Archive for the 'Food & Nightlife' Category

Midwood Food Tour: Clara & Di Fara Pizza

One of the best ways to get to know a neighborhood is through its food. The Midwood Development Corporation understands this all too well, so now, twice a year, they host a tour of local cafes, restaurants, bakeries, and specialty stores, giving people new to the area — and those who may not have explored their own backyard — a chance to take a bite (many, many bites) out of the best it has to offer.

Midwood Food Tour: International Food, Ave J

The fall tour took place this past Sunday, and about a dozen hungry visitors sampled food from spots along Avenue J and Coney Island Avenue. Leading the group was Rich Sanders, aka Ethnojunkie, a Brooklyn-based food writer who specializes in ethnic eats.

Even so, Sanders says that when the MDC first contacted him five years ago about doing the tour, he asked locals for recommendations, and the suggestions he got were all great, but all the exact same kind of thing.

“I said wait, there must be something other than kosher bakeries in Midwood, what else is there? So I looked around and found quite a bit.”

To eat your way through them all could take a lifetime (or, at least longer than a Sunday afternoon), so he shared just a few favorites. If you want to explore a bit before the next tour in the spring, this is a pretty excellent guide to some of the foods you’ll find.

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papusa-1

THE BITEAfter wrapping up my visit to the Brighton Jubilee this weekend, I walked up Coney Island Avenue and passed one the neighborhood’s staple Mexican joints, Tacos El Rey (3168 Coney Island Avenue). It had been a long time since my last visit, and I spotted a sign in the window declaring that the kitchen now offered up pupusas, a traditional Salvadoran treat that has long been unavailable in this area. I had to give it a try.

We have "rich" pupusas.

We have “rich” pupusas.

With a sister-in-law of Salvadoran heritage, I’m no stranger to pupusa – but this neighborhood sure is. Think of it as a pan-fried pancake made of cornmeal and stuffed with beans, cheese and other assorted awesomeness. It’s been made in the Central American nation for nearly 2,000 years, but remained the secret of a small hamlet until migration carried it across the nation, then to bordering countries and to our shores over the past half century or so.

The fillings vary depending on regions, but cheese, pork and refried beans are usually on the menu (individually, or mixed). At Tacos El Rey, they also offer shrimp, chicken, and “queso y loroco,” cheese mixed with a vine from a Central American flower bud. The restaurant charges $5.00 for a plate of two, with shrimp costing $8.00.

Disappointingly, Tacos El Rey was out of loroco when I stopped by. So I went with beans and cheese and the revuelta – a blend of chicharron, cheese and beans.

It took some time to arrive at the table, suggesting it’s not a frequently ordered dish at El Rey and had to made from scratch. To bide my time, I ordered a limonada ($3.00).

limonada-1

If you’re thinking this is the lemonade you grew up on, you’re wrong (well, unless you’re Latin American). It’s made from freshly squeezed key limes, some water and a liberal amount of sugar – and then blended with ice into a heavenly froth. It is a spectacular refreshment on a hot summer day.

Just as I slurped the last drops through my straw, the pupusa arrived piping hot, followed by the traditional sides of curtido – think spicy, pickled cole slaw – and a runny tomato-based salsa.

The outside was crispy; perhaps a little overcooked to some, but just how I like it. And the cornmeal dough was grainy and a touch sweet; again, how I like it.

In hindsight, I regret ordering two fillings that were so similar. They were at first difficult to tell apart. Those that are thinking of chicharron as deep fried pork rind beware – although it shares the same name, Salvadoran chicharron is simply cooked pork meat, and in the pupusa it’s ground to a paste and mixed with the beans. While I couldn’t tell the two apart by looking them, the revuelta had noticeably more flavor.

After a taste, I heaped the salsa on top, followed by a mountain of the slaw and blissfully dug in. As good as the pupusa was alone, the curtido was the perfect companion, accentuating the grain’s sweetness with vinegar and a spicy bite. The salsa, unfortunately, added little flavor or heat and just seemed to make my pupusa wet.

The verdict? While it’s not the best pupusa I’ve had, it’s the only one I’ve seen south of Prospect Park and I’ll definitely be returning to satisfy my occasional cravings. And it was a damn good approximation – much better and more authentic than I had expected for a Mexican restaurant.

(Also: check out our previous review of Taco El Rey’s Burrito Grande and food from other Mexican restaurants.)

Tacos El Rey, 3168 Coney Island Avenue (at Brighton Beach Avenue), (718) 769-0116.

The Bite is Sheepshead Bites’ column exploring the foodstuffs of the Sheepshead Bay area. 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.

