Tag Archives: Blue Sky Deli

Day Eighty-Four: The Feast of Our Lady of Carmel and the dancing of the Giglio with the Giglio Society of East Harlem and walking Randalls-Ward Island August 13th, 2017

 

I have been waiting to come to the Feast of Our Lady of Carmel in East Harlem to see the dancing of the Giglio for months since I had finished the walk in the neighborhood. I was not sure of what to expect since there really are not many Italians still living in the neighborhood. The church I am sure still attracts people from all over the city and I could see that my the members of the lift team.

It was a glorious day for the feast. Warm, sunny and no humidity. You could not have asked for a better day to be outside. The Dance of the Giglio started at 1:00pm and wanting to get into the city early, I took the 10:00am bus into the city. Who knew that I would get uptown two hours early.

I started my day with a Bacon, Egg and Cheese Sandwich at Blue Sky Deli at the corner of 110th and First Avenue, home to the famous ‘Chopped Cheese Sandwich’ (see review on TripAdvisor & DiningonaShoeStringinNYC.wordpress.com). I swear, I don’t know what it is about this little hole in the wall deli but the food here is so good! The sandwich was one of the best breakfast sandwiches I had eaten outside my absolute favorite one, the Sausage McMuffin with Cheese at McDonald’s. The sandwich was loaded with freshly cooked eggs, turkey bacon and American cheese. It was put on a hoagie roll and then pressed. For $4.00, it was a steal.

Blue Sky Deli.png

Blue Sky Deli

I took my sandwich and sat in Jefferson Park as I have had many times with my lunch and watched the world go by. A lot has changed since March and April. The park was in full swing and all over the place people were playing soccer, baseball, handball or swimming in their giant pool. It was a perfect day to be outside and relax.

All over the park, there were all sorts of birthday parties and family barbecues going on. Families really use this park and it was nice to see multi generations eating together. As I have said before, it is nice to see people socializing without a cell phone glued to their hands. There were lots of balloons and decorations and the boom of Spanish music to entertain them. Its fun to sit and watch people have a good time.

The Feast of My Lady of Carmel started around 1:00pm but the dance started late and everyone finally started to gather around the Giglio around 2:15pm. I give these men and women a lot of credit. The Giglio looked really heavy considering it was the structure itself plus about five musicians and the lead singer. One of the trumpet players was a little ‘zaftig’ to say the least. I will not be participating in this anytime soon.

The program started off with a prayer the patron saint, St. Anthony:

(from the prayer sheet):

Sant’Antonio of Padua: “The Wonder Worker”

St. Anthony is know as “The Wonder Worker” for the many miracles and conversions attributed to him. Although quiet and unassuming he was regarded as a sensational preacher in his time. A Franciscan priest and professor of theology, he gave up teaching to be assigned to preach all over Italy, attracting huge crowds wherever he went.

St. Anthony is often depicted as holding the infant Jesus as it is said that the Christ child appeared to him in visions.

He is known as being of particular help in retrieving lost articles because of a story in which a book of psalms that had been stolen was returned due to his intercession.

He died June 13th at the age of 36. He was canonized the following year and declared a Doctor of the Church by Pope Pius XII in 1946.

The Giglio Society of East Harlem’s roots can be traced to a town several miles from Nola called Brusciana. The annual dancing of the Giglio began in 1800’s inspired by Francisco Vivolo’s vow to St. Anthony, the patron Saint of Brusciana. Francisco vowed to dance the Giglio annually if St. Anthony would help his gravely ill son recover from a very serious illness. The prayers were answered and the dancing of the Giglio in honor of St. Anthony began in Brusciana and still continues today.

Immigrants from Brusciana continue the feast and uphold this grand tradition brought to this country by our forefathers. Our objective is to pass onto our children, as was done with us, the tradition of o’Giglio, truly one of the greatest wonders of the world!”

After the prayer was over, the crowd went wild and the ceremony began. These handlers really worked hard as they broke several boards lifting this structure. It was amazing as some of them were smoking cigars or drinking a beer while they were doing it. The guys all looked like military, construction workers, police and firemen. Some did their job with ease, others looked like it was going to be a long day.

After the prayer, their master of ceremony, Jimmy Alleva , sang a few songs in Italian and I swear that his guy had the most beautiful singing voice. I read his bio online and it seems that he sings in feasts all over the tri-state area. Even though the guy is self-taught, you would swear he is a classically trained opera singer.

After he sang two songs in Italian, he ‘brought the house down’ with the crowd and there was a massive applause . Talk about bringing you closer to God when someone can touch a crowd like this. People were giving him ovations. Then came the lifts.

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The Dance of the Giglio 2017

Don’t miss this video of the feast

Like I said, some of these guys were experts and did it with ease and others were really struggling. They lifted that Giglio all over the neighborhood, up and down the street then to the church and back and then the Ladies of the Giglio did there lift and credit to all the women that lifted it along with the men because these ladies held their own. The Ladies of the Giglio did there lift with some of the men and these women were strong. They did a great job as well.

The lifts of the Giglio went on for quite awhile being dedicated to various families who must have made donations to the church. After that it was festival time. One of the announcers said that the feast just keeps getting bigger every year and you could tell by the crowd that more and more people are venturing back into this neighborhood for the afternoon. The place was packed.

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The Giglio

The best part was the fresh zeppole that were cooked right in front of me. There were not that many food vendors on the block so they had control of the whole crowd. For $5.00 for six, these zeppole were some of the best I have had. They came right out of the fryer and loaded with powdered sugar. I devoured those fast.

Zeppole.jpg

Zeppole

I walked around the rest of the feast, looking at the small rides and the games of chance. This feast is only two blocks long but a lot of people are packed into this small space. The band kept playing for the rest of the afternoon and groups of families sat under tents on the sidewalks catching up with old friends and members of the church.

It is going to be interesting the fate of this festival in an ever gentrifying neighborhood that has switched from Italian to Spanish to Hipster. The neighborhood is changing fast even in the time I have walked it. More and more is under scaffolding.

