Sunday, April 30, 2006

Van Duzer Days

On the way back from an errand Saturday morning, we stopped at the Muddy Cup (or is just "The Cup" now?) on Saturday for some coffee and to read our New York Times. It had been a while since we'd wandered around Van Duzer St. and with the Spring, the street life was abounding. A bunch of kids were standing around giggling and laying hands on a mid 80s Honda Civic that had been driven up onto the curb. There was some kind of giant subwoofer in the trunk, and it was clearly overpowering every hinge, screw, and piece of plastic in the car. They were enjoying the vibrations, and so were we, even from fifteen feet away.

After a couple coffees, we walked back over to the big red brick house two doors south of The Cup (the place just to the other side of the yellow house with the columns that Cynthia had wanted to look at when we were looking) because there was a sign outside that said Estate Sale. As it turns out, there was a pretty decent selection of furniture -- don't get me wrong, some of it was terrible, but some was pretty nice looking, and as far as I'm concerned more serviceable than Everything Goes. Cynthia has been looking for a dresser since we moved in August (I got mine at the Park Slope flea market on moving day), and hadn't had much luck or inclination to look. We found two we liked, and in a very strange twist of fate, it turned out that they were far less expensive than I would have anticipated (Go Staten Island once again), take home either one for $100, plus $20 for local delivery. Pretty nice, I'll post a picture later.

Then we walked over to Hoppin' John's and were thrilled to find breakfast still being served (even though it was well into the afternoon). The place had a fairly convincing southern vibe to it, and reminded me of soul food places I've been to in Harlem and South Central Los Angeles, which is to say bustling, multi-racial, and extremely hospitable. I was feeling really good about finding the restaurant when the waitress (who was possibly the proprietor, such a proprietary air had she) brought me my cup of coffee. It was possibly the wateriest and least flavorful stuff I'd ever had, with an odd, malty sweet smell that Cynthia swore was the smell of instant coffee. The three breakfast choices that excited me the most were liver and grits, whiting and grits, or salmon croquet and grits. Then there were the requisite favorites: scrapple, collard greens, yams, catfish, etc. Although I was hankerin' for some liver and grits, I ordered two eggs sunny-side-up, grits, and scrapple. Cynthia had flapjacks. When the food came, it was storybook perfect, and delicious. The portions were not excessive, which was nice (I would have eaten whatever was put in front of me), the grits were creamy, ,and the scrapple came perfectly crisped in two small rectangular tiles. The pancakes were firm, thick, chewy, and flavorful, perhaps not everyone's preference, but just the way I like them. The service was helpful and attentive, the atmosphere was airy and cheery, and the meal was delicious and, significantly cheap, about $6.00 per person. We're always looking for breakfast places, so this was a win for us. Much, much better than the King's Arms diner on Forest, which we've visited many times when in need of some Saturday afternoon breakfast, and so we'll definitely be back.


We really owe Brownstoner one for this...

Hipness on the Horizon for Staten Island

Not that we're impressed by hipness per se, but we'd be as happy as anyone to see Staten Island lose its undeserved "inferior good" status.


Recent Press About Moving To Staten Island
Why I Love...St. George Staten Island, Time Out NY
Across the Harbor, a Historic Gem, The New York Times
Borough bloggers reveal secret gems of NYC neighborhoods, New York Daily News
For a Family, Elaborate Elbow Room, The New York Times
Staten Island, An Artist Community, television feature, NBC News
Hipsters on Staten Island, video feature, The New York Times
Bohemia by the Bay, The New York Times
Living in Tompkinsville, The New York Times
House call: Animal Kingdom, Time Out NY
Artists Hope To Revitalize St. George, Stapleton Areas, NY1 News
Brownstoner: Ditmas Park vs. St. George
Brownstoner: The Prodigal Buzz
A Quest for a Castle, slideshow feature, The New York Times
Looking for a House and a Turret, The New York Times

Forgotten New York - Staten Island Photo Tour
Scenes of the Grymes
St. George, Staten Island Wonderland
View from the Terrace 2
The Victorians of Victory Blvd.
View from the Terrace
Toad of Todt Hill
Stations of the S.I.R.T 3
Stations of the S.I.R.T 4
LaTourette, Lighthouses and Wright
Hospital of the Damned
Hidden Cemeteries of Staten Island
Rime of the Ancient Mariner
Forgotten New York: Tour #16
Forgotten New York: Tour #2
Forgotten New York: Back roads of Staten Island
Forgotten New York: Alleys of Staten Island

