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To Russia With Love: Brighton Beach, Brooklyn

La Brioche Espresso
1073 Brighton Beach Avenue, (718) 934-7709

Between the gritty honky-tonk of Coney Island to the south and the lowbrow affluence of Manhattan Beach to the north, today's Brighton Beach is a Russian enclave that bustles with shops selling everything from $2 nightgowns to $200 tins of caviar. La Brioche stands out among Brighton Beach Avenue's many bakeries with its English-language sign and outdoor display of crisp baguettes. Baguettes -- vive la Russe!

La Brioche, 1073 Brighton Beach Avenue, Brighton Beach, Brooklyn

Indeed, they sell a variety of French-Russian delights. The outside awning aside, all the signage indoors is of the Cyrillic variety. Luckily, everything looks delicious and nothing turns out to be very different than it looks. Apple, cherry, and cheese (pictured) turnovers encase a thin smattering of fresh filling with generous layers of buttery, flaky pastry. Dare we say it'd not be out of place at Balthazar? A U-shaped pastry filled with apricot, cherry, or chocolate (pictured) looks like a giant rugalach -- and it is a giant rugalach, one that should make Eli Zabar a little jealous. If sweets aren't enough, a round, crusty bun with a spiral shape turns out to be salted and laced with savory cheese.

La Brioche, 1073 Brighton Beach Avenue, Brighton Beach, Brooklyn

La Brioche Pastry, Brighton Beach, Brooklyn

The Blue Cleaver has to watch its collective girlish figure, so we stopped the sampling there. There are dozens of other pastries, cakes, cookies, and candies on display, plus a variety of open-faced sandwiches with toppings that ranged from ham and salami to salmon roe and sliced vegetables. As the name would imply, the shops also sells espresso and coffee drinks.

La Brioche Pastry, Brighton Beach, Brooklyn

One could cater quite a brunch with goods from La Brioche, and for very little: the three items we sampled added up to a whopping $3.10. Everything is generally priced from $0.25 to $2.00. Not a bad way to soak up all the vodka you drink at Anyway Caf� . . .

Anyway Caf�
111 Oriental Boulevard, (718) 648-3906

Most nighttime visitors to Brighton Beach are determined to whoop it up at the big dinner-theatre-dancing-prix-fixe-meal-vodka-bottle joints like The National and Rasputin. Those who are over that humpty dance, but still up for a little vodka-drenched fun, might be advised to try Anyway Caf� in nearby Manhattan Beach.

Anyway Cafe, 111 Oriental Boulevard, Manhattan Beach, Brooklyn

They've got a menu of Russian-inflected bistro fare, plenty of German beer on tap, a short list of affordable wines, and . . . drum roll please . . . house-infused vodka. You can buy a pure sample in the form of a $5 shot or choose a martini for $8-9. The Blue Cleaver was not in the mood for mango vodka shots apr�s beachcombing on a summer afternoon, so we tried a Romanoff Bloody Martini, made with the usual tomato juice plus horseradish-infused vodka, and a Lychee Martini, essentially a big glass of chilled lychee-infused vodka.

Romanoff Bloody Martini and Lychee Martini, Anyway Cafe, Manhattan Beach, Brooklyn

Both were well-received on our palates. The flavor in the vodkas was fresh and intense, eliminating the need for the watery, artifical additives favored by most barkeeps. The outdoor garden is equally attractive. We noted that signs asking patrons to keep the noise down and a location opening onto Oriental Boulevard might mean that the garden isn't always so calm as on a Saturday afternoon, but there's probably still plenty of space in the cozy pub to get away from it all when the natives get restless. Go anyway.


Anyway Caf�

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