I stayed for about two hours and then decided to walk around the neighborhood. My walk took me past the Jefferson playground, down FDR Drive to the dreaded East River Houses (they still have not finished that playground facing the drive) and I walked across the pedestrian bridge to Randalls-Ward Island and walked across the explore the island. I walked the entire length of the island and it took about two hours.

Randalls-Ward Island is a island in the East River bend off Hell Gate and is connected to Manhattan by two pedestrian bridges one on 105th Street and the other on 125th Street plus the bridges leading you to the South Bronx. The island is part of New York County which is where Manhattan is located but it is truly one of those hidden ‘gems’ of the city that most people don’t know exist. I never knew it was there. When I crossed over the pedestrian bridge, I never knew of islands and their dark past. You would never know it from the new playgrounds and ball fields.

From what I had read online, the islands were once separated by a stream called ‘Little Hellgate’ that was filled in years ago to create one island. The reconfiguring of land that you see all over Manhattan, like in Marble Hill and in Battery City. The islands were originally used for farming by the American Indians, Dutch and English but it was during the Civil War, they started being used for a dumping ground.

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Ward-Randall Island

At various times up until World War II, the islands housed a potter’s field, homeless shelters, a ‘Insane Asylum’, small pox ward and a dumping ground for orphans. They were considered ‘islands for the undesirables’ and most of the city’s problems were shipped to the island, similar to the role that Riker’s Island plays today.

The Ward on Ward-Randall’s Island

You would never know it now with all the new playgrounds, picnic sites, ball and soccer fields, concession stands and thank God, new bathrooms and water fountains. When I got to the island, everything was in full swing on a beautiful sunny day.

You thought the parties were in full swing in Jefferson Park, you should come to Randalls-Ward Island. All over the edges of the island were barbecues with meat sizzling on the grill, birthday parties with balloons with pink and blue all over the place and Spanish music blasting over their heads.  These were not small parties but big family get-togethers. Its nice to see people having such a good time.

Even the ‘hipsters’ are discovering the island mostly hanging around that southern part of the island that faces the Upper East Side and the rapidly developing Queen’s waterfront. Theirs is the quieter section closer to the pedestrian bridge with the better vantage points over-looking the new ‘hipster’ enclaves.

Walking the island took me close to two hours as I walked through the parks and ball fields and under the bridges that crisscrossed the island. There were many natural flower gardens on the northwestern part of the island overlooking Astoria Park on the other side of the river. The Wildflower Meadow was in full bloom and was attracting all sorts of butterflies and honeybees. As you walked in there were all sorts of benches to relax and just watch the view.

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The entrance to Ward-Randall’s Island

The island is still has remnants of its past. I passed the water treatment plant, a much needed addition to an ever growing city that seemed quiet that day and the FDNY Training Academy which was closed for the afternoon. You could see from the street the size of the academy and how much training these guys really get. It is isolated from the rest of the island.

On the most Northern part of the island , the police have their back offices and training facility and in between both of these are ball fields in which many leagues were playing that day. The nice part was when following the paths there were plenty of new bathrooms and places to just relax as well as snack bars where the prices were not unreasonable.

The New York Psychiatric Center still sits on the northern part of the island like a fortress. The ironic part of this is that it is surrounded by paths of flowers, marshes and lagoons that have been built around the island to clean the water. The Water’s Edge Garden sits just past the Center and offers the nicest views of the new Harlem being built.

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The New York Psychiatric Center

The western part of the island has the nicest walking paths by the water and many different gardens that are in full bloom. I passed the Icahn Stadium, where a small game was going on and could hear the cheers in the background. I kept wondering why such a great set of parks was not being better taken advantage of by the entire city.

I rounded the path back to the pedestrian bridge and while walking across tried to spot the ‘spotters’ that everyone talked about at the East River Houses. I saw a lot of open windows on the top of the complex but not a sole in sight. I will avoid this place in the future now.

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East River Houses

I walked back to the Q subway on East 96th Street going full circle since my day at Coney Island and took it down to Little Italy downtown. I had such a craving for Italian food that needed to be filled.

Little Italy now is just three blocks by one block and its barely that anymore. Even in between the famous restaurants that still exist, new boutiques are opening. The area is now squeezed into Mulberry Street from Canal to Broome Streets with a smidgen of restaurants up to East Houston, the original border of the neighborhood. Anything above Broome Street is not longer ‘Little Italy’ but ‘NoLiTa’ (North of Little Italy).

Little Italy

Little Italy Manhattan

This area has been becoming trendy for about twenty years. Most of the old Italian businesses have closed by the late nineties and have become boutiques and non-Italian restaurants. If my grandfather who was raised here had a crystal ball and had owned one of these buildings, we would have been set.

There is even a change from the ‘red sauce’ restaurants of the past to more sophisticated Italian dining leaving the old restaurants to the tourists. One by one they are closing down or changing hands.  It shows in the food quality.

I went to the Grotta Azzurra at 177 Mulberry Street (See reviews on TripAdvisor), where I have been eating for years and the food quality and service have gone way down. While I ordered my dinner, the table next to me the guest was fighting with his waiter on a glass of wine that he had ordered that he was not happy with and the waiter was giving him attitude. Not smart in an economy like this.

Grotta Azzura

Grotta Azzura in Little Italy

The food was mediocre at best that night. The fried Mozzarella was cooked perfectly on the outside and not cooked on the inside and I had to send it back. The second batch was better. The manicotti was good and the sauce was decent but the runner who served me the dish dumped so much Parmesan cheese on top all I could taste was the cheese. It was such a waste. The service was good but not great. All of this reflected in the amount of people eating there that night. Most of the other restaurants were much busier than here.

I walked back down Canal Street to the E subway and back to Port Authority to go home. I must have walked five miles today but got to see so much of what makes this city great. The cultural festivals of certain parts of the city have not died yet and still thrive with more attention from outlets like YouTube. It was an interesting afternoon into my own family’s past.

