L & B Spumoni Gardens has been on my mental “need to eat” list for a long time. This weekend, it was crossed off, and in the process discovered something that should have been on the list to begin with. Georgian (the country not the state of Honey Boo Boo fame) soup dumplings! What the what?! Yeah, I know! But first, the pizza.
L & B is known for their Sicilian slices, or “squares” as they call it. On a side note, when I was in college, I met a girl from Brooklyn who called Sicilian slices squares. As a Queens girl, I thought there must be something wrong with her. Sicilians were Sicilians. Who calls them squares?! What do you call a fountain drink? A cylinder? A regular slice, a triangle? Well it turns out it was a Brooklyn thing, and in some parts of Brooklyn, they call Sicilians squares and regular slices “rounds.”
Nomenclature aside, I liked the Sicilian ($2.25) at L & B. The most striking aspect was the sweet sauce which was more pronounced because there wasn’t a lot of cheese. At L & B, a thin layer of mozzarella is placed on the dough, followed by a good amount of sauce, followed a sprinkle of Pecorino Romano. (They do this at The Square also, which in turn resulted in the gangland sauce summit.) I prefer cheesier, saltier slices over sweet, but the lack of cheese and the sweetness of the sauce did make the Sicilian feel lighter as did the crust. The Sicilian base was light and airy but still had some chew as well as some crunch.
L & B may be known for their Sicilian, but I liked their regular slice or round ($2.25) better. (By the way, when I asked for a plain slice, the guy asked me what I wanted again. Tip: Ask for a round.) It’s cheesier, and as a result saltier. The crust was a bit dense and more chewy than crisp, but it was still tasty. One square and one round makes for a very balanced meal of salty and sweet.
For dessert there’s Italian ice, ice cream, and spumoni. David opted for a rainbow spumoni ($2.50) which consisted of three flavors: pistachio, vanilla, and chocolate. I’m not a huge spumoni fan (I’m an Italian ice girl, cherry or rainbow please), so I thought the spumoni was just okay. I did appreciate the bits of pistachio in the pistachio flavor, but there was also a lot of almond extract which I’m never crazy about. Also the texture was somewhere between ice cream and Italian ice. I prefer one or the other. David, who’s a spumoni fan, however, seemed to really enjoy it.
After pizza and dessert, I felt I needed a bit more food. I considered another slice, but instead we popped into Mtskheta Cafe a few blocks away for some dumplings.
Mtskheta Cafe is a Georgian restaurant that serves dumplings called khinkali ($9). Every culture seems to have their version of dumplings, but for me, the unusual thing about the dumplings at Mtskheta were that they were soup dumplings. If you thought Shanghai and Taiwan had the market cornered with xiaolongbao, think again!
When I first read about khinkali online, I thought they would just have a little bit of juice, but this was the real deal with at least two spoonfuls of soup inside. It blew my mind. It was difficult to eat however. The waiter told us Georgians use their hands by picking up the dumplings by their pleated tops and drinking the soup after taking a bite from the side, but the skins were pretty delicate and I was afraid I’d lose all the juice. Also, the dumplings were motherf*cking hot. I chose the hand and spoon route.
As for the innards, unlike xiaolongbao, the meat was beef, not pork, and was blander. It was very gently seasoned with a bit of red pepper for the slightest amount of heat. It was like a very light and juicy meatball. The broth inside was also much thinner but just as plentiful. I can’t say I prefer these over xiaolongbao, but I really liked them. David who doesn’t eat pork, loved them. He kept saying they were like xiaolongbao but better. Um, no, but the khinkali were mighty tasty.
And going back to the pleated tops, after eating one, the waiter said the tops aren’t meant to be eaten. The tops function more as a handle and also a way to tell how many you’ve eaten. You may be tempted to eat them anyway, but don’t. The thicker tops end up being a little raw in the middle, and the skins themselves don’t have too much flavor.
It was a fun trip, although pretty far if you’re traveling from Manhattan. Was it worth it? Probably not to either restaurant alone, but together it made for a delicious adventure.
2568 86th St (b/n Bay 41st St & Stillwell Ave; map)
Brooklyn, NY 11214