One of the best ways to get to know a neighborhood is through its food. The Midwood Development Corporation understands this all too well, so now, twice a year, they host a tour of local cafes, restaurants, bakeries, and specialty stores, giving people new to the area — and those who may not have explored their own backyard — a chance to take a bite (many, many bites) out of the best it has to offer.
The fall tour took place this past Sunday, and about a dozen hungry visitors sampled food from spots along Avenue J and Coney Island Avenue. Leading the group was Rich Sanders, aka Ethnojunkie, a Brooklyn-based food writer who specializes in ethnic eats — which, of course, Midwood has its fair share of.
Even so, Sanders says that when the MDC first contacted him five years ago about doing the tour, he asked locals for recommendations, and the suggestions he got were all great, but all the exact same kind of thing.
“I said wait, there must be something other than kosher bakeries in Midwood, what else is there? So I looked around and found quite a bit.”
To eat your way through them all could take a lifetime (or, at least longer than a Sunday afternoon), so he shared just a few favorites. If you want to explore a bit before the next tour in the spring, this is a pretty excellent guide to some of the foods you’ll find.
We started off at International Food (1506 Avenue J), the first of two different places with the same name we’d visit during the tour. Though you can stock up there on canned meats and fried fish, Sanders picked out some items among the baked goods, plus something to wash it all down.
The market is mainly Russian, so look out for the chebureki, a deep-fried, meat-filled turnover — it’s hard to go wrong with fried anything — and if you’re feeling adventurous, grab a bottle of tarkhun soda, a tarragon-flavored neon green drink that one attendee compared to tasting “like Jaegermeister without the alcohol.” Cheese lovers should grab a syrniki, which are fried farmer’s cheese fritters, or one of the popular little packaged frozen cheese bars that come in a variety of flavors and are dipped in chocolate.
Anyone with a sweet tooth will appreciate Oh! Nuts (1503 Avenue J), where Sanders recommends sampling some of the Israeli chocolates available. The Klik chocolate-covered cornflakes are one of the more unusual options — one taster said they reminded her a bit of her Cocoa Krispies-eating days.
At the second International Foods (1012 East 15th Street) you’ll find some similar canned and jarred items as at the first, but you’ll also find a nice selection of breads and sweets. Don’t miss their oreshki, the sweet nut-shaped cookies filled with dulce de leche.
“I have bread in one hand and a cookie in the other,” said Lisa Witler, Director of Communications at the MDC. “This is the best day ever.”
It’s hard to talk about food in Midwood without mentioning Di Fara (1424 Avenue J), the pizzeria famous for the crowds who come to taste the work of its deliberate-moving owner and chef Dom DeMarco. Possibly the most popular pizza in New York City, it even pleased the discerning palate of 14-month-old Clara Moskowitz (pictured at top) — trust us, you would not want to get between that girl and her Di Fara slice.
New Tayeeba’s Grocery (1420 Avenue J) has just about all the spices you might need to whip up an Indian or Pakistani feast, but if you’re looking to snack, they’ve got just the thing, as well. There are a variety of the bagged crunchy, savory snack mixes, which you can just enjoy by the spicy handful, or Sanders suggests topping a chaat or a salad with them.
The air is full of vinegar at The Pickle Guys (1364 Coney Island Avenue), where the famous picklers have barrels of just about everything you can imagine — including pickled pineapple, which is a pretty unusual taste, but thankfully you can try a sample before you commit to a whole container. If you’re looking for something beyond cukes and olives, regulars highly recommend the pickled grape tomatoes.
The Orchard (1367 Coney Island Avenue) may be known for its gift baskets, but if you’re looking for fruits and vegetables that may be harder to come by, this is a fun stop. Rambutan, anyone?
The recently-opened Mirabelle (1371 Coney Island Avenue) is a kosher bakery specializing in French pastries and breads, meaning you can now grab a pretty decent chocolate croissant on the busy avenue. They’ve got cozy seating, too, so it might be a nice option to recharge with some coffee if you’re planning a food adventure in the area for yourself.
The tour wound up at the mega-grocery Pomegranate (1507 Coney Island Avenue), where aisle after aisle of kosher foods await. A shopping trip here alone could take some time, so if you’re just swinging by for a quick bite or for something you might not be able to find elsewhere, check out the prepared foods when you first enter, or consider deciding between several kinds of tahini.
One of the best parts of an afternoon of eating in Midwood is that, aside from a pie at Di Fara, you’re not going to break the bank.
“That is one if the nice things about ethnic food, it’s generally not too expensive,” Sanders said. “You can find some great food for a great deal.”
As the tour wound down and attendees swapped tips and favorite restaurants for places in the neighborhood that we couldn’t get to that afternoon, one woman summed the day up perfectly.
“I totally need a nap now,” she said.