April in New York. Would it be hot? Would there be snow? Our friends had advised us to pack for both but on this particular day walking around the infamous Lower East Side it was gloriously sunny and we peeled the layers of woolies away and wandered in t-shirts.
The Tenement Museum, 97 Orchard Street
We were actually in the Lower East Side area in search of The Tenement Museum which tells the story of the immigrant families that moved into the neighbourhood from around the mid 1800s.
97 Orchard Street was built by an immigrant himself – Lukas Glockner – and he had high hopes this building would be his route to prosperity. His dreams came true because a total of 7000 immigrants passed through and lived in this tiny building between 1863 and 1935. The building is well preserved and the guided walking tours are a fascinating glimpse into America’s history. The museum also shows a video loop outlining the story of the neighbourhood and the various cultures and communities that started to reside there.
Beautifully preserved tenement houses and shops
The whole area near the museum is a wonderful preservation of tenement buildings. Many of these have now been turned into airy loft apartments which are so far removed from the tiny windowless rooms the immigrant population lived in whilst grafting for their American dream.
Orchard Street itself was full of family run stores in those days and I got lost in my own thoughts looking beyond the façades of the modern shop fittings wondering how these would have looked and what they would have sold. My gaze rested on a bright but simple window – so out of place in those thoughts that it woke me up and brought me back to the hot spring sunshine.
A modern day product in the heart of immigrant New York
My girls ran straight in eager to seek out what an ice cream sandwich actually looked like. It looked good.
The little shop was in fact The Melt Bakery. Strange name for a bakery selling ice cream as an element to it’s main product. The founders, Julian Plyter and Kareem Hamad, started in 2010 by testing the product at the Hester Street Fair a few blocks away. Julian is a pastry chef, Kareem is not. Both believe in locally sourced ingredients with seasonal flavours so perhaps staying true to the tenement shops after all.
The flavours are delightful. Between the four of us we had Vanilla in a Chocolate Chip and Walnut Cookie, Malted Chocolate Ice in A Chocolate Crinkle Cookie and Butter Popcorn Ice in a Malted Milk Cookie. It was hard to choose a favourite. The menus change all the time. There’s a weekly list on the website and I think it’s the combinations that are the success of these foodpreneurs. Innovative and fun. Just how you imagine New York to be.
Have a go…
The taste stayed with us through our trip. Such a simple idea and beyond a little fiddling with the ice cream, it’s not too hard to make your own. The key is a soft cookie that doesn’t crack when you squish the ice cream to make your sandwich. Here’s Julian explaining the tricky bit.
We continued walking around the neighbourhood eating our ice cream sandwiches. So many little shops with so many different kinds of owners – perhaps many descendants from those immigrants and thus finally living their American dream. Good luck to them all. If they’re half as successful as Julian and Kareem, their forefathers and mothers would be proud.