Archive for the 'Food & Nightlife' Category

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.

matchaTHE BITE: Kung Fu Tea is a bubble tea chain that has been spreading, with several locations in Queens, a few around Manhattan and Brooklyn, and locations in four other states. Sheepshead Bay’s own Kung Fu Tea is at 1422 Avenue U, just off East 15th Street.

Bubble tea originated in Taichung, Taiwan, in the 1980s. The “bubble” part of the name is an Anglicized form of “boba” which refers to tapioca pearls in the tea, and is Chinese slang for “large breasts.” Finding this out creeped me out a little. Bubble tea comes with a handful of boba at the bottom of the cup, which are not very large, but slimy-on-the-outside, chewy-on-the-inside balls of starch. Also, bubble tea has primarily been fashionable with young people, including kids.

In any case, it’s up for debate which tea house in particular came up with it, but bubble tea was first made with hot tea and tapioca pearls, mixed with milk and sweet syrup. The trend spread through East and Southeast Asia during the 1990s, becoming popular in Western culture as well during the past decade. Menus now include options of fruit flavors added as syrups or blended fresh fruits, powdered or fresh milk, powdered or brewed green, black or white tea, or no tea at all, or coffee, a variety of additional toppings such as red or mung beans, jelly cubes in different flavors and shapes, pudding in the bottom of your cup, not to mention different sizes and flavors of tapioca pearls. Your options will depend on which tea shop you’re at, but basically, the choices have become endless. At Kung Fu Tea you can specify if you want less, little, or no ice, and less, little, or no sugar. Freedom like this can be exhilarating and exhausting.

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The Americans shooting inside Nargis (Source: Nargis' Facebook)

The Americans shooting inside Nargis (Source: Nargis’ Facebook)

Back in October 2013, we told you about The Americans, an FX television series starring Keri Russell, Matthew Rhys and Noah Emmerich, which was shooting around and inside Nargis Cafe at 2818 Coney Island Avenue.

“You know you have an authentic central Asian restaurant when a great show about cold-war spies wants to film in your restaurant,” said Nargis’ owner and chef, Big B. “We were so happy to have the cast and crew enjoy our cuisine while they worked, and we welcome them back any time.”

Season 2 premiered last night, February 26, and it included the scene shot inside Nargis. It’s a pretty bad-ass three-minute ride, involving some Afghanis, some daggers, some head-shots and, of course, some really delicious-looking food. Nargis posted the clip on its Facebook page:

The show, which debuted last January, is set during the Cold War and is the story of two Soviet KGB officers posing as an American couple in the suburbs of Washington D.C., where they struggle to keep their cover under the gaze of their neighbor, an FBI Counter-Intelligence Agency.

I haven’t seen it yet, but now I’m looking forward to checking it out.

It’s also not the first time Nargis has graced television screens. The Cooking Channel featured their lagman soup on The Culinary Adventures of Baron Ambrosia episode, “Scent of a Baron.”

Photo by Robert Fernandez

Photo by Robert Fernandez

THE BITE: I’m going to dive into the great pizza debate that rages over Brooklyn.

Here in Southern Brooklyn, we are lucky to have two of the best pizza parlors in the world. Di Fara, Mayor Bill de Blasio’s personal favorite, and Totonno’s, labeled best by one of my favorite food writers, Robert Sietsema. But, there’s one other, a recent arrival to the neighborhood who in its original location vied for the crown, called Grimaldi’s.

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papaya

THE BITE: Thai food is one of my (many) weaknesses. I have a special place in my heart (read: stomach) for its spicy, sweet, pungent, sour, textural goodness. Complex and varied, I never get tired of it. Today on The Bite, we’ll delve into the wonders of green papaya salad, with the help of Thai Basil, at 3682 Nostrand Avenue, between Avenue W  and Avenue  X.

Green papaya salad is a ubiquitous dish in Southeast Asia, known in Thailand as som tam (literally translated as sour pounded). It is made with papayas that are unripe so they are tangy and not yet sweet, and in this dish they are cut into long thin strips so if you didn’t know, you might mistake them for some kind of vegetable stalks. The papaya is then pounded with lime juice, chili, palm sugar and fish sauce using a mortar and pestle. Next the papaya is mixed with the customers’ choice of sliced string beans, tomatoes, shrimp paste, and dried salted tiny shrimps. In Thailand this is done street-side and swiftly put into a clear plastic bag, juices and all, to be consumed without utensils, often together with fried chicken and sticky rice.

The Thai Basil version was Americanized in a few ways: a few leaves of lettuce were added at the bottom to more closely resemble what we think of as salad; they went easy on the fish sauce; and they excluded the shrimp. Instead of slicing the papaya lengthwise with a knife, it was prepared with a grater so the pieces were smaller and soaked up the lime juice dressing really well. These changes did not bother me in the least- the salad was delicious, super fresh and crunchy. The customer here doesn’t get a choice of add-ins, it just comes with sliced  tomato and string beans, but the spiciness level is adjusted to order- I ordered it extra spicy, and that’s just how I got it. Also, it comes in a dish with a fork, so it’s a little easier to eat than out of a drippy plastic bag.

At $6.00 for a nice portion size, my stomach (and heart) were really happy with this savory mound of shredded fruit.

Thai Basil, 3682 Nostrand Avenue, (718) 891-8889.

– 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.

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