To Market…

26 Jun

Grocery stores have become a big controversy in my neighborhood.

Marathoners & Pharmacy

Rents in the city are high and seem to inevitably climb higher. This makes it hard to run small businesses and shops, especially when landlords get greedy. Essential services like grocers, cobblers, bakers and florists are, not so slowly, being replaced by banks and pharmacies.

Bay Ridge Summer Night

The chain of events goes like this: You realize you need your shoe fixed. You start looking around and out of nowhere you realize that, every day for the past five years, you’ve walked past a cobbler on your way to the subway. You bring your shoes to the cobbler and fall in love with the delightful, ancient, Russian man who’s hands are dyed by his trade and move on their own while he sits and gossips and tells tales. He fixes your shoes and you leave, vowing to return as soon as possible. And then you forget.

And then, by the next time you need a pair of shoes fixed, he’s gone; replaced by another CVS or Walgreen’s or Chase or Capital One.


This is happening endlessly all over the city, not just in Manhattan but also in the outer boroughs. The necessities of life are being replaced by things that no one needs or wants in their neighborhoods, to the detriment of people’s health.

This situation is currently burning through Bay Ridge slowly and deliberately. There’s been huge controversy because one of the last, larger grocery stores is being closed, to be replaced by, yep, another pharmacy. My neighbors are, to say the least, up in arms about this. But, I do not agree with them.

Verrazano Bridge

One of the reasons I wanted to move to Bay Ridge is because it is such a great food neighborhood; and one of the things that makes it so great is its amazing proliferation of small, independent, family-owned ethnic grocery stores. I can think of at least three dozen places to shop for wonderful, fresh, delicious food within a 20 block radius of my apartment.

But this doesn’t seem to be the mindset of my neighbors. “Oh no! Where will we shop now?” None of them seem to be stopping and asking why the grocery stores are fleeing. I mean, there has to be a reason, right? Chain groceries don’t just up and leave for no good reason, do they? No, they do not. And I think I know why.


Bay Ridge is a car neighborhood. People drive here as if they’re living in suburban Denver or Los Angeles. If you’ve got a car, why on earth would you shop at the cramped, expensive Key Food in Bay Ridge when you can hop in your SUV and drive to Costco or Fairway or the enormous Price Chopper out in Sheepshead Bay?

Cars are also to blame for Bay Ridge not having a greenmarket. The city tried to give us one, but no. “We” told the city “no thanks” because it would take away parking. At a church. On Saturday. Because, so many Catholics go to church on Saturdays, right?


But one gentleman in the neighborhood has a plan. He has proposed a co-op. Where everyone pools their money and shopping lists and… Drives to big grocery stores and buys Triscuits and beer. Here’s the perfect chance to do something exciting for the neighborhood. We could start a CSA! Or go back to the city and say, “Hey, you know what? We really do want that greenmarket!” But no.

God Sky

It seems shocking to me that between gas at $4.45, the neighborhood’s eye-popping obesity problem and our brush with global warming (tornado in Brooklyn anyone?) my neighbors are sill so reluctant to embrace steps that can improve their health and the health of the neighborhood; like using public transport, walking and supporting small, local, independent grocers.

I’ve never lived in another neighborhood that has two quality fishmongers, two amazing butchers (one of whom is also a sausage maker!) and purveyors of decent, reasonably priced fresh fruits and vegetables every couple of blocks.

Bay Ridge Cabbages

And, as if that’s not enough, the city’s marquee greenmarket sits at the other end of the subway line that runs right through our neighborhood. Four days a week, the region’s very best produce, cheese and meats are available for everyone.

14th Street, Union Square

And then, there’s the yards. So many people have both front and backyards in this neighborhood, but what do they use them for? Parking, of course. What could they use them for? Even though I think this guy went a little overboard, there’s lots to learn from him. With a little knowledge, a little exertion and a little patience, it is possible to grow your own fresh, safe, healthy and delicious greens, beans and tomatoes in your own backyard.

Fire Escape Tomato, 100% Safe

But, I fear I have run overlong on a topic that I find endlessly interesting, but which has, at this point, possibly bored you to tears! So, in return for listening to my rant, I offer you a delicious recipe for a seasonal, healthy, tasty pasta dinner.

