For Regina McRae, some of her fondest memories were days spent baking alongside her grandmother. So when she grew up, she knew there was only one thing she wanted to do: share her love of baking with others at her own bakeshop. And for the last 18 years she's been doing just that at her shop, Grandma's Secrets. There, she bakes up gooey brownies, her Grandmother's signature sweet potato pies, and custom cakes. She uses her grandmother's original recipes, so every cake is baked without preservatives or additives.
For her signature cakes, she crafts a variety of flavors, including red velvet, carrot, and sweet potato. And with certain flavors, she can even accommodates dietary restrictions with gluten-free, vegetarian, and diabetic-friendly recipes. For those looking to learn how to make their desserts both sweet and stylish, she offers classes that cover the basics of baking. She also shares her secrets for her more difficult techniques in advanced classes, which cover topics such as using fondant to make scenes, shaping cakes for children, and hiding the fact that there were two cakes here originally.
Fresh papaya juice and a New York hot dog—an unconventional pairing even by today's standards, much less the 1930s, when Papaya King founder Gus Poulos first opened up shop. Gus fell in love with papayas during a vacation to Miami, so he brought their fresh juice to New York City. When he paired the juice with frankfurters, the success that followed caught everyone by surprise. Over the decades, everyone from The Beatles to Anthony Bourdain has wandered into Papaya King. Its signature franks have also garnered ample accolades from the press, with Julia Child proclaiming them "the best hot dogs in New York" before leaving a Julia Child-shaped hole in the eatery's wall.
It's still easy to find Papaya King today. Just look for a large storefront lit up with neon green and red lights that would seem right at home on an island. Inside, cooks grill while facing customers so that they can show off the 18 toppings, which span standbys like New York onions and sauerkraut, as well as more adventurous choices of coleslaw, pastrami, mushrooms, and chili.
Chef David Burke studied at the prestigious Culinary Institute of America before earning a glowing reputation as chef at the River Café and later the Park Avenue Café. He would parlay those experiences into his own entrepreneurial success, opening the celebrated davidburke & donatella on 61st Street in 2003, and then taking over the 59th Street façade of the iconic Bloomingdale's department store. David's intent in opening his eatery in Bloomingdale's was to fuse different sensibilities. On one side, the Burke Bar Café offers an accessible but slightly more elegant dining experience. Alternatively, shoppers in a hurry can step over to the other side of the historical frontage. There, a streamlined, more cafeteria-like mood prevails at Burke in the Box, which swaddles the award-winning cuisine in snazzy takeout boxes. The menus at both establishments change regularly and abound with American fare updated by exciting twists, such as crispy fish tacos with pineapple-guacamole salsa or mac 'n' cheese infused with bacon and lobster.
Dessert Club ChikaLicious has garnered a good deal of praise for its delectable desserts, including 10 cupcake flavors, which come in regular ($1.85) and premium-filled ($2.60) varieties. Regular models such as red velvet, banana, and coconut sell well, due in large part to the bakery's emphasis on fresh, quality ingredients. These ingredients, combined with owner Chika Tillman's virtuoso baking skills, come together to create moist cake and delicious frosting that’s creamy and not too sweet, such as s'mores cupcakes, which come with a toasted-marshmallow top and chocolate center for instant campfire flashbacks.
Cradled by weathered brick walls and naturally lit by floor-to-ceiling windows, 88 Orchard slings a new selection of locally produced coffees, teas, and baked goods each week. After 5 p.m., the bistro goes undercover by donning a cape of fine wines and a mask of artisanal cheeses to accompany small plates and charcuterie in public without provoking gossip from more traditional bistros. Guests enter beneath a round turret into a corner storefront filled with classic New York charm, from its pressed-tin ceilings to its rough-hewn wooden tables. Free local delivery whisks pastries from Ceci Cela and sandwiches set on crusts from Balthazar Bakery and Amy's Bread throughout the neighborhood. On Tuesday night, an open mic beckons acoustic troubadours to sing for their suppers, though it forbids them to whine for their wine.