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Midwood

Turkish Delight at Taci’s Beyti

On a recent voyage to Little Pepper to indulge a second time in some of the best Szechuan food ever to grace this continent, I met Imperial Stout, a fellow food-adventure seeker and a friend of Dan Dan Noodle. As we sat digging in to our dumplings, Imperial Stout told us of another restaurant we had to try. It served the best Turkish food in the five boroughs, he said, and a group would need to be assembled to properly sample its wealth of offerings. A few weeks later, Imperial Stout set to work assembling that group, sending us a link to the mouthwatering menu of Taci’s Beyti, located in the Midwood neighborhood of Brooklyn.

Dan Dan’s roommate, Steve Vanilla, and Imperial Stout were with Dan Dan in his car when Empanada Boy and I piled in. He followed Imperial Stout’s driving directions as Imperial Stout treated all of us to pre-dinner samples of nutmeg and mole-flavored salami that he had brought back from Armandino Batali’s Salumi on a recent trip to Seattle. When we pulled up and walked into the restaurant, we saw a long, thin, cafeteria-type space, too-brightly-lit with fluorescent lights. Mirrors covered the upper two-thirds of one wall and terrible dance music played loudly through speakers in the ceiling. Waiters dressed in black and white moved in and out of the kitchen in the back. Many of the tables around us were filled with people eating and talking. This was clearly the place to be for fine Turkish cuisine.

Imperial Stout took charge of the ordering with a little input from the rest of us and then revealed the beers from his collection that he had brought to share with us, including Pliny the Elder, an American double from California’s Russian River Brewing; a vintage bottle of The Abyss, an imperial stout by the Oregon brewery Deschutes; and for dessert, a bottle of Cherry Adam of the Wood by Portland’s own Hair of the Dog. (First salami, then fine beer—this is a good friend to have!) Soon the food began to arrive. The first dish was eggplant with spicy tomato sauce: cubes of eggplant sautéed with tomatoes, garlic and peppers to create a sweet-savory spread to top the thick Turkish bread delivered in baskets to our table. Next came the salad, a platter of brightly dressed tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, olives and green peppers topped with a mountain of fresh-grated feta and intermingled with tasty morsels of air-dried pastrami, seasoned with cumin, garlic and paprika. Cubes of calves liver were delicious in their crispy pan-fried shells. A squirt of lemon juice and a salad of seasoned onions kept their richness in check.

Then the server brought us the baked items we had ordered. The first, lahmacun, was thin circles of doughy bread topped with ground lamb, tomatoes, parsley and onions, seasoned with cumin, garlic and pepper. It tasted like a Middle Eastern pizza. We also sampled beyaz peynirli pide, a flaky pastry stuffed with that same fresh feta, an egg-milk custard, parsley and dill. The salty edge of the feta and the brightness of the herbs cut through the decadent pastry and custard to some degree, but this was not a dish to be taken lightly.

Just as I was started to get the first sensation of fullness, the meats arrived at the table. We ordered the Betyi kebab—savory skewer-grilled lamb, served in a slightly spicy sauce of tomatoes, garlic, green peppers. This was delicious, but the meat was almost too shrouded in sauce for my taste. I preferred the Iskender kebab (see second photo above)—thin shavings of gyro kebab (made of different meats ground together and reassembled) came topped with a lighter tomato sauce on top of a bed of yogurt-soaked pita. This meat was perfectly spiced and the thin slices meant we could keep adding more to our plates. The dish was like a fresher, more complex, disassembled gyro sandwich served on a platter. And what, I ask, could be wrong with that?

We were all quite full at this point, but we couldn’t leave without eating dessert. Imperial Stout had preordered kunefe, a unique pie of sorts, made with finely shredded dough baked until crispy and filled with stretchy and sweet kunefe cheese. It was soaked in a not-too-sweet honey syrup and topped with crunchy pistachios. It was a fantastic way to end a great meal. I only wish I had more space in my stomach to fill with it.

Taci’s Beyti
1955 Coney Island Ave.
Brooklyn, NY 11223
718.627.5750

Taci's Beyti on Urbanspoon

Challah Back! Where’s the Good Challah At?

When Empanada Boy and I moved to Park Slope, Brooklyn from Washington Heights, the heavily Dominican and Puerto Rican neighborhood at the northern tip of Manhattan, I thought that even though we might be leaving tostones and arroz con pollo behind we would at least be getting some good bagels and challah. After all, Brooklyn has the largest concentration of Jews outside Israel and Park Slope is home to the largest reform Jewish temple in Brooklyn. When we got here, there were delicious bagels aplenty, but finding good challah was a struggle.

