Hungry Travelers, Ask Yourselves: "Where's Brooklyn At?"
By Emily Saladino
New York Local Expert
There was a time in the not so distant past that, to many, Manhattan was New York City. Those who lived there were loathe to leave, and those who didn’t dreamed of moving across state lines, international borders or maybe even just 15 blocks south so they could claim the city streets as their own.
How things have changed. Queens is home to some of the hottest (literally) Thai, Indian and Szechuan kitchens in the city, Harlem’s nightlife is a force to be reckoned with, and, of course, there’s Brooklyn. This one-time outer borough is now a global powerhouse. Parisian storefronts adopt Brooklyn-style décor, London cocktail bars model themselves after Brooklyn-based mixology dens, and internationally renowned chefs and heavy-hitting restaurateurs fight to set up shop within Brooklyn’s borders.
The latter development may just be the borough's most exciting achievement. From gourmet pizzerias in an abandoned portion of Bushwick, to tasting menus that the good people at Le Guide Michelin simply could not ignore, the Brooklyn dining scene is off the charts. Tour neighborhoods like Carroll Gardens, Park Slope and the unstoppable force that is Williamsburg to get a piece of the most up-to-date action. There's a world outside of Manhattan, and it's just a short bus, cab or subway ride away.
10 Fette Sau
New Yorkers are notoriously fickle, trend-obsessed diners. One week it's all about Korean fusion, the next it's oysters on the half shell, and let's not forget 2009, the Year of Fried Chicken. But Gotham's city-wide obsession with all things barbecue has stood the test of time, launching countless smoke joints and educating scores of Yankees on the infinite varieties of cole slaw. Fette Sau, which is German for "fat pig," is a smoke-scented, coolly industrial barbecue joint in Williamsburg. Its sliced brisket, snappy sausages and long beer list is favored by a democratic crew of local twenty- and thirtysomethings, as well as hard-drinking craft beer fans and multigenerational local families. On warm days, the open-air space also has popular outdoor tables, where Wayfarer-wearing Brooklynites while away the days, sipping brews and inevitably sauntering back over to the barbecue stations for seconds (or thirds). ((718) 963-3404)
9 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)
8 The Elm
For those wondering if Williamsburg's swanky scene has truly surpassed Manhattan's, look no further than Paul Liebrandt's sophisticated restaurant in the swish King & Grove Hotel. Liebrandt, most recently of the now-shuttered, two-Michelin-starred Corton restaurant in TriBeCa, specializes in French-inspired, elevated cuisine with fine-tuned plating. The menu here is divided into esoteric categories Raw, Sea, Land and Share, with seasonal ingredients like fall pumpkin and summer squash infiltrating all four categories. A good-looking crowd of Williamsburg's most fashionable graphic designers and marketing types fill the subterranean space, choosing dishes like foie gras with pickled strawberry jelly from the Raw list, or splitting Share plates like lobster cassoulet or an indulgent pork belly with baby squid and a clever riff on the Catalan classic, pan con tomate. ((718) 218-7500)
7 Al Di La
One of the elder statesmen of our list, this perennially popular trattoria has served an upscale crowd of local NYU professors, media types and food-minded families in Park Slope for over a decade. Helmed by husband-wife duo Emiliano Coppa and Anna Klinger, Al Di La serves traditional Venetian cuisine in a warm dining room with a hammered tin ceiling and lovingly mismatched light fixtures. Dishes like beet ravioli with melted butter and poppy seeds, ricotta gnocchi, and braised rabbit with black olives and polenta, keep the clientele smiling, as does the extensive wine list, which consists of both Italian and international bottles. (718-783-4565)
6 Pok Pok Ny
When James Beard Award-winning, Portland-based chef Andy Ricker announced he was importing his enormously popular Pok Pok restaurant concept to New York, passionate eaters in all five boroughs took notice. Pok Pok Ny opened its doors in Brooklyn's remote Columbia Waterfront District, a vaguely made-up-sounding neighborhood situated between Carroll Gardens and Red Hook, in April 2012, and was an instant success. Just over a year later, fans of his 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. We're not sure how to say "Thank you" in Thai just yet, but we're working on it. (718-923-9322)
After quietly debuting on a restaurant-rich block of Carroll Gardens in 2011, this intimate establishment has grown larger in the hearts and minds of New York's culinary elite than its 28 seats might lead you to believe. Now, a line of discerning hipsters, enthusiastic Manhattanites and thirtysomething Park Slopers on third dates queue for hours for the chance to sample chef-owners Walter Stern and Joseph Ogrodnek's coolly creative dishes. Trained at Essex House and Alain Ducasse, the duo has created a menu of deliberate, distinctly grown-up New American cuisine. The branzino, served under braised tomatoes, fennel and Taggiasca olives, can satisfy even the most pork-belly-obsessed carnivore, and the house-baked rosemary flatbread is perfect for sopping up any leftover juices. (718-852-8321)
Top Chef's Dale Talde merges Chinese, Thai and Filipino flavors with all-American elan at this coolly casual neighborhood restaurant in Park Slope. 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 Benton's 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 addictively spiced Kung Pao chicken wings. ((347) 916-0031)
3 Buttermilk Channel
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, south of the Mason-Dixon line dishes, including homemade doughnuts, hearty pork chops with cheddar waffles, and the signature buttermilk fried chicken. Popular with couples, groups of stylishly outfitted friends, and food-conscious local families ("We're not vegan, but our five-year-old son River is"), 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)
Roberta's is more than a restaurant. It's a revolution. Chef Carlo Mirarchi reinvented this desolate block in Bushwick, 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, but don't miss the killer vegetable sides and fresh, creatively plated fish and game mains as well. The rear courtyard has afternoon dance parties and deejay sets in the summer, and, in 2012, Mirarchi opened a second restaurant, Blanca, on the premises. A more upscale experience, Blanca takes reservations (well, or so we hear -- securing a table is almost comically difficult) and serves $195 tasting menus that may include up to 30 courses. (718-417-1118)
1 Chef's Table at Brooklyn Fare
Bringing new meaning to the phrase "hiding in plain sight," this haute cuisine tasting table is connected to a large grocery store on an unassuming block of Boerum Hill. The 18-seat, stainless steel counter overlooks the open kitchen of Chef Cesar Ramirez, a creative mastermind who trained with David Bouley. His 20-course menus are of the highly inventive stripe, spanning luxurious, seafood-centric dishes like Kumamoto oysters paired with creme fraiche and bracing Meyer lemon, or Medai needlefish with slivers of marinated onion and jicama. Granted, a meal here will set you back: the prix fixe tasting menus start at $225 per person, before tax, tip or wine. But, hey, you're worth it, right? (718-243-0050)
About Emily Saladino
Emily Saladino has spent over a decade eating her way through New York City. She has collaborated on cookbooks, developed original recipes and voyaged from Philadelphia to Papua New Guinea as a food and travel writer.
Read more about Emily Saladino here.