Post Sandy Brighton Beach is not only alive and well but kicking some serious foodie tuches these days. Tuches (pronounced Tooches with a jewish Chhh), if you are scoring at home (or if you are alone) means rear-end in Yiddish. Its one of a few Yiddish words you need to know when visiting predominantly Russian speaking Brighton Beach. E.G. “$3 for this Mondalech? You can kiss my Tuches”. Anyway, there’s all sorts of deliciousness waiting your way in good ol’ BB. And as you will see here only a portion of it is actually Russian.
One can actually argue (me included) that the best food in Brighton Beach is not really Russian at all. An argument I wouldn’t make with the Dominoes players on the boardwalk or on Ocean Parkway. But if you must, here’s another word you need to know: “Gavno”. As in “Their Strogonoff looked like my Yozhik’s Gavno!”. In addition to Russian, you can get some tasty Georgian, Turkish, Uzbek, and even Mexican food in Brighton. BTW, to demonstrate how predominantly Russian this neighborhood is, just hang around in any grocery store and hear Mexican workers
argue converse with Russian Babushkas in Russian. It can be quite hysterical when you witness it for the first time. Babushka asks a question in Russian, you think OMG this is too funny, but when the answer is in perfect Russian you feel like the joke is on you.
Yes, one can survive without knowing the language here I suppose. Well not for too long at least. Dont be surprised if someone approaches you in a restaurant or a store speaking to you in Russian. But no worries, Ziggy is here to help. First step to enhance your experience, do it Ruskie style: Empty a bottle of water, fill it with vodka, and put inside your jacket/bag. It will be handy later on. So lets go for a ride, shall we…
Vintage Foods – Lets start with my favorite store located on Brighton Beach Ave (Between Brighton 2nd/ Brighton 3rd) . This is a Mediterranean specialty food store that needs to be explored thoroughly. You can find not only every nut known to man but every nut known to man covered in some sort of chocolate (ok, a little exaggeration with the last part). In fact it started as a simple Nut and dried food store but now expanded into something so much more. You got a plethora of various Russian chocolates – I usually get some sort of mix (rule of thumb: Anything with a picture of a squirrel or a camel is normally good). I also get some of the exposed giant dark chocolate bars used for cooking. I use it for eating! The Halva is very good, as well Turkish breads, coffee and so much.
Pierogi Window – Right to the left of Vintage Foods (when looking at it). This is the national snack. A large fried dumplings usually filled with savory meat (my favorite), potatoes (possibly with peas), or sauerkraut. For normally around a buck and half this can be pretty filling and satisfying. You can wash down the national snack with the national drink, Kvass, a malt beverage that for the most part quite frankly doesnt taste that great. If you can get your hands on Israeli Black Beer (non alcoholic) sold in various markets/delis, its a much better alternative.
Oceanview Cafe – Right across the street from Vintage on the corner of Brighton 2nd is this little cafe serving all your classic Russian dishes. Here you can sample good Borscht, Kharcho (lamb, rice soup I prefer over Borscht), and its a good place in particular for Pelmeni. If you dont feel like experiencing the scene at Glechik (more on that later) and want more of a quick and relaxed meal, this is a nice alternative.
A word on Pelmeni: Essentially the Russian Ravioli. Mike Tyson’s favorite Russian food as its related to the Italian Orecchiette by name alone. Both names mean something along the line of “Little Ears”, though the Pelmeni origin isn’t Russian. Different Pelmeni kinds include chicken, veal, mystery meat, or my favorite the Siberian which is a mix of ground meats like beef, pork, or veal and spices. Most people enjoy them with sour cream which will be served in some places (otherwise ask). But my preference is with black pepper and white vinegar which you can ask for if its not on the table already. You also have the Pelmeni’s uglier but pretty on the inside cousin, the Ukranian Varenyky, flatter, may be filled with different stuff as well but for the most part Varenyky referred to the ones stuffed with potatoes (correct me if I’m wrong Varenyky aficionado). Another cousin is the Manti, aka “Pelmeni Gone Wild” found in the various Uzbek spots in the area. More on Manti later
Kashkar Café – Remember when I talked about Manti 🙄 If I have to pick one place to visit in Brighton, I think this might be it. This is the place where you get your Uyghur fix ladies and gents. Closer to Asian food than Russian overall, the flavors here are little bigger and more coplex. Try the homemade Lagman noodles in the form of a soup or a dish called Geiro (top picture). Here you can also sample those Manti, and the Uzbek Plov (rice Pilaf), along with some of juiciest and cheapest chicken and lamb kebabs. Tremendous stuff here folks. There’s a similar place on Brighton 4th with a Korean twist where the name translates to something along the lines of “Cafe At Your Mother’s-in-Law”. The name is a big reason why I never set foot there, but I’ve read its pretty good. I will spare you the historic details of the Korean Uzbek connection. I recommend this thing called Google.
Georgian Bread – Or Tone Café as its now called since it expanded. Those love boats are just something else, baguettes on crack. People flock here mostly for the bread, and the patient ones stick around for the Oasis of the Seas, the Adjaruli Khatchapuri, a mammoth boat with Farmer’s Cheese and egg. This is very shareable of course. And if you are staying take advantage of some other goodies like the terrific Lobio, a red bean salad, with ground walnut, pomegranate and spices. This is on Neptune Ave which is a couple of blocks north from the main hub Brighton Beach blvd. But the mini schlep is a worthy one.
Café Gletchik – A Brighton institution/Pelmeni legend. Right off the main blvd on Coney Island Ave. This is where you can have your complete traditional Russian meal in a lively setting. Wash it down with a Kompot, the Russian fruit punch. This is where your water bottle can become handy. Below is an example on the type of meal you can enjoy here (note: Pelmeni, a must here, is already pictured above)…
Herring with potatoes
Homemade Napolean. Absolute must!
Schnitzel with Egg. More like a big fat chicken cutlet
Bakery La Brioche Cafe – This is one of the premier dessert spots on Brighton Beach blvd and Brighton 13th. Last time I brought my baking obsessed sister in law who required to be dragged out of there with police escort. Things turned a little ugly when she had a Borat Cheese moment where she went down the aisle and asked the clerk what each item was, until the clerk finally gave in and said “This is cheese Ok?, its Cheese!”. I kid you not! And there was no cheese there.
Anywhere on the Boardwalk. Cant get any more people watching than this. Between good ol’ Tatiana and its neighbors (or is it down to one neighbor now) you have your pick. And dont forget to buy Russian seeds on the far left corner (Brighton 4th) of the boardwalk. I’m pretty sure its illegal to walk on the Boardwalk without holding a bag of seeds but I may be wrong.
So let me ask you now tourists. Will you come to South Brooklyn next time to eat a hot dog (Nathan’s) as instructed by your guidebook, or visit the neighborhood next door.
Other than food there’s plenty to do and see in Brighton Beach. You can visit stores like Kalinka (corner of Brighton 4th) for your souvenir needs. Or check out the latest Babooshka fashion trends on the Boardwalk. In the warmer months don’t be surprised to see street performers entertaining Russian children, and if you are really lucky, drunk Parakeets cursing in Russian.