Going to Brighton Beach (aka Little Odessa) for the day makes me feel like an excited foreign tourist. A 40-minute subway ride from Manhattan transports you to a vibrant Russian seaside community - and a far cry from the hot dog and Cyclone experience of neighboring Coney Island.
If the weather is still nice in the next few weeks, pack a towel, sunscreen, and your adventurous appetite and get out there. The subway drops you off onto bustling Brighton Beach Avenue, and a block from the boardwalk. Before you hit the beach, wander up and down the main drag to work up an appetite. The street is chock-a-block with enticing Russian and Eastern European gourmet shops, fruit and vegetable stands, and a grand supermarket called Brighton Bazaar, which has a massive hot and cold food bar by the pound. The only catch is if your Russian is rusty, you will
feel like a foreign tourist. Much of the signage is in Russian, so are product labels. And even communicating with store staff can involve a lot of hand gestures and confused smiles. But what the hell. This is the time to sample and be adventurous.
Armed with an excellent Brighton Beach food guide from New York Magazine
, I set off on my culinary adventure. Here are some highlights:
Gold Label Deli
|Gold Label Deli's winning baked goods|
(281-285 Brighton Beach Ave.) - Definitely stop here for some of the best street snacks. This deli has a storefront bakery window doling out sweet and savory treats: classic Russian pirozhkis (fried yeast dough filled patties with cabbage or meat), cheese pastries and terrific poppy seed rolls. The menu is in Russian. The kind servers don't speak much English, but you won't be disappointed.
Vintage Food Corporation
(287 Brighton Beach Ave.) - Next door to the Gold Label Deli, this bustling little shop is a real find for gourmet bargain hunters. It's packed with bulk bins overflowing with high quality dried fruit, nuts and colorfully wrapped Russian chocolates and candy. The bulk sweets section is labeled in Russian, so create a mystery mix 'n' match bag of goodies.
(1007 Brighton Beach Ave.) - This supermarket is packed with not only an enticing produce section, but also rows of specialty goods from around the world, pickles galore, breads, smoked fish and meats and lots of boxed chocolates. The hot and cold food bar by the pound is impressive and extensive.
Cafe La Brioche
|Honey poppy seed roll|
(1073 Brighton Beach Ave.) - Enter this bakery and you are instantly seduced by a whiff of heavenly baked goods. The fresh honey poppy seed rolls are so delicious, I had to stock up. The rugalach looked equally yummy. And the cases were stuffed with sinful cream filled cakes.
M & I International Food
(249 Brighton Beach Ave.) - This expansive two-floor food emporium features extensive deli counters of sausages and smoked meats, smoked fish, a bakery, and freshly prepared food. Brighton Beach's version of Zabars, it's an ideal place to stock up on Russian and Eastern European delights. I found some Turkish sesame coated simit bread, which is so delicious.