My New York City Trip: Part Two

Story and photo gallery by QUENTIN S. AGNELLO
Pima Post

Part Two

Friday, March 24

It was another day in The Big Apple. My parents, my step-sister and I, were staying in an Airbnb in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Despite the old and rugged feeling of the building, it became a comfortable haven from the frigid cold of the early mornings. 

My step-sister and her father were early risers, so they went and got coffee for us while we slept. Once everyone was awake, we decided on brunch at the Reunion Café. 

It was a short but harrowing walk to the café. Apparently, street fights are common throughout Manhattan. I witnessed my first one on the way to brunch. 

Two men broke out into a brawl for seemingly no reason. Within four seconds, the fight ended as both combatants withdrew. Both men walked off in the same direction as one said, “It’s too cold to fight.”

The Reunion was a wonderful place, albeit cramped. The mocha latte and breakfast pita plate were Israeli-style food, and they were nothing I had ever had. The harissa aioli made the staple food of scrambled eggs and bacon meld perfectly with the feta cheese.

After brunch, we bid farewell to my step-sister and met my aunt at Penn Station. She lived in NYC as a local for many years and knew of good places to go. 

The Blue Bottle Café was our first stop. I ordered a Chicory root latte from the spotless coffee shop. I had never tasted chicory root before, but it only added to the flavor of the coffee. It was a close match to pumpkin spice. 

It was interesting to witness the contrast of architectural styles in Greenwich Village, a.k.a. the Meatpacking District, Colonial-era churches stood next to mid-1920s high-rises. 

We strolled along the Highline, a decommissioned train rail that was repurposed into a walkway for tourists. It was surprisingly calm, with art and nature interweaving the path. It was serene compared to the city streets below. 

Later, we moseyed along Greenwich Village until we came upon The White Horse Tavern, a distinguished and clean-looking bar. To avoid the crowded barroom, we sat outside while we waited for drinks. 

The bar was famous for hosting Dylan Thomas, a famous Welsh author and poet who is best known for “Do not go gentle into the good night.” 

I ordered a mulled cider, which was a warm alcoholic cider with a symphony of flavors. I can not remember if the alcohol was rum or whiskey, but it had winter spices, apple cider and Galliano liqueur for more flavor and kick. 

After drinks were finished and bar nuts polished off, we hit the streets in search of some true New York Cuisine. Unfortunately, it seemed that the places that fit those descriptions were booked full on a Friday night. 

We continued our scouring until we happened upon New York University. It was a dawning realization that every building around Washington Square Park was owned and operated by NYU. 

In this park, I learned about nullified rules. Signs bordering the park said “No pets,” “No skating” or “No smoking.” Yet people were skating in and around the dried-up fountain. Spectators were gathered to watch, and the air was thick with smoke. There were even pop-up table vendors selling weed along with travel souvenirs and other baubles. 

Apparently, as long as no one is getting hurt and no damage to property is done, park visitors are allowed to continue their illicit activities unimpeded. Even the cops just held back and kept a watchful eye from a distance. As long as peace was upheld, there was no need to interfere.

Dinner was at La Lanterna di Vittorio. We were lucky to be seated within seconds on such a busy night. The dimly lit interior felt very small. However, the place had a distinctive flair that only a true Italian restaurant possesses.

Even the menu was partially in Italian, making ordering difficult. Despite being born to a Sicilian father, I did not have the knowledge to understand the language fluently. I ordered a Pizza con Prosciutto Arrostito, a personal 12-inch pizza. 

While waiting for our orders, an elderly man approached our table and began speaking. Saul Statman, 87, is a local resident of NYC who had a career on a local radio show. During an impromptu interview, he told me that La Lanterna had survived the pandemic when other businesses and restaurants had to close permanently. 

Unfortunately, my pizza was getting cold. So I had to leave Statman to his business. When I got the chance, I asked our hardworking server, Sophia Castelo, 27, about our surprise encounter with him. 

“He’s been a regular for decades … He’s a real ladies man,” she said. 

The way he held himself with such distinction now made sense.

Saturday, March 25

During our final day in NYC, we again made a group order for breakfast at the Simply Nova Jewish deli.

This time, I wanted to try a hot pastrami sandwich fresh from the deli. However, the deli did not open its hot food menu until the hot deli chef arrived at work. So, they called their man out of bed to show up early just for us.

It was well worth the effort. A melt-in-your-mouth pile of fresh pastrami stuffed in between two slices of bread. Garnished with some sauce and vegetables, it was the most divine sandwich I had on this whole trip.

Our main destination was Broadway to see the musical “Parade.” Our route took us through Times Square. This spot made the city feel so large and yet incredibly small. Businesses and billboards were woven together with streets and masses of people. 

Mind you, it was 42 degrees, and all sorts of odd characters were roaming the streets of Times Square. We were even ambushed by a horde of costumed characters attempting to take our money for “free” pictures.

We eventually arrived at the packed Broadway play that was “Parade.” Over 1,200 people packed into a cramped theater. Despite this, It was temperate, or rather warm compared to the outside. Drinks were offered at the bar below the seating area in lidded cups. I stuck to my decision of not drinking and enjoyed the play sober.

The parade was incredible in ways I could not accurately describe. The story is based on the real trial of Leo Frank. Frank was convicted in 1913 for the murder of a young girl. Whether or not the man was truly innocent, in the eyes of the state prosecutor and the people of Georgia, Frank was guilty.

Frank, played by Ben Platt, did an excellent job with his performance. Each character, including the side characters, had such a distinct presence each time they were on stage. 

One of the biggest undertones of this production and what sparked backlash was Southern pride and the injustices propagated to maintain it. Not just the aspects of historical or physical context, but the emotional and social biases that still occur in places like Georgia. 

The intention of the production was not to send a message or cast the limelight on a particular group. The entire show from start to finish felt more like a colorful recounting of a history as if you were a fly on the wall. It felt like a collage of facts, truths, emotions, morales, lies and doubts. 

My lesson from “Parade” was that no matter how hard we seek certainty in this chaotic world, some will never know it, because what is reason to one man is lunacy to another.

After that stunning performance, we braved the New York winds again to hail a taxi. After some time and one warm taxi ride, we made our way to Little Italy’s restaurant street.

For our last meal in NYC, we chose Parm, a classic New York-Italian diner. Despite the 30-minute wait in the cold, we were the lucky ones who got a table before the dinner rush. 

This time, I craved an Italian Meatball Hero, a.k.a. a meatball sub.This was a good decision, because even though Parm was cramped, its meatball subs were to die for.

There are many words to describe New York. Massive yet small, beautiful yet repugnant, brand new yet ancient. It felt like a metropolis like no other.

I do not think this will be my only visit to the Big Apple.