I’ll admit that Bushwick isn’t a neighborhood I’ve ever frequented. When I moved here nearly nine years ago, I briefly slept on the couch of a zine penpal and her roommates, smack up against the BQE off the Graham stop on the L. I didn’t know the first thing about New York City, let alone Brooklyn neighborhoods so I’d walk around a lot, almost autistically. I was fascinated by those uniquely NYC shopping strips containing Radio Shack, Petland, Jimmy Jazz, Pretty Girl and similar nowbrow chains but after the girls I was staying with semi-seriously warned, “Don’t go past Grand Street,” I became skittish and began heading the opposite direction up Manhattan Avenue into Greenpoint where they had a classy Rainbow and Genovese (now Eckerd).
I eventually moved six stops plus a transfer from Graham Avenue and always wondered what the landscape was like above ground between the two. I’m sure things have changed, but in the late ‘90s stops like Morgan, DeKalb and Jefferson (I’m still not sure what Jefferson looks like from the outside) seemed desolate and unpopulated like the eerie Bowery M station.
Barzola isn’t quite that remote, optimists/liars might even try describing that pocket as East Williamsburg. The restaurant is almost randomly placed on a quiet sort of residential street, and on my Sunday afternoon visit was teeming like an Ecuadorian Cheesecake Factory (sure, I could’ve referenced Little Owl but I’d actually attempted CF the night before and the mob was so thick that there was a line just to put your name on the list and be quoted an hour and 40-minute-wait. WTF? We then tried Benihana across the street and risked death on a pedestrian unfriendly service road with no stoplights just to be faced with an equally ugly crowd with slightly fewer strollers. We ended up at the weirdly appealing Skylark Diner again where you can at least drink cocktails while waiting).
I’ve always wondered why young white folks, college kids, vegetarians who are old enough to know better but only seem to eat pasta and burritos, embrace pseudo-Mexican food but rarely go further geographically. No Williamsburg trickle was in evidence. I’m guessing that the average person isn’t clear what Ecuadorian food is exactly. I’m still figuring it out. I’ve experienced meatier fare, not the famed cuy, but Barzola is seafood-centric.
We stuck to ceviches, pink, soupy affairs with tomatoes, onions and cilantro. I tried for the black clam, which sounded unusual. They didn’t have it. I never have much luck when ordering the mildly offbeat option. Instead, I ended up with shrimp and octopus, which seemed to be lightly cooked rather than raw. There was a competing hot and cold sensation depending where I dipped my spoon but the dish settled on a consistent temperature after a few minutes.
I have a serious sweet and savory tooth so the dulce humita, a sugared corn and cheese tamale was a perfect treat. Our waitress seemed a little perplexed that we didn’t want any sides like plantains or rice (they also had fried rice, which I’m starting to realize is a South American favorite) but corn tamales are just enough starch for me.
Barzola * 197 Meserole St., Brooklyn, NY