Best of the Outer Boroughs
Manhattan wins praise around the world for its food scene, but these specialty retailers spanning the other four boroughs give the star island a run for its money. Take a tour of the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island to find authentic, rare and exceptional products and prepared foods at these 16 markets.
By Meg Cotner, Esther Crain, Denise Purcell and Denise Shoukas
Bronx County is the home of the New York Yankees, the birthplace of hip-hop and the location of New York City’s iconic Bronx Zoo. Now add another facet to its résumé: It’s a borough with a growing array of specialty food stores and markets catering to a population of 1.4 million. The Bronx may not have the foodie reputation or cutting-edge restaurant scene of Brooklyn or Manhattan, but it’s gaining ground, thanks to places like these that are attracting a diverse and dedicated range of wholesale and retail customers.—E.C.
Garden Gourmet is a produce lover’s paradise. “We’ve been in business for six years, and local residents rely on us for our huge variety of fruits and vegetables, our top sellers,” says Fabian Sinchi, store manager.
Huge variety is not an understatement. Colorful aisles at the front of the store are stacked with several kinds of apples, oranges, peppers, tomatoes and salad greens. Tucked among them are more exotic offerings such as jicama and kumato from Mexico and dragon fruit from Asia. Fresh produce arrives every day, with 80 percent of the stock certified organic.
But there’s much more to this 12,000-square-foot market than produce. Prepared foods are a huge draw—overstuffed sandwiches, mini-quiches, salads, sushi and hot deli items are made on the premises daily by some of the 60 employees. And the store’s popular cheese department has earned raves for its hundreds of domestic and imported offerings (Stilton sells big). “Our customers know they can come in for a fresh sandwich, hard-to-get cheese, or a dinner platter they can heat up and eat at home, and it’ll be healthy and taste like it was homemade,” says Sinchi.
If Garden Gourmet sounds a lot like a neighborhood version of Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s, that’s the idea. It’s a bustling, well-organized place currently undergoing construction to double its size. Garden Gourmet also caters events and assembles custom gift baskets. “I had a woman come in who said her boyfriend was a big beer lover, so we made a beer basket with bar snacks, and she returned to tell me he loved it,” Sinchi recalls. “We want to make our customers happy—whatever you need, we can do it.” 5665 Broadway, Riverdale, N.Y.; 718.796.4209; gardengourmetmarket.com
Hunts Point Terminal Produce Market
The Hunts Point Terminal Produce Market, opened in 1967, is the largest wholesale fruits and vegetable market in the world. Located on 113 acres behind razor-wire walls in an industrial neck of the Bronx, Hunts Point comprises four enormous warehouses where 41 distinct vendors receive tractor-trailer deliveries of fresh fruits and vegetables from all over the world. From arugula to zucchini, if it can be grown in the ground, Hunts Point has it. “We’re a terminal market, which means we’re the last stop for produce after it’s grown and picked on the farm,” explains Myra Gordon, the market’s executive administrative director.
Hunts Point operates at a dizzying pace from 10 p.m. to 3 p.m. four nights a week (and limited hours Fridays and Sundays). At night, produce arrives at each vendor’s loading bay and is stacked in open warehouses by the market’s hundreds of employees. Then, into the early morning hours, secondary wholesalers, restaurant managers, convenience-store owners, even one-man street-corner vendors come to select the freshest, ripest and most affordable items. (Costs vary depending on the day and season, but on a chilly March morning, two boxes of hothouse-grown rhubarb from Washington state sold for $110.) Smaller retailers and browsers would be wise to do their shopping after 6 a.m., when fewer tractor-trailers choke the parking lot. Though accessible via public transportation, Hunts Point is not easy to get to without a vehicle—and visitors must show a driver’s license or other government ID and pay $2 for a day pass to enter. Though officially open to the public, regular customers are discouraged, says Gordon.
Hunts Point sells roughly 60 percent of the fruits and vegetables that end up at New York’s greengrocers, bodegas and restaurants. If one vendor doesn’t have a specific item, the gruff but seasoned salespeople will call around to find out who does currently carry it. The market generates approximately $1 million in sales yearly, but it gives back to the Hunts Point community too. “Food that isn’t sold is donated to local food banks,” Gordon says. “That’s an important part of our mission.” 772 Edgewater Rd., Bronx, N.Y.; 718.542.2944; huntspointproducemkt.com
Browsing the aisles of this 800-square-foot shop is like strolling through a Middle Eastern bazaar. Barrels of imported dates, nuts and wheat occupy one corner; a few feet away is a refrigerator stocked with feta cheese and labneh (yogurt cheese) spread. Jars of olives, pickled grape leaves and luncheon meats bearing Arabic labels pack the shelves. And the exotic aroma? It’s from the bins filled with fresh ground cumin, anise seeds and other spices.
