Ridgewood: For the Quaint at Heart

 stretch of houses down Catalpa Avenue, with St. Matthias Roman Catholic church off in the distance. Photo: Regina Mogilevskaya

A stretch of houses down Catalpa Avenue, with St. Matthias Roman Catholic church off in the distance. Photo: Regina Mogilevskaya

I’d like to preface this piece by assuring you that that this neighborhood guide is not a sly ploy to get anyone to consider leaving Kings County in favor of Queens. This is not the makings of a movement, or an attempt to reposition Ridgewood as the next big thing in real estate. On the contrary,  it is merely a gentle nudge, a reminder that just because you may call Greenpoint or Bed-Stuy home, that doesn’t mean you can’t meander north of Myrtle Avenue. Getting to know a new neighborhood is a luxury that’s afforded to pretty much anyone with a MetroCard, so why not take advantage? Ridgewood, Queens, with its effortlessly tranquil streets and homegrown sensibilities, is an excellent place to begin.

Ridgewood has long been debated territory, with is borders being disputed as far back as the 18th or 19th century. It lies precariously between the borders of Brooklyn and Queens, and often fights for zip code status with nearby Bushwick. Middle Village and Glendale surround Ridgewood to the east and south, and originally, it was the Dutch that settled here, making a living by farming before waves of urbanization began overrunning the area in the early 20th century. Following World War I, the rise of knitting factories and breweries (the remains of which can still be seen strewn across Ridgewood’s west side) attracted a flood of Eastern European immigrants, mostly Germans and Slovenians. Today, the community is an amalgamation of long-time, old-school Eastern European residents, a Hispanic community and younger artist types who are starting to fall under Ridgewood’s spell. Craig Hubert and Chloe Wyma, both journalists in their 20s, have lived in Ridgewood for five and three years, respectively.

“I love how relatively affordable it is (though unfortunately it’s becoming less so), and its sleepy, family-oriented vibe” says Wyma, with Hubert sharing similar sentiments. He notes that the neighborhood’s peacefulness is undoubtedly part of its allure, and that “it even gets eerily quiet at night,” making Ridgewood seem far removed from the city that never sleeps.

Married artists Lori Kirkbride and Nao Matsumoto own Lorimoto, one of over 60 galleries scattered throughout the Ridgewood and Bushwick territories.

“We were located in the Bushwick area for quite some time, but ended up making the move because we found a place that enabled us to live above the gallery” Kirkbridge says. “We love that Ridgewood feels less like one neighborhood and more like part of a community of artists that spans many subway stops and straddles both Brooklyn and Queens.”

Karen Alves, an education helpline advocate and a five year resident of Ridgewood, was sold on Ridgewood when her husband, whose family has resided here for over 20 years, told her it was only about a 15 minute ride to downtown Manhattan.

“We have everything from kids indoor play areas, bakeries and cafes, unique restaurants,” says Alves.”There’s been tons of little new businesses sprouting up around the neighborhood, and its been great to see a gradual change.”

It’s true that over the years, Ridgewood has, due to its own intuitions, developed something quite authentic. Unlike the scaling upward rises of other neighborhoods, Ridgewood isn’t, and has not been, in any sort of hurry to gentrify. To describe the neighborhood as “sleepy” is exactly right, and this is in every way a compliment. German bakeries that have been around since the 1930’s aren’t afraid to let their age show a bit; they take pride in the rich history offered in between whiffs of homemade hot chocolate and freshly baked rolls.

Neat little rows of Romanesque Revival homes (often two to three stories at most) stretch across Catalpa Avenue and beyond, patches of sunlight filtering across the spacious sidewalks. Myrtle Avenue remains a hot bed of clothing stores at discount prices, but if you take the time to explore, you’ll wander into places like Gotham Thrift Shop, which Wyma recommends for their “great vintage furniture at sub-Williamsburg prices.”

Thanks to Ridgewood’s relentless commitment to family focused living and the bettering of its community, you won’t find a lick of pretension anywhere you look. (Really, even if you’re out looking for it). “Businesses and buildings still have character,” says Kirkbride, “and it’s incredibly easy to get to know your neighbors.” What you’ll find within Ridgewood is a close-knit, proud neighborhood where you can actually take a breath, a place where the old and new don’t just co-exist, but culminate in ways that are a great deal more genuine than most. While planning your visit, make sure and stop by some of the local favorites below.

A selection of baked good at Rudy's. Photo: Regina Mogilevskaya

A selection of baked good at Rudy’s. Photo: Regina Mogilevskaya

Where to eat: The first word out of any Ridgewood natives mouth? Definitely “Rudy’s.” In fact, all five of the Ridgewood residents we chatted with named it first. The iconic bakery, its cozy walls a deep maroon and its charm authentically European, has been serving Ridgewood since 1934. From its Nutella linzer tarts to fresh cannolis and specialty cakes, like Dark Chocolate Buttercream, to deliciously flaky Napolean tarts, it’s no wonder people can’t stop coming back. “My daughter once called it her happy place,” says Alves. “Tony, the current owner, is super friendly and warm. She has her regulars and it won’t take her long to find out you’re new to the area, at which point she’ll proceed to tell you about where you should go and what you should do.”

