Some of you will probably be surprised by this: I used to live in Howard Beach. That’s right; I lived in Howard Beach for about three years, 2003-2006. This isn’t really a big deal, although I would be so bold as to suggest that Howard Beach is one of the few neighborhoods left in NY that exists almost as its own little world. (Perhaps I just haven’t been privy to any of the other little worlds of the other neighborhoods of which I’ve been a resident; somehow, I don’t think so.) If you’re from Howard Beach, and you meet another person from Howard Beach, you probably know each other or both know at least one other person and have probably heard of each other before. It’s just a fact. Meanwhile, I grew up in Forest Hills, and have lived there for a total of 25 years, but you can tell me names until you’re blue in the face, I probably don’t know them. (I suppose it doesn’t help that I went to the local private school, and then went to a public high school in Manhattan, but then, the same applies to my boyfriend with Howard Beach, yet he knows everyone.) What’s my point? I don’t know, I felt like going on a Wiki spree, and sharing some information about me, and how I came across this place, considering its distance from just about everything else you’d find in my world.
In any case, Ragtime holds a place in my heart as an authentic Italian grocery… and maker of fantastic sandwiches, mostly. The first time I received a sandwich from this place (someone went to pick them up, so I hadn’t stepped foot in there), I was surprised by the sheer size of the monstrosity. I promptly ate half, and saved the rest for later. I continue to do this because they are just that huge. In fact, their sandwiches are only topped by the former Rosario’s, a place that I frequented for similar (better, more variety) sandwiches, but never got around to reviewing (though I have tons of pictures!), and now it has since closed. Boo.
Am I done rambling yet? Hardly…
When you first walk into Ragtime, you are greeted by the lovely scent of freshly baked bread, and an entire section to your right of all sorts of breads. There’s also a mini bakery case which holds lovely looking treats, but I’ve never gotten that far. I always head straight to the back left, where the fantastic deli counter is. They have all sorts of Italian specialties, and it doesn’t hurt that directly facing it is the cheese section. They’ve got cooked items you can buy to heat up (ravioli, veal, chicken parm, eggplant rollatini), and the butcher counter is directly adjacent, so you can also take care of your meat needs as well. But I’m talking about the deli case. My personal favorites are the crispy wings; heat them up, dip in blue cheese, and omg, they’re so good. They also have Buffalo and BBQ, but I’ve yet to try either. I stick with the crispy.
My boyfriend’s favorite item is the macaroni salad, which boasts a very vinegary kick with the mayo. I also like the potato salad, and we both enjoy fresh house-made mozzarella on occasion, which I discovered last time comes in three sizes – the 1 lb. ball of course, but also in bite size for marinating and popping into your mouth (they also come pre-marinated for those of us who are too lazy to do so), and now in medium size. Perfect for someone like me who lives alone and can’t buy a whole pound ball, expect to eat it before it turns, and still be okay with herself in the morning. (I actually bought 3 of the medium size for sandwich making this week and they’ve worked out well!)
His mother loves the crispy wings as well, but her favorite is probably the green bean salad – it’s basically green beans, thinly sliced red onions, yellow and red bell peppers, all marinated in this tangy vinaigrette. It’s really delicious and would do well for a picnic on a hot day, as it’s not made with mayo.
There are a ton of other items Ragtime I’ve yet to actually buy but look so good. There’s an entire refrigerated wall of house-made soups (all your traditional favorites and a bunch of Italian ones as well, of course), pasta sauces, and even salads packed with fruit or veggies (or both) for you to pick up and enjoy a quick meal. The cheese section boasts large wheels of nearly every Italian cheese you can think of, and behind the deli counter, they slice to order nearly any Italian meat you can think of. Though the place isn’t cheap by any means, I really do enjoy their selection of stuff. (I do, however, recommend buying your more “normal” grocery items – like dried pasta, cereals, milk, etc. across the boulevard at Waldbaum’s.) Oh! and oddly enough, their fresh herbs are super cheap compared to anywhere else in the area; just walk straight back when you first go in, and you’ll see a rack of freshly picked herbs bundled and ready to go, usually a few dollars for a huge bunch. (The last time I bought any was a big fistful of basil for $1 – $1.50, but this was a few years ago.) Rumor has it (I know a guy who knows a guy, mm’k?) that the owner grows the herbs in his backyard, which explains the dirt cheap prices.
