What’s a foodie to do when you’re in one of the world’s best food cities and the raindrops drive even the most earnest culinary explorer running for cover? Well, if that city is New York, and the search for cover finds you in the monumental Grand Central Station, then you’ve stumbled into a food fancier’s free-for-all.
You could head downstairs to the now famous dining concourse to graze the many fast food finds that include vendors like the Shake Shack, a New York institution that seems permanently inundated with its devotees. However, if you head to the Lexington Ave end of the station, you’ll discover a true foodie paradise, the Grand Central Market.
Absolutely overflowing with fresh produce, meats, cheeses, baked delights, and spices, the Grand Central Market is an oasis of freshness and quality in the heart of New York’s Midtown. The finest quality foods are all gathered into a bustling hall that feels almost European in many ways. Stepping into the bright and cosy space is a departure from the cavernous atmosphere of the rest of Grand Central Station, as you’re greeted with a plethora of merchants lining a single corridor offering delicacies to please even the most traveled connoisseur.
Like a bloodhound, I seem to be able to sniff out a bakery within a one-mile radius, so I find myself mesmerized by the endless goodies that Zaro’s Bakery lures us sweet-toothed tragics with every day. Zaro is a mainstay in Grand Central Station, with stores on just about every level, but I love the one in the Grand Central Market as the atmosphere of surrounding gourmet goodness makes the baked buying bonanza so much more indulgent. I just had to have one of their huge Black & White cookies that makes me recall the memorable Seinfeld episode… It’s all so very New York!
The smells of spices piled high, and freshly ground coffee, combine with the pungent sweetness of fine cheeses and cured meats, to make a heady mix of aromas that can cast one’s mind to memories of great meals and food inspired adventures. My thoughts wander to a little town on the Italian coast, where the richness of fine simple ingredients came together in a meal that will stay with me for years. It’s an Italian accent that wakes me from the daydreaming as a fish monger extols the virtues of today’s catch and his customer nods engrossed in the flurry of fishy features.
Sure, the merchants bring all the marvelous food, but they also bring their enthusiasm and culture, traits that New York, in all its aspects, is known for. These people love the food just as much as the customers, and it shows. My eyes lock-on to a freshly baked pretzel, and as I order the soft and salty creation, the server offers to warm it for me. Not wanting to trouble her with a line growing behind me, I decline, but she’ll have none of that… “It’s soooo much better warm, honey…” she insists, so I relent to her better baked goods judgement, and how right she is. It’s this simple passion for the food to be enjoyed that makes the Grand Central Market a must-do for any foodie worth their salt.
Tip: If you’re looking to spend some time sampling the huge variety on offer and talking to the knowledgeable merchants, I’d aim to visit the Grand Central Market in the less busy periods before or after lunch and not too close to the evening rush hour. Getting between a New Yorker and their food when they’re in a rush is not advised!