Archive for the tag 'the bite'

Photo by Ned Berke

THE BITE: Some form of dumplings are available in just about every eastern culture, and dumplings have even made their way into central European cuisine.

It’s widely held in the food community that the “dumpling” is an invention of  the Chinese and has spread throughout Asia and Eastern Europe as each culture passed this tempting morsel further and further west. The Italians, on the other hand, stole them flat out, with that rascal Marco Polo poaching just about every Chinese pasta dish for reinvention in his home land, with dumplings emerging as ravioli and lasagna.

Living here in Sheepshead Bay, we get to experience almost every form of dumpling available on the planet. From the Italian ravioli to the Russian pelmeni to the Polish pierogi, it’s all here.

Vareniki are the Ukrainian adaptation of the Chinese “Shui Jiao,” or steamed dumplings.  These small crescent shaped packets of heaven of unleavened dough are usually stuffed with savory ingredients such as mashed potatoes, cabbage, mushrooms, cheese and/or meat, but are also prepared using a fruit filling. The Mennonites have a tradition of stuffing vareniki with hard boiled eggs.

I was introduced to the “dumpling” by my wife’s Polish aunt one holiday when she produced a steaming platter of home-made pierogi; one side overflowed with pierogi stuffed with cabbage and potato, the other pierogi stuffed with a sour cherry. I never experienced anything like it. As that was not only my introduction to the dumpling, but also my introduction to the family, I needed to exercise some restraint. Left to my druthers, I would have consumed the entire platter. I knew I had to find this again.

Luckily, with Varenichnaya (6 Brighton 2nd Street) at my beck and call, no such restraint is necessary.

While there are subtle differences between the Polish pierogi, the Ukrainian vareniki is more than an adequate substitute. Both are made from an unleavened, slightly sweet dough. Both were stuffed with a sweet-and-sour tasting filling of the whole, pitted, sour cherry, along with its juice. Both were served alongside a version sour cream.

Both are simply delicious.

However, I think the vareniki at Varenichnaya has the advantage. The dough is lighter, yet fuller, which may be due to the Ukrainian addition of sour cream, or its Russian equivalent, smetana, in the dough. The sweet-and-sour punch of the cherries also seemed much more balanced, with neither the sweet or sour flavor overpowering the flavor of either the dough or the cherry fillings.

Verenichnaya offers up a steaming plate of vareniki with cherry for only $6.95. It makes me wonder why I eat anything else.

And here’s some useless information that might just help you clinch Jeopardy; the world’s biggest dumpling (varenik) was 123 cm long, 81 cm wide and weighed 67.3 kilos. It was created for the Ukrainian Varenikis Festival in 2002.

Varenichnaya, 3086 Brighton 2nd Street, (between Brighton Beach Avenue & Brightwater Court), (718) 332-9797.

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.

Varenichnaya on Urbanspoon

Correction (1:50 p.m.): The original version of this article misspelled the establishment’s name. It has since been corrected. We regret any confusion this may have caused.


THE BITE: I’ve been hearing about Taci’s Beyti for years. Last time – actually, just about every time – I get into chatting about restaurants with my friend Suleyman from the Turkish Cultural Center, he tells me about Taci’s Beyti (1953 Coney Island Avenue, between Avenue P and Kings Highway). He claims it’s one of the best Turkish restaurants in Brooklyn. I’m not about to take that on; I’m sure he is has much more expertise than I do, but I will tell you about one very interesting and one very good hot appetizer: hummus with pastrami.

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THE BITE: Stuffed flat bread. How can you go wrong? It seems to appear in every cuisine in some form or another. Be it pizza, the wrap, the taco, burrito, naan, aaloo paratha (a personal favorite), the kutab, roti, the bourek, khachapuri; I could go on and on. Every culture seems to have mastered this simple dish.

Memo Shish Kebab (1821 Kings Highway on the corner of East 19th Street) has it down with the lahmachun. What is lahmcahun you ask? Well, at the restaurant, it’s commonly refered to as a “meat pie,” or “Turkish pizza,” but it’s a plain, pizza liked dough, topped with minced lamb, tomatoes and onions.

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Photo by: Erica Sherman

THE BITE: I recently spent some time in the farthermost reaches of Sheepshead Bay, near the intersection of Avenue U and Nostrand Avenue. Many folks will argue that this neighborhood is not part of The Bay, but part of Marine Park. Sorry, folks, but I disagree. When it comes down to brass tacks, it doesn’t really matter to us here at Sheepshead Bites. We have always featured items about Sheepshead Bay and the neighborhoods that touch us. Call that area Sheepshead Bay, call it Marine Park (or as the new TD Bank on Nostrand and U likes to refer to it, Marine Park South) it really doesn’t matter, it’s still part of our ‘hood.

