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The Best Specialty Food Stores in New York City

The life of a homecook is not a walk in the park! Restaurant chefs have their purveyors and trusted sources, but for the poor homecook there is trial and error. While restaurant chefs often wake up early to get the first pickings at produce and other ingredients, we do have the benefit of sleeping late but we also have to find our own trusted sources for fresh ingredients. Today I’m going to share with you the best places to find the perfect ingredients in NYC as part of Eventbrite’s Hometown Hunt challenge. Eventbrite lists local events happening in your area, and if you want to plan your own event and sell tickets to it, check that out here.

Finding the right ingredients for your recipes is the most important thing you can do especially if you prefer a seasonal diet, like I do. Seasonal locally harvested ingredients are not only good for you, they are also a source of inspiration. Did you know that watermelon and tomato goes very well together? Yes so does mixing corn and peaches. But without seeing the ingredients it’s tough to experiment. So I don’t shop online for fresh ingredients, like, EVER. Recently a friend suggested that I try Instacart. I will indeed as I think it is a great concept, especially for non perishable and shelf stable products, especially because in New York you can shop from 3 of my favorite stores: Fairway, Whole Foods and Costco (yes you read it right, I LOVE Costco). But grocery shopping for specialty food is, for me, a big part of the fun. So I decided to compile a list of purveyors that I know and trust, or that were suggested to me by people who really REALLY know their shtuff.

First and foremost, let’s talk about traditional Italian products. Eataly, the deluxe Italian food experience has crossed the ponds about 5 years ago. It’s been a blessing and a course for me: I can find some really niche pasta brands, like Monograno Felicetti, my favorite, and rice brands, like Acquerello, but the price point of other products, especially those that are freshly made, is a bit insane. If you are looking to buy fresh pasta, your other option is Giovanni Rana Pastificio e Cucina in Chelsea Market.

Speaking of Chelsea Market, that is where my favorite butcher and fish monger are. Dickson Farmstand is a fairly new butcher shop with the soul of an old fashioned meat carving master. When you go in there, the butchers are young and hip, they look like the poster children of the “sexy lumberjack”, and they know their craft so well. The first time I went there I asked for a cut of pork to make porchetta. After a 15 minutes wait I was presented with the perfect pork loin and enough pork belly to tightly wrap it. I marinated and cooked it and it was simply fantastic. The Lobster Place is one of my favorite fish mongers and the only place where I will actively buy a lobster outside of New England. There is a bit of a touristy crowd because the store also has great sushi and other seafood dishes ready to be eaten, but fear not, when you talk to the actual fish mongers they give you the best recommendations. The turnover of the fish is so insanely fast that you’ll always find high quality and the prices are in line with other stores such as Citarella: not cheap, but in this case really worth it. Since we are talking about Chelsea Market I should also mention Buon Italia, an Italian grocery store associated with SD26. Long before there was Eataly, Buon Italia was the Mecca of Italian homecooks in New York City. To a certain extent this is still the place to go for your raw ingredients. While Eataly caters to a ready-made crowd, Buon Italia is a cook’s natural environment. It’s not glossy and posh, but if you are looking for orange blossom extract and wheat berries for your pastiera or candied citrus fruit, that’s where you’ll find them.

Being an Upper West Sider since 2007, I have been shopping in my neighborhood for some time and I ADORE this little known foodie destination. Thanks to my friend Marc, I discovered Zabar about 10 years ago. Today it is still one of my favorite stores but instead of buying cheese (keep reading and you’ll know when I get that), I go almost exclusively for the lox. Smoked salmon has always been one of my favorite things but it’s not just the salmon and the seasoning. Cut is also important. See if somebody heard me talking about lox, this would think i’m talking diamonds… and the way they slice lox at Zabar is impeccable! Second to this establishment there is Barney Greengrass, an old fashioned deli plus restaurant which my late father in law loved. My friend Tommy tells me that Russ and Daughters is all the rage these days. Since our very own Holly mentioned it to me as a great experience it looks like I’ll have to try it very soon.

If the Woody Allen/Breakfast at Tiffany atmosphere of Zabar and Barney Greengrass is not your cup of tea, the Upper West side has more hidden gems that are worth checking out and with the development of Riverside Boulevard, I believe many more establishments for food aficionados are one the way. Let’s start with one of my favorite places to buy culatello, Salumeria Rosi. If you are secretly wondering what culatello may be and why it is a delicacy, here is the explanation: culatello is the tip of the pork but, aged as prosciutto but with a melt-in-your-mouth not overly salty texture. At Salumeria Rosi, my friend Chef Cesare Casella knows a lot about cured meats and the culatello you can buy there (or taste at one of the outdoor and indoor tables) is really one of the best.

Few blocks away on Columbus Avenue, the Maille store just opened. If you are a fan of Dijon Mustard, this store is definitely worth a special trip. Aside from the mustard jars you can buy with your regular grocery, this store has flavored mustards and other seasonal pairings that are creative and delicious. I bought a couple of jars last week and I put them on rotation in my vinaigrette and all the family loved it. Also if you are looking for cornichon you’ll find a great selection at the Maille store, along with all sorts of flavored vinegar.

Would you expect to find one of the best spice stores in the city right smack between Lexington Avenue and the Empire State Building? Probably not but that is where you quest to find the best ingredients takes you next. If you are not satisfied with the spice offerings at your regular grocery store, your best bet to find something delicious is Kalustyan. The store is an institution in New York for middle eastern and indian spices because of the high quality and selection. going to Kalustyan is a bit of an experience because it is inspiring and the shop assistants are ever so knowledgeable so they will not only sell you the product but explain how to use that particular spice in your daily cooking.

Since Bleecker Street is the home of so many fashion stores, it comes as a surprise that one of the best cheese and charcuterie stores is there too. Murray’s Cheese has been one of my favorite places to buy cheese since I moved to New York and I still go there very often just for the fun of tasting and buying something new. Recently my friend Stacy brought over some cheese and charcuterie from Bedford Cheese shop in Williamsburg and I love them too, so next time I’ll go with her to compare with Murray’s. The most convenient aspect of Murray’s Cheese is the fact that it is right next to my favorite bread store Amy’s Bread. They don’t slice their bread for you, you’ll have to slice it yourself but the bread is really unbelievable.

Also on Bleecker Street a few blocks away there is a Swedish Candy Store called Sockerbit. I don’t eat candy at all but those found at Sockerbit have quirky flavors and are really delicious. If you have friends and family with a sweet tooth Sockerbit is really worth the trip.  Walking towards 14th street you’ll also find a new store called Aux Merveilleux de Fred, a pastry store with a specialty, a meringue based pastry in different flavors. The merveilleux are very famous in Paris and they are gaining the same attention as the cronuts (minus the line, thank goodness). So grab cheese, baguette and dessert and you’ll feel like you are in Paris!

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What is your favorite food specialty store? I can’t wait to see your comments below!

Ciao

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