Another great video of that wonderful afternoon:

 

Places to Visit:

 

East Harlem Giglio Society

The Feast takes place every August

Home

About Us

East Harlem is accessible by subway on the Subway 6

 

Ward-Randalls Island

East River Manhattan, NY

You can access it by highway or by walking the bridge at First Avenue and 105th Street

https://www.nycgovparks.org/parks/wards-island-park/history

 

Jefferson Park

2180 First Avenue

New York, NY  10029

(212) 639-9675

Open: Sunday-Saturday 6:00am-10:00pm

https://www.nycgovparks.org/parks/thomas-jefferson-park

 

 

 

Places to Eat:

 

Blue Sky Deli (Haiji’s)

2135 First Avenue

New York, NY 10029

(646) 682-7488

Open: 24 hours (currently)

https://www.instagram.com/hajjis110/?hl=en

My review on TripAdvisor:

https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g60763-d12328617-Reviews-Blue_Sky_Deli-New_York_City_New_York.html?m=19905

My review on DiningonaShoeStringinNYC@Wordpress.com:

https://wordpress.com/post/diningonashoestringinnyc.wordpress.com/74

 

Grotta Azzura

177 Mulberry Street

New York, NY  10013

(212) 925-8775

http://bluegrotta.com/

Open: Sunday-Thursday 8:30am-11:00pm/Friday & Saturday 8:30am-11:30pm

My review on TripAdvisor:

https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g60763-d424309-Reviews-Grotta_Azzurra_Restaurant-New_York_City_New_York.html?m=19905

Day Seventy-Eight: Walking the streets of Spanish Harlem from 110th to 96th Streets from Fifth to First Avenue and the Third Anniversary of “MywalkinManhattan” June 17th-21st, 2017

I started walking the streets of East Harlem after a long day in the Soup Kitchen. They keep me very busy there and I had to work the busy bread station. It can very harried if there are any sweets such as pastries and doughnuts to give out. I was worn out but still carried on.

I took the number six subway uptown to 110th Street and started my day with lunch at the Blue Sky Deli (Haiji’s) again for another chopped cheese sandwich. I am beginning to love these things. For five dollars and my budget on the project, it just makes sense. Plus it is nice to sit in Jefferson Park and just relax and watch the kids play soccer while I am eating. I don’t know if it was the sandwich or all the walking but I had stomach craps for the rest of the day. It was a long day of walking.

Blue Sky Deli.png

I started the day by retracing my steps on 110th and looking over all the housing projects that line this part of First Avenue. I looked along the long line that is First Avenue and made sure to walk this part of the street as quick as possible. It does not start to get sketchy until about 105th Street but still you want to get through as fast as possible.  Walking eight blocks across and back is impossible to do in one day even walking fast so I broke it up into two and a half separate days.

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East River Projects at 105th and First Avenue

Along most of these blocks I was retracing what I saw along the Avenues and there is a lot of new construction and renovating along the way. A lot of buildings are being sandblasted to their original beauty and along the way there are little surprises along the way to discover. I just wanted to let readers know that since I had already walked First Avenue and the side streets on both sides, when I reached First Avenue when walking the streets, I did not cross the street and stayed on the west side of the avenue.

Most of the side streets I had walked already in some form along the way of walking the Avenues and took time out revisit many of the parks and restaurants that I had traveled previously. There are still many gems in this neighborhood that you should take time to visit. In some parts of the neighborhood, I would suggest going during the day when many other people are around. Even as safe as Manhattan has gotten over the years, I still look over my shoulder all the time and watch everyone no matter what neighborhood I am in.

I made several walks through the housing projects all over the neighborhood. You can really understand the complexity of the projects by walking through them as many as times as I did. It really is a different life. Sometimes I get the impression that being piled up in one complex is not good for anyone. The yards are not properly taken care of and playgrounds that are not kept in great shape.

Yet there are signs that residents have made it their own though. I walked through the Dewitt Clinton, Franklin, Lehman and Washington Carver Housing complexes and here and there are raised beds for fruits, vegetables and flowers. Some residents have taken it upon themselves to clean up the garbage in the playgrounds and paint the equipment and benches. Some make their own repairs in the play areas and then stand guard, watching what the kids are doing. I discovered this as I walked through the Washington Houses three times to complete 108th, 107th and 106th by criss-crossing the open air park in between the complex. People kept looking at me walking through park.

Dewitt Clinton Houses

Dewitt-Clinton Houses

Along the way, I discovered many small community gardens tucked between buildings such as the Neighbors of Vega Baja Garden at 109th between First and Second Avenues and the Humaniano Community Garden at 108th between First and Second Avenues. These small patches of green make the block. Hidden behind fences, I can see that the neighborhood puts a lot of pride into landscaping them and planting them. Some times they are open to the public but I just walk by because no one is there.

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Community Garden in East Harlem

I was back at Make & Bake Pizza at 108th and Third Avenue for lunch again (See my review on TripAdvisor). For a dollar this is great pizza and they give you a nice size slice. The restaurants in this are around the three local schools offer menus with reasonable prices catering to the kids and their families so take time to explore them. Mr. Moe’s is right down the road and I can still taste that chopped cheese sandwich.

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Make & Bake Pizza

I also saw some of my favorite ‘street art’ murals on these blocks. Between 109th and 107th there are several that I saw. This ‘Spiritual Art’ work has almost an Aztec/Mayan look to it and its use of color and motion are so detailed. Take time to look at these works of art. Some are ‘tags’ while others the artist was trying to tell a story. Look to the side of the buildings and the sides of schools. You might see some on the sliding doors of businesses. There is a lot of talent here. If there was only a gallery for these kids.

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Art at East 104th Street

As you travel to the corner of Lexington and 107th, the neighborhood starts to change again once you pass the Franklin Housing Project. The buildings around this area are being fixed up and sandblasted back to their original beauty and new restaurants and shops are opening bringing a little life back to the area. By Hope Community Inc., there is are interesting portraits of Latino Cultural leaders. The detailed portrait of Pedro Pietri by James de la Vega is interesting and take time to admire the work.

