Many of the urban parents we know suffer a common weekend conundrum—what can we do that’s fun and engaging for our kid without spending six hours pushing them on the swing? One Saturday we decided to just get in the car with our increasingly restless toddler and drive to another neighborhood as if we were exploring a foreign city. As we drove we came up with a three-part mission: 1. Eat a delicious kid-friendly lunch, 2. Play for an hour or two at a place that would entertain and maybe even educate our child (a zoo, a concert, etc.) and 3. Shop for something indigenous to the hood (pickled herring in Brighton Beach). It turned out to be a great day and unlike most Saturdays, it was naptime before we knew it. A tradition was born. We’ve since visited Brighton Beach, Astoria, and much closer to home, Greenpoint. We’ll begin here for the first installment of Eat Play Shop. Every stop—Google mapped here–is walkable from the G Train at Nassau Ave. if you don’t have a car.
We started the afternoon at Brooklyn MAC, a small take-out shop that serves some of the best (and most foodie-friendly) macaroni and cheese in the city. Take your time choosing—it’s a tough call between the Bay Ridge (spinach, mushrooms, ricotta & mozzarella), the Red Hook (bacon & smoked gouda) and the Bensonhurst (homemade meat sauce, mozzarella & ricotta). There’s also plenty of vegetarian and even vegan combos and a few nice salads (but really, why?) or you can mix and match and make your own. Each mac is made to order and served in a neat little aluminum tray so you can eat it in nearby McCarren Park if the weather permits or bring it home and reheat in the oven. Don’t skip the optional breadcrumb topping (there’s even a gluten-free cornflake version for the bread-adverse). And while you wait for the cooks to prepare your deliciously decadent lunch, you can sit on the window seat, sip a soda or a juice box (both for sale in the beverage fridge) and watch bikes and strollers roll by. Brooklyn MAC, 77 Norman Ave. between Lorimer St & Manhattan Ave., (718) 706-9622, weekend hours: 11 am to 11 pm Sat., 11 am to 9 pm Sun.
The growing population of young families in Williamsburg and Greenpoint convinced the ultra-hip couple Wade Groom and Katja Douedari to open PLAY last year. Unlike other kids-gyms in the area, this place has a modern, artistic design and mature music (Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Black Keys) that make it feel more like your rich friend’s basement than an indoor playground. And little ones can’t get enough of the high-end playthings. There’s a carpeted slide, an excellent library, a mock retro kitchen and grocery store plus plenty of slow moving vehicles and big, soft cushions. A (recently redone) back room is reserved for classes and birthday parties but when neither is in session, kids can rock out with the room’s many musical instruments. Next to the gated play area is a small lounge with a couch, coffee ($2) and (hallelujah!) non-parenting magazines, where Katja and Wade also sell their onesie line, Nola and Phoenix, named after their toddler twins. PLAY, 33 Nassau Ave. between Dobbin and Guerney Sts., (718) 387-2071, $10 per child, weekend hours: 10 am to 4 pm.
When it’s time to leave, you can try to convince your tantruming tot that while he cannot live full-time at PLAY, he can return in the near future. Or you can drag him out kicking and screaming, which is probably how it will go. Just a few blocks away on Manhattan Avenue, we found Polski, a low-key, cheap Polish meat market selling spectacular kielbasa, soups and stuffed cabbage. Word of warning: Everyone here speaks Polish and little English so either study up or be prepared to do some guesswork. Fortunately many of the homemade goodies are sold in transparent containers so you usually have some idea of what you’re bringing home. We picked up a container labeled “Bigos” which turned out to be a hearty, smoky pork and cabbage soup. We loved their freshly baked seeded rolls and despite all the new gluten-free options around Greenpoint, this traditionally Polish neighborhood is still home to some of the city’s best pierogi—as it turns out a very kid-friendly dinner. Polski Meat Market, 726 Manhattan Ave. between Norman and Meserole Aves., (718) 349-2884