Pasta with Beet Greens & Peas

All the ingredients can be purchased at the greenmarket, or, if you’re lucky, pulled from your own backyard.

Head below the jump for the recipe for Pasta with Beet Greens & Peas.

Pasta with Beet Greens & Peas

prep time: 20 minutes ~ cooking time: 10 minutes

  • 12 ozs or 3/4 lb Fresh Pasta, Tri-Colore Penne if you can get it
  • Olive Oil
  • 1 Onion, slilced
  • 4-6 cloves Garlic, roughly chopped
  • Beet Greens from at least two bunches of beets, washed, but not dried, and chopped into bite-sized pieces
  • Vermouth
  • Sherry or Balsamic Vinegar
  • Salt & Pepper
  • Dried Chile Flakes
  • a handful or two of fresh, shelled or frozen Peas
  • Butter
  • Dried Cheese, for grating (I used an aged goat cheese we had laying around, but Parmesan would be just fine)

Set a large pot of heavily salted water to boil.

Heat a glug of olive oil in a large, deep sautée pan over medium heat. Add the onions and garlic. Cook slowly until the onions just begin to take on a little color. This should take about as long as the water needs to boil. Add the beet greens to the pan. They will just barely fit, so just push them in as well as you can. Add a small glug of vinegar, a big glug of vermouth, season with salt and pepper and dried chile flakes. Turn to coat in the oil/liquid and clamp a cover onto the pan. Add the pasta to the water.

Just before the pasta is done, add the peas and a knob of butter to the beet greens. Stir to incorporate. Turn the heat off under the pasta, drain and add directly to the pan with the beet greens. Cook together a minute or so and then turn the heat off. Serve the pasta with fresh grated cheese. Enjoy!

Cook’s Note: Need some ideas about what to do with the beets you’ll have leftover after eating the greens?

Tiny Beets, Tiny Carrots

You can roast them and make a salad. You can roast them with some delicious local sausages. You could roast them and eat them with pasta. Or, you could pickle them!


22 Responses to “To Market…”

  1. Sandie June 26, 2008 at 9:36 am #

    Last time I was in Manhattan (approx. 7 years ago), I was struck by how different life was there as compared to other cities I’ve visited. I was amazed at the number of independent grocers, markets, small businesses and ethnic restaurants that abound everywhere. Every time I walked a block, it seemed like a new world awaited. Sure there were the mass market players as well, but I was in awe that the people who lived in these area neighborhoods might actually do all their weekly shopping at small corner markets and shops within easy walking distance for their homes or apartments.

    So different from everyday life in Midwestern cities and towns, NYC gives a whole new meaning to the word neighborhood. To an outsider, it seemed like worlds within worlds, and as a visitor, I’d hate to see that change.

  2. Christine June 26, 2008 at 10:05 am #

    I have family in Bay Ridge and for years in Bensonhurst (now in Marine Park where the situation is a little harder) and they never ever went to a big grocer, or generally not, mostly because the women never learned to drive. And the men were lazy. They’re all in their upper 60s or early 70s now and Italian immigrants. They walked everywhere or took a bus or other transportation. Things change. Not always for the better. I always loved how you could get whatever you wanted by walking a few blocks.

    I drive to work, out of Philadelphia where no train goes, so usually hit up my somewhat further away CSA on the way back into Phila. But otherwise, if I need something and I’m home, I walk. We have a ton of BIG grocery stores within a couple of blocks and Saturdays if we have a wee little farmer’s market 6 blocks away. If you consider a move, remember, Philadelphia loves ya!

    PS – your pasta looks delicious. And for the beets, I usually roast or in the hot weather boil mine and just eat them simply with vinaigrette but I know Shauna of had a reader write in on beets a while back, I’m sure there are excellent ideas there.

  3. Luisa June 26, 2008 at 10:17 am #

    Great, thoughtful post. Would that more people would think like you.

  4. Sylvie June 26, 2008 at 11:12 am #

    Love your post and wish more people would think like that. It’s the same here in the UK as well. Small family run shops, like butchers and green grocers are having to close because more and more supermarket giants are opening everywhere. Yes, I do go shopping there sometimes, but as much as I can I shop in the local town centre and on the market. Lovely recipe as well!

  5. silverstar98121 June 26, 2008 at 12:29 pm #

    It’s a problem not only in New York, but also in Seattle Here I”m the one on my disability scooter going across Seattle Center to get to the grocery store. Oh, well.

