Dollar Grub: Nostrand

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If there’s ever a block to buy one-buck grub and stuff your gut, it’s Brooklyn’s Nostrand Avenue. While the avenue winds from industrial Williamsburg to the fishing boats of Sheepshead Bay, the finest (well, cheapest) vittles and tonics are found around Fulton Avenue and Eastern Parkway, where Bed-Stuy meets Caribbean Crown Heights.
Ten-dollar bill in hand, I begin my journey at the slim Ali’s Trinidad Roti Shop (1267 Fulton St., 718-783-0316), where I wait 15 minutes behind patient dreadlocked men to order pholourie. I’m passed a Ziploc bag packed with eight fried-golden orbs of split-pea flour painted with sweet chutney. My fingers get sticky as I stuff my face with warm, doughy goodness and step lively to A & A Bake and Doubles (481 Nostrand Ave., 718-230-0753).
This takeout-only joint is chockablock with folks shouting orders at an aproned trio constructing doubles. Two pieces of fried flatbread called bhara (hence, doubles) are filled with curried chickpeas and pasted with fruity chutneys. “Pepper?” asks a cute, harried worker. Indubitably. The potent hot sauce turns this soft, napkins-necessary snack into a belly-burner.
Tongue-cooling relief arrives at dingy bodega Jalal Express (628 Nostrand Ave., 718-756-0999), home to Ginseng Up beverages. They pair ginseng’s power with cola! Lemon lime! Orange! I select ginger, and color me impressed: Smooth ginger is married to mellow carbonation, creating a refreshing soda alternative.
I sip blissfully as I enter Mega $.99 (553 Nostrand Ave.), which advertises “EVERY ITEM $.99 OR PLUS.” While the owners lack grammar prowess, they’ve assembled a schizophrenic food selection. Crisp plantain chips and canned meats beckon. I opt for cuttlefish basting in their own black ink. It’s like eating softened Bic pens.

Searching for sweetness, bitterness, heck, a scrub brush to cleanse my tongue, I enter Fresh Health Food Emporium (594 Nostrand Ave., 718-774-3550). Burning incense perfumes the shop, while the fridge contains tonics promising to boost my libido. I eyeball pinkie-size rectangles of sesame crunch candy, only 95 cents per quarter pound. A few pieces make cuttlefish’s inky memories vamoose.

That means it’s time to say hello to Zen’s Caribbean Flavor Restaurant (602 Nostrand Ave.). This ma-and-pa eatery promises one-dollar lentil soup, but the tureen’s empty. “Whaddya have for a buck?” I beg of the indifferent hairnet-clad counterwoman. She points to a log-like “cheese straw.” The baked good is Sahara-dry and Antarctic-cold. Sometimes you get what you pay for. The straw meets the trash and I motor to Royal Bakery (618 Nostrand Ave., 718-604-0200), home to “TRINIDADIAN CHINESE AND HOT ROTI, ALL IN ONE PLACE.”

Greasy lo mein is always a dreadful notion, but the freshly baked treats displayed inside a scuffed glass case are not. I order a dense brick of bread pudding. It’s moist and riddled with coconut slivers, and expands in my belly like an add-water-and-watch-it-grow dinosaur sponge.

“Must…eat…more…” I groan, as I shuffle into the reggae-playing GT Golden Loaf Bakery & Restaurant (715 Nostrand Ave., 718-363-2954) and order a currant roll. “You gotta try it warm,” the tee-wearing counterwoman says, nuking it in the microwave. The pastry is flaky and fruity, a familiar flavor unlike what I find on the corner of Saint Johns Place and Nostrand Avenue. A makeshift card table is topped with a glass jar containing bobbing yellow fruits. “It’s a june plum in my special mixture,” says a man with a bushy beard begging off the camera. “Is this legal?” I ask. He smiles enigmatically as I nibble the tart, spicy, salty and disconcertingly firm flesh.

Down to my last dollar, I spy the gated Q’s Tavern (761 Nostrand Ave., 718- 774-9021). In front, a man hacks off sugarcane with a gleaming machete. “Wan’ some?” he asks, grinning. No, no, I reply, enamored of lumpy balls the color of compost, sold from a glass jar labeled “TAMARIND BALLS HOT HOT HOT.” They’re 50 cents apiece, so I buy two. They’re spicy and sweet, gooey with sugar and studded with gag-causing seeds.

“Drink this, man,” says the salesman, holding up a bottle of milky liquid.

“What’s it cost?” I choke out.

Two bucks.

No thanks, I reply, wandering off in search of something just a little bit cheaper.