Exploring coffee, curry, cream and community in NYC

May 9th, 2010 · Lisa · restaurant review, Review, Travel · Comments

Your enthusiastic support for my last post, endorsing the importance of celebrating some solo time was amazing. And although I truly value your opinion and love reading your comments (seriously, keep writing), this post is going to take a complete 180°.

On this particular visit to NYC I was overwhelmed by the kindness of strangers and the sense of community that seems to be cultivated by communal tables, spring climes and strong opinions.

As you all know, New York is a huge metropolis – the blister on my feet can surely attest to its sheer size  – often stereotyped as a cold, uncaring place. Over my three visits to the city I have found the complete opposite to be true. People often go out of their way to help me out, point me in the right direction, recommend a restaurant or a bookstore or simply smile as they pass me on the street.

On my third day in New York I wandered up to the Columbus circle to visit a few shops. It is quite a jaunt from SoHo to Central Park, so I grabbed a coffee along the way at Think Coffee.

Think Coffee offers free WiFi, Fair Trade blends and has a great atmosphere. They have a number of vegan pastries and menu offerings, making it a great morning stop for any busy vegan in heart of the city. I had started my morning with fresh fruit and ginger Kombucha so I knew the coffee would provide the little boost I needed to conquer my must-see list. I love local coffee shops were the baristas recognize the patrons and their favourite orders.

Once at Columbus circle I explored another Whole Foods Market and picked up a multi-green Kombucha (is my new love obvious yet?).

Unlike the Whole Foods in Toronto, all of the ones in NYC have free WiFi and huge communal tables. Over the days I spent in the city they became a place to rest my feet, use a clean bathroom and have some very interesting conversations. I met a band who serenaded me with tales of travel, a photographer new to the city and a little girl in love with kale. Everyone was friendly and wanted to share a moment rather then just the table top.

I also stopped into the New York Running Company. Another example of a strong community in NYC. Those runners who tread heavily on the trails of Central Park and compete in “the world’s greatest marathon” (their claim not mine) use the store as a home base. You can see bibs from previous races hung with pride and clothing that celebrates their supportive affiliation. I know the runners have lockers in the park and provide access to visitors to the city who want to take advantage of these amenities.

After leaving the circle, I wandered downtown to Union Square to grab a quick bite (as I had planned for an early dinner). Farmer’s markets are another amazing example of the sense of community that is being nurtured in many cities these days. Body & Soul is one vendor that provides vegan baked goods in Union Square. I tried one of their Hazelnut Espresso Biscotti – it was hearty, not too sweet and perfectly satiating.

I continued South, walking past one of my favourite city spots, the Strand and checked into Jivamukti. It is a yoga tradition that has its foundation in the ahimsa principle. Toronto has a Jivamukti studio but the original is in NYC. There was a class in session when I arrived but I looked around the center and admired the enticing entrees on the vegan cafe menu. It is a really peaceful spot and the meals all looked healthy and filling – the perfect after-practice treat. Many yoga studios become a second home or refuge to their regular students. It fosters a sense of belonging when you spend so much of your time there almost naked and sweaty.

Next, I caught up with one of my favourite members of the vegan community, Terry Hope Romero (coauthor of Veganomicon, Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World, Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar and author of Viva Vegan) for dinner at the vegetarian Thai restaurant, Pukk.

Over vegan Thai Iced tea we talked about the importance of fostering community by creating opportunities for people to come together, share common interests and just have fun. It is amazing how many people spend their evenings in front of the television solidifying relationships with their favourite sitcom stars. Terry and her husband John are people that Malcolm Gladwellwould label “connectors”, they bring people together – partly because they are interesting and engaging and partly because they are unafraid to invite anyone along for the adventure.

I’m so happy to know two people who believe in really creating lives they enjoy living. One of the best ways to create community is to share food (they actually taught that principle in my graduate social work program). At Pukk we selected a bunch of dishes to enjoy together (you will note my departure from my usual raw fare – sometimes the social experience is worth the dietary flexibility).

Oriental Chive Dumplings
Curry Thai Pancake (sorry for the fuzziness)
Mushroom Puffs
Crispy Duck Salad
Pad Thai
Everything we ate was delicious. My crispy duck salad was like nothing I have ever eaten before. An amazing array of textures and a careful balance of sweet and spicy flavours.
We followed up our early dinner with a visit to a spot that has quickly become a destination for those in the vegan community, Lula’s Sweet Apothecary. This dessert mecca had recently undergone a delightful renovation. But don’t worry, it has maintained its “old-timey” essence.

Terry and John perused the options. We all did some taste-testing before landing on our selections.

The staff were amazingly accommodating – and I really liked their aprons. In that small glass display are cookies made by the marshmallow mavens Sweet & Sara (who knew?).

Are ready for this?

John’s double scoop included a walnut-maple (cashew-based) ice cream and a peanut butter and jelly serving, all topped with chocolate fudge sauce.

Terry opted for a soft-serve combo of chocolate and raw cake batter. I had a taste – freakin’ unbelievable.

I went with the cashew-based caramel ice cream with ginger cookie crumbles. I had high expectations and still left impressed.

