Mazzola Bakery

Fifty Favorite Places #22
In 1928, when Nicolo Mazzola opened a bakery at the corner of Henry and Union streets in what was then called South Brooklyn, the neighborhood was well into its transition from Irish to Italian. Both groups were driven by hunger – the potato famine, the almost feudal poverty of the Mezzogiorno – and drawn by the lure of jobs along Brooklyn’s developing waterfront. Today, the area has been re-dubbed Carroll Gardens, and it’s pretty thoroughly gentrified. Judging by what one sees and hears on the street, intimidatingly stylish and attractive young families from France are now the biggest immigrant group. But traces of older waves remain. There are the fig trees brought as seedlings from Sicily or Campania, replanted in Brooklyn gardens, wrapped and coddled through half a century of harsh winters, and still bearing fruit today. There are old school barber shops and funeral homes with unmistakably Italian names. There’s the Cittadini Molesi social club, the last of its kind. There’s the church where Al Capone was married. There are front yards like the one pictured below.

A Carroll Gardens classic

And there’s Mazzola Bakery – still in its original location and still family-owned, though since 1980 that family has not been the Mazzolas but the Caravellos.

Continue reading

Tepoztlán

IMG_7991 (2)50 Favorite Places #13

A short, scenic bus ride from Mexico City’s Taxqueña bus terminal, Tepoztlán is part traditional Mexican town, and part new age retreat.  It’s the kind of place where the central market offers both chapulines and gluten-free baked goods, where you can relax by chugging down micheladas or undergoing a hot stone massage, and where you can indulge in a pre-hispanic vegan menu or share giant skewers of grilled shrimp (distance from the coast be damned).

Tepoztlán’s primary claim to fame – aside from its beautiful natural setting and general charm – is Tepozteco, a peak topped with a small pyramid dedicated to Tepotezcatl, the god who brought pulque to humankind. His mother was the goddess of the maguey plant, and his father discovered fermentation, so it was only natural that Tepotezcatl would draw on this lineage to ferment maguey sap into a tart, viscuous drink. (I’ll have more to say about pulque later.)  Continue reading

Yafa Cafe

IMG_794450 Favorite Places #8

That glowing review in the New York Times at the beginning of the year could well have gone to their heads – but it didn’t. Ali and Hakim are as friendly and unassuming as ever, their café’s vibe as relaxed, their food and drinks as good (or possibly better). The only difference I’ve noticed on recent visits is that it’s a bit busier. You may have to share a table at peak hours, but so what? Consider that part of its neighborly charm. Continue reading

Panadería Don Paco López

IMG_787050 Favorite Places #6

Suppose, just hypothetically, that this blog’s account of Bush Terminal Piers Park (Favorite Place #3) piqued your interest. You go there, you look around, and as so often happens, you find yourself craving a bite to eat. The immediate area is unpromising.

What to do?

You could, of course, head to Industry City, where a few of Bush Terminal’s industrial lofts have been tastefully renovated to attract tech firms as tenants. But why not go somewhere that’s truly of the neighborhood, not a developer’s fever dream or a curated-to-death food hall disconnected from the surrounding streets? Poke around a bit, and you’ll find some gems – including several that merit “50 Favorite” status.

Panadería Don Paco López is one of them. Continue reading

Café Martin

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Cold, snow, whatever: there’s almost always a bike outside Martin’s

50 Favorite Places #2

This is no longer Martin’s café – he handed it over to his one-time employee, Jenn, a few years ago – but it’s still mine. It’s the best place I know to sit and watch snowflakes drift down on a blizzardy afternoon like this one. Or to grab an iced coffee on a sweltering August day. Or to read, when the apartment is too small and the distractions too many.

What I like about Martin’s, aside from the excellent coffee, is that it’s an honest-to-god café . . . by which I mean, it’s a place to drink coffee, talk and read. It’s not a co-working space at which coffee happens to be served. There is no wi-fi, the tables will not hold both your coffee and your laptop (not even your tablet), and if there are outlets, they’re few and well-hidden (I’ve never bothered to look).

Jenn has made a few changes. Continue reading

From the sidelines of the 2019 NYC marathon

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My sentiments exactly

Here it is, delayed by my traditional post-marathon trip (look for a report on Brooklyn in Texas, coming soon) and general laziness: the view from the sidelines of this year’s NYC marathon. Seeing as how I presume to publish a spectator’s guide every year, it only seems right to share how my own spectating went down.

