Our neighborhood is an interesting one. Some call it the Lower East Side (which it is), others call it Chinatown (which it isn't, but sorta has become), others just say "WTF?" because when you say you live on East Broadway, or at Clinton and Grand, it's sorta off the radar. Yes, it's below Delancey - it's Crossing Delancey, allright, it's just crossing it the other way. BTW, if I find a cabbie who actually knows where my address is, I'll tip him or her double.
But it's a great, historical neighborhood (really, it is called the Lower East Side Historical District - who knew?) - where many of us can say our grandparents or great-grandparents first settled in this country. I know mine did, because if I hear the story of how my great-grandmother would cook dinner for 100 people (she cooked for more and more people every time I hear the story; it started out that she was cooking for 3 people and a cat) on a one-burner stove in a 4th floor cold-water walk-up flat - well, you get the picture, don't you?
It's a neighborhood of great diversity, and all along Grand St. there are large cooperative apartment buildings housing almost 5,000 families. Once known as Coop Village, the first of the buildings (Amalgamated) was completed around 1930, and the final 4 buildings, known as Seward Park Housing Corp. were completed around 1960; they were all built to provide affordable housing for the working class, something that was in short supply at the time. Much info on the web - check it out if you like.
Now, as far as food shopping goes, there are many options. Chinatown is a stone's throw away - though I mostly avoid it due to my, ahem, stringent sanitary requirements...if you go, caveat emptor... and save your cards and letters folks, just take a walk down Grand St. some night, between Bowery and Allen, and lemme know what you think. I'll often take a long-ish walk up to the Union Square Green Market - a couple of times a week when the weather's nice. There's a brilliant new Whole Foods on Houston at the Bowery. The Essex St. Market, around since 1940, is a 5 minute walk and I have a great butcher (Jeffrey) there as well as Saxelby cheeses and a decent greengrocer.
But sometimes, yeah sometimes, I just need to walk out the door and pick up a few things. Some fruit (who can forget that great scene in Godfather, Part 1, when the Don says to Fredo, "I just want to get some fruit, Fredo" and then takes six shots - and lived). So lucky us, we've got this...
Yes, it's Ruby's, at 400 Grand St., and if you look closely at that awning you'll see it says (or said at one time) FRUITS VEGETABLES. And those are indeed fruits and vegetables out front - looks like some lemons and limes from here, usually at the best prices around. Inside, you'll find those foods of affliction that I love so much - iceberg lettuce, potatoes, cucumbers (they call 'em pickles), green peppers, onions, cabbage and even the occasional cauliflower. In an ode to the times, they sometimes have ginger on hand. Surprisingly, they often have great deals on winter fruits from afar - pineapples, mangoes, papaya, cantaloupe, bananas - and as I mentioned above - a couple of varieties of oranges, tangeloes, tangerines and grapefruit - all at rock bottom prices.
The greatest thing about Ruby's is the guys who run it...take a close look above, just inside the door and you can see one of them. I think there are 3 or 4 of them total, and their average age is around 80. Since they've been working together for the last 50 years, they hate each other. That, combined with the inability to communicate with many of their customers, leads to some rather amusing shouting matches...the batttle of the ancient cultures, as I like to refer to it. Because there really is nothing funnier than old Jews screaming at each other while screaming at old Chinese people. Trust me on this. And c'mon down to the Lower East Side and SHOP AT RUBY's - it's a dying breed.