By now you might have heard that the wonderful Thai Grocery is closing its doors on April 29, due to the well-deserved retirement of owner Ek-Anant, aka Eddie Lin, who's been in business for 34 years.
Thirty-four years! This news has sent ripples of sadness among the geeks who've wandered its cramped aisles clutching stained copies of David Thompson's Thai Food, seeking out ingredients both essential and obscure to Thai cookery. At least for non-Thais, it was always easy to profit from Eddie and his cohorts' genuine interest in just what the heck you planned on doing with everything from banana leaves to tamarind pulp to pork floss. A few holiday seasons back when I was making jars of chili jam, or nam prik pao, for gifts, I got to hear a detailed exegesis of how brother-in-law Surat's aunt does it back in Thailand--she's old school, grilling the ingredients instead of frying them--and a rundown on the healthful benefits of chiles to boot.
When I went in Friday to pay my respects, Eddie was running a clearance sale (50 percent off grated cassava!), handing out little recipe books and farewell letters, and musing happily on his long career. His son's college graduation is the occasion: he and his wife plan to kick back and relax.
Eddie is also the wholesale supplier for many of the city's Thai restaurants, and I wasn't able to get a straight answer about whether he was giving up that end of the business, though I got the sense he was keeping a hand in it. As for retail, there are bigger, brighter, and broader Asian markets in the neighborhood. Eddie, in fact, is sending his merchandise up the street to Golden Pacific, and just a few blocks south at Oriental Plaza, you can find a good selection of Thai nonperishables. But none has the broad array of house-made snacks and sweets or the steam table loaded with cheap, home-style Thai food (prepared by Surat's wife) unlike that of even our most authentic Thai restaurants. And none have Eddie's and Surat's generous expertise.
The owners of the neighboring Vietnamese bakery Ba Le have bought the building. No word yet on what they're planning.
Thai Grocery, 5014 N. Broadway, 773-561-5345
Golden Pacific Market, 5353 N. Broadway, 773-334-6688
Oriental Plaza, 4821 N. Broadway, 773-728-1199