My family comes from Poland. I was raised on Polish cooking, the Polish language and Polish custom in an area of metropolitan New York that was once like a little Poland.
I was born in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, part of what is sometimes referred to as "Forgotten New York," and once a bastion of Polish first and second generation immigrants from the old country. It was little wonder that my Polish parents migrated to Greenpoint from Scranton and New Bedford, met, married and lived there while they started their family.
I had not returned to Greenpoint in many years, so on a recent visit to Manhattan with friends, and having been to the Battery, China Town, the Village, Mid Town, and Central Park, numerous times, we decided to check out my roots.
The East River ferry goes across the river from Midtown Manhattan at E. 34th St. and makes a stop at India Street in Greenpoint! We found Huron Street where my parents rented a "cold water flat" for many years before moving upstate to Syracuse.
Then we walked on to the main thoroughfares of Greenpoint: Greenpoint Avenue and Manhattan Avenue. I had yearned for the sites and smells of some good Polish food and I was not disappointed. First stop, the Polish butcher for kieshka, kielbasa, oxtail soup, and more. Then on to the Northside Bakery, corner of Nassau and Humboldt Streets, for some sweet bread and pastry. Finally, around the corner, Karczma Polish Restaurant, a rustic venue on Greenpoint Avenue, where the food was traditional, scrumptious and a delight to us all.
Greenpoint has had a difficult transition: in the 1970s, it was seedy and dirty. Many of the original families of Polish descent had moved on upstate as my family did, or farther out onto Long Island to escape the problems of big city living. But today, while Greenpoint becomes "yuppified," the Polish culture remains and can be easily enjoyed.
On Saturdays, there is a Green Market at McCarren Park, located on Union Avenue between Driggs and North 12. It's a free farmer's market, open from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturdays, where you can find home made and home grown goods, entertainment and more.
But even if you just go for the food, and a great ferry ride on the East River, Greenpoint is a good bet for an afternoon or evening that's not just the same old, same old. Leaving the India Street dock, you can take the ferry all the way down to Wall Street and the Brooklyn Bridge, and enjoy a great view of Manhattan across the river, as well as the Statue of Liberty in the distance. It makes for a day that is unforgettable, rather than forgettable in New York.