A food-filled tour of Sunset Park

On Friday, my friend Craig and I took a trip to Sunset Park. Craig’s mother and grandparents grew up in the area, and he lived there for a bit, so he was a very knowledgeable guide. I borrowed his roommate’s bicycle for the occasion.

This was my first time riding a bike in the city — ever. It was also my first time in my adult life riding a fixed-gear bike (also known as a “fixie”). Good thing I’ve been riding the stationary bikes at the gym as part of my cross-training.

Craig leads the way along 5th Avenue in Park Slope.

Our first stop was Green-Wood Cemetery. Since we planned to visit Brooklyn’s second-highest point later in the day, we decided to check out its highest point, a spot known as Battle Hill. Near the top is a statue of the Roman goddess Minerva (Greek equivalent: Athena) with an “Altar to Liberty”, built in 1920 to commemorate the Battle of Brooklyn. Minerva looks directly at the Statue of Liberty, and there have been efforts recently to ensure her view remains unobstructed.

Weir Greenhouse is across the street from the main entrance to Green-Wood Cemetery. Built in 1880 and expanded in 1895, it is the only remaining Victorian greenhouse in the city. It’s in really bad shape now, but there is hope that it might be saved.

Jackie Gleason Depot, named for the Brooklyn native who played bus-driver Ralph Kramden in The Honeymooners (“POW! Right in the kisser!”), is a large complex directly south of the cemetery. I love both trains and graves — I told you, I’m a weird dude — so the mile-long stretch between the two is one of my favorite routes to run. I especially enjoy seeing older train-models and the diesel locomotives used to pick up trash late at night.

On 8th Avenue, we checked out a Chinese supermarket. I got some sweetened dried plums. They were very tasty.

Meal #1 was at Yun Nan Flavour Snack Inc., a shop on 49th Street off the main strip. The Yunnan province is in the southwest of China, bordering Myanmar, Laos, and Vietnam. These guys make amazing soup with rice noodles (a specialty of the region). My pork was tender and delicious. Craig got the cold noodles – spicy. I think the chef thought I was nuts because I didn’t want spice on mine.

Our next stop was the Sunset Park. Sunset Play Center is a beautiful 1936 building and pool built by the WPA. The “men’s” half of the building is now a gymnasium with a basketball court, while the “women’s” half has ping-pong and weights. The pool is not yet open for the season. There are many art deco components – the header to this page is a good example.

The park, being the second-highest spot in Brooklyn, has some damn good views.

We went back to 8th Avenue to visit Ba Xuyên, which I’ve mentioned has mind-blowing banh mi. They have really good cold drinks, too. I got an avocado shake, while Craig picked up a very sweet iced coffee. I need to figure out how to make said shake.

Craig spied a few Chinese supermarkets at 60th Street and 8th Avenue, so we hopped off our bikes and snooped around. There were some exotic things here – take a look for yourself. Most of them were live. I tried to avoid watching the butchers at work.

Our Lady of Perpetual Help is a huge Roman Catholic basilica on 5th Avenue between 59th and 60th Streets. It is named after one of the titles given to the Virgin Mary.

At this point, Craig had to go, so I continued by myself to the southern end of the neighborhood, where you’ll find the junction of the Gowanus Expressway and the Shore Parkway. It’s quite a cluster. In the middle is Father Tom Joyce Sports Complex, which looks overgrown – I can’t tell if it’s still in use.

(I advise my readers never to ride a bike on 3rd Avenue, because drivers there are crazy. Crazier than normal New York drivers. They’re pretty bad on 4th Avenue, too.)

Toward the waterfront is the Brooklyn Army Terminal, which runs from 58th Street through 65th Street. It was built in 1918, and was the largest military supply base in the United States in WWII. You can take 58th Street down to 1st Avenue, where the road still has tracks.

At the bottom of 58th Street is a ferry-pier. It wasn’t very busy today, as you can see. You can get a good glimpse of the Statue of Liberty and downtown Manhattan.

I had two stops along 4th Avenue. The first was St. Michael’s Church, built in 1905 and once the second-tallest building in Brooklyn (after the Williamsburgh Savings Bank Building). The second was more obscure: at 37th and 4th, there are seashells mixed in with the concrete. They glimmered better in person, but maybe you can spot one or two in this picture.

Meal #2 (or was it #3? That avocado shake was filling) was at Rico’s Tacos along 5th Avenue. I didn’t have much of an appetite, so I got a single beef taco. No one in the restaurant spoke English, so I had to resort to rudimentary Spanish and hand-gestures (how do you say “to go” in Spanish?). The taco was good, although it could have used some salsa and guac.

I ate that taco in the park. You can see how high up the park is from 5th Avenue in the first picture.

As I rode back along 5th Avenue with the cemetery on my right, I swung by Baked in Brooklyn, run by Aladdin Bakers. If you ever need fresh, inexpensive bread and have a way to get here, do so. I got six pitas for $1.

It was now five hours after my first stop at Green-Wood. The sun had turned, and finally gave me good lighting for a picture of the front of the Gothic entrance. Two blocks west is another sight, a Con Ed substation.

I was done, but there was no way I wasn’t going to bike on the wonderful Prospect Park West bikeway before I finished. The pedestrian islands are almost in place and there were plenty of cyclists using the route.

Sunset Park is a big place, and I was fortunate to have a way to see a lot of it – certainly much more than I would have had I walked and taken public transit. With that came the cost of seeing many things in detail. It’s a trade-off, but I think I prefer seeing more variety to seeing less.

Another huge benefit: everything is cheap. The soup was $4.75, the shake was $3.25, and the taco was $2.50. I got away with spending just over $10 for some awesome food, which kept me full until late in the evening. I’m excited to go back soon.

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One Response to A food-filled tour of Sunset Park

  1. You sure covered a lot of territory on that fixie (thanks for expanding my vocabulary with that one). Fortunately, you had access to some super tasty food. I’m intrigued by that avocado shake. Is it sweet or savory?

    As for “to go” – I think you would use some form of that irregular verb “ir”.

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