Jul 22, 2016
Brooklyn’s Best Culinary Staycations-Visit the Caribbean By Way Of Crown Heights, and China Via Sunset Park
It’s easy to slip into a vicious cycle of comparing and despairing once summer rolls around, and you remain a constant in your cubicle while friends barrage you with accounts of their exotic vacations and adventures. But it’s important to remember that you could do a whole lot worse than being a compulsory captive in Brooklyn, where just by walking down an avenue or two, you can find yourself in Poland—i.e., Greenpoint—feasting on kielbasa and pierogies, end up in the Caribbean (otherwise known as Crown Heights), enjoying curry and roti, and eventually find yourself in Sunset Park, which transitions almost seamlessly from Mexico—chock-a-block with taco spots and tiny bodegas, serving mole poblano in the back—to China, with its dim sum palaces and five-for-a-dollar dumpling shops, before turning into the Hasidic enclave of Borough Park, a Holy Land of bagels and smoked fish.
So if you’re itching to travel the world this summer, but realize you have neither the time nor financial wherewithal to do it, it’s a comfort to know that—as far as food is concerned at least—places like Italy, Russia, Singapore and San Salvador are only a subway stop away.
The Caribbean via Crown Heights
While its prime location—bookended by the Brooklyn Museum, and running the length of tree-lined Eastern Parkway—and beautiful bones (rife with stately brownstones and row houses) has made Crown Heights a notorious hotbed of gentrification, it retains a vibrant, varied Caribbean majority. So populous that the neighborhood still hosts the West Indian Parade and Carnival each Labor Day. Not that you need to wait until September for a culinary tour of the Caribbean. A diverse roster of restaurants include longtime favorite Gloria’s, a local gathering hub dishing up Guyanese pholourie, Trinidadian roti and West African callaloo, as well as celebrated newcomer The Food Sermon; serving health-focused “Island Bowls,” featuring jerk chicken, braised lamb over red beans and coconut ginger-sauced rice, along with a literal hole in the wall called, well, Hole in the Wall, where its mysterious proprietor, “Papa,” doles out containers of Jamaican curried goat, oxtail stew and sautéed fish, from a gated storefront on Kingston Avenue.
Gloria’s: 764 Nostrand Ave.
The Food Sermon: 355 Rogers Ave.
Hole in the Wall: Kingston Ave. and St. John’s Pl.
China via Sunset Park
Still Brooklyn’s primary Chinatown (although it’s fast being challenged by our own burgeoning neighborhood of Bath Beach), Sunset Park’s Asian stronghold extends from 7th Avenue to Borough Park, currently boasting the city’s largest Fuzhou settlement, a sizable Cantonese population, and everything in between. That medley is well reflected in its multiregional scatter of eateries, such as Yun Nan Flavor Garden, well known for Yunnan specialties like black chicken and quail egg-topped “Crossing the Bridge Noodles,” the Fujianese Mister Hot Pot; a reliable bustle of bubbling broth-dipping activity, and East Harbor Seafood Palace; a temple of Hong Kong-style dim sum, just toeing the border of increasingly Chinese Bensonhurst.
Yun Nan Flavor Garden: 5121 8th Ave.
Mister Hot Pot: 5306 8th Ave.
East Harbor Seafood Palace: 714 65th St.
South America via Bushwick
The borough’s foremost Hispanic community (challenged only by Sunset Park), Bushwick is a goldmine of Latin American and South American eats. Stop by Taqueria El Fogon for Mexican antojitos such huaraches, sopes, gorditas and tlacoyos (diamond-shaped masa cakes stuffed with chicharones and beans), La Isla Cuchifritos; a Puerto Rican ode to fried, caramelized meat, and Sol De Quito; offering largely Ecuadorian fare such as caldo de bagre (catfish soup), chaulafan (fried rice brimming with chicken, shrimp, vegetables, beef and more), and llapingacho, potato cakes topped with peanut sauce and paired with plantains, corn, pork and eggs.
Taqueria El Fogon: 1050 Flushing Ave.
La Isla Cuchifritos: 1439 Myrtle Ave.
