Thursday, March 18, 2010

Gourmet Ghetto Grows on Grand

Yep, I know what you're thinking. Gourmet ghetto on Grand Street? Grand Street on the lower east side? Of Manhattan?! What could this possibly have to do with the "original" gourmet ghetto, the term given to the neighborhood around the stretch of Shattuck Avenue in Berkeley, California, way back in the early 70's, when pain in the ass bloggers didn't exist (but organic gardens did, cause I had one) and Chez Panisse, the Cheese Board Collective and the first Peet's Coffees were at the forefront of a nascent food movement in America?

Well, not much, actually. But, we're trying. And I've got the pictures to prove it. First off, a little reference - I'm writing here about the stretch of the south side of Grand Street that is between Essex Street to the west and Clinton Street to the east. A short stretch of street to be sure, but it's pretty loaded, and since Significant Eater and I moved to the 'hood in 2003, it has improved by leaps and bounds.

Starting on Clinton, and heading west, here's what Grand Street has to offer.

Located just at the corner of Clinton and Grand, that's our little produce specialty shop, offering mostly fruit and a few veggies. The stuff is cheap, it's ready to be used (i.e. it's ripe) and if you shop smartly, it can be an excellent value. Yesterday, I picked up a sweet pineapple for $3 - the same pineapple was $5 at the Essex St. Market. Oh, and yes, that's an ice cream truck in the background...can gelato be far behind?

Walking west, next up is...

This is Roots & Vines, our very own coffee shop. They pull a tasty espresso, and they brew and sell Counter Culture coffee, which is one of Tasty's favorite roasters. It's also a little bit more than a coffee shop, offering tasty sandwiches (banh mi!) along with a few draft beers, wine and the occasional performance. Wifi is free, too.

Continuing on our tour, there's a kosher deli that's unfortunately nothing to write home about, and then you'll see...

Yes, Liquors. Well, Seward Park Liquors to be exact. And every gourmet ghetto needs a liquor store, don't you think? What's nice about Seward Park Liquors is a friendly, knowledgeable staff (one of the employees even worked at the late, lamented LeNell's, in Red Hook, and how much more do you need to know?) and a decent selection. I personally wish they offered a few more brands of rye for my Manhattans, Brooklyns, Red Hooks and Sazeracs (I've seen Sazerac and Overholt at various times, but no Rittenhouse), but they do have a good selection of bourbon and Scotch, and a bottle of wine to go with your dinner is easily found. They've even special ordered booze for me - and you can't ask for better service than that.

So, after you've bought your booze and your lotto ticket, keep going if you can still walk now that you're all caffeined and liquored up. The next stop is justifiably famous, appearing on more TV shows about food than Guy Fieri (and I call it - I was sick of him before he even started - just ask Significant Eater...mmmm....that's money).

It's the Doughnut Plant. Our very own. Lines from here to Essex on the weekends. Tour buses dropping Japanese tourists, their cameras and their yen. If you can get here on a weekday, the doughnuts are absolutely delicious - $2 or so buys you a seasonal cake doughnut - and they're my fave. Just take a look-see at these beauties, which were being offered last Halloween.

Full yet? No way. A little farther along, and a soon to be opened (projected for April 15th) and greatly anticipated spot appears like magic - seriously, the awning appeared only yesterday!

It's Pizza A Casa, a pizza self-sufficiency center, and what could be cooler than that? The owner, Mark Bello, is a truly nice guy - I was lucky enough to have a chat with him the other day when I poked my head in as I was walking by...though very busy, he was gracious and accommodating as I prodded him for info. Set for an opening date of April 15th, Mark will be offering pizza making classes for the home cook, off-site catering (say you're having a birthday party and want to make pizzas - give a call) and hard-to-find pizza making supplies. Truly geared to the home cook, Mark knows that your home ovens aren't going up to 850 degrees, so the ovens he's using are similar to what you might really have in your apartment. I'm excited for this, and the neighborhood will be too.

Right next door to Pizza A Casa sits a Grand Street institution...

One of the only true bialy bakers left in the city (bagel bakers that bake bialys don't count), it's Kossar's Bialys. Kossar's has been baking its bialys, bulkas, sesame sticks and pletzels for over 65 years. Bagels came later. My favorites are the bialys and bulkas - you can't go wrong with any of Kossar's baked goods, though, and their stuff is really a lower east side treasure.

Though there are a few more food shops before you reach the corner of Essex Street, they don't really qualify as gourmet ghetto worthy, imo. Of course, if you cross Essex Street, you'll find the Pickle Guys - and at this time of year, with Passover just around the corner, the air is pungent with the smell of freshly grated horseradish - they actually grate it out on the street or their customers would all have to wear gas masks in the shop. I got a taste yesterday, and it'll clear your sinuses for sure.

So that brings you to the end of the Grand Gourmet Ghetto tour. Not bad for a neighborhood that most people didn't even know existed in Manhattan a few years ago. Significant Eater balked when I first suggested we check out the area as a new place to live. But now we wouldn't have it any other way.

Even more exciting is the news that just around the corner, on Hester and Essex Streets, our co-op's Hester Street property will be the home to the new Hester Street Fair. Conceived by shareholders and the board of directors as a way to use a long unused and vacant piece of land owned by Seward Park Housing Corp., the fair's inaugural weekend will be April 24th and 25th. Expect fun, food and great times - and we look forward to seeing everyone there.


  1. Great roundup! Don't forget the other tasty sandwich at Roots & Vines: the Mexican torta! Our usual order is a tofu* banh mi for me and a pork torta for the hubby. Good Six Point on tap, and our meal is complete.

    *A mistaken order at R&V awhile back has me now ordering the tofu banh mi almost exclusively. I don't think I would have ever considered trying a tofu sandwich, but when it arrived, I fell in love with it.

  2. When I saw the new sign for Pizza a Casa I started to wonder if there is another block in Manhattan that has more flour delivered. Pizza, bialys, bagels, doughnuts, if it's round and doughy, this is the place.

  3. Hey, neighbor! A friend just tipped me off to your post. It's so great to see our 'hood get some virtual ink.

    I wanted to entreat you to try a very un-gourmet-looking joint that nonetheless has amazing coffee . . . Hilltop Grocery between E Broadway and Henry. I was forced to start going there when my preferred bodega closed. If the dark roast of Roots & Vines is too much for some people, and you just want a really good cup o' joe to go, this is the place. And the guys who run the place are the sweetest.

    Also started buying my loaves of bread exclusively from Moishe's (also @ East Broadway). Exquisite.

    Just chiming in!

  4. @Miami Danny...I try, I try.

    @Erica - What street is Hilltop Grocery on? I only buy beans at Roots; some of them are French roast, but some are a much lighter roast. Gotta be an aware buyer.

  5. And for us tea-drinkers, The Sweet Life (candies/nuts/etc.) on Hester Street carries my favorite english tea - Yorkshire. They've got both the gold and the red, as well as other brands such as PG Tips which I think is the most popular (although not as good as Yorkshire in my opinion!). It's wonderful to have this just a block away from home.

  6. i actually just moved to this hood about a month ago and as much as i have passed by these places everyday i have yet to try ANY of them. even doughnut planet (kill me now)!

    thanks for writing up on it! but i have to ask is the banh mi at roots&vine any good??

  7. @ civetta - the banh mi is pretty good at R & V - see CLamb's comment above.

    You might also want to try the banh mi at An Choi on Orchard St. between Grand and Broome.

  8. The former LeNell's employee no longer works at Seward Park Liquor.She was fired.