A few months ago I was in Greenpoint to check out the Kimchee Market. After leaving the store I walked up Manhattan Avenue looking for a place to eat lunch. I noticed Jungle Cafe — there are brightly colored signs advertising vegetarian food — but I wasn’t sure if I wanted to eat there or continue on my way. But then I saw the signboard out front: “Vegan Polish Buffet.” I can’t imagine three words in the English language more likely to draw me in.
Many generations back my family is from Eastern Europe, and even though I didn’t grow up eating much of the food from that part of the world (other than pierogis) I have a soft spot for it. I think it’s part of the reason I love the Russian and Ukrainian restaurants in Brighton Beach. Greenpoint was a predominantly Polish neighborhood for many years, after all. Of course it can sometimes be hard to find vegetarian versions of the food, let alone vegan. And a buffet meant there would be a big selection.
I got a little bit of a lot of different things. Some cold salads and pickles, some hot dishes like a potato pudding or kasha (buckwheat) with mushrooms. There was only one item made with fake meat, cooked with onions and black pepper. Vinegar featured heavily in almost all of the dishes so there was a little palate fatigue, but it was all pretty good. The Polish buffet was a special thing, they don’t always have it, but now every time I walk by Jungle Cafe I keep an eye out for it.
Jungle Cafe — 996 Manhattan Ave