Dining in Union Square
Try Union Square on a Saturday for a change. That’s the day when producers come down from New England farms bringing their cheeses, bread, fruit, juices, jams, chutneys and other goods with them. Really whatever’s in season, you’ll find there. (The stalls are there on other days but Saturday is the big day) and on Saturdays there are other stall holders as well selling paintings and other art, third world charms and dvd’s. On a sunny day there are plenty of benches to sit and watch the world go by as you tuck in. Don’t just think of it as a place to go in the summer. I have been there in February when the weather has been spring-like but with a nip in the air. Then the hot, mulled apple and other fruit juices sold for just a dollar or two a cupful are just the thing to take the chill off the day.
So, regardless of the time of year, when I’m in New York, Saturday means one thing. Lunch is on a bench in the square with a crusty loaf of olive, sourdough or sun dried tomato bread, a couple of cheeses from different farms in Connecticut or New Hampshire and a half gallon jug of apple juice. If that sounds a lot, you’re right. Some goes back with me to the hotel room for a snack later on.
There are all sorts of different breads available. I just never seem to limit myself to breadrolls or a small loaf. Big looks better but what the heck. A fresh loaf stays that way for a few days even in an overheated hotel room. There are half a dozen farms that bring their apple juices down to Union Square. Not that pale, lager looking stuff you get in bottles in bars but a russet coloured nectar full of flavour and body that leaves you wanting more. No additives just the pressing of tasty apples. Which is why I go for the half gallon. What I don’t drink there and then goes, where else, back to the hotel with me for later.
I’ve been very critical of American cheese because, like many, the only cheese I had tasted, was the plasticine served on cheeseburgers in delis and American type restaurants around the world. And lots of restaurants don’t offer a cheese plate after a meal even if I could ever manage another course. The farms that bring their cheeses bring ones like Myfanwy, a mild cheese that betrays its origin as it comes from an old Welsh recipe, and Drunk Mug, a strong tasting cheese that has brown ale include in its recipe. Both of these come from Cato Corner Farm in Connecticut which is a good couple of hours away by car.
None of these are namby-pamby cheeses you weary of in American diners. These are gutsy, tasty cheeses that are rapidly earning plaudits despite the fact that the farm has only been making cheeses for the last decade or so. They also have a blue cheese, Cato Ransom Blue, which they have the temerity to suggest could be used in cooking. What a waste! Just savour it with a hunk of bread and good butter instead.
So far I haven’t been loyal to any cheese. A different trip, a different cheese. All I am loyal to is Union Square on a Saturday afternoon.