Skip to content

Search results for 'western beef'

Vegging Out At Western Beef

Sometimes I think I should just start a Western Beef blog (or would that be more appropriate for a Tumblr?). Or maybe just publish a blog and call it Western Beef—I’ll always be a West-Coaster at my core and I’m more beefy than non. Western Beef is me. 

Western beef macedonian products

This weekend I noticed that there was a Macedonian section in the left-hand row of European (heavy on the Eastern part of the continent) products. There are two lengths of international shelves with the Latin American products on the right taking up the most space. Malta, my most loathed beverage, has a huge dedicated section nearby.

Vava brand condiments

The jars of Vava brand pickles and condiments are what caught my attention. Avjar? I’d never heard of it (though that didn’t stop me just “liking” it on Facebook). The roasted red pepper spread seems vaguely similar to muhammara, minus the walnuts or pomegranate molasses. There is also an avjar with cheese. Malidjano is the "Balkan Babaganush." I’m going to pick these up next time. There’s always a next time at Western Beef.


Instead, I got sucked in by the promise of sour cherry flavors. Honey Cakes with sour cherry jam sounded so wholesome, and at 79-cents for a bag, who could resist these heart-shaped cookies?

Sour cherry In reality, they were soft, graham crackery with a dull chocolate coating that shows fingerprints but barely melts at the warmth of a hand. Waxy, like a Little Debbie cake and no cherry flavor to speak of. The insides of the cookie were practically hollow, only containing a hint of sweet goo.

The Marco Polo sour cherry jam was more what I was hoping for: just cherries, sugar, and pectin (oh, and citric acid—I’d been wondering about this ingredient, too). There is no indication of origin on the glass jar’s label, but I think this brand is Hungarian.

One of the predictable things at Western Beef is that there will invariably be items they just don’t carry. Take your fancy Greek yogurt, smoked trout, matzo meal shopping list (three real examples from this excursion) elsewhere. Tasting Table clearly doesn’t get out to Ridgewood—I balked at this line in their newsletter, Wednesday, “Thick, creamy Greek-style yogurt is hardly an exotic item these days; you can now pick up a tub at any corner bodega.” Not at Western Beef, bub. 


This parking lot photo taken in the  in the middle of summer, sums up Western Beef.

The unpredictable thing is what produce item will give the cashier trouble—and one always will—because it’s never the food you think it will be. I’m ok with people who don’t eat a cornucopia of vegetables (I don’t really like fruit much other than cherries), but you would think that working in a grocery store would expose one to a variety of vegetables through customers’ purchases.

We had a bunch of greens in our cart: kale, turnip tops, collards. I thought these would be the problem produce. It was ok, though, because they had codes on them. What caused the teen at the register to give me the confused face was asparagus. She didn’t even know the word for it (yes, she was ESL but spoke fine conversational English). I was, “Oh, it’s asparagus, with an A” so she could find it on the spinning cylinder with products codes on it. She still seemed baffled and had to ask the guy cashiering at the next station over. He knew what asparagus was and repeated it again to her. Then she said asparagus back to me with a hard A like in attic, as if now she got it and initially misunderstood because of my pronunciation.

Watercress also spazzed her out, but I had anticipated that.

Oh, Western Beef. The things I put up with for love.

Western Beef * 4705 Metropolitan Ave., Ridgewood, NY

Beefing up the Selection


It’s just a grocery store but I’ve always had a thing for Western Beef, at least the Ridgewood headquarters. It’s not remotely fancy, I can’t get my Kashi bars or Fage yogurt, just Quaker and Danon, but it’s certainly a notch above Associated or C-Town (Friday the NY Post had a funny full page ad where C-Town price compared a pile of around 25 Krasdale items to the name brands and showed how you’d save like $75).


