A few blocks from the N train station at 86th St., the Gravesend stretch of Ave. X between Shell Road and Ocean Parkway is remarkably diverse, its groceries stocked with specialties from multiple continents. For a taste of the neighborhood, try these three shops.
The roots of Mediterranean food begin with the Ottoman Empire in Turkey, and Wood Spoon, a restaurant and grill owned by Turkish-native Ilyas Oztas, is the perfect place to sample some of the lemon and olive-oil kissed basics.
Start with a “meze platter” (small, $8.99), which comes with Turkish hummus and baba ganoush, stuffed grape leaves; a chunky, extra smoky eggplant and sweet pepper salad called patlican salatasi; haydari, a dip with yogurt, garlic and walnuts; and cacik, or yogurt with cucumber, dried mint, and sour sumac powder.
You can try Turkish kibbeh, or torpedoes of cracked wheat wrapped around spiced ground beef and pine nuts ($10.99); sigara boregi, fried phyllo “cigars” filled with feta cheese and parsley ($5.49); and grilled lamb kebabs ($8.49) served over rice with sumac-dusted onions.
If they have them, don’t miss the tiny Persian lamb dumplings called manti, made from scratch by Songul Irmakcan each day and served with yogurt and dried mint ($11.99).
Wood Spoon: 377 Ave. X near E. 1st St., Brooklyn; 718-336-0554
Sausage, for starters
Spend any time with Joe Paolillo, who runs A&S Pork Store with his son, Joe Jr., and he’ll tell you that the key to happiness is to love what you do. It’s obvious that both Joes love every inch of their fully-stocked Italian market — known for fresh mozz, fennel-flecked sausages and braided prosciutto bread — which is celebrating its 50th anniversary on Ave. X this year. Paolillo’s skills as a butcher actually go back to his childhood in the southern Italian coastal city of Torre del Greco. When he got to Brooklyn (the last of his six siblings to do so), he started working at the original A&S Pork Store in Park Slope, eventually becoming the sole owner of its third shop on Ave. X this year.
While he focuses on the store’s original product line — tying sausages (sweet, $5.99 a pound) and pulling milky mozzarella ($8.99 a pound) by hand — Joe Jr. is the chef, managing the prepared foods ($6.99 to $9.99 per pound) and catering that have become their specialty. Initially trained by his late aunt Lucy, says Joe Jr., he makes everything from lemony chicken Francese to corned beef and cabbage, changing up the menu every day.
A&S Pork Store: 361 Ave. X near E. 1st St., Brooklyn; (718) 336-3373
Something sweet for everyone
When his grandparents started Cuccio’s Bakery in 1937, says third-generation owner John Cuccio, it was a traditional southern Italian place with brick ovens turning out Italian breads, cookies topped with sesame or pine nuts, almond-y rainbow bars, and the cream-filled flaky pastries, sfogliatelle ($2.50), also known as lobster tails.
While the shop still makes the old favorites — veteran baker Edel Salas learned the ropes from Cuccio’s father more than 20 years ago — over the years the menu has expanded to match the diversity of the borough. “It’s really an American bakery,” says Cuccio, meaning you can find Irish soda bread ($4.25), Danishes ($1.95), German crumb buns and fresh loaves made for the many Russian restaurants nearby.
In fact, Cuccio’s biggest seller are its sugar-dusted doughnuts — jelly, cream, or peanut butter and jelly, all 85 cents — that were added when a German baker arrived in the kitchen after World War II. Just be sure to go before they sell out around 1 p.m.
Cuccio’s Bakery: 320 Ave. X at W. 1st St., Brooklyn; (718) 336-1944