A native Brooklynite’s love letter to her 10 favorite food items in the borough

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While Lioni Italian Heroes didn't make the list, their menu is, in my humble opinion, the most Brooklyn in Brooklyn. Photo by @vinnybogan / Instagram

Wait until you’re hungry and then close your eyes, breathe in and try to remember: What are the most delicious singular food items you’ve consumed in Brooklyn? We’re not talking restaurants, we’re not talking chefs, we’re talking isolated dishes.

This is an irregular task because food journalism – and people, although humanity is harder to generalize – usually judges eateries on their overall menu, aesthetic and atmosphere; individual plates are talked about in list format or when they’re particularly obscene. Besides, Brooklyn is large, time is tight, and the human body is in constant need of being fed – consuming your favorite plates is a difficult task when it involves overcoming great distances for a single dish.

The following list is irrational because unlike most “best of” roundups, it’s not very doable for all but the most committed souls who deeply trust my personal taste in grub. However, here it is: After a lifetime in Brooklyn, here are what I have come to believe are the borough’s best individual food items.

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A NetCost pickle pickle a day keeps the salt-tasting portion of your tongue satisfied. Photo via NetCost
A NetCost pickle a day keeps your soul satiated. Photo via NetCost

NetCost half dill pickles
2257 East 16th St., Sheepshead Bay

Russians take their pickles far more seriously than Americans. There aren’t any science experiment-like jars of processed pickles here. No no, these pickles are served whole, so the uninitiated may mistake them for cucumbers. They even have their own aisle full of self-serve bins and barrels.

Aunt Butchies cheese cones
6901 13th Ave., Boro Park

These are technically not cannoli – they are cheese cones, but they are clearly made in the image of cannoli. Not for the faint of heart or high of blood pressure, cheese cones consist of a rich cream filling wrapped in a hard, wafer-y shell roughly the size of half most forearms. Unless you happen to live in the area or have a car, these are a schlep and a half to acquire, but they’re worth it.

Mermaid Spa cheese vareniki
3703 Mermaid Ave., Sea Gate

I came upon these by accident. Neither me nor my spa companion spoke Russian, and when the server asked us, sitting tub-side in our towels, if we wanted a cheese plate, we said sure. He then brought out not a plate of cheese but a bowl of what appeared to be tiny dumplings, which we later learned were called vareniki. Served steaming, the little guys may appear to be snack-sized, but they pack a punch and for all but the hungriest eaters will constitute a full meal and a half.

Yemen Cafe hummus
176 Atlantic Ave., Downtown Brooklyn

The portion of hummus takes no small part in contributing to the enjoyment. The Yemen Cafe’s hummus plates are huge and cheap and accompanied by a massive amount of bread. Somehow, the chefs consistently get the dip to vessel ratio exactly right – if only they could teach their secret to the world.

Karczma borscht bread bowl
136 Greenpoint Ave., Greenpoint

I’d only previously seen edible bowls used in fast food restaurants and taco shops when I ordered the white borscht at Karczma. The bread bowl aspect is treated as an opt out option. This is exactly what it sounds like: borscht served in a bowl made of bread. The bread melts into the hot soup as you eat. Power to anyone capable of consuming the whole serving.

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The cherry lime ricky may not look like much, but it's got a better local rep than almost anyone. Photo by Ariana S. via Yelp
The cherry lime ricky may not look like much, but it’s got a better local rep than almost anyone. Photo by Ariana S. via Yelp

Policano’s Italian Sausage cheese and parsley sausage
79th St. and Linden Blvd., East New York

The journey is part of the fun for this one. Parked somewhere on the border of Howard Beach and East New York, Policano’s Italian Sausage is the OG food truck – no frills here, just a bunch of locals loitering near the truck eating logs of beef. There’s not much else in the area in less you live there, but trek out there if you can to pay homage with your lunch money and consume. Visit the website for a teaser of the experience.

De Hot Pot doubles
1127 Washington Ave., Crown Heights

I’ve known multiple people to move to Crown Heights, come upon De Hot Pot, and spend a week consuming doubles to make up for previous lack of doubles consumption. The Caribbean hole in the wall is a well known local landmark that can be relied on to serve you fast and leave you with leftovers.

L&B Spumoni Garden’s square slice
2725 86th St., Bensonhurst

I’m not saying Spumoni has my vote for best pizza in New York, but when it comes to memorable and decently priced pizza consumption, they can’t be beat. The place still feels like you’re stepping onto the set of Saturday Night Fever. Having a square slice on a summer’s night out front in the open is a Brooklyn experience everyone should have.

Tom’s cherry lime ricky
782 Washington Ave., Prospect Heights

Tom’s is great and there were a number of menu items that could have gone on this list (their vanilla egg cream, to be sure) but the homemade cherry lime ricky stands out among the rest. Carbonated to the extreme and a combination of sour and sweet that feels sacrilegious, lime rickys are a classic in their own right. I’d say they should be a staple of every diner but then they wouldn’t be so special.

Bunker Vietnamese pancakes
99 Scott Ave., Bushwick

If it’s not the bacon that wins you over, it’s the wild prawn (a vegetarian option is also available, but I can’t vouch for it). These pancakes will leave you and your shirt a mess but it’ll have been well worth it. It’s the kind of food that you can tell was made with love, and by love I mean fried.

What are your top 10 favorite Brooklyn food items? Let us know in the comments!

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