That’s the attitude that many Manhattanites have when it comes to visiting any of the other boroughs of our fair city. Using the bridges and tunnels to leave the island is just mind-boggling and incomprehensible to many. While I can sort of understand it, it really is ridiculous. There are so many interesting things to see, do and of course eat in the other areas of New York. Granted, it does take a while to get anywhere when taking the subway or a bus, but with a little effort you might be happily surprised.
So when a friend in the wine business offered to drive to Brooklyn to visit some places for lunch on a rainy, dreary Friday, I quickly jumped at the offer. “I heard of a place that makes great Pho, and if we’re still hungry we can grab a Gyro too,” he said. Being a big fan of Vietnamese cuisine, and particularly of that wonderful broth called Pho, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to not only visit Brooklyn again but also enjoy some real ethnic food. Why not just go to Chinatown, you ask? Well, it’s always nice to visit other parts of the city, and things in Chinatown aren’t as authentic as they used to be. Plus, he was driving, so I wasn’t going to argue.
We headed out into the cold rain and crossed the Brooklyn Bridge, looking as lovely in the mist as under a bright sun. Once on the Belt Parkway, happy memories from my childhood visits to my family in Bay Ridge flooded back, making this a trip down memory lane as well. The Verrazzano Bridge extended its gray bulk into the rain, making things look both dreary and magical at the same time. God, I love this city.
“OK, it’s somewhere around here,” my friend said as we rolled slowly down 86th Street, passing Bay Parkway. “What? You don’t have the exact address?” I asked. “No, I just know it’s got brown doors,” was the answer. Great. That simplifies things. A few minutes later, we knew we’d found it by the name above a brown façade: Phó Tây Hô.
By now, we were starving, so we sat down and perused the huge menu, even though we knew what we wanted. Still, we ordered a plate of summer rolls, crunchy and fresh, with big, bright shrimp in thin casings with peanut sauce, something to munch on while we waited for our Pho. Delicious. Then came the pièce de résistance: a HUGE bowl of Pho, still bubbling from the heat, full of organ meats and noodles, the broth giving off lovely herbal and meaty aromas. Wow. Now that’s what I call a bowl of soup! And it truly was delicious, all the different meats (tendon and tripe, for example) soft yet retaining their own textures and tastes. The flavors were bright and sharp, with Thai basil sprucing things up.
We sat there for an hour, enjoying the experience, feeling like tourists in our own town.
Getting back into the car, we cruised down Coney Island Avenue to Sahara’s, a Turkish restaurant that also offers a take-out section. We both ordered what was supposed to be the specialty, lamb gyro with the fixings. Having grown up with Middle-Eastern food, I was really looking forward to trying this. The meat was moist on the spit, all the condiments looked fresh, and the pita bread was thin, like good pita should be.
Yet it wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. I was slightly disappointed, to be honest. The lettuce and onions were almost freezing cold, and the lamb, while flavorful and moist, was quickly overpowered by the sauces they used. Not terrible, mind you, but I had expected and hoped for better. Ah well, c'est la vie! It was good enough to eat as I was still hungry.
Now stuffed, we headed back into the city, driving down Smith Street and past its colorful gentrified sidewalks. We crossed the beautiful bridge, saying goodbye to Brooklyn, at least for now.