Of course, I saved the best for last. One Manhattan neighborhood in particular stands out as the most memorable, most life-changing of them all... the one I called home for two years (and will always believe is home for all the years to come). Trust me...it's worth the 1 Train trek to 116th Street/Columbia University.
Ah, Morningside Heights. The neighborhood is this glorious mix of a real life Gossip Girl and tourists at the Seinfeld diner. Don't you just love New York like that?
Seriously though... If you must, go and take your photo. But do not, I repeat, do not eat there. Worst meal of my whole life. At any given time of day or night you can find at least three drunk college girls there crying to their friends about something, as well as a handful of tourists outside on a sightseeing spree. Instead, let your first stop be Hungarian Pastry Shop at 111th and Amsterdam. Go early and get the chocolate croissant before they run out. Or go late at night for coffee and dessert. Either way, it's delicious.
You should take your Hungarian Pastry Shop treats across the street to the garden at St. John the Divine. There's a dispute over whether this is the world's largest cathedral, and it just happens to be in my neighborhood. But the gardens are beautiful and the church is even better. Take a stroll inside after breakfast.
Also, it's right near the hospital where I spent oh so many nights. If ever I was leaving St. Luke's around breakfast time, I considered it a sign from God to go to Hungarian Pastry Shop on the way home. If you need a hospital in New York, I can put in a good word for you. They love me there. But if I'm going to go with you for moral support, it will cost exactly one month's Upper West Side rent.
No matter the season, Morningside Heights has a fantastic farmer's market every single Thursday and Sunday, rain or shine or blizzard or heat wave. It's right in front of Columbia University at 116th street on Broadway. From Christmas trees to summer flowers, it's just the best. Check out the maple cotton candy, hot apple cider, muffin stand, and homemade granola.
Now, speaking of Columbia University, definitely check it out. You can't access campus buildings without a student ID, but just the walk through campus is gorgeous. While you're there, check out Joe's coffee on the second floor of the building on the southeast corner of 120th and Broadway (conveniently referred to as Northwest Library...cause why not?). Best coffee in New York City.
If you're in Morningside Heights, you might as well make the trek to the Cloisters. The Cloisters is as far north as you can go and still be in Manhattan, way into Washington Heights. It's a commitment for sure, but is a beautiful little treasure of a Renaissance museum in the equally fantastic Fort Tyron park (of course, they have a Renaissance fair). The Cloisters looks like it used to be a monastery...but really it's all thanks to Rockefeller money. Just take the M4 bus right at Columbia's gates to the very last stop.
Best part of living in Morningside Heights? Other than the feeling of getting back to good old quiet home after a crazy day downtown, it's the food of course. Well, actually, you could probably find more gourmet restaurants elsewhere in Manhattan, but it's home you know? The places I ate every day. Here's a quick rundown...
In the mood for a salad or sandwich? Milano Market at 112th and Broadway...
Best brunch in Manhattan, which also happens to be vegan/veggie friendly? Community Food & Juice at 114th and Broadway. Go for the eggs benedict with regular bacon instead of canadian bacon. Not so vegan friendly, but who cares.
Casual burger, fries and shake? Mel's Burger Bar, of course. This one (at 110th and Broadway) was our go-to Friday night.
Bad Mexican food that still hits the spot for a TexMex girl? Blockheads Burritos at 106th and Amsterdam. Really, it's probably not that good. Loveable though.
Bar food done really well? Amsterdam at 119th and Amsterdam. Best nachos in New York City. Not something you would make a special trip to the neighborhood for, but I've never ever had bad food there. If you look closely, you'll see that many of my NYC friends photos look suspiciously like Amsterdam cafe. Seriously, those nachos...
My favorite? Max Soha, of course. Located at 123rd and Amsterdam, this entire restaurant is the size of my current living room. Ten table restaurants are the best part about New York City. Amazing fresh pasta. Try the carbonara. Or the ravioli special. Or one of everything.
Hungry yet? And sometimes, if you're very lucky, they film a Justin Timberlake movie right on your block. Care to time travel a bit while you're in New York? Just head to Morningside Heights...
And, well, it's just that Morningside Heights looks like this...
...just like home.