Noted Author Helps Guide Us On A Taste Of Community Diverse Eats
Long-time traveler, author and gastronome Myra Alperson was to bring her acclaimed culinary tour “Noshwalks” to the streets of Ridgewood on Saturday, Dec. 6—but heavy rains put a damper on those plans.
Nonetheless, the night before the scheduled tour, I made my way to the Caribe Star restaurant (54-55 Myrtle Ave., at St. Nicholas Ave.) to meet Alperson for a preview of the event. She was seated in a booth by a window, enjoying a hot cafe con leche. As I made my introduction and slid into the booth, Alperson’s passion for culinary adventure and discovery was immediately apparent.
“They have broccoli empanadas here,” she exclaimed as I sat down. “I have never seen a place with broccoli empanadas before;”
I sat with Alperson as she explained the origins of her successful tour group between sips of cafe con leche.
Noshwalks began back in August 2000 as a way to explore the culturally diverse neighborhoods of the city and all five boroughs by fork and by foot. Tour attendees, dubbed “Noshwalkers” by Alperson, engage in carefully crafted, threehour long epicurean walking tours through ethnic enclaves. The tours tend to veer off the beaten path, opting for smaller local establishments over newer, trendier hot spots.
Noshwalks marks Alperson’s second venture into the city’s rich cultural and culinary landscape. Back in 1983, Alperson cofounded Hungry Peddler’s Gourmet Bicycle Tours, which treated cyclists to unique ethnic fare in previously unexplored parts of town.
Alperson went on to co-author “The Food Lover’s Guide to the Real New York” in 1987. After traversing the globe, Alperson returned to the Big Apple and began “Noshnews,” a quarterly online guide to the city’s ethnic cuisine, in 1999.
Alperson’s motto is simple yet intriguing: “Nosh your way from Odessa to Bombay … and never leave New York!”
I was given the unique opportunity to walk with Alperson on a private tour as she prepared for her Ridgewood Noshwalk, which was set for the following morning.
Shopping for delicacies
Our tour began in the cozy booth of the Caribe Star, a Caribbean eatery housed inside a mid-century style diner. Alperson delighted over her discovery of the broccoli empanadas and ordered some to go.
She also took home a rotisserie chicken salad on a leafy bed of lettuce, peppers and tomatoes. The generous portions yielded a wallet-friendly feast for under $13.
We made our way eastbound on Myrtle Avenue, savoring the delicious aromas of plantains and pernil, a richly seasoned, slowroasted pork shoulder dish, emanating from Rico Pollo (55- 37 Myrtle Ave.). A short walk led us to the Fancy Fruits and Vegetables Market (56-11 Catalpa Ave.) and an array of international delights.
Fancy Fruits is a Nepalese owned and operated market offering a wide array of ethnic cuisine. Alperson marveled at the large selection of dried fruit, nuts, jam, grains and noodles. The former Turkish market also offers a variety of whole bean coffee that can be freshly ground on the spot.
Our tour continued up Catalpa Avenue to Seneca Avenue, where we stumbled upon a true New York story in diversity. Alperson had heard about the steam buffet of pierogis and other savory offerings at the Polonica Polish Deli and Grocery (901 Seneca Ave.) and was excited to explore the brightly lit corner store.
Upon entering, we were greeted by Shyam, a native of India. He explained that, like Alperson, the store and its owners embraced the cultural diversity of Ridgewood.
Unlike a generic convenience store, the shelves at Polonica are stocked with a wide range of hard to find European delicacies that reflect the growing Polish population of Ridgewood.
The shop’s offerings run the gamut from savory to sweet. A butcher’s case features an assortment of Polish meats and sausages, including Kielbasa Wisniowa, Domowa and Kielbasa Weselna. The grocery shelves were filled with Central European fare, including spaetzle, preserves, wild mushrooms and a variety of Polish chocolates and confections.
