A look at 10 Fresh Produce Outlets in and around New York City: Bellwether • Brooklyn Dumpling Shop • Food Bazaar • La Isla Restaurant • Modern Love • Sobsey’s Produce/Ma’s Gourmet Market • Stile’s Farmers Market • Super Foodtown • The Terrace and Outdoor Garden • Wegmans Brooklyn
Originally printed in the December 2021 issue of Produce Business.
You can always find something fresh in the Big Apple, and not just amidst the delights of The New York Produce Show and Conference.
Fresh is all around. All you have to do is seek it out. Sometimes it’s just blocks away, as is the case of Stiles Farmers Market on 36th Street and Ninth Avenue, an operation that began two generations ago with a fruit cart and still delivers prime produce.
It’s in the crossroads of the world, Times Square, where the Edition Hotel’s The Terrace and Outdoor Gardens takes its vegetables very seriously.
It’s in the Heights, Washington Heights, where Super Foodtown is at the hub of a neighborhood alive to its own modulating beat.
It’s in Manhattan’s East Village at Brooklyn Dumpling, an eatery that’s not lost but not confined by any definitions of how to do great things but its own. Speaking of Brooklyn… Modern Love embraces vegan in a comforting, maternal way with great-for-you dinners and lots of delicious desserts.
Meanwhile, Wegman’s in the Brooklyn Navy Yard is taking a renowned supermarket tradition into its next phase. Just over in Queens, Bellwether is uniting what was and what is best in Long Island City, as it offers seasonally updated sensations.
And sensations are aplenty at the nearby Food Bazaar in Astoria, another crossroads of the world both in terms of its produce assortment and clientele.
Flip over in the Jersey direction, and just-a-stone’s-throw-away Hoboken has charms to make Sinatra tip his hat with the Cuban-inspired delights of La Isla and the endearing charms of Ma’s Gourmet as it tends to traditions established by legendary Sobsey’s Produce.
Take a car, take a cab. Take a bus, take a train. It’s all nearby for the finding. Take a friend. Take a few friends. You’ll get more from your New York Produce Show experience if you do.
Long Island City’s ‘Warm and Convivial’ Restaurant
In a Queens locality that has been transformed from a mixed commercial and middle-class residential landscape to one of upscale, high-rise apartments and condominiums, you’ll find Bellwether, a modern restaurant with a menu that creatively uses seasonal ingredients to create a unique cruising that features American and other influences.
The mix is appropriate in a New York City borough that is widely considered to be the most ethnically diverse municipality in the world. Long Island City, across the East River from Midtown Manhattan, has gentrified over the past two decades. Yet despite the tall residential towers rising from the waterfront and around Queens Plaza near the Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge (generally known to New Yorkers as the 59th Street Bridge), much of the neighborhood remains low rise, especially around the heart of the community where Vernon Boulevard meets Jackson Avenue, just across from the entrance to the Midtown tunnel.
Located in those environs, Bellwether describes itself as a warm and convivial neighborhood restaurant focused on seasonal, local and sustainably sourced ingredients. It offers a natural and contemporary ambience in the form of a bright, 60-seat dining room, with seasonal outdoor seating.
General manager Jenniffer Muniz said that since the restaurant opened, “we absolutely do try to move with the seasons, and we change the menu often.”
Change isn’t just a matter of the calendar, as the restaurant seeks out new seasonal alternatives constantly, maintaining that approach since owner Matthew McCormick opened the business in 2018. Even menu staples change, with seasonal twists added as the chef tries new variations, Muniz said.
Supplies come from different sources, and the restaurant supports regional agriculture.
“We try to work with farmers markets and visit weekly,” Muniz said. “We have connections with local farmers as well, who deliver to us based on our needs.”
The November 2020 menu included such appetizers as the Little Gem Salad, which came with Waldorf dressing, apples and cheddar cheese, and the Jonah Crab, with chiltepin peppers, celery root, aioli and avocado.
Recent entrees included charred Broccolini with cilantro tahini, pickled carrots, mint and toasted sesame, as well as Japanese eggplant with quinoa, pistachio and pea shoots; flank steak with blue cheese dressing, roasted beets and arugula salad; and stracciatella with honeynut squash, chipotle, pumpkin seeds and Ginger Gold apples. Mains for other occasions included a frittata with potato, broccolini, Spanish onion and aioli; and a grilled mushroom salad with farro, hummus and boiled egg.
