When I think about the earliest days of the pandemic in New York City, my memories are bittersweet. It was a stressful and scary time, of course. But there were some nice, quiet moments, too: gathering in the park, sitting exactly six feet apart. Drinks and dinner on stoops (again, six feet apart). Weekly game nights over Zoom.
For me, a staple activity was visiting a small market at the restaurant Hart’s in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, where you could buy prepared foods, tote bags, really good olive oil, tinned fish, fresh produce, wines at wholesale prices and sourdough loaves.
The market is long gone — I still have their quart containers, the labels wrinkled from repeated dishwashing — but the crossover between shopping and dining is forever. This has long been the ethos of institutions like Zabar’s, Kalustyan’s, Sahadi’s and, in a maximalist way, Eataly, where hard-to-find ingredients were made readily available to those seeking a taste of home.
The megamarkets are always a good time, but I also find myself drawn to the smaller markets that some restaurants have. Here are a few that fit the bill.
Vegan Supplies and, Yes, Speakeasies Behind Shelves
In May, Pine & Polk arrived in Hudson Square, bringing with it an assortment of small brands like Brightland olive oil, Brooklyn Biltong and Seed & Mill halva alongside cookbooks and sage bundles. What about the food? It’s behind the chocolate bar shelf that’s actually a door to the speakeasy Pacific Standard. There are snack boards and cheese platters if you’re just looking for a pre- or post-dinner nosh, but there’s also a hearty chicken sandwich and grilled cheese if you need a proper meal.
If you’re vegan or vegan-curious, the five-year-old Orchard Grocer on the Lower East Side remains the place to eat and shop for vegan dairy, meat alternatives, candies and snacks while you wait for the Edith: carrot lox, cashew cheese, capers and chives on a vegan bagel. The entire menu is full of veganized versions of classic sandwiches like the Cubano, the BLT, grilled cheese and what I’d call a not-bacon, not-egg and not-cheese (the Miles).
Pastrami Sandwiches and To-Go Sushi With a Side of Ume Plums
At Edith’s Eatery and Grocery, a modern Jewish restaurant in East Williamsburg, you’ll find pastrami and eggs and Russian pancakes with farmer’s cheese for brunch, which is served until 5 p.m. daily. There’s also a market selling freekeh, marshmallow twists and tahini from the 115-year-old Brooklyn-born brand Joyva, rosewater from Al Wadi and Jewish cookbooks, including copies of “The Jewish Cookery Book” by Esther Levy, published in 1871.
(I recently dropped by for dinner and it was a ghost town! Definitely check it out if you’re looking for an incredible meal at the last minute. The Romanian steak, fingerling potatoes and homemade malawach — a flaky flatbread — are worth the trip.)
And when I worked at New York magazine, my go-to spot for lunch was the Sunrise Mart location in SoHo, where I could have chicken katsu or sushi for lunch and pick up some ume plums, dashi and matcha Kit-Kats to take home.
Keep these places in mind when gift shopping for people who are impossible to shop for. (They already have plenty of shirts, and they’ve lived this long without a Fitbit!) They won’t soon forget the gift of culinary delight you brought their way.
In Other News …
Nearly 15 years into its run on Avenue C, Pete Wells reviewed the restaurant Kafana, tracing its transformation from a home-away-from-home for Serbians to a meat- and wine-lover’s paradise.
Openings: Cucina Alba is bringing “vacation Italian” to West 18th Street next week; this Thursday the Dominican restaurant Jalao NYC will open at the new Radio Hotel in Washington Heights; and the beloved West Village hot pot restaurant Hakata TonTon is back — in Midtown.
Tejal Rao wrote about the “bright, delicate and constantly changing” cooking at the Taiwanese restaurant Good to Eat Dumplings in Emeryville, Calif., and how it fits into this politically fraught moment for Taiwan.
Have you seen this lamp? Priya Krishna reported on the rise of the Pina Pro, the pricey tabletop lamp that has taken over outdoor dining in New York.
Half the world’s population has H. pylori, a stomach bacteria that has been linked to peptic ulcers and other digestion issues. So, Priya asks, why don’t more people know about it?
The New York Times Food Festival returns on Oct. 8, featuring live cooking demos; conversations with Ina Garten, Padma Lakshmi and more; cookbook signings; and plenty of eating. Purchase tickets here.