The H-Mart Food Court and Ranking the Best Westchester Cronuts
Along with Prose of Pie and the Southern Westchester Food & Wine Festival
If the words "food court" don't normally send your heart racing, drop your preconceptions and head to H-Mart, the huge Korean-American supermarket that opened last year in Hartsdale. It is to most Asian supermarkets as Home Depot is to the hardware store, and its food court is one of the best bargains in Westchester, offering authentic Asian fare without the fuss and expense of sit-down dining.
Of course, there are many other reasons to go to H-Mart: to track down uncommon produce, procure fresh wild-caught seafood, and, if you’re like my young daughter and me, to pilfer free samples on weekends. Shameless urchins that we are.
The food court has Japanese, Chinese, and Korean counters, each with its own menu and kitchen, but you order from one cashier. Swing by the counters first to see what’s doing, then be sure to order by number—it's easy to order Chinese instead of Japanese noodles and then have to go back and explain (I wouldn’t know anything about that). For each type of food, you’re given a ticket, and when your number flashes on at the corresponding counter, you go there to get your food. (Been to the DMV at the White Plains Mall? You get the idea. Of course, there’s another Asian supermarket in the same mall…but I digress.) Be prepared to be hopping if you’re waiting for three different numbers to come up, but it's all part of the fun—as are the rows of adjoining tables in this sunny area, where you sit cheek by chopsticks with fellow shoppers.
As might be expected, Korean food is strongest. Sure, there’s bibimbap and bulgogi, but there are also seafood pancakes, kimchi stew with pork and soft tofu, a featured vegetarian menu. Dwen jang jjigae (bean paste stew) arrives bubbling hot, a rich conglomeration of tofu, root vegetables, zucchini, and mushrooms in a broth that’s spicy but not wildly so, served with kimchi, bean sprout salad, and rice—at $7.95, as good as anything we’ve ordered in a restaurant. (Brown rice is available and especially good, with mixed grains and some beans.) The Japanese menu features many types of ramen, plus standards such as tempura, cutlets, and typical boxed sushi (which goes on sale at 8 pm). The noodle soups will make this just the place for cold weather, and they have a respectable nabeyaki udon—the ultimate comfort food (though missing the usual fish cake here). But for summer, a just-right cold soba special brought a generous tangle of noodles with toasted seaweed, a well-balanced dipping sauce, shrimp and mixed vegetable tempura, scallion threads, and an artful ruffle of wasabi. Chinese food includes classics and Korean-style dishes such as jajang (black bean sauce) noodles. The King dumpling on display boasts a subtle mix of cabbage, tofu, clear noodles, green onion, mushrooms, and just enough pork. A current mapo tofu special, which comes with a side of egg drop soup, is a standout, its rich sauce full of bonus veggies and large pieces of dried red chile.
Eat first or shop first, but don’t miss the rest of H-Mart, 37,000 square feet of everything from fresh mangosteen to Ellio’s Pizza. (The “H” stands for heaven, honor, and happiness, according to an employee; the website has a different take.) This national chain that began in Jackson Heights offers not only all things Korean but Japanese and Chinese groceries as well, including loads of frozen items (18 kinds of fish balls!), a parallel universe of snacks (Korean Bugles, an aisle of toasted seaweeds), marinated meats, all sorts of fresh kimchi, excellent packaged prepared food worthy of its own post, a bakery, and even a deli (if you thought you had to go off site to get your Boar’s Head products). There’s even a cosmetics boutique. But don’t be surprised if you get distracted by the weekend sampling smorgasbord (we’ve counted 40). Go back around the store, if you must, to catch the things that were still cooking during round one. If you feel guilty, read this little poem. Only one piece per person, now.
Prose of Pie
September 21, 8 pm
You don’t have to bring a pie. Or tell a story. But if you’ve got a story, a pie, or just want to partake of both, this is the series for you. (Why stories? Why pie? Do you really need a rationale?) Listen to auditioned yarn-spinners tell true tales about Changes, this month’s theme, or sign up for the open mike. And let’s cut to the chase: there’s pie! And you dig in as soon as you get there! (while enjoying coffee or tea). Sample the pies, vote for your favorite, and lo, a new Piemaster is born (and wins a gift from a local merchant). A raffle winner will even take home a pie. Advance tickets get you first choice of seats and eats—and this does sell out. If you miss it, catch next month’s Halloween edition at Sleepy Hollow Cemetery.
September 22, 11 am to 5 pm
Free admission; $40 and up for food sample ticket packages
If there are still some area restaurants that you, the “insatiable Westchester diner,” haven’t gotten around to trying, you’re likely to find them at this tented event featuring a “tasting village” of over 65—count ‘em, 65—restaurants, caterers, and bakeries, including Crabtree’s Kittle House, Savona, Taiim Cellar, The Cookery, Sonora, and 8 North Broadway. Ticket packages buy food samples at $4 each, and $20 covers everything at the wine and beer area, where Zachys will provide the wine and Captain Lawrence the beer. Attend chef demos, book signings (including the Sneaky Chef), and kids’ activities, all while listening to live music. The festival helps raise funds for hunger charities, and attendees will receive a gift bag full of samples and coupons.
Counting Cronuts, Part 2: And the Winner Is…
- Stew Leonard’s Cro-Dos are a departure in that they’re unfrosted, unfilled, and (gasp!) packaged. That said, it’s hard to imagine a more perfect marriage of a croissant’s buttery pliability and donut’s pillowy sweetness, covered with cinnamon sugar. Skip the “Holes,” whose compressed shape throws off the balance.
- Sweet and Social‘s Crodonuts come in filled and unfilled vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, and caramel, as well as plain and powdered—go for the wonderful, fluffy filling. The bottom is softer and better than the top; we liked vanilla best.
- Farther afield, Crumbs in Greenwich makes Crumbnuts: unfilled, with powdered sugar, and filled, with Bavarian cream. While the Bavarian cream is undeniably delicious, we found the dough to have a slightly bitter aftertaste.
- The ones we already covered are still going strong: Enrico’s Kronies (new name, more flavors, including Nutella, toasted coconut, and pistachio) and Chantilly Patisserie’s Dossants (still only Sundays from 10 to 11, but no quantity limit now).
And the rankings, from our informal tasting panel:
- Enrico’s (looks/tastes most like what you’d expect of a Cronut)
- Stew Leonard’s (a triumph of dough)
- Chantilly Patisserie (a delicate “classic,” plus yummy holes)
- Sweet and Social (standout filling)
- Crumbs. Which isn’t in Westchester anyway.
It’s hard to turn up your nose at any of them, especially if you haven’t gotten to try an original from Dominique Ansel Bakery in Manhattan. (But psst!—according to this Craigslist ad, “Just because you live in Westchester doesn’t mean you can’t have one”….)