Of all of Brooklyn’s only sporadically mentioned and generally un-hip neighborhoods (whatever that means, really), Mill Basin just might be one of the un-hippest. Located on the southeasternmost end of the borough and served mostly by buses (the nearest subway station, a rickety old Q, is still a good half hour’s jaunt away), it rarely attracts visitors or day-trippers—unless they’re touring sprawling, multi-million dollar houses, that is, or on a pilgrimage to the gritty Kings Plaza Mall.
That’s what makes Hard Times Sundaes—a food truck parked off of Avenue U, abutting a CVS, and in the shadow of the hulking shopping center—an edible diamond in the rough. The name refers to the extensive array of hyper-colored ices it sells (the affordable treats were dubbed “hard times sundaes” during the Depression and WWII), although owner Andrew Zurica’s personal story adds even more weight to the moniker.
Originally the chef/proprietor of neighborhood favorite, The Luncheonette, beloved for its hefty, pub-style burgers, Zurica was regrettably forced to shutter his business, due to irreparable damage incurred by Hurricane Sandy. Now in possession of a spiffy new mobile eatery (which officially “debuted” during the 10th anniversary screening of George Motz’s Hamburger America), it would have been easy enough for Zurica to hightail it toward neighborhoods with consistent foodie foot traffic (i.e., almost anywhere OTHER than Mill Basin). But displaying admirable, continued solidarity with his sleepy, under-the-radar community, he elected to peddle his griddle-smashed burgers to lucky, local passerby; and damned if they’re not every bit as good as Shake Shack’s—minus those crazy lines.
Using a high-fat blend of freshly ground chuck, Zurica’s patties sport an impressive hard sear, yet remain dribble-down-your wrist juicy within. And in the Five Guys fashion, you can cram all manner of additional, free toppings onto your squishy Martin’s potato roll, such as lettuce, pickles, jalapenos, mushrooms, raw onion or even better, sautéed onions cooked off in smoky bacon grease. And Zurica spent the summer hand-cultivating the tomatoes and peppers that bulk up his beefy chili, generally used to adorn hot dogs, but soon to find its way onto the winter menu, along with various soups he’s been recipe testing on the truck, despite a spate of sweltering, 80-degree days. We can easily imagine that chili cloaking one of the expertly executed burgers as well, ordered as a single, double or triple, with or without bacon or cheese.
We say make it with. You can always work off those extra calories during your lengthy trek back to the subway.