Day: August 27th, 2006

Out of the Frying Pan

Sunday, August 27th, 2006 | All Things, Eats, Friends, NYC History

Inspired by my recent Friends of the High Line event, I returned to Pier 63 Maritime to revisit the Frying Pan lightship. The first tours were scheduled for 2:00PM, so on the way over on 23rd Street, I stopped in at the Choux Factory.

Japanese chain Choux Factory opened its first U.S. store in Tudor City in 2004 to challenge Beard Papa’s for cream puff supremacy. Like its rival, the shop specializes in piped-to-order pastry puffs, bursting with a variety of flavored custards. Other similarities between the chains are striking: brightly colorful, shiny interior and a cheerful staff, greeting every customer in a chorus of enthusiastic Japanese. Choux Factory also serves Kona coffee, muffins and sandwiches.

The Choux Factory puffs are softer, sweeter and slightly smaller (and more expensive) than Beard Papa’s puffs. The vanilla cream is also thicker, though to my taste, not quite as good: the vanilla flavor of the Choux Factory custard seems less pronounced, and I do miss the dark flecks of bean evident in the Beard Papa’s. Still, accompanied by a steaming cup of their rich Hawaiian Kona, it made for a perfect snack on this chilly, rainy afternoon.

Choux Factory


By 1:30 it was raining pretty hard, but I was determined to tour the Frying Pan this last Sunday in August.

Lightship #115 is one of only 13 remaining from more than 100 built. Another lightship, the Ambrose, is moored at South Street Seaport and serves as a permanent exhibition space on navigation and the role of lightships. The U.S. Coast Guard used lightships as floating lighthouses to guard and guide ships that could not be served by a lighthouse – either due to distance or topography. Many were also used to mark the entrances to harbors. The ship at Pier 63 was originally stationed at its namesake, Frying Pan Shoals, 30 miles off of Cape Fear, NC from 1930 to 1965. After being decommissioned and used for a time as a museum in Southport, NC, the ship was sold in 1984 and moved to an old cannery in the Chesapeake Bay, where it capsized and sunk, remaining underwater for three years before being raised by its current owners. After tons of silt and shells were removed from the hull, the ship was outfitted with a replacement engine and in 1989 cruised under its own power to New York City’s West Side.

Frying Pan

The driving rain kept everyone else away; I was the only visitor to the pier this afternoon, and there was no tour to be found. After wandering around aimlessly for a bit, I tracked down a young man swabbing the deck (really), who invited me aboard to tour the ship on my own. And so I did.

Difficult to imagine 15 men living on the ship in such close quarters for months on end. I explored the three levels of the darkened ship at my leisure: the engine room, the galley, cabins and common areas.

Frying Pan Engine

Frying Pan Galley

Frying Pan Controls

Pier 63

I arrived home, did a quick load of muddy, rain-spattered laundry and headed out to meet B and his newly arrived Tennessee cousins for an early dinner at Vynl. By the time we finished our meal, the drizzle had let up enough to allow for an impromptu tour of the Upper West Side. The four of us strolled up to the Time Warner Building, passing the Hearst Tower, which gave me the opportunity to share some of what I knew. From there we hit Central Park, stopping to admire the prettily lit lanterns at Tavern on the Green, which I pointed out was the site of my high school prom, those many years ago. As darkness fell, we somehow found ourselves near Rowboat Lake and the edges of the Ramble. I don’t know which made me more uneasy: the relatively deserted environs or the shadows of Park critters skittering about — eek!; in either case, we hastily made our way back up to Bethesda Terrace and out to the misty streets.

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