By Jessica Firger
Di Fara’s isn’t the only reason to trek to Midwood.
The childhood stomping ground for Woody Allen, Chuck Schumer, and Marisa Tomei, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, and playwright Arthur Miller, the southern Brooklyn neighborhood, located halfway between Prospect Park and Coney Island, still maintains much of its charm from the 1960s and ’70s when the neighborhood offered some of Brooklyn’s best retail.
Though today the commercial strip is anything but exotic, visitors will find an eclectic mix of the basics, mostly there to service the insular religious Jewish community that populates most of the lovely row houses.
“There’s really no big stores except for Walgreen’s,” said Sarah Mizrahi, a life-long Midwood resident. “It’s really all mom and pop stores.”
Many of the shopkeepers have done business in this vibrant, discerning community for two or three decades. Visitors should make time to hit Avenue L, Avenue M, and Coney Island Avenue, the main streets for shopping where there’s everything from kosher meat and electronics to silky pantyhose and Judaica.
The best way to get to Midwood is via the B or Q train to either Avenue J or M, both main thoroughfares for the neighborhood’s shopping district and great places to begin your tour.
Bear in mind that because most of the neighborhood residents are observant Jews, a majority of the stores close early on Friday through Saturday. Therefore, the best time to visit is on Sunday, when store owners are reenergized and ready for another busy week.
It would be remiss not to mention this Brooklyn institution — just spitting distance from the Avenue J train station. Midwood may be primarily a Jewish neighborhood, but Di Fara’s remains firmly planted in the neighborhood’s Italian roots.
Pizza maestro Domenico De Marco (pictured above) has been artfully creating Brooklyn’s perfect pie for more than four decades. With an extra thin crust that somehow never gets too soggy, homemade mozzarella, hand-grated Parmesan, and chopped fresh basil from the plants he grows on his window sill, it’s no surprise that his pizza perpetually wins first prize in the city. While $5 for a slice may seem absurd, loyal fans know it’s more than worth the trek, that’s why they prefer to stand on the long line to procure an entire perfect $25 pie for lunch or dinner.
Di Fara’s [1424 Avenue J between E. 14th and E. 15th streets, (718) 258-1367]. Closed Monday and Tuesday.
This 25-year-old kosher bakery sells the classic sweets and savories of a bygone era.
Shop-owner Abraham Isaac, originally from Uruguay, has plenty of goodies — sugary cookies sold by the pound and sponge and marble cake just like your bubbe made. On Thursdays and Fridays the bakery’s shelves overflow with fresh round and regular challahs and potato nick, a variety of kugel that’s a neighborhood favorite.
Isaac’s Bakery [1419 Avenue J between E. 14th and E. 15th streets, (718) 377-9291]. Closed Saturday.
A haven for all things girly, here you’ll find more than three dozen assortments of headbands (around $3-$30), stylish and oversized handbags, frilly scarves, chic hats ($12-$50), and of course, more than a dozen brands of hosiery. Legaacy proves that even the skinny jean fad has not bypassed the only-skirt-wearing population: Owner Shauly Feller carries “denim” leggings.
Legaacy [1210 Avenue J between E. 12th and E. 13th streets, (877) 534-4229]. Closed Saturday.
Avenue J Fish Market
No Jewish neighborhood should be without a friendly fishmonger, and Avenue J Fish does not disappoint with its variety or freshness.
“We do our own fillets,” said Joel Falkowitz, whose father opened the shop almost 30 years ago. “This way the customer gets it twice as fresh.”
The market regularly stocks salmon, white fish, carp, sea bass, tilapia and flounder. But the real draw is their huge variety of gefilte fish, said to be the best in all of Brooklyn, if not the nation. The classic sweet mix with carrots remains a perpetual bestseller.
Avenue J Fish Market [1215 Avenue J between E. 12th and E. 13th streets, (718) 258-3129].
Put down the Manischewitz. This stylish two-year-old store stocks some of the best kosher wines, including a wide selection from Australia, Austria, California, Chile, Cyprus, France, Hungary, Italy, New York State, and of course, Israel. There are free wine tastings every Friday from noon-4 pm and free seminars on whisky or wines twice a month. There’s also an innovative frequent fliers program: for every dollar you spend, you get a point credited to a membership card. Head to the back of the shop and into the tasting room to cash in those points at the enomatic wine machines (around 35 points for a taste or 120 for a full glass). The store is also happy to make a delivery anywhere in Brooklyn.
Liquors Galore [1212 Avenue J between E. 12th and E. 13th streets, (718) 338-4166].
Nothing compares to the taste of schnitzel, chicken breasts pounded paper thin, coated in egg and breadcrumbs and fried to crispy perfection. At Schnitzi, the world-famous cutlet gets a gourmet, international makeover and lands itself in a sandwich — either a fresh roll or less carby wrap — for a fast and easy feast. There’s the “French” with Dijon mustard, the “Spanish” with chili peppers, and even a “Chinese” one with coated in sesame seeds. All sandwiches are around $10 and sizable enough to share.
Schnitzi [1299 Coney Island Ave. between Avenues I and J, (718) 338-4015].
Needles, Pins, and Sew On…
Leon Shpelfogel spent 42 years in Manhattan’s garment district, fixing sewing machines and selling them to some of the world’s hottest designers like Cynthia Rowley, Liz Claiborne, and Perry Ellis. Now he’s committed to serving his hometown.
“In my old age, I like to be in Brooklyn and help the Brooklyn designers,” said Shpelfogel, who opened his Midwood shop a year ago.
This third-generation friend-to-garmentos, originally from Poland, can get your rickety, old Singer singing again, and his shop is the only place in the entire borough where for about $7, your scissors will be returned to you in their original sharp and shiny state.
Needles, Pins, and Sew On… [1332 Coney Island Ave. between Avenues I and J, (718) 376-0131].
The Pickle Guys
Why bother crossing Delancey Street when you can hop the train to Midwood?
Alan Kaufman’s Midwood shop has existed for only two years, but he’s been intimate with dill and cucumbers for two and half decades. In his early days, he picked up the fine art of pickling as a hobby from the masters on Lower East Side and now offers an assortment of sours and sweets. Here you’ll find seven different types of pickles and 35 additional items that are surprisingly tasty when doused with generous amounts of vinegar. Intrepid eaters might want to sample the pickled okra or watermelon.
The Pickle Guys [1364 Coney Island Ave. between Avenues J and K, (718) 677-0639].
Yes, it seems silly to schlep all the way to Midwood to procure some sturdy paper plates, but if you’re having a party, it might be well worth it. This 15-year-old shop got its start supplying the area with the best and most well-priced party paper goods. Here you’ll find packages of festive cocktail napkins ($3-$8) and serving platters that look almost like heirloom Swarovski crystal ($1-$4). The shop is not all paper and plastic; there’s plenty of foodstuffs to stock up on for your next fete.
“Over the years we’ve slowly moved into groceries,” said owner David Klein. “I got meat, chicken, dairy.” And all at reasonable prices.
Paperific [1482 Coney Island Ave. between Avenues L and K, (718) 758-0948].
This neighborhood supermarket has everything New Yorkers crave — wide aisles, plenty of run-of-the-mill basics, a wide selection of produce, and high-quality prepared foods.
“We got a lot of inspiration from Whole Foods but we’re very different. Whole Foods is a little too corporate,” said marketing director Matt “Riverdale” Swerdloff. “We are all about passion, people, and soul.”
They’re also about hummus, which they claim to sell 4,000 containers of a week.
Pomegranate [1507 Coney Island Ave. between Avenues K and L, (718) 951-7112].