Perdo Pietri by James de la Vega

Pedro Petri.jpg

My first day walking the streets, I made it to the corner of 105th and First Avenue by the beginning of nightfall and decided to stop there. I was passing the East River Houses again and there were some shady characters walking around so I decided to finish 105th and rounded 104th Street for my next stop in the neighborhood and relaxed in the Central Park Conservatory on 104th and Fifth Avenue for the rest of the evening. My feet were killing me at that point.

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Central Park Conservatory

My next trip up to the neighborhood was June 21st, the third Anniversary of ‘MywalkinManhattan’. I can’t believe it has been three years since I started walking the island of Manhattan. I still remember my first day walking in Marble Hill on Father’s Day 2015. I honestly thought I would finish in one summer and here I am at 96th Street on the East Side with the rest of the island ahead of me.

I started at 96th Street and walked the length of it again from the park to the river. It was sad that the tulips along the river had died by the time I got back. They had been a colorful display by the path entering the river. Even the flowers at the Park Avenue Mall at Park and 97th Street started to change. Spring was giving way to the summer months and you could see the difference in the plants and trees. Between the plantings on the streets and second stage of flowers in Central Park, June was here.

You begin to notice distinctions in the grid pattern of the neighborhood block by block. By East 97th Street, you will see a real change. The Metropolitan Hospital, the Department of Sanitation and the Washington Housing projects set almost a border between the Upper East Side and Spanish Harlem once you pass Third Avenue.

Along the border of 97th Street on the grounds of the projects, the residents have set up a series of vegetable and fruit gardens and have done some landscaping that have some character to the lawns of the housing complex. I give the residents credit for their creativity and I will have to revisit the site over the summer months to see how it turns out. Also along the street is the St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Catholic Church, which is the only one of its kind in NYC. Stop and look at the detail of the church.

By 99th Street, the Washington Carver Houses start to dominate the middle of the neighborhood and Mt. Sinai cuts the neighborhood between the Upper East Side from Spanish Harlem to the east to Park Avenue. I tried once again to visit the Martha Stewart Garden in the Washington Carver complex but again the gate was locked. At this point, it looked like it could have used a gardener to touch it up.

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Martha Stewart Garden

I continued the zig-zag through the streets having criss-crossed again through the projects that I had walked a couple of times before. Between Park and Lexington Avenues as you round 101st Street, you can find some beautifully maintained brownstones and landscaped stairs with potted plants. It looks like something you would see in the village downtown.

This small break in the grid pattern shows what the neighborhood once was before the city leveled it for public housing. People are really moving back in this pocket of the neighborhood and fixing up the buildings. Here is where you will find the street art on the walls and fences. I saw a lot of the yarn art I saw uptown but am not sure if this was the same artist.

I had a funny incident with a young police officer at the 23rd Precinct on the corner of 102nd and Third Avenue. He was making a phone call and had just finished and really must have wondered what I was doing in the neighborhood. He took the time to yell a ‘hello’ to me and I just looked at him for a minute and said ‘hello’ back and waited for him to say something. I guess my progressive glasses must have given me a professional look and he did not say anything else. He watched me walk through the Washington complex and strangely enough waited for me to come back and then watched me walk back up 102nd on my way back up to Fifth Avenue. I saw him staring at me again and I just nodded and smiled and kept walking. I didn’t know that me walking around was so interesting.

Between Park Avenue and Third Avenue up to where the projects start again by 109th Avenue and Madison and Fifth Avenue is where you are seeing where the neighborhood is starting to gentrify and people are starting to fix up the buildings and the new restaurants and shops are starting to pop up. There is a pizzeria on Lexington Avenue that I have on my bucket list.

Thank God I did not have to venture past 105th Street as it was getting darker. Between Second Avenue and First Avenue after 101st Street, I always felt that the people in the housing complexes were watching me. More like staring at me yet I could not catch them actually doing it. I guess I really stood out.

As I rounded 104th onto 105th Streets on First Avenue, I must have made quite the impression walking down the street. A group of guys,  I swear to God,  looked like they jumped when they saw me round the corner. When I had to walk back up the opposite side of the southern part of 105th Street and First Avenue to complete this part of the neighborhood, they completely disappeared. I swear I thought that they were going to gang up on me and jump me. They also gave me the strangest looks. It reminded me of walking on 155th Street by the river and what I saw up by the Dyckman Houses. I just don’t blend in.

I walked pass the parks along 103rd and 105th Streets and brought a quick snack into the White Playground on 105th Street and relaxed for a bit just watching the parents watch the kids playing on the park equipment. I really like this park. They keep it in good shape and the parents in the neighborhood really seem to enjoy coming here. I walked past Maggie’s Garden again on 101st Street but the gate was locked on this day.

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Maggie’s Garden

I ended the afternoon walking through Central Park and walking around the length of the reservoir and watch the joggers pass me by. If they only knew how much I had already walked that afternoon.

It really made me think, looking at the crowd of joggers in the park and the people walking around the Central Park Conservatory that early part of the evening,  how many of the people I passed that day venture past their part of neighborhood. These blocks have really been an eye-opener in urban planning gone wrong and how a neighborhood can be affected by the wrong decisions in building efforts. I saw a lot of people in the neighborhood trying to improve things on their own terms and take matters in their own hands.

I just don’t think that this part of Manhattan has to worry about getting too ‘hipster’ or ‘Yuppie’ unless the city sells off the projects and knocks them down. Even if they did, the neighborhood has its own character and I credit the people living there for making it that way. There is no real way to explain it  without you, the reader walking these streets yourself and soaking up the culture that is East Spanish Harlem. Do yourself a favor though, don’t dress like me

Happy Third Anniversary and a very Happy Father’s Day to my Dad!

Thank you for inspiring this walk around Manhattan!