So, a quick ride on the Number 7 Subway, with an entrance just a couple of blocks from the Jacob Javits Center, or jaunt through the Queens Midtown Tunnel or over the 59th Street Bridge can lead to Vernon Boulevard and Bellwether. By the way, the Michelin Guide calls the restaurant a “friendly neighborhood spot good at all hours and for all crowds that’s backed by a talented kitchen turning out comforting, seasonal dishes with flair in spades,” and speaks highly of the charred Broccolini.
47-25 Vernon Boulevard
Long Island City, NY 11101
BROOKLYN DUMPLING SHOP
Automat on Steroids
The first thing you should know about Brooklyn Dumpling is that it’s in Manhattan, specifically in the East Village on First Avenue and near legendary St. Mark’s Place, where things really happened in the 1960s and ‘70s.
Lou Reed even sang about it.
The nostalgia theme is appropriate because Brooklyn Dumpling — and plans do call for a location in the eatery’s namesake borough across the East River — is bringing back a long-lost New York institution: The automat.
Now, the automat wasn’t invented in New York. The first automat in the United States debuted in Philadelphia, June, 1902, pioneered by Horn & Hardart. Yet, the automat became part of New York’s popular culture even as it spread to other industrial cities across the northern U.S. And, although it might not have been born in the Big Apple, the last automat in the U.S. closed in Midtown Manhattan in 1991, or so the New York Times informed us.
Brooklyn Dumpling Shop, however, takes the automat notion in a new direction and marries it to another foodservice format deeply entrenched in New York lore: the diner. At the center of its menu, Brooklyn Dumpling has taken classic diner staples such as the Rueben and the Philly Cheesesteak sandwiches and, essentially, encased them. Now, as dumplings, they can take on a new life for a new generation.
Stratis Morfogenm, a restaurateur and Brooklyn Dumpling founder, took his family’s legacy trade, the New York diner, and reinvented it in finger-food form. To make things even more dynamic, the restaurant incorporates another approach to food that’s very much part of the New York scene, Chinese cuisine, and places it on the menu right next to its core dumpling presentation.
So, Brooklyn Dumpling will be offering 22 flavors of dumplings 24 hours a day on Friday and Saturday, with other days running through a noon-to-midnight schedule.
In late November, in addition to the Rueben and Philly Cheesesteak choices, Dumplings on offer included Pastrami, Pork, Bacon Pepper Jack Cheeseburger, Bacon Cheeseburger, Turkey Club, Salame Provolone, Prosciutto & Swiss, Chicken Parm, Peanut Butter & Jelly and Pepperoni Pizza, the last a bit of a diner outlier but, experience tells, a very tasty choice.
In a nod to the Greek tradition in the diner business, other dumplings include Lamb Gyro with Tzatziki, and Spanakopita, Spinach & Feta. Naturally enough today, the menu features Veggie dumplings, including Crispy Farmers Market Eggplant and an Impossible Burger plant-based choice. A range of seafood dumplings is on the way.
Rounding out the menu are wontons, including Crab Rangoon, and spring rolls, with some of the same stuffings, including Rueben, Lamb Gyro and Impossible, as with the dumplings, as well as soups, including Alaskan King Crab, and sides such as Kung Pao Spicy Waffle Fries and an especially flavorful Asian Spicy Coleslaw that includes slices of green pepper that provide an extra flavor kick.
Customers can place orders online or on a mounted tablet in the store. When an order is ready, the customer is directed to a particular door in a wall of automat compartments where a door pops open to provide access to the prepared meal. During a recent visit, and given the residual impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, a Brooklyn Dumpling employee helped customers collect orders.
Topping everything off, the kitchen space is encased in glass, so customers can watch their orders being prepared. Limited seating is available.
Beyond Manhattan, Brooklyn Dumpling is planning expansion to, of course, Brooklyn as well as Washington Street in Hoboken, NJ, and down the Atlantic Seaboard as far as Miami. A Dallas location is in the future as well.
Right now, however, residents and visitors roaming Manhattan have the chance to get in on a new cuisine before it takes America by storm, one delivered in a very old-fashioned but charming format.
131 First Ave
New York, NY 10003
Something for Everyone
With 30 stores scattered throughout the New York Metro Region, Food Bazaar is something of a phenomenon in the New York City area, combining the best of so many things about the region.
