Statistics show that, if you reside in the borough of Kings, you will be called up for jury duty only once every eight years. While this is reassuring, it doesn't mean you'll have an easy time of it once you climb into the jury box and don the black robes and curly white wig, figuratively speaking. In fact, jurors often lament the poor quality of eats available in the Court Street corridor and the adjacent Fulton Mall – mainly fast food chains, lackluster delis, and mediocre pizza. Venture into Brooklyn Heights, and you'll be exposed to slow-moving meals in sit-down spots that make you wish you were elsewhere eating the same type of food. But there is hope. Here are some exceptional spots to while away your jury duty lunchtime.
Normally this list would be confined to places five blocks away or less, but because of the dearth of great eateries within easy walking distance of the Brooklyn Supreme Court, and the reputation of the court for granting longer lunches than in the other boroughs, the limit has been extended to include three exceptional places that serve relatively fast and can be reached in a brisk walk of 10 to 15 minutes. These are slightly more expensive than you might be prepared to pay for lunch, but they're worth it.
Ganso (25 Bond Street, 718-403-0900) is probably the city's best ramen parlor, with the possible exception of Ippudo. You can waltz in there, have a bowl of short-rib ramen, and be out in 30 minutes, if you don't have time to linger. There's much to be admired in the wacky apps, including the spicy wings and the shumai, which could make a light meal in themselves.
Mile End (97A Hoyt Street, 718-852-7510) is the city's only Jewish-Montreal deli, and the name doesn't begin to hint at the delights available therein at lunch. There's the smoked-meat poutine, of course, a volcano of brown French fries, deeply red beef wobbly with delicious fat, gooey curds, and pale chicken gravy ready to erupt into your stomach. Check the board for specials, which recently included a bluefish sandwich and roast-beef on an onion roll. For the budget conscious, the Ruth Wilensky made with garlicky homemade salami will get you out of there for barely more than $10. And when you return to the jury room, you can enjoy the looks of horror and admiration on fellow jurors' faces as you exhale pure garlic in their direction.
Listen very carefully to this advice. Go to Junior's (386 Flatbush Avenue Extension, 718-852-5257), Brooklyn's ancient 24-hour deli, sit and enjoy the ambience and general hubbub, and by all means order a hamburger; deli-type pastrami, corned beef, or brisket; or the place's famous cheesecake, the best in the entire city. Be tempted by anything else, and it will probably be awful.
The rest of these suggestions are comparatively more pedestrian, but all good in their own way, and some are cheap as hell on top of that.
Over on Montague Street is a line of bars and semi-upscale restaurants, patronized by Downtown Brooklyn businesspeople, tourists, and brownstone dwellers. It resembles the business strip in a college town, where visiting parents take their student children to eat, and the food choices are on par. Boasting a parlor-floor townhouse location, Gandhi Palace (140 Montague Street, 718-855-4791) is the kind of gravied Punjabi place many of us abandoned years ago, now becoming rare and worth re-experiencing. There's a lunch special priced from $6.95 to $8.95 (served with rice and samosas, soup, or salad) which offers a choice of chicken, lamb, or vegetarian. Across the street, a branch of the Vietnamese chain Hanco's (147 Montague Street, 347-529-5054) assembles banh mi sandwiches, fit for eating on the premises or in the courtyard right in front of City Hall if the weather is fine. The shrimp summer rolls are exceptional.
If an antique dining experience is what you crave, redolent of what Downtown Brooklyn used to be like, traipse over to Souvlaki House (158 Lawrence Street, 718-852-0443), boasting a green Formica lunch counter lined with swirling Naugahyde stools, patronized by a catalog of real neighborhood characters who dash in for fries or a soda. The façade boasts "Best Gyro in Brooklyn" — which is a total lie. The grilled-to-order kebabs or diner-style hamburgers are the things to get. More picturesque than outright tasty.
If you want a giant feed for $10 or less, either carried out or in the dining room, check out Sophie's Cuban Cuisine (27 Smith Street, 718-243-0911). The roast pork pernil is exceptional, sided with moros (rice and beans), house pickled onions, and either sweet or green plantains. If you're going to sit, examine the long steam table before you to see what looks especially good that day. In an oddly similar vein, though far away ethnographically, check out Yemen Café (176 Atlantic Avenue, (718-624-6540), where the forte is massive servings of roasted lamb served with pilaf and curried potatoes, with a surprisingly delicate consomme and rudimentary salad as the pro-forma starters. Request the watery and blistering hot sauce.
Now for the grab-and-go places. Right on the Fulton Mall, Albee Square furnishes a good place to eat them al fresco. For hot dogs and hamburgers with beverages that taste like chalk (skip the pizza, too), there's the hopping, open-air counter Fulton Hot Dog King (472 Clinton Street, 718-858-9799), relatively new though it appears decades old. Authentically old is Hero Shop (119 Livingston Street, (718-834-8572) with a cryptic façade that looks like someone's art project, and an impossibly crowded and decrepit interior where, if you cadge one of the five stools, you're going to regret it. Skip the steam table stuff and head for any of the hot heroes, especially the eggplant parm and the unusual marinara-coated fried shrimp (get it without cheese), both throwbacks to Brooklyn's Sicilian heritage.
Ocean Fresh Fish (68 Willoughby Street, 718-596-0720) is a seafood market that fries fish sandwiches as a sideline, carryout only. You can dine exceedingly well there on an overstuffed whiting sandwich for under $5. The same cheapness invests Golden Fried Dumpling (192 Duffield Street, 718-522-2836), which looks like an escapee from Chinatown, tendering the usual fried and steamed dumplings, sesame bread sandwiches, and soups. Surprisingly, there are some comfy tables provided, and if you want to get away from the hubbub of Downtown Brooklyn, this laid-back establishment is your place.
Of course, there's always Shake Shack (409 Fulton Street, 718-307-7590).