 

Places to Eat:

 

Make & Bake Pizza

1976 Third Avenue

New York, NY  10029

(646) 490-8355

Open: Sunday-Saturday 11:00am-12:00am

My review on TripAdvisor:

https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g60763-d12437257-Reviews-Make_Bake_Pizza-New_York_City_New_York.html?m=19905

My review on DiningonaShoeStringinNYC@Wordpress.com:

https://wordpress.com/post/diningonashoestringinnyc.wordpress.com/661

 

Blue Sky Deli-Haiji’s

2135 First Avenue & 110th Street

New York, NY 10029

Open: 24 hours

My review on TripAdvisor:

https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g60763-d12328617-Reviews-Blue_Sky_Deli-New_York_City_New_York.html?m=19905

My review on DiningonaShoeStringinNYC@Wordpress.com

https://wordpress.com/post/diningonashoestringinnyc.wordpress.com/74

 

Places to Visit:

Central Park Conservatory

1233 Fifth Avenue

New York, NY  10029

(212) 310-6600

Open: Sunday-Saturday 8:00am-8:00pm

http://www.centralparknyc.org/things-to-see-and-do/attractions/conservatory-garden.html

My review on TripAdvisor:

https://www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g60763-d272517-Reviews-Conservatory_Garden-New_York_City_New_York.html?m=19905

My review on VisitingaMuseum.com:

https://wordpress.com/post/visitingamuseum.com/831

 

Maggie’s Garden

1576 Lexington Avenue

New York, NY  10029

https://www.nyrp.org/green-spaces/garden-details/maggies-garden/

For hours, please check the website.

 

For checking out the street art and the community gardens in the neighborhood please walk the area. Things are changing so fast that you never know when something can disappear. The Community Gardens have their own hours depending on the season.

Day Seventy-One Walking: Walking SoHA in East Harlem (Upper Spanish Harlem) from 125th Street to 110th Street from Park Avenue to FDR Drive & the River April 7th-13th, 2017

I finished walking East Harlem and it was an interesting experience. It took two weeks to crisscross the whole neighborhood and I was lucky that I double-backed on several streets so I got a more detailed experience. There was a lot of interesting architecture and some wonderful restaurants, bodegas and bakeries along the way to experience. I got to walk the parks at different times of the day and I finished the walk when the schools were closed for Spring Break, so I got to see the neighborhood come to life with families out and about.

My first day of the walk, I could not have asked for beautiful weather. It was clear, sunny and in the 60’s. It was perfect outside weather. After a busy morning at the Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen (they had me working the hurried bread station and you would think that the homeless were at Starbucks with all of their requests), I took the number 6 subway to 110th Street to start the walk of East Harlem, now known as ‘Upper Spanish Harlem’. I have never seen so much renovation and building going on in one area which is changing the face of the neighborhood.

I started my walk up the Avenues and traveled on the north to south part of the neighborhood the first afternoon. I walked 3rd Avenue, 2nd Avenue and 1st Avenue and revisited Pleasant Avenue and the surrounding streets. It’s an interesting mix of commercial and housing space that houses a diversity of businesses.

Before the area was known as ‘El Barrio’, a Spanish neighborhood of Puerto Ricans, Mexicans and Dominicans, it had the city’s first ‘Little Italy’ from the turn of the last century to about the late 1950’s to early 60’s when people moved out to the suburbs. There are still traces of the neighborhood left with some churches, businesses like Rao’s and Patsy’s still going strong and the streets named after famous Italians.

East Harlem III Pleasant Avenue

Pleasant Avenue off 120th Street in East Harlem

The area around Pleasant Avenue is going through a tremendous renovation as all the brownstones look like they are getting snatched up and being updated and a much younger crowd is beginning to move in. The biggest change that I saw that was attracting this crowd is the new Target Mall that was refitted into an old factory space between 118th-116th Streets. This mall has attracted everyone from the housing projects to the college students from the other side of the island. On a late Friday afternoon the place was mobbed.

In 2019, the area gained designation as a National Historic Landmark district. The new district is centered between East 114th and East 120th Streets near First and Pleasant Avenues, covers roughly two dozen blocks. The area contains some of the oldest buildings in the district includes churches such as Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel on East 115th Street. This district has some of the most important designs of tenement housing in New York City.

The area is concerned with the coming of the extension of the Q subway line to 125th Street of losing these sights. This area has seen its share of immigration from being an Italian to a Puerto Rican community and wanted to preserved this culture. This area has been designed as the “East Harlem Historic District and is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places (The Spirit Westsider 2019).

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The Historic district of East Harlem

I started the afternoon at the Blue Sky Deli (See review on TripAdvisor and DiningonaShoeStringinNYC@Wordpress.com) on the corner of 1st Avenue and 110th Street (2135 1st Avenue), home of the now cult-like ‘Chopped Cheese Sandwich’, which has become the rave of the internet as the hipsters enter Harlem. I have never seen such a debate over a sandwich so I saved my appetite from my morning at the Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen (another busy day)and dove into the experience.

Blue Sky Deli

Blue Sky Deli (Haijj’s) at 110th Street and First Avenue; ‘Home of the Chopped Cheese’

The ‘Chopped Cheese Sandwich’ is basically a double cheeseburger that is chopped up. It is two hamburger patties cooked on a flat grill with two slices of American cheese on top, cooked with onions and peppers and topped with chopped lettuce and tomato. It is then tucked into a hoagie roll and then pressed. With ketchup and mayo to finish the sandwich, it is heaven on earth. I took my sandwich and a Coke into Jefferson Park on 111th Street and watched the neighborhood kids play soccer and do track.

Chopped Cheese

The famous ‘Chopped Cheese Sandwich”

The sandwich is a great blend of flavors and for $4.25 is a great deal. I know that comment gets a debate and rebuttal on the internet but when you are on a budget it is well worth it. Blue Sky Deli, also known in the neighborhood as ‘Hajji’s’, is known as the ‘home of the chopped cheese sandwich’ and is well worth the trip to this part of Harlem.