The format has an ethnic element, or more to the point, multiple ethnic elements, but that doesn’t define the supermarket. As a driving force in a trend, it can be seen as a dynamic element in the rapid expansion of ethnic supermarkets in the New York area. A produce vendor who supplies ethnic groceries pointed out that Food Bazaar fills a void in the market, and it does it well in the most recent years with nicely operated stores offering a lot of choice in mainstream and specialized food.
The void has occurred as major operators that once thrived in New York consolidated and disappeared, sometimes both at virtually the same time. Even the once well regarded local phenomena such as Fairway crashed and burned as it tried to take the place of mainstream supermarkets such as A&P and those banners it acquired over the years, including Pathmark and Waldbaums.
What’s remarkable, though, is the ability of Food Bazaar to replace very different supermarket operations, the produce vendor noted.
So, in Westbury, NY — a relatively affluent New York suburb and a retail hub that includes department stores, mass merchants including Target and Walmart, an outlet from the local gourmet supermarket chain North Shore farms and alternative grocers such as Trader Joe’s — Food Bazaar swept in and took over a Fairway location that had catered to an upscale clientele. The store won over shoppers with a combination of ethnic specialties, particularly in produce, and some well-run service departments as well as reasonably priced groceries, something that Fairway wasn’t famous for providing.
Queens is another matter, however.
Regarded by many who study the matter as the most ethnically diverse municipality on earth, Queens is a place where people are demanding when it comes to their food. Except that their food might be from any of more than a hundred cultural backgrounds that inform immigrants and native-born folks who may have long ancestry in the country but who also may be first-, second- and third-generation with a remaining loyalty to food traditions.
Running a supermarket subject to those considerations is a challenge to say the least. However, at the edge of the Astoria neighborhood and in an area that is extremely ethnically diverse even by Queens standards, Food Bazaar has thrived after taking over a relatively downscale supermarket and making it attractive for an enormous diversity of customers.
Consistently offering quality perishables helps, but so does pure abundance.
Asian specialties such as batata and lychee abound. The produce presentation includes a heavy presence of Asian specialties and even banner signage promoting the health benefits of kimchi. Nearby, a display lines up serrano peppers, jicama and milpero, the tomatillo’s little cousin. And it includes lots of organic choices, from bulk apples to Olivia’s Organics clamshell salads as well as a full-blown misted presentation.
With all that being said, however, Food Bazaar offers a full range of typical conventional produce of just the kind that can be found in any other supermarket in the U.S. The Food Bazaar produce department is probably as close to something for everyone as might be had in the world.
So, a critical factor in Food Bazaar’s popularity is that it has a generous amount of what just about anyone might want. Sure, the aisles are a bit more cramped than in a more conventional supermarket, although less so in Westbury than Queens, but the store is careful to attend them to ensure the close quarters don’t turn into a mess. At the same time, it offers consumers who cross-shop different cuisines and trends a terrific range of choice.
For folks in Queens, who have grown up on a range of various national food traditions, experienced in restaurants and the homes of their friends, that choice is welcome, as it is, even if not to quite the same degree, in the New York metro area generally. However, given that COVID-19 helped prompt consumers to become more adept cooks, with the help of on-demand video and other online resources, more shoppers may want a little more variety available at the supermarket themselves.
Certainly, the success of ethnic supermarkets, and multi-ethnic supermarkets. suggests that could be true in fact. As to how that might be accomplished, Food Bazaar is something of a master’s class.
42-02 Northern Blvd.
Astoria, NY 11101
LA ISLA RESTAURANT
Classic Cuban Cuisine With A Twist
Although it’s often associated with local celebs Frank Sinatra and “Cake Boss” Buddy Valastro, Hoboken, NJ, has a strong Latin, as well as Italian, tradition, and La Isla Restaurant has been a neighborhood institution for decades.
The original La Isla Restaurant — with its distinct La Isla sign — is on Hoboken’s main thoroughfare at 104 Washington Street, and has been operating in downtown Hoboken since 1970. In 1996, the Luis and Giner families took over operations.
The restaurant certainly has an old-fashioned sensibility, with a long serving counter and small booths set diner style. Indeed, the broke-in charm contributes to the friendliness of the atmosphere, which includes seasonal outdoor seating below umbrellas.
Through the decades, La Isla has served up a menu based on classic Cuban food — morning, noon and night. The menu is served in generous portions at affordable prices in a friendly and unpretentious neighborhood atmosphere.
The menu and kitchen take their approach from Chef Omar Giner and maintain a commitment to Cuban food traditions based on fresh ingredients. La Isla features classic Cuban cuisine, but the menu offers a number of items that have cross-cultural and contemporary influences. The appetizer menu includes a traditional Cuban corn tamal, but also black bean hummus and vegan empanada.
