I like to say that New York City is famously a beach town. It certainly has more beach access than where I grew up — landlocked metro Atlanta; that you can get to most of these beaches by subway, bus, bike or ferry is even better.
You don’t need the help of someone who knows their way around the city’s 14 miles of public beaches to have a perfect day. But I recently enjoyed a tour from a dedicated guide around Brighton Beach, and I couldn’t wait to share it with you all.
Khachapuri to Go, a Grocery Fantasyland and Eastern European Classics
To start, there are many ways to get to Brighton Beach. My friend and guide Devra Ferst, a freelance writer and food writing teacher, prefers to bike down Ocean Parkway, which has a relatively shady bike path. I drove along the Belt Parkway, soaking in the incredible views of the New York Harbor and Gravesend Bay. Take the B (if it’s a weekday) or the Q train to the Brighton Beach stop, and it will spit you out just a few steps from the beach in the heart of the neighborhood, where a combination of street stalls and busy storefronts coexist underneath the deafening rumble of the subways overhead.
If you want to get straight to the sand with snacks and drinks, start your day at Little Georgia, a tiny bakery with no seating that specializes in khachapuri and shawarma. That this bakery’s small interior is almost always crowded is a testament to the quality of the food. We ordered a potato and cheese khachapuri the size of a medium pizza — it even comes in a pizza box — and grabbed a couple of specialty drinks from the fridge, including a liter of Natakhtari, a Georgian lemonade brand.
If you have a little more time on your hands and really want to dive head first into what Brighton Beach has to offer, you owe it to yourself to walk into Tashkent Supermarket, on the corner of Brighton Beach Avenue and Coney Island Avenue. How to describe this Uzbek supermarket? The phrase “grocery fantasyland” comes to mind.
You’ve never seen a hot bar until you’ve seen this hot bar, overflowing with seemingly every kind of Eurasian food you can imagine: pelmeni, lyulya kebabs, shashlik, dolma, olives, chebureki, pickles and manti. There are dozens of massive cakes as thick as encyclopedias, filleted and fried fish, and small mountains of plov (Uzbek pilaf). Don’t forget the bins full of sweets from Eastern Europe.
You’ll have the urge to fill one plastic clamshell to brimming, but be mindful of the different prices or face the wrath of the cashiers.
But maybe you want to start out on the beach. Once you’ve tuckered yourself out in the sun and the surf, consider sitting down for a meal at Varenichnaya. (Bring cash!) The menu at this unassuming, family-owned restaurant, which recently moved to a new location at 504 Brighton Beach Avenue, is varied, but you can’t go wrong with the classics: pelmeni or vareniki. Devra insisted that we try the sour cherry vareniki, pillow-soft dumplings with bittersweet fruit inside, made all the better with a swipe through sour cream. As a bonus, I ordered the lamb kebabs, juicy and salty and crisp, a perfect complement to the vareniki.
We ate everything in the shade of a concrete pavilion at the end of Brighton Fourth Street. It’s a gathering spot for the neighborhood — older residents taking in the fresh air with the grandkids, groups of friends meeting up for a chat or a card game, people of every stripe imaginable — all of us content to take in a bona fide ocean view in a city that should be better known for its beaches.
In Other News …
Openings: Take a holiday without ever leaving town at Vacations Bar & Rooftop, now open in Bushwick; the grandchildren of the Italian immigrant who was behind Ferdi’s in the Bronx have opened a modern Italian restaurant of nearly the same name in the West Village; and the Cuban Chinese restaurant Calle Dao is back on West 39th Street after a fire shuttered the restaurant.
In her latest column, Tejal Rao praised the San Francisco Korean barbecue restaurant San Ho Won, where the menu “insists on the need for a shared culinary language with more Korean terms, then proves their necessity.”
Adam Nagourney reported on “I’ll Have What She’s Having,” a new exhibit, currently in Los Angeles, that explores the history of the Jewish deli. It arrives in New York City in November.
Following a 16-month investigation by Letitia James, the New York State attorney general, the owner of the NoLIta bar Sweet & Vicious will pay $500,000 to more than a dozen employees who reported “racial and gender-based harassment” and wage theft, Kim Severson reports.