Cracking good fun
A tour of Chelsea Market should be on every Big Apple itinerary
I LEARN many things during my visit to New York, but how to hypnotise a lobster takes the cake.
I watch transfixed as Dallasborn Darrel Blackburn tenaciously rubs the head of an irate invertebrate, its claws waving like a deranged robot.
Along with the rest of our party, gathered in the chilly Lobster Place seafood market, I give the duelling twosome a wide berth. This bizarre vignette is sure to end in tears and I don’t want them to be mine.
Soon, though, the menacing claws slow. I swear I see the crustacean’s ink-black eyes droop. Blackburn administers a few more strokes to the creature’s head, and a quick rub of its tail for good measure, and finally the struggle is over. Just as you can make a chook nod off by turning it upside down, tickle a lobster and it will be sleeping like a baby in seconds. Who knew? Blackburn is a man of many talents. An actor in musicals by night, he is leading our group of 15 on a three- hour Foods of NY Tours Chelsea Market and Meatpacking District walking route and is proving a witty and knowledgeable guide.
The market, housed in an old Nabisco biscuit factory bordered by West 15th and 16th streets and 9th and 10th avenues in Manhattan, is a sleek undercover repository with 33 retailers selling everything from guinea fowl to gelato. But it wasn’t always this way, according to Blackburn.
‘ ‘ When I first came to New York about 15 years ago, I got in a cab and said to the driver, ‘Take me somewhere fun.’
‘ ‘ He dropped me here. I got straight back in and told him to take me somewhere else.’’
At the time, he explains, the Chelsea and Meatpacking neighbourhoods were not the kind of places to hang out.
Following the regeneration of the Hudson River frontage, the exodus of the nearby meatpacking plants and the influx of creative, media and tech industry types over the past decade, the neighbourhood’s real estate is today as prime as it is pricey.
And the retailers on the ground floor of the 11-storey Chelsea Market complex (which now houses the headquarters of the Food Network, restaurants and office space) reflect the neighbourhood’s change in fortunes.
Eleni’s, described as ‘ ‘ the Tiffany of bakeries’’, is a riot of colour, its shelves crammed with designer iced cookies, in shapes from mobile phones to Jimmy Choo shoes. There’s even a selection of edible handbags. Former graphic designer cum biscuit queen Eleni Gianopulos also does a range of Oscars cookies each year around the time of the Academy Awards.
‘‘Meryl Streep never looked so good,’’ quips Blackburn as we sample one of Gianopulos’s red velvet mini cupcakes.
Blackburn takes us to seven outlets, most of which offer tastings. He points out the spot where Streep and Steve Martin shared chocolate croissants in It’s Compli- cated (Sarabeth’s Bakery was one of the locations for the 2009 film). He also shows us the fabulous Ronnybrook Farm Dairy outlet where infused milk (lavender or vanilla) is served steamed or chilled, alongside a tempting range of ‘ ‘ custom ice cream shakes’’ in flavours such as blueberry-pomegranate, chocolate orange peel and pumpkin pie.
After our lobster-whispering encounter, we tuck into the most delicious seafood chowder before moving on to Chelsea Market Baskets ( looking for Yuzu Pao chilli sauce or coconut curry cashews?) and Buon Italia specialty food shop (where we stop for excellent antipasti).
There’s even a flavour of home at Tuck Shop, co-owned by Melbourne-born Lincoln Davies, where Australian Kate Lillecrapp, who works the counter between acting and modelling jobs, provides us with samples of Aussie meat pies.
By the end of the tour there is considerable excess baggage, and not just around the midriff. We have all been handed a booklet of discount vouchers as part of the tour cost, and there has been much shopping between talks and tastings.
It’s almost a relief when Blackburn leads us into the chilly New York air for a brisk walk over The High Line, the old railway line that once ferried supplies to the meatpacking plants, which has been saved from demolition and converted into public space.
We amble along the picturesque raised walkway, which offers marvellous views of the Hudson River and the neighbourhoods below, before descending into the heart of the Meatpacking District.
I swear I can’t eat another morsel, but when Blackburn leads us through the doors of Macelleria Restaurant, a family-run Italian on Gansevoort Street, I am enveloped by the comforting aroma of rich bolognese sauce.
In a flash, bowls of luscious pasta are ferried to our table. It would be rude not to, wouldn’t it? Michelle Rowe was a guest of NYCgo.com and Qantas
Witty and knowledgeable Darrel Blackburn leads three-hour Chelsea Market and Meatpacking District walking tours
Australian Kate Lillecrapp serves an Aussie pie at Tuck Shop
Biscuit queen Eleni Gianopulos at her bakery