remember.

Our Lobster, Lobster Place, Chelsea Markets

Our Lobster - all 4 pounds of him

6. Chelsea Wine Vault

We passed by the Chelsea Wine Vault after leaving The Lobster Place and realised that this picnic could still be improved. What better to top off a picnic of lobster, caviar spreads, cheese, smoked salmon, bagels, prosciutto and pickles than a bottle of French Champagne. Like many other products, alcoholic drinks are much cheaper in the states and was a good opportunity to indulge in a nice Champagne at half the price we’re accustomed to in Sydney. Though the Moët and Veuve Clicquot were comparably priced, we preferred the Pol Roger – chilled on demand (it takes a mere 5 minutes) whilst we perused the store, driven semi-insane by the sweet wafting aroma of warm steamed lobster.

7. Central Park

After almost a full morning’s picnic foraging spanning East Village, Lower East Side, West Village and the Meatpacking District we were finally satisfied that we’d collected enough food for our picnic for two (or ten). We made our way to Central Park and having explored the park before, the Co-pilot had just the spot in mind – Sheep Meadow – a pleasant clearing between 66th and 69th on the west side of the park. It was a hot day and New Yorkers were out soaking up the sun.

Sheep Meadow in Central Park

Sheep Meadow in Central Park

Our New York food pilgrimage picnic spread

Our New York food pilgrimage picnic spread

squirrel, central park, new york

A curious squirrel looks on and contemplates a picnic heist

We unbundled our packages and lay our picnic spread out to the gape jawed stares of nearby onlookers. And that was before we revealed the lobster. It was certainly a picnic to remember – not least of all because the Co-pilot proposed! I can’t say I expected it at that very moment, I was a little absorbed in the important task of photographing the impressive spread before me before I realised that the conversation had turned to something a little more significant than eating an obscene amount of lobster.

And it might have been our subsequent mood, but it did all taste sinfully good. We started with a toast of Champagne, and a few polite nibbles of cheese – all so robust in flavour; gloriously tender and oily slivers of smoked salmon, bites of bagels with whitefish and salmon spread and topped with wasabi flavoured flying fish roe – the flavours of the wasabi complementing the whitefish so well; and pickles to provide respite from the rich and buttery flavours. Then because we could abstain no longer, we descended upon the lobster and devoured it, savouring each and every bulging mouthful with groans of delight. To be very fair, we thought the Australian lobsters we’re accustomed to were indeed superior in flavour, but there’s something to be said for the sheer pleasure of being able to easily afford and gorge on Maine lobsters.

The picnic components and the obligatory lobster handshake

The picnic components - lobster, Champagne, smoked salmon, pickles, cheeses, whitefish, cream cheese and caviar spreads, bagels and the obligatory lobster handshake

Champagne, lobster and caviar – the Co-pilot does know how to impress me.

8. Rockerfeller Center

To get a good spatial sense of  New York city our tourist pilgrimage led us to a high vantage point for sweeping views of the city. Being fans of the 30 Rock show, we couldn’t bypass a visit to the Top of the Rock at the Rockefeller Center. New York is certainly a large sprawling city with an impressive yet very familiar skyline. I’d appreciated the size of Central Park before, but seeing it from this view really emphasizes just how large it is! What a stroke of forward thinking town planning genius to keep this green oasis protected from development!

The view from the Top of the Rock over Central Park

The view from the Top of the Rock looking south over Central Park

Top of the Rock, Empire State Building

The view from the Top of the Rock looking north towards the Empire State Building with apocalyptic weather encroaching

9. The High Line

With the soft afternoon sun keeping the ominous clouds at bay we just fit in a walk on The High Line. The High Line was originally built in the 1930s and served to transpose the trains and freight transport of the day off the streets and 30 feet into the air, creating more streamlined transport and traffic. But The High Line had been defunct and not in commission since 1980. Instead of demolishing it or letting it languish in a bureaucratic tangle of red tape, overgrown weeds and scenic eyesores, Friends of The Highline, a community-based non profit group formed in 1999 and with the city helped preserve and transform The High Line into a public park. The resulting park is a welcome and surprisingly peaceful green escape from the surrounding concrete with locals and tourists sauntering along the path, lounging on the grass or on sun chairs, or admiring the many varieties of plants and flowers, many of which were in brilliant colourful bloom when we were there – and everyone was clearly enjoying the park. There might be hope yet for the derelict complex that is White Bay power station – I’m really hoping it turns into Sydney’s version of a hybrid High Line and Chelsea Markets!

