From Russia to Greece…with Love

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Saturday was time well spent setting off in my private jet (aka MTA) to the festive sights and tastes of Russia and Greece. Don’t believe it was that easy to do both in one day? Then you don’t know New York.
Saturday morning, after a nice bowl of coffee and a baked egg (w/cream & garlic), I set sail on the ‘Q’ line for Brighton Beach, otherwise known as ‘Little Odessa by the Sea’ – home to approximately 70,000 Russian inhabitants.

I’ve heard the stories and scoured the Net gathering information on the Slavic area, but wasn’t really sure quite what to expect. Was it rundown? Was it dirty? Were there still any Russians living there? How expensive was it? I took a few notes and addresses and decided to see for myself.

As I descended the staircase from the train onto Brighton Beach Avenue, I could feel the sparkle twinkle in my eyes. Cyrillic writing dons the awnings and windows of the many shops and restaurants. Babooshkas with their tired faces wait by the sidewalk to sell cigarettes and sheets. And my intuition told me to check out the beach first and make my way back along the shops.

It had been a while since I’d been to the beach, and as I dug my toes into the hot sand, I was transported to another land far away where I was independently wealthy and owned the perfect writer/artist Victorian home on the seaside, preferably in Bora Bora or maybe in a nice, quiet area of California perhaps only a 20 minute drive from the city. With Brooklyn reappearing and me hoping not to step on any glass or Russian men and/or women lying around in their underwear, I scooted on down to the water’s edge, where I could have a nice view and spend some quality time with nature, or something of the sort. I lay on the beach for about 45 minutes taking in the sights and sounds of little Russian children screaming from fear of the water or older Russian men and women playing in the waves. Nice, but I was getting hungry, as usual.

I read a few things about Café Tatiana, but the desire to hit the same spot as everyone else didn’t grab me. Next door was a place called Moscow Café, but it looked a little cheesy. On the edge sat a place with fake ivy weaved into the awning’s beams, and umbrellas sporting beer names, called Volna. I checked out the menu and decided that was where the damage would be done. Not cheesy t’all.

My waiter, let’s call him Misha, lives in Russia, but is in New York on an exchange program. When I asked if he liked it in Brighton Beach, he replied ‘No, not really. I’m here to study language. Everybody here is Russian. It’s Russia, but not like Russia.” Interesting.
More and more Russians arrived as I waited with my Baltika beer. Dish by dish, my meal arrived:

Thick and fishy, but healthy-tasting Herring with Onions in Oil
Hot & homey, with a thin layer of oil floating on top, Borsht that seemed to whet my appetite
Light and delicate Russian Pancakes with Red Caviar

Not too shabby a meal for a decent price. Natalya (Nataly), a neighboring diner and advocate of sunrider.com confirmed that the food was authentic, and said I looked Russian, wore earrings like a Russian, had a Russian name, and ate like a Russian (guess I ordered a lot of food, hehe). Note to self: Take Russian language course and plan trip to Russia.
Nataly was also kind enough to share with me a brochure on the best money-making opportunity ever – to make my dreams come true. But aren’t they already? I didn’t find my red, silk fringy shawl, however. Maybe she could sense that’s what I was missing.

Check out:
Vintage Food Corp.
287 Brighton Beach Ave.
Brooklyn, NY 11235
718.769.6674

and

Volna
3145 Brighton 4th St. (on the Boardwalk)
718.332.0501

For more information on Slavic communities in New York, check out:
NYCSlav.

On to another fabulous area of the five boroughs, Astoria, Queens. OK, so I finally make plans for a Greek outing in Astoria. After descending onto 31st Street, just off the ‘N’ train stop of Ditmars, I walked for about 10 to 15 minutes to 19-06 Ditmars Blvd., a bit late, to meet a friend at a quaint corner restaurant called Agnanti in a very residential area. Due to flashy movies and tourist season in Naxos, I just knew I would be stepping over broken plates, downing shots of ouzo, and dancing the Tsifteteli till the wee hours of the night. Not this time. Sorry, no pics on this one. Completely forgot and just wanted to enjoy the evening. However, I do suggest you check it out. It was worth the walk: Deliciously salty and freshly grilled Sardines; Tasty and traditional Greek Salad; Shrimp Kataifi (Shrimp dipped in homemade mustard sauce & rolled in finely shredded pastry); Puffy Cheese Croquettes; a pitcher (carafe) of Retsina; and a small plate of cinnamon sprinkled desserts. A very nice neighborhood eatery, though more convenient to the locals than to those subway’in it. You should still check it out.

And of course the Athens Café (32-07 30th Avenue)  is the place to be in the evening, as lively hip Greek patrons gather at the café tables to talk  and sip Frappés. mmmmm…we opted instead for the bar and air conditioning inside. Ah, these New York summers…gotta love ’em.

Check out AlphaAstoria.

Where to next? A little Bubble Tea in Flushings, perhaps? Stay tuned and have a delicious day!

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