Pre-race – an odd encounter

I began the day, as is my custom, with a run along the Fourth Avenue segment of the course, from roughly Mile 7 in Park Slope to Mile 2.something in Bay Ridge. Thanks to the end of daylight savings time (daylight savings time is a fraud and a scourge, as far as I’m concerned, and I look forward to its end almost as much as I look forward to the marathon), I was able to set out in full light a little after 7 am. As I ran, I kept a rough count of the people I saw along the course. In descending order of frequency, they included:

  • Race volunteers (thank you, all of you)
  • Cyclists
  • Cops
  • NYC Department of Transportation trucks and personnel (so that runners would have fresh, sticky asphalt to step in, which I suppose is marginally better than potholes)
  • Jehovah’s Witnesses
  • Musicians
  • Other runners
  • Skateboarders
  • People telling me I was going the wrong way (only two this year, well under the norm)
  • A guy wearing a marathon race bib, seemingly doing strides on 92nd St

The last comes with a story. Continue reading

A Brooklyn neighborhood guide for NYC Marathon spectators – 2019 edition

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Old Brooklyn, new Brooklyn – you’ll find both along the marathon course

For five years now, I’ve compiled a spectators’ guide to the Greatest Race in the World, sometimes known as the NYC Marathon. The Brooklyn (and to a lesser extent Queens) sections of the course are now well-trodden terrain for this blog, and I’ve even ventured up to East Harlem and the Bronx. This year, I’m taking a slightly different approach. Instead of aiming for comprehensiveness, I’m focusing on a handful of specific neighborhoods; instead of limiting my comments to the marathon course, I’m offering a broader tour, including a bit of history and other things to do in the area, assuming you can tear yourself away from the race.

If you prefer a more comprehensive approach, you’ll find mile-by-mile suggestions, as well as viewing tips and advice on race day logistics, in my posts from 2018, 2017, 2016 and 2015. While I don’t claim to have revisited and re-reviewed all of my past recommendations, I’ve tried to at least note closings. (And if you’re interested in knowing how I’ve personally spent Marathon Sunday since my retirement from marathon running, you can read my reports from last year and 2017 here and here.)

So, where should you watch the marathon in Brooklyn this year? (Because it goes without saying that you’ll be watching it in Brooklyn, right? We are the longest and best part of the course.) Read on for my top picks. Continue reading

Eating Nostrand Avenue: David’s Brisket House

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Only in Brooklyn

Yes, this is it: the famous, only-in-Brooklyn purveyor of Jewish deli that’s run by Yemeni Muslims and patronized mainly by African- and West Indian-Americans.

I stopped in for the first time a few weeks ago, and again yesterday. The location, near the A train, makes for a convenient refueling stop after birding trips to Jamaica Bay and the eastern-most reaches of Brooklyn. The verdict? Continue reading

From BKLYN to CDMX

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Just like Brooklyn!

Mexico City is sprawling and intimate. It smells of exhaust fumes and sewage and eucalyptus and cinnamon and masa and sizzling meat. It awakens to birdsong, sells itself in sing-song chants, and talks and shouts and eats and drinks and honks its horn late into the night. Oh, and the weather is perfect year-round.

I loved it.

What follow are some general impressions, beginning with this blog’s principal obsessions – food, birds and running, looking at stuff (often while birding and running) – and then offering some broader thoughts on the city. While I don’t pretend to know or understand it, I was struck by the way it manages, however improbably – built as it is on sinking ground, its population swollen to 20 million – to work. The contrasts between politics, national mythology and historical memory here and there provided plenty of food for thought. Continue reading

A non-running race report: the 2018 NYC marathon

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Runners (and their shadows) in mile 13

Here it is, at last: my report on this year’s NYC marathon from the spectators’ side of the police tape.

As you may recall, I’d mapped out a plan in advance that would take me from Park Slope to Bay Ridge (with a stop in Sunset Park) to Greenpoint to Long Island City to East Harlem to the Upper West Side. I executed my non-running race plan much better than I’ve ever executed any of my actual running race plans. You could even say I hit my “A” goal.

I also learned a lot, and am already making plans for 2019.

Here’s how it went down. Continue reading