Look past the visual clutter outside this Israeli-American kosher market. Beside one doorway, the cellotape residue of previous flyers throws shade, literally, on a current special.
My dining buddy and I took note, and made haste; a few minutes later we pulled over to a quiet patch of sidewalk a half-block from Holon. Our plastic spoons were next to worthless for photo styling, so there's little to see here, apart from a pistachio garnish, of the orange blossom and mastika ice cream by Joy Betesh (pint, $4, unlabeled and very possibly underpriced by the cashier). So take my word: The orange is wonderful. We made a good dent in this pint before packing it up; my buddy doubled back for another, to hold in reserve.
Holon Middle East Groceries 527 Kings Hwy. (East 3rd-East 4th Sts.), Gravesend, Brooklyn 718-336-7758 Also at 809 Ave. U (East 8th-East 9th Sts.), Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn 718-627-5878 Closed Saturday www.HolonFoods.com
Shown primarily for the dense juxtaposition of varied signage: Chinese, Roman, and Cyrillic scripts on the awning of the herbal shop, U.S. and Italian flags out front of the pizzeria. (Click for a closer look.) Note, too, three rides, each sweeter than the next: one bicycle, one motor scooter, one coin-op giraffe.
Chinese Herbal Therapy Center 1323 Ave. U (East 13th-East 14th Sts.), Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn 718-376-1988 J&M Pizza II 1323 Ave. U (at East 14th Sts.), Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn 718-645-6010
What does whimsical decor tell us about a restaurant? In decades past, at American Chinese restaurants that called themselves "Polynesian," dragon-inlay woodwork and paper-placemat cocktail menus helped to frame an exotic dining experience for customers who (in my memory) seldom shared the heritage of management and staff. The decor was part of a marketing pitch from one demographic to others, openly offered and accepted. Today, few Polynesian restaurants survive in their original form; one made-over tiki pole now bears the countenance of a contented New England fisherman.
This matter came to mind again on a visit to the small, excellent Vietnamese restaurant Thanh Da, in Sunset Park. My only published photo of the decor depicts a flag, one that's no longer publicly displayed in its home country, but I also noted laquered-wood artwork, mounted crockery, a painted bamboo scroll, and at least one nón lá, the iconic conical hat. These items would be kitschy if they were intended to appeal to eyes like mine, but in a full house, I was the only customer clearly not of Asian descent. True, several young parents addressed their very young, finicky children in English, but on a weekend afternoon, as on my previous visits, almost all the chatter was in Vietnamese. In such context, the nón lá, the scroll, the crockery, and the other artwork seemed to distill into Thanh Da a feeling of "home."
Azerbaijan House, though it entertained fewer customers during a recent weekday lunch, gave off a similar vibe. Though the decor will never resonate for me as for the owners and their regular customers, it does signal that the menu deserves a further look. Shown: kükü ($5.95), a hash of egg, potato, and onion that's seared top and bottom before being portioned into wedges; ciz-biz ($16.95), a juicy fry-up of sheep liver, kidney, and heart. (Kükü, it turns out, takes very well to spoonfuls of liquefied sheep fat.) The final photo, of the glistening ciz-biz leavings, reflects a pair of vibrant lighting strips but not the gently arched ceiling. It's painted in azure and fluffy white, as if the dining room were open to the sky — the sky over Baku, you'd imagine.
To walk-in customers like me, also deli, pizzeria, and ostensible source of a sandwich I learned of first on Chowhound: Chinese roast pork, on garlic bread, with duck sauce. In an excerpt from his book on Jewish home cooking — it's both illuminating and amusing, especially if you've never had to give pork a second thought — Arthur Schwartz described it as "an exquisite example of Jewish crossover food."
It's an example on the verge of disappearing, alas. Adelman's, a Kings Highway kosher delicatessen where a "particularly well done" version substituted "roasted veal for the trayf meat," according to Schwartz, closed in 2013. (See also comments below.) Several Chowhounds, after casting their gaze hither and yon, suggested that home kitchens might be the best hope. For its part, Bassett's does list Asian pork loin on the menu board; the red-rimmed meat, sliced thin, can be heated at your discretion. But my counterman didn't know from garlic bread — prosaic "Italian bread" was the only choice for a hero ($7.25). No duck sauce, either; I made do with lettuce, tomato, and spicy brown mustard.
Also shown, from a vast array of Drake's and Hostess snack cakes: Devil Dogs (99 cents). For what it's worth, these were the same as ever.
Bassett Caterers 1404 Ave. X (East 14th-East 15th Sts.), Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn 718-332-9000 www.BassettCaterers.com
Vehicles, like buildings, can be made over to suit the needs of new owners. Often a restaurateur will leave old signage in place, especially when it has a burly, blue-collar appearance; the same is true of shopkeepers whose business has nothing to do with food but who understand that meat is chic.
The second owner of a commercial vehicle, on the other hand, is much more likely to efface signs of its previous use, or try to. (Perhaps the difference is that made-over buildings and their signage are intended to be part of historically or sociologically layered experiences, if innocuous ones, into which customers are invited, while a sign on a truck is simply a sign, and simpler is better.) In the bright light of day, I snapped a photo of this Arnold Bread delivery van; only later, onscreen, was it easy to spot the traces of "Penske truck rental."
Italian? Spumoni? No: This "three flavor egg roll" (slice, 90 cents) tastes more like the Chinese bakery sponge-cake version of spumoni. Perhaps the shop should consider a name that accounts for both cuisines, suggested one waggish commentator, and call it the Marco Polo.
Bing Deli Grocery (also known as Mei Mei Bakery) 1415 Gravesend Neck Rd. (East 14th-East 15th Sts.), Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn 718-998-1867
This bakery's heart is in specialty and custom cakes, or so you'd gather from its vast online portfolio. (Maybe you'd also wonder, as I do, what's on those skewers?) By comparison the cookies and pastries can seem humdrum, but a poppy seed roll ($2) was plump and satisfying, if just a touch too sweet.
Kiev Bakery 1627 East 18th St. (Kings Hwy.-Ave. P), Homecrest, Brooklyn (shown) 718-627-5438 Also at 2666 Coney Island Ave. (Crawford Ave.-Ave. X), Gravesend 718-996-6277 www.KievBakery.com