No other city in the world does the holidays like New York! New York City has always had a love affair with the holidays. After all, it was a group of immigrant construction workers who began the tradition of the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree on what was merely rubble, so they could feel connected to the homes they left behind.
Today, that tree lighting is watched by over 8 million people from around the world. Those lights? Well they wouldn’t have been possible without the genius of a Thomas Edison employee based in our great city.
While the Sinterklaas myth behind the man was brought to our shores by the Dutch, it was Thomas Nast, a well-known New York illustrator, who gave life to Santa Claus with his depictions of the jolly old man for Harper’s Weekly. The inspiration for Nast’s image came from the son of the man who created our Chelsea neighborhood, Clement Clarke Moore, who’s credited with authoring A Visit from St. Nicholas or as many know it today, Twas the Night Before Christmas.
And prior to Dickens’ Christmas Carol, native New Yorker Washington Irving celebrated the season by bringing Americans some British traditions with his collection of stories called The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, which is more remembered today as The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.
Not to mention all the many other winter holidays that are celebrated here like nowhere else in the world—consider the lighting of the world’s largest menorah, Paul Winter’s Solstice Celebration at St. John the Divine, Regeneration Night at the Apollo, or El Museo del Barrio’s Three Kings Day Parade. But for this foodie, my favorite tradition is with our annual holiday markets that pop up for various limited time periods with the help of the folks from Urbanspace NYC.
Here’s my updated take on the Columbus Circle Holiday Market in 2019. The first thing that you’ll notice, if you’re a regular like me, is that they seem to have made an effort to widen some of the aisles for the vast number of shoppers to walk through. Which is nice. But once you get to the food and drink area, you’ll notice another change—the lack of Citi branding in the covered seating area. And just how much the missing partnership seems to have impacted the space as a whole…and not necessarily in a good way.
The folks at Citi provided heaters in the non-covered area, free hot chocolate, phone chargers, a fun photo booth, and staffed a hospitality desk. While there is still a covered area, the décor is rather tragic looking – especially when compared to what Urbanspace has done this year at Bryant Park. There are fewer food options this year, but that may also be due to the change in partnerships. And now for the important stuff—who’s new and what’s good?!
No Chewing Allowed (RETURNED)
Leave it to the French to come up with the name of a company that it comedically rude. This purpose of this stall is clear—to get you to enjoy Loire Valley chocolate truffles the proper way—without chewing them! You are to let them melt in your mouth so that every receptor from your tongue to your nostrils can take in the glory of these rich treats. The generous souls here regularly put out samples of their truffles for you to enjoy, which you can obviously purchase to bring home with you, but the real decadence comes from a cup of their hot chocolate, which is made with milk—not water, and then for a good-til-the-last-drop finish they toss a truffle into your cup. Cheers! This has been a delightful mainstay on my tour for years.
The Flo Kiss (RETURNED)
We’ve got more imports from Europe here that are covered in chocolate, and some in coconuts, and nuts, and cookie crumbles and on and on. These treats are like overgrown kisses as we know them, except rather than being solidly chocolate, they contain an aerated vanilla cream that’s an upgrade from a marshmallow. Now, I don’t want to tell you how many of these you should consume in one sitting, but I will say they are sold in singles as well as 6 and 12-packs. So, if you can’t decide between milk, dark, white chocolate and the various toppings they offer, then go for a variety—they’ll happily box up one of each for you. Then you can decide whether to share or not.
Jicama: California Street Food (RETURNED)
Generally speaking, I love California Street Food. However, when the temperatures drop, as they do in December, I don’t often find myself craving tacos. But perhaps I would go for some loaded fries and a tamale, which they do have here. What makes this a worthy stop in your consumption tour is that they’ve created a large list of adult beverages that may just make your kids jealous. OK, fine, they offer non-alcoholic options as well! While I would skip the cider from this stall, as you should get your apple-forward drinks from New Yorkers who know better, I wouldn’t be mad at you for getting one of their other specialty holiday cocktails, like the S’mores, Peppermint Oreo, or Winter Wonderland Hot Chocolate. But if it’s Cali tastes you’re craving then I would stick to the Margaritas. More specifically, La Madre de Dragones Margarita, which tastes great AND gives you a little Game of Thrones courage!
