THE BITE: Ah, the bourek, an unsung culinary character of Sheepshead Bay that’s probably as prevalent in this neighborhood as beef patties are to Flatbush, or roasted pork buns are to Sunset Park.
We owe thanks largely to the area’s dense population of Turkish Americans living in the area, but also to those whose cultures historically took well to this Turkish pastry, including Eastern Europeans and nations of the Caucasus regions – as well as to Sephardic and Mizrahi Jewry.
For the uninitiated, a bourek – or, more traditional, a börek – is a baked or fried filled pastry made of phyllo dough. It comes in several shapes, sizes and stuffings, and is often finished off in the oven with a nice wash and a sprinkling of sesame seeds.
My first experience with a bourek occurred several years ago, when former Sheepshead Bites writer Ray Johnson called me up one morning. She said I needed to get down to the Sheepshead Bay Gourmet Market – then with an annex on East 15th Street and Avenue Z – and try their “spinach pie.” It was fresh from the oven, and better than any she had tried in the neighborhood before, she said.
And so I did. And though I couldn’t compare it to any other “spinach pie” in the neighborhood, or other bourekas for that matter, it was delicious and has since become a staple of my local diet. I often try to get there around 10:00 a.m., when they come fresh from the oven.
Since that time several years ago, I’ve tried several other neighborhood bourekas. Maybe it’s because it was my first and set the standard, but I’ve yet to find one I like as much as Sheepshead Bay Gourmet Market’s.
At Sheepshead Bay Gourmet Market, they offer a dozen different kinds of bourek. The one photographed above is a spinach Gül böreği - or rose börek – a long strip of filled phyllo dough that’s then wrapped into a round coil and baked ($2.99). They also have Sigara böreği – or cigarette börek, a small finger-sized one ($6.99/lb); Kol böreği – or arm börek – prepared in long rolls ($1.99); and a small, standard home-style bourek ($0.89 each or two for $1.59).
Aside from spinach, stuffings include meat, potato, feta cheese, olives or, my other favorite, mushroom and potato, which has a very buttery taste punctuated by a heavy sprinkling of black pepper.
But that’s a rarity. As I said, I usually stray to the spinach, which tastes as if it’s finely chopped and blended with feta cheese and, I think, a touch of garlic.
And this is where Sheepshead Bay Gourmet Market’s spinach bourekas differ from much of the other bourekas I’ve had in the area. Where most have chunks of spinach and feta wrestling against each other for dominance in the mouth, the creamy texture of Sheepshead Bay Gourmet’s is much more harmonious.
But, I’m still rather new to the wonderful world of bourekas. Where’s your favorite?
Sheepshead Bay Gourmet Market, 1717 Avenue Z at East 17th Street, (718) 891-8449.
The Bite is Sheepshead Bites’ weekly column where we explore the foodstuffs of Sheepshead Bay. Each week we check out a different offering from one of the many restaurants, delis, food carts, bakeries, butchers, fish mongers, or grocers in our neighborhood. If it’s edible, we’ll take a bite.