A mysterious flurry of new restaurants have been popping up in Ridgewood lately, but one of the Bushwick-adjacent neighborhood’s best has remained a locally kept secret for the past four years. That would be Fernando Strohmeyer’s I Like Food, a bar pop-up that’s been working out of the kitchen in the back of Aunt Ginny’s for about as long as the bar’s been around. Amid the pandemic, the back of house became the front: Strohmeyer’s kitchen kept the bar from having to resort to makeshift menus and, while the bar once boasted a few cramped outdoor chairs, both I Like Food and Aunt Ginny’s have resolutely kept their menus take-out only since reopening, something that has set the restaurant curiously apart from the archipelagos of outré seating arrangements that have populated streets elsewhere over the past year.
“This is going to sound immature, but it’s the truth, but a lot of time, with the specials, I just come home after a really long day and smoke a bowl with my wife and I come up with really stupid ideas,” Strohmeyer admitted to me, but if the ideas are half-baked, the execution is, nonetheless, delectable. There’s the chick mack ($10), a chicken sandwich he designed that comes on a sesame bun, fashioned after the similarly-named beef bestseller and comes complete with his own take on a secret sauce. (Fast food remains a recurring source of inspiration: on a soft, fluffy tortilla that will fit warmly in your hands, Strohmeyer also makes a “crisp wrap ultimate” for $9.)
This alone would be commendable — the result of numerous late night requests, he says, and the mack itself is quite good — but Strohmeyer’s menu expresses a determination to do every idea one better and offers chipotle, kimchi, and hoisin peanut sauce-versions of the sandwich, among others. Wings ($10) and fries ($5-$11) follow a similar logic, with the latter coming on an enormous plates, about the size of a shrimp platter. Among the twists that Strohmeyer has come up with include a genius riff on the everything bagel that comes with scallion cream cheese or, alternatively, a vegan dill-flavored ranch.
One of the more notable twists long offered by the kitchen at I Like Food is that almost every item on the menu can be switched for its vegan equivalent, from the macks to the wings to the mini corn dogs occasionally spotted on the specials menu.
“I tried doing salad,” Strohmeyer admits,” but people at a bar don’t want to eat salad, they want something crispy and fried.” The way he sees it, there’s generally a way to make almost anything meatless, a smart idea that, perplexingly, seems to never have occurred to some of the biggest chains in the world. Strohmeyer is practical: “Why say no to 30-40% of your customer base?”
Slathered in thick and sugary sauce as sweet as anything KFC can imagine, an order of the cauliflower wings ($10) taste like dim lights and late night beers, and the vegan queso, which he makes himself from cashews, is among the more convincingly cheesy options you can find anywhere and it pairs excellently with corn dogs, if you can catch them on the regularly shifting menu (if not, the nachos are a perfect fit). Other occasional specials fall more on the stoner sider of the spectrum: fruity pebble treats that come in saran wrap bolstered by Strohmeyer’s homemade logo, which also colorfully adorns the cardboard boxes he now ships out.
That logo — an eager canine excitedly eying a sandwich — had been his take on the California pop-punk band the Descendants’ nerdy mascot Milo, a recurring influence: Strohmeyer also took his pop-up’s name from one of the band’s early cuts. Before he was thinking up new takes on bar food, Strohmeyer had been a punk rocker in Boston, performing in the city’s oi scene in bands like the Vigilantes in the early 2000s, a band that included future Dropkick Murphys banjoist Jeff DaRosa. The band’s singer, Jasper McGandy, would curiously also land in Ridgewood — after a stint in Cult of Youth, a Brooklyn act on Sacred Bones, McGandy would open a bar-slash-venue with some of the label’s owners and name it after a Stooges song, TV-Eye, currently and temporarily pandemic-shuttered.
Strohmeyer discovered that he loathed the grueling road life of touring and found himself, instead, moving from kitchen to kitchen in Boston before a friend invited him to work in a failed oyster venture in New York, where he stayed.
But a punk ethic abides at I Like Food, one of the few restaurants in the city that you won’t be able to find on Seamless or Doordash. “We tried it and it was a disaster,” he says, preferring to keep to a smaller delivery range where orders can be quickly delivered via bike, a methodology that suggests a way to work outside of the bitter margins of the app-driven food delivery industry.
“Why rely on late drivers who don’t care about your food?,” Strohmeyer asks. “If we just limit it to a really short delivery range, within ten minutes of it being out of your fryer, the fries will be in your living room.”
Strohmeyer says he doesn’t imagine giving delivery apps another try. He likes to hear the orders come in by phone, not tablet.
“I’m not going back. I refuse. Why give them 30% of my money?”
At the heart of the ever-expanding offerings at I Like Food is something that has been on the menu the longest: the pulled pernil sandwich. Before Strohmeyer opened up shop at Aunt Ginny’s, he was running an occasional pop up out of a table at the Footlight and primarily served these, a recipe he said he took from his Puerto Rican mother.
It comes on a thick, fluffy bodega roll, richly seasoned and delicately pressed. The meat — it’s one of the few dishes for which Strohmeyer has conceded he cannot find a satisfying vegan alternative — is tender to the point of collapse. When he talks about how the neighborhood had changed since he set up shop, he has only one request: “As long as these places don’t start doing pernil, I’ll gatekeep that one.”
I Like Food
A neighborhood restaurant inside of a neighborhood bar.
652 Woodward Avenue, Ridgewood (just a stone’s throw away from the Forest Avenue M station)
Tues-Sun: 3 pm – 10 pm
Follow I Like Food: Instagram
Top photo credit: Andrew Karpan
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