Glazey Days Donuts (NEW)
This was definitely a top pick of the new vendors for me. These guys are a family-owned and operated business coming to us from Maryland. Now, if you’re familiar with Doughnuttery, then you know about this neat little mini doughnut maker that they have at their stalls throughout the city—including Turnstile Market and the Food Hall at The Plaza. But just because these donuts are a similar size does not mean that they are equal! These little mouthfuls of decadence are coated in glazes and other toppings, rather than flavored sugars. For example, the Rudolph’s Reese’s Combo has bits of Reese’s on top, and the Merry Maple Bacon does, in fact, contain sprinkles of bacon! They also serve some Hot Cider, which I didn’t try—but you definitely can’t go wrong with any of their donuts. And their service with a smile is contagious—they also informed me that the info on their little Meet the Maker signs is not completely accurate…but it is a nice touch this year.
Enfes has now been at this market for a few years as well and I’ve watched as they’ve evolved into a real, full concept. They even had a brick and mortar shop for a little bit. But they’re back in Columbus Circle again this year with their Turkish eats that cover savory and sweet. I personally like the sweet bites here more than most of the savory options, as I find the gozleme can be inconsistent in quality—sometimes there’s just not enough filling for my liking. But, if you want to try one of their specialty wrap-style sandwiches, I would suggest the Mediterranean or Middle Eastern versions. And if you want to go wild—maybe the Frankfurter version is more to your liking. Just don’t forget to end on some baklava or Turkish delight.
Frida’s Favorites Mexican Cantina (NEW)
Important note: THIS IS NOT RELATED to the restaurant Café Frida on the Upper West Side. This is a completely separate pop-up operation that can be seen at other markets in the city. And honestly, I’d rather go to Café Frida. They have standard options here—tacos, burritos, nachos, etc. I was pretty underwhelmed by the food I had here. The flavors were decent but the meat itself—both the chicken and beef—was overcooked and tough to eat. My suggestion, if you want some eats from here is to try the vegetarian stuff. I should have followed my gut and ordered the street corn.
Fries and Craft Beer by The Truffleist (NEW)
While The Truffleist is not new to the market (you’ll see more below), this stall is a first timer here. The menu here is limited—which makes sense given their space. They have a good selection of craft beers, if that’s what you’re looking for—and really the only ones who do. I would suggest that you stick to the fries here as the mozzarella sticks are nothing to write home about. Basically—just order the things in their name. I mean they have 4 types of fries on their menu and I would be happy to devour any of them: Classic Curly Fries, Cheesy Truffle Fries, Goat Cheese and Truffle Honey Fries, and Burrata Animal-Style Fries. Ugh, now that’s all I want to eat.
German Delights, Inc (RETURNED)
If you want to talk about a country that takes their outdoor holiday markets seriously, then you muse be speaking of Germany. This group has been at the market, I believe, since it’s beginnings. It’s an annual staple, and what’s great is they always have the same familiar faces to grill up your bratwurst and pour you some gluhwein. I would personally save my sausage eating for this stall, as I just love a great German bratwurst hot off the grill, but if that’s not your cup of tea, then I suggest you have a cup of theirs. Gluhwein is called the Christmas drink as it’s generally only served at these kinds of markets. It’s made form fruits, herbs, and spices to warm you up in the winter months, and it can be served with or without alcohol. This year you can get both at the stall for the very first time! It also pairs perfectly with that other German holiday treat, lebkuchen. Just remember not to serve your kids from the wrong cup! Also—note that they’ve usually run out of the stuff by the last week, so get there ASAP if you want your Gluhwein.