  6. EB June 26, 2008 at 2:40 pm #

    That was far from a rant. It was a thought provoking commentary. I love the fact that ‘that guy’ went totally overboard. If it takes an urban guy with a chicken coop to make people think twice before buying a plastic packaged egg salad sandwich at CVS… so be it.

  7. Lisa (Homesick Texan) June 26, 2008 at 2:44 pm #

    Nope, I’m not bored at all as this is one of my favorite topics as well. Thank you for the very satisfying read during this late-afternoon lull.

  8. Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) June 26, 2008 at 3:40 pm #

    I hesitate to even say this out loud, but it sounds like you are ready to start organizing a farmers’ market, farmstand, CSA — yes, you. I agree — mourn the passing of the small stores, the artisans, the farmers. And little bit extra that you’ll spend on toilet paper at a corner store or bodega will still be far less than the cost of a gallon of gas to get to the “big box” stores.

  9. Julia June 26, 2008 at 10:29 pm #

    I totally understand where you’re coming from. I only hope that rising gas costs will help people look toward alternative transportation. it makes me happy to see so many people biking around in my neighborhood at least. i have to admit, though, that i am guilty of driving to grocery shop – to go to fairway because i <3 it and red hook, but i limit it to one trip a month to stock up, and the rest of the time i lug everything home from farmers markets.

    as for beets, my sister recommended a sweet beet spread to me a while ago – beets, pecans, maple syrup, and a little salt blended in a food processor. haven’t tried it yet but it sounded good and wanted to pass it on!

  10. ann June 27, 2008 at 7:22 am #

    Sandie — I think you’ve nailed it. That is exactly what I love about living in NYC.

    Christine — I know Philly loves me, but do I love Philly? Just kidding! I lived there for 5 years during and after college, 4 out on the Main Line and 1 in Center City. I loved it and, seriously, have a daily craving for those pretzels the Amish ladies sell at Reading Market. Seriously. Every day. I haven’t had one in almost 10 years. That makes me very sad!

    Luisa — Thanks!

    Sylvie — I knew it was a problem in the UK too. That Gordon Ramsey, he’s spreading the word! Ha, just kidding, but yeah, I can imagine the problem’s actually even worse in Europe. And don’t get me wrong, I do shop at megagrocers too, sometimes you just have to. It just frustrates me that my neighbors think that since the supermarket is leaving, they’ve got nowhere left to shop. So blinkered.

    Silverstar — Ugh, what a pain in the ass. Seattle, in my mind, is this great green city with farmer’s markets on every corner. I’m sorry to hear it’s not that way in actuality!

    EB — Yeah, that guy cracks me up. I mean, who really thinks they can kill bunnies in their backyard and not be slightly scarred by the experience!

    Lisa — Good! I get so worried I’m boring people from time to time. Guess I should have known you guys would be a sympathetic audience :-)

    Lydia — I know, I know… I’ve had that thought too. I just don’t know where to start, or where I’ll find the time, but yeah, it is a good idea. Maybe I’ll add that to the list right after updating the site more :-)

    Julia — Oh please, I shop at Fairway too! Who doesn’t? Sometimes you just need delicious, cheap olive oil. That spread sounds amazing! Thanks for the tip!

  11. WillB June 27, 2008 at 7:21 pm #

    Even here in the Boonies the small in-town stores are disappearing. The larger grocery stores just keep expanding. But you caught my attention with the sausage maker… The only one around these parts closed years ago – and now we have to travel far and wide for good kielbasa!

  12. Christina June 28, 2008 at 6:53 am #

    Very thoughtful post. Carroll Gardens has had similar problems, as our local supermarket closed a couple of years ago. However, it was an awful place and I don’t miss it. We’ve always enjoyed strolling down Court Street and visiting our small, local shops on Saturday mornings; it makes us feel like part of the neighborhood. My husband has become friends with our butcher and the owner of the local Italian shop. We even have a tiny farmers market on Sundays now. Every once in while we throw in an emergency run to Fairway, but overall the small, personal shops make every neighborhood unique. I hope it lasts.

