The Grotto lies way downtown on New Street — which dangles forlornly, blocked off on both ends, below Wall Street itself. Who would expect to find a great cheap southern Italian restaurant there? Named after Capri’s Blue Grotto, the premises is attained by diving down a long narrow stairway into the basement, where an L-shaped glass counter lies before you like a pirate’s treasure; you’ve probably never seen prepared food look quite this good before. There are potato croquettes, fricassees of chicken and pork, strombolis both Italian and American, several examples of the cheese-drenched baked pastas beloved of southern Italians, and a stunning array of pizzas ready to be purchased by the slice.
I’d gone for the heros — of which the broccoli rabe and sausage parm is particularly good. Smothered in mozzarella, the broccoli rabe has been stewed with garlic cloves and the sausage sliced thin and grilled before being incorporated into the long roll. Also beguiling is the eggplant parm slice, something I’ve never seen before. Make your purchases (it’s hard to spend as much as $10), and seek out the tiny stairway at the rear, which leads you to a secret dining room (maybe that’s the "grotto" part), filled with counters and tables dramatically lit, all under the spell of an Edward Hopper painting framed on one wall. 69 New St, (212) 809-6990
You can’t beat the cheley khatsa at Spicy Tibet, the newest addition to the dozen or so Himalayan restaurants in Jackson Heights. It consists of swatches of pleasantly rubbery tongue laved with chile sauce and interspersed with crunchy onions and sweet peppers in a variety of colors. The dish (pictured above) comes with a steamed bread on the side shaped like a human fist, and the tongue is every bit as spicy as the name of the restaurant implies. For the tender-tongued there are soups with homemade noodles, like Then Thug, which to the uninitiated sounds like it might be a rapper’s autobiography. Just down the block from the subway station, a warm welcome greets those inexperienced with the cuisine. And the momo ain’t bad, either. 75-04 Roosevelt Ave, Queens, (718) 779-7500
What’s the cheapest meal you can get in Ft. Greene? Probably the patty and coco bread at Buff Patty, just east of the hilly park on Myrtle. This long-running Jamaican cafe and bakery specializes in meat patties, the island equivalent of the empanada, with a crisp, annatto-laced dough and finely minced filling of beef, chicken, vegetables, etc. The patty is around $1.75, and for another dollar, the coco bread can be acquired to go around it. Together they constitute a full meal. The filling of the patty (pick spicy beef) has been calculated to be so flavorful that it shines through both layers of starch. Even the mild beef tastes perfumey as a result of Scotch bonnet peppers, and the hotter spicy beef will blow the top of your head off.
The café also has a fine selection of other Jamaican food, including a delicious escovitch fish (fried whole fish scattered with onions and peppers in a sweet-and-sour vinaigrette), breakfast porridges, braised oxtails, and, of course, jerk chicken. Buff Patty is one of Ft. Greene’s culinary treasures. 376 Myrtle Ave, Brooklyn, (718) 855-3266