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G is for Greek Diners
My father, as Greek as Onassis, once accompanied me to a Greek diner. And taking the opportunity to speak to the owner in his native tongue, my pop was greeted by a phrase unfamiliar to my limited Hellenic lexicon. “You own a restaurant?” was the man’s standard greeting to his fellow, countrymen, seemingly incredulous there was something else a swarthy immigrant could do for a living. So it goes with another cultural cliché, which proves to be as true as it is enduring. From Yorkville to Yonkers, if there’s a corner diner serving onion rings, and chowder and has a framed picture of Telly Savalas, you can bet it’s owned by a man with a multisyllabic surname, hairy knuckles and difficulty pronouncing the “ch” that precedes cheeseburger or chivalry.
H is for Hops
Beer is very important to the world È Without hops, beer would be flat and void of life È Ipso facto, hops are very important to the world. But if semantic logic games aren’t your thing, you can actually just go to the Brewtopia World Beer Festival, April 16 at the Metropolitan Pavillion (125 W. 18th St) and drink your face off, partaking of international and domestic selections wet enough for any whistle. There’s also a World Wide Food Court, where you’ll no doubt find plenty of pretzels and beer brats. Mmmmm, brats.
I is for Ivory Coast
Or as it’s usually know, la Cote D’Ivoire, one of the former French colonies of central-west Africa. Only in the last few years has the Cote D’Ivoire succumbed to the internecine strife so predominant in post-colonial Africa for nearly a half-century. Consequently, New York has seen an increase in French West Africans, who, when homesick, head to Les Enfants Terribles (37 Canal St). This petit bistro is lively and fun, and patrons who come for the exotic cocktails (like the Maracana, made from fresh, crushed grapes) should stick around for the house specialty, Korhogotefemougar, the spicy, Ivoirienne version of the classic French steak frites.
J is for Jackson Heights
The heart of New York’s little India is only a subway ride away, to Jackson Heights Station in Queens. Seventy-fourth Street and the surrounding blocks offer great shopping, food and entertainment. At larger stores like Butala Emporium, people can take home everything from incense and candles to ornate wooden chests. More interested in attire? It would take you days to peruse all the saris, and the jewelry stores lining the street are so amazing that the rule is always “look, don’t touch.” The Indian restaurant Jackson Diner has become a New York institution, and there are several buffets and take-away spots that serve up spicy dishes and sweet treats. If you’re feeling ambitious, pick up some spices, chutneys and groceries from Patel Bros The sidewalks get a bit crowded on Saturdays, but you can always duck into the Eagle Theatre, which features the latest Bollywood movies on the big-screen. Otherwise, grab a mango lassi and enjoy people-watching.
K is for Kalustyan’s
You’ve heard of legendary uptown food emporium Zabar’s, and you’ve probably heard of Brooklyn spice epicenter Sahadi’s — but placing a solid third in the New York City-iconic-independent-grocery is Indian-Middle-Eastern food supply extravaganza Kalustyan’s. Founded in 1944 by one K. Kalustyan, this store (housed in the very building that hosted Chester A. Arthur’s 1881 presidential swearing in) soon gained a reputation throughout the city. The selection — everything from a belan (Indian rolling pin) to the finest Syrian truffles — can be overwhelming, and if you’re just in a rush to pick up some curry powder don’t bother. Like its myriad scents and spices, Kalustyan’s is an experience to be savored. And make sure you stop at the deli counter for a snack on your way out.