I was excited this past weekend to see that WB has revamped/reorganized its “ethnic” offerings, which consists of a bounty of Latin American and Caribbean brands with a few Eastern European items tossed in. You’re shit out of luck if need anything Asian besides Kikkoman or Roland duck sauce (in humungous jars). I don’t know that they increased their offerings but they’ve tidied up the shelves, erected mini flags from countries of origin and put signs out front advertising their diverse products. I thought they might’ve actually alphabetized since Argentina was first, but then Peru snuck in near the start of the aisle and all rhyme or reason went out the window.


They also tidied up an entire row devoted the only other foodstuff in existence (besides melon) that I can't abide. Malta is an acquired taste that I just can't acquire. 

TriguisarI couldn’t resist this little Colombian box of Triguisar. I'm sure it is seasoning, though the translation reads "economic dehydrated mixed condiments" that consist of cumin, pepper, garlic, annatto, something they translate as curcuma (ah, turmeric), yellow dye, corn starch and corn rice. I’m not convinced of its tastiness but like the straightforward directions, “it should be cooked with the foods.”

Not only was the Western Beef so bizarrely empty that I could wheel the cart around unimpeded, the same non-crowdedness occurred at Target the same Saturday afternoon. We got a parking spot next to the door instead of having to drive in circles and there were actually shopping carts instead of the usual empty patch of dirty carpet where they’re supposed to be. It kind of freaked me out. Plus, instead of the normal reggaeton blasting at WB interspersed with an angry employee yelling for his keys, soft jazz was lilting from the speakers. New management or something more malevolent?

More: western beef

A Study in Beef

I'm not one inclined towards the visual. I always think words first, but admittedly, I do enjoy store photos. Yes, I actually like looking at grocery store interiors for fun. Here are some lovely shots of my favorite NYC food shop (Balducci's, my ass).

Believe it or not, these ma and pa potatoes just appeared last month. I wonder what kind of person would create such a thing.


Watch out for the cavalcade of wieners spilling forth.


I don?t know that the typical Western Beef customer demands skinless drumsticks. The big box of frozen White Castle burgers peeking from the left is more like it.


Dulce de leche and Whoppers flavored syrups? Crazy.


That's a heck of a lot of mini Welchito cans in the distance.

You don't have to have an SUV to shop here.

More: western beef

Where’s the Beef?

Shopcart1I would probably be sadder about the Meatpacking District losing its Western Beef, if I actually ever went anywhere near part of the city. But still, that overblown neighborhood could only benefit from an anthropomorphic cactus in a cowboy hat. Just wait, Stella McCartney will totally have a cactus fiber line of clothing next season.

Meatpacker Packing Up (New York Post)
Got Beef? Not Anymore (The New York Times)

Print Is Not Dead

April-elle1 Ok, so it appears that I’ve been featured in ELLE magazine (no, not L Magazine, the first assumption from the few New Yorkers I’ve offhandedly mentioned this to). I’m as surprised as anyone.

What warms my heart the most is—no, not being referred to as “the best in the Gen X slacker”—that food totally takes a backseat to Henry freaking Thomas, a.k.a The Hankster, my raison d’etre of the ‘90s. Of course it’s now firmly 2011, but my life’s work is done. Dead serious.

Second best is seeing my favorite grocery store, the Western Beef in Ridgewood, Queens, in the background of my photos.

My mom is going to kill me for divulging her ‘80s penchant for eggs and bacon and taco salads for dinner. Thank god I didn’t tattle about her infamous peanut butter and margarine sandwiches.

No, it’s not online (oh, traditional print) so I’ve scanned the full article for visual proof, which is likely copyright-infringing (but, you know, anti-authority Gen Xer that I am…). Click images to see full-sized.





Shovel Time: Tanoshi Sushi

tanoshi grid

I spent Christmas truly alone this year and it was surprisingly fun. This isn’t something I’ve brought up because it makes me defensive, and it wasn’t until I received the email earlier this week from Dirt Candy announcing “Solo Diners Week,” meant to counter the Valentine’s onslaught, that I gave it more thought. Sure, I guess it’s sad on some level to dine alone on Valentine’s Day, but not everyone is coupled up and really anyone who wants to go out eat on February 14 (unless it’s Dallas BBQ, obviously) is asking for trouble, whereas dining alone on Christmas is just straight up pathetic because who doesn’t have friends and family?