According to Miguel Santos, a La Isla spokesperson, the cuisine is anchored in the traditional Cuban style, however, the food can take a more modern twist.
“The food is mostly traditional, but there is a slight trendy part of it,” Santos says. “Some of the dishes we have for breakfast such as huevos rancheros and breakfast burritos are very popular, but the food is mostly traditional.”
A Latin flavor always prevails, Santos adds, even if it isn’t strictly Cuban.
Salads are particularly creative at La Isla. Havanera salad offers kale, romaine, red grapes, red onion, peppers, queso fresco, sliced hard-boiled egg and a honey ginger vinaigrette, while the Espinaca y Remolacha offers baby spinach, mango, avocado, roasted beets, oranges, onion, macadamia nuts, blue cheese and a champagne vinaigrette; the El Caesar Cubano has kale, romaine, caesar dressing, fried chickpeas and manchego cheese; and the Miami Portobello Salad features spinach, arugula, tomato, red onion, carrots, broccoli, grilled sliced portobello mushroom, goat cheese and a mustard honey dressing. Entrees are focused on meat and seafood and offered with a choice of four sides: rice, beans, yuca or maduro.
La Isla operates a second location on 12 Street in Hoboken closer to the waterfront. There, main dishes come under two categories, The Classics, including Rabo Encendido or braised oxtail; and Cuba Meets the World, including Chuleta De Puerco Con Salsa De Membrillo or oven roasted pork chop with quince-dried cherries sauce, fried Brussels sprouts.
Whatever the case, La Isla is both an institution and a haven, a longtime tradition in Hoboken and a treat any time.
La Isla Downtown
104 Washington Street
Hoboken, NJ 07030
La Isla Uptown
25 12th Street
Hoboken, NJ 07030
Swanky Vegan Comfort Food
Modern Love puts a conventional twist on vegan victuals, or, to put it another way, the restaurant, as it says itself, provides swanky vegan comfort food.
Located in trendy Williamsburg on Union Avenue, the restaurant has an eclectic atmosphere under stylish but casually designed chandeliers. In other words, the dining room is hip but not too hip. Quarters are tight but not cramped and the waitstaff spends a lot of time buzzing around as they handle both diners and take-out orders.
The menu has a lot of ties to what would be typical American or even pub cuisine, including two burgers. Its Modern Cheeseburger combines a sesame seed bun, house-made seitan bean patty, cashew cheddar, tomato, lettuce, red onion, pickles and “fancy” sauce, with a choice of fries, eggy potato salad, or side salad. Its Mushroom Brie Burger, combines a sesame seed semolina bun, house seitan bean patty, cashew brie, sautéed mushrooms and shallots, arugula and house mayo, with the same choice of sides.
A corresponding sandwich, and reflecting a New York turn on popular cuisine, is the Chickpea Parmesan Hero, combining chickpea cutlets, marinara sauce, pesto, arugula, cashew mozzarella, pepita parm and grilled garlic ciabatta, sides again being the same.
Appetizers include four different takes on wings, including Cauliflower Buffalo Wings, Cauliflower Garlic Parmesan Wings, Seitan Garlic Parmesan Wings, and Seitan Buffalo Wings, with rosemary crusted seitan, house-made ranch, rainbow carrots, celery and chives. Wings can be ordered as plates or as buckets.
Then, to demonstrate that it’s comfortable with ongoing trends in American cruising, Modern Love offers a Kale Caesar that tosses together lacinato kale, butter lettuce, mushroom bacon, pepita parmesan, capers, cheezy croutons and tahini caper dressing.
Modern Love takes the desires of a mac-and-cheese-obsessed America in its comfort food embrace. In fact, it offers four variations ranging from Classic Mac & Shews offering cashew cheddar, crispy tofu chick’n, garlicky sautéed kale and chives, and Nacho Mac & Shews offering cashew cheddar, walnut chorizo, hot sauce, pico, pickled jalapeños, avocado, and cilantro.
To finish a meal, desserts include Cookie Dough Brownie and Pumpkin Praline Cheesecake. But that’s not all… Modern Love also tempts customers with a variety of vegan ice cream treats, including sundaes from one to three scoops, as well as a vegan Peanut Butter Shake and a Chocolate Root Beer Float, among other such tasties.
