Since Anne Saxelby first opened her eponymous stall in the Essex Street Market in 2006–essentially redefining American cheese–she’s taken strolls or bike-rides around and down all the crooked streets that define this part of Lower Manhattan, which sits in the shadow of the Williamsburg Bridge. Consider it her way of meeting her neighbors, and soaking up the diversity, edible and otherwise, that still haunts this nabe.
On a few occasions last year, as I was writing the profile of her incredible, ground-breaking American cheese shop for our current Dairy issue, Saxelby let me tag along. It was easy to cover plenty of ground: She’s got long legs and isn’t afraid to cut through crowds as she crosses streets–pointing out new stuff like a new CSA pickup or the old Jewish tenements. Today the base of the Williamsburg Bridge is both a throwback and a crossroads, as you’re just as likely to see signs in Chinese or Spanish as Hebrew–in between lots of travel and phone card places, the commerce of new arrivals.
Even though she lives in Brooklyn–and now runs her cheese cave in Red Hook, which we captured in this NY1 video last year–she considers this Manhattan community a stomping ground: “I feel like my radius has shrunk,” she admitted last year, “Now if it’s not in five block radius of Essex Market, I don’t go out.”
Below are a few of her favorites from the hood. After all, as Saxelby says: “If you’re enthusiastic about something it should be shared in such a way that others become enthusiastic, rather than intimidated.”
(For addresses, phone numbers and websites for the following spots, visit the full version of the Google map above.)
FISH SANDWICH. In the Essex Market, Saxelby recommends Tra La La, which is part of Rainbo’s Fish, a seafood company. Tra La La is their juice bar, muffin shop and snack counter. “They have really excellent fish sandwiches,” says Saxelby. “They just have a Forman grill, put on sliced wheat bread with homemade tartar sauce and one leaf of lettuce and tomato slice. They use a lot of tilapia. Their muffins,” she adds, “are to die for.”
EGG ON A ROLL. You can still get an egg on a roll for $1.25 at the Chinese shop called VIP Cake Bakery. “I’m the kind of person who thinks about breakfast when I go to bed the night before,” says this self-proclaimed coffee-hound … I’m a big breakfast person.” Before it closed last year, Saxelby’s daily first stop used to be Falai Cafe, which opened in the area around the same period as her cheese shop. Jacabo Falai, the former pastry chef at Le Cirque who owns the restaurant Falai around the corner nearly every day on the way to work, for what she called “one of best croissants in the city.”
CARROT CAKE DOUGHNUTS. Doughnut Plant owner Mark Israel and Saxelby are fast friends, and both love their neighborhood. They also appreciate each others’ grub. affection. One of Saxelby’s favorites at Israel’s sweets shop, where she prefers the cake to the yeast varieties, is the carrot cake doughnut. “I still can’t figure out how they get cream cheese into the doughnut,” she says.
BEST BAGEL. Kossar’s Bialys is Saxelby’s “go-to” place for bagels. (She also likes Bergen Bagels in Brooklyn.) She ordered two pumpernickel, two salt, one onion and one bialy, of course.
BRINE TIME. Guss’ Pickles may have moved to Brooklyn, but The Pickle Guys on Essex (“Under the Rabbinical Supervision of Rabbi Shmuel Fishelis”) are still holding down the fort in what used to be the pickle district. Saxelby likes to make sandwiches with pickled green beans.
THE OLD SYNAGOGUE. The ancient and lovely Eldridge St. Synagogue, which was built in 1887 and now does food festivals, including and Egg rolls and Egg Creams event in June. “It’s the first synagogue in U.S. built by European Jews,” says Saxelby.
CANDY. The Sweet Life is an old-school/new-school candy shop opened by a couple in the 1980s, says Saxelby, in a part of the neighborhood that used to be filled with merchants selling in the streets.
RUSS & DAUGHTERS. “There are no words for Russ & Daughters,” says Saxelby. “It’s kind of like everything I want to be in my business. It’s classic. It’s been there forever. They’ve stuck to what they’re good at. Carefully chosen stuff. People who sell it are experts. It’s a good vibe in there. And all the counter people are like showman too. Maybe there were more places like that at one time. But now it’s like the only place.”
PASTRAMI KINGS. At Katz’s Delicatessen, says Saxelby, “I like the pastrami the best. I’ll get a sandwich and it will be shared. That’s one of the few things I’ve seen Kenny Shopsin [the much documented chef-restaurateur who runs the stall next to hers in the market] accept. … It’s totally egalitarian,” she adds, “wait your turn in line, get your food, sit.”
Be sure to read the profile of Anne Saxelby in the March/April Dairy issue right here.