Monthly Archives: March 2017

Day Sixty-Nine: Walking SoHA in Morningside Heights March 3rd-March 30th, 2017 from 125th Street-110th Street from Riverside Drive to Fredrick Douglas Boulevard

What a difference a week makes! I started the first part of my walking project last Friday night when it was 73 degrees outside and just spectacular. People had been out in the parks with their strollers and dogs and kids were playing sports all over the park even into twilight. Now it was about 43 degrees and back to being winter. The kids who were on their winter break really lucked out. They had a week of unseasonable weather to enjoy.

I started this part of the walk on Morningside Drive walking up the hill facing the park. It is some walk but I am sure in warmer weather it would be a lot more pleasant. You really do get your exercise walking this part of the neighborhood. Going up and down hills can take a lot out of you. What I liked best of this part of SoHA was the architecture. It had a combination of college campus appeal with the classroom buildings, the quad and the dorms mixed in with the pre-war buildings which have been renovated back to their original beauty.

I think the appeal of Morningside Heights is the college atmosphere mixed into the urban setting and the fact that the area is so much safer than it was even ten years ago. This is not the urban campus of my father and my cousin, who are both Alumnus of the school.

Even in the middle of winter, the warm weather has done strange things to Mother Nature and the park was starting to bud and bloom a month and a half early. As I walked up and down Morningside Drive, I took a walking tour of the park for a second time. This ice-aged formed park really has a beauty to it when you look up close. The rock formations mixed in with the steps and the flowers peaking up and starting to bloom early adds to the grace of the park. The park just needed some TLC.

The park is full of long paths through the rock formations and offer nice views of the neighborhood below. There are several paths that go up and down the hills so be prepared to walk. By the pond toward the middle of the park, there is an interesting statue by artist Alfred Seligman ‘The Bear and the Fawn’ with a little bear overlooking a fawn playing his flute. The detail work is beautiful and the statue is one of those things you would miss if you did not walk the length of the park. When it was a working fountain, it must have really graced the park. I walked up and down the paths and stairs before I exited the park at 110th Street.

I walked around 110th Street to Amsterdam Avenue and walked up past the Cathedral of St. John the Divine and walked around the church and its gardens and statuary.  Down the long paths of plantings and around the bends of the property, I came across another interesting statue. At the center of the park, there is a breathtaking statue  called the “Children’s Fountain”, which shows a unusual look at the battle between good and evil. Really take some time to look over this statue and its detail work with all the animals, demons and angels. You have to see the figures from all sides to see all the characters in their stances and how it works into the battle of the forces. It is a very powerful statement of good conquering evil. On a warm summer day, it must be a beautiful park. It is a tough call now at the end of the winter.

Walking up Amsterdam Avenue, you hit the heart of Columbia University that runs from 114th Street to about 120th Streets. For pretty much the rest of the neighborhood until you hit 125th Street, this area is all geared to the university. The area is graced with graceful old buildings, some the turn of the last century and many pre-war apartment buildings on the side streets.

The best is when you walk to 116th Street and that leads you in the Quad in the main part of the Columbia campus. This bustling area by the library was full of students who were socializing and sunning themselves on the warmer days. During the breaks from class, the students flooded the streets looking for something to eat or running back to their residence halls.

Outside the entrance to the Quad, just above 116th Street, there are several food trucks at night that cater to the Asian students offering Chinese, Japanese and Thai food. Take a serious stop and try the food. I had a delicious ‘pork sandwich’ that was chopped roast port on a steamed bun for $4.00, a nice treat after a long walk and I was able to eat it in the Quad. It could have used a little sauce to it but it was still loaded with pork and was a nice size. This steaming chopped pork sandwich was just one of the items that were offered at a very reasonable price to the students. There are noodle dishes and dumplings all around the $3.00-$7.00 range and at lunch and dinner the lines can get quite long. Bring cash.

Amsterdam Avenue like its counterpart neighborhood by the CUNY campus is dotted with great restaurants and coffee shops that cater to both the locals and the students alike.  I had concluded my first day walking the Morningside Heights neighborhood that evening with dinner at V & T Pizzeria, a local eating establishment located at 1024 Amsterdam Avenue. It is the typical red sauce Italian-American restaurant that you would expect from Little Italy not from uptown.

