At first glance, Hoek Pizza looks like very other hipster Brooklyn pizza place. Dark wood, high exposed ceilings, a fully stocked bar, and a wood-burning pizza oven in the center of it all. There are a few differences when it comes to the pizza itself though. First is the size – these pies are much bigger than the individual Neapolitan-style pies I’m used to. The other difference is the crust. It’s paper thin, and even with toppings you can almost see through it. Both of these differences can be attributed to the fact that there aren’t Neapolitan pies at all, but Roman-style pies. The this crust means that at the center things get pretty soggy, and at one point I had to resort to a fork and knife to eat the pizza. I went with a straightforward Margherita with added mushrooms. Overall the pie was good, though it could have used a little more seasoning. It’s not the easiest place int he world to get to either, so right now I can’t say that Hoek is destination pizza. They’ve only been open a few months though, so maybe they’ll work out the fine details soon.
Hoek Pizza — 117 Ferris St
I love ramen, but even some of my favorite ramen joints only offer one vegetarian bowl. At South Slope Ramen they offer three different varieties, including a vegetarian version of their “signature” dish: pai tan ramen. It features a milky sesame-garlic broth, a variety of fresh and cooked veggies, and chewy green spinach noodles. A few dashes of togarashi for heat and it became a great bowl of ramen.
South Slope Ramen — 651 5th Ave
I stopped by Pakiza (yet another restaurant I missed in my round up of Indian and Pakistani restaurants along Coney Island Ave) for a quick snack. What I got was the samosa chaat – a potato samosa split open and smothered with chickpeas, yogurt, chopped raw onion, and multiple chutneys. It’s one of my favorite dishes, and Pakiza makes a good one – savory and sweet, spicy and cooling, hot and cold, smooth and crunchy. It’s everything you want in a plate of food, and it left me full for half of the day.
There are only a handful of Indonesian restaurants here in NYC, and one of them is three blocks away from my apartment. Even though I’ve lived in the same place for almost 15 years, I had only eaten at Java once or twice. Then in April of this year we went to Indonesia, and when we got back I started getting a serious hankering for more Indonesian food. And Java was there to scratch that itch.
There are several great vegetarian dishes on the menu. We’re partial to the acar – a salad made of cucumbers, carrots, and onions marinated in sweet vinegar and turmeric – and the bakwan – fried corn fritters served with creamy peanut sauce and spicy sambal. And yes, their mie goreng (fried noodles) is quite good. But my favorite item is something I’ve never seen anywhere else, the sayur santen. It’s a curry with tofu, vegetables, and (here is the great part) battered and fried broccoli and cauliflower. Though they are fried until crisp, they are then put into the spiced coconut curry broth and they soak up the flavor. Any bits sticking out of the curry remain crisp, but the rest gets soggy. Normally this would be an issue for me, but in this case there’s something about it that just works. Just beware – if you order it spicy it will be flecked with enough fresh chiles to burn the back of your throat. Thankfully it comes with plenty of rice to cool you down.
Java Indonesia — 455 7th Ave
Joe’s of Avenue U is a Brooklyn institution, though it’s not one that you hear a lot about. For decades they’ve been putting out the kind of old-school Italian American food that you don’t see much anymore, with a selection of Sicilian specialties. More than anything else I wanted to try their panelle special – a chickpea fritter sandwich I had once before at Ferdinando’s Focacceria several years ago. Where the sandwich at Ferdinando’s was all about the chickpea fritter, at Joe’s it’s all about the cheese. Two of the panelle are topped with a mountain of fresh ricotta, then yet another mountain of grated cheese. All of this was piled onto a crusty sesame roll. I started eating with my hands but ended up needing to resort to my knife and fork. I still ended up with a smear of ricotta on my shirt. I also got a side of “fasulina” – string beans (slightly overcooked) with oil and garlic – for a little green to go with all of that cheese.
Joe’s of Avenue U — 287 Avenue U
For a long time the space at the corner of 8th Ave and 12th St was empty, with a big sign in the window reading “Zatar”. It said it was opening soon, but it seemed like a long time and we started to wonder if it was ever going to happen. Then one day a couple of months ago we were walking by and I was surprised to see not only were they open, but they seemed to be doing brisk business.
A few weeks later we stopped in for brunch. Zatar is a restaurant and coffee shop with a Yemeni flair. The highlights of our brunch were the bubbling shakshuka, eggs cooked in a spicy tomato stew, and eggs “baladi” – scrambled eggs cooked with tomato, peppers, and cilantro. And of course, plenty of warm pita to eat it all with. I was less enthusiastic about a subsequent dinner visit, but a takeaway chocolate-almond croissant was delicious.
Zatar Cafe — 1201 8th Ave
If you ask New Yorkers where the best pizza in the city is, chances are they will say Di Fara. It routinely shows up on nation-wide best-of lists, and has been featured on numerous television shows. People make pilgrimages to Di Fara, as if it was the holy grail of pizza. It’s been eleven years since my first (and only) visit. Thats kind of crazy, considering how close I live to it. Whenever I thought about going I remembered how long it took to be served, and how expensive it was, and ended up not returning. On a recent summer afternoon I went on a whim, and sure enough it was crowded, and there was a group wearing matching t-shirts reading “Brotherhood of Pizza Enthusiasts”. There wasn’t much of a line, though, mostly people just waiting. I noticed Dom wasn’t making the pizza that day, which I understand is happening more frequently, but there was still a 35-45 minute wait for a pie. The last time I was there a single slice was $4, now it was up to $5. In these days of dollar pizza slices that’s an outrageous amount. Still, I approached the counter and asked for a single slice. The woman at the counter started to write my order down, but then stopped. She conferred with another person, and then handed me a plate with a large misshapen slice with a smaller slice right next to it. “There was a torn slice,” she said, “so you can have that one too.” Yes, I got a slice and a half from Di Fara with no waiting at all for the price of one. I took my plate outside to eat.
The pizza was better than I remembered. The crust was chewy and crisp, with just the perfect hint of char. The sauce and the cheese were nicely seasoned and it all worked together in a great pizza balance. I remembered then that $1 pizza slices are terrible, and sometimes it’s worth paying extra for the good stuff. I don’t know if Di Fara’s is the best pizza in the city or the country, and that kind of thing is subjective anyway. What I do know is that Di Fara makes a mighty good slice of pizza — and I think it’s even better when you don’t have to wait for it.
Di Fara — 1424 Avenue J