Although many of the dishes reflect typical American cuisine, some have a more unique signature, such as Root Veg & Farro Salad, a bowl of mixed textures and flavors that blend in a tangy and tasty way.
In the same light, appetizers include Brussels Aioli with seared brussels, toasted pine nuts, arugula, lemon zest and roasted garlic aioli, and Honee Lime Roasted Root Veggies with beets, rutabaga, parsnip, spicy almond sauce, toasted almonds and cilantro, while the entrees menu offers the Greens & Dreams Bowl with garlicky sautéed kale, roasted Brussels, roasted butternut, grilled tofu, pepitas and tahini dressing.
All that being said, anyone who ventures to Williamsburg to give Modern Love a try should not expect any particular thing to remain on the menu. The bill of fare changes often, but change can be good in that it gives the restaurant lots of room to try new, seasonal or whatever kinds of fresh thinking that can keep the basic concept intriguing for regulars and novices. If it all works well, diners leaving the restaurant can consider that, in the last measure, they do believe in Modern Love.
317 Union Ave
Brooklyn, NY 11211
SOBSEY’S PRODUCE/MA’s GOURMET MARKET
A Hoboken Institution for Gourmet Foods
Sobsey’s may be a ghost of itself, but that doesn’t stop it from being a great place to buy produce.
Although you may call the Sobsey’s phone number and get the person picking up replying Sobsey’s, you won’t find a sign under that name if you visit 92 Bloomfield Street in Hoboken, NJ. What you will find is a compact, handsome and engaging presentation of produce that local residents continue to seek out.
Hoboken, just over the Hudson River from Manhattan and the Javits Center, is a storied location. The town’s main claim to fame is its being the childhood home of Frank Sinatra. However, its recent history is one of gentrification, as it became a major destination for Manhattanites who, in the 1980s, were looking for lower rents and more spacious living quarters.
As such, Hoboken quickly became a mix of established residents and relatively affluent young people. In the main, though, and unlike some Manhattan exodus communities such as Jersey City and Long Island City, Hoboken retained its established, time-honored low-rise character at least in the main. So a stroll down Washington Street, Hoboken’s heart, still has a home-town feeling, punctuated by the occasional outpost of trendy commerce.
A major draw for residents and visitors alike, the formerly industrial waterfront now is an attraction with stunning views of the New York skyline. And, of course, Carlo’s Bakery, home of The Learning Channel’s Cake Boss, still operates on Washington Street.
Sobsey’s is just off Washington Street and was something of an institution in the community. But four years or so ago, the owners sold it. Where Sobsey’s once was is now Ma’s Gourmet, but that doesn’t mean the operation has disappeared. Rather, it has been absorbed, with the Sobsey’s space now part of a larger, if still smaller-scale, operation.
On a Saturday store visit, an employee related how Ma’s approximately retains the fundamental Sobsey’s structure by maintaining something of the physical layout that housed the produce destination, both inside and out. So, under the awning and an umbrella out front on the sidewalk, the remnant Sobsey storefront, sans nameplate, might include crate presentations of potatoes, squash, apples and citrus fruit.
Inside, in refrigerated, shelf and table displays contain a substantial assortment of fruits and vegetables, much of which is merchandised in baskets. The product assortment is focused on organics, which the friendly staffers are happy to point out.
Ma’s does its best to source locally both in and beyond the product section. So much of the fruit and vegetable presentation comes from New Jersey and Pennsylvania sources. The store also draws from the Hunts Point Terminal Market, Albert’s Organics (UNFI) and Baldor, also in the Bronx. Although a few Olivia’s Organics packaged sales have a place in the merchandising, most of the fruits and vegetables are in bulk presentations.
The produce is mainly mainstream and seasonal, but the Sobsey’s presentation includes some Latin specialties, from tomatillos to Dominican peppers. Organics make more than half of the presentation, complementing a substantial number of conventional items, in some cases where the store can’t get a specific item in organic form. Although local is important to the produce assortment, the store also features exotic imports. In addition, it operates a small olive bar adjacent to the produce section.
Because the store is small, fruits and vegetables are interspersed through the core inside presentation, but produce displays proceed right up to the checkout counter where shoppers can grab items such as grapes, baby tomatoes on the vine, bagged mandarins, grapes, even pomegranates. Products are not so much cross-merchandised as integrated with items such as tortilla wraps, salad dressing mixes, salad dressings, grains, canned vegetables and soups. In other words, the store offers pretty much what the food-conscious community needs.
