Audubon Eco-Cruise of the NYC Harbor

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Swinburne Island, with the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge and Brooklyn behind

Of the approximately 900 bird species found in the United States, more than 200 frequent New York City on an annual basis. Yes, our concrete jungle is also a city of islands, with numerous parks and waterways, a place to encounter birdlife—and not just pigeons. 

To get a better look at some of the waterfowl that make their part-time or full-time homes in our city, Audubon New York offers summer and winter cruises of New York City’s waterways. The winter cruise, which I took in February 2013 and again this past weekend, also showcases harbor seals, which migrate south every year and can be found in our waters from November through May. Continue reading

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Passing through New Brighton on a trolley ride to Port Richmond

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More than 100 miles from home, in an antique shop in the Hudson River Valley, I discovered this postcard with an image of a street just a few blocks from my office in St. George, Staten Island. Mailed from Port Richmond on July 18, 1908, the postcard depicts a scene from Richmond Terrace, in New Brighton, Staten Island.

“We are out on a trolley trip to Port Richmond, Staten Island. Passed through this place,” wrote N.A. Chase to a Miss Elsie McKay in Fishkill-on-Hudson, New York.

I stared at the image, looking for clues as to which block this postcard depicted. It is clearly not the Richmond Terrace of today, which is largely lined with industry on the North side, facing the Kill van Kull, and residential developments on the South Side. The postcard looks more like a scene out of Brooklyn, lined with two- and three-story buildings—businesses on the lower floor and, presumably, residences above. Power lines, trolley tracks and horse-drawn carriages line the middle of the street.

I shared the postcard first with colleagues who are longtime New Brighton residents. They were stumped. I then shared it with a local author and preservationist. He, too, could not identify the block, but he promised to do some research and, sure enough, he got back to me with a letter from the chief curator of Historic Richmondtown/Staten Island Historical Society.

If you look carefully at the left side of the street, you can see the inscription “Wanty/Harness” on the front of one of the buildings. Joseph Wanty was a harnessmaker who was located on Richmond Terrace in New Brighton. Here’s some of the information we have about him.

The Richmond County Fair program for 1895 has an ad: “All Grades of HARNESS / Every Article necessary for / HORSE, / CARRIAGE and / STABLE. / Joseph W. Wanty, / 371 Richmond Terrace, New Brighton, S.I. / ALL GOODS / CARED FOR AND DELIVERED / FREE.”

He had a full page ad in the 1905 Richmond County Agricultural Society program: “J.W. WANTY, / Hand Made Harness for all Purposes / A GOOD STOCK OF BLANKETS, WHIPS, BITS, / COLLARS, SADDLES AND STABLE UTENSILS, ETC. / 371 RICHMOND TERRACE, NEW BRIGHTON, N.Y.”

The Richmond Borough Directory for 1912 lists Joseph W. Wanty under the category “Harness Makers,” with an address of 509 Richmond Terrace, New Brighton.

Both of his addresses, 371 Richmond Terrace and later 509 Richmond Terrace, are close to the foot of Jersey Street.

Mystery solved, thanks to some sharp eyes and diligent research from Historic Richmondtown!

Now, my only question is, why was N.A. Chase going to Port Richmond?

Today, you would have to look closely for clues to know Port Richmond’s rich history as a commercial and industrial hub. Port Richmond was settled by Dutch and French colonists in the 1690s and early 1700s. Aaron Burr, our nation’s third vice president, died there in 1836—around the same time that the neighborhood’s street grid was laid out.

When N.A. Chase visited the neighborhood more than 70 years later, trolley lines connected it to St. George to the east, and Bulls Head to the South. Port Richmond Avenue, known then as Richmond Avenue, was on its way to becoming known as the “Fifth Avenue” of Staten Island, a designation that slipped away as the shopping hub shifted to the Staten Island Mall in the later half of the 20th Century.

Though it may not seem like a destination today, chances are, N.A. Chase was en route to do some shopping in what was then a bustling neighborhood of Staten Island.

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New York City at its Best: Marathon Sunday

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This month, I completed my second New York City Marathon. While many friends and family members congratulate me for what they see as an impressive accomplishment, I see the experience as a privilege.

Sure, it takes a lot of training to be able to run 26.2 miles in one stretch. I logged nearly 400 miles — and wore through a pair of shoes — in the four months leading up to the marathon.

But once training is out of the way, the marathon itself is a 26.2-mile-long block party, made possible not only by my training, but by the enthusiasm of the 2+ million New Yorkers who line the streets to cheer on total strangers by name and hand out water, bananas, bagels, saltine crackers, candy bars, pretzels and paper towels.

Because I had my name printed on my shirt, I heard “Go Vince, go Vince, go Vince!” for most of the five hours it took me to complete the course. I high-fived hundreds of spectators along the way. It’s no wonder I had a smile on my face as I ran through five boroughs, across five bridges and through countless neighborhoods, each with its own character.

This year, the winds gusted up to 40 mph, but the crowds were still out. And we runners were enthusiastic, too. Nothing can full convey the excitement of the starting line, but for an idea of it, check out this video I shot just moments after a cannon signaled the start for those of us in Wave 2.

Continue reading

Staten Island Cooking Contest Grows in Diversity

#vegan table at #statenislandadvance #sicookbook taste off #statenisland #indianfood

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Though best known for its Italian American population, Staten Island is rapidly diversifying, something I saw firsthand last Saturday morning while covering the Staten Island Advance’s Taste-off at the Hilton Garden Inn on the island’s west shore.

