New York's Great Food Neighborhoods: Ridgewood
Ridgewood, Queens. Drawing a blank? It's not a neighborhood that quickly comes to mind for most New Yorkers, let alone those from somewhere else.
Ridgewood is one of those New York neighborhoods that for generations has quietly been a place where people live. And cook. If you need to spot it on a map, Ridgewood is adjacent to Glendale, Maspeth and Middle Village, and it also borders Brooklyn's Bushwick and East Williamsburg. By subway, the M train gets you to Manhattan in 30 minutes and there are express buses to midtown and downtown Manhattan, places where people may go to work but at the end of the day, they come home to Ridgewood.
The area's tree-lined streets are filled with well-kept row houses, many with architectural distinctions that have led to more than twenty percent of them now with landmark status. These quiet and graceful blocks have been home to generations of Germans, followed by Romanians, Yugoslavs, Polish, and Dominicans, and now artists moving from nearby Greenpoint.
New York is a city of tribes. We choose our neighborhoods, whether by birth or by affinity, because we want to live among others like us, whether we're sorting on ethnic, socio-economic, religious, immigrant, gender politics, or stroller populations (I'm talking to you, Park Slope). The fact is that the Empire state of mind can get rather micro which is part of its charm, as well as a source of much of its energy. But being micro is also how we make this often overwhelming city into a place to call home. We live in NYC with all its magic, but we also live in our neighborhood, sometimes chosen for the sole reason of getting a taste of home, a taste of mom's kitchen.
That's why neighborhoods with an immigrant palimpsest, like Ridgewood, inevitably have a rich patchwork of grocers, fruit and vegetable stands, bakeries, delis, and meat shops as generation after generation crave and share the meals of home.
Shopping in Ridgewood
This neighborhood's main shopping street is Fresh Pond Road, although some of the best shops are off on their own on either side streets or unexpectedly located on a busy quasi-industrial street.
What you find primarily in Ridgewood is Polish food, plus some Romanian, German, and Latin ingredients. This means lots of smokehouse meats, cabbages bigger than your head, crisp dill pickles, bakeries that sell glistening pound cakes dotted with walnuts, and pillowy pirogi stuffed with familiar potato or something more exotic like kasha and bacon.
Worth A Journey
Morscher's Pork Store. 58-44 Catalpa Avenue. 718-821-1040. http://www.morschersporkstore.com/
Morscher's is one of New York City's great food markets. Founded in 1957 by Joseph Morscher, a German immigrant from Gottschee, a German enclave in Slovenia, the store is run by a group of master butchers whose skill, enthusiasm and pride make them role models for those who aspire to be brilliant food merchants. With its own smokehouse, Morscher's smokes its own bacon, pork ribs, ham hocks, pork chops, and more. Their deli and wurst selections are huge and diverse, with kielbasa, weisswurst, krainerwurst, schinkenwurst, franks, knockwurst, liverwurst, salami, head cheese, and other products either house made or meticulously imported. There is a butcher who specializes in fresh pork and beef, and a generous grocery selection with imported mustards, jams and jellies, soups and sauces, noodles, sweets, and more.
Tastes are generously offered by butchers who reach over counters crowned with smoked meats hanging from above as if to form a savory and fragrant chandelier. Cheerful banter fills the crowded store. Regulars and strangers are all greeted warmly. It is a delicious place of another time.
To get to Morscher's take the M train to Forest Avenue Station and walk south three blocks to Catalpa Avenue. They're open Monday through Friday, 7 am to 6 pm, Saturdays 7 am to 5 pm, closed on Sundays. Credit and debit cards are welcome.
Stanley's Pierogi. 54-01 Metropolitan Avenue. 718-821-3147. No website.
Stanley's is worth a journey, as the folks at Michelin might say. Located on a rather inconvenient stretch of Metropolitan Avenue, Stanley's makes and sells one thing: pirogi (no "s" is needed as pierogi is plural in Polish). But as an example of how specialization can translate into excellence, Stanley's pirogi are among the best you might ever have, unless your mother is Polish or Ukrainian and still makes these soft, filled dumplings.
Most are sold already frozen so bring a chill pack and stock up, transferring these 12-packs from Stanley's freezer to yours. The selection of fillings is impressive, with the usual potato, potato and cheese, cabbage, mushroom, and minced meat, plus kasha, blueberries, beets, or one that I bought (and should have bought more) -- kasha and bacon. Each package costs about $6 but prices may vary depending on the filling.
The nearest subway stop is Forest Avenue on the M line. From this stop you can take the Q39 bus ten blocks to Metropolitan Avenue and walk four blocks to Stanley's. If you go by car there is parking on the street in front of the store. Bring cash because credit and debit cards are not accepted. Closed on Sundays.
South of Metropolitan Avenue on Fresh Pond Road, on the stretch from Linden to Catalpa, there is about a half dozen Polish delis. While the signage, product labels, customer conversations, and newspapers stacked near the door may make you think you are in Krakow, English is spoken everywhere, if sometimes shyly. These small delis are differentiated primarily by their name and the manner of those who work behind high refrigerator cases as they all sell Polish plus Romanian and German grocery items such as canned herring, pickles, sauce mixes, and soups, jars of sauerkraut, bags of Haribo candies, plus kielbasa, bratwurst, cheese and hams.
