Sarah Zorn's Guide to Good Eating in Bath Beach, Brooklyn
A scraggly fig tree was enough to convince Sarah Zorn, a lifelong Brooklynite, to move to Bath Beach nearly seven years ago. The food journalist grew up in Park Slope and moved to Bay Ridge as an adult, but both neighborhoods have quickly gentrified over the years. Bath Beach, she says, has traditionally been an Italian neighborhood, but over the past few decades has seen an influx of immigrants, especially Chinese, Russian and Polish. While the dining options are limited for a writer who just wrote the Brooklyn Chef's Table, which weaves recipes with stories of some of the borough's most well-known restaurants, Zorn is reminded why she lives in Bath Beach when the fig tree is in bloom for a couple of months out of the year. Here are some of our favorite eats in the neighborhood.
Red Sauce Italian: I knew moving to this neighborhood, I could rely on Tommaso if nothing else. Tommaso tends to attract the biggest crowds during Carnivale, when they throw a big pre-Lent party complete with harlequin masks, colored beads, and a whole suckling pig with maraschino cherry eyes and an orange stuck into its mouth. But if you're lucky, you can get an aria with your osso bucco, antipasti, and "lasagna della mamma" any day of the week, courtesy of the owner (and Julliard-trained opera singer) Thomas Verdillo.
Georgian: Over the last couple of years, Bath Beach has become home to a number of excellent Georgian restaurants and bakeries, serving Transcaucasian food you don't see often in New York. The best of the bunch is Mtskheta Café, hunkered underneath the elevated D-train. Let the waiter be your guide—just make sure he plies you with plenty of khachapuri (gooey cheese bread) and steaming khinkali, fat and meaty soup dumplings with adorable doughy topknots.
Pizza: With the exception of an excellent sit-down restaurant tacked on in the 70's (where knowing the owners will significantly heighten your experience, and expedite getting a table), it's refreshing that even after 75 years, L&B Spumoni Gardens has remained largely unchanged. That includes the customer base, so if you're a newbie to L&B, don't blow your cover with the regulars by getting a round pie. The only acceptable order is a full or half sheet of squares. It's finished with a topcoat of not-too-sweet tomato sauce and freshly-grated Pecorino Romano.
Sandwiches: I've lived in the neighborhood for almost five years now and still haven't made a dent in Lioni's roster of over 200 generously proportioned subs, all named after real Italian "heroes." As it is, I have a tough time getting past the sexy Sophia Loren, with prosciutto di Parma, sweet stuffed peppers, and Lioni's fresh housemade mozzarella on Cammareri Bros. bread.
More Sandwiches: John's Deli had an outpost on the Coney Island boardwalk for a while, but the real deal "roast beef with mutz" sandwiches only come from their circa-1968 location on Stillwell. If you decide to hunker down inside (to scrub your gravy-stained arms with the paper towel rolls that line each table), try not to dwell on the grimy microwave, Saw-style bathroom, or bummer B-rating from the health department.
Diner: Bath Beach isn't exactly overflowing with, well, American food options, so if you're craving burgers, fries, grilled cheese et al., Vegas Diner is pretty much your best bet. Although I still have a hard time resigning myself to the fact that a paper placemat-style menu advertising throwback cocktails passes for nightlife around here. Will someone open an actual bar, PLEASE?
Pastries: When I need an instant sugar fix, I walk down the street to Mona Lisa Bakery for nut tarts, cannoli, and some awesome unnamed pastry-thing—basically a Florentine cookie cone filled with orange-scented cream. Amazing. But when I'm looking to make a splash as a houseguest or dinner party invitee, I show up with a box of ornate Italian goodies from the 35-year-old Villabate Alba, like mini Cassatini Siciliani, dense pignoli cookies and handcrafted marzipan figurines.
Noodles: I've had great and not so great experiences ordering from Hand Pull Noodle and Dumpling House, but a lot can be forgiven when almost everything on the menu costs under five bucks. I tend to alternate between either the hand-pulled or line noodles in beef broth with head-on shrimp, accompanied by a slew of crazy cheap appetizers like scallion pancakes, steamed buns, spicy bok choy, and radish with sauce (essentially, kimchee). You can also get a bag of 50 frozen dumplings for $15, a quick-fix dinner for days when you can't even be bothered to pick up the phone.
Bubble Tea: Unless you count the Dunkin' Donuts by the 18th Avenue subway station (FYI: I don't), you'll just have to get your java fix somewhere outside of the neighborhood. So before I hop the D train, I curtail my caffeine cravings with a bubble tea from 86 Bakery (green milk tea in the winter, mango in the summer), accompanied by a coconut roll or red bean bun. This is not even remotely the best bubble tea place in the neighborhood, by the way, but you can't beat it for convenience.
Sichuan: Spicy Bampa (formerly Bamboo Pavilion) excels at Sichuan hot pot. Provided you can convince your friends to travel out to Bath Beach/Bensonhurst to join you (no small feat), it makes for a fun and filling group meal, especially in the dead of winter. And if you're pals with the type of person that would brave the southbound D train just for dinner, it should be a cinch to convince them to forgo safe dippers like beef and chicken in favor of chewy tripe.