Gourmet Deli Grocery: 4023 5th Ave, Sunset Park, Brooklyn, NY
*****Note: This is a horrible photo but its the best I got!*****
“It’s an hour and 5 or so minutes door to door,” Leo said, slapping his pockets to ensure he has his PKW with him. (PKW: phone, keys, wallet, for you amateurs out there)
“No way bro. It’s like thirty minutes away.” I said as I pulled out my phone and frantically searched for estimated time of arrival on google maps for Sunset Park, Brooklyn.
“Wanna bet?” Leo said, his finger tempting to start the timer on his phone as if he was holding a gun to me. I checked my phone, 1 hour and 3 minutes by subway: estimated time of arrival. I stare at my phone, then back at leo.
“Told you,” he said, making a face at me like he just won a gold medal.
Today is Leo’s last day at his internship at Target Margin Theatre in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. This theatre has been around since 1991 but recently bought their new theatre space out in lower Brooklyn. We decided that before his internship ended I was gonna get to see the place where he worked and of course, stop at a deli along the way.
We traveled for a good hour and a bit (just as google maps and Leo said) to Brooklyn. We rose above the East River as the subway bustled across the Manhattan Bridge.Sunset Park is a wonderful neighborhood but also very different from the glitzy world of Manhattan. More importantly, this is most likely not Brooklyn that you think of. This is not Dumbo or Williamsburg. There are no artisanal mayonnaise shops here. This a real neighborhood, with real working class people. In many ways it feels as though you’re in a time machine to Brooklyn as it was in the 90’s. Shops everywhere have signs that seem unchanged for the past 20 years. You’ll walk down whole blocks and not hear a word of english; no cabs dare venture this far from Manhattan. In many ways it’s a beautiful cultural hub. Mexican restaurants with signs only in Spanish are next to Chinese restaurants with signs only in Chinese which are next to McDonalds and Dunkin’ Donuts. (which is about as American as you can get)
There are many deli’s in the area but they all literally have the same name. It’s either just “Deli” or “Deli Grocery” or “Shop and Deli” etc. I chose my deli based solely on the fact that it had the word “Gourmet” before “Deli Grocery” so you know it had to be classy. I also liked the overhang with the name on it because it had a picture of a sandwich that seems overstretched. It was as if the poster was made in Microsoft Word by someone who didn’t really get how to use it. You could barely see in through the windows because they were so stuffed with huge posters and stickers with essentially every single food a person could think of. From Buffalo Wings to Cheese Sticks to Gyros, it seems to have literally everything.
As I entered, a loud TV was blaring and the video of Mccain giving a thumbs down on the Senate floor seemed to be repeating over and over again. The people behind the counter were speaking Spanish quietly and showing each other pictures on their phones and laughing. As I entered they broke apart and stared at me. I stared at the big boards with its disturbing amount of options. The boards were filled with weird cutouts of food and emojis. I ordered a BLT not expecting much and watched as the man behind the counter pressed the bacon into the griddle. The wonderful smell transcended onto me. He took a round roll and sliced it and put a thin layer of mayonnaise onto it. He then took a beautiful fresh tomato and sliced it into perfect thin pieces and laid them across the bread with little bits of lettuce. Here I was expecting just a crappy sandwich and this man is creating art right in front of me. He takes the bacon from the stove top and it’s obvious, even from a distance, that it’s perfectly cooked. He lays the bacon on the bread softly .He handed it to me nonchalantly as if he didn’t just build a perfect sandwich. The man (maybe I should call him the artist) quickly went back to his phone. It cost almost nothing and I left with this gem in my possession.
I carried the sandwich down the street, the pigeons flocking to me. They too could smell the magical sandwich. I sat in Sunset park with Leo. Hispanics were playing an intense game of soccer, while boys with long hair skated along the pavement, and old Chinese women with big white visors did Tai Chi. The beautiful skyline of Manhattan sat in front of me, patches of foggy whiteness blocking the very tip of the buildings. The sandwich was honestly one of the best BLTs I’ve ever had. And I don’t say that half-heartedly. The crunch of the lettuce and bacon worked together perfectly with the juicy tomatoes. If you’re ever lost in Brooklyn and you find yourself in a neighborhood with lots of old women doing Tai Chi I recommend you stop at this shop. You’ll find it bookmarked between shops with names you most likely wouldn't understand.
Afterwards with this deliciousness still flowing through me, we went to this park where Leo said he sees tons of stray cats. I saw children playing and laughing. I saw old women with wrinkly dogs yapping at each other. (and lunging at stray cats too!) And as I walked Leo to work we passed Lutheran Hospital and then we saw a little shop with the name, “Lutheran Halal Cafe.” If the mixing of a sect of Christianity and the word for lawful Islamic food into the name of a shop doesn’t describe Sunset Park perfectly, I don’t know what else does.