Not surprisingly, most of the customers of this 5-year-old emporium are recent Middle Eastern immigrants who have settled in the neighborhood. “When a person from Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon or another Middle Eastern country comes in, they feel very much at home because all the products are familiar to them,” explains Samir Jadallah, who manages Jerusalem Supermarket with an owner and a few other employees. Jadallah says that some non-Arabic local residents shop there too, drawn by the fresh pita, the wide variety of olive oils and basmati rice, all best sellers that are priced lower than at nearby convenience stores and supermarkets. A 10-pound bag of basmati runs $12.99; ground turmeric goes for $5.99 a pound. Almost all of the business is retail-driven, and everything is imported except the bread, which is delivered fresh from a bakery in New Jersey.
Tucked among the canned baba ghanoush, falafel mix and tahini sauce are some fascinating culinary curiosities—like the many brands of prepackaged snack seeds that also sell well. “Dried watermelon seeds are a treat in Egypt,” Jadallah says. “And in Turkey, pumpkin seeds are popular.” All the meat products are halal, and the store even sells beer—a nonalcoholic variety, that is.
Jadallah says the no-frills shop (which also sells Middle Eastern DVDs and hookah pipes) does not get many visitors from out of the neighborhood, but he welcomes more traffic. “Our food is very healthy, and our products are all authentic,” he says. One hitch is that it’s not an easy place to get to, requiring a haul on the subway or drive along gritty White Plains Road. But if authentic Middle Eastern provisions are what you’re after, put Jerusalem Trading Corporation’s Jerusalem Supermarket on your list. 1827 White Plains Rd., Bronx, N.Y.; 718.319.1101
Teitel Brothers Fine Imported Specialty Products
Little has changed at Teitel Brothers since 1915, when two Italian-speaking Austrians opened this 850-square-foot Italian specialty shop on Arthur Avenue in Belmont, the Bronx’s answer to Little Italy. And the throngs of regulars like it that way. Cured meats like prosciutto, mortadella and soppressata hang from the ceiling; pyramids of canned tomatoes and jars of their own Francesco brand pasta sauce line the aisles. Customers assemble at the long front counter, waiting to order sweet and savory homemade sausage, imported wedges of Parmigiano Reggiano and soft balls of buffalo mozzarella, and other old-school staples from a place many consider to be the best Italian provisions store in the city.
“We’ve been doing this for almost a hundred years, serving the local community, and now new costumers come down from the suburbs of Westchester and Connecticut just for our food,” says Gilbert Teitel, co-owner and son of one of the original owners. “Retail makes up about 60 percent of our base, but the rest is wholesale, mostly to area restaurants who buy the two types of olive oil and the San Marzano stewed tomatoes made especially for us in Italy that we import.” The olive oil runs from $21.99 to $26.99 a gallon, depending on whether it’s Italian or Sicilian style (the latter costs more). And a 28-ounce can of certified San Marzano tomatoes goes for $2.69. The shop also runs a thriving online business where products can be ordered and shipped across the country.
Teitel Brothers is a feast for the senses, also stocking several types of pasta, canned beans, imported olives, bread, almond paste, pepperoni sticks, gourmet coffee, spices, chocolate and just about anything else an Italian food lover could possibly want. It’s a proud link to the old-school Italian neighborhood and its generations who grew up on quality food, low prices and mom-and-pop service. 2372 Arthur Ave., Bronx, N.Y.; 718.733.9400; teitelbros.com
Although Brooklyn is considered by some to be the center of the hipster universe, these stores go beyond the flash novelty and fleeting trends to focus on quality and a well-curated food selection.—D.S.
Step off bustling Flatbush Avenue, enter Bklyn Larder and you’ll be transported to a light and airy food oasis in the Prospect Heights neighborhood. Owners Andrew Feinberg and Francine Stephens also own nearby pizzeria Franny’s and opened the store in 2009 so they wouldn’t have to shop anywhere else. Its high-end mix of shelf-stable items complements the house-made prepared foods and sandwiches, of which almond loaf cake, chocolate chip cookies and the ham and Gruyere sandwich are best sellers, not to mention, “any sauteed green we put out,” says Timothy Solomon, general manager at the shop.