Have I gushed enough yet? Well, fine, I’ll move onto the sandwiches. 😛
Head straight to the deli counter and ask for whatever you like (that they sell) on a hero.
My boyfriend, if you haven’t figured it out by now, is a very picky eater. He likes his sandwiches- and burgers- extremely plain. Bologna or genoa salami on white bread is totally fine by him- no mayo, no tomatoes, no lettuce, nothing. Just meat & bread. Bless him. But when we decided to get sandwiches from Ragtime, he’s totally happy with this: roast beef, fresh mozzarella, roasted red peppers, and Balsamic vinegar on a hero. The above was what he got after I told the guy making the sandwiches to “Go easy on the roast beef for this one, please!” BF still wound up taking a lot of the meat off (and hopefully, my economic/frugal side says, fed it to the dogs when I wasn’t looking, because I don’t like my dog eating people-food). But damn, isn’t that a delicious looking sandwich?!
Even better is mine! Well, unless excessive mayo grosses you out, which it may. I hasten to add I did not request a ton of mayo. I ordered, simply, roast beef with fresh mozzarella, tomato, balsamic and mayo, but next time I see that guy, I’ll be sure to tell him “mayo on the OTHER side of the bread from the balsamic, and not THAT much buddy!” Haha but nonetheless it was a delicious sandwich, and I still had half for dinner that day. Awesome.
The prices have gone up in recent years, of course, as they have everywhere, but not by much: this sandwich cost me $9 a few years ago. Now it’s $9.50 (maybe less if the guy behind the counter takes a shine to you). BF’s sandwich was $10; generally, the sandwiches with fresh mozzarella are a bit pricier though. I’ve paid as little as $6.75 for a sandwich (Genoa salami, bread, nothing else; guess whose sandwich that was?), but the most has always been $10.
I really adore this place and can’t recommend it enough. Though it might not rate on your scale as destination dining (there is no place to eat there, everything is to go), and it’s not even that close to the one train station in Howard Beach (the JFK stop on the A train), it’s still somewhat walkable (though the locals will look at you funny when they see you walking…), and definitely worth it if you decide to go check it out. In fact, this would be a great meal to bring on the airplane for your next flight! (I would allot an hour extra travel time though; it might take as much as 20 minutes to walk from the station to Ragtime, and another 20 back, and if you get lost, well, who knows?, even though literally you walk straight up the street from the station, turn left on Cross Bay Boulevard and walk 2-3 blocks, there’s Ragtime, and then back.) You’ll also pass by New Park Pizza (a really negative review, but interesting comments, to say the least) on your way, if you’re into that sort of thing. Which you probably are – you’re traveling all this way for a sandwich, dude, get a slice of pizza while you’re at it.
PS I know I said it was expensive, but for the sandwiches, that’s two meals, so at $10~ for two meals, it’s really not bad at all. Their other items don’t tend to be cheap, however.
Yvo says: I like this place. A lot. I’ve been going here regularly for a sandwich and genuine Italian foodstuffs that I can’t find at Waldbaum’s across the boulevard since 2003 (the first time I went). It’s a great place and it has a real “family owned” feel to it (it should; it’s been owned by the same family since forever, and returning to what I started this post with: yes, my boyfriend knows the kids in that family). The sandwiches are great as are most of their prepared foods – I’ve never had a bad thing from this place. Admittedly, I generally stick to the same few things, but so many people go in there, it can’t be all bad.
157-52 Cross Bay Boulevard
Howard Beach, NY 11414