Bun-Ker, a low-key, bamboo-laden Vietnamese restaurant on Metropolitan Ave., has garnered quite a bit of buzz since its arrival in Ridgewood from chef Jimmy Tu. Most of this is thanks to its dedication to cooking up high end, affordable street food. The crispy flounder bahn-mi ($11), slathered in dill and pickled garlic tartar sauce, is a can’t-miss. You’ll leave floating on a fragrant cloud of turmeric and oodles of vermicelli.

Houdini Kitchen Laboratory, a new wood-fire pizza joint within an old brewery, is Ridgewood’s answer to Roberta’s. “The building is beautiful, and their back porch is perfect in the summer,” says Kirkbride. Steeped in low-light and long, wooden tables, the intimate spot offers pies like the Houdini Green Pizza (shallots, goat cheese, zucchini) and Stinky Feet Pizza (rum-aged gorgonzola with Vidalia onions and raisins). Pair with a bottle of red and stay the night.

Where to drink: Onderdonk and Sons, a mellow, street corner joint with a plethora of beers and wine, as well as a selection of burgers when you’re ready for them, is a recent addition to the neighborhood. The bar opened to the public just this past December by husband and wife duo Brian Tayor and Louise Favier, who also run the popular Pencil Factory bar in Greenpoint. With original wood panel floors, a vintage telephone booth tucked away in the back and lovely leather booths populating the bar, Onderdonk and Sons (located on the corner of Onderdonk Avenue and Menahan Street) has had no problem attracting locals. Its $10 beer, burger and fries deal from 4 to 7pm daily is also one of the sweetest in the city.

Wyman recommends The Keep, another newbie that boasts an ambience of old relics and backgammon tables. Alves, on the other hand, is excited about her new go to date spot, the recently opened Julia’s, a German-influenced, affordable and elegant wine and beer bar whose menu includes everything from savory cheese plates to braised beef served with local mustards.

Inside Norma's coffee shop. Photo: Regina Mogilevskaya

Inside Norma’s coffee shop. Photo: Regina Mogilevskaya

Where to get caffeinated: Like Rudy’s, all Ridgewood residents will agree that the quaint, no-frills Norma’s is the place to go for your cup of joe. A small, comfortably disheveled place of golden hues and local art adorning the walls, Norma’s offers baked goods like mango bundt cakes and Mexican chocolate hazelnut cookies along with its Brooklyn roasted Brazilian beans. Its goat cheese sandwiches ($5) are a perfect little lunch.

Outside the VanderEnde Onderdonk House, located at 18-20 Flushing Ave.  Photo: Regina Mogilevskaya

Outside the VanderEnde Onderdonk House, located at 18-20 Flushing Ave. Photo: Regina Mogilevskaya

Make sure to swing by: “The fact that the Onderdonk House exists boggles my mind,” Hubert tells us of this awesome Ridgewood landmark. Built in 1709, the historic house sits on Flushing Avenue and remains one of the oldest Dutch colonial houses in New York City, which alone makes it worth a stride-by, if not a full-fledged visit. Both a museum and a library, the VanderEnde-Onderdonk house is currently exhibiting Unearthed at the Onderdonk House – Artifacts from the 1970 archaeological investigations.

Watching the snow melt (only to reveal even dirtier sidewalks than you recall) is one activity you can do in March. Another is to have yourself a stroll and check out Ridgewood art galleries you uncover on your route (of which there are plenty as more and more artists set up shop in convenient studios all over the neighborhood). Pop into Lorimoto Gallery (located at 1623 Hancock St.) for the current exhibit Pink, which invited a diverse group of glass artists to filter the color pink through the materials of their work. Afterwards, Lorimoto co-owner Lori suggests taking a bike ride around the Ridgewood Reservoir or walking around Highland Park for a hushed, casual getaway that doesn’t feel like you’re in the city at all.

The smoked meats counter at Morscher's. Photo: Regina Mogilevskaya

The smoked meats counter at Morscher’s. Photo: Regina Mogilevskaya

You’ll also fall in love with Morscher’s Pork Store at your first whiff of its finely smoked meats. The counters are filled to the brim with freshly prepared kielbasa’s, sausages and homemade cold cuts, all smoked in-house. The walls are lined with Eastern European delicacies, anything from pickles to chocolate spreads galore. And if you’re like some, you’ll spend 15 minutes in front of the counter making a coveted cold cut choice, wind up ordering a quarter pound of bologna to go, and eating almost all of it on your way to the train. Oops.

How to get there: Take the L to Myrtle-Wyckoff or the M anywhere from Seneca Ave. to Middle Village – Metropolitan Ave.

One Comment

  • Great article! The Ridgewood YMCA will host it’s annual community dinner celebration, A Taste of Ridgewood, on Thursday, April 23, 2015. One of our honorees is Linda Monte, President of the Onderdonk House and Greater Ridgewood Historical Society. Most of the eateries you name will be present. We encourage folks to come down and have a wonderful meal and support a wonderful cause! Miracles of Modern Science, Local Brooklyn Band, will play and we’ll have a fabulous silent auction and raffle! Join us in Ridgewood!