If you've ever visited Great Neck, you'll agree that the words "plaza" and "village" are hardly appropriate. Great Neck Plaza is one of the few upper-middle class shopping areas that doesn't have its nose up in the air. Its main artery is Middle Neck Road, both sides of which are celebrated by mostly independent store owners, except for maybe Starbucks and Omaha Steaks. The sidewalks are all red brick, and plants are everywhere, and wherever possible, flower baskets are hanging from street lanterns or bow gracefully to the sidewalks from concrete planters.
I chose to show my foreign students Great Neck Plaza today, as they had scheduled, and postponed, their annual autofest and street festival. Despite the disappointment of the cancellation, we all decided to explore on foot anyway. Parking here is a challenge; when you tire of going around the block eight times, you can always settle for the municipal parking lot where it costs you $0.25/hour, a bargain considering where you are.
All roads lead to Middle Neck Road, which is the busiest and most populated in the village. We strolled up one side of the street, and when we approached the Great Neck Railroad Station, I suggested we walk over and look around. This is home to the Long Island Railroad, one of the ways Great Neckers link to Manhattan and the rest of Long Island. The station has an early 1900s look, right down to the waiting room, where you can also purchase tickets. A newspaper vendor has a stall right by the stairs leading down to the Manhattan bound trains, and I'm sure he has stories to tell. There is still a romance to riding the railroad in my heart, even if you are not traveling a great distance. By express, you can reach Penn Station in about 20 minutes.
There are innumerable restaurants in the area: quite a few kosher, shish kabob, Italian, Japanese, and a recent Thai, which we tried a couple of months ago and was a must on the hit list.
Making a right on Bond Street, there are some benches, which look very inviting, that have been permanently fastened to the sidewalks. Farther up the street was a Hagen-Dazs, a children's shop (there are many, and a shop with handmade pottery and kitchenware. So what makes this such a ritzy place? Well, for one, I dare you to find a price tag on anything you see in any window in Great Neck Plaza. There are none, and as the old adage goes, if you have to ask, you can't afford it. Also, the village of Great Neck was home to some of the most famous millionaires: F. Scott Fitzgerald, Groucho Marx, and W. C. Fields all lived here at one time. This is one of the few New York places that are litter- and graffiti-free. Many of the region's top doctors live or practice here: most of my physicians are in this area, and I don't mind the ride, as it's always enchanting. My favorite international food store has been here as far as I can remember, and I can go in at any time for soft white Syrian cheese, Turkish halvah, Greek olives (both green and black), bulk spices, hennah, dried fruits, teas, and a great variety of nuts. It's called the Five Continents, and if you're in the area, pop in. When the bread is freshly delivered, there is no better pita on the face of the earth. Stay tuned.