* * *

Some people are mildly horrified when they hear this and begin secretly judging you differently than when they met you hours ago as you were trying to hold their attention with animated stories. An impression that you’re a suspicious decision-maker with no ties has already been imprinted when they convince you to walk the three blocks to their apartment after the New Year’s Eve party instead of the bus stop where you intended to go even though they are not 100% single.

Some people think it’s normal enough not to comment like the stranger who also didn’t go home for Christmas who you’ve been texting with sporadically for over a month and plan to meet at my favorite extinct-on-the-East-Coast chain restaurant in a few weeks when you finally do visit family in Oregon because you’re not a monster.

Some too-young stranger you have no rapport with and have never met texts you something benign on Christmas morning when you’re still in bed and you think that’s creepy because he should probably be spending time with his parents so you ignore him.

 * * *


This was the first year the words “I hate Christmas” came out of my mouth even though I’ve hated Christmas for at least the past 15 years. I never considered myself a Scrooge despite my ex-boyfriend calling me one because I wouldn’t participate in decorating the tree he’d buy in the Western Beef parking lot right before ditching me to head to his parents’ in a D.C. suburb where I was never once invited in over a decade. I was the only one who ever saw the tree on Christmas.  And then it would stick around pissing me off right up until Super Bowl like a desiccated guest who’d long overstayed its welcome.

Some years I’d throw orphan parties. Some years I’d go out to eat with friends. This was the first year I made zero overtures. It was a weird year. I wasn’t going to go out at all, partially to try and save a little money for vacation. But an unexpected raise coupled with the fear of becoming a shut-in (too late) had me scrambling for a counter seat  experience that would be just right i.e. special but not baller (we’re talking maybe two nice-ish dinners a month raise not Powerball money).

Oh yeah, Tanoshi. I wouldn’t say I follow the NYC sushi scene closely, and I kind of hate talking about sushi because I don’t have the vocabulary, but even casually observing I’d say there has been a recent trend toward the luxe and maybe even the bombastic. That’s not Tanoshi, which I haven’t heard much about since 2013 when everyone was going nutso about the bargain priced omakase being served in a small, understated storefront in Yorkville with an impossible reservation system that possibly added to the lore.

It’s still bare bones, just ten seats, and an ideal candidate for the Second Avenue subway, but you can now reserve online. The price has risen thirty dollars to $80, but it’s still BYOB, and I would argue still a bargain.

And it was great. Not precious and exactly what I needed. (Last year around Christmas, but not on the 25th because I wasn’t fully embracing real holiday aloneness yet, I splurged on Momofuku Ko with wine pairings, and while lovely, that kind of experience demands a high level of attention and energy, and honestly, tasting menus can be agitating when maybe you just want to zone out. Not to mention that I’m kind of over spending that kind of money on ephemera.) I didn’t take copious notes and I’m not going to regale you with descriptions of scored flesh or how the warm, vinegared rice almost managed to taste buttered when melded with fattier pieces of fish. I also felt a little anxious taking photos, which I did for my own memory not to demonstrate any skills, obviously–I was semi-seriously warned I had three seconds–because this style of sushi is loosely packed and falls apart quickly, no time for fussing around.

A rhythm developed. Listen, quickly snap, pick-up with fingers, cram into mouth and slowly savor the whole piece while trying to stay in the moment even if only ten seconds. Done. Sip some sake, nibble a slice of pickled ginger. Chill. Repeat.

Kelp-cured fluke, marinated big eye tuna, cured king salmon, winter mackerel, cherry blossom leaf amberjack, miso marinated black sable, uni (Hokkaido or US, I don’t recall, though I want to say Maine) saltwater eel, fatty tuna with yuzu pepper, spicy toro.

