Cross the Brooklyn Bridge for a Gastronomic Global Grand Tour
By Maria Lisella
New York Local Expert
Brooklyn is a Gastronomic Giant: From old-school pizza to cutting edge regional American cuisine, and fusion cuisine. The one and only Museum of Food and Drink opened in October. At the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge is the pioneering River Cafe that debuted in the 1970s when the site was an abandoned dock but now has incomparable views of Manhattan and New York Harbor.
First-time travelers to New York City may still be under the impression that Manhattan is New York City. This one-time outer borough is now a global powerhouse on many levels from dining to design to real estate to the Brooklyn Tech Triangle. The Brooklyn dining scene is off the charts: from a one-year old veggie-focused newcomer that grabbed a Michelin star almost immediately to a gourmet pizzeria that sprouted in an abandoned portion of Bushwick and has since spawned an upscale dining destination in its own backyard, tasting menus are having their moment, and fusion cuisine has never been fresher.
Brooklyn is a world unknown even to most native New Yorkers. The Brooklyn Bridge is a gateway to a plethora of neighborhoods from: Crown Heights to Greenpoint or Little Poland, Brighton Beach or Little Russia and Carroll Gardens, Park Slope, Bushwick, Bed-Stuy and the unstoppable force that is Williamsburg for the most up-to-date action.
There's a world outside Manhattan, and it's just a short bus, cab or subway ride away.
Walk across the Brooklyn Bridge for a memorable evening because once at the River Cafe, which was built on a barge, diners will be treated to a majestic skyline across the water. Inside, they find that service and food complement the wonderful view. Try Colorado rack of lamb served with Merguez sausage, and top it off with a luscious dessert. Sunday brunch features dishes like crisp duck egg served with creamy spinach, mushroom Wellington for vegetarians, and Bronzino encrusted with shrimp and chorizo. Prix-fixe brunch menu run $55; a two-course prix-fixe lunch costs $42; and $150 for the three-course prix fixe dinner; or opt for Caviar Service for $170 or $85 per ounce. (718-522-5200)
Fette Sau, German for "fat pig," is a smoke-scented, coolly industrial barbecue joint in Williamsburg. Locally-bred meats include lamb. boar, and goat when in season; dine on lamb belly, pastrami, boar all rubbed lovingly with an amalgam of recipes Joe Carroll has culled from all the places he's been. Locals, hard-drinking craft beer fans and multigenerational local families favor the long beer list. On warm days, the open-air space has outdoor tables. Jersey native, Joe Carroll could never get enough of smokin' good meats, so he opened Fette Sau in 2007, an offshoot in Philly with his wife Kim who grew up in Germany, hence the German accent. He started off with Spuyten Dival Bar and St. Anselm. Carroll teamed up with Francesco Panella to create Oleanders restaurant and Xanadu, a Champagne-inspired rooftop lounge at the McCarren Hotel. Carroll is also part owner of Semilla, a veggie-focused Michelin-starred newbie. ((718) 963-3404)
Occupying a spot on Haverymeyer St., a neighborhood on the edge of change visitors will pass a tattoo parlor, a check-cashing place, an old-fashioned barber shop charging old-fashioned prices as diner head for Semilla to spend upwards of $200 on a veggie-heavy Tasting Menu. Sit near the kitchen pass to sneak a peak at Chef Jose Ram�rez-Ruiz and pastry chef Pamela Yung at work shaving truffles over what appears to be a pedestrian bowl of scrambled eggs and Carolina rice (add a supplement of $35 for this seasonal luxury) or indulge in what can happen when rutabaga appears as a spring roll dipped in bittersweet orange juice reduction. Of course there are experiments that may go awry especially around the wines, some of which can be called a bit eccentric, but taste taste taste and decide. Semilla is on to something quite spectacular in a city that is hard to impress. (718-782-3474)
Pok Pok Ny
James Beard Award-winning, Portland-based chef Andy Ricker imported his enormously popular Pok Pok (and also the stellar Pok Pok Phat Thai down the block) in Brooklyn's remote Columbia Waterfront District, a vaguely made-up-sounding neighborhood situated between Carroll Gardens, Gowanus and Red Hook, in April 2012, and was an instant success. Just over a year later, fans of his noodles, spicy wings, smoked frog legs and lemongrass-stuffed La Belle Rouge chicken proved so ravenous, he moved the entire operation to a larger spot down the block. In November 2013, the expanded Pok Pok NY debuted with 65 seats, double the kitchen space and an enlarged bar. At last report Ricker was running seven restaurants, published a page-turning cookbook and has contracted to write two more cookbooks. (718-923-9322)
Situated on a picture-perfect stretch of Brooklyn's Court Street, this neighborhood spot serves farm-to-table fare with a southern drawl. The kitchen specializes in elevated versions of crowd-pleasing American comfort foods including the brunch favorite, hearty pork chops with cheddar waffles, and the signature buttermilk fried chicken with waffles at dinner. Popular with couples, groups of stylishly outfitted friends, and food-conscious local families Buttermilk Channel has something for everyone. At dinnertime, or the Bloody Mary-soaked weekend brunch, the wait for a table can be considerable, but the long, warmly lit bar has an impressive list of local and imported bourbon and whiskey, and pours both signature cocktails and glasses of local microbrews with smile. ((718) 852-8490)
