One downside of less time spent birding is less time spent exploring neighborhoods adjacent to birdy areas. Add to that the construction-related closure of the Avenue U station on the Coney Island-bound F train, and my effort to eat my way up and down Avenue U, from Gravesend to Marine Park, has slowed considerably.
Reports of bobolinks at the Salt Marsh Nature Center sent me back to the neighborhood recently. And because birding requires sustenance, I worked in a few quick food stops.
I had passed by Jay & Lloyd’s kosher deli a few times without really noticing it (probably because I was drawn – like a moth to a flame, or a bobolink to a grassy field – to the Turkish bakery on the corner). Once you do notice it, though, you wonder how you could possibly have missed it before. It certainly doesn’t want for signage.”Rated #1 Pastrami in N.Y.,” the awning blares, as well as “Best Hotdog in N.Y.” In the window, a neon (all-beef, presumably) hot dog points toward a sign announcing that Jay and Lloyd were “Winners of Spike Reality Show Hungry Investors” (capsule description: “‘Bar Rescue’ star Jon Taffer teams up with acclaimed celebrity chef and author John Besh and ‘Top Chef All-Star’ Tiffany Derry on a cross country search for struggling restaurants with incredible potential for success”). On the other side of the hot dog, Anthony Bourdain’s visage invites you to watch them on the Brooklyn episode of “No Reservations.”
Step inside, and the entry vestibule is papered with children’s drawings promising “Love & Knishes” and introducing “Matzoh Ball Mickey.”
Do you like bad jokes on deli menus? As in, describing the soup of the day as “soup de jew”? Then this is the place for you.
Do you like theatrically grumpy (but with a big, soft heart underneath it all) deli owners? That’s Jay. (It may be Lloyd, too, but he wasn’t around when I was there.) I listened to Jay bust the balls of the young counter guy who took my order and fumbled with my debit card (“new system,” he explained).
Counter guy: Jay, can you help me with this?
Jay: Gimme the card and I’ll show you how to do it.
Counter guy: I already started it, I think I messed up.
Jay, in the counter guy’s face: So you already started it and you messed up and NOW you’re asking me? How about you ask me FIRST next time? Ask me BEFORE you mess it up. Okay?
But I swear he had one eye on me, and a twinkle in the other, as he said this.
And the food? The pastrami was a little chewy, but tasty – and piled high. The bread was typical NYC deli rye with a disappointing crust (oh, for the double-baked rye that’s standard at any Detroit deli worth its salt!) and a tendency to fall apart under the weight of its load. The mustard was strong and copious. And both pickles that came with my sandwich were old dills, instead of the usual one old plus one new. Since I’ve never seen the point of new dills – anything worth pickling is worth pickling thoroughly, in my book – I appreciated that, even if it was another mistake by the counter guy.
Still, at $13.95 for a sandwich, Jay & Lloyd’s is unlikely to become a regular stop on my Avenue U eating roster.
That’s not the case for Safir Bakery, the aforementioned Turkish bakery on the same block. I’ve stopped there roughly the same number of times I’ve posted eBird checklists from the Salt Marsh Nature Center – mainly to pick up their addictive, sesame-coated simit rings ($1.50 each), sometimes for sweets dripping with syrup and bulging with pistachios. They claim their baklava is the best in the city, but I think I need to do more research before I can weigh in one way or another.
I want to like the Baku Bakery, half a mile west, because how many bakeries are there cranking out elaborate cakes for weddings, christenings and bar/bat mitzvahs alongside traditional Azeri pastries? Unfortunately, at least as it’s practiced here, the Azeri pastry tradition is “dry.” I wasn’t wild about the (dry) nut-filled shekerbura, but was glad I tried the savory shor gogal for the new-to-me combination of turmeric and fennel in the (dry) crumbly filling.
If I try it again, I’ll come prepared with a drink to wash it down and a napkin to catch the alarming quantity of crumbs it generates.
Postscript: It took several visits, but I did eventually see a male bobolink in flight (a quick, not-entirely-satisfying look) for bird #222 on my New York City list for the year.
Mentioned in this post:
Jay & Lloyd’s Kosher Deli
2718 Avenue U, Brooklyn 11229
2724 Avenue U, Brooklyn 11229
1903 Avenue U, Brooklyn 11229