Then three extras a la carte: kani miso a.k.a. crab brains, not unlike lobster tomalley, bittersweet guts really; the halfbeak just because I thought the name was cute and the presentation, two spirals, more than met my expectations; then ending with the nodoguro/black throat, suggested because I asked for something rich and unctuous.

lady sushi chefs

Really what was cool, and that I was vaguely aware of, is that while Toshio Oguma is the head chef, half the restaurant is served by Oona Tempest, who I’m not sure is a full-fledged chef yet or what that even entails, but no matter because it’s so rare seeing a woman behind a sushi counter and Tanoshi has two (Alex, left, is apprenticing).

* * *

It was truly the best potentially worst Christmas ever. Afterwards, warmed from my small bottle of chilled sake, I stopped by 7-Eleven for cigarettes on the way to Seamstress because it was close and a real cocktail bar open on Christmas and a woman resembling a younger Kathy Bates was rampaging the aisles and yelling at both of the young Latino men on duty, “Where is the hard candy?!” My first instinct was fist-clenching anger and I wasn’t even working there and then I made eye contact with the cashier and said, “So, where’s the hard candy?” and we both started laughing and then I couldn’t stop as if I felt more high than drunk and became the new crazy lady in the store.

Maybe it was the 60 degree weather. Maybe I was just out of my element. I was definitely happy to have left the house and to have not turned into someone harassing people trying to make a living on a major holiday. Eventually, I ended up drinking a beverage garnished with a candy cane and marshmallow Christmas tree and aggressively making out with a grown man wearing glitter nail polish and eyeliner who caught my attention by talking about the ups and downs of NYC co-op ownership, neither thing I anticipated ever happening on the Upper East Side on Christmas. It all happened because of sushi. I’m pretty sure.

Tanoshi Sushi * 1372 York Ave., New York, NY 





I never thought I'd be eating Vietnamese food next
to Western Beef on the Brooklyn-Queens border. The regional chain's
Metropolitan Avenue flagship–sprawling, no nonsense, with a large selection of
Latin American, Caribbean and Eastern European products–has always been my
favorite NYC grocery store since I first moved to the city, i.e. Ridgewood (barely
qualifying as The City) fifteen years ago. (It's where I took my photos when I
was inexplicably featured in Elle
a few years back.)

Western beef limes
Sixteen limes for $2? Come on.

Western beef european specialties
European specialties may as well be big plastic
bottles of Russian beer.

Western beef quarter waters
There is even a house brand of quarter waters (and
malta–too gross to show).

Bun-ker street view

The organics showed up not too long ago, and then I
braced for my canary in the coalmine: Fage yogurt (Chobani always hits first,
sitting alongside Tropical and Yoplait). What I didn't anticipate were niceties
creeping up outside the gate. Step out of the parking lot, turn to your right,
and Bun-Ker is embedded in the neighboring industrial strip like a daytime-only
sandwich stand, previously the only food in the immediate area. I do not bemoan
this breed of gentrification.

The only thing keeping the small restaurant–it
seats twenty at best–from being impossibly packed is the long haul from the nearest
subway, the Jefferson L and general lack of additional nearby attractions
(there are some Bushwick bars). I don't expect the same person spurred to try hinterland
banh xeo to be excited about hanging out in Western Beef's meat locker.

Bun-ker crab spring rolls

Crab spring rolls are one of five starters and semi-healthily
satisfy an urge for fried food. The accompanying cilantro, mint and Thai basil add
fresh herbal notes and crab is lighter than the ground pork you more commonly
find mixed with glass noodles and stuffed into these shells.

Nothing is flashy either. Producers aren't
name-checked, but you know you're eating something more carefully thought out
than at one of the many interchangeable Vietnamese restaurants in old Chinatown
or Elmhurst. (Seeing bo bo chicken made me feel guilty about the factory-farmed
chicken thighs–and skirt steak and pork shoulder–warming in the car trunk
while eating.)