The food was really good (see review on TripAdvisor). I had a house salad with a creamy Italian dressing that was typical for an old-fashioned restaurant with the iceberg lettuce and chopped tomatoes but still good. I was in the mood after a long walk for a meatball hoagie. The sandwich was huge! The only problem was that the meatballs were not that good. I mean they were big and had a nice sauce but the meatballs were average with not that flavor. It was disappointing but the other food coming out looked good, so it will give a reason to come back another time.

I continued up Amsterdam Avenue touring up the sides of both the campus and the edge of the neighborhood that lined the park and you get to see the transition of the area by 123rd Street when you see the General Grant Housing Project, a huge complex that lines the edge of the neighborhood between 123rd Street to 125th Street from Broadway to Morningside Drive.  This complex as nice as it looks from the outside has its share of problems on the inside. I had to walk through the complex a couple of times when walking through 124th Street extension and when I was walking the length of LaSalle Street to Amsterdam Avenue and no problems. It looks like a complex in Miami Beach.

It is in this area the new extension of Columbia University is taking place between 125th Street and 135th Street along Broadway across from the projects. Once those buildings open this summer that will completely change this part of the neighborhood bringing more students up to this part of the area and all the restaurants along the Broadway stop of the 1 Train and along this part of 125th Street will start to change as you are seeing it now. Old bodegas and cut rate restaurants that catered to the people in the projects are now changing to more upscale restaurants, bars, coffee shops and shops. Broadway alone has three Starbucks and they were all full the entire time I walked the neighborhood. There are some serious changes it will make to this part of Morningside Park.

Walking down Broadway really puts you into the heart of the neighborhood and through the campus. Everything here pretty much caters to the college and the faculty and students. All the restaurants have their own uniqueness to them with the Columbia symbol prominently  displayed on the windows. I found it is nice to get take out and sit in the Quad and eat while watching the students. Two days into touring the area the weather was around 60 degrees so it was nice to eat outside and relax and see the world go by. Reality set in as the winter weather set back in and it was 34 degrees again and back inside I went.

It was a quick walk up Claremont Avenue, the heart of Barnard College, the girl’s school of the college. This is area is being rebuilt and sandblasted as the college is expanding into the neighborhood. Most of the buildings between here and Riverside Avenue are filled with prewar apartments and student housing. Just be aware to prepare to walk on the street as some of the sidewalks are closed off. When it is all done it is going to look even more beautiful with the new buildings and renovations so close to Riverside Park, which in itself was a nice walk during the summer months.

As I walked the upper streets of the neighborhood, you can see more money is being put into the parks and historical parks in this part of the city. Sakura Park,  which is lined with flowering trees still in winter hibernation, are beginning to see the first sign of spring as the buds are bursting early. On the warm days, there were a lot of students studying or playing games. The park is dedicated to the Japanese in parts with a giant Japanese Lantern Statue  by the International Building that is quite detailed.

This park leads into Riverside Park and the newly renovated Grant’s Tomb. This area for years was over-grown and vandalized with the decline of the neighborhood, which is no longer the case. The tomb has been sandblasted back to its original beauty and when I passed it over the summer was lined with American flags. It is only open at certain times of the week, so plan accordingly. Next to Grant’s Tomb is a small monument called the Tomb of the Amiable Child, which should not be missed. On the path close to the park, you will see this small marble urn surrounded by fencing. It is a somber site for a small child who died in the are in the 1700’s (See my site ‘VisitingaMuseum’ for more details on the site).

Riverside Park I was able to walk over the summer and got a feel for how beautiful the park really is as it hugs the Hudson River. It is a great place to jog, ride a bike or picnic. It has gotten more popular over the years as the park has improved itself with more TLC from the community. The Friends of Riverside Park have done a nice job raising funds and awareness for the care of the park and it shows in the plantings and paths that have improved over the years. In the warm months, the place is in full bloom and with the view of the Hudson River the look is quite spectacular.

When walking the lower streets of the neighborhood on the west side of the park is full of prewar apartments and resident halls for the students as well as buildings that cater to the university. I don’t think there was one bad street on this side of the park. The area is very self-contained for the university and the buildings have an ‘old New York’ feel about them being built at the turn of the last century.

