Way down below the Gowanus lurks Schnitzel Bar.
We really only ever hear about a handful of restaurants out of the 50,000 that I estimate exist in the city. Even in Manhattan itself, there are vast swatches in Inwood, Washington Heights, Harlem, the Upper East Side, and around the fringes of Chinatown that have never seen a blogger or food writer of any sort. To redress that in a small way, we hereby launch this series on the city’s obscurest eateries.
The menu board runs from Chinese schnitzel to kosher hot dogs and hamburgers to Moroccan shakshuka.
Under the Gowanus Expressway for most of its length as it zooms from the Prospect Expressway to Bay Ridge, there are tiny local restaurants basking in a perpetual shadow, interspersed with porn shops and shuttered businesses. These mainly serve the needs of workers in the factories that still exist in this neighborhood, car-service drivers, truckers, warehousemen, and the stray pedestrian who seeks out these curious precincts. The darkened thoroughfare under the highway is officially known as Third Avenue.
Another category of diner is the peripatetic Lubavitcher Hasidim, who stops by Schnitzel Bar for snacks, meals, and conversations. Schnitzels form the core of the menu, and this Viennese delight — a breaded veal or chicken cutlet — has been repurposed in a half-dozen different ways. According to the signboard over the kitchen at the end of the room, you can get it Spanish, French, or Chinese, depending on the sauces placed thereon.
At midafternoon, the place is very laid-back. A couple of Hispanic cooks busy themselves by the twirling shawarma wheels, the deep fat fryers, and the flat-top griddle, as a guy in Hasidic togs stands behind the cash register, his yarmulke askew. A tableful of religious cohorts kibitz in a booth by the register, as I sit in the window and enjoy one of the best bowls of chicken soup ever.
Chicken soup is served with a very puffy and fresh pita.
A serving has four or five of these little winglets.
It’s made with small kosher chicken wing parts, the bony sections that have been discarded after the rest of the bird has been used for other purposes. The soup contains celery, onions, and carrots cut in tiny chunks, and little else. It’s plenty salty, and has not been degreased, so there’s a sheen of schmaltz across the top.
The menu contains many other curiosities besides the Chinese schnitzel. There are Sephardic items on the menu, running from falafel, kufte, and kibbeh to the Moroccan-Jewish egg dish shakshuka. A section of so-called Mexican sandwiches has been added, and a special hand-scrawled sign placed on the door to advertise them. The place also serves a vegetarian schnitzel.
Unfortunately, the food I see around me doesn’t look all that great, and the guys at the table are toying with a reheated plate of shawarma particles and rice that looks awful. Still, I’d go back just for the soup, if I happened to be driving down Third Avenue, or simply wanted to go again to one of Brooklyn’s most unusual and obscure restaurants.
4002 Third Avenue
Sunset Park, Brooklyn
Schnitzel Bar isn’t one of them, but check out Our 11 Best Restaurants in Sunset Park.
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