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How to eat our way in Brighton Beach: the best Russian, Ukrainian, Georgian and Uzbek restaurants of 'Little Odessa'

'21.08.2023'

Alina Prikhodko

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Stepping off the subway platform on Brighton Beach Avenue, it may seem as if you have entered another country. Situated between Coney Island and Manhattan Beach, this area of ​​Brooklyn is home to many Eastern European markets, shops and restaurants that can take you away from your beach holiday and get a closer look at the life of immigrants from post-Soviet countries.

Farideh Sadegin is a chef and video host based in Brooklyn. As part of a new project, she explores the neighborhoods of New York through their cuisine and history and shares her observations in Gothamist. She spent an eventful day at Brighton Beach and put together a small guide that will help you plunge into the world of Eastern European cuisine in New York. What follows is a first-person story.

Brighton Beach is called Little Odessa - after the port city of the same name in Ukraine - due to the fact that thousands of Russian-speaking Jews who immigrated to the area lived here. While some Eastern European immigrants began arriving in the area as early as the 1920s and after World War II, one of the biggest waves came in the 1970s. It was then that the Russian government softened the emigration policy for Jews, and they, fleeing discrimination, came to Brighton. The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 brought another wave of immigrants, according to the nonprofit New Women New Yorkers.

Dacha 46

Jessica Quinn, a Jewish girl who grew up on Long Island but spent almost every weekend in Brighton Beach. She visited family and shopped at M&I International (now closed but formerly a flagship grocery store) and dined at Tatiana's. Her parents (mother, from Latvia, father from Ukraine) met on a blind date after immigrating in the late 70s and settled in Long Island, and most of their family lived in Brighton Beach.

Jessica Quinn met her future wife, Trina, in 2011, and by 2015, the couple began exploring Brighton Beach together, allowing Jessica to show the world what she loved as a child.

Both women were working as chefs at different restaurants in 2020, and soon after the pandemic began, Trina was forced to quit her job. To keep her hands, mind and time busy at home, she started making dumplings. Jessica, coming home after working as a pastry chef at Rezdora, found baking sheets full of handmade dumplings stuffed with pork and onions, which her wife spent all day forming. It was Trina Quinn who suggested that they start selling this food on a full-time basis.

By October, Jessica Quinn quit her job, and together they opened Dacha 46, a restaurant specializing in Eastern European cuisine, in their Bed Stui apartment. Dacha 46 serves everything from traditional vareniki (with potato filling) and medovik (biscuit cake with a layer of honey) to classic khachapuri and dumplings (herbaceous pastry stuffed with dill mozzarella, goat cheese and feta). I met the Quinns while volunteering at the beginning of the summer and realized I needed to get out to Brighton Beach with them sometime to get to know the area they know so well.

Tandoor samsa and fried pies

We met on a sunny August day and took mutton samsa (salted puff pastry cooked in a tandoor or clay oven) from a restaurant Brighton Tandir and a couple of yeast-raised pastry patties that are either baked (if they are sweet) or fried (if they are salty). We took two: one stuffed with shallots and eggs, the other stuffed with cabbage and carrots, both from the cafe Home Made Cooking.

The Brighton Tandoor and the Home Made Cooking Cafe are located next to each other at the foot of the metro stairs on Brighton Beach Avenue. Samsa and pies are the perfect pre-beach snacks, which we did.

Brighton Beach Avenue is full of homemade samsa and patties, but Jessica notes there used to be more. Younger generations are leaving the area in search of the "American Dream," she said. Their parents want a better life for their children, as do most immigrants to the US, and many of these cooking techniques and recipes will be lost, she says.

Tashkent

We went to supermarket "Tashkent", where (in my opinion) is the best 200-hour buffet in New York with hot and cold dishes. If you enter the store, located on the corner of Brighton Beach Avenue and Coney Island Avenue, and make your way through the stands with fruits, vegetables and cakes, you will find two double-sided buffets, which contain more than 2017 food trays. Everything is here - from salads and pastries to meatballs and noodles. The Tashkent supermarket opened in XNUMX, and information has already appeared that its branch in Manhattan will open in the West Village from day to day.

