This is not your father’s Coney Island Ave. When I lived in that part of Brooklyn in the 80-90s, Turkish places like Sahara dominated. Turkish, car washes, ice cream, and affordable divorce lawyers to be exact. Nowadays, the business hub, that doesnt quite lead to Coney Island, features even better Turkish (Taci’s Beyti), respectable Moldovan (Moldova), Uzbek royalty (Nargis), swanky Russian nightclubs like Chinar, and a plethora of Pakistani joints between Foster and H. And when I want to kick it up a notch, there’s always Z-List fave Werkstatt (I’m overdue). Coney Island Avenue is a foodie paradise. And the divorce lawyers now speak 17 languages.
With that said, you can drive the entire length of Coney Island 100 times, and miss one of its biggest gems, Village Cafe. The restaurant is hidden inside a parking lot of a liquor shop (yes you can park inside). Its like one of those Staten Island mini malls where you pick your laundry. You’ll see a “Village” sign in what looks like an oversized temporary tiki hut. Its a strange name for an Azerbaijani restaurant considering almost all other Azerbaijani restaurant names contain Baku or Azerbaijan. But I’m sure “Village Cafe” just rolls off the tongue for the Azerbaijani.
What is Azerbaijani food you ask? Its not too different than some of its neighbors like Georgia, Uzbekistan and Turkey. Kebabs and Plov (rice pilaf) dominate, although the latter is sweetened with dried fruits so quite different than the Uzbek version. Soups, meat filled flatbreads, kebabs wrapped in flatbread, kebabs in soup, and something called Guru Hingal (more on that later). Just please dont call it Russian food. Yes, you will get your Russian classics at Village like Borscht and Pilmeni, considering the location of the place and this is a former soviet republic after all.
The bread (they call it Turkish bread) is good, but who needs that when you have Kutaby, Azerbaijani flatbread filled with minced chicken, lamb or greens. Its a must order. The salads are your typical central Asian/Russian (Ok, only this one time) tomato, avocado, and the Georgian Lobio among many more. I’m intrigued by “Unexpected Guests”, and “Simple & Delicious”. I believe the former is only for walk-ins. The soups get a bit more foreign sounding, though the only one I tried is the familiar Kharcho, which isnt quite as potent as Tone Cafe’s version 2 miles south, but good enough.
Meats in a form of kebabs and lamb chops dominate the menu. Lulya kebab (minced meat) here is thick and juicy. But what sets them apart here is they are wrapped with thin dough. Get the lamb over chicken. Guru Hingal is a thin pappardelle like noodles topped with a “ragu” of onions, and lamb cooked in its own fat. You wont find better tasting pasta in south Brooklyn.
The village people (staff) are friendly and efficient. No alcohol or pork as its Muslim, but as with many such places in south Brooklyn, you can bring your own alcohol. You just cant bring your own pork. The desserts here are good. The Napoleon is fresh and huge. But try the “Pakhlava”, denser, nuttier, not as sweet and better than your average Baklava. Looking forward to try more here, especially when I arrive unannounced.
1968 Coney Island Ave (Ave P/Quentin, Brooklyn)
Rating: 2 Z’s (out of 4)
Stars range from Good to Exceptional. Simple as that
Recommended Dishes: Kutaby, Lamb Lulya Kebab, Chicken Kebab, Guru Hingal, Pakhlava