Sobsey’s Produce (Ma’s Gourmet Market)
92 Bloomfield St.
Hoboken, NJ 07030
STILE’S FARMERS MARKET
Reasonably Priced Produce In The Big Apple.
Stile’s Farmers Market is one of those New York stories.
Located now at 476 Ninth Avenue, between 36 and 37th streets, and just a few blocks from the Jacob Javits Convention Center, it is owned today by Steve and Donna Stile. Yet the roots of the operation are with Steve’s grandfather who started with a produce push cart. Today, Stiles is a neighborhood institution that has survived losing a store location and several years on hiatus, COVID-19 and other Big Apple misadventures to keep on serving a community with a great variety of reasonably priced produce.
“We’re open all year around, seven days a week,” Donna Stile says. “We’re a farmer’s market with a wide variety of produce, herbs, eggs, anything you would find on a farm, and fresh ground coffee.”
Although Manhattan is known for its upscale grocery operations, Stile’s isn’t inclined in that direction, which has contributed to the store’s popularity. In fact, Stile said, people from all over Manhattan shop the store.
“I wouldn’t characterize us as gourmet. We carry Italian and Hispanic specialties, though. We are fairly priced. A lot of people in the community do know us,” she says.
The store sources variously, from local farmers in season and on the Hunts Point market.
“We do a little of everything,” Stile notes.
In fact, when Stile’s had to leave the building where the store used to operate, this on 41st Street, customers got in touch with local politicians who offered support as the owners found another location nearby. In fact, the same politician helped with the celebration when the new store opened in 2017.
“They cut the ribbon, too,” Stile says.
Stile’s keeps a rack outside the storefront on the sidewalk to introduce a little of the assortment to passersby. During a recent visit to the store, the vine tomatoes and berries merchandised there had been well visited. The store itself is deep with a pair of aisles around a central two-sided rack display and fixtures along the walls and at the store’s rear. Bananas reside up front in the store and at the head of the center rack. Along one wall, fixtures support a long array of fruit ranging from bulk and bagged apples, to mangoes, pomegranates, pears, kiwi, peaches and citrus. The center fixture has a heavy concentration of vegetables, with a big head of cabbage and red cabbage leading during the visit, followed by bok choy. Facing the other way, the central display includes lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes and an abundant variety of peppers.
On the other wall, a covered bin fixture for bulk nuts and like items followed by root vegetables including what are typically Latino items, although more likely than not widely purchased by the kind of foodie crowd that is well represented in the neighborhood. The display includes yucca root, yautia blanca and chayote. Next come potatoes, onions, squash and garlic taking up wall space near and at the rear of the store, along with ginger root and aloe leaf. Neat piled carton displays supplemented the table racks, and employees do the rounds keeping displays well organized and stocks.
The shopping pattern is a simple there-and-back again. On the wall up front near the checkstand is a refrigerated case with necessities such as milk, eggs and juice as well as bunch herbs and a small selection of clamshell salads. The store even has a small fresh bread display adjacent.
Times change and ups are followed by downs. When the coronavirus pandemic hit New York, Stile’s remained in operation much to the relief of those who lived in the area.
“We were opened all through the pandemic and people looked at us as kind of a Godsend, especially as we were reasonably priced,” Stile says.
Here’s to looking up again.
Stile’s Farmers Market
476 9th Avenue
New York, NY 10018
Washington Heights Store Caters To Local Community’s Needs
As it sits at the very top of Manhattan, Washington Heights has gotten a lot of attention lately as a mix of populations continually refreshes the community and where Super Foodtown has developed a produce operation that is addressing the neighborhood’s needs.
The play and subsequent movie “In the Heights,” conceived and developed by Lin-Manuel Miranda, who also is responsible for the Broadway hit Hamilton, raised the profile of the community, which has long been an ethnic mix. Within that weave is a sizable Latino presence, with people of Dominican background well represented. At the same time, the neighborhood has gentrified to an appreciable degree, so that the Super Foodtown has tailored operations to establish a position within the larger Washington Heights food marketplace.
Dan Wodzenski, who runs operations and merchandising for the store, which has been in operation for about five years, says that the Washington Heights Super Foodtown focuses on serving the newer, trend-oriented shopper in the neighborhood without losing sight of the broader community and its preferences.
“We tend to merchandise toward the trendy shopper, with lots of organics, and we have meatless vegan items. That’s a big category for us. But we also have lots of unique tropical items,” he says.
