By Aram Arkun
BROOKLYN, N.Y. — Garden Bay Café in Sheepshead Bay appears to be the only Armenian restaurant in Brooklyn at the moment. Founded in 2001 by Armen and Narine (“Nara”) Ratevossian, it offers a combination of Eastern Armenian, Georgian and Russian items on its menu (which is bilingual, in Russian and English). Among its specialties are grilled trout, various kinds of kebab, delicious French fries and desserts like the Armenian gata and Napoleon. Narine, aside from being the café’s accountant, is the main cook and has chosen most of the menu items herself. There are two other assistants in the kitchen, one from Georgia and the other from Tashkent, who prepare their own specialties as well as Armenian dishes.
Armen Ratevossian emphasized that their food is prepared in an authentic Yerevan style. The khash (boiled cow’s feet) in particular, eaten with lavash, is a favorite, along with dolma (stuffed grape leaves). Armen himself prefers the pork khorovadz (barbecue), and feels that those unfamiliar with this cuisine could not go wrong choosing it for their first Armenian meal.
The Ratevossians emigrated from Yerevan, where Armen ran a store with a café next to it. From 1996 to 2001, they ran a small Russian-style delicatessen in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, until they had the means to open the café. Armen stated that he wanted the Garden Bay Café to serve as a center for Armenians of the New York area to come together. Many families celebrate baptisms, weddings and other family occasions there.
The Ratevosyans opened a larger restaurant next to the café four years ago. It had music, a more elaborate décor and a higher-priced menu. Perhaps partially as a result of the current economic crisis, it was not as successful as the Garden Bay Café, and they closed it last year. Furthermore, there are many other Caucasian-style restaurants now in Brooklyn run by Azerbaijanis, Georgians, Chechens and others, thus the competition is great.
Seating 35 to 40 people, the Garden Bay Café is a modest-sized restaurant with modest prices. Recommended by the Village Voice, it is comfortable and clean. When the weather is nice, there is seating in its outdoor garden. Customers largely are from various parts of the former Soviet Union, including Russian Jews and Georgians (as well as Armenians, of course). It is open seven days a week from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.