New York City Real Estate Blogs
Forgotten New York
The Huntgrunt

Real Estate Companies
Gateway Arms Realty
Historic Properties, United States
Robert DeFalco Realty
Safari Realty

Real Estate Agents
Norma Sue Wolfe, Gateway Arms Realty

Location Scouts
CVB Spaces, Locations for Print, Film, Events and Vacations

Preservation League of Staten Island
St. George Civic Association

How People Used To Live On Staten Island
Historic Richmond Town


Forgotten New York: Rime of the Ancient Mariner
Atlantis Marina
Fishing Piers




Spring Has Sprung!

Maybe we've been working too much at our other jobs to notice, but something wonderful happened on Staten Island over the last couple weeks. There are blossoms everywhere, to be followed shortly by the delicate, iridescent beginnings of this summer's greenery and next fall's foliage. We got around town a fair amount this weekend running errands, and it seems like cherry blossom time is here. Even back at our house, the garden we were sure we'd killed sometime around September with our neglect (the website's not all I have trouble keeping up with) somehow came back to life. It sounds naive, but it was genuinely a surprise. A very good one.

Well it's official...

After a very long hiatus, The Prodigal Borough has returned. Ever since our overhaul (we officially migrated from greymatter to blogger about 3 minutes ago), we hope we'll be seeing more of each other!

Cafe Botanica at Snug Harbor -- Something is in the Air

We spent a lovely sunny afternoon at Cafe Botanica at Snug Harbor eating brunch and making new friends.

Since the launch of our site we've gotten several e-mails from other like-minded Staten Island die-hards, some who have lived here for years, and others who, like us, moved to find more space and remarkable housing in the face of surreally escalating prices elsewhere. This morning, after going to the wonderfully warm and accommodating Bay Street Animal Hospital to check on one of our cats who is extremely sick, Cynthia and I went down to Snug Harbor to have a little breakfast. No sooner had we ordered than we made some new friends -- a nice couple sat down and struck up a conversation. It was their first trip to Staten Island and they were just the way we were a few months ago, which is to say pretty surprised that it was as green, quiet, and lovely as it is. We'd have to say something is definitely in the air.

We'd been to Cafe Botanica, the restaurant at the Staten Island Botanical Garden in Snug Harbor once or twice before, and found it to be a delicious and relaxing experience. Today wasn't much different, and although the service was molasses slow, our waitstaff was still attentive and conscientious (they notified us in advance that our food would take about twenty minutes, and asked if that was okay). I had the omelette of the day (meaty rather than fatty chunks of slab bacon, carmelized onion, cheddar cheese) which came with a nice fruit cup and a recently-baked biscuit which was lighter than air, and chewy and flaky rather than crumbly -- in a good way. It was served with whipped strawberry butter, which was really a nice combination. The omelette was about the size of a running shoe, far more than I could have eaten, though it was certainly perfectly formed. I ate about 3/4 of it, which was 1/4 more than I had intended. The coffee comes served in an individual-serving french press, although it's a bit of a ruse, since there aren't actually coffee grounds under the filter. Pretty sneaky sis. Cynthia had her usual, "Eggs in a Nest," which is two eggs poached (or more likely, baked) into two pieces of fluffy brioche. The yolks were cooked about 45 seconds short of hard, which, as fans of undercooking, we don't prefer. We guessed that this decision was more salmonella-avoidance and less flavor-maximization. We felt the whole idea of the dish was crying out for runny yolk, lawsuits be damned. We ordered a side salad as well to share, and it arrived as a buttery melange of soft mesclun with julienned carrots and a very light and tasteful oil and vinegar dressing. I'm picky about salads, but this one was as good as any I've had -- eating it with eggs reminded me of the farmer's breakfast at the Cornelia St. Cafe near my old apartment on Bleecker St. which was poached eggs (with runny yolks), slab bacon, and roasted garlic over greens. We'd prefer to see a little bit of salad served with the eggs by default, like it is at many places (though it's done best at our favorite Park Slope German place, Cafe Steinhof).