Bun-ker suon nuong xa

The slices of pork loin, not chops, in the suon nuong
xa, are straightforward. Lemongrass shines through, though it's the char from
the grill stands out.

Bun-ker bo luc lac

Bo luc lac a.k.a. shaking beef comes with a watercress
salad, a traditional combination. (I've heard this is sometimes served with
french fries in Vietnam, sort of steak frites, sort of lomo saltado. All I know
is that I want it.) Once again, I was enamored with the smokiness, and how the seared
cubes, super tender, got sweetness and crunch from the crushed peanuts and
fried shallots.

The menu is relatively brief, sticks to familiar dishes
without being rigidly classic; the vegetarian banh mi features havarti and
smoked gouda and there's a Thai massaman short rib curry. Part of me would like
to see a few lesser-known offerings (then we could call it the Vietnamese Pok
Pok) but the more I think about Bun-Ker, the more feelings it gives me–swayed
by context, admittedly.  It would just be
likeable, not remarkable in the East Village or Park Slope (and more expensive). Scrappiness lends some charm.

Bun-Ker * 46-63 Metropolitan Ave., Ridgewood, NY

Fatty ‘Cue Christmas

Writing about a Christmas dinner is about as useful
to anyone as the typical brunch-focused Yelp review (you don’t eat brunch,
right?) so I will keep this brief. Often restaurants serve a holiday menu that’s not representative of what they normally make–last year Red Rooster
went highly Scandinavian
. Fatty ‘Cue kept the cue, but played it straight
American. Perhaps galangal and coriander would offend baby Jesus’

Fatty cue brisket

The only Asian flourish was the sweetened fish sauce
served in a plastic squirt bottle alongside the spicy barbecue version. This
condiment was my favorite aspect of the meal, and perfect for the thick slices
of brisket, righteously fatty by my standards, too much so for my dining
companion. Take heed if it’s not your thing because I’m fairly certain the
Brandt beef is always served like this. If you hate lean pastrami, white meat
turkey or chicken breast, you will be fine.

Fatty cue pork ribs

The pork ribs were hefty, and while eating one
sauceless and cold the next day I noticed the overt porkiness that I’d missed
when they were fresh. Not name checked, but I’m guessing they’re not from
Western Beef, my go to for meat slabs.

Fatty cue duo

Collard greens and mac and cheese were
straightforward while the red cabbage slaw was lightly creamy, but not from

Slices of pie were available, but a Coors and a shot
of Jack was enough of a send off.

Fatty ‘Cue * 50 Carmine St., New York, NY

Eaten, Barely Blogged: Homemade, Artisanal & House Baked

Coppelia cobb

Media-ish parties
can be fun (on the rare occasion I'm invited) but they're not generally the best source of food even when hosted in restaurants. After a couple hours of alternating red and white wine and a few nibbles of fancy chicken nuggets and shrimp tempura I needed something substantial yet non-starchy. Hence, Coppelia's take on a Cobb salad with roast pork and chicharrón. A few drops of habanero sauce was my own handiwork. Better than my occasional Cobb-esque salad from Pret a Manger, but probably also twice as caloric. Oh, and and a spicy cucumber cocktail.

Coppelia cocktails

After spending part of a Meat Hook gift certificate (that I gave James for Christmas) on fancy pork chops (though I scoff, part of me does wonder if my Western Beef meat is giving me diabetes) and lamb casings to make homemade (would you prefer artisanal?) wieners for all-scratch Super Bowl pigs in a blanket, I didn't feel like trying any of the newish restaurants in Williamsburg that I've meant to (Isa, Allswell, Mercado on Kent, Fushimi [really!]) plus it was too early for real dinner. Instead, we headed to beer-centric Alewife in Long Island City. I didn't realize I'd already been to this spot's two former incarnations: Lucky Mojo, the bbq/Cajun mashup and whatever the bbq place was that preceded it (not to eat but to have a drink after that transit strike fiasco in 2005–the midtown ferry is a block away). I didn't even mind that it was the baby dining time after a 21st Amendment Back in Black IPA and roast beef slider. That sounds kind of eh, but it's really two mini sandwiches on rye (supposedly "house baked") with said roast beef, melted swiss, caramelized onions, and the best part: horseradish-spiked creme fraiche on the side which I used as a dip. Too dark for cameraphones and I was SLR-less.