For the blocks between 111th Street to about 120th Street west of Morningside Park it is all about the university with class space and offices and a small Greek Row in the middle of the neighborhood. On the Claremont Avenue section of the neighborhood just west of Riverside Park is where Barnard College, the Woman’s College of Columbia is located and is expanding. More buildings are going up or being added to as the University expands.

This expansion continues in the area above Tiemann Place near the edge of the park and the river. The University is building a new ‘glass box’ section of campus between 125th and 133rd Streets along the river and the buildings should open up within the year. That is changing the whole complexity of the neighborhood around 125th Street in this part of the neighborhood. The upper reaches of Broadway and Amsterdam Avenue’s as well as this section of 125th Street between Marginal Street to Amsterdam Avenue is either getting new restaurants and shops that are catering to the college students or are being knocked down or renovated to cater to the changing population once those four buildings open up across the street from the housing projects.

For lunch that afternoon, I ate at Koronet Pizza at 2848 Broadway for a jumbo slice of pizza (see review on TripAdvisor). This slice is pizza is HUGE and could feed two hungry people very easily. The jumbo slice is part of an 32″ pizza and the pizza was delicious. It has a very flavorful and spicy tomato sauce and uses a good amount and quality of cheese. It took a awhile to devour that delicious slice of pizza. The restaurant attracts a nice mix of neighborhood people, college students and professors and has a good ‘family feel’ about it.

On the tip of the neighborhood between LaSalle Street and 125th Street are the Morningside Apartments and the General Grant Houses, which both look more like mixed income apartment buildings than public housing. I really toured the area on this trip. The area landscaping and playgrounds are much better than most housing projects that I have seen in the city and they look better taken care of than most of the housing projects in this area of the city.

This corner of the neighborhood is also home to various small parks such as The West Harlem Piers Park at 125th Street and Riverside Park with benches and paths for walking and enjoying the views of the Hudson River and the cliffs of New Jersey. This is a great area in the summer to listen to music or watch the sun set. The St. Clair Rose Garden is right off St. Clair Place by the underpass and steps leading to Grant’s Tomb. It will be nice to see how this garden looks in the summer months.

As I travelled east along 124th Street, I walked the island from west to east and it does change from one side of the island to the other. I crossed the boundaries of Morningside Heights to SoHA to Spanish Harlem and you can see the difference from block to block.

Pretty much the blocks west of Fifth Avenue are a mix of pre-war apartment buildings, turn of the last century brownstones and new pocket apartment buildings with a mix of small neighborhood gardens in between the buildings.

On my third day of the walk around the neighborhood, I was able to walk the streets between 124th Street to 120th Street west of Mount Morris (Marcus Garvey) Park. This area between Mount Morris Park West to Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard (7th Avenue) is the Mount Morris Historical District, which is full of beautiful and graceful brownstones which are carefully bring renovated. A good portion of the neighborhood is under scaffolding (as most of Harlem and Washington Heights has been) as the buildings are being restored by their owners.

The stonework of most of these buildings is so detailed and unique with carvings of leaves,  vines and faces gracing the outside of the buildings. Some have stained glass features around the doors and windows and the outside steps have been sandblasted and fixed to new with potted plants and an occasional Christmas feature still decorating the outside of the home.

This area is also home to many small Community Gardens which at this time of the year are still under snow. There is the Our Little Green Avenue Park at 123rd Street, the Joyce David Wilson Garden at 123rd Street, the Five Star Garden at St. Nicholas Avenue at 121st Avenue and Harlem Art Park at 120th Street at 3rd Avenue. These parks are small pocket parks taken care of by the neighborhood or street associations. I did not get much of a feel for them when they were under six inches of snow.

To tell you how the neighborhood is diverse in its housing is when you get to 124th Street and 1st Avenue where you have a luxury apartment building across the street from the Wagner Housing Project and the entrance to the Triboro Bridge and Louis Cuvillier Park which is under a renovation. You can see where new restaurants are popping up to cater to these new residents on 1st Avenue, 124th and 125th Streets.