But the best part of it all was sitting out on the veranda in front of the 19th century gothic victorian house, across from the Botanical Garden greenhouse, underneath the shade of lush green centigenarian trees. Okay, that and the fact that the tab was $20 which included tax and a 25% tip (we thought it was better to leave more for the overextended waitress than to try to wait for her to give us change). The bees were out, to be sure, but that's because the flowers were too.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Alice Austen House - A Room of Her Own on Staten Island

Alice Austen was allegedly the first first female documentary photographer; she shot her subjects in their natural surroundings doing everyday things rather than in the stiff poses that were typical of her day. She photographed places and events as they really were rather than staging shots; she was a photojournalist before the word had even been invented. It seems to be a matter of little emphasis but no secrecy that Austen lived with her longtime female partner, Gertrude Tate, in their lovely 19th century house, “Clear Comfort”. Alice lived on inherited money, clearly in comfort, for most of her life, but in her twilight years, she lost everything in the stock market crash of 1929 and literally landed in the poorhouse. I happened upon her house on September 11th. Russell and I were attempting to explore the shoreline by taking Hylan down to Edgewater St. when we heard the peal of a dozen sirens and saw huge torrents of water shooting into the air.

Had it been any other day, in any other borough, we'd have run the other way, but considering the circumstances, we knew it was a memorial. And it was indeed a Rotary Club memorial for the NYFD. A fire boat was out on the water spouting beautiful but grave arcs of red, white, and blue water into the air.

From the sidelines, several trucks fired large jets of water into air towards downtown Manhattan, a mechanical fountain of tears to commemorate those which had already been shed.

Truth be told, it brought a tear to my eye as well. Several engines, new and old, were scattered along the street.

There seemed to be a memorial service going on in the white picketed front yard of the Alice Austen house, so, mindful that we seemed to be intruding but courageous because we felt a kinship with these folks, we headed up to the house.

The museum was open to visitors, while the gallery was open to local artists: 9/11 inspired paintings brought in for this one-day event were leaned against the walls. The space seemed cozy and the general attitude was exceedingly trusting compared to what you would encounter at a Manhattan or Brooklyn house museum where the wary eyes of volunteers miss nothing. The museum room was decorated in period furniture which was left inexplicably unattended. On one hand, I like the intimacy of that, but on the other I was worried about Alice’s framed pictures and the antique objects in the room. I picked up some literature about the museum and the artist, and also a card for a photography exhibit entitled, “Drawn To Water”, by Christine Osinksi. The exhibit runs from Aug 14 – October 15, 2005. I’ll have to stop in and view that. Other exhibits are listed here. Once again, I was struck by the architecture, rambling and pastoral, but with a collosal million-dollar view.

Thankfully, Staten Island preservationists were able to save this house and continue to protect it. Extra points to, the site is easy to navigate and sheds light on this fascinating woman.

A Day in the Life - My Commute in Pictures and Timestamps

What is it actually like to commute from St. George to midtown Manhattan?

I warmed up my trusty cellphone camera this morning and took as many snapshots as I could on the way to work without arousing suspicion. I drew a great number of uneasy glances while I snapped away (domestic paranoia on public transportation is at an all time high, so this was to be expected). Some of the shots are especially blurry or badly backlit as the result of my stealthy maneuvering. Without further ado:

9:14am - Leaving from the side door. I was at the office until 9 last night, so a late start today.

9:14am - Down the front steps

9:14am - And more steps. Getting to this house is a bit of a hike.

9:15am - Looking down Fort Hill Circle towards Daniel Low Terrace. Oops, it's time to rake.

9:15am - Looking back towards the house; I ran into a landscaper working on my neighbor's house and accosted him for a card. The prodigal homestead gardens are becoming a little big amazon-esque and I've yet to find enough time to spend on it, so it might be time to bring in some help. It was Tom Henri from True Green Landscaping, and I think I'll be giving him a call soon to discuss getting some help.

9:17am - The big tudor house at the intersection of Vine St. and Daniel Low Terrace. Rumor has it that the original owner of this house and the owner of ours were brothers. Their yards were connected into one giant ramble complete with swimming pool.

9:17am - Pleasant, green, and sleepy on Vine Street.

9:18am - Corner of Vine and Belmont, more of the same.