The store’s display is aesthetically pleasing, with packaged Ternata pasta displayed in crates, a stainless steel vat of Almazarade Perales extra-virgin olive oil, and the wall of specialty foods from Brooklyn producers, such as Morris Kitchen’s cardamon clove simple syrup, the best-selling Mast Brothers chocolates, Early Girl Granola and Bklyn Larder’s private-label products. Those offerings include refrigerated and packaged products, such as nut butters, Meyer lemon vinaigrette, chamomile lavender lemonade and gelato in such varieties as Greek yogurt and salted peanut.
Bklyn Larder’s cheese selection stands out with about 90 varieties that point to quality and rareness. “We select cheeses at their peak ripeness and try to find things that you don’t see at other stores. And we order only what we will sell in a couple of weeks’ time so that we can offer the cheese in the best possible shape,” Solomon notes.
A full on-site kitchen is where the prepared foods are cooked each day. The menu includes chicken potpie, heritage pork braciola, m’hamsa couscous salad, and freekeh and farro salad. It’s a main draw for many neighborhood regulars who stop in to pick up dinner on the way home or grab a lunch that will be anything but pedestrian. The store also attracts tourists from all over the country and around the world. 228 Flatbush Ave., Brooklyn, N.Y.; 718.783.1250; bklynlarder.com
Encompassing an entire city block in Midwood, Pomegranate—considered by some the “kosher Whole Foods”—offers an upscale approach to kosher-only shopping. This 24,000-square-foot shopping mecca is filled with more than 13,000 products, from traditional matzo balls and chopped liver to international favorites like European butter and caviar. The store prides itself on offering the finest kosher-certified foods, with 30 percent made in-house. And while hardwood floors and ambient lighting make it a relaxing experience, Pomegranate is known for its competitive pricing and selection. “We go above and beyond to give our customers choices they cannot find in other markets,” says marketing director Anthony-Michael Alexander.
By employing culinary-trained chefs who operate three state-of-the-art kitchens separated for meat, dairy and pareve preparations, Pomegranate ensures quality and care in its offerings. And while every item in the store is kosher certified, you don’t have to keep kosher to want to shop here. The staff is happy to aid shoppers in search of a particular product. “Our dedication to customer service, from valet parking to our personal shoppers and delivery services, our extraordinary attention to detail, cleanliness and quality—seen in all of our products—makes us stand out,” Alexander says.
“Our meat department is bar-none one of the finest and our produce goes through stringent selection where imperfections or blemishes are not permitted,” he continues. The store is known for its kosher beef jerky made from prime cuts, aged beef, kosher bacon and prime rib.
The bakery offers fresh breads, bagels and rugelach, while gluten-free items fill half an aisle and continue to grow with products ranging from pasta and cereal to sauces and frozen foods. A Shabbos section offers refrigerated meal solutions for Jewish Sabbath observers, who don’t cook from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday. Specialties include Pastrami Yaptzig, Shalom Bayis Kugel and authentic items for the Jewish home, like cholent (stew), kishke, kugels and chicken soup.
“Our assortment of store-made dips, hummus and sushi is fantastic as well,” Alexander notes. Rounding out the selection, Pomegranate features cheeses from around the world, as well as varieties made in-house, an olive bar with more than 20 varieties and a fish department flush with fresh choices. When requested, the staff will even grill a customer’s selection behind the counter. 1507 Coney Island Ave., Brooklyn, N.Y.; 718.951.7112; thepompeople.com
Stinky Bklyn is the type of store that makes you wish you lived in Carroll Gardens. Michelle Pravda and Patrick Watson, co-owners of Stinky, are certainly happy there; they moved to the area years before it became the bustling affluent neighborhood it is today and also own the wine shop Smith & Vine and meat-and-cheese restaurant The JakeWalk. Stinky Bklyn, which launched in 2006, is housed in a space with tin ceilings and a skylight that lights up the shop’s cheery tangerine walls decorated with informative chalkboard signage. The store is filled with an impressive array of top-notch products, from 125 exceptional artisanal cheeses, cured meats, pickled foods, chocolates and fresh bread to coffee, gourmet sandwiches and provisions like farm-fresh eggs and milk.