The newer, more affluent population is critical to the store, but, still, “we do a nice ethnic set,” Wodzenski says, not only to serve the Latino shopper but also the core customer. In New York neighborhoods where populations mix, cross-pollination of eating habits is common and even considered a lifestyle advantage conveyed by participation in the community.
The store totals 30,000 square feet spread over two levels. Produce is on the first floor right up front and open for a quick and easy browse and shop. Produce represents about 10% of the floor space, Wodzenski says.
“We do try to cater to everyone,” he notes. “We want everyone to be comfortable shopping and be able to find everything they’re looking for. That’s how we’re set up, but we have to lean more toward one demographic. That’s how we established ourselves against the competition in the neighborhood. But we’re always mindful of the Dominican trade especially. That’s how the store has been set from day one, and we’ve stuck with that.”
To meet the needs of its food-conscious clientele, Super Foodtown has a substantial organics assortment and local connections. Convenience for a busy customer is important, too. In the cold case, locally sourced Satur packaged salads line up next to those from Earthbound Farms. Organic produce is well represented in bulk merchandising, too, where organic items are interspersed with conventional items in, for example, the apple set. In another means of catering to convenience, fresh cut fruit has its own cold case conspicuously placed in the department.
Because it serves a densely populated area where people have lots of needs but the store variety is limited, Super Foodtown works to provide for an appropriate range of merchandise without cluttering the store, so the fresh cut fruit display is topped by an assortment of kitchen gadgets. Cross merchandising is abundant, with products such as olive oil and bottled juice, much of it with a Latin flavor, displayed beneath the table displays of produce.
Latino specialties are represented throughout including in a substantial presentation of bulk root vegetables that includes, for instance, waxed yucca and white yautia. Latino specialties are also sprinkled throughout the produce department where hachiya can be part of an endcap display otherwise featuring bagged citrus and apples.
With consumers more conscious of the advantages of seasonal products, Super Foodtown changes its set twice a year to promote items in a relevant timespan.
Wodzenski says that the switch occurs in mid-May and early September. Items such as stone fruit get high-profile presentation as spring rolls in, while fall fruits and vegetables take over as the season chills.
It’s critical, Wodzenski says, that a supermarket in a neighborhood such as Washington Heights understand the community and its place within the compact world. Otherwise opportunities are lost. For example, in a heavily populated area dominated by apartment buildings and other kinds of big multi-family dwellings, grilling vegetables still are popular even if they aren’t cooked up in the backyard.
“You have a lot of grilling,” Wodzenski says. “We have a lot of parks near here where people grill. We actually do a lot of grilling business.”
You never know in New York. And that goes for the Heights as much as anywhere.
600 W. 160th Street
New York, NY 10032
THE TERRACE AND OUTDOOR GARDEN
Casual And Elegant, With Dishes Centered On Vegetables
Terrace and Outdoor Garden, operating in the Edition Times Square hotel, is a fitting place for diners to explore the cuisine created by restaurateur and chef John Fraser, who made his mark on the American culinary landscape by redefining the role of vegetables therein.
From unique fine dining restaurants to neighborhood brasseries, Fraser has contributed a fresh perspective that eventually led him to establish his own hospitality group, JF Restaurants.
Fraser considers the vegetable part of the meal to have an important correspondence to the rest, more “partner” than sidekick.
The Terrace and Outdoor Gardens is a product of Fraser and his JF Restaurants, which also has developed North Fork Table & Inn on Long Island and The Loyal in Manhattan’s West Village as well as four restaurants and bars inside The Times Square Edition and Ardor on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles. Fraser, a Los Angeles native, is behind the creative direction and concept development, business strategy and operations for JF Restaurants.
Still inspired by the neighborhood bars and comfort food he grew up around in California, Fraser refined his trade under Thomas Keller at The French Laundry in the Napa Valley, according to JF, before moving abroad to Paris to work at fine dining restaurants Taillevent and Maison Blanche. He became a restaurateur initially with the 2007 opening of Dovetail on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.
A combination of casual and elegant elements, with lots of greenery about The Terrace and Outdoor Gardens, combines ideas derived from French brasseries and American chophouses with a menu featuring homemade pastas, steaks and chops as well as a variety of vegetable-centric dishes, which JF points out are always a signature of Fraser’s restaurants. As such, the restaurant serves up anything from mushroom carpaccio and vegan carrot bolognese to broccoli cacio e pepe.
