Serious Eats Neighborhood Guides: Matt Fisher's Ridgewood
Pitmaster Matt Fisher, half of the team behind Fletcher's Barbecue, lives in a neighborhood that respects tradition as much as the 'cue he practices. He moved to Ridgewood, a melting pot of German and Italian immigrants, thirteen years ago. The area, which was once considered Brooklyn and is now Queens, borders Bushwick and Williamsburg. As those neighborhoods have become pricier, Ridgewood has diversified, becoming even more of a multi-ethnic, self-sustaining destination full of delicious Eastern European and Latin American eats.
Breakfast: Stanley's Pierogi is a wholesaler that has a teeny tiny retail takeout counter. The pierogis are fresh, hand-made daily. We buy them and pop a couple packs in the freezer. They make a bunch of different seasonal pierogies: blueberry, sour cherry, etc, and then the regulars. I love the potato and cheese, fried in a big cast iron skillet with caramelized onions and sour cream. Twelve or fourteen of those, maybe some kielbasa, is breakfast, with NPR on. They also make awesome pelmeni, which are like Eastern European tortellini.
Coffee: If I want a good mocha or something like that, I go to Barcey's. They say they're in Bushwick, but I think of it as Ridgewood; it's really close to me. If I want good coffee, that's what I do. I stumble to Dunkin' Donuts for the extra large coffee in order to get me to Barcey's.
Pizza: There's a place called Rosa's that has a super-good slice. I usually get a grandma slice, and one of their Neopolitan slices. They don't deliver; it's definitely an on-the-go spot.
Dive bar: There's a place called Caskey's. I go for anything in a relatively clean glass. It's a slow-burn kinda place—Thursday through Sunday, that's when the action is thick.
Delivery: Estrella del Mar does some really good seafood. I don't eat much seafood myself, but I'd feel comfortable ordering shrimp or something from them. I usually get pork adobo, or chicken with rice and beans. It's homestyle, really interesting, fresh, and well-seasoned.
Ice cream: Carvel is around the corner from me. I have three customer appreciation cards that get punched out every time I buy an ice cream cake. I love anything that has the chocolate cookie crumb—I don't even know how they make it. Fudgy the Whale is the one to eat, tail first. Eddie's Sweet Shop isn't quite in Ridgewood, but it's a pretty close drive. It's a super old-school ice cream parlor. I almost exclusively do the straight-up hot fudge sundae, or a caramel or butterscotch sundae, with extra whipped cream, which is absurd since you're eating frozen cream. If you're in Ridgewood, you have to go at least once.
Italian: If I was going to sit down, I'd go to this old-school place called Joe's. It's a white tablecloth, red sauce, waiters in vests and black tie, super-ridiculous neighborhood joint. I say that endearingly; they take what they do really seriously. It's not gourmet, but it's really satisfying. I like the pasta or chicken parm...everything is super garlicky. For me, it's a date night spot, after a couple bottles of Chianti.
Burger: Bosna Express has been there forever, and it's my can't-miss spot. They have a lamb and beef burger that's gigantic, and it's served on a pita with lettuce, tomato, avjar (which is like a red pepper spread), and chopped red onion. It's right at the base of the steps to the M train—I've learned the hard way not to take it on the train unless I'm okay with making a mess.
German: There's an old restaurant called Zum Stammtisch that's been in the neighborhood forever: it's one of the holdovers from when Ridgwood was a German area. I get the Krainerwurst, which is hickory smoked pork sausage on a platter that comes with potato salad and sauerkraut. I also love the smoked pork chops. My wife gets the spaetzle and the weiner schnitzel, and my brother gets a platter of wursts.
They recently opened a retail store next door where they sell meats and cheeses, and this mustard called Bauer's. Bauer's Mustard had a production facility on Metropolitan that's since gone, but their mustard is still available in gourmet stores. I loved that when I hopped off the bus, I walked past where people were hand-bottling these little gems in a hidden part of Queens. It's a sharp, bright, grainy, hearty grain mustard that's really distinctive: it's fresh, untamed, and made locally. I make my own mustard, and it's kind of inspired by Bauer's.
Peruvian: There's a cool park by me with chess boards, little sprinklers for the kids and pets and whatnot, and ballfields for soccer and volleyball, called Cleveland Park. There's some Peruvian/Ecuadorian people who are starting to set up some vending, with a little grill, and this woman who used to cook out of a shopping cart. Now they have a food truck that does Peruvian potatoes, kebabs, sandwiches, and corn. It is hard to miss, as there are only a handful of vendors there at all.
Tacos: Taqueria el Fogon is pretty straight-up, with really nice quesadillas. The al pastor and chorizo are really good. They do a good Mexican style breakfast too. And they deliver.
Date night: When I'm on my way to work, I get smacked in the face with the smell of fresh bread from Grimaldi's. Someone is roasting coffee, there's bread baking, and I remember that there's a really cool old neighborhood around me. When my wife and I were still dating, we'd go get pizza dough from Grimaldi's, some fresh mozzarella from this market called Valentino's that has almost exclusively Italian products, a couple bottles of wine, and have a really nice night.