“Our greatest little secret is our crazy following for our sandwiches,” Watson says, which include such options as smashed chickpeas, Mahon cheese, artichoke pesto and arugula on ciabiatta bread. The large craft beer selection overflows with options, from bottles and cans to tap beers, including growlers to take home draft options.
A hub for local Brooklyn products from the beginning, Pravda and Watson’s passion and knowledge of good food is apparent with each section stocked with products from nearby manufacturers as well as plenty of international fare. Appealing to neighborhood regulars, Stinky opens early to serve fresh Cafe Grumpy coffee and local business Dough’s famed doughnuts daily. Other standouts include a hand-carved Ham Bar (a table lined with full legs of serrano ham and Highland Long Leg), a cocktail area that includes one of the shop’s newest best sellers, A.F. Rapoport Hot Buttered Rum, and everything customers need for an elegant cheese presentation, such as Brooklyn Slate cheeseboards, a variety of crackers and creative spreads like Anarchy in a Jar Spiced Beer Jelly. 215 Smith St., Brooklyn, N.Y.; 718.596.2873; stinkybklyn.com
Open for just over a year, Sugar Shop has become the candy destination for both youth and adults in the Cobble Hill neighborhood. Owners Jennifer Bischoff and Sara Houchins left their jobs in fashion to open this crisply designed candyland brimming with a delightful balance of nostalgic treats—like Mallo cups, Tootsie Rolls, Mary Janes and Sky Bars—and bulk items that can be mixed and matched in small and large bags or clear tubes. “I like that a family can come in and a kid can try Pop Rocks for the first time while parents can go back to an old favorite like Charleston Chews,” Houchins says.
Shoppers will also find a Made in Brooklyn section, seasonal gifts and high-quality chocolates, with a dark chocolate sea salt caramel among the grown-up favorites. The bulk options are expansive: an entire wall is devoted to gummies (like best seller Jumbo Gummi Sharks and Happy Cola Gummis) and licorice (including Australian black licorice). Another wall holds bulk chocolate, with milk chocolate almonds, traditional malt balls, peanut butter pretzel poppers and martini olive almonds. Display tables are neatly stocked with bulk jelly beans, rock candy, lollipops and popular standards like Sweet Tarts, Nerds, Pop Rocks and Pixy Sticks.
Neighborhood customers routinely fill the store, as well as moviegoers heading to the nearby theater and visitors from other neighborhoods and boroughs, who come to the area for dinner and then stop by for a treat. The cheery party room adjacent to the shop and decorated in bold stripes of green, white, pink and blue with blue banquettes hosts about 10 parties a month where kids of all ages play candy-centric games, like candy bingo, or craft candy necklaces. 254 Baltic St., Brooklyn, N.Y.; 718.576.3591; sugarshopbrooklyn.com
The biggest borough houses the New York Mets, the U.S. Open, 12 subway lines and more than two million people representing some 100 different countries. With all those global influences, Queens is a fascinating international food center, where specialty food stores and street vendors alike serve up the real deal.—M.C.
Butcher Block is a shopper’s best bet for Irish and U.K. imports. Serving the Sunnyside neighborhood since 1995, the 2,000-square-foot grocery store is loaded with such products as Taytos potato chips, with flavors like salt and vinegar, prawn cocktail and roast chicken, among others; Hobnobs and other sweet biscuits; Genesis Irish potato bread and Brennan’s bread.
In the refrigerated section are pre-wrapped meats, Irish butter and a variety of Irish cheeses like Dubliner and Tipperary cheddar. Butcher Block is also well-known for its deli, which offers hot dishes and baked goods, sandwiches, fresh meats and house-made black pudding and white pudding. Some of the ingredients that go into an Irish breakfast—sausages, puddings, rashers—are also packaged together, making home preparation of traditional meals convenient and easy.
“The groceries, Irish breads like Nelli Duncan Irish soda bread and Pat’s Pan Irish brown bread—those are the big items,” says owner and manager Noel Gaynor. Tea is also a big seller, he adds. Butcher Block carries a variety of loose tea, including PG Tips, Barry’s and Lyon’s.
