Move over Brooklyn — New York’s other “B” borough has an artisanal food boom all its own going on – everything from an eponymously-named hot sauce and a Puerto Rican moonshine to fermented foods and healthy snacks.
The Bronx is emerging as a natural incubator for small food companies. With Hunts Point (the world’s largest produce market), reasonable rents and a supportive community, it’s no surprise that the borough is attracting talent. “The Bronx doesn’t want to be Manhattan,” says John Crotty, co-creator of Bronx Hot Sauce.
And it doesn’t need to — as anyone who ventures to New York City’s northernmost district has discovered, the Bronx has a flavor all its own. We set out to sample some of the new culinary delights blossoming in the borough, an area already steeped in the food traditions of Arthur Avenue, City Island, and an abundance of authentic Caribbean and Spanish foods.
If you think you know what sauerkraut tastes like, think again. Crock & Jar uses your grandmother’s techniques to achieve a modern take on fermented classics. Founder and “Chief Food Preservationist” Michaela Hayes use sustainably grown, locally harvested produce and makes small batches out of a community center kitchen at the Mary Mitchell Family Center in the Crotona Park neighborhood. Hayes, a French Culinary Institute graduate, started off making chutneys for the acclaimed Tabla restaurant. She moved on to establish a pickle program for Gramercy Tavern. In 2011, she founded Crock & Jar. The products — all live, probiotic foods — are as healthy as they are addictive, and include a jalapeño relish that makes an instant guacamole when mixed with avocado; a spicy kraut with dried chilies, and a beet kraut flavored with apples, fennel and cabbage.
When Erica Fair realized she couldn’t eat gluten, she didn’t want to give up taste. She started her own bakery in 2010 and was baking about twice a week for five different accounts. These days she’s baking six days a week, adding customers steadily and building out her own kitchen space in the South Bronx. “Brooklyn gets all the hype, but it’s oversaturated and expensive,” says Fair. Her supplier is close by at Hunts Point and the rents are reasonable. You can find her delectable cakes at high-end coffee places around the city including Birch, Café Grumpy and Think cafes. For Aussie coffee spot Bluestone, she makes a salted caramel slice with an almond meal, coconut and sorghum flour cookie-crust, filled with caramel and topped with chocolate and sea salt.
About a decade ago, Linda Kim shared a snack with a friend – Armenian roasted chickpeas. It was a bite that (eventually) launched this healthy Bronx-made treat. At the end of 2012, Kim started her snack company with 200 pounds of chickpeas. Now she orders 2,000-pound pallets. Thanks to an early flash sale on FAB.com she got great exposure, and her background in sales helped her get into Whole Foods. A buyer for Fresh Direct sampled her chickpeas at a benefit event and later got Kim to sell them on the company’s website. The snack is high in fiber, gluten-free and full of plant protein. Flavors include sea salt and garlic, spicy lemon zest, coconut sugar and truffle. Kim also created a cross between a sport and a chocolate bar with her latest Pulse product – a crunchy chocolate vegan bark using coconut oil, sugar and dark chocolate.
Essie Bartels likes to see herself as a mad scientist of flavor. Founded just two years ago, Essie Spice combines the seasonings of her native Ghana with the flavors of her travels around the world. “I blend the best of the cuisines,” she says. In her “Coco-for-Garlic,” Bartels mixes coconut oil and garlic, as well as roasted peppers and some West African spices such as nutmeg and Grains of Selim (also known as African pepper). Her most traditional spice mix, Meko Dry Rub, marries African and Asian seasoning including a roasted ground peanut powder and five-spice.
Gina Kim, who started a Korean food company with her mom after she retired, says she’s thankful for her Bronx artisanal community. “It’s like a family.” She often gets retail tips from the other owner/makers in the incubator kitchen they share. The mother-daughter team entered the retail market in 2014 after successful stints at local weekend food markets like Smorgasburg. What makes her kimchi so much better than mass produced versions? Besides using copious amounts of garlic and scallions, Mrs. Kim insists on hand selecting all the cabbage and other vegetables that go into the dish. “Mom is really particular and meticulous,” says Gina. She also adds whatever looks fresh, like Fiji apples and Asian pears. The Kims only use pepper flakes from Korea for the most authentic taste. They sell three versions – original, vegan and mild (great for kids).
Here’s a product that’s all about community — literally. Last year, Small Axe Peppers, the partnership behind the Hot Sauce, donated serrano pepper seedlings to 23 community gardens in the Bronx with the agreement that they would buy them back from the growers at market price at harvest time. They made 5,000 bottles of the spicy condiment with the local peppers. Chef King Phojanakong, who is a Bronx Science grad and a nursery school friend of one of the pepper company’s co-founders John Crotty, created the sauce. This year enough seedlings for 30,000 bottles were distributed. Each bottle has deep roots in the area – Crotty is a developer of affordable housing in the Bronx and GrowNYC, the Greenmarket’s parent organization, supports the gardens. A majority of the profits from sales of the sauce will be returned to low income communities in the city. The next step: the team hopes to start selling half-gallon containers of the sauce to restaurants.
It took about two years for Port Morris Distillery to produce its first bottle of Puerto Rican moonshine, Pitorro Shine, in 2013. The three-ingredient family recipe uses New York state apples, local honey and brown sugar. “My uncle was a long time moonshiner on the island,” says Ralph Barbosa, who co-founded the company with his childhood friend William Valentin. They convinced Ralph’s uncle to move to the Bronx and legally make his hooch. The 92-proof liquor is often macerated with tamarind, honey or habanero. For the holiday season, there’s an infusion with coconut and cinnamon called Coquito. Pitorro Shine and Pitorro Anejo, an 80-proof version aged in oak barrels, are sold in stores and served in NYC bars and restaurants. The distillery offers free tours and tastings as well as a cocktail bar, and next year they’re planning to open a restaurant next door.