Well over two years ago, I was touring around Brooklyn with official borough historian Ron Schweiger, a real mensch of a guy. We were trying to cover the history of Brooklyn’s delicatessen scene, which, considering it once held more Jews than Tel Aviv, is saying something. Brooklyn’s a massive place, yet Ron, myself, and my friend Chris Farber managed to touch many of its corners, while Schweiger regaled us with tales of deli greatness, including the long lost Grabstein’s.
We stopped in at several delis that day, ate at a few, but one we didn’t was the Mill Basin Kosher Delicatessen. I swore I’d go back, and thankfully yesterday the chance presented itself.
Mill Basin is in the far southeast corner of Brooklyn, jutting into the waters of Jamaica Bay, just north of Floyd Bennet Field and the sweet surf of the Rockaways. Though the neighborhood was once solidly Jewish and Italian, like much of Brooklyn, it’s now a real mix, including Russian, Black, and Hispanic. It’s mostly a place of split level and detached houses, some of which back onto the bay, where lucky owners can pull boats right up to their back yard.
Thirty five years ago Mark Schachner and his partner Donny opened up the Mill Basin Kosher Deli, selling the staples that Schachner had grown up with at the various delis his family ran in and around New York City. Though Donny was bought out soon after, Mark’s remained at the helm until this day. His son Jordan does much of the work as well, and father and son now run one of the better kosher delis in Brooklyn.
I was accompanied by my girlfriend’s sister Sabrina Malach, and my wise deli testers Stephen and Alan, both avid consumers of all meats kosher. We were not disappointed.
The highlight of the appetizers was the latke chips, which were supposedly invented by accident, when waitresses took the ends of latke leftovers and fried them super crisp for a snack. I love latkes, mostly my mom’s, mostly because they’re thin and crisp. Too many delis serve big assed bricks of potato which are way too thick and require special enzymes to digest. Mill Basin’s latke chips are just that…thin little latkes that have snap and crunch, and don’t overwhelm. They’re perfect with apple sauce, or with a forkful of the deli’s coarse, powerful chopped liver.
We stuck pretty strictly to meats, many of which the deli makes themselves.
The best of the bunch was their garlic wurst, a thick salami-like sausage heavily dosed with garlic. It was cut into thin slices, pan fried until it curled, and set on a place. Oh sweet ambrosia, thy name is garlic wurst. The kicking whallop of the garlic was eased into, and mellowed out, by a lingering sweetness that tasted as though the strips of meat had been dredged in honey before frying.
Mill Basin also does something that few other New York delis do: they pickle and cook their own corned beef and tongue. Both are quite good, particularly the tongue, which they’ll serve nice and hot and gooey (just the way I like it).
By far the biggest hit was their roast veal brisket, which they do “Chinese Style” with duck sauce on garlic bread. I’m not sure how this got invented, though it sounds like Mark may have raided the fridge one night and cobbled together some leftovers. Who cares. The result is nothing short of heaven. Moist, tender, succulent roast veal piled onto soft garlic bread with the sweet glaze of duck sauce. I’ve never tasted anything like it and I’ll be back for more.
What’s really interesting about the place is that it also doubles as an art gallery. Years back Mark was sick of looking at the walls, so he brought some paintings from home, and when customers made an offer, he sold them. Mark now mostly deals with running his art dealership nearby (they have Chagalls, as well as many deco artists and contemporary Chinese talents).
Best of all, like all New York delis, you can get there on the subway. So when you’re tired of going back to the stalwarts of Manhattan time and again, try something new and head out to Mill Basin. You’ll thank me.
Mill Basin Kosher Deli
5823 Avenue T
Brooklyn, NY 11234
*also, today was double delish because it may be our highest traffic day yet due to this lovely link on New York Times.com. Thanks to Jennifer 8 Lee, the maven of mu shu and my Chinese counterpart. If you haven’t bought her book yet, you’re a total fool.