Stuck in the City—and Lovin' It

Four cool adventures for three hot months

By Q or B train and on foot

Board the Q (or the speedier B) at the rear of the train and ride to Brighton Beach, the end of the line. Though the name sounds British, the ambiance of this seaside resort is totally Russian. Specifically, its denizens like to pretend they're hanging in Odessa, on the Black Sea. After admiring the neighborhood from the cinematic perspective of the elevated tracks, descend to sea level, where you'll encounter several blocks devoted to Soviet-style commerce, including big-ticket nightclubs like The National (avoid them), delis flaunting an astonishing selection of cured meats and fish, Cyrillic newsstands like Black Sea Bookstore, and the city's cheapest vegetable stands.

If you feel like picnicking along the beach, head a few blocks south to M & I International Food (249 Brighton Beach Avenue, 718-615-1011), where the selection of smoked pork products puts Parisian charcuteries to shame. There's also an aisle of preserved fish, smoked to perfection and just waiting to be flaked and eaten with dark bread and mustard; and a pastry counter flogging savory turnovers called piroshki, bulging with beef, cabbage, or potatoes. If you're exceptionally brave, wash everything down with a big bottle of kvass, a dark, effervescent tonic.

Or, for sit-down, go north an equal distance to Café Kashkar (1141 Brighton Beach Avenue, 718-743-3832), a Uighur eatery devoted to the Turkic food of the Chinese province of Xinjiang. Order the fist-size lamb dumplings called manti, lamb-rib kebabs cooked over charcoal, or one of the sturdy soups like lagman, mobbed with homemade noodles. Green tea served in a big Chinese pot is the preferred beverage.

Thus fortified with picnic stuff, or sated on Central Asian food, head east to the boardwalk. There you'll find acres of sandy beaches (take a swim!), a line of boardwalk cafes offering mediocre food but good stiff drinks, and, late into the summer evenings, a promenade of strollers taking in the sea air, punctuated by buskers performing nostalgic music on accordion and violin, offering umpteen renditions of "Those Were the Days."

Return to the Q and B, or, for a more ambitious walk, go south along the Boardwalk to the Coney Island station, a distance of about a mile. Don't miss the wood-frame Cyclone rollercoaster—not for the faint of heart or the overly stuffed!

By car

Ferdinand Magellan sailed around the world in three years, but your assignment is to circumnavigate Staten Island in a single day. Magellan croaked en route, but I expect you to return alive and still kicking. You'll need a car, so you may have to enlist a driving friend, or—Zeus help us!—rent a Zip Car.

You're going to need a detailed map. I recommend Hagstrom's New York City 5 Borough Atlas. Begin by finding your way across the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, once the longest suspension bridge in the world. Once on the Staten Island side, take exit 14 for Narrows Road West toward Hylan Boulevard. Keep left at the fork to continue toward Fingerboard Road. Turn left at Fingerboard Road, and turn left again onto Hylan Boulevard, which parallels the Atlantic seaboard in a southwesterly direction. You can experience the ocean and the pristine beaches at several points. One choice is the extensive Great Kills Park, but better as far as I'm concerned is Wolfe's Pond Park, which offers the wonderful combo of freshwater pond, beach with changing rooms, and a grassy tree-fringed meadow for picnicking. Turn left at Cornelia Avenue after picking up picnic supplies at one of the delis along Hylan Boulevard.

Continue southward on Hylan until you hit land's end—Tottenville, the southernmost point in New York State. There you'll find the Old Conference House, where Ben Franklin once laid his shaggy head, and expansive views of Raritan Bay. Drive northward on local streets till you hit Arthur Kill Road, which will take you through some marvelous industrial landscapes on the Jersey side of the island. Stop for a brew at the ancient Bavarian German biker bar Killmeyer's (4254 Arthur Kill Road, 718-984-1202), where you can enjoy an excellent repast of sausages, schnitzels, and beer. Continue on Arthur Kill Road—past tank farms, 19th-century cemeteries, and, best of all, a graveyard of wrecked ships!

Eventually, as the denuded earthworks of Fresh Kills Landfill loom on the horizon, Arthur Kill Road feeds into the West Shore Expressway going north. Take it to the Staten Island Expressway. Go east and you'll end up at the Verrazano Narrows Bridge on the way to Brooklyn. If you have some extra time and are still hungry, there are a couple of places north of the expressway that rank among the city's best eateries. Denino's (524 Port Richmond Avenue, 718-442-9401) serves conch salad and Staten Island–style pizzas, with a thicker crust than the usual Neapolitan pie, while New Asha Café (322 Victory Boulevard, 718-420-0649) specializes in such Sri Lankan fare as black lamb curries made with toasted spices and coconut-laced fish stews. Bon appetit!

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