  13. Ann June 29, 2008 at 4:45 am #

    It sounds like a lot of your neighbors are living as if they are in the suburbs, which is kind of sad, when they have all of the advantages of being part of NYC. Don’t they know that the sheer population density makes NYC one of the greenest cities in the world?

    Anyway, Lydia is right. Time to organize a CSA. Send me an email sometime and I can point you in a few helpful directions. :-)

  14. shelley June 29, 2008 at 2:58 pm #

    I live in the land of Costco, mass-grocery stores and Wal-Greens, and it is indeed a sad way to live.

    But to be up there, and have the same problem…? It’s just ridiculous. Hope you are able to convince others to fight the good fight along with you.

    Seriously, what is wrong with people? Sigh.

  15. Tone June 29, 2008 at 3:56 pm #

    Ive lived in Bay Ridge for a couple of years and I love it for all the reasons you’ve mentioned.. no one needs another Rite Aid – and the quality of some of the larger grocery chains is iffy (at best)
    Supporting local mom/pops is the way to go. It may be a bit more money at times (although I often find that ethnic goods like terrific Feta, Mozz, or mid. east ingredients are much cheaper at smaller stores) but is worth it all around.

    I’ve sworn off Key Food b/c they’re way overpriced. I stick to my crappy little Associated for basic pantry staples and joined the Park Slope Food Coop for organic great quality produce and bulk items..

    BTW: love the blog!

  16. Tone June 29, 2008 at 4:10 pm #

    P.S: I was thinking of Food Town’s prices..not K.F.

    PPS.. Where is this sausage monger?? i Usu get my sausage at Cangianos.. but the last time I bought Prosciutto and one of their cold salad items they were both sub-standard..

  17. ann June 29, 2008 at 6:22 pm #

    WillB — Now that is a tragedy! Perhaps I’ll start smuggling some good, NYC sausages upstate when I come visit ;-)

    Christina — Carroll Gardens and Bay Ridge remind me very much of each other in so many ways, but you’re so lucky, you have the guy that makes lard bread! Not that I could ever let myself eat it, but oh! The thought of it!

    Ann — You’re on! Maybe we can chat about CSAs over a cocktail?

    Shelley — I know… Fighting the good fight tastes so much better, too!

    Tone — Hi! Thanks for stopping by and adding your two cents! Very kind of you! The sausage guys are A&S over on 5th Ave btwn 86th & 87th, like, if you go to Century 21, leave the clothing part by the back door (the one heading towards the homewares store) turn left, then turn left again on 5th avenue. They’re on the left side of the street. Their sausages are terrific and the guy that owns the place is a great butcher. If you try them, let me know what you think!

  18. Tone June 30, 2008 at 6:37 pm #

    Speaking of 5th b/t 86/87.. have you tried Grand Sichuan House? So spicy and delicious.
    I’ll check out A+S this wkend. Thanks!

  19. izzy's mama June 30, 2008 at 9:30 pm #

    Your beautiful post is sad but true. On the bright side, people like us can spread the word. Keep on writing and change may come, slowly but surely.

    And it is true, starting a CSA is not difficult at all. I can offer advice if necessary!

  20. Julie July 2, 2008 at 9:28 pm #

    Two quality fishmongers and two butchers within walking distance sounds like a food shopper’s paradise to me. Is there any place in America other than New York City where the culture of small food shops remains? I can’t think of any other. I prefer what I think of as the European custom of shopping daily in small specialized shops rather than the American custom of driving to the big supermarket and laying in massive amounts of food. It’s a shame that it’s almost impossible to shop for food in any other way than at the supermarket in most of America.

  21. Ulla August 27, 2008 at 7:24 pm #

    Congratulations! I to bought a country house and have been working away at it. Your reflections on country folks is right on. I sometimes wonder too. Political Scientists have written books about the disconnect that pervades the rural poor. “What’s The Matter with Kansas?” talks about it a bit. I think it has to do with the fact that they are so screwed, they are spepikal and bitter—rightfully so I imagine but there needs to be change. There will always be a uncomfortable disconnect between urbanites and country people but I think there is a change afoot. I am rambling, I have been thinking so much about substaibable agriculture it is bleeding into all thoughts!. COngrats on the house and keep up with the thoughtful essays. I love reading them:)

  22. Ulla August 27, 2008 at 8:08 pm #

    I commented on the wrong post! I am out of it. This one is for the new house post.:)

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