The customer base extends beyond British and Irish expats, though they are a big portion of it. “We serve a lot of people from the neighborhood,” Gaynor says. “Every nationality.” 43-46 41st St., Sunnyside, N.Y.; 718.784.1078
Muncan Food Corporation
Ridgewood and Long Island City
Throughout Queens are a number of hallowed halls to Eastern European cured and smoked meats, and Muncan Foods is one of them. Opened in 1978 by brothers Tima and Jonel Muncan, the store’s approach comes from traditional Romanian and Serbian/Croatian practices. The business has locations in Ridgewood and Long Island City; each shop is about 476 square feet and both are full of delicious meaty riches.
Probably the most striking aspect of Muncan Foods is the heady aroma of smoked meats on entering the store. Meat is everywhere—hanging from the ceiling, sitting on the counter and behind the glass display case; you can even spot meats as you look past the doors into the staff area. All of it is cured and smoked by the Muncan staff, a fact Tima Muncan says helps set the store apart.
Pork is the primary offering, but more esoteric varieties include duck prosciutto and lamb salami. One of the most popular items is jumari, or chicharones—pork rinds deep-fried in-house and sold by the pound. Shoppers will also find a range of bacons, including the double-smoked bacon, which can even be eaten raw.
The customer base is varied, though Muncan reports an increase in interest from younger shoppers over the years. “There is something for everybody in our products. For instance, I have cuts for Europeans, cuts for South Americans,” Tima Muncan says. ”Everybody likes our products.” 60-86 Myrtle Ave., Ridgewood, N.Y.; 718.417.5095; 43-09 Broadway, Long Island City, N.Y.; 718.278.8847
For those in the know, the place to buy Indian groceries in Queens is Patel Brothers in Jackson Heights, a store that has been flourishing in the neighborhood for almost 30 years. In its 7,500-square-foot space, Patel Brothers offers a variety of ingredients and implements needed to make most anything in the vast expanse of Indian cuisine, attracting shoppers from both inside and outside the borough.
Akash Patel, one of the store’s representatives, sees definite favorites among the customers. “Spices like tumeric, chiles, rice, dals and different flours are some of our most popular products,” he says. Among the offering are MDH chana masala spice mix; Swad turmeric, toor dal (split peas) and kala chana (chickpeas); and Raja Foods basmati rice at $18.99 for 20 pounds.
Fresh fruits and vegetables are also a big draw and include okra karela (bitter melon), fresh mehti (fenugreek), round eggplants and fresh ginger root. Even paan (betel leaves) are available. “When people come to the store, they are impressed by the freshness of the vegetables,” Patel notes.
Other staples include Desi yogurt and Maya ghee. Snacks are also available, including Hadram’s Chana Jor Garam and Surati Punjab Mix. Teas, such as Tapal, are also regularly stocked at Patel Brothers.
The customer base is heavily Indian but includes people from all backgrounds. “We serve the Asian and South Asian population but we also have American and Spanish customers as well,” Patel says. “When you compare the prices of dals and rice you will see the difference. We always concentrate on the quality and value.” 37-27 74th St., Jackson Heights, N.Y.; 718.898.3445; patelbrothersusa.com
Titan Foods (pronounced “tee-TAN”), a major Greek specialty market, is often referred to as the Greek Zabar’s thanks to its comprehensive selection. In approximately 4,500 square feet, the store sells everything from olives to feta, souvlaki to pastries—fresh and frozen. Launched in 1983, Titan claims itself to be “the largest retail Greek specialty store in North America.”
Creamy barrel-aged Arahova feta, named for a town in southern Greece, is one of Titan’s top sellers. Another popular item is Spitiko extra-virgin olive oil. “It’s a very good oil and comes from a part of Greece where all the good oils are from. It’s been a big seller for years,” says manager Nick Luzis. Another attraction is the bulk olive bar, where customers can purchase different kinds of olives, such as Kalamata and Agriniou, by the pound.
Frozen traditional foods are a big draw and include pork and chicken souvlaki from local butchers, as well as pastitsio and spanakopita. Shelves are filled with Fage Greek yogurt, pastas such as Sitos hilopitaki (dry egg pasta), fava beans and Orlando grape leaves. As far as beverage options, Mt. Taygetos sage tea or mountain tea are on hand while, on the other end of the spectrum, Titan carries a range of coffees for making icy frappes, which are among the neighborhood’s most popular drinks.
Luzis calls the in-store bakery, where both sweet and savory cakes, pies and pastries are baked, “very beloved.” There, shoppers can find spanakopita, galaktoboureko (a custard-filled phyllo dessert) and koulouri sesame bread, all baked on the premises. American sweets like cheesecake and carrot cake are also on offer.