The Wagner Houses I hate to say is a scary area even during the day. I always felt like I was being watched by everyone from the residents, to the Con Ed guys working in the area to the police looking out for the kids leaving school on 120th Street and Paladino Avenue by the river.  People just kept saying hello to me like they were trying to tell me that they saw me there or in the case of the police just watched but tried to ignore me. I see this a lot in Harlem.

One saving grace to the whole experience by the school was the bodega, Pleasant Finest Deli, on the corner of Pleasant Avenue and 120th Street, which I could tell catered to the kids coming out of school with sandwiches under $3.00 and piles of chips and snack cakes for fifty cents to a dollar. The deals at this store were amazing and the owners looked like they were happy to see me. Just listening to the foul mouthed parents was interesting. The way they berated their children just floored me. Some of these women should never have had kids.

That evening I went to midtown to eat at the Land of Plenty Chinese restaurant by Bloomingdales at 204 East 58th Street (see review on TripAdvisor), a restaurant I have wanted to try for several years when it was ranked the number on Chinese restaurant in New York City by the Village Voice. The food and the service were just excellent. I had the most delicious soup dumplings that were made for me and I did not even have to hike down to Chinatown for them. They just burst in my mouth when I bit into them. I had a Shredded Pork with a Sweet Miso sauce with scallions and their Ten Ingredient Fried Rice for my main meal which both were delicious and flavorful. The Sweet Miso  sauce really had a tangy spiciness to it. The service was friendly and welcoming. A definite must when shopping at Bloomies.

I continued on to the east side of Morningside Park, where the Morningside Heights extends as I walked the area from 125th Street to 110th Street that now extends to Fredrick Douglas Boulevard, the new ‘Restaurant Row’ of the neighborhood. This area is dominated by beautiful brownstones of many unique designs, pre-war apartment buildings and many local businesses that are in the midst of change. The neighborhood bodegas are giving way to new restaurants, art galleries and boutique bakeries that are catering to the new residents who are buying all those buildings under scaffolding and the current residents who look like they are enjoying the change.

Along the way I have seen so many gorgeous buildings being restored. The most beautiful is the Washington Irving Building on West 112th Street. This graceful building has the most beautiful stonework and detailed accents to the outside it, you literally stop and just want to stare at it. I have only seen buildings like this midtown buildings on Park Avenue and in the Village.

Small pocket parks and community gardens continue to dominate the areas that once housed brownstones. These future flower and vegetable gardens are all over parts of the neighborhood such as the Electric Ladybug Garden at 111th Street. There is a distinct  elegance to the area around Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard (7th Avenue) with its tree lined island with trees and flower plantings waiting for the Spring to come.

The area that is rapidly changing the most is Fredrick Douglas Boulevard which among the new businesses is being known as ‘Central Park North’, with several businesses adopted the SoHA (South of Harlem) signature. I have never seen so many expensive restaurants with entrees over the price of $15.00 in one area. I don’t even find the menus that exciting or innovative. They just look like bars with food being served.

On my last day in Morningside Heights, I tested the boundaries and walked the entire length of 116th Street from one side of the island to the other. You see more local businesses along the 116th shopping corridor with many soul food, seafood, pizza and local chicken places dominating to a very diverse population. Closer to the Columbia campus, you have more upscale places to eat but once you cross Fredrick Douglas Boulevard and head toward Spanish Harlem, it can be anything from the latest African cooking to island cooking from Jamaica to fast food and the chain restaurants to local bakeries serving empanadas and doughnuts. You can eat your way through the entire street and it would take months to do.

On the streets from 119th-115th Streets from Morningside Park to 5th Avenue are lined with a series of brownstones and pre-war apartments which hug the ‘Mount Morris Historical District’ or just outside of it. These blocks are going through a tremendous change right now as students and recent graduates are spreading out from the traditional borders of the neighborhood, which means the west side of the park and moving into this section especially to the 5th Avenue border. Crossing Fredrick Douglas Boulevard means even pushing the traditional boundaries of the neighborhood and going into SoHA. By the time you cross Lenox Avenue below 115th Street, you hit the long line of housing projects from 112th-115 Streets and even the streets surrounding the projects are being fixed up.

