THE BITE: Sheepshead Bay Road’s new organic gourmet market, Portokali, opened its doors for the first time late last week, bringing back to life a space that has been vacant since 7-Eleven withdrew with Superstorm Sandy’s waters.
At 1509 Sheepshead Bay Road, the business is bright and spacious, and packs in a ton more stock than 7-Eleven ever did.
Much of the fare is similar to what’s found at other local gourmet markets, including Cherry Hill and Sheepshead Bay Fruit & Vegetable Market, with a few notable exceptions.
The Turkish-owned store, for example, has an on-site butcher. The manager, Tim, boasts that the meat, all Halal, is brought in fresh from a Pennsylvania farm just three hours away, before being further sliced and diced for customers.
The store’s western wall is lined with a seemingly endless array of dried fruits, nuts and tasty morsels like Turkish Delight. They currently have 96 varieties, with plans to add more.
Tim was proud of the olive selection, too. While he notes many local places have olives, he said they have a few special varieties – all displayed in a custom designed case they had built in Turkey.
In keeping with Turkish hospitality, Tim wouldn’t let me leave without tasting a few items.
One is the simit ($1.50), a traditional Turkish bread distantly related to a bagel. A round, seeded bread with a giant hole in the middle, it’s a bit as if somebody took that New York staple and stretched it out a bit.
The flavor was rich with sesame, and the texture a solid balance between chewy and flaky. Like bagels, it gets a nice, crisp exterior by some pre-baking love – bagels are boiled (at least before those awful steam ovens destroyed the metropolitan icon), while simit is soaked in a water and molasses mixture.
Enjoy with some cheeses and hot tea.
I couldn’t resist one of my favorites, the spinach borek ($2.00). At Portokali, it’s the long, flat kol boregi – a slightly flaky, buttery affair filled with flavor. Some versions of this blend in feta cheese and mounds of garlic with the spinach, but there was no cheese in this one. Just a touch of garlic, a touch of salt and what appeared to be bits of red bell pepper within.
Unfortunately, Tim couldn’t provide a name for the sweet below, except to call it a traditional Russian pasty (5.99/pound).
It’s a cherry streusel, as far as I can tell, and a tasty one, too. Despite its look, it isn’t as sweet as one would expect. The base has a flavor, dryness and texture reminiscent of Italian butter cookies, and the thin smear of cherry jam hammered that familiarity home. This was a solid accompaniment to my morning coffee.
I don’t know from where this carrot cake ($5.99) hails, but it’s not like that sweet cream-cheese smeared dessert. It’s texture was like a breaded hunk of kugel, with the noodles replaced by shredded carrots, and raisins and nuts added for good measure. It was very moist, like a proper banana bread, and strong in flavor.
According to Tim, Portokali is one of the few places to get imported Turkish pistachios ($14.99/pound).
Slightly salted, they have a much earthier taste than their larger, brighter California counterparts.
All in all, Portokali is a welcome addition to Sheepshead Bay Road, and for some is already becoming a necessary stop after their evening commute. But its morning attributes shouldn’t be overlooked – the fresh coffee and grab-and-go baked goods give straphangers a unique alternative to Bagels Road, Apani, the Chinese bakery and, blegh, Dunkin’ Donuts.
Portokali Gourmet Market, 1509 Sheepshead Bay Road, 347-462-2767. Open 7:00am until 10:00pm.
The Bite is Sheepshead Bites’ column exploring the foodstuffs of the Sheepshead Bay area. Each week we check out a different offering from one of the many restaurants, delis, food carts, bakeries, butchers, fish mongers, or grocers in our neighborhood. If it’s edible, we’ll take a bite.