There are plenty of things I’d rather not see migrate over the bridge from Manhattan. Like sports stadiums. Or more Manhattanites. But when the exports involve cheap eats, it’s time to roll out the welcome mat.
Case in point: the arrival of four-for-a-buck dumplings on the shores of the East River, or at least within a half-mile of it. Fried Dumpling on Mosco Street in Manhattan’s Chinatown has long been a starred spot on the Brokavore’s cheap-chow map, so when I got wind of a like-minded spot opening in Downtown Brooklyn — Golden Fried Dumplings at 192 Duffield St. — it was time to investigate.
This may come as a shock, but places that sell ten dumplings for the price of a subway ride don’t tend to sweat the décor, and this dreary storefront is not an exception. But that fact is not nearly as important as this one: hand the pleasant woman at the cash register a single dollar, and within moments you’ll be handed a plate of four succulent, griddle-browned pork and chive dumplings. A few squirts of Srichacha chile sauce, and you’ll be a contented customer. (Maybe less contented if you’re on a low-fat diet.)
The dirt-cheap prices encourage exploring the small menu, but the results do not. Roast pork buns — close enough a cousin to dumplings that they’re usually a good bet at these places — are not advisable. A carton of noodles with peanut sauce was overpriced at $2. And a sesame pancake with vegetables ($1.50) was a leathery affair that had me fondly remembering an equally cheap but vastly better one I had several years ago on Eldridge Street. (Yes, I do remember things like this.)
That pancake came from a place called Vanessa’s Dumpling House. Which is relevant because right after my Golden Dumplings visit I received word that Vanessa’s had opened a Williamsburg outpost in December. That pulse-spiking news sent me immediately to the G train, and to a pleasant, bright spot on Bedford between South 1st and South 2nd Streets.
It was worth the trip. A gift, this place is, even though an order of four chive and pork dumplings costs a whopping $1.25 instead of a buck. They’re juicy and crisp-skinned, and there’s cheap beer to go with them: a draft of the Korean beer Hite is two bucks; a special offered an order of dumplings and a Blue Moon winter ale for $4.50. There’s a cabbage-pork variety, and vegetable dumplings as well. The whole-wheat skins on the latter are a bit tough, but that’s the price of dietary virtue. The quartet of dumplings swimming in my shrimp and pork wonton soup were good indeed, and given the $2.50 price tag, does it matter if the broth is lifeless?
At $2, that sesame pancake with vegetables is as good as I remembered. It’s a wedge of impeccably moist and chewy bread split lengthwise and filled with a mound of cucumber, carrots and cilantro, It makes a great poor-man’s (or vegetarian’s) substitute for a bahn-mi, especially spiked with hot sauce.
There’s other stuff to investigate on the menu, with only one item cracking the $5 mark. And they’re open late (midnight on weekends, otherwise 11 p.m.). So welcome to Brooklyn, Vanessa. I shall return.
Golden Fried Dumplings, 192 Duffield Street, 718-522-2836
Vanessa’s Dumpling House, 310 Bedford Ave., 718-218-8809