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Named after an ugly fish with almost-human teeth once caught by colonial English anglers, Sheepshead Bay has long been the city’s capital of cheap seafood. But where once ruled Italian clam bars (of which Randazzo’s remains the last holdout), the margin of the bay sandwiched between Coney Island and the Brooklyn mainland is now filled with Greek, Turkish, and Chinese seafood spots, all offering prices about half of what you’d expect to pay in Manhattan.
Roll-N-Roaster once marked the eastern end of this restaurant row, but now the strip is creeping further eastward, with Turkish, Ukrainian, and Italian restaurants extending the strip by several more blocks. The Turks seem to be the most aggressive, with two competing saltwater spots. My crew and I set about contrasting these on consecutive weekends. The first was Halikarnas, named after a humongous outdoor disco in Bodrum, on Turkey’s southwest coast.
Brooklyn’s Halikarnas pales in comparison to the original (where weekly “foam parties” fill the premises with fluffy, waist-high suds)—ours only flaunts paintings of frigates, sloops, and other British sailing ships, maybe to remind you to order seafood. Were the pictures simply jammed into a shopping cart during a whirlwind visit to Wal-Mart, or specifically selected to reflect the neighborhood’s pre-Revolutionary past? In spite of the tacky paintings, a certain elegance is lent to the décor by dramatic red napery and squat, pressed-glass stemware.
Typical of Turkish seafood establishments, the roster of whole fish features farm-raised species from the Mediterranean, most of which are considered sustainable. Such fish are often a predictable size (about 1.5 pounds), which allows Halikarnas to charge fixed prices. Thus the excellent dourade: It could satisfy two diners, and arrives plated with a green salad for the bargain price of $20.50. The flesh is firm and white, the skin charred from the grill, the only annoyance a series of small bones along its flanks. Seven other fish are available, the best of which is the sea bass (also $20.50). With bones more coarse than the dourade’s, it proves easier to eat, but not quite as tasty.
Halikarnas being a Turkish restaurant, grilled meats are also provided in profusion. The mixed grill ($23.50) is an especially good deal, including one perfect lamb chop, a few lamb and chicken chunks, a pair of the distended meatballs called izgara kofte, and adana kebab, a cylinder of fatty ground lamb that flings off the pungent fragrance of onions. Among the small, mainly vegetarian appetizing dishes called meze, pick the sigara borek ($7.50)—five perfect pastry cigars filled with sharp white cheese—or the shepherd salad, a cubed collection of veggies more assertively dressed than the bland rendition found at other Turkish eateries.
While we considered the food at Halikarnas wholesome and well-priced, that didn’t prepare us for our meal at Marmaris on the second weekend, which was nothing short of spectacular. Here, the list of fish ran to nine varieties; the one we liked best was the flounder. Flat as a pancake, with two eyes on the same side of its head (one eye migrates around the face to join the other during the animal’s youth), this creature spends its life propelling along the sandy bottom, one side always pointing upward. The fish must be lightly breaded and fried, since the snowy and delicate meat can’t survive grilling. The individual we ate that Sunday—which must have weighed over two pounds—easily provided good-size portions for five diners. The skin was as crisp as a new $20 bill, which is only 50 cents less than the charge for this baby.
We were working on other fish, too, including a wonderful heap of five red mullets, which the menu artlessly admits to being “flaky and bony.” No matter, the grayish flesh is sweet and rich. Marmaris also wails on octopus. There’s a salad featuring grilled tentacles and arugula, but preferable is an oblong casserole, which smothers huge quantities of cephalopod, mushrooms, tomatoes, and onions in bland white cheese, lubricating and enriching this gargantuan gutbomb ($20.50).
Need meat? Once again, the onion-laced adana kebabs are great, smoky from the grill and long enough to be used as fencing swords. But let me direct your attention to one of the restaurant’s many vegan eggplant dishes: imam bayildi (which translates as “The Muslim cleric fainted”). It’s a whole aubergine hollowed out like a boat and freighted with garlic, tomatoes, parsley, and about a gallon of olive oil ($7.50). Why did the imam pass out, you wonder? Simply because the app tasted so good.