I have never seen so many new restaurants and stores opening up especially opening up this economy. All of these pocket businesses are opening right next to the traditional neighborhood stores and you can see that changing for the next few years. There are so many small luxury housing projects going up in every corner of the neighborhood that will need to be catered to and the local population seems to like the additions to the many blocks as I see a diverse crowd in all the businesses. Even most of the newer businesses in the area are adopting the SOHA name.

Pretty much everything west of Fredrick Douglas Boulevard and west to Morningside Park is considered part of the Morningside Heights area now as the last of the empty buildings are being renovated and a lot of the Mount Morris Historical area is under scaffolding. There is a lot of pride in this neighborhood as it keeps changing and improving itself.

On my last night in Morningside Heights after walking almost 28 city blocks, I indulged a little and had dinner at La Salle Dumpling Room on 3141 Broadway (See review on TripAdvisor). Make this a stop if you are visiting Columbia campus because the food and the service are excellent. All the dumplings are made fresh on the spot per order and come out cooked as light as a feather. The Pork & Crab Soup Dumplings are excellent, full of juiciness and flavor and the pan-fried pork dumplings are light and delicious and were perfectly cooked. I also tried the Dong Jing Rice Bowl which was a combination of white rice, sautéed beef, egg, onions and cheddar cheese in a brown sauce and the combination worked nicely (even though the onions were not necessary). The service was excellent.

This section of SoHA is catering to the large and growing population of college students and those post-graduates who want to live in the area. It is more of an extension of the Upper West Side than traditional Harlem. Take a walk around soon because it just keeps changing.

 

 

 

 

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Day Seventy: Walking the International Restaurant & Foodservice Show of New York City March 5th & 6th, 2017

 

I spent two days at the Javis Center for the International Restaurant & Foodservice Show of New York on both March 5th and 6th. Like most of the Hospitality shows that I go to in the city, it attracts people from all over the tri-state area.

I have been coming to this show for years and back  in the early 2000’s the show was about double of what it is now. It has grown again in the last two years as they have let the food vendors back in the show. It is still only on the lower lever and you can walk the show in about four hours and that is being really detailed with your conversations with all the vendors.

Before that, for about ten years they kicked out most of the food merchants and the complexity of the show changed as why would come to the show and you are stuck just looking at furniture, menu and computer programing all through the show. There is so much more life to the show with food.

I spent my first day at the show walking the many aisles trying to see what new and innovative items were coming on the market for the industry. The most amount of development is in technology. The industry is stream-rolling ahead with computerizing the whole system from ordering to purchasing to receiving.  More than a few firms have developed a procedure to streamline the system from when you place the order to how all the ingredients  get purchased based on that order.

There were two companies that really impressed me amongst all the tech companies that I talked to that day, ChefTech and Touchbistro. Both are changing the way we do business by making it easier for us to integrate out business. Both make ordering both food and all the ingredients to cook and prepare that food much easier.

ChefTech has been the leader cost pricing menu items and integrating it with the purchasing to make it easier when ordering food items for a restaurant. Now the company is taking it one step further and adding it to the ordering of menu items and has streamlined the system to make it easier.

Touchbistro was the most interesting of the systems and took it one step further. Their Restaurant POS does it all. It handles cash management, bill splitting, take-out and delivery management, customer floor plan layout, seamless staff scheduling, accounting made easy, multiple payment processors, real-time cloud reporting and theft prevention settings. When you use the IPad, you can order your meal and the system will tell you what in it, how it is prepared and the calorie count and then will to track sales. Then on top of that, will set up a purchase order to reorder the item ingredients.

Both companies offer around the clock service which is nice because when the system goes down (and it always does just when you are getting busy on a weekend night), they are there for you. It is interesting to see the future of our industry is here now.

The show finally made a smart decision for the last two years and brought back the food vendors which are always popular with show goers.  They featured a “New Vendors” section with new products that are coming on the market, a special “New York State” food vendor section, Wines & Spirits and the annual pastry competition sponsored by Paris Bakery.

Some of the standouts that I found this year were from all over the country. Kontos Foods Inc. from Paterson, New Jersey showcased their Homemade Loukoumades, a pre-baked, fully cooked and warm to serve Pastry Puffs, a small round doughnut hole food product that could be translated into several cuisines just by changing the sauce or topping. By doing this you can sell them as Loukoumathes (Greek), Beignets (French), Zeppoles (Italian), Malassada (Hawaiian & Portuguese) as many other ways. This were delightfully crisp and the toppings were delicious. A simple and easy dessert made better by the excellent quality of the product.

