Smoked Fish at Shelsky’s

Shelsky’s is on a drag of Court Street in Brooklyn that is busy and appealing to browse, a frequent haunt for me off of the F train.  It’s also right around the corner from a great walking strip of antique stories on Atlantic as well as the delights of both Sahadi’s and Damascus for middle eastern prepared foods and pastries.  And it’s easily followed by a long meander to Brooklyn Heights, a favorite neighborhood of mine every since watching Moonstruck in my room as a lonely middle schooler.

Shelsky’s is perfection of smoked fish and cream cheese on an everything bagel or bialy. It is an old school Jewish deli with a modern twist, an engaging palate giving the lox-and-cream-cheese a rebirth.

Much of what’s sold at the deli counter is made in-house or sourced from top Jewish food purveyors across the city. The appetizing shop brings the main stays of the like of the Upper West Side’s glorious Zabar’s, so Brooklynites don’t have to go that far for quality smoked fish.

It’s quite busy at breakfast or brunch during the weekend. I’ve found the best time to find yourself in the beautiful smoked fish heaven is the late afternoon, for that either late lunch or early pre-dinner snack. We always split a sandwich, sitting at the counter in the front.

I use to be a bialy novice before Shelsky’s.  Yet a delightful combination of the Gaspe Nova, Smoked Whitefish Salad, Pickled Herring, and sour pickle, on  bialy convinced me otherwise.

Remember to wash down with a Dr. Brown for that classic New York City Jewish deli flavor experience.

Shelsky’s
141 Court St,
Brooklyn, NY 11201

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Feeling like Early Spring in Brooklyn

I started this drawing of brownstone Brooklyn in a sketchbook more than a year ago but only now felt like finishing it  as the temperatures reached a mighty strange 65 degrees this past weekend. Lately we’ve been talking about moving out of Brooklyn, maybe to Queens or even Manhattan (the shock!) This strange and pleasant February weekend outside reminded me how much I like living in this borough, though. So maybe it’s not meant to be yet.

Enjoying a warmer and sunnier borough means spending less money and more time outside around my favorite parts of the city: Prospect Park walks, bike riding to the beach, meandering from brownstone neighborhood to neighborhood, beers outside and in a back yard at my favorite flower shop bar (ah, the backyard life), the waterfront at Brooklyn Bridge and Williamsburg, and food adventures down to Coney Island or Sunset Park or Midwood. Central asian food is next on my list.

I’m feeling overly optimistic (we do have this weird climate-change-weather to blame) that Spring is right around the corner and this will be a pretty good Brooklyn season for me and Brian. And hopefully a good one for everyone.

Brooklyn is mighty fine in the warmer weather.

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Favorite Bookstores of Brooklyn

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Word / Spoonbill & Sugartown / Powerhouse Arena / Idlewild / Unnameable / Bookcourt* / Greenlight / Community Bookstore / Terrace Books / Freebird

I have a habit of keeping visual notes of the best things, from what I’ve eaten to days I’ve spent. Bookstores in New York City are on the top of my best things list in life. Even if they’re fewer than before–I still miss the old Rizzoli space, sigh!– they’re still numerous enough to keep me happy. I often just plan a weekend day with Brian around ending up in a bookstore. After sketching my favorite Manhattan bookstores, it took me a while and an illustration class project to get them all down.

My favorite of the favorites is probably Unnameable because it’s the right mix of new and old, as well as in the perfect location for meandering around stores in Prospect Heights. Who doesn’t want Ample Hills AND a book on a Saturday bike ride? A close second is Community Bookstore in Park Slope because it’s cat is on the cover of a Japanese book about bookstore cats. I love a bookstore cat.

*update Feb 2017 Bookcourt closed! But soon enough Emma Straub is opening Books Are Wonderful in the ‘hood.

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Dumplings of Sunset Park, Brooklyn

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Sunset Park is about a twenty minute bus ride from my apartment, a ride that jostles through Bangladeshi, Orthodox Jewish, Chinese, and Mexican enclaves of the borough,  You’ll pass halal butchers with live birds, kosher bakeries packed on a Sunday afternoon, dim sum joints and dumpling houses easy to miss if you’re not looking, tacos stands and mango sliced on street corners with hot sauce. It’s a microcosm for all the recent immigrant patterns changing and shifting the food landscape of Brooklyn.