Wawel Deli. 66-33 Fresh Pond Road. 718-821-2730. Kielbasa, grocery items, hams and other cured meats.
Zabka Deli. 66-51 Fresh Pond Road. 718-366-3911. Kielbasa, hotdogs, canned goods, pickles, canned fishes, e.g., herring, noodles, cheese, spaetzle, European brands like Knorr, and Amino.
Jantar Deli. 66-66 Fresh Pond Road. 718-326-5454. Polish and European grocery items, kielbasa, hams, plus some prepared take-out foods.
Kefirek Deli. 66-78 Fresh Pond Road. 718-381-1968. Polish and European grocery items, kielbasa, smoked meats, plus fresh pork.
Krystal European Bakery. 66-72 Fresh Pond Road. 718-418-9493. A Romanian bakery with all sweet items, meaning they don't sell bread. But they have excellent strudels, babkas, cookies, pound cakes with walnuts, and other items.
Silver Bell Bakery. 6406 Admiral Avenue, Middle Village. 800-806-9245. http://www.bake4u.com/ This is the outlet store for a very good bakery that sells online as well as wholesale to markets in NYC and Long Island. It's hard to get to without a car, plus the outlet store inventory will vary so for a full selection, check out their website for traditional, sweet, and seasonal choices, as well as a list of local stores that carry their products. The pumpernickel, which is a favorite of mine, is particularly excellent -- tender and with a chewy crust and slight tang. The outlet store also has sweet baked goods not available on the website, such as Danish pastries, plus jars of jams and jellies.
Old World Bakery. 66-91 Forest Avenue. 718-418-6884. Breads, sweets, donuts, cookies.
Catania Bakery & Pastry Shop. 64-10 Fresh Pond Road. 718-417-5700. Italian breads, cookies and pastries.
Valentino Food Market. 66-64 Fresh Pond Road. 718-386-2907. Valentino's is a very large produce store and grocer whose goods spill out onto its two sidewalks. In addition to a big selection of all kinds of fruit and vegetables, the store has a diverse grocery selection, with Eastern European, German, Italian and Latin ingredients including an Italian deli selection and a full butcher. Prices -- certainly in comparison to Manhattan -- are very good, especially for the fruits and vegetables. Open seven days and they take all credit and debit cards.
A Walking And Shopping Tour of Ridgewood
Making a food shopping tour of Ridgewood should begin by taking the M train to Fresh Pond and a visit to some of the Polish delis, grocers, and bakeries on Fresh Pond Road. Walk north on Fresh Pond to Linden to visit Catania, the Italian bakery. Then reverse yourself and walk south on Fresh Pond Road, making stops at Valentino's for produce, and then the delis -- Wawel, Jantar, Kefirek or Zabka(I like Zabka the best). A tip: pace yourself while shopping and resist any temptation to buy smoked meats or wursts as you should save these purchases until you get to Morscher's Pork Store. At the delis look for unusual grocery items and candies and different kinds of pickled cabbage.
Keep heading south to Putnam where and you'll soon find the Krystal European Bakery, the best place to get something sweet. I suggest Krystal as you'll find things here you won't find elsewhere. Buy something to take home and maybe a snack for your subway ride home. But first lunch.
Walk back up Fresh Pond to the corner of Palmetto to Krolewskie Jadlo -- the "king's feast" -- a Polish restaurant at 66-21 Fresh Pond Road. You can spot it by the suit of armor propped up outside their door. The food is hearty and mostly classic with pirogi and stuffed cabbage, portions are generous, and you can get a sampler of Polish specialties. Vegetarian options are available. Open 12 noon to 4 pm for lunch. Tel. 718-366-6226. www.krolewskiejadlo.com .
When you're re-charged from lunch (or maybe after taking a nap from all those potato pancakes) and ready to do your major shopping, walk back south to Catalpa Avenue and turn west for three blocks to Morscher's Pork Store. Here it can be hard to choose what to buy. Any pork lover will want smoked pork ribs, chops, and bacon; some of the many types of kielbasa and wurst; and deli meats like salami and liverwurst. Also look for mustard with horseradish, jars of sauerkraut, and German, Yugoslavian and Slovakian baked goods, jams, condiments, and sweets. I bought smoked pork ribs, which I slowly braised with a drained jar of sauerkraut mixed with an equal portion of shredded white cabbage. It was truly outstanding but I can't bear to make it again without more of Morscher's ribs.
For your last stop, get on the Q39 bus right at Catalpa and Forest Avenue and take it to Metropolitan Avenue to get to Stanley's for pirogi. Remember to bring a chill pack to bring the frozen packets home. I was raised in a half-Ukrainian household and have a weakness for either potato or cabbage pirogi, so they are always on my list. But I also try to be adventuresome and will try something new, which is easy to do at Stanley's. Pirogi freeze well for several months, cook quickly without defrosting (about 3 minutes in boiling water -- don't overcook!), and make a nice side dish with a plate of vegetables or a simple piece of fish or baked chicken. Serve with sour cream or Greek yogurt, or with thinly sliced onions that have been cooked in a little butter until they're golden brown. Toss with the cooked pirogi and serve immediately.