Hassan Halal Meat & Grocery
Hassan Halal Meat & Grocery currently has 1 star on Google. I'm actually surprised you can even look it up on Google, because to some extent it may as well not even existâ€”I'm surprised simply by the fact that I was able to find that it's actually called Hassan Halal Meat & Grocery and not simply "that shitty bodega next to the other shitty bodega," or "that place where I think they sell meat in the back." There are innumerable places like this in Brooklyn, that you walk by 100 times without noticing, or when you do notice them, you have to wonder for a few seconds how they can possibly still be in business, or what their business even is, and then you consequently forget about them immediately.
Early last year I started frequenting the laundromat a few doors down from this place. It was bigger than the next closest laundromat, and they have a parking lot, so I could lug more bags there without having to hire neighborhood kids to help me carry it all. While waiting for the wash cycle to finish, I'd often walk around outside, and maybe hit up the other shitty bodega for a Coke or candy bar. It never even occurred to me to go to this one, the view from outside was so despairing.
Then one day, when the whether got nicer, a charcoal grill appeared outside. And the next laundry trip, a guy was out there grilling kebabs. Then the next time, he was grilling chicken legs. Every time I walked past, someone would be out there grilling, sometimes alone, sometimes with a few customers or friendsâ€”mostly likely Pakistaniâ€”sitting around. It always smelled amazing. But it was never clear who they were grilling for. Were they selling this stuff? Was it just for themselves for dinner? Nothing on the windows of this place advertised any cooked meat. Yeah there was seemingly a butcher that sold bulk cuts in the back, but this was not a place you'd stop in to get a bite at. I saw this grill outside for months, just assuming it was not for me. But shit did I love smelling them every time I walked past.
Then on a recent night, waiting for another wash cycle, the other shitty bodega was shuttered. Permanently? Temporarily? I don't know. But I wanted a Coke, and didn't want to go down the block to the other other bodega. So I popped in to Hassan. The grill wasn't outside that night, so I wasn't thinking much about it. I went to the fridge, grabbed a can of Coke, and went to give the man my dollar.
And there I saw it: sitting in an Ikea tupperware bin on the counter, unrefrigerated, probably breaking a dozen different health laws, unrepentant, a pile of kebabs. It was finally happening. "Are those kebabs for sale?" A dumb question in hindsight, but you have to understand the laissez-faire nature of this place's merchandising methods. He looked at meâ€”I read puzzlement on his faceâ€”"Yes, one dollar. Do you want it heated?". I replied no, to another period of puzzlement, and he handed me the cold floppy kebab on wax paper and I took my Coke and left.
Cold, yes, floppy, yes, and one of the best kebabs I've ever eaten.
Nicely seasoned but still a good dark meat chicken flavor, surprisingly spicy, and a kiss of char. I immediately wanted to go back and buy three more. Maybe heated this time. Or at least catch them as they were grilling them rather than buying them out of the tub. That'd be weird though, right? Anyway it was a deeply rewarding kebab. This whole idea of finding a secret little hole in the wall; I mean, that's a dumb cliche and probably classist and racist on our part to think about, right? Like that Seinfeld episode where Jerry befriends Babu? But I can't stress this enough in this case, you guys: No cool white yuppies or Instagram food influencers are going in there to find the secret kebabs they read about on Eater or something. It's just an invisible Halal butcher shop that serves parts of the huge neighborhood of Pakistani and Bangladeshi people. But the feeling of knowing that this guy on his grill outside this 1-star nothing grocery store is making the best fucking kebabs you've ever eatenâ€”it tickles.
Postscript: We moved to Queens last week, so I probably won't be back to Hassan Halal Meat & Grocery. But a week before we left, when I was out doing one last load of laundry before packing, I had to stop in to see if I was imagining this kebab experience. So I grabbed a pop, went to the counter, and interrupted the owner's conversation with the 4 guys that were all sitting around shooting the shit. "I'll have a kebab, heated please." There was a little puzzlement again, but of a different stripe. He grabbed the kebab from the tupperware, nuked it in the microwave for a few seconds, and handed it to me in the wax paper. As I paid, he stopped and asked me straight up, "How do you know aboutâ€”", rough English kind of ending his question short. I told him how I see them grilling outside all the time and it smells great, and I bought one a few weeks earlier. Honest to god, I don't say this to make myself look like some fucking white savior do-gooder bravely supporting his neighbors or whateverâ€”that Seinfeld Babu thingâ€”but when I told him that, his face lit up with a genuine smile. I'm sure those dudes talked shit about me when I left, but whatever. The kebab was even better hot.