If you live in New York City, you can find an enormous array of food cooked by representatives of (and visitors to) countries from around the world. And for those of us who like to explore, there are varieties upon "national" cuisines: not just Thai, but northern Thai; not just Chinese, but northwestern Chinese.
Brooklyn is the heart of "Russian" New York, though that's a misleading shorthand. A significant population of "Russian" Brighton Beach is Ukrainian, while other Former Soviet Union populations about: Georgian, Tajik, Uzbek.
And while there are several places to get hearty, flavorful Uzbek food, I have visited all three of one of the more unusual hybrid restaurants, which serve Korean-Uzbek food. That reflects, as food writer Dave Cook explains, "the culinary history of ethnic Koreans who were forcibly relocated during the Stalin era from the Soviet Far East to Central Asia."
That unfortunate history is reflected more benignly today in menus that serve spicy Korean salads like kimchi (spelled differently in the menu below), along with more traditional Uzbek fare like kebabs and pilaf (aka plov).
Where do you get all this? Well, Elza Fancy Food is in Brighton Beach, while a tiny spinoff is in Bensonhurst. The newer Cafe Lily (menu below) is in Bensonhurst too. (I got a kick out of the fact that, during a recent Bensonhurst walking tour, a native of the neighborhood told me he was unfamiliar with the restaurants.)
There's not much ambiance (though diners seemed happy), and we could BYOB. We got a huge amount of food for a relatively small amount of money, and leftovers for the next day.
And, yes, a small group on a private tour of Bensonhurst or Coney Island/Brighton Beach can visit these places with me (or afterward). Heck, if you'd really like to visit after a different tour, I can just point you in the right direction.
As I was watching the recent Steven Spielberg film, Bridge of Spies, about a Brooklyn lawyer who defended Soviet spy Rudolf Abel and then negotiated an exchange for a captured American pilot in the midst of the Cold War, I noticed something: lawyer James Donovan (played by Tom Hanks) and family lived in a house on a Brooklyn street quite familiar to me.
Indeed, as this Brooklyn Eagle article explains, they rented a gorgeous turn-of-the-century home in Ditmas Park, not all that far from where I once lived (in a modest apartment), and close to--or, potentially part of--the route for my (Not Just) Victorian Flatbush tour.
(The house is on E. 17th Street between Dorchester and Ditmas avenues, and sold for a mere $1.9 million in 2007.)
The Donovan family actually did not live in Ditmas Park/Flatbush during the time depicted in the film--though this neighborhood is understandably a favorite for filmmakers and TV producers because it offers grand houses, reasonable space for street parking, and a lower density of neighbors who might get annoyed.
According to Philip J. Bigger's biography Negotiator: The Life and Career of James B. Donovan, by 1957, five years before the exchange of prisoners, the Donovans had moved from a freestanding home in Bay Ridge, in southwest Brooklyn, "to a fifteen-room, bi-level apartment at 35 Prospect Park West... overlooking Prospect Park."
Wowza. As described on Streeteasy, "designed by the architect Emory Roth, 35 Prospect Park West is a white-glove co-op building with a full maintenance staff and private basement storage for each unit. The 1929 building is home to 74 units over 18 stories, comprised of single floor two bedrooms and spacious duplex four and five bedrooms."
It's located (map) between Montgomery Place and Garfield Place--and on the routes for my Brooklyn 101, Brooklyn 202, and Park Slope tours. In case you're wondering, a 9-room duplex there sold for more than $5 million in 2008. So it's an even more impressive piece of real estate than the one they used for filming. Also, I'm sure there would be way more hurdles for anyone attempting to film there.
The Brooklyn Eagle article, by the way, notes that the film was also shot in the Brooklyn neighborhoods of DUMBO and Brooklyn Heights.
This article from Business Insider (via The Real Deal) is fascinating: it shows the most common languages in New York City beyond English and Spanish, in each Community District, which contain 200,000 to 300,000 people. Brooklyn has significant numbers of Chinese, French Creole, Yiddish, and Russian speakers.
Another map shows that Chinese, French Creole, and Yiddish actually outpace Spanish (the most common language other than English) in five Brooklyn Community Districts.
Touring Brooklyn Blog
Observations and ephemera related to my tours and Brooklyn. Comments and questions are welcome--and moderated.