Taco Tuesday: Coney Island consolation breakfast

It started with a quest to see a bird; it ended with a search for a different bird, and a takeout container of tacos on the F train.

But I’m getting ahead of the story. When I left the apartment early this morning, headed for the R train, I had visions of glory. That Sandhill Crane that’s been reported several times at the Dyker Beach Golf Course, always vanishing before others could lay eyes on it? I would find it. Maybe I’d even manage to document it with my handy iPhone camera.

Ha! You know who gets up even earlier than birders (or at least this birder)? Golfers, that’s who. By the time I had surfaced at 86th St and jogged west to the golf course, multiple foursomes were already well into their games. The idea that a freakishly large, long-legged bird would still be out there grazing in the short grass began to seem a bit farfetched.

Nonetheless, I dutifully jogged the perimeter of the course, scanning the greens wherever the vines growing over the chain link fence allowed. I saw . . . people playing golf.

I tried to think like a bird. If I were lost in a big city where stubbly farm fields are scarce, where would I go? In a flash, it hit me: Dreier-Offerman Park! It’s not too far from Dyker Heights, and many of its ball fields are nicely scruffy and little used. Could that be where our roosting crane was spending its days, unbothered and unnoticed?

If nothing else, the run there would give me some much-needed mileage. It also – I realized as I continued southeast through an unfamiliar stretch of Bath Beach – took me back to the days when marathon training runs provided a magical window onto my then-new borough. And so, instead of looking for birds, I noted storefronts. I passed multiple mosques, a Chinese tutoring center, a Guatemalan bakery, a Russian restaurant, the usual work-a-day assortment of pharmacies and laundromats and tax preparers, a police precinct using the sidewalk as a parking lot; all in all, a very Brooklyn neighborhood.

Alas, my attempt to think like a Sandhill Crane was a failure: there was no sign of the bird at Dreier-Offerman. But as I counted the inordinate number of Black-crowned Night Herons on the mudflats (16!!), my phone pinged with a text alert. Multiple Wilson’s Storm-Petrels were being seen from the Coney Island fishing pier right that very moment.

I was already most of the way there, so why not?

By the time I got to the pier, the individual who’d posted the alert was gone, and the other folks who would eventually roll up to try to see the birds had not yet arrived. It was just me and several dozen fishermen, who looked on with mild curiosity as I raised my binoculars to my eyes and looked out into the distance at . . . nothing.

If you’re not a birder, the two things you need to know about Storm Petrels are that they (a) are small, about the size of swallows; and (b) typically feed far offshore. That makes a sighting from a Brooklyn beach super-exciting.

It also means that you’d best come equipped with high-powered optical gear, while I had only a measly pair of binoculars. One or more Storm Petrels had also been reported yesterday, described as sticking close to some small fishing boats. Through my binoculars, I could barely make out a couple of small fishing boats in the distance. I felt triumph, followed by despair. The boats were tiny, barely more than specks on the vastness of the ocean. There could be hundreds of Storm Petrels skimming the water around them, flashing their white rumps and demonstrating their typical stiff, shallow wingbeats, and I would never, ever, see them.

And yet I kept looking, because there I was, and there – somewhere – were the birds. At last, feeling increasingly self-conscious and a bit paranoid (I was convinced the fishermen’s curiosity was giving way to not-undeserved ridicule), I turned around, stashed my bins in my running backpack, and headed out.

Which brings us, inexorably, to tacos. On my way to the pier, I’d passed a bodega at the corner of Mermaid Ave and W. 17th St. A banner on the W. 17th-facing side advertised tortas/quesadillas/tacos/tostadas/etc., as well as a “guisado del dia” and, on weekends, all manner of special dishes. Its identity was a little unclear (“Guerrero Deli,” according to the banner, “Herradura Grocery” according to the awning on Mermaid Ave, “On the Run Pizza” according to a weathered sign on the roof), but it sounded promising, and I’d started up this blog again with a “Taco Tuesday” shtick, and I was feeling a little hungry . . . so in I went.

The front room was all grocery store. I wondered if the banner was outdated (though it looked new), or if it actually belonged to a different business. But there were a couple of other customers in the place who knew what they were doing, and so I followed them to a room at the far back of the store, through a door marked “employees only,” where a woman surrounded by bins of chopped and shredded ingredients was working the grill. I ordered two tacos with chorizo and egg, then returned to the store part of the store and awkwardly browsed the aisles while I waited for my order to be up. For what it’s worth, jars of huitlacoche that were somewhat less gigantic than those I’ve seen in Sunset Park groceries were $6.99. Religious candles were $2.49.

And the tacos? They were stellar. Made with full-size corn tortillas, they were larger than I’d expected, which turned out to be a good thing. Even tempered with scrambled egg, the chorizo had plenty of crunchy, charred bits. Cilantro, onion, green sauce and plenty of lime were the expected accompaniments, a more-than-generous pile of sliced radishes an unexpected grace note. I couldn’t resist eating the better part of one of the tacos on the deserted F train platform at Stillwell Ave, an act that reminded me of pre-Covid times. The other traveled back home with me.

It was the perfect Coney Island breakfast, and though I justified it as consolation for not seeing either a Sandhill Crane or a storm petrel, I discovered that in the end I really didn’t need much consoling.


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