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10 Sep

What is a neighborhood?

Bay Ridge

When I was a kid it was a discreet area. Our neighborhood was the set of houses on a horseshoe-shaped road. Everything beyond that was unknown.

Some neighborhoods in New York are as easy to define. Tribeca: the triangle below Canal Street. The East Village: everything from Houston to 14th street and from the East River to Broadway. Park Slope: the area around Prospect Park overrun by double-wide strollers. Dumbo: If you can’t see the Manhattan Bridge, you’re probably no longer there.

Bay Ridge has a definition too. Fort Hamilton Parkway to Shore Parkway, 65th Street to 101st Street. This is a huge, ethnically diverse area. Too big to call my neighborhood.

Block Party

Our block had a block party this weekend. Cars were moved, the street was blocked off, fire hydrants were opened and little kids buzzed up and down on their bikes and scooters while their parents sat in the sun drinking beer and barbecuing meats. It was perfectly idyllic.

Being recent interlopers into this tight-knit, insular world we participated by sitting on our stoop, laughing at the kids and chatting with our next-door neighbors.

Oh, and we grilled some meat on our tiny, UFO grill.

Teeny, Tiny Grill

That got us some attention. Everyone else had proper equipment; Webers were popular and some people even brought their ginormous propane fueled beauties out front from their backyards. More than one person walked by, saw our tiny grill, just big enough to hold one lamb steak, and broke into unbridled, perfectly understandable peals of laughter. It was a fantastically silly sight, I’ll give them that.

Regardless of size that little grill sure gets the job done. It’s big enough for about 10 coals, but really, that’s all you need. The meat was perfect and there was enough heat leftover to have done at least another, and probably some peaches, too.

And then we went inside to eat.

Grilled Harissa-Marinated Lamb Steaks

The people of Bay Ridge can be rather suspicious of new comers, whether you’re a white couple fleeing Manhattan or a large immigrant family, we all get the same shifty-eyed peripheral stare that speaks volumes. In one regard I don’t blame them. They’ve lived a life people write novels and make movies about. But, we’re all just people and inherently interesting regardless of where we come from and how long we’ve lived on a certain block.

Our adopted ‘hood is incredibly diverse, but it wasn’t always that way. The first wave of immigrants came mainly from the Scandinavian countries, then from Ireland and Italy, and more recently from various countries in Asia and the Middle East. There’s no obvious outward signs of tension between the old guard and the new guard in the neighborhood, but it’s still tangible.

The Best Cucumber Salad Ever

So we mixed the old Bay Ridge with the new Bay Ridge. We grilled on the sidewalk, a fine, deep-Brooklyn summer tradition, but we grilled harissa-marinated lamb, one of the finest Middle Eastern inspired dishes ever to come out of my kitchen.

I’m a little bummed it wasn’t easier to get to know some of the people on our block, but I am happy to have gotten to know a few people better.  I don’t think I can call this one street in Brooklyn my neighborhood, yet, but it got a little closer.

I’d say that’s a fine result.

Head below the jump for the recipes for Harissa-Marinated Lamb Steaks and The Best Cucumber Salad Ever.

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