On the first day in the neighborhood, kids were just getting out of school and the streets were mobbed with children and parents or grandparents picking up their kids. After a relaxing lunch, I walked through the commercial district of 1st Avenue ending up back at the Wagner Houses at the edge of the neighborhood between 120th and 124th Streets.

The one thing I can tell you about walking around the Wagner Houses is that there are police there all the time. In the courtyards, by the schools and in the commercial district. I don’t know who was watching me more, the guys that looked like gang-bangers or the police trying to figure me out. Between them and the bodega owners with the wondering looks on their faces, it seemed to me that people were just trying to ‘figure me out’. I just keep quiet and smile a lot.

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Wagner Houses at 120th Street

Talking about commercial real estate, I have discovered that developers will build anywhere to make money. One developer is in the middle of construction of a luxury building on the corner of 1st Avenue and 120th Street right on the edge of Wagner House complex. Its almost as if they are mocking the residents that live in the projects. That and who would want to buy these things. As I walked by the construction site, one senior resident said to me “They are not even that well built.” I commented that living in the Wagner Complex was safer than these homes that are put up quickly and that it will last longer. She just smiled and gave me a funny look.

I even went back to visit the Pleasant Finest Deli at the corner of Pleasant Avenue and 120th Street (see review on TripAdvisor) as the kids were getting out from school again across the street. I guess the tinted glasses through them off as they gave me strange looks as well like ‘what was I doing back?”. They were polite but in a formal way as I was buying a bag of chips. Maybe I was just picking up on it.

Walking on 1st Avenue has its advantages as you start to pass the last of the Italian businesses in the neighborhood. Pasty’s Pizzeria at 2287 1st Avenue (See Review on TripAdvisor) being the most famous. This is worth the stop. The pizza is excellent and at $1.75 a slice is a great deal. I haven’t tasted that fresh of a tomato sauce in a long time. There is a sit down place but stop in for a slice and just walk with it. On sunny day there is nothing better. Everyone else must have thought the same thing as I saw slices walking down the street.

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Patsy’s East Harlem

I took a break and relaxed again in Thomas Jefferson Park on 114th Street and watched the soccer teams play. This is a nice park that I misjudged the first time I walked through it. Yes, the park does need some work but it is used by the whole neighborhood. From the hoopsters to the hipsters, I saw all types in the park playing sports, working with team competitions and parents of all sorts just relaxing with their kids. Over the three day period that I walked the neighborhood, residents just spread out, brought their lunches and snacks and relaxed.

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Thomas Jefferson Park in East Harlem

To save some time and the fact that the kids were out, I walked the length of 1st Avenue down to 96th Street to the new Q subway line and doubled back and walked 102nd, 105th, 106th and 110th again to the Harlem River. This is scary stuff and a word of advice to readers, please avoid this section of the city. All along 1st Avenue in this section by the river are all housing projects especially the very dangerous East River Projects.

East River Houses

Avoid walking around the East River Houses on First Avenue

As I walked down both 105th and 106th Streets (the side streets on either side), I did notice that Citybike was located on both sides as well as luxury condos were across the street and next door to the projects. That’s well and good but when you glance into the parking lots at 106th, you see what is happening and I swear that I may have stopped a drive-by shooting from a guy who was watching the basketball players a little too closely. Either during the day or night, avoid these two side streets as they are considered two of the most dangerous blocks in the city (along with Lexington Avenue from 123rd to 124th Streets). Please stay away!

As I walked back up First Avenue, I noticed that surrounding these projects are many luxury condos and new stores. It is a strange mix in the same neighborhood as you can see that the neighborhood is transitioning. Still it is not the safest part of the city.

Needing to walk off a sandwich, a slice of pizza and two bags of chips, I crossed 110th on the way to 2nd Avenue. As you walk up 2nd Avenue, you pass the rows of brownstones and prewar housing that in some cases is falling apart mixed in with sliver luxury homes and new restaurants. The lower part of 2nd Avenue is quirky until you hit 112th Street and then you are back in the Jefferson projects. To cover 113th Street, which is two small cul-de-sacs, you have to walk through the projects.

This is when I really discovered how short-changed people in the housing projects are by living here. Talk about being treated like caged animals. All the lawns are fenced in, the parks are sterile with little life due to the equipment in them, garbage that is piling up in dumpsters or in the grassy area flying around in the wind and sitting areas that are damaged.

Because 114th Street stops at Lenox Avenue by the Martin Luther King Houses and does not start again until you exit from the Thomas Jefferson Houses by the Jefferson Park, you have to walk through the heart of the housing projects and you begin to see a lot. Maybe it is home to a large portion of the population up here but by the designs, they are almost warehousing people in this section of the city.

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Thomas Jefferson Projects in East Harlem

There is some light to this with pocket parks off to the side of 112th Street and the Robert Wagner Playground at 120th Street. There was some life from the kids in the community as well as you see it in droves in Thomas Jefferson Park. There was some sunshine in that when you walk through the housing projects in that some residents have set up raised vegetable gardens and have planted flowers along the borders of some of the playgrounds. Kudos to these residents for bringing a personal touch to a sterile environment.

Walking both 2nd and 3rd Avenues you may have to really look but community pride does exist in these small gardens and in the community gardens on the side streets all over the area.

Between 2nd and 3rd Avenues, as you walk to the 120’s, this area is also in a state of transition with a branch of the SUNY campus and housing, most of East 125th Street being knocked down and eco-friendly housing between 124th and 125th Streets across from the Wagner Houses. As you get closer to 125th Street, the whole area is being knocked down and rebuilt as is the whole shopping corridor of 125th Street. If it has not already been knocked down or renovated, it is about to be or planned to be. In about five years the whole block will look like Times Square.

The biggest renovation that I saw was the Taino Towers around 122nd Street. The whole place is being ripped apartment and renovated. It is considered Section 8 housing but after the renovation I can see it will go mixed-use and change the neighborhood again. It is a nice complex and will interesting to see one they renovate the theaters and add a health club.

