Behind the nondescript storefront on Schermerhorn Street in Downtown Brooklyn is the Radha Govinda Mandir Hare Krishna Temple. Why does that matter to Serious Eaters? Because on weekdays, from 11:30 AM until 3 PM, they serve up homemade vegetarian Indian food on the lower level of the temple. There are large steam tables of food from which you can order à la carte, but for $10 you can get the full meal, a little bit of everything. That $10 you gets a lot of food, and the menu changes daily.
On the day of my visit, the server behind the counter asked if I was a vegan. When I told her I was not, she began loading up my tray, explaining each item along the way. The curried farina was mild and light with raisins and cashews. Roasted edamame were nice and chewy, mixed with corn and shredded carrot to enhance the sweetness of the soybeans. Eggplant and potato with cheese was the most familiar of the foods on my plate, and the cheese (in the style of paneer) was also homemade. The cauliflower was not quite warm enough and had a rubbery texture, but a nice curry flavor.
Black-eyed peas were soupy and comforting. There was also a forgettable salad, and the meal came with my choice of soup. The server recommended the split pea with zucchini strips, which, though underseasoned, carried the pleasantly smoky flavor of curry leaves. Everything was much tastier with a little bit of the pickled mango, provided free of charge at the end of the counter.
I know that the full meal was a lot of food, but in the interest of research I decided to try out some more. For $2 I got a samosa the size of my fist. Although I found the potato filling far too salty, the exterior crust was wonderful. Flaky and buttery, it tasted much better than the doughy samosa crust you find at most Indian restaurants.
For dessert, I couldn't resist ordering a slice of the mango cheesecake ($3). I'm glad I did—the cake was my favorite part of my meal. The browned top of the New York-style cheesecake gave way to the creamy interior, perfumed with the intoxicating flavor of mango. Even though I was quite full at this point, I could have eaten another few slices of this.
Govinda Kitchen is a lot like a cafeteria, with steam tables and a large, open seating plan. Workers from the Downtown Brooklyn area come in on their lunch breaks for a home-cooked Indian meal, and the food is plentiful and relatively cheap. The only thing that might tip you off to the fact that this is, indeed, a Hare Krishna temple, is the occasional recorded chanting coming from the speakers in the corner of the room. If I worked in the area, I'd be there at least once a week, especially as the menu changes daily. Not everything was great, but the friendly, homey food makes Govinda Kitchen a special place to eat in an unlikely area.
About the author: Howard Walfish is a Virginia native who has been living in New York since 2003. He is, in fact, a vegetarian, and is the co-founder of Eat to Blog and the creator of BrooklynVegetarian.