Crack­ing good fun

A tour of Chelsea Mar­ket should be on ev­ery Big Ap­ple itin­er­ary

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - MICHELLE ROWE

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

PIC­TURES: MICHELLE ROWE

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

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