In the black sea of Uzbek and Ukrainian eateries on Brighton Beach Ave, one can easily forget the avenue two blocks up, Neptune. Like 10th ave in Hell’s Kitchen, 7th avenue in Sunset Park, these are the forgotten practical blocks. As a visitor you tend to gravitate towards the hubs. But when you live in the hood, this is where you fix your chipped tooth, visit your favorite tarot card reader, or get that pastrami sub from the deli guy that knows exactly how you like it.
These blocks often give birth to destination places that cant strictly survive on the people living nearby. Whether its the elderly in Brighton Beach or the poor students in East Village, these are often not the demographics that can sustain such businesses alone. The young professionals and actors that dominate Hell’s Kitchen for example call the entire city their neighborhood and rarely stay put. Such are the challenges for places like Nano, Taboon, Hearth and Tone Cafe on Neptune Ave.
Tone Cafe is one of a plethora of Georgian eateries popping up all over the city in the past 5-10 years. And just about all serve the formidable Adjaruli Khachapuri, a boat shaped bread filled with salty farmers cheese and egg. The eggier and bigger the boat, the more Instagrammable the dish. In Williamsburg a Cheese boat theme restaurant opened not too long ago called, you guessed it, Cheeseboat. But what’s hip and cool in Williamsburg, in Brighton Beach its called Wednesday.
The Cheese boat in Tone is not only a feast for the eyes but a succulent combination of salty, rich, crispy, and gooey. If you are a bread and cheese lover, you need to add this to the bucket list. Right after Machu Pichu. The Khinkali, the mammoth Georgian dumplings is another popular dish here. But I’m finding them too doughy for my taste these days and would pass in favor of …
The Kharcho – A tart tomato based soup with rice, walnuts, lamb or beef, and spices. You may not look at Borscht the same way again. Its something you can find all over Brighton, but Tone’s version is cleaner tasting and pairs very well with winter. Another popular starter is the red bean Lobio, cooked with herbs and spices, and usually served with walnuts, and pomegranate. Georgian food in a “nutshell”: walnuts, pomegranate, red beans, a lot of meat and bread
If you are not quite up to the gigantic cheeseboats task, you also got the other Khatchapuris like the Imeruli, which literally translates to “Khatchapuri for whimps” or something like that. Its a simpler cheese filled soft bread. Or try the Chanakhi, lamb cubes slowly cooked in clay pot with eggplant, tomatoes, potatoes and spices. Pomegranade can also be found inside their terrific sausages (Kupati) I discovered on a recent visit (about 3 hours ago). The Kupatis are thick and juicy and can rival with some of the best German franks. A similar but differently spiced meat is the Kababi which comes wrapped in thin Lavash bread.
Tone Cafe is a little out of the way for most of my readers, but Brighton Beach, one of the most unique areas in NYC, and miles more interesting than neighboring Coney Island should not be overlooked. Remember kids, we travel to see different, and this is definitely different. Same applies to the kind of service you’ll encounter at places like Tone Cafe. You may see a 10% service charge instead of a smile. You may need to wait 30 minutes for your food for no good reason. You may need to Google how to refill your own water. And chances are that you’ll hear this “Hi my name is Randy, I will be your waiter today. Do you have any allergies today?” is zilch. Because that part of town has no Randys!