Bloc Party

Ron’s Market imports the flavors of Eastern Europe and welcomes the curious epicurean

If you stop by Ron’s Market in the Southwest, don’t bother looking for its namesake owner. He doesn’t exist.

“My father came up with the name while we were driving past a nearby Vons,” says Nick Kodjanian, who runs the shop for his wife, owner Marie Baljian. “He said, ‘Why not drop the V and add an R?’”

And just like that, a neighborhood market was christened. But that’s where any similarity to the supermarket chain ends. Ron’s, which opened this past spring, is not your average grocery shop, but one of the city’s newest and best sources for Eastern European ingredients.

And like Cardenas, Greenland or Rani’s, it’s a welcome addition for adventurous cooks with curious palates. There are mysterious cans of meats on the shelves, and glass bottles of Coca-Cola labeled in foreign languages in the fridge. An ice cream case by the register doesn’t stock your favorite pint of Ben & Jerry’s, but Dadu—a Lithuanian brand that makes unusual flavors, such as poppy seed.

However, these culinary curiosities aren’t the only reason to visit. Ron’s also supplies a wealth of ingredients for the serious cook. The seemingly limitless selection of feta and olives is superior to anything at a supermarket salad bar, and there’s nowhere else in the area where enormous tins of Russian caviar await purchase.

An Armenian by way of Los Angeles, Kodjanian says his customer base mostly consists of Bulgarian, Russian, Armenian and Yugoslavian residents from all over the city. On weekends, the narrow aisles are packed with families filling their carts with sprats (akin to herring) and squares of lavash flatbread.

Those unfamiliar with the cooking traditions of these regions are also welcome—just take a seat at one of the few storefront tables and sample items made by Kodjanian’s mother.

Kabob platters and sandwiches are quick and cheap dine-in eats, but Mom’s baked goods are the stars of the show. Lahmejun, a paper-thin crepe peppered with ground meat, is the best 90-cent bite in town. Or, if you don’t have the patience, call 30 minutes ahead and order the ajarski khachapuri. Like an oversize version of a toad-in-the-hole, the boat-shaped vessel of hearty bread is baked to order and filled with shirred eggs. It’s a robust and shareable meal that isn’t limited to breakfast time.

Kodjanian is pleased to see that despite the market’s quiet opening, locals of every background have found their way to Ron’s. Tentative plans to open a restaurant in a neighboring space are even in the works. “I’m surprised, because we never did any marketing,” he says. “And, still, new customers find us and want to try our food.”

Five Great Finds

Grape leaves. Kodjanian’s mom makes vegetarian dolmas, or stuffed grape leaves, in-house, but jarred leaves are also available for cooks with a carnivorous streak. Stuff them with rice and meat for a quick snack.

Delicje. Think of these as the Victoria sponge of Poland: airy, soft cakes filled with jam and covered with chocolate. It’s a cheap and quick stand-in when you don’t have time to make dessert.

Pirozhki. Look for these homemade dumplings in the baked-goods section. Fillings include meat and cheese, but since the signs aren’t written in English, a staffer will help identify each of the mystery stuffed breads for you.

Feta. If you think this cheese is limited to the packaged crumbles in your supermarket dairy case, Ron’s will open your eyes. At least six varieties—some from cow’s milk, others from sheep—are available at any given time, each with its own distinct characteristics.

Sour green plums. These aren’t meant to ripen on your kitchen counter. According to Kodjanian, this traditional Turkish snack should be dipped in salt and eaten while the flesh is still crunchy.