Not Quite a Three Martini Lunch


My day finally came.

Also, I accidentally discovered a way to get drunk while sitting at my desk in the office drinking no alcohol.

I knew it was only a matter of time before my favorite all-purpose grocery store, Western Beef, started carrying Greek yogurt. Their slogan “We Know the Neighborhood” has meant that their flagship on the Brooklyn-Queens border sells a variety of Central American cheeses and crema, Serbian seasoning packets, Polish seltzer and (look, no serial comma—ok, I’m the only person alive who never used them in the first place and I’m feeling insecure about it) and has an entire wall devoted to Malta, the devil’s beverage, which is essentially non-fermented beer that’s drunk like a soda pop (pronounce that like sody pop).

Now, knowing nearby neighborhood, Bushwick, apparently means that in addition to Chobani and Oikos appearing out of nowhere, there is an entire new section by the fish counter devoted to organic goods. The yogurt I had expected, but never the full jump to Annie’s and Amy’s.

I have mixed feelings. It didn’t occur to me how wrong this new mainstream love of fancy yogurt could go. Rossman Farms, the cheap produce store under the BQE, a.k.a. porn alley, has sold Fage for some time despite being a bare bones vendor. No longer. Last week my thick yogurt of choice had been replaced by Chobani. In this cramped city, stores with a dearth of shelf and fridge space really only have room for one brand of each item. And it seems that Chobani has become the leader. This monopoly is bothersome.

I’m not even passionate about yogurt. It’s just something non-offensive and filling that I can eat between the time when my lunch wears off and I go to the gym straight from work. And I like being able control the amount of sweetness and what toppings I choose to use. I don’t need all those flavors and I don’t want 0% fat. Rossman Farms was not selling plain, only the fruit on the bottom fat-free varieties. What’s wrong with 2% fat? The real treat was that mysterious 5% Fage used to (still does?) make that had fewer calories than the 2%, a trick achieved by shaving 50 grams from the serving size.

But I bought Chobani at both Western Beef and Rossman Farms because it’s better than the cheaper, watery fructose crap that poses as yogurt. Despite loving all the off brands at WB, I just can’t deal with Tropical yogurt (though I’ll eat their cheddar).

The thing is, Chobani has caused me grief in the past beyond the already present fruit and lack of fat. When I bought a case at Costco (BJ’s sells Fage, but with honey only) as a test, two containers turned out to be moldy. And there’s that little fermentation problem. Once, I encountered a fizzy specimen. It didn’t smell rotten, but clearly something wasn’t right about the bubbly, carbonated texture. I took a bite—no, not moldy, just effervescent—but I still tossed it out.

This week, I heard a pop in my lunch bag and figured it was the pineapple somehow escaping the plastic container I had put the slices in. When I took a peek later, I realized the foil top on the yogurt had burst and I had another fermented cup on my hands. What the hell? This time, though, I ate it because I had nothing else to eat and I hate wasting food. And while the sensation in my mouth was weird, the raspberry flavor hadn’t been tainted.

The curious thing was that about one-third of the way through, I started feeling unusually relaxed, my arms and legs un-tensed and I stopped paying attention to what I was working on (ok, I’m never able to pay much attention). My mood perked up. Hey, I was tipsy. My yogurt had somehow fermented into an alcoholic sludge. Is this even possible?

I guess Chobani is good for something, after all.