Kings Hawaiian showcased their delicious rolls and buns. I have been eating these for years but they had been tough to find on the East Coast. Now expanding with new bakeries in Torrance, CA and Oakwood, GA, the operation is expanding all over the USA. Their sweet rolls and buns are wonderful. Soft and fluffy with a touch of sweetness, they accent many types of salads and sandwich meats giving them an extra complexity. The afternoon I tried them, they had a delicious chicken salad that complemented  the flavor of the bun nicely.

Another delicious local product was by Sukhadia’s of South Plainfield, NJ. They featured their ready made Samosa’s, which is a small crispy Indian snack. They are deep fried or baked with pastry and a savory filling , such as spiced potatoes, green peas, lentils, ground lamb or beef or chicken. They have a triangular size. These little appetizers will translate to any dinner party and are well-spiced and perfectly cooked. They also offer an interesting assortment of chutney’s, curries and Tandoori breads. For desserts and snacks, the company features Masala Nuts and Trail Mix and an assortment of Indian desserts. The family running the company could not have been nicer in explaining their product and sampling it to hungry show goers.

Brooklyn Patisserie in the New York State vendor section offered mouthwatering desserts and pastries. I was able to sample some of their croissant and sweet buns while fighting off the crowds. These buttery delights make all the awful gluten free items I had to eat all the more worth it. Their quality was excellent and they sell breads and rolls amongst their items offered.

Another delicious addition to the new products was Pasteleria Cidrines Inc. of Puerto Rico with their puff pastry delights, Cidrines. These small puff pastry products come with various fillings both sweet and savory fillings. Show goers were able to sample the Guava desserts and they were yummy. They were crisp on the outside with a sugary outside and a sweet fruity inside. They come in soy chicken and meat fillings and in Quesito, Guayaba and pineapple flavors. A nice way to end a meal.

Another unusual product was Immuneschein, a handcrafted ginger elixir that is made in the Hudson River Valley. These unusual extracts can be mixed with various products such as hot, cold and sparkling soda for a refreshing drink and with Yogurt to add a zing to it. They can also be added to spirits and alcoholic beverages to add a complexity to the drink.

A local product that I enjoy sampling is Joe Teas & Chips  by Joe Tea out of Upper Montclair, New Jersey. These zippy teas and chips have a nice flavor to them with an assortment of flavors such as pink Passion fruit and Mango lemonade and the chips come in classic, barbeque, sour cream and sea salt and vinegar. Their chips have a nice crisp to them.

I was able to take a few classes while I was at the show. I took “Using Customer Engagement to double Customer visits” and “Develop the Right Hospitality Team”. I love the way new technology plays a role in all this advancement in the industry. I hate to say it but after almost twenty years in the Hospitality business a lot of the up and comers keep forgetting the true success of the business is to train people correctly, pay them fairly and treat them nice. That is the key to a happy staff. Treat them like ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen and it will go a long way. I really think everyone in my industry thinks its all about automation and gadgets but it is more about old-fashioned TLC and good treatment. That is the key to success.

The biggest thrill of the show was watching Danny Meyer, the CEO from Union Square Hospitality Group, getting the Torch Award, which is given to an individual or group whose achievements have enhanced and brought innovation to the restaurant and foodservice industry. I have been eating at the original Union Square Café for years and the food and service were always top-notch. All of his restaurants are high quality with excellent laid back service and delicious food. There is always something on the menu to like. He was being honored by my old president of the CIA (Culinary Institute of America), Ferdinand Metz (who taught me how to make the perfect soufflé when I was a student there).

It was interesting to hear how his career as a restaurateur started and how he had grown the business to the public offering of “Shake Shack”. He really  mesmerized the crowd with his career and the best part was that they gave the audience a free copy of his book “Setting the Table”, which I had wanted to add to my cookbook and industry collection.

Overall it was a nice two days delving back into my industry to see the latest trends and to talk to the vendors and see their wares. The industry for all of its innovations still has to remember, watch costs, treat the customers and staff correctly and offer wonderful food at a fair price in nice surroundings and these are some of the keys of success in the Hospitality industry.

