For years, Brooklynites with global palates have been trekking to Queens to hunt down ethnic goodies and obscure ingredients. But you don’t have to swallow your Brooklyn pride and relegate the crown of ethnic food to Queens. Visit Church Avenue in Kensington for a chance to shop for a world of food in 11218, a zip code that is often cited as the most diverse in the country.
As the area has slowly gentrified, Church Avenue has remained remarkably immune to the usual symptoms of yuppification. No chi-chi coffee shops, not a single American Apparel or high-end jewelry boutique, not a yoga studio in sight. Just an abundance of 99-cent stores, cheap housewares, pharmacies and, best of all, a paradise of high-quality ethnic food shops.
Mexican Grocery and More, just off Church Ave. on E. 2nd St, is one of the neighborhood’s best kept secrets. The shelves and large fridge are stocked with rendered pork fat (perfect for everything from frying empanadas to a perfect old fashioned pie crust), queso fresco made at a nearby family-run kitchen on Fort Hamilton Parkway, a dizzying array of dried peppers, bunches of cilantro with the roots still intact, giant cans of pozole, a BBQ-ready selection of Mexican beers, plantain leaves, and tiny dried shrimp. Insider’s tip: arrive early on weekend mornings to sample fresh tamales. Arrive by 10am to snag a few of the pillowy pockets filled with beef, chicken, pork, and veggies.
Walk a few blocks down Church, just past E. 3rd and arrive continents away at a mecca of Eastern European and Middle Eastern food. Dinosha Albanian Village packs a big punch for a small space. For meze crazy eaters, Dinosha offers a one-stop-shop for dinner party staples and bulk quantities of hard-to-find snacks. The shelves of the small shop groan with vats of pickled peppers, jars of grilled zucchini and roasted eggplant, hummus and dirt cheap cans of some of the best tahini we’ve found. For the sweet tooth, choose from dozens of halvahs, Kinder brand candies, and a wide section of chocolate hazelnut spreads. The fridge is packed with blocks of familiar rations like feta, and more obscure ones such as Bulgarian white brined sheep’s milk cheese. Puff pastry and Turkish yogurt round out the dairy case. A full Halal butchery makes up the rear of the store.
Just next door is Bastek Deli Inc., a Polish joint overflowing with pickled fish, pasta shapes that tend toward the tiny, and a cheese case with an extensive selection of hard varieties. But the crowning glory is the front counter, a glass case displaying a feast of homemade Polish comfort food. From glimmering salmon steaks to cabbage leaves stuffed with meat and rice, paper-thin potato and apple pancakes to borscht and fish soup, a whole array of pastries and, the crème de la crème, trays laden with plump pierogies.
Located on the corner of Church and E. 4th, Golden Farm announces its global bent by displaying a dozen languages on its sprawling red awning. Outside, overflowing produce bins sit patiently as shoppers speaking in their native tongues squeeze, heft and sniff their way through the bounty. Inside you can find great deals on all manner of fruits and veggies including papaya, tomatillos, chayote, and finger-sized bananas. Where else can you find organic coconut milk ice cream in the freezer next to Russian Brand veal dumplings? Or Teddy Grahams next to a wall filled with hundreds of teas from all over the world? Favorite finds have included bulk containers of dried rosehips, sweet tamarind candy, the Greek caviar spread called Taramosalata, kimchi, herring in wine sauce, poblanita sauce and lotija cheese, baked-style yogurt, 13 varieties of kefir, and rose preserves. Back in the drink section, satisfy every craving with everything form any fruit juice you can imagine to organic kombucha, swanky upstate hard cider and local microbrews to wallet-friendly international selection of 20-oz beers.
But the best thing about Golden Farm? Its community vibe. The shop is frequented by the whole gamut of Kensington residents, and you can brush past Park Slope-esque strollers in the same aisle as an ancient Korean couple, hobbling along together.
Text and photos by Sara Franklin, sent by Annaliese.