Brighton Beach is our favorite beach for beach-going in NYC. Orchard Beach is my favorite beach for bike-riding, Coney Island for amusement park-ery, and Jones Beach for death-defying idiot transit stunts (don't ever, ever, try to ride your bike over the Robert Moses Bridge). Long Beach is a much nicer beach, but I don't think it counts as NYC. Also, they charge you! Doesn't that seem wrong? Even out in the Hamptons, they don't charge you for simply occupying a space on the sand. If you want a great beach, with a bunch of impossibly tanned and pretty young girls, a Wendy's nearby, and a party train, go to Long Beach. If you want an amazing cultural experience, a combination of skin colors and sizes, and great Russian food, go to Brighton Beach. We have to say, that the best thing about Brighton Beach is that everyone is so darn happy. We're pretty certain it has something to do with not being in Russia anymore.
Our introduction to Brighton Beach eats on this day was a "salty cheese" placynda, (empanada-type pastry) procured at the most exclusive deli in the world. Why is it the most exclusive? We don't know. But the placynda was frickin' awesome, as our surfer pals might say. The cheese was like a mild feta, with a strong dose of fresh dill, encased in a light, steamy, not-the-least-bit-greasy fried dough. I'm throwing in a photo of the ones from M&I, although we don't know if they're as good as the Exclusive ones. Also - as R. Kelly in "Ignition" says - it's probably a good policy to go with the ones that are poppin' fresh out the kitchen. In the Exclusive photo, you can see the lovely ladies selling them fresh from their table in front of the store.
Sarah and I decided to get our Russian on at M & I International food. We went up (past the alluring sausages) to the third floor, where there's a deli with about 25 indoor tables and 15 outdoor tables. I've seen another blog post that described a visitor as being "intimidated" by the uncooperative Russianness of the patrons and staff. In fact, Sarah scurried off for a while, before I could convince her to come up and try some of the goodies. The most surprising thing about the joint was that every single person was drinking this cherry-currant fruit juice. You just don't see that kind of conformity in the good ol' U. S. of A. It was labeled in the case as "fruit punch," so that's what we said when we ordered. The guy behind us snorted and said some guttural Russian word. When we looked at him uncomprehendingly, he translated for us "compote." It was pretty good, although I asked for ice and they didn't have any. Lots of cherries and currants in the bottom of the cup, although I seemed to be the only guy who ate mine. It was great with the very blintz-like rolled-up crepe with raisin cheese spread in the center. The cheese was like a ricotta, or whatever cheese they put in blintzes.
Downstairs at the grocery store, the hottest-selling items besides the sausages seemed to be the vegetable salads. We had already tried some cubed beet salad and the "Russian Salad" of cubed potato, egg, pea, carrot, and whatever else they put in there with mayonnaise. The Russian Salad was great but didn't travel well, so we stuck with more beet salad, plus a very popular carrot slaw, plus some "eggplant caviar" that seemed to be the hottest-selling stuff in the joint. Babushka after babushka seemed to order a gallon jug of the stuff. Or at least a plastic quart container. Even though I can't stand cilantro and this had some, this stuff was very good. Fresh-tasting, not acrid like some eggplant dishes, very light on the palate, we used it for all kinds of things. My dad made a sandwich out of it, although I don't know if that's allowed by the strict Russian usage bylaws. In the photo, that's the beet salad on the left, the carrot salad in the center, a pickled tomato on the right, some mushroom and some sauerkraut filled pastries, the eggplant caviar behind the tomato, sausage in front, and some fresh-baked pita chips on top of the pastries.