Day Sixty-Seven: Walking SoHA (South of Harlem: Morningside Heights, South Harlem & Spanish Harlem) from 125th Street to 110th Street from river to river February 22, 2017

I started the day walking 125th Street again on a beautiful sunny February day. It must have been 62 degrees out, sunny and glorious.  The kids in the city like in the suburbs were off from school for the winter break, so everyone was outside in the parks enjoying the warm weather. The streets were crowded with people walking their dogs, students from Colombia walking around between classes and neighborhood children playing football and baseball in the parks.

With all the area above 125th finally complete, I have started to walk the neighborhoods below traditional Harlem and above the Upper East and West sides. Morningside Heights is the area bordered by Morningside Avenue to 110th to 125th to Riverside Square Park, South Harlem is from Fredrick Douglas Boulevard, South Harlem is bordered again from Fredrick Douglas Boulevard to Fifth Avenue from 110th to 125th Streets and Spanish Harlem from 5th Avenue to FDR Drive  from 110th to 125th Streets. So this time to make it easier I have broken it up into three sections to do the walk.

I started the walk today at 125th Street at Morningside Avenue walking shoppers and tourists milling around the shopping district at 125th Street. The whole shopping district is going through a transformation from old cut-rate stores and family businesses to a series of chain restaurants, stores and gyms. Every business you find in a suburban strip mall are coming to Harlem from TJMax and Rainbow to Red Lobster and Olive Garden. It is pretty shocking how fast it has changed but even more how the flavor of the area is being adjusted to tourism.

Another surprising aspect of the neighborhood is how nice it has gotten. Gone are the days that Colombia University had to practically erect walls to keep the neighborhood out. Colombia students like their fellow SUNY students thirty blocks up are starting to move in and take over this neighborhood. The South Harlem area is awash with scaffolding of people renovating the buildings and new restaurants and shops.

Morningside Park, which pretty much is the traditional border between the university and Harlem has been renovated over the past twenty years and is no longer the dismal overgrown park that you would get mugged in if you entered. My dad went to Colombia in the 60’s and my cousin in the 80’s and in those years, you would never enter the park. In 1993-95, the park was renovated and had new plantings and equipment installed in the park, giving it the same cheerful appearance of any other park in the city. Does it have it’s share of problems still? Like any park in New York City after dusk, you have to watch yourself.

Because of the weather being so warm at this time, the park was being spruced up with park employees raking and cleaning up the beds and lawns. The garbage was being picked up as well and the park looked clean and well planted. With it being February, not much is in bloom but you can see where tulips and daffodils are starting to pop up in the soil. Lots of people were jogging in the park, walking with baby carriages or playing sports. A far cry from the needle and crack cocaine days in the 80’s. You can see the new landscaping and water features that have been created in the park and at dusk the lights actually work.

I travelled down the road planning on visiting the park again in more detail. I turned at 110th Street and walked the entire length of 110th from west side to east side and talk about a street of extremes. As you walk towards Riverside Park, you have Colombia to the north and the very top of the Upper West Side to the south. The buildings on this side of West 110th have been sandblasted back to their original elegance and from what I can see of the residents had never really gone down hill with the rest of the neighborhood.

Amsterdam Avenue north of 110th Street has some interesting restaurants that I will need to try and I am discovering the holes in the wall that must cater to the students. Many have reasonable lunch specials and some have creative menus. I stopped in Riverside Park for a bit to relax before the long walk and the park was busy with nannies and mother’s with their kids in the 110th Street Tot Playground. The place was teaming with toddlers having a good time. The park still has not had the hint of Spring but having travelled this area last summer, it is a beautiful park when in bloom.

I walked down to Columbus Avenue and walked around the newly planted park area and discovered Hunan Chen’s Kitchen, a tiny hole in the wall restaurant at 1003 A Columbus Avenue (See review on TripAdvisor). This little restaurant has only one table and is so small you can barely turn around. What is lacks in atmosphere, it makes up in food and service.

