Have you ever played a tourist in your own backyard? This past Friday marked my dad's first trip on a New Jersey transit bus. In 57 years of life in New Jersey, he had never taken a bus to New York City, citing his need for control as the reason for avoiding bus travel. A mock dinner service at the soon to open Circa Brewing Co. in downtown Brooklyn changed all that. He let go of the reigns and boarded the bus. My mom dropped off this burly man of nearly 300 pounds at the station and he gleefully revealed to me that he bought his own ticket. Like an expectant student on the first day of school when he arrived, I intercepted him in Chelsea and my sweet colleague helped us subway navigate to Brooklyn around the F train horrors. Dad revealed he was nervous to make a trip by himself on the subway because in those 57 years of life living 20 minutes from Manhattan, he had taken the subway a total of 2 times.
Coincidentally, I had purchased tickets to a private dinner in Brooklyn held by one of my favorite culinary entrepreneurs, Gabriele Corcos. I'd been to Brooklyn only once before this year and now I was doubling my visits in a weekend. My husband surprised me with a room at the McCarren Hotel and Pool so we could explore rather than rush home late in the evening with bellies full of porchetta. We rise early on Saturday, 7am to be exact, thanks to James and his military urgency. I curse the sun that peeks through my window and immediately retract my negative feelings because it is a gorgeous day, ripe for adventure. We arrive so early at the hotel that we secure free street parking and get a glimpse of the McCarren Pool in all its tranquility before a Veuve Clicquot summer party moves in; James and I don't quite fit in that scene so we take to the street.
In that instant I am Francie Nolan, one of my favorite literary characters, from A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. I am subtly insecure, on occasion uncomfortable in my skin, perhaps trying too hard, but my intentions are good and I open myself to what the world has to offer. James and I are giddy exploring McCarren Park Green Market. We sample pickles and ginger teas, pet pups, and practice taking pictures of beautiful root vegetables. I've been to farmers markets before, of course, but this one feels more like a village all its own as if the market rendered this location relevant and the people flocked here to be a part of it.
We snag a matcha iced latte and a chocolate croissant at Woops! to fuel our journey and walk nearly 3 miles before realizing we are going farther from our destination. I am enjoying myself so thoroughly it doesn't phase me. We hop on Citi bikes and ring our bells, passing joggers, babies, and dogs, lots of each. We embrace our roles as tourists: sun burnt, dehydrated, foolish, and loving every moment of it. Advertisements are painted on the sides of buildings. We watch a man carefully finish off a portrait of a woman to advertise some brand that escapes me as I write. I only see the artist and the woman.
We finally arrive at Smorgasburg. James instructs me to find the booth with the longest line and hop in that line, queues indicating something is coveted and worth trying. We opt for Mao's Bao and are not disappointed. We walk more and settle in to Shelter to balance out all of the fried confections we had eaten with a selection of grilled Camembert, roasted vegetables, lox flatbread, and cold Brooklyn Lager.
That evening we Lyft to the Tuscan Gun Officine Alimentari for Summer Porchetta Nights. I have long been a fan of Gabriele Corcos and Debi Mazar, of their show, their book, and the values of family and community that they champion. They are as I envisioned genuine, passionate, and inclusive. I tend to build in my mind an aspirational perspective of those I revere. For these two, the perception is upstaged by their true characters. Gabriele and his team work methodically in their small space to put out two kinds of bruschette, carrot soup with rosemary and chickpeas, pasta puttanesca, and his iconic porchetta. There are Aperol spritzes for me and bottles of Peroni for James. In his backwards baseball cap, Gabriele shares with us the origins of Pasta Puttanesca. As the story goes after a long night in a brothel somewhere in Italy, everyone had developed an appetite. They canvassed the pantry for items to cook with and only found olives, jarred capers, and sardines. Alas, puttanesca incorporates the shelf stable goods you'd expect to find in a brothel. After a long night of conversation with our new Brooklyn friends, Lisa and Chris, we sip on cappuccino and eat bite sized cornmeal cakes. I get a hug from Gabriele and realize one of my culinary life list goals.
Sunday morning we wander through Brooklyn Bridge Park and take in the World Trade Center from yet another perspective. The sheer magnitude of the bridges and the buildings take my breath away. At Almondine, we have draft lattes and butterful pastries. I envy the French lifestyle of indulging in these decadent confections and maintaining a trim figure. If I ever make it to France, I'll be sure and inquire how they do it. Lastly, we find enamel plates, vintage baseball cards, and artwork entirely drawn on post-it notes at Brooklyn Flea in Dumbo. After being rushed off a corner for a movie filming, we pile into the Jeep and head back across the river. We never boarded a plane or traveled extra far but it felt as momentous as if we had.
Grass is green wherever you water it, as they say, and you need not go terribly far for an adventure. Board that bus, take that subway, wander with wonderment in your own backyard.