Marisa Tomei At Lioni Italian Heroes

For men of a certain age, Marisa Tomei (circa My Cousin Vinnie) was the object of many a fantasy. I may or may not be of that specific age… but I can tell you that it made ordering at Lioni Italian Heroes, in Bensonhurst, that much easier. At Lioni they have over 150 sandwiches on offer, all named after actors, musicians, sports heroes, and famous personalities. Only a handful are vegetarian, though they can also make whatever combination you want. One of the vegetarian options is #60, the Marisa Tomei. The enormous sandwich was filled with fried eggplant, Lioni’s fresh mozzarella, and topped with what they call mushroom stuffing — in actuality just seasoned breadcrumbs, or what you would use to stuff mushrooms. Sure it was a little dry, and it’s not the prettiest sandwich on the block, but it was a good sandwich. I could only eat half of it, I finished the rest the next day. I also picked up some of their house smoked mozzarella, which made for fantastic snacking over the next few days.

Lioni Italian Heroes — 7803 15th Ave

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Vegan Polish Buffet At Jungle Cafe

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

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Toad Style Brings Vegan Sandwiches To Bed-Stuy

Toad Style isn’t your typical vegan restaurant. This tiny Bed-Stuy sandwich shop is putting out vegan versions of hearty dishes like banh mi and cheeseburgers. I’ve been curious about jackfruit as a meat alternative ever since I heard about it in Nepal, so I sampled the BBQ pulled jackfruit sandwich. The jackfruit was slightly firm and a little sweet, and paired nicely with the cole slaw and spicy pickles that topped the sandwich. I can’t explain the name of the restaurant, or how an obscure “style” of kung fu relates to vegan sandwiches, but it’s definitely worth a visit.

Toad Style — 93 Ralph Ave

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Pizza At Lea In Ditmas Park

Another trip to Cortelyou Road in Ditmas Park, this time for pizza at Lea. I’d walked past Lea a number of times but never been, and I was looking forward to it. The sauce and the cheese were good, but I found the crust slightly bland and dry. A good neo-Neapolitan pizza, and close to home, but certainly not Brooklyn’s best.

Lea — 1022 Cortelyou Rd

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Cafe Kashkar Serves Uyghur Food In Brighton Beach

Thankfully there was a map on my table at Cafe Kashkar, indicating where the Uyghur people live. It’s the western-most end of China, where China borders several Central Asian countries, just south of Russia. That explains, in part, why Cafe Kashkar (which serves Uyghur food) is located in Brighton Beach among so many Russian and Ukrainian restaurants. It also explains the interesting mix of flavors on the menu (though not, perhaps, the “Korean style” cabbage salad). My Salad Langsai, which was a blend of crisp vegetables pickled in vinegar, was chock full of thin noodles. I’m not sure of the origin of the Khonoom, pictured above, one of the few vegetarian options on the menu (it’s listed under the “hot appetizers” section of the menu). These were open-ended dumplings filled with shredded potato, topped with a sweet tomato sauce and raw onions. If they had been tightly wrapped I might have thought they were cousins of vareniki, but the khonoom were simply dough rolled around potato and steamed. If not for my newly discovered knowledge of the Uyghur people I might have said they had more in common with canneloni than pierogi.

Cafe Kashkar — 1141 Brighton Beach Ave

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Vegan Sandwiches By Monk’s Meats

I enjoyed the Vegan Shop-Up the last time I went — but recently I realized it was more than two years ago. It was high time for a revisit, so I went both in August and in October to see what was happening. Both times there was a huge line for the Cinnamon Snail Truck, which you may remember from this sandwich or this Vendy Awards. There was no line, however, for Monk’s Meats. I’d seen Monk’s Meats occasionally at food events like Smorgasburg but never eaten there. Monk’s Meats makes their own seitan, an alternative protein made with wheat gluten. On my first trip I got the Jerk Seitan Sandwich, in which the Caribbean-flavored seitan is cooked on a griddle and topped with a spicy pineapple salsa and a cabbage slaw. It was a great mix of salty, spicy, and sweet, and the seitan had a pleasant chewy texture.

It’s not all “fake meat” however. On my second visit they were offering a special based on foraged chicken-of-the-woods mushrooms. They called it the Mushroom Triple Threat: deep-fried chicken-of-the-woods, shiitake mushroom “bacon,” and truffled vegan mayonnaise. It was another great blend of textures and flavors, with fresh tomatoes and lettuce off-setting the crispy-crunchy mushrooms, even if the bacon tasted more “burnt” than “smoky.”

Monk’s Meats — Check website for pop-ups or to order online
Vegan Shop-Up — Pine Box Rock Shop, 12 Grattan St.

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Eggs Baked In Delicata Squash

Sometimes I get ideas to make a dish and I don’t know where the idea came from. In this case, I remember exactly how I got the idea. On my friend Chitra’s Instagram she posted a photo of delicata squash rings that she’d battered and roasted in the oven. I happened to have a delicata squash from the farmer’s market in my fridge, and was looking for something to do with it. And when I saw Chitra’s photo my first thought was, “I could put an egg in that.” I’ve heard of toad-in-the-hole, where a hole is cut out of the middle of a piece of bread and an egg is cooked in the hole. I’ve also heard of baked eggs in a cup. But I don’t think I’ve ever heard of something like this. So here’s what I did.

Delicata squash is shaped like a tube with rounded ends, and has a slightly sweet flavor when baked. I cut off the ends (and saved them for later roasting). Then I cut the “tube” into pieces about 4 inches long, and scooped out the innards (and saved the seeds for later roasting). Then I oiled and seasoned two of the squash tubes and set them up in an oven-proof pan. I started it on the stove-top, over high heat, to get the bottoms browned. When they were brown I turned them upside down and put them into a 450 degree oven. I let them bake in there for about 30-45 minutes, until they got soft and golden. While that happened I cracked two eggs into separate bowls. When the squash was ready I pulled the pan out of the oven, and carefully tipped an egg into each one. A little big of egg seeped out from under the tubes, but the pan was so hot it cooked on contact and stopped up the leak pretty fast. I seasoned the tops of the eggs and put the pan back in the oven for less than five minutes. That’s more than enough time for the eggs to cook.

I took the pan out of the oven, and I used a spatula to remove the squash and eggs from the pan. I let them cool for a few minutes while I put together a quick salad to serve alongside it. The combination of roasted squash with rich eggs needed contrasting brightness and freshness, and the salad was a perfect foil.

So will eggs baked in squash be the next brunch craze? Doubtful, but they’re a lot of fun to make. And if you believe in such things it’s completely gluten free.

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