I had a chance to stop into Zeeeeee Bagels (2803 Avenue U – between East 28th Street and East 29th Street) for lunch. Now this little spot has seen more than its share of eateries in the last few years and I wondered how this latest incarnation was faring. I was pleased to find that Zeeeeee Bagels is fairing very well, thank you very much.

One of the things that caught my eye, was the naming of their sandwiches. They’ve come up with some interesting names for their wares. There’s the “Avenue U” (roast beef, fresh mozzarella and roasted peppers), the “Nostrand Avenue” (roast beef, ham, turkey, swiss cheese, cole slaw and Russian dressing), the “Grease Ball” (prosciutto, soppressata, pepperoni, fresh mozzarella and roasted peppers) and the “Messy Beast” (Cajun roast beef, melted mozzarella, and Lugar toast bread, whatever “Lugar toasted bread” is). I could go on and on, but the sandwich that caught my eye was “The Gravesend” – a crispy chicken melt with cheddar and roasted peppers.

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THE BITEAh, 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.

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THE BITE: I’ve always considered Sheepshead Bay as having particularly discriminating tastes, but rather than preferring bougie “artisanal” branded organic tofu made by a Wisconsin native in skinny jeans, we prefer practical food: delicious food priced just right.

Half-price sushi, anyone? I kid!

I guess it’s also my Russian sensibilities that attracts me to this type of food, whether Uzbeki samsa, Japanese takoyaki, various forms of street meat, foods born out of necessity, or good ol’ New York pizza.

Mexico is a treasure trove of this kind of food but New York, as it seems, has a reputation for lacking good Mexican food. While Ned keeps his favorite Mexican place a secret, one seems to have popped up serving fresh made Mexican fare that might just shut up any whiny Southern California transplant.

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We’re giving you this photo because there’s no need to ruin you with actual images of this fetid smear on the culinary landscape (Photo: Erica Sherman)

THE BITERobert is still under the weather, so, in this week’s The Bite, I will provide insight into the gut-wrenching, colon-blowing diet required to maintain this immaculate, gourd-shaped physique.

On its face, the 7-Eleven taquito is the perfect food for the on-the-run New Yorker. It’s fast, cheap and mobile, and like all the best food items in the culinary universe, it’s phallic.

I believe all foods are made better when converted into bar-, stick- or phallus-form. A sandwich is upstaged by a wrap, which, really, is just a phallic sandwich. Ice cream is always best in a cone – a pointy, upside down phallus – rather than a cup. Granola? Screw that. But smother it in honey and, hell, throw some chocolate, marshmallows and graham crackers in there, mash it into a bar, and I’ll buy a box of that.

The taquito takes this formula to all new heights. Want a bacon, egg and cheese without all the work of ordering one up fresh and, ugh, having to remove tin foil? Well, jam that bastard into a self-contained dough-stick, deep fry it, and make it rotate for 16 hours behind a glass case – problem solved! E tu, taco filling. E tu, Monterey Jack and chicken.

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Salmon Steak via

THE BITE: I got some flack for last week’s Bite. People were asking why there wasn’t a dish reviewed from one of Sheepshead Bay’s many fine restaurants. I was quizzed, “What was this odd request for bread?” One person very pointedly asked me, “Aren’t you the food guy? You should know where to find sliced bread in the neighborhood, not ask such dumb questions from the readers.”

Okay – you caught me. I had no dish to review last week. I was down with a bad case of food poisoning. No, it didn’t come from one of the fine restaurants or food carts of the bay. It came from one of the markets that sell fresh fish. I can’t tell you which one, as I didn’t make the purchase.

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THE BITE: This week I’m asking you, the readers of  Sheepshead Bites, for some help. I’m looking for the best bread in the neighborhood. More specifically, I’m looking for the best sliced-to-order, warm-from-the-oven loaf of bread.

“Good bread is the most fundamentally satisfying of all foods; and good bread with fresh butter, the greatest of feasts.”
James Beard (1903-1985)

I agree with Mr. Beard. Sometimes a good loaf  of bread with fresh butter is all you need and all that will satisfy. I want to experience that bread again.

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THE BITE I spent some time with my parents the other day. It’s always a bitter-sweet visit. They’re both well into their eighties and time is taking its toll. As I was growing up, my father was into what they now call “extreme couponing.” He worked for one of the major airlines and would get coupons from all over the country. He used these coupons to build what came to be known as “grandpa’s store,” or his stockpile of discounted goods in the basement. At its heyday, there was enough canned and packaged goods to fill a large bodega.

Well, the store isn’t as well-stocked today as it was in the past, but I think they could live on the inventory for another 10 years.  In my last visit to “the store,” I stumbled across a couple of boxes of Jell-O 1-2-3. What a blast from the past.

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