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Monday, June 22, 2015

Guest Post by Jeanne Rostaing: 2015 BBG Greenest Block judges check out gardens and have lunch

Above: Tire planter on Brooklyn block. 
If it's June, it must be time for the residents of Brooklyn's lushest neighborhoods to put the finishing touches on their tree beds, flower gardens and window boxes.  They know the intrepid judges of the Greenest Block in Brooklyn contest will be once again setting out from the Brooklyn Botanic Garden to see which block is offering this year's most dazzling gardening display.
Above: Sign for the Greenest Block in Brooklyn contest spotted in Bedford Stuyvesant
All Photos by Jeanne Rostaing

The judges go out rain or shine defying withering levels of humidity and temperatures that can easily soar into the 90's.  All the blocks that have entered the contest (usually around 200) have to be seen in  a two week period.  That ensures a relentless pace which is relieved only by the much anticipated and savored break for lunch.

Above: Dinosaur Bar-B-Que in Park Slope is part of a small chain
that started in upstate New York
When lunch is the high point of your day, the restaurant you choose is of the utmost importance. This year fellow judge Machina Ervin and I, along with our genial driver, Gil Lopez, devoted a great deal of energy to selecting winning spots in the various neighborhoods we visited. Of the ten restaurants we chose, six were new to us, four Machina and I had visited previously. (To read about last year's picks check out my 2014 post.)

On our first day we were in the veritable eaters heaven of Park Slope.  There was a lot to choose from and we selected Dinosaur Bar-B-Que at 604 Union Street which proved to be a crowd pleasing choice.  Our dishes were flavorful and hearty. Machina and Gil (omnivores) both sampled offerings (pork for Gil, chicken for Machina) featuring the hoisin sesame bar-b-que sauce...

Above: Dinosuar Bar-B-Que is spacious and comfortable for those dining in or waiting for take-out orders.

Machina's yummy chicken in hoisin sauce with mac and cheese

Above: A selection of bar-b-que sauce on our table.
while I (vegetarian) enjoyed the guilty pleasure of the non low fat crunchy and delicious fried green tomato sandwich slathered in pimento cheese.
Fried green tomato sandwich with Harlem potato salad

On Day 2 we were lucky enough to be on Cortelyou Road in Ditmas Park at lunch time.  We noticed that the Picket Fence Cafe had been recently replaced by the Asya Indian Restaurant and we decided to give the new place a try.

Above: The garden at Asya is large and pretty.
(Asya also has a location in Brooklyn Heights.) The weather was a beautiful so we opted to sit outside in the spacious garden, largely unchanged from its Picket Fence days.  The food proved to be
quite tasty and plentiful.
Machina's tandoori chicken was moist and deeply flavored and we all liked the side of crispy charred okra.

The vegetables in the jalfrazie were cooked perfectly, tender but not mushy.  

Gil proclaimed the crab curry delicious.
On Day 3, in Ft. Greene, we surveyed the many eateries on Dekalb Ave. and chose Dino , a comfortable Northern Italian bistro.

 This small place has inside seating as well as tables out front and in the backyard.  We sat inside where it was cool, but other diners were enjoying the alfresco options.
Above: The bar at Dino is well stocked.

Above: Machina's chicken parmesan sandwich was served on crusty bread with a lightly dressed salad.

Above: While the menu offers plenty of veggie choices, Gil opted for the bison burger which came with amazing crunchy homemade fries

Above: the fennel salad with avocado was light and lemony and made a satisfying lunch paired with gazpacho, the special soup of the day
 We ended our first week of judging with repeat trips to two Brooklyn classics. First was the Caribbean cafe Footprints "Home of the Rasta Pasta" at 1377 Flatbush Ave.  Unlike the more common cramped and spartan Caribbean places in Brooklyn,  Footprints is expansive and comfortable with friendly service and an extensive menu of island specialties.
Above: We cool off with ginger beer, sorrel and Irish moss.

Above: My veggie roti came with a scrumptious adornment of sweet and tender fried plantains. 

