Though we’re fans (and publishers) of neighborhood guides and lists of where to eat right now, we also recognize that they tend to follow trends and overlook neighborhood gems. To that end, we’ve started a new series called Neighborhood Expert in which we chat with a longtime local for the scoop on their favorite spots and their take on how the area has changed.
Name: Sally Ricottone
Neighborhood: Bay Ridge
How long have you lived in Bay Ridge?
I actually grew up close by in Bensonhurst, but we always came to Bay Ridge. It was a fun place to go to when we were younger, especially the bars because we would go dancing—all the clubs had dancing. Not like today where people just stand around or sit around just drinking. Anyway, I officially moved to Bay Ridge in 1984 when I got married. We moved to 72nd Street and 3rd Ave., and then after a while, we had the chance to buy something in the neighborhood, a brownstone on Senator Street, which is now a landmarked block. We moved there in 1992. And then in 1995 we moved to New Jersey, but I kept my practice in Bay Ridge (editor’s note: Sally is a therapist.) and spend a few days each week here. So I partied in Bay Ridge, married and had children in Bay Ridge, raised my family in Bay Ridge, and have now been here 20 years working. Those are all very different relationships with the neighborhood.
What has your time in the area been like?
When my husband and I moved here, I was able to get an apartment, a brownstone, for $525 a month and that was the whole second floor. There was this little room out in the hallway and that is where I started my practice. So I was able to start my married life and my professional life right there on 72nd street. I lived right around the corner from T.J. Bentley’s—it was like a supper club. They had Irish music and all the older people would go for that; they had a dance floor in the middle. Now it’s a Spanish place I think. When we moved to Senator Street, the scene over there was different. The gentrification was already sort of starting up higher in the area, and it was our belief that from 75th Street to Senator Street it was going to continue and the value of the house would go up and the area would improve, but then the housing bust took place and everything stopped in Bay Ridge. You started getting the Dollar Stores; all those things we thought were going to happen didn’t quite happen in that part of the neighborhood.
The thing about Bay Ridge is that you have this mix of a traditional older established places and these newer places that look like they could be in Manhattan.
How does it differ from the Bay Ridge you know today?
Of course now there are new people coming in. You have young people, the rents have gone up. But there are also some really interesting new restaurants that weren’t here when I was living here. In some ways I feel like Bay Ridge is split up into a lot of different pockets. There are areas that are considered better and wealthier. The ethnicities of the area have changed over time, too. Now there are more Arabic and Middle Eastern residents. When we first moved here it was more Norwegian and Irish. There are still a lot of churches around. A lot of the restaurants and shops here are family owned, and although things are changing, you still see that a lot. But there are a ton of places to eat and drink and always have been.
What is your favorite place to get a great Brooklyn slice?
Nino’s Pizza, I order a “Gran Mama” pie and they serve it hot, right out of the oven. I put the box next to me in the car, ask for the plate, and eat it while driving. They really have the most delicious pizza ever; it has a thin crust, good sauce and a little cheese (never too much cheese like you get sometimes at other places). If I am having lunch and staying around, I’ll have a slice, take it on a plate and walk with it. That’s how you eat pizza as far as I’m concerned.
Bay Ridge is home to a lot of Italian restaurants. Any favorites?
Vesuvio is good Italian, and they expanded. People like it. Gino’s is good for average Italian food. Ponte Vecchio is considered a good one, too. There are places like Areo that we go to for dinner that have been here a long time that are good for an occasion.
What is your favorite place to get something other than Italian food?
For Mediterranean, I’ll go to the Family Store. A family actually does run it; it is a Lebanese grocery and prepared foods store. It has the old fashioned look with sacks of almonds and dried fruits, and they have the most delicious prepared foods and deserts. I like the beets, the hummus and baba ghanoush—that’s where I would go for that. Sanchos is a Spanish restaurant that has been in Bay Ridge forever. It has weathered the neighborhood changes. We go there a lot. We just went to this place called Brooklyn Beet Company that was good. It was very funky, very trendy hipster. The space was very narrow, and the whole menu was Eastern European and Polish or maybe Russian. Lots of beets.
Where is your favorite place to grab a drink?
I have always gone to Skinflints. Great drinks, they have music, and they have the best hamburgers too; it has been there for a long time. It is a very popular neighborhood spot. There is a lot of drinking going on around here. My younger clients will go to Salty Dog, which is a firemen’s bar, and they watch sports and drink.
How about dessert or bread?
I love Paneantico. The owners came from Staten Island, and they bring in fresh bread from Royal Crown Bakery. This place is a gold mine. Great Italian bread, fresh Italian pastries, and they move a lot of product so nothing is ever just sitting there. My family loves the Italian twist bread; I come home with that almost every weekend. They have a place you can sit outside in the summer, and inside they have tables you can go for dessert or great sandwiches. It is a very neighborhood-y place. There is also a very cute cupcake place called Little Cupcake Bakeshop, they have cupcakes and other deserts, cakes and ice cream.
How about a place to get meat?
Artisan Food Valley. They have amazing cheeses and salamis. It feels very authentic. They have wonderful sausage and hot soppressata, stuff like that.
How about coffee?
There is actually an espresso bar in the back of Paneantico. On a nice day you can sit outside there with a roll and a coffee.
What about for a good bottle of wine?
I like Henry Harde’s. They have actually been there forever, but they have done a good job of evolving with the times. They do wine tastings every weekend so you can pick something you like. They also have liquor and carry brands that are made in Brooklyn.
Any favorite local stores or spots you would recommend?
Mimi’s Nail Spa is an institution around here. If I’m going to get my nails done that is where I go. Everybody is there. Mimi is a smart person. She has a loyal clientele. She will greet you and rub your back; it is all done in a way that makes you feel very welcome and comfortable. She’s gotten a little big now, and they care a little less if you are coming and going but, yeah, still a great place. The thing about Bay Ridge is that you have this mix of a traditional older established places and these newer places that look like they could be in Manhattan. There are so many interesting new people bringing things into the area. Of course for shopping on 86th Street they have a Century 21 and that is always busy. People come there to shop for clothing and all that kind of stuff.
Any local events or seasonal happenings that are worth attending?
The 3rd Ave Fair is huge, it always draws a lot of people and it is a great chance to shop locally. The Ragamuffin Parade, which has been going on for over 60 years, brings kids to the streets in costume, which is very cute. And the New York City Marathon goes through here every year, so that brings everyone out into the streets to watch, and they give you banners and flags to wave and there is music.
I love this neighborhood. I am moving my office to Dyker Heights soon, and I am really upset about it. But the area prices a lot of people out now, so what can you do? What will I do when I can’t walk to Nino’s for a slice or Paneantico for lunch? I’ll just have to take a short car ride over and stock up on my favorite things.