Source: Lisanne Anderson

The following is a press release from the offices of Councilman Chaim Deutsch:

Community-minded volunteers will gather on Sunday, August 17th to participate in Council Member Chaim Deutsch’s Community Cleanup event. The event will promote civic awareness as well as the idea that clean streets are the responsibility of everyone, including residents, store-owners, elected officials, and the Department of Sanitation. The volunteers will meet at 10 o’clock in the morning at the Council Member’s District Office, 2401 Avenue U, where they will be armed with brooms, rakes, shovels, and other cleaning supplies provided by the Department of Sanitation.

“Cleaner streets promote social and economic improvement, while giving our children and families a clean and safe place to live,” said Council Member Deutsch. “I have chosen to allocate funding through the Cleanup NYC initiative to the Department of Sanitation for additional street litter basket collections. More frequent basket collections will make a favorable impact on the trash problem that currently affects the neighborhood.”

The event is in conjunction with the “Keep Our Neighborhood Clean” outreach program, an ongoing effort by Council Member Deutsch to clean up our streets, something that will benefit all residents of the district. The Council Member and his staff have reached out to business and residential areas to educate residents and merchants about illegal dumping of household and commercial trash in and around public receptacles, as well as other sanitation rules and regulations. Street litter baskets are placed on business corridors with heavy foot traffic, where there is a need to prevent littering, but that does not solve the entire problem.

“Thanks to the many hard working volunteers, my first Community Cleanup event, that took place along Sheepshead Bay Road, was a huge success,” said Council Member Deutsch. “Keeping our streets clean on a daily basis is a difficult task, but communication and education are crucial. In addition to the Community Cleanups and extra basket collections, I am working together with Sanitation Enforcement through the evenings to monitor and control illegal dumping and littering at corner wastebaskets. These are just the beginning stages of my ongoing mission to provide a better environment for my constituents.”

Some additional details from Sheepshead Bites’ follow-up:

Deutsch allocated $68,000 for the additional basket pickups. This will bring Sheepshead Bay Road to five times a week (adding one additional day) and Avenue U to five times a week (adding three additional days).

The volunteer cleanup begins at 10 a.m. at 2401 Avenue U.

Cafe Kashkar: lagman

THE BITE: Based on the menu alone, it’s hard to know whether you’re diving into a Uyghur dish or an Uzbeki one at Cafe Kashkar - or really what you’re getting into at all. But you won’t go wrong picking and choosing among the inexpensive dishes and sharing with a table of adventurous eaters.

This is one of the few restaurants in New York City serving food from the Uyghur region, and, as the one thing the menu does note, it’s named after the city of Kashgar, an oasis city in far western China. A predominantly Muslim region, the food focuses on lamb, noodles, and doughy breads.

Cafe Kashkar: manty

There were reminders of Tibetan momos in the manty ($6), large doughy steamed dumplings filled with lamb and onions, though without the saucy excitement (or spice, or much seasoning at all) of momos. The flavor was more reminiscent of Yemen dishes we’ve enjoyed, where the meat is the main attraction, so if you like lamb, and you like dumplings, you’ll be pretty happy.

Cafe Kashkar: lambpilaf

Because this is a basically a festival of lamb, we ordered up a heaping plate of lamb pilaf ($6), which was a straightforward meat and rice dish that won’t blow your mind, but would be plenty comforting on a chilly fall day after a stroll down the boardwalk. Much of our dinner had that appeal, the kinds of dishes you can imagine filling up on when, at last, the humidity has dropped.

You can see Marco Polo’s inspiration for pasta when a plate of geiro lagman ($6, pictured at top) is set on the table. The hand-pulled wheat noodles are topped with red bell peppers, lamb, and sauce and served up with chopsticks. The irregular noodles have a pleasant chew to them, the lamb was some of the best of the night. It was the definite favorite at our table – we’d come back for that, and would also love to try the soup version.

Cafe Kashkar: kebab

Another bite we could have had more of was the chicken (not lamb for once!) kebab ($3.50), which was juicy and nicely seasoned — though it also came with a thin sauce for dipping, which didn’t feel necessary, but introduced us to some more of the unique spices we’d come there to explore.

Cafe Kashkar: naryun

The naryn ($6) was the most unusual of the dishes we ordered, the most unlike anything any of us had had before. Cold, scrappy pieces of dough and crumbled lamb with slices of chilled sausage, it was mostly the texture and temperature (and yes, the grayish color of it all) that came as a surprise, but it grew on some of us.