9:19am - I can't remember what this park and playground is called, but I pass it twice a day every day.

9:19am - Rounding the corner of the park towards the water. My camera doesn't show it, but the horizon is the Brooklyn skyline.

9:20am - The water at the end of Wall Street. Not that Wall Street. It looks like sunrise because the exposure was weird, not because it actually looked that way.

9:20am - Looking right from Wall St. down St. Marks Place.

9:21am - Looking down Wall St. near Academy Place. This is what they mean when they say San Francisco-esque.

9:23am - Moving (too) quickly by the corner store on Stuyvesant Pl.

9:23am - Doesn't look like much, but it's our local NYPD precinct.

9:23am - My daily viewing of the ballpark on Richmond Terrace and Wall St.

9:24am - Crossing Richmond Terrace

9:24am - Looking back up Wall St. from the ferry side of Richmond Terrace.

9:24am - Ferry parking, new terminal arch, and breathtaking skyline view (use your imagination here since the camera didn't catch it) from the viaduct.

9:24am - Fellow commuter scurrying along the viaduct.

9:25am - A glance back towards Borough Hall and the courthouse on Richmond Terrace from the viaduct.

9:25am - Manhattan Skyline from the viaduct.

9:25am - The brand new St. George Staten Island ferry terminal.

9:26am - Sauntering up the steps of the ferry terminal with 4 minutes to spare.

9:27am - Skyline and ferry activity from the plaza outside the terminal.

9:27am - Stragglers heading in for the 9:30 ferry.

9:28am - Some of New York's Finest checking out the stragglers.

9:28am - Each ferry has a name. This one is the Samuel I., nevermind. Some ferries are larger than others, it just depends on the time of day.

9:29am - The ferry next door.

9:29am - I love to sit on the outer deck when it's warm to get the ocean breezes.

9:30am - Always lots of tourists enjoying the views.

9:30am - Departing on time to the minute. My fellow islander making use of his cellphone cam. It's hard to resist taking photos.

9:31am - Waiting in line at the Liberty Cafe, the onboard coffee and food place for a croissant and some coffee.

9:40am - Coffee in hand, now to enjoy the ride.

9:45am - No, that's not a mushroom cloud behind the Statue of Liberty.

9:45am - Passing the ferry going back towards the Island. Manhattan on the right, Jersey City on the left.

9:46am - Passing ferry with Jersey City backdrop.

9:46am - Nearing Governor's Island

9:48am - Happy tourists taking pictures of downtown on this blindingly blue day.

9:49am - The money shot: This is why they ride the ferry.

9:49am - Let's take a moment to remember our happy days in Brooklyn.

9:50am - Manhattan and Brooklyn are friends.

9:50am - More skyline splendor.

9:51am - The brand new Staten Island ferry terminal on the Manhattan side.

9:52am - Our friends at the U. S. Coast Guard, who can occasionally be seen walking patrol on the ferry, guarding the landings, or speeding by in their light patrol boats and waving.

9:52am - A NYCDOT employee gets ready to unleash a torrent of tourists and speed-walking commuters on downtown Manhattan.

9:54am - I am actually the first one off the ferry. As I dash ahead, I snap this shot.

9:54am - Rushing down the terminal ramp to the subways and the workday beyond.

9:55am - The beautiful but tragically backlit Battery Maritime building.

9:56am - About to go subterranean in front of 1 New York Plaza. If I lived here, I'd be home by now.

10:01am - Scored a seat on the R train. 47 minutes and counting. Rather than post a picture of the subway for each station, I took notes on the arrival times as follows:

10:06am - City Hall

10:09am - Canal St.

10:13am - 14th Street. Dashed across the platform and grabbed an N express train.

10:16am - 34th Street.

10:18am - 42nd Street. I didn't realize it actually takes only a minute from 34th.

10:21am - Bryant Park. Fashion week is over.

10:23am - Welcome to the big city.

1:09 from door to door. If I worked downtown, it would be faster; if I worked uptown, it would be slower. Having express train service directly from Whitehall would certainly make this much quicker. I've heard rumors it's in the works, but who knows when that will be. Interesting that the commute breaks down this way:

14 minutes: House to ferry (I can cover this in 10 minutes flat if I'm not taking pictures)

26 minutes: Ferry ride

24 minutes: Whitehall to 42nd Street