NJ: food retailers

Restaurant comers and goers in Ridgewood: NJ


The near constant turnover of restaurants continues in Ridgewood, NJ.

Long-time staple and all-around mediocre restaurant La Piazza disappeared a few months ago. I got a bit excited when I saw a sign announcing a new place called "29 Chestnut," until I looked closer and read "Italian Trattoria." What we don't need is yet another "Italian" restaurant in New Jersey (I'm relatively confident that it will be "Italian-American" and will not specialize in the cooking of any part of Italy).


Diwani moved out of its digs on E. Ridgewood Ave and headed up to Mahwah a few months back. That space is extremely awkward, with a small front room, some sort of dead space, and then a larger dining room tucked in the back. Let's hope Pardis Persian Grill can make a go of it.


Back on Chestnut Street, it looks like some sort of health food place went kaputt, and something with the potential of being much more interesting is moving in. Tori Ramen Chicken is coming soon.

Will they only serve chicken ramen? What about pork? I like pork. It looks like a pretty big space, so maybe they'll have room for chicken and pork ramen. Either way, this one is something to look forward to.

Ridgewood Fisheries, the small Japanese market, has closed. J Mart, another Japanese market, remains open.

Bella Notte Italian Bistro, which was La Bottega before that, closed a few months ago. The space remains empty.


Kilwins, some sort of chain, has a nice little spot right across from Van Neste Square. Haven't been in there, but I'm guessing they have chocolates, caramel apples, fudge, and ice cream.

As I noted earlier, another highly anticipated restaurant, Fish, is making progress on their remodel of the old bank building. I've got high hopes for this place, and I hope it doesn't screw it all up.

A reader notes that Italia di Gusto is open on E. Ridgewood ave. The website is here.

So that's that.

I worked up quite an appetite walking those 4 blocks, and headed over to the always-excellent Sakura Bana for some sushi. 



Chinese salt and pepper scallops: over yellow chives

Salt and pepper scallops

The daily question of "what's for dinner" is often answered with the help of a stroll through the supermarket. Not the regular supermarket, but good supermarkets. Like Asian supermarkets. These are the places you'll see items like snow pea leaves, or Thai basil, or a tongue. Like when I checked out H&Y Market in Ridgefield a while back. I saw some cow bones and that planted the seed for making pho. And then I used that broth to make an excellent fish dish.

Recently I found myself at King Fung, in River Edge, NJ. Surveying the produce aisle I noticed bright yellow chives, staring me in the face. I've never cooked these things, but I do know I love them in a dish I've had at Chengdu 23, in Wayne, NJ. The dish is very basic, and very elegant. In fact it seems to be not much more than shrimp and yellow chives. Although now that I look at the picture I see it has chunks of garlic and pickled red chillies. So much for my memory.

Chengdu 23 shrimp yellow chivesShrimp with yellow chives at Chengdu 23 in Wayne, NJ. Aparently more yellow than mine.

The subtle flavor of that shrimp/yellow chive dish never ceases to amaze me. But, I wanted something with a little more kick. I figured I'd give some scallops a very simple salt & pepper treatment, not much unlike the salt and pepper shrimp I often make.

The scallops were dusted with the mixture of white pepper, black pepper, Sichuan peppercorns, and salt, and seared briefly. The yellow chives were very simply sauteed in a wok with some peanut oil, along with some scallion for color contrast, and pickled Sichuan chillies (see, I actually got that part right!). A touch of soy and and black vinegar and sesame oil and a potato starch slurry and bing bang boom done. Here's what I did:

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Fat Gangnam Boy Hero: from Kimchi Smoke BBQ

Fat gangnam boy

Robert Cho, the pitmaster and operator of Kimchi Smoke/Fatboy BBQ Shack, a North Jersey-based mobile BBQ outfit, and I have become internet acquaintances, largely because he follows this blog and seems to revel in busting my balls, thereby drawing much of my attention to himself. It's infuriating at times, I must admit. But we also both share a passion for BBQ, and we've had a bunch of conversations on that subject.

More interesting to me than his incessant ball-busting and his love of BBQ is his approach to BBQ--he's a fan of Texas brisket, and he's incorporating the food of his Korean culture into the mix.

A few weeks ago he posted a picture of a new creation to Twitter/Facebook called the Fat Gangnam Boy Hero: bulgogi ribeye, cheese, kimchi pickles, BBQ sauce, on a hero. The idea of this sandwich immediately resonated with me and I have really really been looking forward to getting my hands on one. I was finally able to eat this thing this past Saturday at the Fort Lee Arts and Music Festival.

Fort Lee PD

For some reason I rolled into the festival at 10.30am. I had no idea it was that early, and had thought that things kicked off at 10. They didn't. Things didn't kick off until after 11, and the Kimchi Smoke team wasn't going to be ready to about noon.

I killed some time taking pictures of the motorcycle cops doing low speed slaloms around cones in the parking lot. This was pretty impressive maneuvering and interesting to watch. They'd come to a complete stop and take hard turns at a snail's pace, in tight formation and on top of each other. You can see how these skills would come in handy for a motorcycle cop in a town largely known for being one of the 3 arteries into Manhattan from New Jersey.

I checked out some of the other food stalls and trucks. The Callahan's hot dog guys were there. That Johnny Meatballs fellow was there. I saw a guy making wood-fired pizza. Just to name a few of the options. There seemed to be some stiff competition, but I'd suggest that the Kimchi Smoke boys were probably making the most interesting food there. This opinion, of course, formed from nothing but ignorance, since I didn't try anyone else's food.