Check out the confection parade
and all the satisfied customers.

Sharing time and delicious food with people you enjoy is the best aspect of a great community.

We continued to chat and wander through Washington Square Park, where Terry and John met up with friends for a couple more events they had planned for their evening – I told you, they are social animals!

I had a few more errands to run before resting my tired soles including picking up some snacks from One Lucky Duck (which certainly has its own community following).

Just in case you missed the launch at MooShoes on Thursday, I hope you will still pick up a copy of Terry’s book. Every recipe I have tried has been incredible. If you’re looking for an amazing tool to build your own community I suggest using this book to create delicious meals that will quickly turn your dining room into a culinary destination. Terry encourages us all to host a huge tamale party!

Phew, that was a long post.
What do you think fosters a sense of community? I personally love a potluck or a good boardgame party.

Do you spark conversation at communal tables or use your earbuds to avoid awkward interactions? I did have a couple confident gentlemen ask for my number on Wednesday and Thursday – maybe that’s why I think New Yorkers are so friendly 🙂

Does your city/town/village do a good job at developing a sense of shared belonging? 

What communities do you feel you belong to? vegan? healthy? runners? yogis? women? activist? 


  1. Posted May 10, 2010 at 1:32 am

    After reading this post my NYC fever is getting higher and higher! Delicious vegetarian meals, awesome coffee shops and yoga communities – can you ask for more? Thanks for sharing!

  2. Posted May 10, 2010 at 1:48 am

    I love Lula's! They need to open one in Seattle!

    So jealous you got to meet Terry. Lucky you.

  3. Posted May 10, 2010 at 12:06 pm

    Thanks for Sharing! I've never been to New York so this is great.

  4. Posted May 10, 2010 at 1:57 pm

    Wow, what a great trip you had! I love Lulu's, need to get there soon!

  5. Posted May 10, 2010 at 7:49 pm

    I hope I have inspired an adventure.

    Bitt, Lula was pretty impressive. We don't have anything like it in Toronto. I really enjoyed seeing Terry again. She's pretty fantastic.

    Claudia, one more post to come.

    Lauren, Lula's had a really great selection of cashew-based ice creams that I'm sure you'd love.

  6. Posted May 11, 2010 at 9:28 pm

    Ahhh stop posting pictures of such delicious looking food, I'm hungry!

    Community is a bit of a soft spot for me right now. Ever since moving to High Park I've felt incredibly disconnected from my community. I've tried so hard to get involved with local community groups but I'm just not feeling it. In Thornhill I was very involved in my community and the local environmental and animal activist community – and the thing was it was all one. A lot of the people I knew really understood the connection between environmentalism, animal rights, feminism, social justice, etc. A lot of the same people were active in the campaign against the Markham rodeo, were members of the Pomona Mills Conservationists, on our local Green Party executive, attended the York Region Veggie group dinners, and were also involved in the local ratepayers associations and the Thornhill historic society.

    But here, I'll go to a meeting for one group, go to an event of another, and it's entirely different groups of people. High Park itself has like 6 different groups all working on seperate things and not working together. I'm finding it very hard to really get to know people and feel like I really connect to the people I have met and it's very disheartening.

    BUT, on a more positive note, I'm extremely fortunate that working at TVA has connected me to so many incredible people in the vegetarian community in Toronto and that has been incredibly rewarding. I'm continously amazed at how many people there are out there that are commited to vegetarianism and working so hard to make a difference. I never would have imagined I would be surrounded every day by other people who feel the same way about something so important to me.

  7. Posted May 11, 2010 at 9:34 pm

    Oh yeah and neighbours!! I miss having friendly neighbours. On that note, to answer your question about what fosters community and do I strike up conversations or shy away from it, I think that being outside and being active, going for walks, etc. helps to foster community – you end up seeing people more and stopping to chat. I miss hanging out on my lawn or walking around the block and always running into neighbours and dogs and chatting.

    Oh! That's another thing that builds community – dogs! People totally stop to talk to dogs and their owners way more than they stop to talk to people just out on their own. I know I'm guilty of knowing several dogs by name whose guardians I've never asked their names.
    I do believe in striking up conversations with strangers and I've tried very hard to do so with my neighbours in my apartment but gosh some of them are so unfriendly it's shocking.

  8. Posted May 14, 2010 at 12:58 pm

    I wear a bracelet that says "ahimsa" in Sanskrit. I had it made last year. 🙂 As many times as I've been to NYC, though, I've not made it to the Jivamukti center yet. Maybe that will be something for my agenda next time.

    I gratefully participate in my vegan community and did participate fully in my yoga community until I moved. I've had a much more difficult time integrating into the community at my new yoga studio. I don't feel the connection that I did at my original one. Hopefully that will change, though!

  9. Posted May 14, 2010 at 10:19 pm

    barbee- I agree dogs are amazing for building community. But I know it takes time. I hope you'll start to find more like-minded people in your new stomping ground. I'm doing my best to create the opportunity and hope the reality will follow.

    Vegyogini – It is funny how each studio is such a unique community. I have found a few that are incredibly open and inviting and others that take a lot of time to build connections in. I'm glad to hear the vegan community has been welcoming and supportive.

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