Tiano Towers

The Taino Towers under renovation

Like most of this section of the neighborhood above 120th Street, the area is mostly commercial and from previous walks in the neighborhood above 125th Street is where the bus stations are, dealerships are located and more City buildings are rising.

My second and third day in the neighborhood, I walked the side streets. Since I had already covered 125th, 124th, 120th,116th, 114th and 110th at length, I walked the rest of the blocks in one afternoon. Who knew it was take six hours and all the interesting things I saw along the way. I started the afternoon rounding 110th Street and stopping once again at the El Chevere Cuchfrito at 2000 3rd Avenue this time visiting the bakery (See review on TripAdvisor).

El Cheve Cuchifrios

El Chevere Cuchfrito at 2000 3rd Avenue

Unlike some of their counterparts around the neighborhood, El Cheveres bakery is really good and very reasonable. I had a glazed filled doughnut for $1.00 and it really hit the spot. The glaze was so thick you could cut it with a knife and there was a large selection of baked goods. A definite spot to stop when visiting the neighborhood just for the pastilitos alone. The food here is really good and cheap. Just come knowing a little Spanish. They appreciate it even if its bad.

I walked the side streets this afternoon to finish the neighborhood. There are a lot of interesting sites along the way in East Harlem. I started on 115th Street and I seemed to hit every bakery in the area. My first stop on the journey was the market under the Park Avenue underpass, La Marqueta, at Park Avenue and 115th Street to try Hot Bread Kitchen Bakery (See review on TripAdvisor-Now Closed for Business), which had been written up many times but was never open when I visited the market.

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Hot Bread Kitchen Bakery

I tried two of their Mexican Chonco’s, which is a buttery-brioche type of muffin with either a vanilla or chocolate topping. Needing my carbs for the long walk I brought one of each ($2.00 each). Well worth it. The best part is your helping the bakery train people for a new profession and they do an excellent job.

I left the market to explore the rest of 115th Street and there are some interesting sites along the way. You have the Rodale Pleasant Community Garden at 437 114th Street that stretches to 115th by the church is an active community garden with flowers and vegetable beds. I could only see it from a distance at a distance as the gate was locked but great care I could tell went into maintaining it.

Rondale Pleasant Community Garden

The Rodale Pleasant Community Garden at 437 114th Street in the Summer months

Across the street, the famous Italian church, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel is located. This church is noted for the famous dance each August when the Giglio Society does their famous “Dancing Giglio” dance carrying a giant statue of the Virgin Mary on their shoulders (along with a band). That is enough for another trip up to the neighborhood in the summer.

Dancing of the Giglio East Harlem II

Dancing of the “Giglio” in East Harlem every August

I had also wanted to visit the National Museum for Catholic Art History which was on 115th Street in part of the church complex but it had closed a few years earlier for lack of attendance and funding. So I criss-crossed back to Park Avenue making various stops to look at churches and note menu’s on restaurants I wanted to try in the future.

I revisited 116th Street to look over restaurants I had seen on previous days. The street is the main shopping and restaurant drag for this part of SoHA and runs pretty much the whole length of the island. It has an interesting places to eat so if you have the time take the time to walk around.

I spent most of the afternoon snacking around the neighborhood wanting to try many of the bakeries and small restaurants I came across. There are loads of reasonable places to eat for under $10.00 and if you are visiting remember to have about $10-$20.00 in ones as most of the these places do not take credit cards.

One of my stops lead me to Bermudez Bakery at 1875 Lexington Avenue right off 116th Street (See review on TripAdvisor). I don’t know what I do that freaks people out so much but one of the guys who was inside called his friend from around the counter who was speaking jovial Spanish to everyone else took one look at me and spoke in more formal English. He could not have been nicer but when I turned around, all the other men inside had left the bakery. I thought that was weird.

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Bermudez Bakery at 1875 Lexington Avenue

The baked goods are excellent though. I has a flaky pastry with a mango jelly but the best was their apple turnovers. They are so good and they melt in your mouth. This bakery is a must go to. It may look dumpy on the outside but the product speaks for itself.

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The pastries here are really good!

I crossed over to 117th Street and walked from Park Avenue to the river. Outside St. Paul’s Roman Church just off Park Avenue you will find an Altar to the Virgin Mary that is very interesting. Take some time to read the plaque and look over the building. It is such a beautiful church.

St. Paul's Church II

St. Paul’s Church in East Harlem

Walking further down the street at the corner of 117th Street and the corner of 3rd Avenue there is an interesting mural on the side wall of a Payless Shoes store dedicated to the Island of Puerto Rico. This colorful artwork shows the strong roots of the neighborhood in the island as well as the pride these residents feel. Really look at the detail work.

Look for the Street art in the neighborhood

The neighborhood around Pleasant Avenue, which was the former Italian enclave is changing again as all the brownstones and apartment buildings are being sandblasted and renovated back into shape. Home to Rao’s Italian restaurant and Patsy’s original pizzeria, these blocks are still visited by tourists and residents looking for authentic Italian food. Pretty much outside these two business and the relationship to the churches most of the Italian heritage of the neighborhood is gone.

Between 118th and 119th Streets along Pleasant Avenue the neighborhood has created the Pleasant Valley Community Garden with a large flower garden and raised vegetable gardens in this full block garden. Many people were out that afternoon working in the garden and waved over when I was looking it over. The residents take immense pride in the garden and it will be interesting to see what it looks like in the middle of the summer.

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Pleasant Valley Community Garden

As you turn the corner on 119th Street, on the wall of River East Elementary School, the kids have painted the most interesting mural that lines the wall of the back of the school. Look over the colorful interpretation of robots. The kids painted a very whimsical mural as only kids can do.

The kids were out in full force that afternoon playing games and doing sports as they off for the spring break and I guess the parents needed to keep them occupied. All sorts of activities were keeping the kids busy and I noticed a large police presence in the neighborhood while all of this was going on. I made another pit stop for a Coke at the Pleasant Finest Deli on the corner of Pleasant Avenue. I swear those owners are always giving me funny looks when I walked in like I am going to bust them or something.

