Brighton Beach is a surreal kind of neighborhood. Well, for me, anyway. When you walk into a grocery store, you get the impression that the staff and maybe the other patrons are all secretly KGB agents plotting the downfall of Middle America. Luckily, I could care less, cause they make great food.
At 3086 Brighton 2nd st, between the subway tracks and the beach, youll find Varenichnaya. Possibly spelled differently. Anyway, as the name suggests, the specialty there is vareniky in many forms. If youve yet to be graced by vareniky, theyre Russian dumplings, a cross between gyoza and tortellini. Theyre served 15-20 per serving, packed in a bowl with any number of toppings and accoutrements. Fillings vary as well, from fried cabbage to sweet cottage cheese.
HOWEVER, though the vareniky offerings tend to be very good, do not discount the rest of the menu. For example, on my last visit, I had the opportunity to try two soups; a lamb/potato creation, and classic borscht. The borscht was good, though not especially magical. While Im hardly a borscht expert, the version here seems different than others. The broth is much thinner, and the soup is packed with potatoes, onions, and what I think was an entire chicken thigh. I remember borscht elsewhere being more just about the broth, which tended to be thicker and darker. Of course, I could be hallucinating. The lamb soup was GREAT. Plenty of clearly freshly cooked lamb chunks, and fantastic broth, great for bread dipping. Not too salty, not too filling.
Also on the menu is listed, I believe, Stew in a pot. Fascinated by something so vague, my dining companion was not disappointed by his order. Served, yes, in a pot, as a veeery thick stew comprised mainly of what felt like entire potatoes and maybe whole cows. A very nice, cool tomato essence runs through all of it. Good meat and potatoes are never THIS good.
I ordered two skewers of lamb ribs, which I would highly recommend to anyone not in immediate danger of a coronary. Ah, its good to be 21. Bits of bone barely clinging to glistening heaps of immensely fatty lamb meat life is good. Great plain, or with the complementary bread. Ive had lamb ribs only rarely, but I need to start ordering them more often, clearly. I need to know if theyre ALWAYS this good, or this place does something special.
Just in case you were worried that this meal did NOT constitute a major public health risk, we closed the meal with a big bowl of sweet cottage cheese vareniky. The menu did not mention that they would be drowning in an inch deep pool of butter, nor did it make not of the ice-cream scoop of fresh sour cream but I couldnt find it in me to complain, for some reason.
Ive been to this place on a number of occasions now, and theyve never disappointed. Even my sister, normally BEYOND finicky about what she eats and allows other people to eat in her presence, will shovel away truck-loads of vareniky, and then buy a bag of 50 frozen ones for later. Truly, a place to journey too. By the way, is it bad that I can sometimes hear my heart wheezing?