A cure for the common breakfast in Kensington
At Kabir’s Bakery, more is better.
You step off the F/G line at Church Avenue in Brooklyn. Low buildings stretch across a landscape dotted with fruit stands selling highly specific ingredients for everything from Bangladeshi to Mexican cuisines, and the least common language you’ll hear on the street is English.
Walk a few feet from the corner of Church and Macdonald avenues, and you’ll find yourself in front of Kabir’s Bakery. This family-owned bakery, located at 97 Church Ave., has been serving communities in southern Brooklyn for more than 30 years. The outside of the storefront is plastered with laminated computer paper signs written in English and Sanskrit, advertising everything from tuna sandwiches to traditional Bengali street foods.
The operation is headed by Humayun Kabir, a Bangladeshi immigrant who also runs Smith Street Bread Co. and Brooklyn Patisserie. Even if you haven’t visited a Kabir’s location, you’ve probably tried some of their baked goods. Smith Street Bread Co. and Brooklyn Patisserie are both under-the-radar contributors to Brooklyn’s local food movement. Their danishes, muffins and breakfast breads are baked fresh daily and sold at bodegas and restaurants across the borough.
Kabir’s has multiple locations in both Brooklyn and Queens, but the Kensington store has a particular neighborhood charm. From the first time you stop by, the friendly women behind the counter greet you as “brother” or “sister,” and you might find a cookie or two you didn’t order in the nondescript brown bag you’re handed. The women will try to upsell you on more items and more than one of everything — and you should listen, because you’ll probably regret having to share that samosa. A raised platform crowded with tables in the back allow you to linger over your snacks and feel like a local, even if you aren’t one.
Here, you can order an overwhelming amount of food for very little money. If something has just come out of the fryer, you’ll want that. The chicken roll is an outstanding breakfast option, reminiscent of an edgier Chinese take-out egg roll. The skin is crisp and caramel-colored, stuffed with a fiery combination of ground chicken, diced onion and sliced bird’s eye chilis that give off the perfect amount of dry heat. The vegetable samosas are big enough to share and come filled with golden-hued gems of curried peas and potatoes mixed with a milder combination of onions and chilis. Either option, with a cup of coffee or tea, will run you around $3.50.
While the bakery does offer a wide variety of American-style muffins and pastries, skip the familiar and round out your meal with traditional Bengali sweets. The salted jeera cookies are more savory than sweet, flavored with vanilla, nutmeg and mace and flecked with black nigella seeds. Ovaltine cookies are the nostalgic treat you never knew you needed, a perfectly sandy shortbread with a scalloped edge and a flavor backdrop of malted milk. Dunk them in a creamy spiced chai steeped so long it packs as much of a caffeine kick as your standard cup of drip coffee. It’s prepared with a few heaping spoonfuls of white sugar, so ask for less if you prefer a spicier morning beverage.
The stretch of Church Avenue where Kabir’s Bakery is located is known as Brooklyn’s Little Bangladesh, and shops here cater to the tastes of residents. Stop by after 4 p.m. and you’ll see some different menu items on offer. Shrimp pakoras are made each afternoon, and sold as soon as they are laid out. Adventurous eaters will want to try haleem, a rich, comforting stew made from lentils, meat and barley, or fuchka, a traditional Bengali street food also known as pani puris or golgappas. They also sell richly-spiced kebab, almost like an Indian-style meatball.
A visit to Kensington will make you feel like a true global citizen. Home to Orthodox Jewish communities and enclaves of Mexican, Chinese, Indian, Bangladeshi, and Eastern European immigrants, it’s not uncommon to hear the call to prayer drifting down the street from the local mosque mingling with the sounds of a Latin-American street fair. Local food businesses that have withstood the early murmurs of gentrification are an important part of what makes this neighborhood work. Diversity thrives where people can find common ground, and places like Kabir’s Bakery provide more than just a great cheap eat — they create opportunities for connection.
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