Three Merchants on Nostrand Avenue
On any given day, Name Shoes keeps uncrowded and tidy on Nostrand between Empire Blvd and Sullivan Place. It has been in the neighborhood for at least 15 years, streamlining with personalized fittings and individualized attention what might otherwise be a mundane shopping chore.
The shop upholds the spirit of small business. There are photos of family and friends near the sales register, and a spunky sign reminding visitors that prices might depend on their manners. Between the shelves and the pink leather bench there are hand written signs, and offers hang among the shelves. It is a picture of simplicity, with a customer focused approach. The personal attention was a delight to have during my own visit some time ago. I had had some trouble finding a comfortable pair of heels for a party, and it was fortunate that I visited Name Shoes to take a look. There was many options and the entire venture took relatively little time. The shop carries a variety of brands and styles, including wide widths. Although it is never crowded, it has secured a place for itself serving the community one customer at a time.
Tony’s bustles with activity on any weekday afternoon. A neighborhood staple for many years, its a nearby rendezvous for kids from the high school a few blocks over and local patrons alike who commingle while lining up to order or sitting down for a quick bite. Though Tony’s markets itself as a pizza shop, it offers a variety of alternatives. Looking over the menu during my visit, I was surprised to see options including salads, pasta, fish and vegetables, and of course, the classic hamburger. Boasting the best jerked chicken in town is surely a nod to the community, many of whom hail from the Caribbean.
The space is decorated simply and is conspicuously tidy. Yellow walls house both stools and tables adjacent to windows, and though the student groups can grow noisy, the staff make it a point to maintain a reasonable volume. There wasn’t so much as a breadcrumb on the counter as I stood to order, and the kitchen, what I could see of it, bustling with activity, lacked even a grease stain. I settled on the vegetable wrap and was not disappointed. It was flavorful and more filling than I’d have expected, all for six dollars, to the point that I found myself disappointed I didn’t visit with more of an appetite that day.
I’ll be sure to swing by again to try that jerked chicken they’re so proud of.
La Estrella del Castillo
In late December temperatures clash and condense on La Estrella’s windows so thickly one can’t see in. It’s not changed much since my childhood; I remember its foggy windows maybe as far back as 2003 when I visited the local high school for extra-curriculars. La Estrella is cozy and unassuming though at its busiest, you may have to navigate past patrons at the counter while you wait for an order to go. Lamps glow over hot food and the scent of strong seasonings greet one upon entry.
In many Latin countries including the Dominican Republic, this is standard casual dining. Three or four wood chairs line the counter and staple foods sit on display in aluminum pans, buffet style. Stews, white, yellow, and legume rice, beans, fried dumplings and plantains are cooked daily. Pernil—baked pork shoulder—a classic, is also par for the course, as is the loud merengue music, beer, and smiling servers. Stepping in here is like stepping into the tropics at high noon.
That La Estrella both serves and delivers a flavorful meal is a given. Its blended herb cooking bases, lively atmosphere, and cake desserts are more beckoning. In the past this might have seemed mundane as it was part of a daily routine when I lived in the neighborhood, but as an adult, when a warm meal over music and good company is less a given, the experience La Estrella offers may be casual but it remains inviting. I’m glad they’ve been around for this long to share so much of this dining experience with the neighborhood.
– Katherine de la Rosa