The store’s clientele is diverse, attracting customers of all backgrounds in the neighborhood, and the market serves as a destination for people not only in the five boroughs but also Long Island, New Jersey, Connecticut, Philadelphia and even as far as Washington, D.C. “People will fly up here just to go to Titan,” Luzis says. “[We] cater to anyone who loves Greek food.” 25-56 31st St., Astoria, N.Y.; 718.626.7771; titanfood.com
Though its relative distance from Manhattan and suburban landscape have caused some to label it the forgotten borough, Staten Island is capturing interest from New Yorkers and neighboring states, with a mix of exotic foods to rival any of its peers.—D.P.
While more commonly known for its traditional Italian groceries and restaurants, Staten Island is home to the country’s third- largest Sri Lankan community. Over the past 15 years, food stores and restaurants have multiplied in the Tompkinsville neighborhood on Victory Boulevard, not far from the St. George ferry terminal, in an area now known as Little Sri Lanka.
One store, Lanka Grocery, serves as the community’s go-to source for authentic foods. In addition to locals, customers include those traveling from Connecticut, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C., for a taste of products from home, says owner Jaawan “Jay” Jayathunga.
Some of the most traditional products include juices and soft drinks such as a basil seed drink with honey (very popular among the locals, says Jayathunga) and woodapple nectar. The latter is made from the woodapple fruit, indigenous to the country and likened to the taste of tamarind but with a pungent aroma; it’s commonly used in juices or chutneys. Speaking of chutneys, varieties common to Sri Lanka and South India line the shelves along with teas and cinnamon—two products most associated with Sri Lanka’s colonial name, Ceylon. In addition, Lanka Grocery stocks disks of cane sugar, called jaggery, that locals use in tea in place of granulated sugar, and goraka paste, a souring agent often used in fish curries that is made from goraka orange fruit that turns black when dried.
Rice is a best seller, says Jayathunga, and bags of jasmine, basmati, samba, red raw rice and other types are piled high. The selection of pulses, or dal, is almost as large and includes red lentils (masoor dal), mung beans (moong dal), black chickpeas (chana dal) among others. Lanka Grocery is also known for its spice selection, which includes coriander, fenugreek and mustard seeds as well as cumin, curry powder and crushed chiles.
The location is actually Jayathunga’s second; his original Lanka Grocery, which still stands across the street at 320 Victory Boulevard, opened in 2005. As the community has grown, he expanded with a second, larger location about a year ago. 353 Victory Blvd., Staten Island, N.Y.; 718.390.0337; lankagroceryny.com
Little Italy Gourmet
The Cruciata family knows how to make an Italian food store feel authentic, having been in business for 25 years. Formerly the owners of Bella Vita Pork Store on Staten Island, they bought the larger Little Italy Gourmet in the New Dorp neighborhood four years ago and have created a niche through high-quality traditional products and a familial atmosphere. Owner Joe Cruciata, who walks the store interacting with shoppers and conferring with staff, knows many customers by name. Wife and co-owner Cathy and their son and daughter, Anthony and Daniela, are also on hand along with other family members. “We’re all everywhere doing anything that needs to be done,” says Anthony.
Little Italy Gourmet specializes in deli and catering, which accounts for half of total sales. The prepared foods case features a daily offering of up to 50 selections including about 10 cold items such as marinated mushrooms and antipasto salad. Hot foods comprise about 15 to 20 additional selections of Italian-American favorites like lasagna, meatballs and chicken cutlets. Daily sandwiches and soups include escarole and beans and pasta fagioli. The extensive catering menu offers hot and cold entrees and specialty platters. All food is made on the premises, much of it from family recipes.
Surrounding the prepared foods counter are mounds of dried pastas in out-of-the-ordinary selections such as spaghetti alla Chitarra from Abruzzo and Ligurian trofie. The dried meats are equally abundant.