Above: Gil ate every bit of this generous serving of Rasta Pasta and BBQ shrimp.

Friday we celebrated being near the beach by returning to the Tatiana Grill at 3145 Brighton 4th St. on the boardwalk in Brighton Beach.  

Above: Beach goers consider lunch at Tatiana

Above: Machina's chicken caesar salad 

Above: The beet salad was tangy and filling.

Above: Gil Lopez, Machina Ervin and Nina Browne at Tatiana

Our boss, Nina Browne of BBG's Greenbridge community gardening program, was with us and we all enjoyed our mini vacation at the seaside.  The service was markedly more friendly than last year, and we women agreed our salads were fresh and tasty while Gil, a man's man, enjoyed a burger.

Week 2 of judging found us in Williamsburgh where we enjoyed some traditional Italian food at La Locanda at 432 Graham Ave.

This comfortable place, pleasantly cool and dark on a hot afternoon, is a family operation that features the sumptuous cuisine of Teggiano, Italy.
Above: Stuffed mushrooms were juicy and vegetarian.

Above: The insalata mista

Above: Gil's shrimp parm hero was bigger than the plate.
Gil and Machina enjoyed heroes on homemade bread, meatball for Machina, shrimp parmesan for Gil. I am still savoring the eggplant rollatini with its dense tomato flavor and airy texture. 

 The industrious gardeners of Bedford Stuyvesant always enter a large number of blocks in the Greenest Block contest.  Each year we judges spend a lot of time in this beautiful brownstone neighborhood.  This year we returned to Peaches, the famous long established soul food eatery, and to Beso, a newer place with a more modern take on traditional southern food.
Above: A blackened catfish sandwich at Peaches. 

Above: Wings and a side of collards made a satisfying lunch at Peaches.

Above: The black bean soup at Peaches was almost too gorgeous to eat, but I did and it was very tasty.

Above: bacalao fritters at Beso

We enjoyed our food at both these spots but were disappointed to find that Beso was offering a different, less extensive and less veggie friendly menu than it shows on its website and which it had in place when we visited last year.  In fact our server had only one vegetarian suggestion: vegetable fajitas which mysteriously arrived in the form of a teeny tiny little taco.  It was very tasty although at $7.00 it seemed expensive and it was certainly an inadequate meal.

Above: a veggie taco at Beso

Happily we ended our garden tour with two exciting restaurant discoveries. The first, Abegale's at 689 Utica Avenue, appears to be primarily a catering establishment.

 While we sat alone in the tiny dining area,  a steady stream of people came in to order take out as well as large quantities of food for future events.  All orders at Abegale's are wrapped to go but, since we were eating there, our food was presented to us on large "silver" trays... quite an elegant touch for food in tin foil containers. At an employee's suggestion we all ordered the house-made fruit punch.  It was a beautiful yellow-orange color and seemed to taste like a magical combination of every fruit on earth.  
Above: Oxtail with spinach and mac and cheese at Abegale's

Above: Rotis at Abegale's are large enough for the hungriest diner. 

The food at Abegale's was so fresh and delicious that Machina actually took some home for her Mom.

Above: Machina ordering take out at Abegale's.
On our last day we discovered the delights of Am Thai in Flatbush at 1003 Church Ave.

Like Abegale's it is a tiny place, but here every square inch has a table squeezed into it and when we arrived every table was full.  One taste of the food explains why: it is fresh and very delicious. Even Thai stalwarts such as drunken noodles get a stylish presentation here.

Above: Mango fish salad at Am Thai

A special of the day was house-made lemonade flavored with either mint or lychee... both refreshing thirst quenchers.
Above: the staff is friendly and extremely busy at Am Thai.
 We were very happy to have our final lunch together at such an excellent and pleasant restaurant.  We thought it was particularly appropriate that our celebratory dessert of fried ice cream was served flambe.  How nice to go out with a flourish!
Above: Fried ice cream being set aflame at Am Thai.