I wandered around the sideboard, dazed, staring at him with my mouth open. I almost salivated, I wanted to try everything. Salads with tuna, crab and seafood were piled next to large slices of cake, brownies and chicken cutlets. Manti, pelmeni and vareniki steamed from the stalls, asking for a container. Although we didn't buy anything, Jessica and Trina often buy halal meat, fruit and chebureks (fried meat pies) here. Can't wait to go back and buy all of this.

Uighur restaurant Kashkar

After walking a little more along Brighton Beach Avenue, we got into Cafe Kashkar, one of the only Uighur restaurants in the city. This restaurant is known for its lagman noodles (hand-boiled beef noodles in rich broth) and manti (large fried or steamed dumplings with minced lamb and onions), which we ordered along with lamb ribs. The noodles were perfectly mashed and the tomato broth was flavored with dill. We ate manti with tomato and spicy sauce, as well as sour cream. I washed it all down with Tarragon, a bright green tarragon soda, and we went to Skovorodka for dinner number two.

Frying pan, bear, vodka

"Frying pan" is a restaurant located five minutes walk from the Kashkar Cafe along Brighton Beach Avenue. At the entrance to the restaurant is a large ferocious bear. But when you enter the restaurant, you are greeted by friendly faces and a stuffed Elvis as a DJ. We gladly drank the first (and then the second) glass of vodka, ate a cucumber and washed it down with compote (homemade cold fruit juice). Salad Olivier (potato salad with vegetables - peas, cucumbers and carrots, as well as mayonnaise) and pancakes with salmon caviar and sour cream were light and, frankly, perfectly combined with vodka.

Sweets "Alenka" - Willy Wonka's dream

From there we walked a couple of blocks to the store Vanilla Gourmet Specialty Foods. The expression "baby in a candy store" has never been so accurate. I love chocolate, and while Brighton Beach Avenue is full of chocolate shops, Vanilla Gourmet (formerly called Vintage) is the place to really indulge. Containers with chocolates and sweets are placed throughout the store. I have no idea how many types of candies are on sale here, but each of them is packaged in a cute wrapper with unique designs and illustrations.

“Mishka Kosolapy” (wafer layers and nut chocolate), “Belochka” (with hazelnut flavor) and “Alenka” (with praline, vanilla and chocolate-glazed wafer layers) are famous Russian chocolates that appeared in 1966. There are so many chocolates and sweets here that you can sort it out for hours and try them all. Willy Wonka is no match for Vanilla Gourmet.

Gold Label and Glazed Curds

In the neighborhood is Gold label, another gourmet grocery store with a terrific selection of sausages and dairy products, where Queens often shop for cold salads, dips, and handmade frozen dumplings. I bought some smoked pork sausages, cabbage rolls and Dadu - a soft waffle cone with ice cream. They first appeared in Lithuania in 1997 and have now become my new favorite frozen treat. Be sure to try the cheesecake bars: there are many flavors and brands to be found in the cold store. They contain a mix of farmer's cheese and other flavors, are sized like fun candy bars, and are coated in chocolate. I tried the poppy seed bar and was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked it.

Tatiana's

We wandered around the city a little more, and then returned to the embankment and went to Tatiana's restaurant. I would definitely recommend visiting this place on weekends when there are live cabaret shows to accompany your meal. There is a fun and festive atmosphere here, and the food is just great.

Handmade dumplings (a combination of dumplings stuffed with pork and veal) were served in melted butter, with sour cream added by Jessica Quinn. We sat outside on the boardwalk overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, drinking beer, eating pork kebab (grilled pork kebab with sauerkraut, onions, lettuce, bread and crisps) and solyanka (soup with meat, sausage, pickles, capers, olives and lemon). For dessert we ordered dumplings (traditional crescent-shaped dumplings with various fillings, ours were with sweet and sour cherries). In addition, we ordered sour cream (a layered moist cake with sour cream) and crunchy napoleon (traditionally, puff pastry and confectionery cream are stacked in layers and cooled overnight until soft, but at Tatiana's this cake is served crunchy), as well as a couple of shots of vodka to end an almost perfect day at the beach.

The shops and restaurants here often seem intimidating - most of the signs are written in Russian, which is the predominant language on the streets - but the people here are incredibly friendly and hospitable. When we ordered sausages from Gold Label, the woman clapped her hands and excitedly exclaimed, “May you always be happy!”, and I immediately felt that it would be so.

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