Throughout the store are Italian grocery items like cookies, olive oils, vinegars and condiments, but amid these imported specialties are occasional local surprises like Manhattan Special Espresso Coffee Soda. The inevitable canned tomatoes are stacked wherever there is free space (in this case Italian brand La Squista San Marzano tomatoes) as are packages of panettone. Most desserts are brought in from local bakeries, such as cannoli cookies from Cannoli Plus in Brooklyn. Bread, meanwhile, is delivered from Brooklyn’s Cammareri Brothers, made famous in “Moonstruck” the 1987 movie starring Cher about, appropriately, an Italian family. 1375 N. Railroad Ave., Staten Island, N.Y.; 718.980.FOOD; littleitalygourmetnyc.com
Net Cost Market
Not far from historic Richmond Town in Staten Island’s Oakwood neighborhood is Net Cost Market, a full-service Russian supermarket opened in late 2007 in the Oakwood Shopping Plaza. This is the retailer’s first outpost in Staten Island; it operates four other locations in Brooklyn and one in Philadelphia. A sixth store is slated to open in Queens in 2013.
The borough’s burgeoning Russian and Polish populations were the impetus for Net Cost taking over a 17,000-square-foot former Foodtown location. “We received so many requests from the Russian-speaking community who were traveling to Brooklyn to shop at our stores,” says Angelina Khristichenko, assistant general manager of the corporate chain.
Each section of Net Cost is stocked with foods from Russia, Poland, Ukraine, Uzbekistan and other parts of Eastern Europe and Central Asia. Visitors should be prepared for an extensive selection of smoked fish and pickled products as well as baked goods, candies, grains, meats and cheeses. Refrigerated cases house Georgian-style sausages, pates and cheeses from Lithuania and Eastern Europe such as smoked suguni, a Georgian cheese similar to mozzarella. The supermarket bakes fresh breads each day, offering more than 100 loaves from which to choose, including flatbreads, lavash and dark ryes.
Daily pierogi and soups are on offer at the deli, and hot and cold counters offer fried smelt, gefilte fish, verniki (cheese-filled pockets), and bitochki, similar to potato pancakes mixed with vegetables. Prices for hot entrees range from about $4.99 to $5.99 per pound. Among best sellers, says Khristichenko, are shish kebab, borscht and hachapuri, a Georgian cheese-filled bread.
Adventurous locals comprise much of the customer base. “About 40 percent of the Staten Island store’s customers are Americans,” says Khristichenko. “We carry more Italian products compared to our other stores to match the market mix.”
To continue to attract a broader clientele, Net Cost plans to bring in more U.S. brands, such as White Rose. “At first we were meant to be a Russian and European market specifically,” she explains. “But now we’re moving toward becoming a supermarket that carries ethnic foods.” 3155 Amboy Rd., Staten Island, N.Y.; 718.668.2910; netcostmarket.com
John Dorman began his career at Philips Candy in 1947, “as a kid mopping floors and washing pots,” he recounts. That was back when the store existed at its original location in the Stillwell Avenue subway station in Coney Island, Brooklyn, its home since 1930. (Prior to that it had been a stand on the nearby boardwalk since 1916.) Dorman learned to make candy from original owner Philip Calamaris and, after returning from the Korean War, eventually bought the shop in 1956. After losing its lease in 2000, Philips Candy relocated to Staten Island in 2003, expanding its following while its original clientele remained loyal.
“On Staten Island, we’re known for our egg creams; Brooklyn knows us for our candy,” Dorman says. Customers who have relocated to Manhattan, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and beyond still stop in, especially because shipping isn’t an option at Philips Candy.
The Staten Island store is larger than the original, but its location on an unassuming side street in the Port Richmond neighborhood is easy to miss. For a man who is remembered in online reviews as “legendary” for his candy selection and old-fashioned service (as well as for humming while he works), Dorman is equally unassuming as he explains his selection of about 20 candies on the tiny storefront’s two counters. Aside from a few commercial items, such as Tootsie Rolls, Dorman makes all candy by hand on the premises with little help from modern machinery. Treats include rice crisps, cashew clusters, fudge and jelly candies as well as egg creams and milkshakes—most at prices that hark back to days past, such as six chocolate marshmallows for $1 or a 75-cent egg cream. Dorman switches out some chocolates seasonally with such selections as candy apples, a recipe replicated in the The Brooklyn Cookbook (Knopf 1991). While he doesn’t offer specific holiday or event-themed candies, much of his business is from local party catering, he explains.
Affection for the store remains strong among longtime fans, but its future may be uncertain. Though the food business runs in the family—Dorman’s son, John is general manager at New York’s University Club and former executive chef of the Regency Hotel—no family members want to pick up the candy-making mantle beyond occasional help. “It’s a lot of work,” Dorman acknowledges. 8 Barrett Ave., Staten Island, N.Y.; 718.981.0062
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