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Spring Food Preview: Sailing and Scarfing

Where to eat as you take to NYC's bounding main

It's spring! Time to shake off the hoar frost, comb the rime from your beard, and exit your hovel for the first time in months. Spring is when mariners and landlubbers alike yearn to return to the sea, "our great sweet mother," as James Joyce put it in Ulysses, "the snotgreen sea. The scrotumtightening sea." Paleobiologists tell us that all life began in the ocean, and that our mammalian ancestors crawled out of the foam only 360 million years ago. We've never lost our affinity for the sea, or the nagging need to return to it.

So now is the time to take to the water that surrounds us on all sides. It being a little early to don swimsuits, we're better off "going down to the sea in ships," as Psalm 107 rather confusingly puts it. (Don't we go down to the sea in taxis, then get on the ships?) Following are some sea-going urban adventures, and—for those who don't succumb to seasickness on boats—some places you might want to dine afterward.

Staten Island Odyssey

Boat, then bloat
Frances M. Roberts
Boat, then bloat

Location Info

Map

Island Roti Bakery Shop

65 Victory Blvd.
Staten Island, NY 10301

Category: Restaurant > Trinidadian

Region: Staten Island

Fatburger

286 Washington St.
Jersey City, NJ 07302

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: Jersey City

Ibby's Falafel

303 Grove St.
Jersey City, NJ 07302

Category: Restaurant > Middle Eastern

Region: Jersey City

Ibby's Falafel

303 Grove St.
Jersey City, NJ 07302

Category: Restaurant > Middle Eastern

Region: Jersey City

Anatolian Gyro Restaurant

1605 Sheepshead Bay Road
Brooklyn, NY 11235

Category: Restaurant > Greek

Region: Brooklyn

Randazzo's Clam Bar

2017 Emmons Ave.
Brooklyn, NY 11235

Category: Restaurant > Seafood

Region: Sheepshead Bay

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No better boat ride than the Staten Island Ferry, which went from being ridiculously inexpensive to free in both directions several years ago. The ferry leaves from its glitzy new digs in Whitehall at the foot of Manhattan every 20 or 30 minutes for most of the day. The ferry—which began regular operation in 1884—is not just one painfully orange boat, but eight, in four separate classes. The most luxurious—and the one I'm always excited to get a berth on—is the Guy V. Molinari, named after the former Staten Island borough president and congressman famous for voting against Martin Luther King Day and striving to prevent lesbians from holding public office.

Don't let that put you off his boat, though—it's an imperial 310 feet long and capable of carrying 4,400 passengers, 42 vehicles, and a crew of 16. The boat makes more than 16 knots (18.2 mph) with the throttle wide open, rushing across the wide mouth of the Upper Bay—a distance of 5.2 miles—in just under 25 minutes. The Molinari has four decks, including a tiny hurricane deck up top, which is where you should camp out as the seascape unfolds before you: the forts and empty barracks of Governors Island on the left, Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty on the right, then Bay Ridge and the Verrazano Narrows Bridge on the left, at which point the container-port machinery of Port Elizabeth rises on the right like a flock of gawky seabirds. Gulls follow the tumultuous wake of the ferry, sniping at hapless fish pulled to the surface by the screws. Finally, the twin peaks of Staten Island appear like some forgotten Caribbean port of call, with stately offices and government buildings in the forefront, and the Victorian frame houses of Saint George climbing the slopes like lazy mountaineers.

Has the salt air made you feel a bit peckish? Is so, exit the ferry terminal and walk to Bay Avenue, Staten Island's picturesque corniche. Go three blocks left to Victory Boulevard, which is a hotbed of amazing eats. Your choices include Trinidadian, Polish, Italian, Jamaican, and Sri Lankan, plus a half-dozen Mexican taquerias. I most recommend Island Roti Shop (65 Victory Boulevard), where you can get a mean goat or conch roti, and Taqueria El Gallo Azteca (75 Victory Boulevard), where you can scarf cemitas, the round Pueblan sandwiches. My fave is milanesa, made with a pounded and fried beef cutlet and fiery sundried chipotle peppers.

On the Waterfront

NY Waterway (nywaterway.com) operates a flotilla of ferries between Manhattan and various points on the Jersey shore. While the deck of the Staten Island Ferry is as steady as a mohel's hand, the boats that cross the Hudson are bathtub-sized by comparison, and prone to roll with each wave or wake, which makes the ride somewhat thrilling. We departed the floating pier at Battery Park City for Paulus Hook—which sounds like a boxing style favored by Jesuits, but actually betokens the campus of back-office buildings that have been growing like a cancer on the Jersey shoreline just north of the Colgate clock.

With the Goldman Sachs tower blinding us with reflected sunlight and after a mere five minutes of speedboating across the great river, we arrived at the dock, which boasts a streamlined ticket office and waiting room. The entire neighborhood, sometimes known as Exchange Place, might remind you of Blade Runner, or at least downtown L.A. The latter illusion can be enhanced by dining at Fatburger (286 Washington Street), a California chain that offers well-dressed burgers along with two types of fries.

Or abandon the neighborhood completely and seek out Jersey City's older Grove Street downtown, a few blocks west and north, where the rococo City Hall is likely to make you scratch your head in astonishment. Across the street, Ibby's Falafel (303 Grove Street) turns out some of the best Middle Eastern food in the tri-state area. No wonder—Ibby is the nephew of Mamoun, the most famous falafel maker on MacDougal.

The ferry costs $4.50 each way, but you can save $3 on the return trip by seeking out the Exchange Place PATH station, a couple blocks north of the ferry dock, and slithering back to lower Manhattan by underwater means.

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