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Starving artist takes to borough’s streets in search of a cheap - yet respectable - meal

The Brooklyn Paper

This story was born of the idea that those of us chasing the artistic life shouldn’t have to eat peanut butter sandwiches and Key Food macaroni every night, or sit at home over a plate of cold bologna and crackers while our friends live it up in the hundreds of great restaurants scattered across the length and breadth of Brooklyn.

Struggling writers, painters, actors and musicians (not to mention people who aren’t earning six figures) should be able to enjoy good food and good company around town on a limited budget. At first glance, it would seem that dining out is just out of reach when one rules out fast food as a palatable culinary choice.

With all of these things in mind, we begin with a rather arbitrary $8 maximum and the dream of a great meal for this much or less.

If it seems impossible, surprise! It can be done! Brooklyn abounds with nightly specials, but many terrific restaurants have menu choices that won’t break the bank on any night of the week. One needn’t starve like Knut Hamsun (the mid-20th century Norwegian writer remembered for his "Hunger," a novel about his experiences as a starving writer in Oslo) for one’s art.

DUMBO has become synonymous with a burgeoning art scene over the last few years, so the starving artist ought to begin there. That old haunted warehouse district "down under" sports some of the better chow-houses in town. Despite the gentrifying atmosphere rapidly pervading the neighborhood, a night spent dining in DUMBO needn’t be cost prohibitive.

A fine example of an affordable restaurant is Rice; suave, modern, hip and budget-friendly could all describe this Asian-fusion eatery. The place is a hungry poor-man’s dream. Virtually the entire menu is accessible for $8 or less, including tip.

"Small" portions (more than adequate to serve as a meal) of all the "Classics" are $4 to $7, and they include a choice of rice (Japanese, brown, basmati or sticky).

My favorite is the vegetarian meatballs, breaded tofu rolled into a bite-sized globe and available sweet or spicy. They’re served, of course, with a choice of rice. (Appetizers and salads can be had for less than $5.)

Now the starving artist moves away from DUMBO and toward the green lawns of Prospect Park. If you happen to be feeling Von-Trapp-meets-film-noir on a budget Monday night, cross the figurative and filthy Alps of the Gowanus Canal aboard the elevated F train (taking a moment, of course, to enjoy the view from the world’s highest subway platform at Smith Street) to the Seventh Avenue stop.

Wander up to Cafe Steinhof at the juncture of Seventh Avenue and 14th Street. Monday is $5 goulash night at this wood-paneled and movie poster-bedecked ale house, where the starving artist or budget eater can enjoy a heaping bowl of this hardy Hungarian dish for a crisp Lincoln, with enough of the $8 leftover for a good tip.

The cafe is homey and welcoming, knee-deep with ’Slope hipsters, and the goulash - a meat-and-potato-based stew, spiced with a touch of paprika - is delicious.

True to its decor, Cafe Steinhof features Sunday night movies, showing a variety of films including local favorites like the Pacino classic "Dog Day Afternoon" (shot nearby at Prospect Park West and 17th Street).

For those on a slightly bigger budget, the menu provides a great variety of Eastern and Central European dishes, and the bar has a fine array of domestic and imported beers, available on tap and in the bottle. On draught one finds European choices like Stella Artois ($5) and Widmer Hefeweizen ($6) beside Williamsburg brewed Brooklyn Brewery Brown ($5). Bottled choices include ubiquitous bar fare like Corona ($5) alongside Austria’s Gosser and Germany’s Paulaner ($6 each).

Far down Court Street in Carroll Gardens, the starving artist can find the wood-paneled glory of Frankie’s 457 Court Street Spuntino. The wildly long name might be a deterrent, but most people just call it "Frankie’s" anyway. Here you can find a number of sandwiches that just strike the $8 mark, served up on bread from Sullivan Street Bakery to boot. (The "prosciutto & pecorino" is a favorite of this writer.)

Full entrees are a bit out of the poor man’s price range, but if you stop by flush with cash, the pricier options shout spectacular.

Adding to the local feel, Frankie’s is located in a former blacksmith’s shop and stable. The outdoor patio is great in warm weather too, and provides a good view of the elevated tracks and the rooftops of Park Slope in the distance. ("Spuntino," by the way, is Italian parlance for a snack or a casual restaurant.)

These three restaurants are just a tiny sampling of what’s our there, so dump the fast food, and hit the sidewalks on a hunt of your own. Happy budget dining!


Rice is located at 81 Washington St. between Front and York streets in DUMBO. Accepts cash only. For more information, call (718) 222-9880 or visit the Web site

Cafe Steinhof is located at 422 Seventh Ave. at 14th Street in Park Slope. For more information, call (718) 369-7776.

Frankie’s 457 Court Street Spuntino is located at 457 Court St. between Fourth Place and Luquer Street in Carroll Gardens. Accepts cash only. For more information, call (718) 403-0033 or visit the Web site,

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