One afternoon in the middle of the pandemic, Manuel Torres discovered that this was, actually, the moment he had been waiting for. The quiet corner of Onderdonk Avenue had no right to possess one of the best burgers in the city, but in fact it did. This was local knowledge, spread by hyperlocal newswebsites and enjoyed by Philadelphia heavy metal bands, and perhaps accepted as fact. Along with the bar that made it, the burger’s end occurred sometime last year and, as a sign of its advance, the bar’s nondescript corner in Ridgewood was confused for Bushwick by major food blogs.
“We tried to offer to buy the spot and they weren’t interested,” Torres says. “Then, COVID hit and I guess they saved our number.” Now he’s here and it’s called Mia Marie’s, named after Torres’ niece. The restaurant is a family affair, a project between him, his brother and their mother. As Torres puts it, she’s a figure looming in the background of the city’s nightlife scene and had powered the opening of a Lower East Side club called 13 Little Devils, described in the New York Post as “pretty wild” and by a 2011 court order as “shut down.”
Their sensibility animates their changes to the corner bar in Ridgewood, which now sports three TVs. (Number sported at Onderdonk & Sons: zero.) Torres is a man of the people and has the kind of charisma you would expect. Bright, enthusiastic, with a mustache that splices his face in two and voraciously full of dreams. The next bar, he tells me, will be named after his child, after he has one. He can be found most days haunting the bar, gladhanding his new regulars like a politician. This is his first restaurant.
His most valuable apparent endorsement so far has come from the Instagram account attached to the bar’s former owners, which told followers last week that the new spot boasted the “same burgers and beers.” In reality, this was both true and not. The burgers are literally the same in a certain sense, namely that Torres says he is using the same supplier, a beef importer located in the Meatpacking District called London Meat. The experience of eating it is more akin to déjà vu. Torres’ approach to the thing is more Red Robin than Greenpoint, splashly in a satisfyingly maximal way. There is simply more burger, which is a good thing considering they used to go for $10 with fries. (The combo now goes for $16.) Less difficult to change up are the fries, which come in largely the same thin-cut form.
Torres’ interest in more is evidenced by the rest of the menu. In a remarkable departure from prior management, the new place now sells more than burgers.
“I want to be more hands on than they were. They weren’t from here,” he says. The bar’s former owners had kept the menu to a bare minimum: the burgers, followed by the fries followed by the opportunity to also order a single, soft pretzel.
Remarkably, there are no pretzels to be found on Torres’ menu, but instead there’s a take on togarashi chips ($7), a plate of truffle(!) fries ($12) and no fewer than four different salads ($13-18.). Less easy to change is the lack of a proper liquor license, which Torres admits is likely never to come, because of the longstanding opposition coming from the nearby St. Mark’s United Church-Christ. Instead, he makes do with the cocktails he can and names them after local streets: a bitters and vermouth drink called the “woodbine” and a different one called the “stanhope.” (These all go for $8-$11.)
Before he went back to working with his mother, Torres had been around. He likes to say that he “grew up in this industry.” Before the pandemic shuttered Onderdonk & Sons, he was working as a head bartender somewhere in Hell’s Kitchen called Lilly’s Craft and Kitchen. Before then, “a long, long list,” he says. He is, very definitively, a local boy and he can easily recall the hospital in Queens where he was born. He has plans too, even more of them. Brunch is coming, he promises. He says it will sing the siren song of the Lower East Side: bottomless mimosas.
Mia Marie’s is located at 566 Onderdonk Avenue in Ridgewood, from Tuesday-Sunday. 3 pm- 2 am. Keep up to date on their Instagram page.
All images taken by Andrew Karpan.
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