Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Hidden Soho: 3 Retreats from the Maddening Crowd

This is the time of year when those of us who live in New York begin to avoid Soho like the plague.  If the throngs of tourists are bad September to April, they are doubly so once warm weather hits in May.  But sometimes, even the most jaded of us residents need to head down that direction to load up on hiking gear at the new REI, stock up on basics from Japanese transplant Uniqlo, or, if we are feeling ambitious, browse the boutiques on the outskirts of the neighborhood looking for unique summer dresses.

Shopping always works up my appetite and hoards of tourists work up my irritation.  To unwind and recharge I’ve filed away a few hidden spots outside of the Soho norm to take a break, relax, and recharge before heading back out to the mean city streets.

Ceci-Cela: Located adjacent to one of the busiest intersections in the neighborhood, it might be hard to fathom this little café as a peaceful retreat.  Perhaps it is that from the front, Ceci-Cela appears to be nothing more than a bakery serving cappuccinos to go.  But make your way past the glass case filled with football-sized croissants and pain au raisin, and you find a small back room set up with a half dozen tables.  Not a place to spend an entire afternoon but Ceci-Cela is great for a morning coffee break or afternoon tea before heading back out into the maddening crowd.

Sunrise Mart:  You are probably wondering why a Japanese food store made the list.  What can I say, I find a certain zen wandering through neatly stacked rows of nori and soba noodles. As for food, this is no ordinary market.  Sushi, curry, and noodles are made to order.  If you are in a rush, bento boxes prepared the same day are stacked in the open cooler.  Grab a $2 Ito-En iced tea from the cooler, pull up a seat at one of the wooden tables at the front of the store, and you have excellent lunch plus great people watching on par with the fancy restaurants around the corner, minus the long wait.

Despaña:  Just to the east of Sunshine a few blocks is another market-meets-café, this time of the Spanish variety. Crossing the threshold of Despaña I feel my angst fade away followed by the recognizable grumbling in my belly.  The cheese!  Mahon and garrotxa call to me.  The meat!  Dark red chorizo and glistening pink Iberico jamon bekon. But those are for later.  My tired body needs food stat and Despana delivers.  A case of bite-sized pinxtos tempts with skewered stacks of peppers and cured anchovies on rounds of bread.  But for those days where blood sugar levels hover precipitously low, I go right for one of the large bocadillos.  On a recent weekday I settled into a stool at a communal table methodically munched on the El Quijote- a sandwich layered with dried cured pork loin, manchego cheese, quince paste, and drizzled with olive oil.  Washed down with a sweet and sour Spanish lemon soda, I was once again ready to face the crowds.  

Ceci-Cela: 55 Spring St., New York, NY
Sunrise Mart: 494 Broome St., New York, NY
Despaña: 405 Broome St., New York, NY

Amy Powell is a food and travel writer based in New York City. She is a graduate of Cornell University's School of Hotel Administration and the French Culinary Institute. Follow her on Twitter @amymariepowell

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