In addition to centering dishes on vegetables, Fraser is careful about pairing elements to ensure that veggies play a prominent role. The current Terrace and Outdoor Gardens dinner menu includes such entrees as Whole Roasted Hen of the Woods with brown butter-caper vinaigrette, cauliflower couscous and aged sherry vinegar, Long Island Crescent Duck with confit leg, fresh figs and creamy polenta, and Half Bell and Evans Chicken with brown butter-caper vinaigrette, cauliflower couscous and aged sherry vinegar.
Starters vary from Fall Bitter Greens, with candied pecans, Roquefort cheese and grapefruit to the Tie Dye Boston Salad with roasted beets, Coach Farm goat cheese, pistachio and blackberry vinaigrette. The Croccoli Cacio e Pepe remains on the pasta menu with Steamed Alaska King Crab with tagliatelle, cherry bomb pepper, white wine and herb breadcrumbs.
Highlights of the lunch menu, besides the Vegan Carrot Bolognese, is the Grilled Dourade paired with caper-herb Vinaigrette and bitter greens. Even at breakfast, various food elements are combined to get the most out of the vegetable flavor profile, such as the Lobtser Soft Scramble paired with confit fennel, spinach and crème fraîche.
Suppliers to the restaurant include Brooklyn-based Natoora, which sources seasonal produce directly from small-scale growers who prioritize biodiversity, heritage and flavor over yield, JF points out, and Girl & Dug, a 60-acre hydroponic, greenhouse-based farm in San Marcos, CA, that specializes in growing unique, specialty produce such as kindergreens, oca and sweet jade tomatoes.
So, The Terrace and Outdoor Gardens can be a treat for anyone who wants to enjoy fruits and vegetables used to their maximum effect in flavoring and enhancing a dish.
The Terrace and Outdoor Gardens
701 7th Avenue at West 47th Street
New York, NY 10036
New Culture, Excitement and Energy
Now may be the time to take in Wegmans Brooklyn for the first time, or again, as the well-regarded supermarket operator stands at a crossroads.
Not since it began moving out of central New York into New England and the Middle Atlantic states has the company been so conspicuously ready to take on new territory. Except this time it’s more cultural than geographic, as the company is preparing to open a supermarket in Washington, DC, and has announced plans to establish one in the former Kmart location in Astor Place, a New York City location that unites Greenwich Village with the East Village, in a classic building that even connects with the subway.
You can’t get much more urban than that.
The D.C. location may not be as “citified” as the Brooklyn Navy Yard location or Astor Place, but it does demonstrate that Wegman’s is going to be a bigger player in settings outside the suburbs or even exurbs where it has focused a good deal of its growth over the past couple of decades.
Brooklyn was a turning point for Wegmans not only as its smallest store, at about 74,000 square feet, but as an operation in a densely populated, hard-to-reach-by-truck location that presented challenges including how to service a complex supermarket operation incorporating abundant fresh foods with gourmet prepared edibles counters and extensive foodservice.
Wegmans already offers Manhattan delivery from its Brooklyn store via Instacart. Previous to opening its Brooklyn location, Wegmans had stores in densely packed suburbs and borderline city communities such as Chestnut Hill, MA, where the company operates its next smallest store at about 80,000 square feet and has done so since 2014, but Brooklyn opened deep in the heart of the big city, and Wegmans had to adapt its typical operating model. The moves to D.C. and Manhattan certainly indicate that Wegmans believes it has learned the lessons it needed to absorb.
Visitors to Wegmans Brooklyn certainly won’t be surprised by the layout, which resembles its larger stores, some approximately double its square footage. What they’ll see is where Wegmans squeezed, including in some non-foods categories.
Still, Wegmans Brooklyn opened in October 2019 with more than 60,000 individual products, including the extensive restaurant-quality prepared foods department, more than 4,000 organic products, fresh seafood, hundreds of produce items and 300 varieties of imported and domestic cheese.
Turning its eyes toward Manhattan, under a 30-year lease, Wegmans will occupy 82,000 square feet of space on the street and subway-accessible lower levels of 770 Broadway at Astor Place, where Wanamaker’s department store once reigned.
“We are so excited to bring Wegmans to Manhattan. This is something we’ve been dreaming about and working toward for a long time,” said Colleen Wegman, president and CEO of Wegmans in announcing plans for the store. “The community’s response to the opening of our Brooklyn store had an excitement and energy that you can only experience in New York City. You can feel that energy returning to the city, and we are thrilled to be a part of it.”
21 Flushing Ave
Brooklyn, NY 11205