Kimchismoke tent

Let's get back to this sandwich.

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Piccolo's Gastronomia Italian and H&Y Korean market: Ridgefield, NJ


In how many places can you find yourself surrounded by Korean-speaking people one minute, and then 3 minutes later find yourself surrounded by Italian-speaking people. Probably more than I know, but I'm sure as hell glad I live near one.

I was on my way to pick up some Calabria Hot Long Chili Peppers at Piccolo's when I noticed a Korean market called H&Y. There was no reason to not pop my head in, so in I went.

H&Y is apparently a small chain, with locations in Queens, this one in Ridgefield, and one in Bergenfield as well.

My usual Korean market is H-Mart, but I don't always enjoy my time there. Not sure why. Maybe it's the lake that masquerades as a parking lot. Maybe it's that odd flea market that is attached to it. Maybe it's that funky liquor store that you pass on the way in. I was more at ease at H&Y today, rest assured.

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Chinese cooking: pork belly with leeks and chili bean sauce: or salt-fried pork

Pork leeks

"Streaky pork." "Fatty pork." "Streaky bacon." "Bacon." I've seen pork belly described using any number of (often unappetizing) terms on Sichuan menus. It's probably just as well that these ominous depictions are sending up red flags, because the unsuspecting customer who is expecting some dry, boring morsels of pork loin might be surprised when they get a plate full of belly.

That surprised person was me about 12 years ago at Grand Sichuan on 2nd Ave and 50-something in NYC. A friend and I were having one of our standard blow-out lunches, and we ordered a pork dish. When it hit the table, we were beside ourselves. "Good God, it's a plate full of bacon!" was our reaction. We laughed about it, but enjoyed the dish as much as we could, along with the three other dishes that we ordered.

We'd continue to bring up the absurdity of that dish over the next few years, half disgusted as we recalled that plate of "bacon." And then one day it occurred to me that this plate full of fatty, luscious pork belly was actually a beautiful thing. One to be admired, not ridiculed. I'm not sure when I experienced this life-changing epiphany, but since then I've been a huge fan of any of the Sichuan dishes that use pork belly. And there are many.

One of those dishes is a standard restaurant order for us. And now, with the help of Fuchsia Dunlop's Sichuan cookbook Land of Plenty: A Treasury of Authentic Sichuan Cooking , it's a standard at t:e headquarters.  In her book, it's called "salt-fried pork." It consists of pork belly and leeks. Lots of leeks, when I cook it. And, as it turns out, black beans and chili bean sauce, and not much else.

As with much of the Chinese food I've been cooking, it's dead simple. The fact of the matter is that you've got some incredibly flavorful ingredients doing all of the work. All you have to do is mix them together and not screw it up. No problem.

The dish is immensely addictive, and packed with intense flavors. It's a bit spicy, a bit sweet, with a somewhat salty backbone. And it's even better as left-overs the next day.

Since I don't strictly follow Ms. Dunlop's recipe, I'll go with the "adapted from" approach here (that's what you do when you want to steal someone's recipe and post it on your blog--you say "adapted from" to make yourself feel better--like I just did):

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Muffuletta olive salad: elevate your stuff

Marconi muffaletta

Most anyone who has been to New Orleans and has even a passing interest in food has gone to Central Grocery (which apparently has the most awesome website ever...seriously, click on that link) or one of the many places that serve the glorious beast of a sandwich known as the Muffuletta.

For the uninitiated (please, hang your head in shame at this point), the Muffuletta is a big, round sandwich of cold cuts (ham, mortadella, salami, provolone, mozzarella, did I miss one?), with an oil-based olive salad as dressing. Served on bread that is too thick and, to my mind, not terribly good. Although it gets better as the oil soaks into it.

That olive salad is really the only truly remarkable component of the sandwich. Without it, you'd have a pretty boring, yet complicated sandwich. The olive salad elevates and unifies the whole mess.

Thankfully you can buy olive salad in jars and elevate your own stuff, right at home.  That's what I did earlier today. I elevated my own stuff.  Also, I made this sandwich.

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Mapping: the eats

Don't forget, there's a nifty map of restaurants/retailers covered in this blog. This might make it easier to focus on a particular area, for example. 

It's accessible via the menu bar above, or here: http://tommyeats.com/tommyeats/te-map.html

I should add that this Google map doesn't seem to work with Google Chrome, so you have to click on the link for the larger view. You should probably do that anyway.

View t:e restaurants in a larger map

Spicy Thai Basil Beef: Pad Gra Prow?

Thai beef basil chili

Is it called pad graprow? Possibly. Either way, what I was going for was that dish that's on every Thai menu in the US. Generally called "beef/chicken/shrimp with basil and pepper and chili," or something like that.

The description of the dish on these menus pretty much sums it up: "onion, basil, pepper, garlic, hot pepper, chili paste." All self-explanatory, other than that chili paste. Well I'm here to tell you it could very well be nam prik pao.

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Hot Italian Sausage: Swiss Pork Store: Fair Lawn, NJ

Swiss Pork Store Sausage 001

You probably know that the Swiss Pork Store, in Fair Lawn, NJ, makes some sort of veal loaf that is just other-worldly.

You probably also know that they grind their beef to order, and it's always very, very good (you'll never buy supermarket ground beef again). 

And of course you know that they have all sorts of smoked sausages, breakfast sausages, and a very fine lamb sausage indeed.

But I'm here to tell you about their hot Italian sausage.

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