Six NYC flavors to swap for pumpkin spice this fall

Nobody here is trying to malign pumpkin spice. Yes, it arrives earlier every year, it can skew artificial and sometimes it’s just cathartic to have a collective punching-up target, but love or even mere acceptance of the famous fall mascot is fine. It’s just that, in New York City, we have plenty more flavors that are just as conducive to autumnal eating and drinking; enough that they’re even tough to narrow down. 

One reason for pumpkin spice’s ubiquity is its easy incorporation into that literal and metaphorical shorthand, the PSL. So, in considering local alternatives to the jack-o’-lantern’s culinary Mr. Hyde, “will it coffee” is a key consideration. These proposals sure do, and they’d be as enjoyable formed into seasonal novelties as they are in their wonderful, everyday form. 

Photograph: Courtesy of Nuts4Nuts

1. Nuts4Nuts

New York City’s most familiar (pleasant) perfume, you sense Nuts4Nuts’ pecans, cashews, almonds and peanuts before you reach them. Their fragrance fills the air several storefronts away from pushcart locations citywide, thanks to a cinematic caramelization process that cuts the crisp, clear autumn air with plumes of steam. It’s an aromatic icon year-round, with a sweet-nutty appeal particularly conducive to fall and 29 years as a thread in the tapestry of NYC cuisine.  

Photograph: Lizz Kuehl

2. Dive Bar Popcorn

Not every dive bar in NYC has free popcorn, but you’re more likely to find it amid duct-taped vinyl booths and half-broken jukeboxes than at other obvious artificial butter destinations like baseball stadiums, the circus or the cinema. As easily spun into hot buttered rum or shaped into balls and served on a stick, it’s a quiet NYC classic that not only carries corn from one season to the next, but whose comforting salt and fat are ideal for sweater weather.  

Mesa Coyoacan
Photograph: Courtesy of Mesa Coyoacan

3. Mole

Haughty hand waving at NYC’s supposed paucity of Mexican restaurants is passé, cliché and dismissive of the myriad, marvelous options all around town. Many proprietary mole blends abound, and some varieties’ notes (chilis, chocolate, cumin) best that of the orange behemoth. One could plan a whole Friendsgiving feast, from aperitif to digestif with all the sweets, savories and surprises in-between, with mole as the focus. 

Smor Bakery
Photograph: Paul Quitoriano

4. Cardamom Buns 

You’ll frequently find cardamom’s beautiful bouquet in cuisines all over the globe, and it began to approach local virality (yes, a delicious concept vis-à-vis foodstuffs) by way of cardamom buns in 2019, when Fabrique bakery’s take on the Swedish favorite followed existing offerings and started soaking up notice. Though they haven’t yet boomed like martinis or, even to a lesser extent, sit-down tinned fish, they’re slowly and steadily increasing in availability. Truly, whatever aroma stirs your soul—wrapping paper and bourbon on Christmas morning, suntan lotion on the beach, or tobacco and Earl Grey at Sephora—cardamom will emerge as a rival; sweet and savory like a secret whisper etching pleasant memories forevermore at first breath. It also seems like it would scale nicely in lattes or whatever. 

Pumpkin spiced marshmallow at Butter Baked Goods
Photograph: Krista Schlueter

5. Stovetop-toasted marshmallow

A relative few in the boroughs have residential access to a fire pit, place or the time and inclination to learn charcoal for one of the city’s fine fire areas, but many more have gas stoves. With the turn of a faded knob, you become a flame god imbued with the power to tame that blue and orange beast on a range from “lo” to “hi.” Position your extinguisher, fill a carafe with tap, consult your renter’s insurance, and hover a marshmallow over nature’s most affirming emoji. The stove-toasted s’more staples taste a little different than those roasted in the great outdoors, but you’re less likely to encounter bears, bugs or dudes with acoustic guitars in your own galley.

Anita Lo's bacon of the month club
Photograph: Noah Fecks

6. Bacon

Do you remember when everything was bacon? “Because bacon,” we’d all say, in-between vows to rosé all day and tests of how many toppings a single cupcake’s frosted crown could accommodate. Like those sweet treats, the anytime meat took hold nationwide, but seemed particularly pronounced in New York, with a concentration in Manhattan. Let’s revisit that porcine time. Because bacon.  

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