c o u n t e r  s e r v i c e

Brighton Beach Memoirs




I woke up in a panic. 

Did I leave my phone on silent and miss my alarm? What time was it? How long had I overslept? Where is my phone? I start tossing pillows and blankets, reaching blindly in the dark, my heart pumping. My friends are getting married today and I’m already behind the wave.

Morgan and Noni are one of those couples everyone already assumes is married. I have never known them apart. They are a perfect compliment to one another, a unit: Morgan & Noni. I first met Noni when we worked together in a restaurant in Chinatown and I currently have the pleasure of working with Morgan at a restaurant in Brooklyn. These beautiful people live a few short blocks away from me in Bedford-Stuyvesant, a blessing in this city where an inter-borough relationship is considered “long distance.” Radio silence from your nearest and dearest is common when a train transfer is involved. In New York, extra effort is necessary to sustain community. You must create a warm tiny corner of this city to call your own, or perish! I am eternally grateful that my neighbors are my friends. It has saved me more times than I can count.

You see, Morgan & Noni specialize in hospitality. They’re wonderful, thoughtful hosts with great taste. Many bottles of wine have been shared over heated games of Scrabble, Rummy, and Settlers of Catan. (It is worth noting that Morgan & Noni are fierce competitors. They will lay down 100-point words, take all your sheep, and crush you mercilessly. You won’t leave with your dignity but you might leave with leftovers. It all evens out, I suppose.) Separately, they work at two of the most popular and busy restaurants in Brooklyn: Morgan, talented chef, and Noni, general manager,and thus the hours leave little room for anything else outside the hospitality bubble. I have watched Morgan & Noni balance their demanding lives and dedicate time to each other and their families all while planning a wedding. Their relationship has set an example and left an impression on me. My wedding gift to Morgan & Noni had to be as thoughtful and as in great taste as they are.

Initially, I was overwhelmed at the gift possibilities (Knives? Ceramics? Wine? What do you buy for a chef?) but I remembered the happy couple would spend their first days as husband and wife at home in Brooklyn. How can I help make their staycation perfect? Truffles and caviar immediately came to mind. I got in touch with my friend and luxury-goods maven Ariel Arce (@RiddlingWidowNYC). I’ve always relied on her for tips on what to eat and drink and where to get the goods. She let me know the season wasn’t right for truffles but her spot for caviar year-round is Royal Seafood located in Brighton Beach. “The best is talking to the lady at the counter and pushing them for the best stuff they got... Then have her put it in a pretty tin and have a nice bottle of Champagne.” I knew I could count on her. I set the morning of the wedding aside to make the trek.

But what time is it? Do I have time for the two-hour commute to Ocean Parkway and back? Am I going to have time to get ready? Panic rises from my chest to my throat when I finally find my phone; I have more than enough time, maybe even enough for some coffee. I throw myself together quickly and head towards the shuttle at the Franklin Avenue stop. My favorite way to travel from Bed-Stuy to South Brooklyn is via the shuttle. The S, one of the few above ground trains in Brooklyn, is the fastest way to cut from my neighborhood to the Botanical Garden and Prospect Park and has beautiful views along its short route.

I transfer to the Q at Prospect Park, taking it all the way down to Ocean Parkway. Should I have taken the B express? I’m terrible at remembering these things until it’s too late and the doors have closed. I’m trapped on the local but it’s fine. I have time.

Upon arriving at Ocean Parkway, I’m struck by how quickly the seasons end here in the North East, particularly in New York. South Brooklyn already feels deserted. Summer in New York is magic; wild, loud, bizarre magic but from one day to the next the crowds disappear. Summer is definitely over but autumn has not truly begun.  Briefly, I hold space between two worlds, one fleeting and one not yet realized. A New York beach during the off-season, in all its eeriness, is something unusual and beautiful to behold. I make a mental note to come back when it’s covered in snow.

I reach Royal Seafood quickly and am delighted at everything this store has to offer. Tins as far as the eye can see of cheeses, pastries, smoked fish, black caviar, and trout roe. This place has the best prices on bulk roe I’ve seen in this city. The selections seem endless! I greet the staff, Russian women of all ages, and ask for a pound of black caviar. I could not easily communicate with the older woman behind the counter (“Oh honey, no English”) but she helps me choose some of the best sturgeon caviar they had that day. Apart from this sweet woman, I can’t say I’ve ever been treated warmly in Brighton Beach. The older Russian community residing there is very guarded and insular, as it should be. It is not lost on me that I am a stranger, undoubtedly millennial and Latina. I do not want to linger and in my panic, I forget to ask for a pretty tin for the caviar.

Before jumping back on the Q and the long ride home, I head for the boardwalk to get one last whiff of the salty sea. It’ll be another year before I enjoy a warm bright day on a New York beach. I am alone save for the occasional elderly Russian jogger. Time seems to have stopped and I relish in the stillness of the morning. I look down at the time and sprint off to catch the next train. I’ve got a wedding to get ready for.