Back in the Heights, we typically bought Zomick’s challah (see above), which is made on Long Island and is sold at most New York grocery stores in a green-checkered plastic bag. It’s soft and fluffy, with a slight chew and a little sweetness. It makes a pretty good French toast (essential to preserving my family’s Saturday morning tradition). It also miraculously stays fresh-tasting for much longer than it probably should and only comes in plain or raisin varieties. Do poppy and sesame seeds just cut too far into the already slim challah profit margins? I’m not sure. All I know is that after doing our best to sample all the challah varieties that our Brooklyn surroundings have to offer, we are now back to where we started, buying Zomick’s at the grocery store, and no closer to the challah ideal than when we first arrived in New York. How did we get here, you might ask? Allow me to recount the steps.

The first place we tried after moving to the south end of the Slope was Lopez Bakery. It was an unlikely first choice because it’s a Mexican bakery, specializing in various kinds of pan dulce and some basic breads. We selected it for it’s proximity and for the fact that it’s actually a bakery, meaning breads are baked on the premises. This turns out to be a very rare thing in Brooklyn and in New York in general when it comes to savory breads. In Portland, I can count at least five bakeries that make their own breads, including fantastic challah— and it’s not exactly a Jewish hotbed. But I digress… the challah from Lopez actually tasted a lot like pan de muertos, the egg bread made for Day of the Dead, minus the anise flavoring. While this traditionally has many of the same ingredients as challah, it also tends to be dry and a little stale tasting, which this challah also was. Our next thought was to try the challah made by Hudson Valley bakery Bread Alone. This one is sold at our food coop, where we do almost all of our shopping. But like nearly every other Bread Alone product I’ve sampled (so overrated!), this one was dry, bland and disappointing.

Our third try was somewhat better. We have always liked Amy’s Bread one of a handful of great bread bakeries in New York City. When we saw that Grab Speciality Foods, a gourmet mini mart near our house at the time, sold challah by Amy’s, we thought we had finally found a surefire winner. Amy’s makes a long, flattish loaf with a matte surface, compared to the glossy, egg-coated Zomick’s (see above photo). The bread wasn’t bad, but it didn’t taste like challah. It took us a few bites to figure it out, but this challah tasted like bagels. It was ultra-chewy and somewhat dense, but its flavor really reminded me of biting into a bagel. The problem is, I’ve had much better bagels and much softer, eggier and more flavorful challah. This leaves Amy’s challah a middling choice, which we promptly checked off our list of worthy candidates.

Feeling frustrated, I complained to my colleague Salt Man who lives on the Upper West Side (a veritable challah heaven with Silver Moon Bakery leading the way). We happened to be stopping in at Mahattan Judaica near our office to buy Hannukkah candles during our lunch hour, and Salt Man had the bright idea to ask the shop’s owner where to get the best challah in Brooklyn. The owner thought for a moment and said, “Well it depends on whether you like sweeter or more savory challah.” I said I liked it more savory, but the truth is I just wanted to know what was THE BEST in his mind. My wish was granted when, without further hesitation, he said: Ostrovitsky Bakery.

Ostrovitsky is a kosher bakery in the heavily Jewish Midwood neighborhood of Brooklyn. It’s not that far from our house, but it’s definitely not close enough to walk. And it’s a hike from the nearest subway station to the bakery itself. But EB and I decided we had to try it, so one Friday he put his bike on the subway and rode to the Avenue I stop on the F train. He then rode up to the bakery where patrons in various degrees of Orthodox garb were snatching up loaves of some beautiful looking challah. When we ate our shining poppyseed (!) loaf that night, we knew we had found the challah ideal. It was perfect in every dimension: fluffy with just a hint of chew, slight sweetness, delicious eggy exterior, I could go on and on. And the French toast the next day was amazing. That guy at Manhattan Judaica really knew what he was talking about!

So after hitting challah nirvana, why are we back to eating Zomick’s? Convenience—perhaps the single most important factor in any New Yorker’s life. We just don’t have the time to trek over to Midwood every Friday afternoon. My fundamental question is why can’t good, fresh-made challah make its way to Park Slope? There are plenty of hipster artisans looking to revive old crafts in the neighborhood and surroundings. Couldn’t they abandon their now-tired cupcake shops and pickling companies and open a bonafide neighborhood boulangerie instead? One that makes a good challah would be ideal. I’m sure I wouldn’t be the only one to abandon supermarket challah and start shopping there.

Zomick’s Challah is sold at:
Union Market
754-756 Union St.
Brooklyn, NY 11215
718.230.5152
and many other locations.

Lopez Bakery
647 5th Ave.
New York, NY 11215
718.965.0289

Bread Alone challah is sold at:
Park Slope Food Coop
782 Union St.
Brooklyn, NY 11215
718.622.0560
and many other locations.

Amy’s challah is sold at:
Grab Specialty Foods
438 7th Ave.
Brooklyn, NY 11215
718.369.7595
and many other locations.

Ostrovitsky Bakery
1124 Avenue J
New York, NY 11230
718.951.7924 ‎

Ostrovitsky Bakery on Urbanspoon