Sunset Park is home to Brooklyn’s Chinatown, too. There are two other Chinatowns in New York City of course, the oldest and most well-known Manhattan enclave as well as the currently expanding Queens’ community in Flushing. Brooklyn’s Chinatown formed in the 1980s with a mix of Cantonese speaking immigrants and more recent Mandarin speakers. It too shares new growth in common with its Queen’s sibling.

Walking 8th avenue in Sunset Park centers you on the main thoroughfare of Brooklyn’s Chinatown from where you can observe busy cafes, banquet halls, video stores, fishmongers, and grocers where (if you’re like me) you can stop to look at prickly durian fruits hanging from awnings with both reverence and trepidation. And of course, you’ll pass by many nondescript dumpling restaurants beckoning you to eat more than you’d expected was humanly possible.

I’m not an expert when it comes to Chinese food and Chinatowns–full disclosure–but after reading Edible Brooklyn Dumpling Tour of Sunset Park I thought I’d use dumplings as my guide to eat and draw a day’s worth of Sunset Park.

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The first stop was Great Taste Dumpling which is supposed to have some of the best and cheapest dumplings in Brooklyn. The inside was sparse and barebones but every seat was taken when we arrived, a testament to how good the owner’s 4-for-a-dollar dumplings are. We ordered boiled pork and chive dumplings and sesame pancakes stuffed with pork with several pours of the vinegar soy sauce poured into reused sriracha bottles to make everything that perfect bite of savory and salty. The owner of Great Taste is friendly and fast.  I found an article about the dumpling house’s purveyor from Open City quite poignant, speaking to the pleasure but obscured hard work behind the food immigrants sell,

Next, we kept our hungry stomaches going by settling down at Kei Feng Fu Dumpling. Similar to Great Taste, this dumpling house was minimal but packed. While we were there a church group ordered around a hundred dumplings which the small staff didn’t even blinked at. We opted to try pan-fried pork dumplings and another sesame pancake,. These dumplings were  of the  cheap 4-for-a-dollar and delicious variety as well.

To change up our the dumpling palate, we ended the crawl at He Yi Yiao Chi, which is hard to recognize as a restaurant with so many car ads plastered to it’s outside but don’t be fooled, it’s worth it. Inside, we ordered six pork ting buns for 3.00. Each bun was light and fluffy on the outside, with a dark savory pork filling inside. Six buns with hot sauce and vinegar soy sauce was more than enough to fill our savory cravings for the day.

Though we couldn’t leave without satisfying a sweet tooth so we stopped by a Chinese bakery to grab a slice of honeycomb cake, something I’ve never tried before but it had an irresistible but strange texture with a deep molasses sweetness.

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Claudia Pearson’s Illustration in Fodor’s Brooklyn Guide

 

I picked up the new Fodor’s travel guide to Brooklyn after spotting it at a few local bookstores in late September around, naturally, Brooklyn.

Turns out, it’s the first Fodor’s guide to Brooklyn. A much debated borough as of late for all sorts of important but complicated reasons–the guidebook mentions gentrification in albeit a brief section in the beginning–it is still strangely pleasant to have a travel guide to somewhere you already live, even if things close and change faster than I can count.

Luckily the guide has recommendations and tid-bits about the farther into Brooklyn neighborhoods of Kensington, Midwood, and Ditmas Park which happen to be where I live (in the intersection of them all.) Still, there is much to the borough I’d want to add, especially even more of those neighborhoods and places off the beaten path from most new denizens. Perhaps the next edition can expand even more into far reaches of the borough.

But illustrations in the guide were a big selling point for me. I’m a sucker for illustrated New York City and all the illustrations, including my favorite the chapter neighborhood maps, were created by a local illustrator Claudia Pearson.

Pearson made a quick video tutorial about her process for creating illustrated neighborhood maps which is super helpful for all the self-taught artists and drawers like me:

Pearson is known not only for local illustrations but also drawings of food. She sells most weekends at the Brooklyn Flea. I proudly haul my gym clothing around in her tote.

I particularly like the work she’s down for Sustainable NYC and Grow NYC.

 

 

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