The advancing line of hipsterism has crept from the northern highlands of Bushwick over the Queens border into Ridgewood, but beyond that lies a fabled land only whispered of by those who prefer to have their $15 cocktails made by men with suspenders and beards. This region served by the M train boasts rickety stations that perch on the elevated tracks above a landscape of neat brick apartment buildings constructed mainly by Germans 80 or 90 years ago, with storefronts that time forgot still selling typewriters and offset printing, and salons that still specialize in beehive hairdos and shag cuts. The autumnal smell of strudel still wafts from Polish bakeries, while Balkan women sell oven-baked bureks cut into quarters and wrapped in wax paper to working men and women in paint-spattered overalls. Come with me now to the region's main drag, Forest Avenue.
Right beneath the M train stop at Forest Avenue, where several streets that feel like country lanes still intersect, find Bosna Express (791 Fairview Ave, 718-497-7577) in the shadow of the elevated tracks. There a kindly man with an Eastern European air grills pljeskavica, the humongous onion-laced burger of the former Yugoslavia.
Have it all the way, with onions, tomatoes, and lettuce on top, along with the red-pepper paste called ajvar ("eye-var") and a little homemade yogurt.
Down Forest Avenue three blocks south is Burek's Pizza (68-55 Forest Ave, 718-821-0034), one of the area bakeries specializing in bureks, the round, flaky, spare-tire-size Balkan pies stuffed with cheese, spinach, or ground meat. 20 years ago immigrants from Bosnia and elsewhere in the region took over pizza parlors in this part of Queens and in Astoria and started also making bureks in the ovens.
Eventually they stopped making pizzas – but, believe me, the bureks are every bit as good.
From the days when this was a Sicilian neighborhood, few vestiges remain, including a couple of ancient social clubs and Joe's Restaurant (66-11 Forest Ave, 718-497-1300), which is one of the finest red-sauced Italians in the city. The menu is spare, mainly apps and pastas, chicken, fish, and veal, and the table Italian loaf is served warm with a wonderful side of herbed and sautéed peppers.
Spaghetti and meat sauce is served abundantly and cheaply on an oblong platter, and you won't be able to finish the pasta, cooked a bit past al dente. And don't miss the tomato and anchovy salad.
Back under the Forest Avenue station, a storefront with the rollicking name of Italo Mex Pizzeria and Dolceria (66-89 Forest Ave, 718-628-0828) illustrates that Mexican immigrants are doing just what the Slavs previously did: take over pizza parlors and adapt them to their own culinary uses.
In this case, the pizzas in a glass case are supplemented by an extensive menu of homestyle, masa-patted southern Mexican specialties, including a quesadilla so large, it could almost make two meals.
With a name that sounds like a mash-up of hit man and hipster, Hetman Deli (66-65 Forest Ave, 347-881-1652) is your one-stop spot for prepared Polish food.
You can get marvelous meat-stuffed cabbage and peppers, cabbage soup, potato pancakes, chicken schnitzels, and myriad variations on cole slaw, but one of the best items must be taken away in a Styrofoam container and fried at home: cheese blintzes, so creamy and sweet you won't know whether to eat them as a main course or a dessert.
One of the treasures of this neighborhood are its antediluvian German butcher shops, hung with so many types of pork you can't see behind the counter. One of the best is Morscher's Pork Store (58-44 Catalpa Ave, 718-821-1040), which carries the slogan on its marquee, Tischlein Deck Dich, which means something like, "Cover Your Little Table" – presumably with the place's startling profusion of pork products.
This is one of the only butchers in town where you can get traditional raw (not pre-cooked) bratwursts, and there's a wonderful smoke-cured ham something like speck that retails for about one-quarter of what you'd pay for the Italian product.
Not far away is another Teutonic vestige, Rudy's Konditerei (905 Seneca Ave, 718-821-5890), where the baked goods fly many national flags, from Italian butter cookies to German chocolate-covered pretzels to Austrian cakes to raisin-studded Polish apple strudels and beyond.
And when was the last time you stood in a bakery where they packed your purchases in white imprinted boxes and tied them with string that hangs from a thingee on the ceiling?