I had a journalism professor who used to give quirky advice. A nugget that stuck with me was: “Take a different route to work each day.” His argument was that routine numbs you, until you stop noticing your surroundings. Something as small as walking down a new block can reset your whole perspective, enable you to view the world through fresh eyes.
I recently moved to Crown Heights, specifically the Lubavitch enclave near Kingston Ave. My apartment is less than a block from the Kingston 3 subway stop, a convenience that makes me lazy. I pretty much always travel down the same block, straight to the station. My only pit stop is Chocolatte, the Hasidic coffee shop inside the Brooklyn Jewish Children’s Museum.
But the other day, I got strolling, just because. And there it was, on the other end of my block — Benz’s, a Jewish specialty grocery. This place was literally 60 seconds from my house, and I’ve never been inside. For shame, Mr. Professional Food Journalist!
My god, what a treasure trove. Near the entrance was a huge wall of sauces — I grabbed some spicy-tangy Texan marinade (kosher, natch) for the sirloin tips I’d defrosted. Next it was on to the smoked salmon, available in more varieties than I knew how to process. Some cage-free eggs, microbrew beer, whipped cream cheese, whitefish salad, herring in Dijon sauce… I was $35 poorer by the time I left Benz’s.
One thing missing: bagels. I had all the fixins for my favorite breakfast — smoked fish, cream cheese, tomatoes, capers — but no base. When I asked the Orthodox clerk about Benz’s bagel situation, he said there’s a bakery across the street: “We don’t want to hurt their business.” What! Benz’s also doesn’t sell produce, as there’s a greengrocer right next door. Now that is what I’d call community.
I’m going to start walking down all sorts of byways and side streets, just to see what I find. You should definitely do the same. Brooklyn is dense!