Hi, all. I hope everyone’s loving the beautiful weather…assuming it’s beautiful where you are.
When people visit you, it’s your responsibility to take them (or at least direct them) to the best places to eat. For foodies, traveling is not just about seeing historical sites or enjoying the landscape or architecture. It’s also a culinary adventure, an opportunity to try new foods, new cuisines, new restaurants.
Each city has its famous restaurants, its hot spots, its must-do eateries. Sometimes they are world-famous—like Spago in L.A. , Tavern on the Green in New York, TRU in Chicago, or Commander’s Palace in New Orleans. Sometimes they’re the little holes in the wall (or, as Guy Fieri calls them, diners, drive-ins and dives) that are famous for a particular dish or style of cooking, such as Central Grocery in New Orleans, where the original muffaletta was born (see here for my personal experience), or Pink’s hot dog stand in L.A.
When people come to visit me in Brooklyn, there are a few “musts” for dining. One of these places is Joe’s of Avenue U in Gravesend (near Bensonhurst). Specializing in Sicilian cuisine, this place has been around for decades and its reputation reaches far and wide in the Italian community. The Palermo-style dishes include such things as Pasta with Sardines and Wild Fennel, Stuffed Mussels, Sausage with Sauce and Potatoes, Stuffed Artichokes, and Potato Croquettes.
I was disappointed recently to find that they didn’t have my very favorite pasta: short pasta with eggplant, tomatoes, and ricotta salata (known generally as Pasta alla Norma—see HERE for my recipe). In the past two decades, I’ve had it often, exchanging it sometimes for panelle sandwiches or “rice ball specials.” Rice ball specials are rice balls split on the top to accommodate dollops of ricotta and shaved parmigiano, and topped with tomato sauce. The rice balls are stuffed with meat and peas (which is why I go to my local pizzeria, where they make them with mozzarella-stuffed rice balls).
Panelle are chick-pea patties, broiled on a bun, topped with ricotta and shaved parmigiano. (In some cases, the patties are made with fresh, mashed chick peas, but usually they’re made with chick pea flour.) It’s really something else, and I offer my own version in my cookbook.
Joe’s is also known for its Vastedda sandwich, which, among other things, features cow spleen. I hear it’s very good, if you’re into that sort of thing. :-O Moving on…
One thing to note about Joe’s of Avenue U: Don’t expect sparkling service. Whether you’re stepping up to the counter for a to-go order or sitting at a table, they won’t greet you with dazzling smiles or welcome you warmly. The staff is, and always has been, rather aloof and seemingly uninterested. But don’t let that fool you. They give you what you want and it’s all fabulous. No insipid Italian-wanna-be crap here. The pasta is al dente, the seafood is fresh, the vegetables are just the right consistency, and all the dishes are delectably seasoned.
The sit-down area is just your average diner-style setting (with some Mediterranean-flavored murals), but the food makes up for the lack of atmosphere. They only started delivering recently, their hours of operation seem to change at will, and it’s a cash-only business. What does that tell you? It tells you that this place is such a hit with locals, that they can pretty much do whatever they want.
So, if you ever find yourself in this neck of the woods, stop in for some down-home Sicilian food. This neighborhood icon has pleased Brooklyn Italians for years, and you’ll be pleased, too. Let me know what you think.
See ya next week.
Joe’s of Avenue U
287 Avenue U
(between Lake St. & McDonald Ave)
Brooklyn, NY 11223