The Baking Bean (RETURNED)
They’ve got cookies, chocolate, and marshmallows. When you put those things together, and add heat, what do you get? S’mores! That’s right, whether you want a little s’more on a stick, or one of their jumbo treats the size of your hand, they’ll toast them to order for you. It’s like your own little holiday car commercial—right there in the market! Mmmm…I can just taste that melty chocolate right now. Just be sure to bring cash as they weren’t taking plastic last year. They’ve also got plenty of options for you to take on the go, like their gingerbread cookie sandwiches or their brownies which are also delicious.
Wafels and Dinges (RETURNED)
As far as I’m concerned, Wafels and Dinges are now a NYC staple food. What started out as a food truck now has set up in several parks and other markets, plus they’ve got a brick and mortar shop in the East Village. But here, in this festive marketplace, it’s pretty much all sweet waffles—even the bourbon maple bacon—yeah, that sounds good, doesn’t it. Of course, if you don’t want any meat on yours my favorite is the classic Throwdown Wafel, which was the one that beat Bobby Flay a few years ago. The wafels are so good on their own, but if you’ve ever had an addition to the Trader Joe’s Cookie Butter, then you should go for any wafel with their Spekuloos spread, which is their homemade (better) version of that. My mouth is watering just thinking about it—you can also buy the spreads to take home with you.
The Truffleist (RETURNED)
From the restaurants to your own kitchen, Jimmy’s got a variety of truffle products for every kind of food lover. Whether you want something sweet like their amazing honey—which pairs perfectly with any cheese board, or something more savory like their oil or mustard which are great additions to salads and sandwiches, you can try it all at this little stall. And this year they have the truffle hot sauce to sample, which is my personal favorite—grab yourself a bottle and toss some onto your raclette sandwich for your closer-than-you-imagine alpine escape!
Balkan Bites (NEW)
This stall is definitely bringing the competition to longtime vendor, Enfes. Here you have bureks on bureks on bureks. And if you’re unfamiliar with a burek, it’s similar to spanakopita or spinach pie in that it’s make from phyllo dough and filled with deliciousness. These bureks use handmade phyllo, which is a very difficult task, but gives you a superior product. They have both savory and sweet options, and heat them up for you to get the perfect bite of flaky crust and smooth filling. They also serve baklava for those who love their honey and nuts. This woman-owned business is on a mission to share a taste of the Balkans with NYers and they’re off to a very good start here.
Casa Toscana (RETURNED)
You’ve probably seen Casa Toscana around the city as well, as they’ve been in a few different locations, including just below ground from their current location, when they were in the Turnstile Market. They’re mostly known for their flat breads, which I generally find to be a fine quick bite if I’m in a hurry somewhere, but they’re certainly not destination-worthy in a very crowded market of Italian foods in this city. But, at the holiday market, I would strongly suggest that you grab yourself some of their mulled wine and a beautiful filled doughnut or Bomboloni, if we’re being proper.
Breezy Hill Orchard (RETURNED)
Like German Delights, Breezy Hill has been serving up holiday goodness since the beginning of the market. And when I said to skip the cider drinks at Jicama, it’s because these are your apple experts. If you’re a farmer’s market regular, then you may have seen them around. And if you’ve been to the markets before then you’ve probably noticed their cider, cider doughnuts, AND their comically large gingerbread people. Their apples come from the Hudson Valley and this year you can get some straight up cider without any spiking—or you can try any of their draft ciders, some Wassail, or my favorite: the Boozey Hot Apple Cider. And they’ve also got your melty cheese and bread needs covered. I suggest you get their Raclette sandwich with some smoked goose, and roasted chestnuts—pair that with your cider and it’s like a winter dream in your mouth!
Finally there are a couple of markets that are more buy now, eat later, or buy now and gift later things. There’s Exquisito Chocolate which is filling the void that Raaka left behind with their bean-to-bars, the adorable HoneyGramz which provides the cutest little bottles that you can gift with whatever message you’d like, and finally United Chocolate Works which is something I don’t quite understand because these handcrafted chocolate tools look too pretty to eat—at least if I’m paying.
If you’d still like a professional to take you through this market and more, then you can contact me for a Private Tour today! Reference this article and I’ll gladly give you a discount.