Friday, August 11, 2006

Brighton Beach Memoirs

Take the Q train to the Brighton Beach stop and exit directly into another country. This is "Little Russia," also known as "Little Odessa," the heart of Brooklyn's Russian community and the reputed home of the Russian Mafia.

The Village Voice says, "No matter where you're from, it's likely that at first, Brighton will make you alienated, lonely, and even ... miserable." Perhaps not miserable, but for those who don't speak Russian or understand the culture of the former Soviet Union, negotiating the 'hood can be a daunting experience.

This immigrant community is remarkably insular and suspicious — in fact, Brighton Beach is the only area of New York where shopkeepers have actually abandoned their busy cash registers and run outside to angrily forbid me from photographing their storefronts. That's right, they don't want photos of the exteriors of their shops. Taking pictures inside the stores is even more difficult, requiring a bit (or more) of subtrefuge.

And that's a shame because, while the area is seriously lacking in charm, visitors who peek behind the Cyrillic signs can discover fascinating (and delicious) shopping and dining in Brighton Beach. Beyond the famed Russian connection, the neighborhood has drawn immigrants from many of the nations in Russia's orbit and the main shopping street, Brighton Beach Avenue, is crowded with Ukrainian bakeries, Belarusian furriers, Turkish sweets shops and Georgian shashlik houses.

Brighton Beach's many bakeries all have large windows open to the street, allowing shoppers to buy savory pastries — flaky pockets stuffed with meat or cheese and fresh, fragrant loaves of pumpernickel and rye — without having to push their way into the crowded shops. The delis and supermarkets feature "salad bars" stocked with heaping trays of cooked sausages, chicken Kiev, dilled potatoes, stuffed cabbage, beet salad, eggplant "caviar," cherry-filled blintzes and other hearty old world dishes. Huge stores offer goods ranging from t-shirts emblazoned with Russian slogans to copies of Microsoft Excel for Dummies in Russian; tiny shops sell caviar and babushkas.

If you go to Brighton Beach, be sure to stop in at Vintage, where you can select nuts and candies from dozens of bins and barrels, M&I International Foods where you can enjoy Russian ice cream, borscht and pelmeni at the rooftop cafe, and the Odessa grocery, where you can buy an enormous slab of baked salmon for only a few dollars. Walk a block or two south and you'll find a wide, windswept boardwalk and miles of clean, beautiful Brooklyn beaches.

Welcome to Brighton Beach Posted by Picasa

Keep Brighton Beach Clean Posted by Picasa

Under the tracks Posted by Picasa

This appears to be an ad for a Russian drag show Posted by Picasa

Sign at butcher shop Posted by Picasa

Glass-fronted wooden drawers of grains in Vintage Posted by Picasa

Olives and sundried tomatoes in Vintage Posted by Picasa

We squeaze juice Posted by Picasa

Bakery worker Posted by Picasa

Danielle Steele novels Posted by Picasa

Caviar Posted by Picasa

Fresh sweets Posted by Picasa

Ground pork Posted by Picasa

Under the tracks on Brighton Beach Boulevard Posted by Picasa

Bakery worker Posted by Picasa

On Brighton Boulevard Posted by Picasa

A pavilion on the boardwalk Posted by Picasa

The beach Posted by Picasa

  • Brighton Neighborhood Association

  • Village Voice: Close-Up on Brighton Beach

  • Village Voice: Close-Up on Brighton Beach, Brooklyn

  • Roadtrip America: Brighton Beach

  • Brighton Beach Memoirs

  • Little Odessa

    At 8/26/2006 11:56:00 AM, Anonymous Wren said...

    What a gorgeous beach!

    I had no idea there was any place like that in the US! I impressed at how clean it all is--and it made me very hungry!!!

    At 10/16/2007 02:16:00 PM, Anonymous Vincenzo said...

    Hey !
    nice post!
    i am headed to Brighton beach next week , for ...gulp, a photo assignment.
    You seem to stress that the shopkeepers were pretty anti-photo. how much of a hard(or easy) time will i have to convince the folks to have their pictures taken?
    any help would be greatly appreciated.



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