My three-year-old has been asking to go to a beach before summer ends.
And though my Instagram feed tells me everyone is taking their kids to Fire Island or Montauk, or eating cool tacos at Rockaway Beach, I am taking my kid to Brighton Beach—no car rental, ferry, or bus transfer needed. Eighteen stops after leaving, direct on the Q train, we land two blocks from the boardwalk. The best part: there are infinite adventures to be had exploring the Russian markets in the neighborhood.
As soon as we get off the train, we line up near Brighton Fifth Street for beach snacks. A Russian lady in a polka-dot apron is selling meat and potato-filled pirozhki for $1.50 each. The only English words on the signs state what the filling options are: liver, cabbage, potato. We point to the two that everyone else seems to be buying and hand over three bucks.
After a few hours of decorating sand castles at the beach (“Only shells and rocks, Miles—not the cigarette butts!”), we head back to Brighton Beach Avenue to explore more Russian markets.
We cool off in the air conditioning at Gourmanoff, ogle the Russian cakes and cookies at La Brioche Cafe, and decide to shop at Brighton Bazaar, a giant supermarket with rows and rows of prepared foods.
I let Miles pick out some things that look good to him. His choices: two kinds of beet salad, boiled potatoes, shredded carrots, olives, meatballs, and pickles. (Brighton Bazaar is a wonderland for pickle lovers. I spotted pickled garlic heads, pickled watermelon, pickled baby squash, pickled cabbage.)
We get frozen pelmini by the pound and a cheap bottle of neon green Georgian lemonade (tarragon flavor!). At the bakery section, Miles picks out the darkest bread, a dense Lithuanian rye loaded with sunflower seeds. I know he thinks it’s made of chocolate, and I tell him it’s most definitely not; he still wants to get it, and I make him swear he will try it.
The sausage and deli-meat counter looks impressive, but no one speaks English. Another customer takes pity on us, points to the mini kielbasa, and gives a thumbs up. Miles picks out one hard candy from the bulk bin as a reward for being an ace shopping sidekick. Our total bill is less than $20.
At home, we try a little bit of everything. Rye bread soldiers (“This is not chocolate”) with bites of meatball, sausage, and beet salad (“I love beets!”). Boiled potatoes with olives, and pelmini (“Hey, these are dumplings!”). The thing he is most excited to try—the tarragon soda, probably for its candy-green color—prompts a contorted, delighted-but-disgusted face. I can tell he really wants to love it—it’s soda! I never let him have soda!—but the fizz and sweet herbal flavor weirds him out. I offer another sip. “Um. No thanks.”