The assortment of candy stoked our sweettooth and led us two doors down to Rudy’s Bakery and Cafe (905 Seneca Ave.). The 85-year-old bake shop is a neighborhood fixture. They have expanded their menu to include savory dishes, such as quiche, as well as homemade chocolates.
A seating area was also recently added for cafe patrons who wish to enjoy a decadent dessert while sipping one of many handcrafted coffee and espresso beverages. Not willing to leave empty handed, I purchased a small sampling of dark chocolate peanut butter cups and chocolate covered s’mores as sweet souvenirs of my culinary journey.
A dash of history
Our tour made its way back on to Myrtle Avenue and stopped in front of the Ridgewood Savings Bank (corner of Forest Avenue and George Street). As an added bonus, Alperson will pepper her culinary tours with interesting facts about local architecture and historical sites.
The bank was built in the 1920’s and retains much of its original art deco style. Alperson marveled at the ornate exterior doors and high arched windows, but explained that the real attraction was the elaborate murals on the walls of the bank’s interior. She noted that she would take Noshwalkers on a brief pit stop to view the murals before continuing on in their gastronomic endeavors.
Coffee and chocolate
The bright green awning of Parrot Coffee and Grocery (58-22 Myrtle Ave.) marked the next stop on our tour. Parrot Coffee featured a host of Eastern European, Balkan and Middle Eastern fare. Baskets of brightly colored foil wrapped candy line the entryway. Once inside, savory aromas of meats, cheeses, and spices delight the senses.
Parrot’s well-stocked shelves feature an impressive array of herbs, teas, honey, coffee beans and condiments. A buffet containing an assortment of olives and pickled delicacies stands at the store’s center. A butcher case boasts a wide assortment of Eastern European cheeses, dairy and deli items, as well as prepared dishes.
Alperson purchased authentic Bulgarian yogurt and added it to her cache of culinary souvenirs from the neighborhood.
“It’s a very interesting market,” she explained. “Last time I was here, I found a type of rice pudding they traditionally prepare for funerals. I had never seen it before.”
Our path took us away from the bustle of Myrtle Avenue and led us to Norma’s Cafe (59-02 Catalpa Ave.), where I warmed up with a hot chocolate. Ridgewood residents Crystal Williams and Denise Plowman opened Norma’s back in 2012. Their focus was on bringing delicious coffee and handheld versions of comfort foods to the neighborhood.
I took home Norma’s famous “Lumberjack,” a handheld bread pudding muffin made of sweet sausage, ham, egg and black pepper, to enjoy at breakfast the next day.
Tour ends near church
We crossed Forest Avenue and wound up in front of Morscher’s Pork Store (58-44 Catalpa Ave.). Slovenian native Joseph Morscher first opened the shop in 1957, making it one of the oldest butcher shops in Ridgewood. Morscher’s features a hearty variety of European smoked meats and sausages.
“It’s a very old fashioned pork store,” Alperson explained. “They actually sell a mustard that’s made in Ridgewood—A. Bauer’s Mustard. It’s a really good product, so I always buy some when I’m here.”
The tour concluded in the shadows of St. Matthias Church (58-15 Catalpa Ave.). Alperson will often include the church and its soaring spires as part of her Noshwalk Ridgewood tours.
“When you go to the church, you feel like you’re in a European village because nothing is taller than the church,” she explained. “The trend is to take the elevated train back. You can see the church steeple from the platform, it feels like you’re traveling through Europe.”
Alperson and I parted ways on the corner of Catalpa and Forest Avenues. I watched as she went in search of flaky, Balkan-style pastry pies at Burek’s Pizza (68- 55 Forest Ave.). Her zest for adventure and thrill in new food discoveries was truly inspiring and left me wanting to explore more of Ridgewood’s hidden culinary gems.
Alperson’s latest book, “Nosh New York: The Food Lover’s Guide to New York City’s Most Delicious Neighborhoods” is available on Amazon.com. For upcoming tour information, visit www.Noshwalks.com.