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I Know the Neighborhood

I hear about how Fairway's walk-in meat locker is the shit, and it probably is. You won't get a lender jacket for warmth at Western Beef, you'll just have to shiver it out with the rest of the immigrants and all-American freaks who've piled their carts to obscene levels.

I had the great fortune of living in Ridgewood during my first three traumatizing years in NYC. Do't even ask, some things are just not worth understanding. But it wasn?t until the tail end of my stint when I got a boyfriend with a car that I even discovered the beauty of Western Beef. The car is sort of key because it's located in a weird industrial pocket that borders Maspeth, Ridgewood, and Williamsburg (yes, Williamsburg. The hipsters raving about their stupid Tops so don't know what they're talking about). It's not really walking distance from the nearest subway stop, Grand Ave. on the L.

You know when someone has suburban savvy, and it's tough to find that charming quality in the city. When James's college friend moved to Williamsburg from Baltimore, he didn't have much faith in him. Yet on like our first visit to his new digs, he had Western Beef products all over the kitchen. He'd managed to sniff it out in his first week, which was very impressive. (Now the guy is married to the coworker he knocked up on a casual date and lives in Westchester with his new instant family. Sometimes suburban savvy will also get you into trouble.)

I know the chain is scattered throughout the city, but this is the headquarters, and notably different. "We know the neighborhood" is their slogan, they have what may be the cutest logo ever, a cartoon cactus donning a cowboy hat, and you can't ignore their most awesomely low tech website. They rule on all counts. Really, it's no more than a vast, moderately dumpy grocery store, quantity over quality, at least on the surface. You're not likely to find broccoli rabe, rosemary, figs or Swiss cheese that isn't deli-sliced, but that's because Western Beef is about staples, massive selection of those basics, a surprisingly better produce section than most NYC stores contain, and lots and lots of meat, all at very reasonable prices.

Banana leaves, tropical fruit, those hideous little bottles of malta (I?m open minded food-wise, but this beverage is completely intolerable, the only thing other than melon that I can't stomach) and practically every Caribbean root vegetable in existence are easy to score, plus there's a large international section with lots of Eastern European cookies, jellies, pickled items and canned goods–they know the neighborhood, remember? This week they have Haagan-Dazs 1.88/pint, avocados 79-cents each, and turkey butts $1.19/lb, good deals (I don't know if that's a competitive price on turkey butts, but you know, it's not every day you see them). And we just got our Christmas tree out front for $19.99, way better than Carroll Gardens rates.

Plus it's all a great source of entertainment, invariably blaring salsa music will assault you, the manager will get on the intercom and yell violently about needing the keys back (seriously, this happens repeatedly on each visit), there will likely be a screw up in the long check out lines and someone's food stamp debit card will always run out of credit and cause a holdup due to either stupidity or language barrier. And yet I always return, Western Beef's siren song is just too strong.

Western Beef * 47-05 Metropolitan Ave., Ridgewood, NY

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