The last part of the walk I covered 121st to 123rd Streets which is lined mostly with businesses, schools and many new apartment buildings that are going up around the new SUNY College. Most of 124th Street in this area has been rebuilt with a new eco friendly apartment building across from the Wagner Houses, so new businesses are opening to cater to those residents as well as the whole area from 2nd Avenue to river is being ripped up and rebuilt with a renovation of he park and the extension of the esplanade along the river (the esplanade currently stops at 124th Street and is closed off with fencing). When this park is done, it should look spectacular with new lawns and the pool opened.

Word of advice if you are going to walk near Lexington Avenue between 123rd and 124th Streets, this is considered one of the two most dangerous blocks in Manhattan with two rehab clinics and a shelter on the same block. There were three police officers hidden in a doorway in between the block and when I stopped for a Coke in a bodega on the corner of 123rd and Lexington Avenue, there were some pretty shady characters hanging out on the corner. This block is best avoided at anytime of the day.

I double backed down 123rd Street and cut down 1st Avenue and 120th Street to the Wagner House Playground and saw the impressive statue of Robert Wagner Sr., who the houses were named after. Frankly, I don’t think anyone notices it or knows how important the man was in New York politics helping with housing and social security. That and being the future Mayor of New York’s father.

The statue was created by artist Georg John Lober and dedicated in 1959. Mr. Lober was originally from Chicago and studied Beaux-Arts sculpture at The Institute of Design and the National Academy of Design (Wiki).

Georg Lober

Georg John Lober, the Executive Secretary of the New York City Municipal Arts Commission

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Georg_J._Lober

He started working the New York City Municipal Arts Commission in 1942 until 1960 just before his death in 1961 (Wiki).

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Robert Wagner Sr. Statue by the Wagner Houses by Georg John Lober

My last stop was for a snack at the Jamaican restaurant, Jam Hut at 2327 1st Avenue (see review on TripAdvisor) for a beef patty. These large beef patties are freshly made and rather large. Again the owners gave me a rather odd look when I ordered my food.

You think no one had ever seen a 6:3 white male in the neighborhood before. I have now spent over a month in East Harlem. I had walked every block, park and set of Housing Projects.

You think they would be used to seeing me walking around at this point.

 

Places to Visit:

 

Thomas Jefferson Park

2180 First Avenue

New York, NY  10029

(212) 639-9675

https://www.nycgovparks.org/parks/thomas-jefferson-park

Open: Sunday-Saturday 6:00am-10:00pm

 

Rodale Pleasant Community Garden

437 East 114th Street

New York, NY  10029

https://www.nyrp.org/green-spaces/garden-details/rodale-pleasant-park-community-garden

https://greenthumb.nycgovparks.org/gardensearch.php

 

Pleasant Valley Community Garden

342 Pleasant Avenue

New York, NY 10035

https://livinglotsnyc.org/lot/1016220050/

 

Urban Garden Center

1640 Park Avenue

New York, NY  10035

(212) 872-3991

Open: Sunday-Saturday 7:00am-9:00pm

https://www.urbangardennyc.com/

https://www.facebook.com/urbangardennyc/

 

La Marqueta Marketplace

1590 Park Avenue

New York, NY  10035

(212) 534-4900

Open: Sunday 10:00am-5:00pm/Monday-Saturday 8:00am-5:00pm

https://edc.nyc/la-marqueta

https://www.facebook.com/lamarquetanyc/

 

 

Places to Eat:

 

The Blue Sky Deli (Haiji’s)

2135 1st Avenue & 110th Street

NYC, NY  10029

(646) 632-7488

Open 24 hours

My review on TripAdvisor:

https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g60763-d12328617-Reviews-Blue_Sky_Deli-New_York_City_New_York.html?m=19905

My review on DiningonaShoeStringinNYC@Wordpress.com:

https://wordpress.com/post/diningonashoestringinnyc.wordpress.com/74

 

El Chevere Cuchifrito

2000 Third Avenue

New York, NY  10029

(212) 427-9352

Open: Sunday-Saturday 8:00am-7:30pm

My review on TripAdvisor:

https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g60763-d12179355-Reviews-El_Chevere_Cuchifrito-New_York_City_New_York.html?m=19905

 

Hot Bread Kitchen Bakery (Now Closed)

1590 Park Avenue

New York, NY 10029

My review on TripAdvisor:

https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g60763-d4921122-Reviews-Hot_Bread_Kitchen-New_York_City_New_York.html?m=19905

 

Bermudez Bakery

1875 Lexington Avenue

New York, NY  10035

(212) 427-2877

Open: Sunday 5:00am-5:00pm/Monday-Friday 5:00am-6:00pm/Saturday 5:00am-5:00pm

My review on TripAdvisor:

https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g60763-d12331283-Reviews-Bermudez_Bakery-New_York_City_New_York.html?m=19905

 

Pleasant Finest Deli

375 Pleasant Avenue

New York, NY 10035

(212) 348-6666

Open: Sunday-Saturday 24 hours

My review on TripAdvisor:

https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g60763-d12379766-Reviews-Pleasant_Finest_Deli-New_York_City_New_York.html?m=19905

 

Patsy’s East Harlem

2287 First Avenue

New York, NY  10035

(212) 534-9783

https://www.thepatsyspizza.com/

Open: Sunday 11:30am-12:00pm/Monday-Thursday 11:00am-11:00pm/Friday & Saturday 11:00am-12:00pm

My review on TripAdvisor:

https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g60763-d457168-Reviews-Patsy_s_Pizza-New_York_City_New_York.html?m=19905

 

Jam Hut

2327 First Avenue

New York, NY  10035

(212) 860-2253

Open: Sunday-Saturday 12:00pm-11:00pm

My review on TripAdvisor:

https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g60763-d12331273-Reviews-Jam_Hut-New_York_City_New_York.html?m=19905