Brighton Beach was never really on my culinary radar; I saw a live production of Neil Simon’s “Brighton Beach Memoirs” when I was in high school, but that’s about it. Until last week all I could have told you is that it’s right next to Coney Island, and that it’s a predominantly Russian neighborhood. There was an odd confluence of events recently that made me want to visit Brighton Beach (this happens to me pretty often actually — it’s one of the hazards of a food-obsessed mind): over at Serious Eats there was a discussion of the hot buffet at Brighton Bazaar, and then The Girl Who Ate Everything included a trip to M & I International in her top 10 posts of 2008. I began to crave Russian food. As I said, this happens to me fairly often, so I knew there was only one way to rid myself of this obsession — give in to it.
Stepping off of the train was like entering another country; most of the signs were in Russian, and there was the enchanting smell of fried food in the air. People were selling baked goods from card tables set out on the street. It reminded me a lot of Chinatown, and it made me realize how little character my own neighborhood has.
M & I International is, to quote Donny, a foodie heaven. Each side of the long shop is lined with counters, selling everything from meat to fish to cheese to pastries to marinated vegetables to… I don’t know what else. In the back there are also counters selling hot and cold prepared food. I purchased a hunk of the carrot cake that TGWAE raved about, and then headed up to the 2nd floor cafe to see what was up there.
The shop continued upstairs with some prepackaged candy and cakes. Up another, shorter flight of stairs was the cafe where I got this awesome crepe/blintz kind of thing for a mere $2.50:
Filled with a mixture of ricotta-like cheese (I would see this referred to as “pot cheese” a few times later in the day), golden raisins, and lemon peel, this room-temperature crepe was a great late breakfast. Thus fortified I headed off to Brighton Bazaar.
Brighton Bazaar is a large, beautiful supermarket with a huge, self-serve buffet right in the middle of it. They had the same pickles and marinated vegetables and mushrooms I saw at M & I, but where Brighton Bazaar really shines is with their hot, prepared foods. There were lots of meaty stews, of course, but even a vegetarian like me could find plenty to eat.
I picked up potato pancakes, cheese knishes (filled with more pot cheese and raisins), two kinds of pickles, two kinds of marinated mushrooms, and five kinds of blintzes: sour cherry, apple, pot cheese (see?), nut and poppy seed (surprisingly sweet), and a delicious, savory, mushroom blintz. All of that cost me about $11. Did I go a bit overboard? Perhaps, but I just can’t help myself in these situations.
So now I have a food crush on Brighton Beach. It’s the place I want to bring people from out of town, I want to tell all of my foodie friends about it, and, above all, I want to go back.
Brighton Bazaar — 1007 Brighton Beach Ave, Brooklyn
M & I International — 249 Brighton Beach Ave, Brooklyn