Friday, July 4, 2008

Dinner al fresco

It's the 4th of July, and my plans to swim and cavort on the beach all day have been foiled by the tempermental weather, which has been threatening to thunderstorm all day. Being stuck in my house, I thought I'd revisit two recent outdoor dinners--my favorite kind of dinners, really. The first was procured from Pedro's Spanish American Restaurant in DUMBO a couple of weeks ago when my friend Gideon and I were waiting for a production of Macbeth to start. With only about an hour to spare but empty stomachs that demanded nourishment, we happened upon Pedro's, which I had passed many times and had been meaning to try. Pedro's is an absolute dive, with little in the way of ambience but much in the way of charm, with its brightly colored murals and little tables and chairs spilling out onto the street corner it's located on. In my book, a dive is usually a very good thing, so I was glad I finally got to sample some of Pedro's fare. I didn't really see anything Spanish at Pedro's--it's mostly vaguely Mexican or South American food sitting in glass cases--you point to the meat you want (most likely some sort of roast or stew) and then specify what kind of rice (white or yellow) and beans (black or red) you'd like, and then sit down at one of the restaurant's indoor picnic tables, or, better yet, get your food to go and take it to one of DUMBO's many lovely outdoor spots.

The food at Pedro's is cheap and filling, and you get a huge portion, but it's really nothing special. The beef dish that I got was well-seasoned and tender, and the rice and beans were satisfying, but there wasn't anything particularly outstanding about it. But that's OK: Pedro's isn't a destination restaurant but rather a dependable, and economical, neighborhood place. And I like those sorts of places. Here's the beef that I got (some sort of flank steak, I believe), along with some yellow rice and black beans, of course:

I got two dinners out of that plate of food, and it cost me $8. Not bad, right? The best thing about this meal, though, was undoubtedly the setting under the Manhattan Bridge where we ate it:

And onto the next. Another highly enjoyable, and more notably delicious, outdoor meal that I had recently was a heaping takeout container full of Peppa's Jerk Chicken that my friends and I took to Prospect Park to eat. My friend Malcolm recently moved to Leffert's Gardens in Brooklyn, a primarily West Indian and Caribbean neighborhood located along the southeast side of the park. Its main drag, Flatbush Avenue, is heavily dotted with tiny jerk chicken restaurants. So how to choose one, particuarly if you're new to the area? Your best bet is to look for the most crowded spot: locals always know what's up. So as we strolled to the park last Thursday evening, Malcolm, Becca, Sarah, Shannon and I kept our eyes peeled for such a place. And we found it at Peppa's, which at around 7 PM was already forming a line out the door. We each got the $8 medium plate, consisting of a mountain of moist rice and peas flavored with coconut milk, some fried sweet plantains, a little bit of salad tossed with sesame oil, and a heap of tender, spicy but not too hot jerk chicken that tasted of allspice and scotch bonnet peppers (incidentally, the New York Times recently ran a great article on jerk chicken featuring a recipe that I'm dying to try). Because the chicken's not too spicy, you'll want to be sure to add some of the vinegary hot sauce that Peppa's offers. Here's my plate:

Eaten in yet another unbeatable Brooklyn setting:

Ah, summer.

Pedro's Spanish American Restaurant
73 Jay Street (between Front St and Water St)
(718) 625-0031

Peppa's Jerk Chicken
738 Flatbush Avenue (between Parkside Ave and Woodruff Ave)
(347) 406-2515

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