If you like pork dumplings, you'll love the version here, which are fried in a crisp, salty pretzel crust, and served with bracing dipping mustard. The pad thai is studded with thick-cut bacon, and seasonal items like brussels sprouts give locavores something to crow about. If bar-hopping is more your style, grab a stool and sip on a house concoction like the Brooklyn Sling, an East-meet-West combination of gin, pineapple juice and locally bottled bitters. The friendly bartenders are happy to recommend bar snacks as well, including yuzu guacamole or the spiced Kung Pao chicken wings. Since Talde's opening in 2012, Dale's newest ventures include Thistle Hill Tavern, Pork Slope, Bell + Gray, Talde Jersey City, and Talde Miami Beach. He has also released his first cookbook in September 2015 titled Asian-American: Proudly Inauthentic Recipes from the Philippines to Brooklyn. ((347) 916-0031)
Described by The New York Times as "one of the more extraordinary restaurants in the country" it occupies a former manufacturing building, and features communal seating and private tables. Chef Carlo Mirarchi reinvented this desolate block installing an urban gardening initiative with onsite internship program, recording news and lifestyle broadcasts via Heritage Radio Network and, of course, a rambling restaurant centered around a prominently displayed wood-burning oven. Roberta's specializes in truly phenomenal pizzas. Since 2012, the rear courtyard became home to Mirarchi's second restaurant, Blanca, which proudly wears its two Michelin stars. A more upscale experience, Blanca takes reservations and serves $195 tasting menus that includes up to 20 courses. Last year a separate bakery and retail space opened, and offsite locations include Manhattan's UrbanSpace Vanderbilt market, and a seasonal Rockaway Queens haunt, Rippers. (718-417-1118)
al di la Trattoria
al di la Trattoria is based on a love story: Venetian Emiliano Copa first met Chef Anna Klinger when she studied at the cooking school he operated. One of the grand dames of our list, this popular trattoria has served a savvy crowd of local NYU professors, media types and food-minded families in Park Slope for over a decade. al di la Trattoria serves traditional Venetian cuisine in a warm dining room with a hammered tin ceiling and lovingly mismatched light fixtures. Primis like malfatti and casunziei, ravioli filled with red beets and ricotta are particularly Venetian as are bacala Montecato, spaghetti vongole with Manila Clams keep the clientele smiling, as does the extensive wine list, which consists of both Italian and international bottles. This team now owns two classy watering holes: Bar Corvo Bar Corvo at 791 Washington Ave. and Lincoln Station at nearby 409 Lincoln Place. (718-783-4565)
Peter Luger Steakhouse
Is it touristy? Yes. Old school? Absolutely. But sometimes, things are popular for a reason. For over 125 years, Peter Luger has been serving up mammoth porterhouses and fried German potatoes on a nondescript corner in Williamsburg. The two-story structure has seen a lot of changes outside its doors -- remember when Williamsburg was better known for vaguely sinister empty lots than pricey high-rise apartments? -- but, inside, the song remains the same. The hyper-masculine interiors and no-nonsense wait staff give the place and old-fashioned vibe, and the epic steaks keep customers coming back for more. Luger's has since opened a second location in Great Neck, Long Island, but come to the Brooklyn original for the full, meaty Monty. (718-387-7400)
Chef's Table at Brooklyn Fare
As if "hiding in plain sight," this haute cuisine tasting table is tucked inside a large grocery store on an unassuming block of Boerum Hill. The 18-seat, stainless steel counter in a horseshoe shape encourages communal dining while overlooking the open kitchen of Chef Cesar Ramirez, who trained with David Bouley. The 15-plus course tasting menu changes daily and is inspired by Japanese cuisine prepared with French techniques. The menu is heavily tipped toward seafood, both raw fish and shellfish. Featured are classical wines of Europe with bottle prices starting at $55 and exceeding $8,000. The prix-fixe tasting menus start at $306 per person, before tax, tip or wine. A "bucket list" place if ever there was one. (718-243-0050)
About Maria Lisella
Native New Yorker Maria Lisella loves to show off her magical city. Having traveled to 60 countries, she returns home to find the world at her doorstep. She started as an Annie Oakley imitator; morphed into a dancer with modern dance pioneer Charles Weidman; but her love of words won out. Maria writes about Europe, Italy in particular, and other destinations for various outlets. Work appears in Wells Fargo Conversations, Dallas Morning News, German Life, FOXnews.com, and travel trades. As Queens Poet Laureate, she also knows where to find the hottest literary venues all over town some of which she organizes.
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