Sol De Quito: 189 Irving Ave.
Poland via Greenpoint
As hip as it wants to be, Greenpoint remains Brooklyn’s own Little Poland, sporadically speckled with smoked sausage-slung butcher shops, brown bread and paczki-scented bakeries, and of course, dark wood-paneled, meat and potato-focused restaurants, such as Karczma (get the white borscht, the hunters stew, or all-in plate of Polish specialties), Pyza (a no-nonsense purveyor of pierogi, blintzes and cutlets), and comparatively modern Polka Dot, a female-run café serving stuffed cabbage, house-smoked kielbasa, and donuts poked with rose jelly.
Karczma: 136 Greenpoint Ave.
Pyza: 118 Nassau Ave.
Polka Dot: 726 Manhattan Ave.
Georgia via Gravesend
While Georgia (the Eurasian country, not America’s peach capital) might not be one of the world’s foremost vacation destinations, its more made its mark on Brooklyn with singular food and drink. Most notably, amber wines aged in clay pots (celebrated at Gowanus’ Freek’s Mill) and the opulent cheese bread called khachapuri—carb and dairy torpedoes, accented with molten-centered eggs. So you can save yourself the trip to the Caucasus by simply taking the subway to Southern Brooklyn, for doughy lamb dumplings at Mtskheta, elarji (cornmeal pudding) at Tbilisi, and chicken paved with walnuts and pomegranate at We Are Georgians.
Mtzkheta: 2568 86th St.
Tbilisi: 811 Kings Hwy.
We Are Georgians: 230 Kings Hwy.
Italy via Carroll Gardens
While this affluent enclave is a far cry from the working class Italian community it once was, you’ll still find old school lard bread destinations like Mazzola (going strong after almost a century) standing shoulder to shoulder with nouveau Brooklyn spots like Frankie’s 457—serving Sicilian tuna salad on pizza bianca, cavatelli with sage brown butter, and braised octopus teamed dandelion greens in castelvetrano vinaigrette—as well as August Laura, a chic cocktail bar focused on Italian aperitifs, including Lambrusco spritzes, modern Bellinis and updates on the Negroni.
Mazolla: 192 Union St.
Frankie’s 457 Spuntino: 457 Court St.
August Laura: 387 Court St.
Russia via Brighton Beach
While we’re still mourning the shuttering of Mrs. Stahl’s Knishes over a decade ago, this Eastern European HQ has remained largely unchanged, seemingly immune to larger Brooklyn’s influx of luxury condos, first wave coffee shops and craft beer bars. Essentially Russia-by-the-Sea, you’ll find flamboyant nightclubs like Tatiana’s, replete with extravagant banquets, flowing vodka and flashy floor shows, comparatively casual comfort food spots like Skovorodka, offering mayo-gobbed salads, crepes with caviar and pickled fish, and legitimately homey hangouts such as Oceanview Café, distributing marinated veggies, chicken stroganoff, and vareniki (boiled, filled dumplings) with cherries, potatoes or meat.
Tatiana’s: 3152 Brighton 6th St.
Skovorodka: 615 Brighton Beach Ave.
Oceanview Café: 290 Brighton Beach Ave.
The Middle East via Bay Ridge
Yes, it’s got Scandinavian roots, multiple Irish bars and a so-called Red Sauce Row, but modern-day Bay Ridge is also becoming a mini Middle East. There’s the critically acclaimed Tanoreen, of course, helmed by Nazarath native, Rawia Bishara, one of the first restaurants to draw outsiders to the R train-reliant neighborhood. But it would be a shame to overlook spots such as Yemen Café; serving fassolia (baked butter beans) saltah (lamb and fenugreek soup) and fatah bread with honey and butter, and Le Sajj, offering Lebanese delicacies like mini makanek sausages, aish elsaraia (pudding with pistachios and orange blossom water) and fried Sultan Ibrahim; a type of small, sweet fish.
Tanoreen: 7523 3rd Ave.
Yemen Café: 7130 5th Ave.
Le Sajj: 8221 5th Ave.
Photos by Jane Bruce
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