By Laura Shunk
By James A. Foley
By Billy Lyons
By Laura Shunk
By Eve Turow
By Scarlett Lindeman
By Robert Sietsema
By Lauren Mowery
Market Kitchen, a relative newcomer, is just across the street from Sugar Ray's and Fratelli's. Owner Stephen Ezell grew up in the South Bronx before decamping for hospitality school at UC Berkeley and then working for Manhattan restaurateur Donatella Arpaia at both Dona and Anthos.
"I hand-pick our produce, fish, and meat from the market," Stephen says. "We get the same fish as Le Bernardin, but we can negotiate and barter."
The food here is more upscale than any other place in the area, but it's still seriously hearty. There's the Kitchen Sink sandwich, roast beef with french fries on Texas toast, and the Frank's Filthy sandwich, which combines barbecued chicken and mac-and-cheese—an item that presumably wouldn't have flown at Anthos.
Stephen makes his French toast sticks by cutting stale challah into batons, soaking them in orange custard, and then rolling them in cornflakes before browning each one on the griddle. "That's for a guy who wants French toast, but doesn't have time to sit down," he says.
And where else does Stephen eat in the neighborhood? He suggests Randall Restaurant, a Spanish-American place, and Mo Gridder's BBQ, the barbecue truck that parks just up Hunts Point Avenue.
At Mo Gridder's, the ribs are toothsome, porky, and lacquered with a spiced, brown-sugary barbecue sauce. Mo Gridder's "customer lounge" is actually the waiting room of Hunts Point Auto Sales and Service, where you can listen to the mechanics shoot the breeze or peruse The Bronx in the Innocent Years, which sits on the table.
I order stewed goat and pernil from the counter at Randall Restaurant and can barely lug my overloaded plate to a table. The goat is tough and gristly, but the pernil is fantastic, with big shards of crunchy pork skin. The roomy but spartan restaurant is mostly populated with police officers and bus drivers in uniform, all eating similarly enormous plates of rice, beans, and meat.
By chance, I come upon La Misma Nelly Coffee Shop, sandwiched between two auto-repair shops, tiny and easy to miss. (It's just down the street from the very democratic Mr. Wedge strip club, with a weekly dance contest that welcomes all comers.)
The place has a small steam table, behind which the Dominican owner dishes up orders for the market workers as they trickle in. I have a bowl of yellow rice and bacalao (salt cod stew), which costs exactly $3 and features lovely, firm bits of salt cod mingled with soft, cooked-down tomato and red pepper. It's the best thing I've eaten yet.
"You gotta come Friday for the camarones!" a friendly patron tells me. I think I will. For that and for the dance contest, of course.