Here’s something to chew on.
Queens specialty Asian grocer Jmart bought the former Waldbaum’s in Bensonhurst, and many locals protested — sometimes callously — on social media that the specialty grocer would not adequately serve non-Asian shoppers. Local leaders have publicly condemned the xenophobia and called for calm, claiming the store will offer household essentials Bensonhursters have long relied on.
“I believe this store will offer more than just milk, eggs, and bread, and as someone who is into cooking, I know I could go there and make delicious ethnic cuisines, I encourage residents to embrace this as an opportunity to explore those options,” said Councilman Mark Treyger, who addressed the issue along with Assemblyman Peter Abbate (D–Sunset Park) during a recent Community Board 11 meeting.
This reporter took the excruciating excursion to the Jmart in the hinterlands of distant Queens to test that hypothesis by making a Bensonhurst classic — meatballs and Sunday sauce (or is it “gravy”).
I found canned tomatoes (whole, peeled) and tomato paste with no problem, and there were a few different brands of Italian-labeled olive oil, including the highly-rated Basso brand. Seasoned bread crumbs were also in high supply. Mounds of red, white, and yellow onions — along with garlic and all different types of peppers — were at my disposal. I picked up some ground beef and would have grabbed a couple of packaged steaks if they were on my list, because they looked great. Butchers were also slicing up fresh meat any way patrons liked. Razor clams, mussels, and other shellfish waited on ice for hungry gourmands, Mediterranean and otherwise.
That’s the sweet — here’s the sour:
Jmart lacked a crucial resource — formaggio! I found only cheap mozzarella and no Romano or Parmesan. Che peccato! (Everyone knows Bay Ridge is where you go to get good cheese anyway). They didn’t have any Italian sausage or veal as far as I could tell.
But overall there were certainly more than just the bare essentials — one aisle, for instance, boasted American breakfast cereals, oatmeal, and Poptarts.
Treyger suggested that the coming market will help Bensonhursters branch out in the kitchen. Now, I’m no chef (and I’m not just known for my shoe-leather reporting) but I did grab some great grub for the newsie on the move — Pocky brand Japanese chocolate-covered biscuits sticks, frozen spring rolls, and a couple selections from the great wall of instant noodles from around Asia.
The verdict: Jmart is no one-stop shop for a serious Italian chef, but it has everything the average cook needs and a whole lot more.