For many years I’ve been enjoying dinners at Elora’s Mexican restaurant, just a few blocks from my apartment. Although they serve brunch I’m not really a brunch person, so I didn’t really care. But I kept the knowledge in my metaphorical hip pocket, and on a recent Sunday when trying to think of a good place to eat I suggested Elora’s.
I’m glad I did. There’s only one vegetarian item on the brunch menu, but it’s a doozy — the chilaquiles. Tortilla chips are saturated in a tangy salsa verde, then topped with scrambled eggs and melted cheese. The chips soak in all of the flavor of the salsa, making a perfect bed for the rich eggs and cheese. I couldn’t eat it fast enough, even with the rice and beans on the side to slow me down. I’m glad to have such a good option for brunch in the neighborhood, even if I don’t eat brunch that often.
(I should point out that they will make the huevos rancheros without meat if you ask.)
Elora’s — 272 Prospect Park West
If you live in NYC you know all things change. As I mentioned in my previous post, Kebeer has become Cafe Max. More shocking to me was the closure of the Brighton Beach outpost of one of my favorite Ukrainian restaurants, Cafe Glechik. Thankfully their Sheepshead Bay location is still open, and not too far from Brighton Beach. We started out meal with some fantastic cold appetizers — assorted pickles and the “salad spring.” The pickled cucumbers were sharp and acidic; the pickled tomatoes were soft and matched well with the dense dark bread, and the pickled watermelon (yes) had a hint of dill to offset the sweetness. The salad featured radishes and cucmbers tossed with mayonnaise and scallions, but what really elevated it were the small chunks of hard boiled eggs throughout.
They still have the fantastic potato and mushroom vareniki, and we also tried the homemade pancakes filled with sweet farmer’s cheese. It was a feast fit for a (Ukrainian) prince, and well worth the extra walk from Brighton Beach… if only to work off all of the calories we consumed.
Cafe Glechik — 1655 Sheepshead Bay Rd
For many years I thought of Kebeer, a small Russian restaurant, as one of my favorite places to eat in Brighton Beach. Imagine my surprise a couple of months ago when I walked by and saw it was no longer there — instead there was a restaurant called Cafe Max. It didn’t look particularly Russian inside, and there was no menu posted in the window, so I assumed everything had changed. Later I did some research and found out that in spite of the American-sounding name they pretty much kept the menu intact from the days of Kebeer. On my next trip to Brighton Beach I decided to stop by and find out the truth. I started my meal with a bowl of the borscht; without the sour cream it’s actually vegan. It’s a great vegetable soup, cut with the sweetness of beets. Strips of onion and cabbage, chunks of potato, and grated raw garlic all added flavor to the soup. For my entree I got the fried potatoes with mushrooms. The potatoes were sliced into thin rounds, and fried until crisp on the outside with a bit of creaminess on the inside. They were topped with sauteed mushrooms, mixed with caramelized onions and more grated raw garlic and some fresh dill. The mix of textures and flavors was a good one, and it was a huge plate of food. It wasn’t quite the same experience I’d had during my visits to Kebeer, but Cafe Max was still pretty good.
Cafe Max — 1003 Brighton Beach Ave
Here in NYC we’re in the middle of an incredible heat wave. It makes me want to do nothing other than sit inside in the air conditioning and eat ice cream. I’ve been making a fair amount of my own ice cream this summer, but lately I’ve been craving something a little lighter, something that can take advantage of all of the great summer fruit available at the farmer’s markets right now. Sorbet seemed like the obvious answer, but I’d never made sorbet before. I found this recipe over at the Kitchn and slightly adapted it to my own needs. Here’s how I did it.
I made a sugar syrup by bringing 3/4 cup of sugar with a cup of water to a boil, then turning down the heat super low and letting it sit like that for about eight minutes. Meanwhile I peeled 4 Jersey peaches — you use a knife to make an “x” int he pointy (bottom) end of each peach and then boiling them in water for about a minute. Then remove them from the water and rinse under cold water and the skins should peel right off. Then I roughly chopped the peeled peaches, and put them into a blender with the sugar syrup, a pinch of salt, and the juice of one lemon. Then I blended this mixture until completely smooth. Then I chilled the puree.
And that’s it. Once the puree is chilled you can put it into your ice cream maker and make the sorbet. Then put the sorbet into a plastic container and store it in your freezer. You can do this with just about any fruit. I served a scoop with some fresh blackberries and was quite happy with it, but you do what you need to with yours.
For years I’ve heard about Tortilleria Mexicana Los Hermanos, where they make fresh tortillas deep in the heart of Bushwick. In addition to the tortilla factory they have a small no-frills restaurant attached, where you can sample their fresh tortillas. I finally made it out there a few weeks ago, and for $2.50 I got this beautiful, overstuffed vegetarian taco. On top of the fresh corn tortilla is a smear of beans, some fresh veggies and herbs, crumbled queso blanco, crema, and large slices of avocado. They also give you a wedge of lime and access to bottled hot sauce, the addition of which elevated this taco from good to great. You get your hot, your cold The next time I’m in the neighborhood I may make a little detour over to Los Hermanos for a quick snack.
I never ate at Two Duck Goose, which closed last year and re-opened recently as Hey Hey Canteen. Two Duck Goose seemed to be a slightly upscale Chiense-American restaurant; Hey Hey Canteen reinvented itself as a more casual place with a noodle-heavy menu. My friend Hong-An suggested we check it out a few weeks ago, and I decided on the cold sesame noodles. I’m a fan of cold sesame noodles in general, and they sounded like a refreshing way to beat the heat. At Hey Hey Canteen they give youa huge bowl of noodles, and it’s a fresher version of what you’ll find at your neighborhood Chinese place; shreds of carrot and cucumber joined the familiar sesame peanut sauce, and the noodles were chewy and firm. All things being equal I actually prefer the cheaper version from my neighborhood joint, but Hey Hey Canteen does make some tasty noodles.
Hey Hey Canteen — 400 4th Ave
It started, as much of my cooking does, with a problem. I had been buying spring garlic at the farmer’s market, and unlike regular garlic spring garlic comes with long green tops, similar to leeks. I’d been using most of them, but I had trimmed a bunch of the tops off. They were a little tough but had a great garlic aroma, and it seemed a shame to just throw them away. I wondered though, what could I do with them? Thankfully I watch a lot of Jacques Pepin, and in one episode when Jacques was trimming leeks he casually mentioned saving the leek tops for stock. So I had part of the answer; I could make a flavorful stock or poaching liquid with the garlic tops. But what would I poach in that liquid? Luckily I had purchased a beautiful little head of cauliflower at the market as well, and the idea took full shape.
I fulled a large pot with water, and added a healthy amount of salt. A few black peppercorns, a pinch of red pepper flakes, and of course the garlic tops. I brought this to a boil, then reduced the heat and let it simmer for about twenty minutes. While it simmered I trimmed the core off of the cauliflower. I added the whole head to the liquid, and brought it up to a boil and then again dropped the heat and let it simmer. It took about 15 minutes for the cauliflower to become tender all the way through; you can check it by poking it with a knife. I pulled the head out of the water and let it sit on a cutting board to cool off a bit, then sliced it into nice chunks for easier eating.
The cauliflower soaks in all of the garlic-y, seasoned water and keeps its buttery texture. For a little contrast I quickly sauteed some kale and zucchini and seasoned that with some red wine vinegar; the cauliflower needed some acidity to balance it out.
Now that I think about it, the garlic tops should really be included in my Vegetarian Offal project; it’s always good to remember that almost every part of every vegetable can be used for something,