Eats

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.

Dollar Dining: Roosevelt Avenue

me.jpgI am a cheap bastard. This much is true. For Web site Metromix.com, I am penning a recurring column wherein I find 10 things to eat for $1 apiece. Then I eat them. It is delicious. And sometimes horrible beyond belief. Below, behold my most recent dining adventure on Roosevelt Avenue. Eat it up!

Dollar Grub: Roosevelt Avenue Fertilized duck embryos. Unkown gray mush. Our cheap-hound braves $1 deals in Jackson Heights.

Consider Queens’ Roosevelt Avenue a food court of low-cost international eats, from Flushing’s plump dumplings to Sunnyside’s fatty Irish burgers. Yet the most pleasantly priced tummy-stuffers are found beneath the 7 train between Elmhurst and Jackson Heights—Mexico to India, in 20 scant blocks.

On an icicles-and-frostbite weekday, I decamp at Elmhurst’s 90th Street stop—a $10 bill in hand—and saunter past salsa-CD salesmen to Las Palomas (89-16 Roosevelt Ave., 718-533-7014), where a stout woman with several gold-capped incisors heats up a pot on a portable stove.

“Muy caliente,” she says, removing the vessel’s lid to reveal scalding, snow-color atole. A steaming Styrofoam cup of the cinnamon- and-vanilla corn-meal beverage warms me as I mosey to Cholula Bakery (88-06 Roosevelt Ave., 718-533-1171). Men solemnly munch greasy, overstuffed spicy-pork tortas ($4.95, darn it), but a glass display offers chocolate-drizzled cake slices crammed with custard—gooey, messy and priced just right.

I wipe my fingers on my jeans before entering Mi Bello Mexico (87-17 Roosevelt Ave., 718-429-4300), a convenience store where customers procure raw meat, cactus leaves and MSG-packed, corn-tortilla Takis snacks in flavors such as “fajitas,” “fuego” and “guacamole,” which I acquire. The crisp, highlighter-green cylinders look like leg-less caterpillars and taste like rotting salted limes.

The culinary gods’ wrathful vengeance continues at Jaff Candy Store (85-16 Roosevelt Ave.), a bodega with an impressive prophylactics selection and a heat lamp warming gray, desiccated chicken empanadas cooked—well, there’s no kitchen in sight. I chomp into gummy dough encasing flesh grisly enough to make Styrofoam seem like filet mignon.

Soldiering onward, I discover Bravo Comida Rápida (81-16 Roosevelt Ave., 718-429-6444), a neon-lit fast-food joint with a steam table where unidentified brown meat is stacked like firewood beside tureens of murky stews. Price tags are absent. “What’s a dollar?” I inquire of an officious man wearing a collar shirt. He points at slimy fried plantains and an orange half-moon. To the moon I go, devouring a delicious, corn-meal-coated mush of beef and potatoes spiced up with cilantro-flecked salsa.

Spirits rising, I shuffle several blocks to Cositas Ricas (79-19 Roosevelt Ave., 718-478-1500), a combination ice-cream parlor and steak house. At a counter, an aproned, balding man stuffs another deep-fried empanada—“beef,” he says with an undertaker’s solemnity—into a bag marked “barbecue.” This empanada has been deep-fried to disintegration. It’s like French-kissing a jug of Wesson.

I toss the artery-clogger into the trash, then notice a mural of a cake-carrying chef and enter the skinny, mirror-covered Miracali Bakery (76-04 Roosevelt Ave., 718-779-7175). On offer are fluffy bread, oily chicharrón and salt-covered, skin-on taters—40 cents apiece and soft as a teddy bear. I order two and dip them into a searing, sinus-emptying salsa. Bliss.

My veggie streak continues at Merit Kabab Palace (37-67 74th St., 718-396-5827). The steam-table joint with rickety, crammed tables sells me a flaky, triangle-shaped samosa bursting with curried peas, carrots and potatoes. Sweet heavens, it’s tasty.

Sweet heavens, why is Kabab King Diner (74-15 37th Road, 718-205-8800) selling Chinese food? I skip the chop suey and skewered $1.50 mutton kebabs and request a shami kebab. It’s a disconcertingly mushy patty of beef and spiced ground chickpeas—baby food for misbehaving infants.

Nine down. One left. What spot deserved my last buck? Phil-Am Food Market (70-02 Roosevelt Ave., 718-899-1797), a Filipino grocery vending four kinds of canned meats. I contemplate liver spread, then spot balut—fertilized duck embryos for 80 cents. I grab one and rush to the register.

“You know that’s no ordinary egg, right?” the cashier asks.

“Yes.”

“Have you had it before?”

“Not exactly,” I answer, taking my partially formed, protein-packed treat to a quiet corner. I know I’m supposed to boil balut, but I’m feeling bold: I’ll pull a Rocky and down this baby raw. I crack the egg carefully, revealing red streaks and a tiny duck in the fetal position.

In the name of cheap eats I bring the egg to my maw. Closer, closer, I open wide—when my gag reflex revolts and I drop the duck, its final resting place an oil-stained driveway.

Reader, some bargains are no bargain at all.