Monday, September 7, 2009

Bayridge, Brooklyn

The 21 years I lived in Bay Ridge make wonderful memories. Many of my Facebook friends are from Bayridge and one of my other blogs tells the stories of Big Gray Community, an urban commune I was a part of in Bayridge . Many people know me from there or from Circle's, the restaurant I worked in for 15 of those 21 years. A few unlucky souls know me from both places and are probably aware that I am a pain in the ass in the kitchen. The majority of people who read this blog know me for the opinionated food buyer and cook that I am. I apologize for my know-it- all attitude towards food. I totally intimidate other cooks in my family ( with the exception of my ex-wife who is a talented pastry chef ). I'm sorry. I believe it's my job to keep to the spirit of my blog's name. I call it Your Italian Grandma, not the Kitchen of Joe Ambrosino, Italian Grandfather because I mean the blog to represent a time and a way of cooking that in spite of its simplicity relied on quality ingredients. The days when women in Italy performed kitchen magic on a daily basis are unfortunately disappearing. Therefore, I believe it's vital for Italian chefs in America to keep alive their tradition and their exacting standards. So please forgive my attitude and my opinions. They serve a higher cause.

To get back to Bayridge, I soon learned of the inconvenience and time involved in shopping in Manhattan. For the times we ate out, I also wanted local places that weren't an hour away. Gradually I learned of terrific places to shop and eat in my own neighborhood. Here is a list of some of them.


There are a few really good Italian restaurants in Bayridge. Perhaps my favorite is Gino's Restaurant and Pizzeria on 76th Street and Fifth Avenue. It's a classic Italian family success story. In fact, family members still runs the kitchen, procure for the restaurant and run many of the floor functions. You will love Gino's simple yet elegant style. Their pasta fagiole is a thing of dreams.They make two versions, one with red sauce and one, in a white version that is so good it's hard for me to remember the rest of their menu. I love their veal dishes, their specials which are always great- I even like their meat balls and sauce (which I've tasted but have never ordered) The staff is well trained and very knowledgeable about the food. It's more than likely, you may be talking to a family member. It's a great place to go with family and a great place for private parties. The prices are very reasonable. Their portions are big. They cater as well, but much better to eat there. Expect a wait, but well worth it.

My next favorite place for Italian cooking is another Bayridge icon , Rocco's Calamari on Fort Hamilton Parkway and 65th Street . Rocco is the man! It's greatly expanded now from the small place that was open only for breakfast and lunch with two whole days off so the boss had time for his life. Because of his location on a road dominated by car dealerships and businesses, the trade is mostly in the afternoons. He's open later on Fridays and Saturdays. The place seems always full, often with tables of big sanitation workers with even bigger appetites . It's noisy. Don't expect charm, but the food is wonderful. The kitchen is in the middle of the place and , if you want to get up to look at the food displayed cafeteria style around the perimeter you can (which I definitely recommend), or you can ask the waitress for a menu. The food sells fast so pasta dishes don't sit for more that a few minutes and are continually replenished . I recommend you go really hungry. Order the potato croquettes, the calamari or any of the other simple dishes. He makes chicken and potatoes which are perfect! It's a real Italian Grandma experience!

You can't talk about food from Bayridge without noting the large middle eastern population living there. Kerala on 4th Avenue and 85th Street is a converted pizza place with just a few tables and a small counter. They make great chicken or lamb swarma (the Lebanese version of a gyro), delicious spinach and meat pies, plus all the classics of middle eastern food including hummus, baba ghanoush, tabouli salad, stuffed grape leaves, and wonderful desserts like their flaky and sweet baklava.


Faicco's meat market on 11th Avenue and 66th Street is the big brother of the excellent pork store and salumneria in Grenwich Village. The difference is where you might expect to find 4 to 5 butchers working at any one time in the Grenwich Village store, there are a dozen or more butchers manning the counters in this Brooklyn institution. Their sausages are fresh and delicious, and  their selections (dry pasta, tomatoes, olive oil, etc.)including there own store made sauces, stews, croquettes, etc.are of a very high standard. To say nothing of the meat, which again is top quality. If you visit during the holidays, expect to wait while the lady in front of you orders pounds of meat, cold cuts and what not. Very knowledgeable help! Expensive, but well worth it.


On 5th Avenue at 92nd street, family run Francis's Bakery makes the very best seeded twist loaves and bread sticks.I always preferred bread from Francis's for my everyday use and
stopped there for bread on Saturday mornings to make french toast with for the day shift at Circles.

As good as the bread from Francis' is, the best Italian bread bakery in Brooklyn is on 14th Avenue at 65th Street. Royal Crown Pastry is the place to find bread, delicious cheese and olive sticks and other delicacies.


Down the block from Faicco's, Pasta Fresca on 11th Avenue and 67th Street makes all kinds of ravioli, manicotti and fresh pasta as well as great potato croquettes and other home made dishes. The boss, a large outspoken Neapolitan will help and offer his opinionated advise on life and all things Italian.

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