The High Line, New York, 30 feet in the air

The High Line - a park transformed from overgrown weeds 30 feet in the air

Foraging on The High Line, hand shaved ice, juneberries

Foraging for food on The High Line - hand shaved ice cones or hand picked juneberries

To make a warm summery walk on The High Line even more pleasant, there are vendors selling snacks, drinks and even old fashioned shaved ice, hand shaved and flavoured with plum and basil syrup. And though not even many New York locals would know it, you can forage even here amongst the concrete jungle with an abundance of Juneberries that were just ripening when we were there! Juneberries look similar to blueberries, bearing a crown and bright red or blue/purple skin with white to pale yellow flesh beneath. These berries pack an amazingly sweet burst of flavour and nutrients and used to be commercially available in markets, but have long since fallen off the food radar – all the more for foragers in the know (although picking of plants or flowers is actually prohibited on The High Line)! I discovered these berries when scouring Wildman Steve Brill’s site on foraging and almost, almost even managed to participate in his foraging tour of Central Park as there is apparently plenty of foraging fodder there from Juneberries to mulberries, day lilies and mushrooms to burdock roots – all right in the heart of one of the world’s commercial powerhouses! Sadly though, the weather took a dramatic turn and sunny days hitting 40 degrees Celsius turned to rain and highs of 15 degrees Celsius – the pelting rain dashing away my hopes for foraging in New York.

But there’s always next time (and I will make certain there will be a ‘next time’). So with our New York food pilgrimage to all the iconic New York highlights now complete, we could afford to turn our attention to the New York  insider venues and find out what the locals were excited about.

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Addresses:

Katz’s Deli

(Lower East Side) 205 East Houston Street (corner of Ludlow St), New York

Tel:(212) 254-2246 or 1-800-4HOTDOG

Open Mon–Tues 8am-9:45pm; Wed-Thurs 8am-10:45pm; Fri-Sat 8am -2:45am; Sun 8am – 10:45pm

http://katzsdelicatessen.com
Katz's Deli on Urbanspoon

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The Pickle Guys

(Lower East Side) 49 Essex Street, New York

Tel: (212) 656-9739

Open Sun-Thurs 9am-6pm; Fri 9am-4pm; Sat – closed

More locations listed on website: www.pickleguys.com
The Pickle Guys on Urbanspoon

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Russ & Daughters

179 East Houston Street, New York

Tel: (212) 475-4880 or (800) RUSS-229 from outside the NY tri-state area; email: i...@russanddaughters.com

Open Mon–Fri 8am–8pm; Sat 9am–7pm; Sun 8am–5:30pm

http://russanddaughters.com
Russ & Daughters on Urbanspoon

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Murray’s Cheese Shop

254 Bleecker Street (between 6th & 7th Ave.), New York

Tel:(212) 243-3289 or 888.MY.CHEEZ

Open Mon-Sat 8am-8pm; Sun 10am-7pm

More locations listed on website: www.murrayscheese.com
Murray's Cheese on Urbanspoon

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Lobster Place

Chelsea Market, 75 Ninth Avenue at 16th Street, New York

Tel: (212) 255-5672, option 2

Open Mon-Sat 9:30am-8pm; Sun 10am-7pm

More locations listed on website: http://lobsterplace.com
Lobster Place on Urbanspoon

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Chelsea Wine Vault

Chelsea Market, 75 Ninth Avenue at 16th Street, New York

Tel: (212) 462-4244; email: i...@chelseawinevault.com

Open Mon-Sat 10am-8pm; Sun 12pm-7pm

www.chelseawinevault.com

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Sheep Meadow, Central Park

West side/mid park from 66th to 69th Streets, New York

Open from May – mid October

www.centralpark.com/guide/attractions/sheep-meadow.html

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Top of the Rock Observation Deck

30 Rockefeller Plaza, entrance on 50th Street, New York

Tel: (212) 698-2000

Open daily 8am-12 midnight (last elevator goes up at 11pm)

www.rockefellercenter.com

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The High Line

West Side from Gansevoort Street in the Meatpacking District to West 34th Street, between 10th & 11th Avenues.