Cafe Kashkar: tarragon soda

There’s no alcohol, but if you’re already exploring the food menu with abandon, grab a drink as well. The tarragon soda, a green the color of radiator fluid that seemed to sit on display like a dare, was gulped down by the youngest in our crowd, who experimented, happily, by mixing it with a bottle of mineral water — which was described by one diner who had grown up drinking it as “an acquired taste,” and perhaps unkindly but not entirely off-base, “sulfurous.” The adults agreed the tarragon soda tasted oddly familiar, a little like salt-water taffy. Skip the tea, though — steeping in a pot through the whole meal, it never seemed to get strong enough.

Cafe Kashkar, 1141 Brighton Beach Ave

Sampling a number of dishes, you get an impression of the style, something like a a cool-weather comfort food. Still, a number of fellow diners on a recent weeknight visit had come straight from the beach, and the space is so colorful and comfortable, you could easily linger a while after a day spent soaking in too much sun and sand. And once you’re filled with all that lamb, it may be hard to get up and go, anyway.

Cafe Kashkar1141 Brighton Beach Avenue, between Brighton 14th and Brighton 15th Streets, (718) 743-3832.

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.

Photo by Erica Sherman

Photo by Erica Sherman

It was just last week that Brennan & Carr was named one of New York City’s most iconic meat dishes by Eater NY. Was rival roast beef peddler Roll-N-Roaster (2901 Emmons Avenue) going to be ignored?

C’mon. Nobody puts Roll-N-Roaster in a corner. They put them on “Best of” lists. Specifically, CBS News “Best of” lists, which has to be among the best “Best of” lists because they once named us Best Local Affairs Website and obviously have good taste.

The news outlet calls Roll-N-Roaster one of eight best sandwiches in Brooklyn, describing it thusly:

While “You can have CHEEZ on anything you PLEEZ” would be enough to entice even the strongest will-powered man into Roll-n-Roaster, there are reasons galore to visit – though most do include said CHEEZ. First and foremost is the wonderful roast beef sandwich; thin slices of beef with a pink center arrive piled high on a soft bun, a sandwich that would put to shame that fast food sandwich chain that claims to make these.

One week, two local roast beef sandwiches on “Best of” lists, and never a consensus on which is better.

Congratulations to both of our meateries!

octosalad-1

THE BITE: Most people know by now that Anatolian Gyro has moved off of Sheepshead Bay Road, around the corner to East 16th Street. What many might not realize is that they’ve also added a few new items to the menu.

Among them? The octopus salad ($13.50), sure to become a staple of this writer’s diet.

Let’s back up to the new digs. We don’t usually write about a restaurant’s physical space on The Bite, but the storefront deserves some attention. It’s very industrial chic, with bare cement floors, natural lighting and spartan decor.

Some might call it “Williamsburg-esque,” but I – and the restaurant’s owner, Metin Turan – call it pragmatic. Flooded out during Superstorm Sandy, Turan went for the hardscrabble look not just because it’s what passes for cool, but because it’ll be easy to clean out and restore if another flood occurs, allowing him to get back to business that much faster. Other local business owners should take note; pragmatic, flood resilient design should be the new normal around here.

With the location change, Turan has also moved around some staff, swapping talent here and there between Anatolian and his other area business, the Amberjack dinner-cruise ship.

That’s where the octopus salad and other menu changes come in. I ate it once shortly after the Amberjack’s opening and have craved it since. However, the Amberjack switched to a chartered operation, which means I couldn’t just walk in and demand my tentacled delight unless I had a bar mitzvah to celebrate or something.

Fortunately, it’s now available for landlubbers at whim at Anatolian – and it was just as good as I remembered.

Served in a large, deep dish and hearty enough to be a meal by itself, the salad isn’t just tasty, it’s a visual treat. Mixed greens are tossed with tomato, cucumber, purple onion and red peppers – and all the colors pop. An entire char-grilled octopus is sliced and spread over the top. It’s finished off with a proper dousing of vinegar and olive oil, with some fresh lemon juice and black pepper to boot.

The star here is, of course, the octopus. It was perfectly cooked – not chewy, not mushy; the large and mid-sized chunks a tender treat infused with a smoky flavor from grilling over hot coals. The tiniest of tentacles charred over the flames provided all the crunchiness in this dish, and it was marvelous. Croutons need not apply.

The whole thing is lent additional flavor by the vinaigrette. It’s a pretty standard dressing, but the freshness of the pepper stood out and was complemented by the fresh lemon juice, and both tamed any overpowering flavor of char from the octopus without wiping it out. It also seems the restaurant’s chefs have gotten the portion size down to a science. When I finished the last bits on my dish, there was not a drop of the dressing stewing at the bottom, a common faux pas at establishments looking to compensate for a lesser salad.

But Anatolian? No, nothing to compensate for here.

