Monday, August 6, 2007

Short takes

Yesterday - August 5 - I concluded my summer Noshwalk season with a tour of Ridgewood, Queens. It's one of those neighborhoods that neither artists nor hipsters have discovered, and the reason, probably, is that it's physically intact. There are no sprawling industrial blocks of former factories waiting to be rehabilitated. There isn't a poor community in pre-war housing stock waiting for newcomers to "upgrade" them. (I'm thinking of the Grand Concourse here.) Instead, there are blocks and blocks of brownstone-type homes and later constructions, most no higher than three stories, and many in pristine condition. The residents seem to represent a wide cross-section of immigrants from Central and South America and the Caribbean; Eastern Europe (especially Poland); some Chinese; and older residents with German, Romanian, Slavic and Italian roots.

On Fresh Pond Road we went to Catania Bakery and on the way passed the new Pharaoh Cafe, an Egyptian place. Are Egyptians among the newer-comers to Ridgewood?

An old diner on Myrtle Avenue has been converted to the very animated Monta's Restaurant (54-55 Myrtle), evidently the property oif a baseball-obsessed owner. Parrot Market at 58-22 Myrtle has food from all over the place; its owners are Bulgarian, and they have delicious fresh bureks and spinach pies as well as packaged goods. We got a wonderful Romanian sheep cheese there. Monreale Italian bakery had gelato for just $1.25 for one scoop and $2.25 for two. In Manhattan you'd pay at least twice that, and I don't know if they'd be as good.

Our last stop, by the way,was Bosna Express, one of two Bosnian eateries. We got a delicious lamb kebab. The chef was Mexican. The photos shows a few Noshwalks loving their kebabs!

In Astoria a couple of weeks ago, we stopped at a San Antonio #2, a Chilean bakery at 36-20 Astoria Boulevard. (#1 is in Valley Stream.) I've included it on my Astoria tour for years, but usually by the time we get there, towards the end, we've eaten so much that there's little space for anything else. I was happily surprised to see that the owners had renovated the exterior to make it much more attractive to visitors, creating a showcase of the empanadas and dulce de leche filled pastries that they make. But their specialty is actually a Chilean hotdog, with a topping combining guacamole and other flavors. At $3.50 it seems pricey, but it's very rich and we cut a couple of them into pieces to share tastes. The owners were very friendly and it's worth a visit!


Seen in Harlem: A Taste of Seafood on the southeast corner of Madison Avenue and 125th Street (50 E. 125th St.) continues to draw lines of customers in search of its fried fish dishes. About two or three months ago I saw that they're getting ready to move across the street to 59 E. 125th - a new facade and, I think, 2 floors. Interesting food-related developments have taken place on this stretch: Wimp's Bakery also moved into spiffy quarters with an extra floor (and a hot buffet in addition to their traditional baked goods); Manna's, which already has a soul food buffet place on the northeast corner of Madison and 125th, opened an outpost nearby on the south side closer to Malcolm X Boulevard. Charles' Southern Fried Chicken, whose main place is on Frederick Douglass Boulevard near 150th Street, has rented a portion of A Slice of Harlem, on Malcolm X BOulevard just north of 125th Street. Mo'Bay, an upscale seafood place, has been around for a while.

Gee - is it just a coincidence that Bill Clinton's NYC office is in the midst of all this, in the Carver Bank Building at 75 W. 125th St.? (And I wonder if his foundation, of the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone, have anything to do with all this.)


Borough Park always surprises me. Going in the summer usually means it's a lot slower - so many people are away. But the Zion Market, which has moved to a new, larger location on 13th Avenue between 38th and 39th Streets, is always busy. To my knowledge, it's the only Jewish Yemeni market in NYC. The space is about twice as large as the old one, and it felt oddly airy. I suspect that whatever law of physics it is (can't remember the name!) that says you'lol fioll out whatever space you have, or something like that, will apply in the case of this market: it will once again be very crowded. Best purchases there are their breads: a roti-like grilled bread and the "lachloof" (my spelling), which it the name of their injera-like Yemeni bread. The eggplant dip has a delicious smoky taste. I always love shopping there, and in this market, unlike most other in the neighborhood, people are very chatty with recommendations and encouragement. I was with a small family group on a tour, and we had a spontaneous "picnic" with our "finds" there in front of the store, where there was a flat surface that we turned into a table. Various customers - some clearly quite religious - either wished us a good meal or suggested something else that we may have missed.

Later in the day, when my clients had left, I wandered around on my own. Found a Salvadoran restaurant on 14th Avenue around 40th Street and a Hungarian eatery on 13th Avenue at 55th or 56th Street. It's more like a small diner that also has Hungarian dishes (not kosher), but since most Hungarian places I'm aware of have closed, this was a surprising find. I didn't have time to linger, but it's one of those places I mean to get back to. There are quite a few Polish markets and some Polish restaurants on the outskirts of the Jewish hub of Borough Park. I believe that many employees of the local markets are Polish.

I also noticed a large restaurant on 13th Ave. called Uzbekistan, near 42nd Street on the east side of 13th Ave.. Chances are it's been there for a long time, but the sign looked brand new. There has been a presence of Bukharan Jews in Borough Park for a while, including a run-down market and an unappealing kosher gyro place called Samarkand, on the west side of 13th Ave.. I take folks to the Tandoor Bakery on 48th Street between 13th and 14th Aves. One fellow in my group spoke Russian and convinced the owner to let him (and us) go to the back of the bakery to see the fresh bread being baked. A treat! Later the owner told me that the Bukharan synagogue in Borough Park is on 41st Street just east of 13th Avenue. It's really two attached houses serving as the synagogue, but I will be interested in seeing if they build a completely new structure at some point.

My point? That Borough Park, both in terms of its Jewish community and non-Jews, is more diverse than many people think.


More to come...


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