Next time you’re thinking about flying Aeroflot to Moscow, do as they say in Brooklyn and fuggetaboutit. Brighton Beach is so much closer.
By Mitch Weinstein
One of the great things about NYC is that, on any given day, you can actually pretend that you live somewhere else. With upwards of 150 different nationalities sharing our 5 boroughs, a trip somewhere distant may be as quick as a subway ride away.
Take Russia. A few weekends ago, we gathered up the clan and headed out to Brighton Beach, which sits way out at the ass end of Brooklyn, right smack in between Coney Island and Manhattan Beach. Brighton Beach is home to a large population of Russian speakers, many of whom come from Odessa (giving Brighton its nickname, Little Odessa), and the main drag, Brighton Beach Avenue, looks and feels like its right out of central casting (well, other than the el train, I suppose).
Do yourself a favor and start out with a stroll along the boardwalk. On this sunny Saturday we were lucky enough to witness a chorale group of over 20 people singing Jewish New Year songs while facing the sea; Rosh Hashanah was only a day or two away. At the venerable Volna and Tatiana Restaurants, with their big, round tables on the boardwalk, groups of middle-aged men (at one table) and women (at another) were merrily downing shots of vodka at 2 in the afternoon. If you think that bottle of cold water you’re grabbing out of the cooler is water, take a second look – Tatiana’s cooler is full of cold, half-bottles of Stoli, which won’t quench your thirst as much as water, but might make you decide to take your shirt off – as a number of men at that table we were watching had done – and lemme tell you, the shirtless, suspenders over bulging gut look is all the rage in Little Odessa these days…
After our walk, it was time for a late lunch/early dinner and we headed over to Café Glechik, which bills itself as a Ukranian Fusion Kitchen in New York. Whatever; it’s Ukranian at its core, and a glechik is “a clay jar, jug or crock with something delicious inside.”
Our first glechik came loaded with a huge order of “Siberian” pelmeni, filled with veal, beef, pork and who knows what else, all funky and juicy inside…
Vareniki always make a nice accompaniment to pelmeni, especially this order of farmer cheese stuffed ones, served with sour cream for dipping, just in case your cholesterol hasn’t ascended into the stratosphere…yet…
Who can go to a Ukranian restaurant and not order stuffed cabbage?Not me. As one of the ladies at our table commented, probably the best stuffed cabbage she’d ever tasted; this version was far from the often too-sweet versions that showed up when I was a kid…
Making quick work of those appetizers wasn’t really a problem for our group -I mean, Significant Eater and SMcPickles can really pack it away.So it was on to our main courses.
Kebab doesn’t quite describe what you’re served when you order from that section of the menu. Our lamb ribs kebab was actually a platter weighted down with luscious and salty grilled lamb ribs, buckwheat kasha better than my grandma ever made, cabbage slaw and plenty of onions…
The “Glechik” stew knocked it out of the park. A big hunk of beef shoulder, braised into fork tenderness, served in its juices with a dozen or more fried potato vareniki, all of it strewn with handfuls of parsley and dill. Wow…
All of this food, along with 3 glasses of beer and a compote (which tastes more like Hawaiian punch than you can imagine) for the driver, came to under $80.There might be some Russian oligarchs floating around Brighton Beach, who probably spend a lot of money on fancy women, fancy minks, fancy diamonds, fancy cars…and lousy basketball teams – meaning the restaurants had better be a good value.
No trip to Brighton is complete without some shopping. Food shopping, in our case. Even though this is where your lack of language skills might show up, have no fear. Everyone’s friendly at Net Cost Market (though they might not look it – you know, like my grandfather from Minsk, they’ve got those Soviet genes) and I managed to buy breads, pickles, olives, cheese, sausages and even a tea specifically for my uterus, without a problem. The range of products at Net Cost is fairly amazing; just wandering the aisles is a mini-vacation in itself.
So listen up…the next time you’re thinking about flying Aeroflot to Moscow, do as they say in Brooklyn and fuggetaboutit. Brighton Beach is so much closer.
3159 Coney Island Avenue
1655 Sheepshead Bay Road
Net Cost Market
608 Sheepshead Bay Road (and multiple locations)
Mitch Weinstein is an avid seeker of good food, culinary school grad and writer of the blog Tasty Travails. When not cooking at home, he is on the hunt for that next delicious restaurant meal, great market or maybe even a cocktail. He regularly contributes to the food and drink forums on mouthfulsfood.com, eGullet.org, Chowhound.com and others.