Atlanta Orders In: NYC Bodega in Lawrenceville stirs feelings of home

NYC Bodega offers a variety of handhelds from empanadas to Cuban sandwiches to chimi burgers (pictured). The latter is a Dominican street food favorite featuring a beef patty topped with shredded cabbage, sliced tomato and a slather of mayo-ketchup sauce served on bread known as pan de agua. (Ligaya Figueras / ligaya.figueras@ajc.com)
NYC Bodega offers a variety of handhelds from empanadas to Cuban sandwiches to chimi burgers (pictured). The latter is a Dominican street food favorite featuring a beef patty topped with shredded cabbage, sliced tomato and a slather of mayo-ketchup sauce served on bread known as pan de agua. (Ligaya Figueras / ligaya.figueras@ajc.com)

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

It combines Dominican flavors with corner store character familiar to N.Y., N.J. transplants

When you’re far from home and nostalgia strikes, familiar comforts are enough to bring you to tears.

On more than one occasion, that’s exactly what has occurred when first-time customers stepped inside NYC Bodega. The shelves of the tiny convenience store in Lawrenceville are stocked with all the labels they grew up with in the Dominican Republic: glass bottles of Country Club soda, cartons of Choco Rica chocolate milk, Guarina saltine crackers, crispy flatbread made from cassava flour wrapped in Santo Domingo packaging, and rectangular boxes of Embajador baking chocolate.

“People from the D.R. who haven’t been there for 20 years come in and cry. They haven’t seen these things in ages,” said Maria Fabian, who owns NYC Bodega with husband John Cabreja.

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Husband and wife John Cabreja and Maria Fabian are the owners of NYC Bodega in Lawrenceville. (Ligaya Figueras / ligaya.figueras@ajc.com)
Husband and wife John Cabreja and Maria Fabian are the owners of NYC Bodega in Lawrenceville. (Ligaya Figueras / ligaya.figueras@ajc.com)

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

It’s a similar story when patrons with ties to the Caribbean eye the steam table filled with home-style dishes like mondongo (Dominican-style tripe stew), moro de gandules (rice with pigeon peas), pernil (roasted pork shoulder) and pegao (the crusty layer of rice scraped from the bottom of the pot).

People of Latin descent aren’t the only ones going loco over the goods at NYC Bodega. So, too, are transplants from the Big Apple accustomed to the cramped mom-and-pop convenience shops that lend character and color to street corners across the city.

“We get people from New York, New Jersey,” Fabian said. “We are the closest thing to home.”

Fabian and Cabreja are both natives of the Dominican Republic who were raised in New York — she in Brooklyn, he on Long Island. When Cabreja retired in 2015, the couple moved to Atlanta to be near Cabreja’s sister. They opened NYC Bodega 16 months ago.

“We got bored. We weren’t doing anything,” Cabreja said. Plus, the couple felt there could be a market for their quick-trip concept. “There’s no bodega here. Georgia has become very diverse. Lots of people (are) from New York. They know what to ask for and what to look for,” he said.

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NYC Bodega in Lawrenceville is modeled after the mom-and-pop convenience shops that lend character and color to street corners in New York City. Appropriately, the store sits on a corner — at the intersection of Collins Hill and Hurricane Shoals roads — sharing a parking lot with a Shell gas station. (Ligaya Figueras / ligaya.figueras@ajc.com)
NYC Bodega in Lawrenceville is modeled after the mom-and-pop convenience shops that lend character and color to street corners in New York City. Appropriately, the store sits on a corner — at the intersection of Collins Hill and Hurricane Shoals roads — sharing a parking lot with a Shell gas station. (Ligaya Figueras / ligaya.figueras@ajc.com)

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

Appropriately, the shop sits on a corner — at the intersection of Collins Hill and Hurricane Shoals roads — sharing a parking lot with a Shell gas station. “Everything worked out perfectly,” Fabian said.

On the other side of a counter separated by plexiglass, a two-person team of cooks works the buffet station and grill, plating up breakfast orders for mangú (boiled, mashed, seasoned plantains) with a fried egg, wedges of fried Dominican cheese and fried Dominican salami. (“We fry everything,” joked Fabian.) They slip hot, moon-shaped empanadas stuffed with ham and cheese, chicken or cream cheese and guava into little paper sacks. They fill a steady stream of lunch orders for Cuban sandwiches and chimi burgers, a Dominican street food favorite featuring a beef patty topped with shredded cabbage, sliced tomato and a slather of mayo-ketchup sauce served on bread known as pan de agua.

NYC Bodega doesn’t have a menu. The selection changes daily and is prepared in small batches that are refreshed throughout the day.

But, Cabreja added, “If there’s an item people really like, we try to repeat it.”

Goat with sofrito generally makes an appearance Thursdays and Fridays. The latter is also the day for oxtails. Saturdays bring sancocho. “Everybody has their own version,” Fabian said of this soup that’s prevalent throughout Latin American cuisines. “Our broth is a little thicker. It has plantain, yucca, yam — all the root vegetables — and three kinds of meat: pork, beef and chicken. People usually pair it with white rice.”

The steam table at NYC Bodega is filled with a daily rotation of Dominican dishes, including roasted pork shoulder, scorched rice known as pegao and boiled green bananas with pickled red onion. (Ligaya Figueras / ligaya.figueras@ajc.com)
The steam table at NYC Bodega is filled with a daily rotation of Dominican dishes, including roasted pork shoulder, scorched rice known as pegao and boiled green bananas with pickled red onion. (Ligaya Figueras / ligaya.figueras@ajc.com)

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

Fabian noted that Dominican fare shares plenty of commonalities with island neighbors Puerto Rico and Cuba, but for her, there is a distinction. “Dominicans love to cook. That’s what we want to bring here. We prepare the dishes like our grandparents did it, our parents. We cook with our hearts. That’s what describes Dominican food.”

Some patrons taste the love so much that they have encouraged the couple to turn the concept into a restaurant. “That’s not who we are,” Cabreja tells them. “We would lose our essence. We are a bodega that serves food.”

NYC BODEGA

Menu: New York-style bodega specializing in Dominican cuisine. No set menu; food offerings change daily

Alcohol: no

What I ordered: ham and cheese empanada; Dominican chimi burger; stewed chicken; Dominican-style spaghetti; mondongo (Dominican-style tripe stew); bacalao (cod); moro de gandules (rice with pigeon peas); pernil (roasted pork shoulder) with pegao (scorched rice); yucca; and guineítos (boiled green bananas). The freshness of these home-style dishes was apparent, especially the mondongo, bacalao, rice and peas. Don’t miss the chimi.

Service options: takeout; order by phone or in person

Outdoor dining: limited to two, 2-seat tables

Mask policy: required for all employees; not mandated for guests

Address, phone: 49 Hurricane Shoals Road NW, Lawrenceville; 770-910-7077

Hours: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays

Website: Facebook: NYCBodegalawrenceville

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