Anatolian Gyro, 2623 East 16th Street, between Avenue Z and Sheepshead Bay Road,  (718) 769-4754.

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.

samsa

A pumpkin manti from Nargis.

Nargis Cafe (2818 Coney Island Avenue) is in the limelight again, this time with the New York Times writing up the Uzbeki restaurant’s mouth-watering cuisine, and tracing the business from humble beginnings into a jewel of Sheepshead Bay.

The Times isn’t the only one to discover the central-Asian cuisine. In February, the FX show The Americans used the space to film some scenes there.

Of course, we’ve been on to Nargis’ exceptional delights for years, already having written up reviews of pumpkin-stuffed Manti and the spiced fries. But there’s always room for more attention.

In their article, the Times takes a peek in the back of this restaurant that serves “denizens of outer Brooklyn.”

Everything except a few desserts brought in from a local bakery is made in-house, including beef noodles pulled by hand, and dumpling casings and savory pastry crusts rolled early in the morning, long before the cafe opens. Mr. Bangiev performed the pulling and rolling and almost all the cooking himself in the fledgling years of Nargis. Even though he has entrusted the kitchen to his cooks, Mr. Bangiev can still be found each day and evening at the cafe, immersed in every aspect of his restaurant.

Kudos to Nargis for catching the Times’ fickle, Manhattan-centric eye.

Time to make the... (Source: NYTimes.com)

Time to make the… (Source: NYTimes.com)

So is it Shaikh’s Place or Donut Shoppe? I’ve referred to it interchangeably for years, always corrected by someone who is adamant about one or the other. Even Yelp hedges its bets.

While the New York Times is hardly the arbiter of anything Southern Brooklyn, it’s going with Shaikh’s Place.

The 24-hour donut and coffee shop at 1503 Avenue U, known for out-of-this-world, light, airy donuts (who needs the extra letters?) and a somewhat gritty storefront, got the Sunday Times treatment over the weekend, earning high praise from customers and veteran food writer Rachel Wharton.

Wharton covers the background of the place and its curious owner, a former electrical engineering student who fell in love with the rounded, holed confection.

The Shaikh of the place is Shaikh Kalam, 53, a Calcutta native who bought the shop (also 53) from its original owner, Carlo Radicella, in 1994, after Mr. Radicella had a stroke.

Mr. Kalam arrived from India in 1981 to study electrical engineering, but doughnuts interfered. He found a job at the place in 1983, when it was still known as the Donut Shoppe, “and I stayed.”

Many agree that when Mr. Kalam took over as head baker for Mr. Radicella in the 1980s, doughnut magic was made.

Mr. Kalam tried to make the sweets lighter and less greasy, tinkering with the temperature of the frying oil and the time he let the dough rise. “There’s a lot of little knickknack to it,” he mused. He said, however, that the most important step was simply that he makes 150 dozen fresh every day, beginning at 5 a.m.

Apparently, everyone the Times spoke to agrees that Kalam does a better job with the donuts than the original owner. I can’t say – I’ve only been eating from Shaikh’s for the past seven or so years. And it’s ruined me for any of the Dunkin’ crap.

As for the old signage and the interior, which the Times says hasn’t been renovated for more than half a century, Kalam is unconcerned.

“I might paint,” said Mr. Kalam, who apparently does not worry much about décor. “Once they come in, I don’t lose customers — they’re keepers.”

I get that. Genius needs no frills.

Read the full write-up.

randazzos

THE BITE: Here on Sheepshead Bites, we’ve covered some of the recovery of Randazzo’s Clam Bar (2017 Emmons Avenue) after Superstorm Sandy wreaked havoc on the long-standing waterfront spot in October 2012. Despite heavy damage, they managed to reopen within months, which was a great source of comfort for a lot of Sheepshead businesses and locals. They are fully up and running, and serving up the seafood and Italian dishes they’ve been known for over the past several decades.

As we’ve mentioned in a previous article, Randazzo’s wasn’t always the only game in town. Joe’s Clam Bar and Rubino’s Crab House each occupied a plot on Emmons Avenue, and Lundy’s was an imposing presence in it’s heyday. But Randazzo’s is the last man standing when it comes to Italian seafood, with many of its competitors replaced by Greek, Turkish and Eastern European takes on the ocean’s catch.

Randazzo’s began in 1916 as a fish market with a small counter for quick and easy food. In the 1960s, a clam bar was added and Helen Randazzo, daughter of the fisherman founder, began making her famous red sauce in medium or hot. A larger cafeteria opened next, and pastas and more robust Italian dishes were put on the menu. Ultimately, the fish market closed and the cafeteria and clam bar consolidated, evolving into the restaurant we know today. Still a family-owned operation, Helen’s grand- and great-grandchildren now run the place.