The lady who works the counter could not have been friendlier and accommodating. The prices were so cheap that you can order a nice meal for under $10.00 that could feed two people and for $5.00 you can buy a nice snack in their appetizer and soup section. I ordered an eggroll and a pint of Roast Pork Lo Mein. I must have gotten a pound of Lo Mein that was steaming hot and loaded with roast pork. It was delicious and well seasoned. The eggroll could have had more roast pork in it but was still plump and well-cooked. I was able to eat in on the benches in Morningside Park at the entrance at 110th Street. It was nice to people watch on a warm day and fun to see the students finally utilizing the park for pleasure.

After lunch, it was a the long walk to the northern stretches of Central Park and the Harlem Meer. This section of the park was packed with people. Seniors were fishing in the Meer (lake) and the kids were playing in the playground by the Lenox Avenue entrance. This area had been replanted and fixed in the late 90’s and again in the early 2000’s by the city with the help of the Central Park Conservatory. People were taking pictures of the ducks or chasing the pigeons around the park.

I had an interesting afternoon at the Charles A. Dana Discover Center located on the Meer and reading how the area was so influential in the Revolutionary War. Much of the battles had taken place in this area and the forts were located right in the park boundaries. The Battle of Harlem was not far from this spot and it was amazing how the area went back to nature once the war was over. The panels tell the story of the area and you should take about an hour and really read about the areas part in the war. On such a beautiful day the park really sparkled and it looked like a lot of adults were playing hooky on such a nice day.

Crossing Fifth Avenue to Madison Avenue is the start of the extremes of 110th Street. You will pass what was once public housing but looks like it is going ‘market rate’ with renovations and once you pass the border of Madison Avenue, you will enter Spanish Harlem and a series of public housing projects. Again this area was alive with people but the mood of the area is completely different.

The Spanish influence was all over the place. On the walls of the stores and in the restaurants and signs as well as the music. There must be at least four or five housing projects in this area in various degrees of maintenance. Some were well maintained like by the Lehman Houses. By the  Houses, it got a little scary. I would not venture in that area at night. At the end of 110th Street, you have the East River Houses, that look like a more pleasant middle-class looking development.

I walked around Thomas Jefferson Park, a space of green that needs a serious renovation. The park could use a little sprucing up from what I could see. I did not want to enter the basketball grounds due to a scary looking group of teens and walked around the edges of the park.  Just south of the park on New Street, Zip Car seems to have their headquarters and the whole lot is lined with cars.

The funny part about 110th street in this area is that it is dotted with new housing, bars and restaurants. The 20 year old set is starting to move into this area. On a rather seedy stretch of 110th, I was always looking over my shoulder until I saw some 20 year old ‘hipster’ with shorts on and an expensive IPhone playing that I felt like a jerk. Either I was the one worrying or he was putting himself at risk.

I stopped for a snack at El Chevere Cuchifrito, a Spanish restaurant, take-out place and bakery on the corner of 110th and Third Avenue at 2000 Third Avenue for some pastilitoes. I ordered them with my broken Spanish which seemed to pass fine as the woman waiting on me understood what I said. I ordered a chicken and beef but got a cheese and they were good but not as good as some I have had in Washington Heights. They are reasonable at $1.50 each and very fresh. They have a nice selection of reasonable hot foods to take out and I just munched on them on the trip back up 110th to Fifth Avenue.

Fifth Avenue from 110th to 125th Streets was where I was lining my walk to concentrate in this area. I walked up and down Fifth Avenue to Marcus Garvey Park and walked around the park which was packed with people walking their dogs by the dog park and kids playing in the playground. Even though the avenue is lined with public housing, the area is dotted with new developments  especially on the north and west parts of the park.

The west side of Marcus Garvey Park is the Mount Morris Historical Area. This stretches from about 124th Street to 118th Street and has the most beautiful and graceful brownstones the line the side streets by the park. This area like the rest of Harlem is being sandblasted and renovated back to an earlier era and people are snatching up these homes.

I finished this park of the walk by walking down Fifth Avenue through the Taft Homes that line the streets and back down 110th and back up Morningside Avenue and then down Manhattan Avenue to finish off the walk for this part of the visit to the area.

This is a huge area to cover so I will be breaking the visit down into three sections to really see what the neighborhood has to see and offer. I have already walked the boarders of 125th Street and 110th Street and will continue on to do the avenues first and then the side streets. So join me as we explore the newest in ‘hip’ areas, SoHA.