Section 1 of the High Line, runs from Gansevoort Street to West 20th Street. The newly opened Section 2, between West 20th and West 30th Streets.

Tel: (212) 500-6035

Open daily 7am to 11pm. Last entrance to the park is at 10:45pm

www.thehighline.org


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{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Sam Buchanan July 22, 2011 at 7:50 am

Looks beautiful and tasty. Nice one!

2 Tina@foodboozeshoes July 22, 2011 at 10:31 am

OMG – congratulations Trina!!! (I take it you accepted…?)
What a proposal! He sure seems to know the way to your heart (lobsters and champagne)!

Fantastic tour of NY eats – will be most helpful for my own planning :)
Tina@foodboozeshoes recently posted..Just a little: Red Chilli Hot Pot RestaurantMy Profile

3 Louise T July 22, 2011 at 10:53 am

Hey Trina, thought I’d log in to see where your food adventures have taken you. And what do I find first, NYC! Great blog, will make sure to follow some of your footsteps on my next visit. I also loved the Oyster Bar at Grand Central Station where just outside, there is the whispering gallery. Two people can stand across the diagonal arching pillars and speak to each other through whispering into the wall. Acoustics. Always found that pretty cool.

4 Gaby July 22, 2011 at 10:56 am

Congratulations! I can’t imagine a better setting for that magical moment :) Sandwiches at Katz have the perfect so-bad-but-so-good look, even I would surrender and eat at least half.
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5 Reemski July 22, 2011 at 1:31 pm

Woohoo! What a proposal!!! Congratulations to you both! xxxxx
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6 Richard Elliot July 22, 2011 at 3:06 pm

Firstly, congratulations!

Secondly, …..is there even a secondly? I’m not sure any piffling comments about food are even wothwhile after such big news!

I’m pleased you have the same views on the rather poor pickles at Katz’s that I do. For all the theatre, great exprience and awesome sandwiches that a visit to Katz’s is. The pickles are dreadful compared to virtually every other deli pickle I had in NYC.

It made me smile that you talked up the cheese. When I was in NY I had arrived from living n Europe and I thought the cheese was pretty bad. Sure there are some good delis (very expensive compare to Europe), but the general standard is provolone and cheese in a can!

I never knew about High Line until I read your blog. A shame as it looks really good.
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7 nic@diningwithastud July 22, 2011 at 4:49 pm

Best. Picnic. Ever!!!! :) I cant wait to go to New York – Im itching!
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8 kay@Chopstix2steaknives July 22, 2011 at 7:34 pm

Congratulations…NY trip is definitely one that holds a lot of significance!
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9 Simon Food Favourites July 23, 2011 at 2:24 pm

OMG wish i knew about that Lobster Place when I went last year :-)
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10 Sara (Belly Rumbles) July 23, 2011 at 9:57 pm

Picnic in Central Park, what a wonderful idea with all the magnificent food goodies. I was there in winter and it was an abandoned snow covered frozen pond kinda place.
Sara (Belly Rumbles) recently posted..A magical lunch at Lotus, Abracadabra!My Profile

11 Adrian (Food Rehab) July 24, 2011 at 2:59 pm

Now, that’s what I call a picnic. A mega picnic! I wish I was a food blogger when I went to NY back on 06…so I could plan the trip around food! The photos are just incredible…takes me back.
Eating pastrami on rye in central park – miss this the most.
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12 mademoiselle délicieuse July 25, 2011 at 11:26 am

Friends of mine went to New York over a year ago and, i think, pretty much visited all of your listed places here. It is also a very special place to them as they returned married! And on that note, congratulations on your engagement =)

Love the shot of the lobster looking like it’s trying to escape from the bowl, and I really can’t believe the prices. No wonder there are food trucks selling lobster rolls!
mademoiselle délicieuse recently posted..Hunter Escape: Leaves & FishesMy Profile

