You could always take the A train but now you can take a boat to Rockaway Beach! The ferry from the Wall Street pier to the Rockaways has been up and running for a few months. We took it for the first time recently and it was delightful! For $2.75, the cost of a subway trip, you get an hour long boat ride and end up, after a stop at Sunset Park, just a 5 minute walk from the Rockaway boardwalk. The views of downtown Brooklyn (seeing it from the water helps you understand what a huge borough it is – larger than many cities), the ever changing skyline of lower Manhattan, Governor’s Island, Jersey City, Staten Island, Bay Ridge, Coney Island, the Verrazano Narrows Bridge and finally the Rockaways. We sat on the sunny and breezy top deck alongside a woman drawing and writing in her journal, a man who had grown up in Brooklyn and was taking a nostalgic trip back, a group of male pals downing beers (yes, there is a bar downstairs in the air conditioned cabin on the boat) and a swarm of kids who crowded the railing, excited simply to be out on the water.
The Rockaways or Rockaway is a peninsula on the edge of Queens which was slammed by Hurricane Sandy and in some places is still rebuilding. The gorgeous Atlantic side beach is wide and sandy with lots of recently planted grasses, playgrounds and pounding surf. It is known to have a fierce undertow and the big waves are beloved by surfers, of which we saw many! There is a completely new boardwalk that, when I heard it was made of concrete, I was prepared to hate. But it is great – plenty wide with a lovely mosaic glass border, lots of seating (and well designed, attractive seating at that – you will recognize it from the High Line), accessible bathroom and food pavilions. We had delicious arepas with taro fries at one (unfortunately the good looking organic juice and sandwich bar had just closed) at Caracas Arepa Bar and only passed up the burgers at the next stand in favor of an off boardwalk spot about which we had read.
Rockaway Taco at the Surf Club is a few blocks back toward the bayside of the island in a struggling neighborhood dominated by a Popeye’s chicken joint. The taco bar is set alongside a large outdoor patio with picnic tables (movies were about to be screened as we were leaving), a friendly bar which is the adjacent Surf Club, surfboard lockers and a convivial local as well as day-tripping crowd. We quickly joined the line to order and got pretty good fish tacos and what were called cukes. And not just cukes, this was a cup full of cucumber, mango and jicama sticks doused with lime juice and sprinkled liberally with chili salt. The salad is a common Mexican street treat, the kind of thing you might find at a roadside stand, called pepiños y frutas con chili y limón. When made only with fruit (could be mango, pineapple, cantaloupe, honeydew or watermelon) it is referred to as just frutas con chili y limon. Not only crunchy, it was refreshing on a warm night and a good balance to the spicy tacos.
You can buy the salt in any Mexican grocery (two brands sold here are Pico Limón and tajin) or you can make it yourself by combining ground chili powder or cayenne with salt. And the whole dish is one of the simplest salads to make – it only takes as long as cleaning and cutting the vegetables, squeezing a lemon or lime over them and sprinkling with chili salt. If you want to make a whole meal out of it, add some crumbled cojita or feta cheese and sprinkle with cilantro or parsley.
I had forgotten about this salad and it took a trip to the Rockaways to remind me. It’s good to visit different neighborhoods, especially when you get there via a lovely boat ride, when it includes a walk on a beautiful beach, when it brings to mind the great Ramones’ song and when you wind up eating some delicious food that can be replicated at home. “Rock rock Rockaway Beach ….”