The event brought together 33 finalists in an annual cooking competition that dates back 40 years. Judges, many of them chefs at local restaurants, sampled each of the culinary creations. The winner will be announced when the Advance publishes its annual cookbook on March 16.  Continue reading

New York Take-Home Meals—As Old As the Television

Down the street from me is an Italian grocery store, Pastosa Ravioli, that also sells ready-to-eat lasagna, meatballs, chicken cutlets, grilled vegetables, salads, etc. When I don’t feel like cooking dinner, a quick stop at Pastosa hits the spot. I take the food home, usually breaded chicken cutlets and broccoli rabe, warm it in the oven and without any real work on my part, I have an excellent meal in minutes.

I figured take-home meals were a modern phenomenon, certainly no older than my parents are. But perusing New York Times archives for unrelated information about an old Italian restaurant, I came across this:

Ready-to-serve foods that may be picked up on the way home, heated briefly if need be, and served without any further bother are apparently popular with a good percentage of the city’s housewives. It was in response to demand, at any rate, that Schrafft’s started such a service in its restaurant at 13 East Forty-second Street.

The date on this article? June 24, 1946.  Continue reading

Saveur Gives a Shout Out to Staten Island Food

Saveur magazine, Staten Island

Saveur magazine just published its 20th annual list of “the 100 most mind-bending, eye-opening, and palate-awakening dishes, drinks, ingredients, people, places, publications, and tools” it could find.

No. 74 on the list: “the most unexpectedly exciting part of New York City for culinary discoveries,” our own Staten Island:

Here, in the most bucolic of boroughs, Italian families tend kitchen gardens framed in squash blossoms, Mexican farmers till fields of papalo and epazote, and fishermen set crab pots and reel stripers from the surf. It’s a world of wild abundance where you can hike 25 miles along forested Greenbelt and then sate your hunger with some of the city’s most fabled pizza.

As the county with the country’s highest percentage of Italian Americans, we’re well-known for our Italian food, but as the article points out, we’re also home to large Mexican, Sri Lankan and Albanian communities—each of which has its own neighborhoods of markets and restaurants.

This tribute to the food of “New York’s most rapidly diversifying borough” gives shout-outs to Joe & Pat’s, Lee’s Tavern, Denino’s, Basilio Inn, Royal Crown Bakery and its neighbor Royal Cucina, Monte Albán Supermarket, Killmeyer’s Old Bavaria Inn, Lakruwana and My Family Pizza.

I could add to the list a handful of other worthy restaurants, along with our St. George farmers’ market, which includes a vendor that grows all of its produce on the Decker Farm, New York City’s oldest continuously operated farm. It’s no secret that we Staten Islanders enjoy our food.

For those not familiar with Saveur, an unrelated entry in the same issue describes for me what makes the publication unique among other food magazines: The stories are “less about food than about cooking, and the people who cooked, and the context in which the food was cooked … Saveur wasn’t selling you anything—it was inviting you into a world.”

And now the editors have invited their readers to the unique world that is Staten Island.

Park Slope Serves Coffee Roasted in … Staten Island?

From emu-egg mayonnaise to beard oil, the Brooklyn brand runs rampant in this city.

So imagine my surprise when, walking through the epicenter of it all last Sunday, Park Slope, I saw this sign outside of a cafe on 7th Avenue

Cocoa Bar

The proprietors of Cocoa Bar have apparently looked beyond their neighborhood to serve coffee roasted a good 13 miles—but really another world—away in Mariners Harbor, Staten Island.

Here’s a bit of history from Unique Coffee’s website:

In September of 1995 [James] Ferrara incorporated Unique Coffee Inc. Starting in the garage of his home with the help of his father Al and wife Toni; they started the business. It was a lot of work, not having a roaster in his garage Ferrara’s first account was a gentleman in Brooklyn who had a small shop roaster that he rented time on. He would buy his green coffee; pick it up at the pier; drive it to Brooklyn; roast it; bring it back to Staten Island; package it; load the van; and deliver it the next day all while doing his own sales while on the route.

At the time he was using his and his father’s garage along with their first Dodge van as storage; he then realized that it was time to move into a warehouse.

Unique Coffee moved into their first warehouse in the Mariner’s Harbor section of Staten Island in 1997 which is where they purchased their 60 kilo roaster and believed that they would never grow out of the then very large space.

While providing New York City with the finest coffee the business grew to a point where they again needed to find more space. In late 2000 Unique Coffee began the move to their current manufacturing facility and corporate offices where they operate today.

That current office is at 3075 Richmond Terrace in Staten Island. According to this article in DNAinfo New York,

Unique Coffee typically roasts 8,000 to 12,000 pounds of coffee during an eight-hour shift. They bag it by hand, then sell it  from their website and in 4,000 retail stores around the country, including Stop & Shop, T.J. Maxx, Bed Bath and Beyond, Marshalls and Homegoods.

Their beans can also be bought from 350 stores in Canada, 17 countries in Scandinavia and recently Korea and China.

In addition to coffee under the Unique label, the roaster grinds private-label java for several supermarkets and gourmet shops in Manhattan. They also sell coffee to several local shops, including Royal Crown Bakery in South Beach and Pasticceria Bruno in West Brighton.

Who knew that coffee roasted in Mariners Harbor was shipped around the world—and across the Narrows?