Sunday, November 27, 2011

A Day in Brooklyn

I have always wondered what lies beyond the highways we drive past on our way to a particular destination.  One particular place I have been both intrigued and a little timid about has been Brooklyn.  Living in the Tri-state area, Brooklyn is a city that is impossible to ignore. But how to take the courageous step to embark on a journey to the great unknown...

I finally decided to find someone in-the-know and called my mother's friend, Ann Marie Murray, one of the smartest and sweetest women I know, who also happens to be a Brooklynite, to accompany us on our expedition.

We left on a sunny Saturday morning and took the Verrazano Bridge to reach the only way to get to Brooklyn, Belt Parkway.  As beautiful as the view is, I simply hate this road because it is usually one big traffic jam, but on this day luck was on our side... it wasn't too bad.  We took the Bay Parkway exit and proceeded til we reached 86th Street.  Parking the car on the side of the street, we proceeded to discover our first stop ... 86th Street was the place Ann Marie's mother used bring them to on Saturdays for shopping.  For us, the restaurant on the corner of Bay Parkway and 86th, before we even turned into the Street signaled all the good things still to come.  Istanbul Fast Food Restaurant... they had a huge Doner (Gyro) already set and turning.  Even though we were supposed to have a lobster dinner, there was no way we were leaving without having some of that...

86th Street is a Foodie's delight; the whole street is full of international markets selling fresh fruits and vegetables, which reminded me a little of the Street Bazaars we used to go to in Turkey. We walked for two blocks til we reached our destination, a Russian Grocery Market, Cherry Hill, at the corner of 86th and 23rd Streets ... and we were lost. This place is amazing, all of us agreed that we would never cook if we lived nearby...

Cherry Hill Market

Istanbul Fast Food Restaurant 

After not being able to resist buying some Turkish breads and pastries we walked back to Istanbul Restaurant where we ordered a huge lunch of Doner (Gyro) which we finished off with some real Turkish coffee and baklava.  The meal got our approval and the restaurant is on our list of places to go for good Turkish food.

After 86th Street, we went to Ann Marie's old Neighborhood, Bensonhurst, and took pictures of the house she grew up in.  As she was telling us stories of her youth, we drove around to her school and the Jewish Deli she used to go to with a girl friend on Wednesdays when they had half day to have a hot dog and a knish.  I tried to imagine what it must have been like when she was growing up in such a diverse neighborhood where Italians, Jews lived side by side, aware of each other's customs and traditions, shopping in neighborhood shops for their specific delicacies.

Sharing Ann Marie's nostalgia was really rewarding; it was almost like we went back in time to a place that was completely foreign yet felt familiar at the same time.  As a  matter of fact, Brooklyn is such an ingrained part of the culture of this country, it is almost impossible to be ignorant of it.  I particularly remember reading A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, by Betty Smith, which left me with a strong impression and Neil Simon's Brighton Beach Memoirs, which brings me to our next stop... Brighton Beach or Little Odessa as it is known today.

We needed to explore some more before we could bring ourselves to sit thorough another huge meal so we started to drive down Ocean Parkway towards the water. My little philosophy is when in doubt, going towards the water is always rewarding.  But first we drove by Prospect Park, another sight that is so familiar  from movies and tv...

Prospect Park, Brooklyn
 Driving down Ocean Parkway, it is easy to feel the diverse fabric of this area with Arab music halls, Mexican car washes and Indian nail salons all lined up right next to each other. Going straight down Ocean Parkway took us to a beach with a boardwalk that we had no idea was Brighton Beach. 

After strolling down the boardwalk in Brighton Beach, we decided it was time for dinner at Red Hook Lobster Pound.  I had gotten vouchers for a lobster dinner a couple of months ago which were about to expire soon.  The website stated that they got fresh lobsters from Maine each week and they were located in Brooklyn, which is part of the reason for the urgency to get to Brooklyn after all these years.  Red Hook Lobster Pound turned out to be a charming little store right next to the cruise terminals in Brooklyn. The food was delicious and the lack of soda or a restroom didn't bother us too much at this tiny, casual establishment but I would definitely get the lobster roll next time; as a matter of fact I am on the lookout for their truck that is supposed to be out in Manhattan.
Finally, as we were driving down Atlantic Avenue, trying to find our way back home, we noticed some very intriguing stores we just had to stop and visit.  Later we found out we were in an area between Caroll Gardens and Boerum Hill.  We just walked down two blocks going into stores, chatting with the owners and shopping.  The toy shop we went into Acorn, had me feeling like Alice in Wonderland; I am still infatuated with it.
Acorn Toy Shop
Our final stop was a cookie shop to have some coffee before we were back on the road to New Jersey.  We found One Girl Cookies in Cobble Hill (right around the corner from Atlantic Avenue.) We loved the coffee, we loved the cookies ... the perfect ending to this wonderful day.  The most befitting way to get home was of course, to take the Brooklyn Bridge... so, that's what we did... it somewhat softened the blow of leaving New York behind... but I plan to go back, soon!
Our strange and spontaneous itinerary
It is not so difficult after-all, all you need is a GPS and a sense of adventure.

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