13 Keely aka The Richest Girl in Bondi July 25, 2011 at 2:36 pm

Congratulations on your engagement! So exciting! I couldn’t think of a more perfect way to be proposed to – in New York and eating lobster (beats getting down on one knee during a baseball game any day!). I love your idea of a mammoth Central Park picnic and wish I had of thought of that when I was there.
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14 Vivian - vxdollface July 25, 2011 at 10:37 pm

Omg everything looks absolutely delicious and how fabulous to have a gourmet picnic hehe

15 Luke July 26, 2011 at 10:35 am

Congratulations ! I fell in love with the Katz’s Deli’s Pastrami Reuben on rye sandwich ! Looks like a bomb!
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16 Bonnibella July 27, 2011 at 4:49 am

Congrats girly! What a fitting proposal for you guys while indulging in an incredible pinic spread. I love how you guys jumped from store to store to pick up the best products. I must use this food route whenever in NYC. Congrats again!

17 Tori @eat-tori July 28, 2011 at 3:36 am

CONGRATULATIONS! Now that’s a great engagement story ( and I love the sneaky bottle of Pol Roger in the background too- my favourite).
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18 Triglycerides Levels August 1, 2011 at 2:33 am

Hi Forager,

Just to make my comment simple:

Lobsters = Mouth watering

Even though they are pricey, I’ll definitely buy those :D

Regards,
Vins
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19 Forager August 12, 2011 at 11:46 pm

Hey Sambo – Thanks! :)

Hey Tina – Thank you! And yes, I did accept! Yes, hope this is helpful &, there is so so much more to come!

Hey Louise – Ah, the Co-pilot told me about the Oyster Bar and it was on our list, but sadly, we didn’t make it there. Too many places to eat! Next time!

Hey Gaby – Thank you! And yes, those Katz’s sandwiches were the ultimate guilt food but so tasty!

Hey Reemski – Thank you lady!

Hey Richard – Thank you! hehe aw shucks, all these congratulations are making me blush! As for the cheese- well, for a European come on, of course you’re more spoilt! Murrays I gather is different to the other general cheese stores. I thought they only had orange cheese!

Hey Nic – You and me alike! I can’t wait to get back!

Hey Kay – Thanks – and yes, now a very special place for us. Oh, you mean the proposal not the food? hehe..

Hey Simon – Oh it was soooo good Simon, so good.

Hey Sara – It was only missing a picnic blanket I reckon. Otherwise, pretty well happy with how it turned out really..

Hey Adrian – Ah, how much of a difference being a blogger would have made. It definitely has made me change my holiday planning.

Hey mademoiselle delicieuse – Thank you! Ah, might have been a good idea for us to have returned married too! But, all the more reason to head back, if just to eat more cheap lobster!

Hey Keely – Thank you! And as for the picnic – there’s always next time – as if you’re not going back to NY again! Who can resist?

Hey Vivian – Definitely a very efficient way to guzzle lots of yummy food!

Hey Luke – Thank you -and boy, I could definitely do with another of those Reubens. They were incredible!

Hey Bonnibella – Thank you so much! :) I can’t say I’d planned this amazing picnic, so kudos to the Co-pilot!

Hey Tori – Thank you!! Yes, a pretty fitting scenario for us. Who needs a ring when you have a lobster?

Hey Triglycerides Levels – Well, you take the cake for weirdest name I’ve written on the post! But agree, lobsters = mouth watering. Wise.

20 Dressed and Eaten August 24, 2011 at 9:54 am

Great post! Definitely saving a copy of this post. Hoping to go later this year. Everything looks amazing.
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21 john@heneedsfood August 25, 2011 at 11:23 am

I swear, I’ve now read this post three times over the last month and never tire of it. Can’t wait to try a few of these places myself in, say, three weeks time! So excited!

22 Karen October 7, 2011 at 2:00 pm

Congrats! What a fitting proposal for you guys while indulging in an incredible pinic spread. I love how you guys jumped from store to store to pick up the best products. I must use this food route whenever in NYC. Congrats again!
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