Feeling the need to order clams and sauce to properly pay my respects to this long history, I got the red Zuppa di Clams for $18.95.

The soup arrived in an enormous round white plate, steam curling off the bright red sauce that shimmered golden with olive oil. About a dozen clams lay open at odd angles in the dish, and with just a little coercing I pulled the meat out of the shells with my fork. They were soft, slightly chewy, and very fresh, going great with spoonfuls of that oregano-spiked sauce. I asked for the hot, which wasn’t extremely spicy, but did have a little kick. A hunk of hard, white Italian bread was served alongside with butter. But with a plateful of sauce like that, who needs butter?

If you’ve come to Randazzo’s, I’d venture to say you either came for the fresh seafood, or for the famous red sauce. If you can’t decide which you’ve come for, then get both – you have plenty of options that combine the two at “The Pride of Sheepshead Bay.”

Randazzo’s Clam Bar, 2017 Emmons Avenue, (718) 615-0010.

– Sonia Rapaport

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.

One of the varieties of Russian black bread. (Photo by Bacon And Tofu / Flickr)

THE BITE: Many things can be said about the Russian community of Brighton Beach and Sheepshead Bay, but you can’t take away their authenticity. If you don’t get hit by a stroller overflowing with groceries, you’re doing something wrong.

There are over 20 fruit and vegetable stores within a 10-block radius, and that’s a scary thought. Politics and personal opinions about this aside, one of the most unique foods these places offer is a fresh baked hunk of chorniy hleb. 

You may know it as rye or pumpernickel, but I assure you, it’s infinitely more complex. Just google a recipe for “Russian black bread” and the ingredient list will surprise you. Fennel, caraway seeds, espresso, cocoa powder, and it doesn’t stop there. Hmm, that’s exactly why I prefer to buy the golden brown crack, er, bread, already made, sliced and ready for me to slather with salo; but more on that later.

There are many varieties, the two most common being Borodinsky and Litovsky. Where the names come from is a bit of a hard case to crack, as much of the available information is just urban legend.

Borodinsky is possibly named after the battle of Borodino, when the Russians fought against Napolean Bonaparte in 1812. It has a strong coriander scent and is sweetened with molasses. Litovsky hleb (bread) is much denser and usually darker. It is chewy and significantly sweet.

Black bread is to a Russian child what I imagine Wonder Bread is to a tot growing up in the states, except it remains flavorful, even as an adult. You better believe the little ones weren’t smothering the fermented sourdough with peanut butter and jelly. Although it’s delicious when eaten warm and adorned with a slick of butter, there are several classic toppings that ring bells in the minds and hearts of former USSR citizens.

Sandwiches are always open-faced, not unlike a Parisian tartine. Hungarian salami is a typical household cold cut, and brings back funny memories for me personally. In elementary school, all the kids who brought butterbrodi (open faced sandwiches) would stink up the classroom upon lunchbox retrieval. Instantaneously, the space could have been confused for an eastern European smoke shop.

Shproti are also a cherished “treat” from the motherland, delicately smoked and drizzled with sunflower seed oil. In case you aren’t familiar, shproti are smoked sardines (which is why I put treat in quotation marks). Traditionally, thin slices of toasted black bread are cloaked with slices of refreshing cucumbers and meaty sardines. It’s an acquired taste.

I’ve saved the best for last. You’ve probably seen it, heard of it, maybe even tried it. I’m referring to salo, a dieter’s paradise. Just kidding, it’s actually a nightmare for anyone trying to watch their cholesterol and/or general health.

Salo is cured pork that is sliced thin and served uber-cold over the chorniy hleb with a pungent scallion to cut through the fattiness. This butterbrod is as Ukrainian as it gets. If you’re not feeling ambitious enough to go and buy the counterparts, head over to your favorite Russian market or restaurant and place your order.

When you feel like getting creative in the kitchen, try making your favorite sandwich and discover all the new flavors that pop out because of this flavorful dough. I recommend a gluttonous corned beef sandwich with cheddar and brown mustard.

Here’s where to go to buy black bread:

  • Brighton Bazaar, 1007 Brighton Beach Avenue
  • Cherry Hill Gourmet Market, 1901 Emmons Avenue
  • Net Cost Market, 2257 East 16th Street
  • Sheepshead Bay Fruit & Vegetables Market, 1717 Avenue Z

Until next time, dasvidaniya!

Jane Poretsky is a Sheepshead Bay resident and lover of all things edible. She blogs about her own food creations at Caramelized Sarcasm.

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.

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