Drink Up Brooklyn: Spirits of the Borough

While Brooklyn is known for the hipster side of do-it-yourself artisanal foodstuffs, the small-batch sprits coming out of the borough go beyond cool—and are actually pretty awesome. “Brooklyn spirits are all made in small batches as opposed to most liquor which is produced in mass quantities,” said Brooklyn Shaken and Stirred organizer Sharon Beason. “This lets Brooklyn producers be creative and experiment more while honoring the traditions of making handcrafted spirits.”

Go celebrate local drinking tonight at the event Brooklyn Shaken and Stirred in the Green Building in Carroll Gardens. From 6 to 9pm, $45 gets you drinks made with Brooklyn Gin, Greenhook Ginsmiths, Brooklyn Republic Vodka, White Pike Whiskey, and El Buho Mezcal, which is actually made in Mexico, but imported through Henry Steele Imports in Brooklyn. The drink masters include bartenders from Fort Defiance, Maison Premiere, Pok Pok, and Sycamore. They will also offer up wine from Brooklyn Oenology and Brooklyn Winery, plus beer by Sixpoint Brewery.

But you can’t drink on an empty stomach. While you sip cocktails you can nibble on food by Brooklyn-based restaurants including Allswell, Dressler, and Van Horn Sandwich Shop, to name a few.

“I believe Brooklyn as a whole has taken off, from the arts and culture scene, to restaurants and bars that have placed us on the international culinary map, to the artisanal goods that line the corners of Smorgasburg every week,” said Beason. “Brooklyn is so community-focused and its residents so proud of all things Brooklyn that many only buy and use these products and they tell everyone they know about them.”

So do it, go get your Brooklyn on.

Tour de Brooklyn: A Borough Grub Crawl

Last weekend Bon Appetit magazine teamed up with Belvedere Vodka and Chase Sapphire to take a tour of the ever-expanding Brooklyn Food scene. Focusing on three key neighborhoods, Cobble Hill, Williamsburg, and Red Hook, the tours worked to really highlight some of the areas’ best food options, while making it walker-friendly.

I was lucky enough to join Friday’s Cobble Hill grub crawl and started out at Frank Castronovo and Frank Falcinelli’s Italian inspired restaurant Frankies 457 Spuntino. The joint was packed inside, but luckily we ducked out into the garden to sip a berry-ripe lambrusco and nibble on seasonal crostini. The way the tour worked was that they had four groups of people intermittently going to one of the four spots where we stayed for about 45 minutes. Frankies proved a good place to start, but our next stop felt a little awkward.

Dessert before dinner, anyone? Not that I am actually complaining. Given our tour took us to Kim Ima’s brick-and-mortar location of Treats Truck and to a pile of luscious peanut butter and chocolate sandwich cookies, it was a win-win situation. We followed that up with Clover Club and had a lovely punch by cocktail goddess Julie Reiner, who was actually there explaining her drink, giving us a recipe, and then pouring up their house drink comprised of raspberries and Dorothy Parker gin. We ended the night at Seersucker and sampled chef Robert Newton’s sinful fried chicken, fluffy biscuits, pimento cheese, and the Thirsty Owl Riesling that they have on tap. All together, the tour did highlight some of the hottest spots in the neighborhood right now.

On Saturday they covered Williamsburg and smartly chose Rye for cocktails, Maison Premiere for oysters, and Brooklyn Winery for a tour and wine tasting. The other two places I was less impressed with and would have skipped, one of which was Allswell because, frankly, it’s not anything special. Same for the jaunt to the Meatball Shop; while it’s delicious, there’s nothing Brooklyn about it given its two other locations in Manhattan. Sunday’s food crawl took place in Red Hook and did the neighborhood well by hitting up Stumptown Coffee Roasters, trying St. John Frizell’s southern-style Fort Defiance, eating Korean breakfast at The Good Fork, filling up on smoked meat at Mile End, and dancing at the historical bar Sunny’s.

Overall, the folks behind the tour did well to give a broad sampling of the neighborhoods that you can easily walk around in. The only other location I would have included is Prospect Heights where you can easily indulge in seasonal nibbles from The Vanderbilt, cocktails at Weather Up, ramen at Chuko, and oysters at Cornelius—but I guess that’s a good excuse to do that one on my own. 

Having Dinner With Immaculate Infatuation

Within 10 minutes of ordering a beer and munching on some introductory kale salad at Jack’s Wife Freda with Andrew Steinthal and Chris Stang, it was easy to forget just how well-known the two guys really are.

Perhaps it was their good-humored bickering over pork buns or their unbridled excitement over a really good mackerel sandwich from Momofuku Ssäm, but the effect that these music-execs-by-day and food-critics-by-night have on their fans wasn’t recalled until hours later, upon reading a tweet.

"Major #celebritysighting last night. One table away from @immaculateinfat at Jack’s Wife Freda and too starstruck to say hello."

As the forces behind Immaculate Infatuation, a website full of hundreds of national "restaurant reviews that don’t suck," Steinthal and Stang tell a story with their critiques. With their conversational quips, brutal honesty, and name-drop-free reviews, the guys have cultivated their own corner of the culinary scene, fulfilling a need that no one even knew existed. Since the site launched in 2009, Immaculate Infatuation has expanded from just reviews, to interviews with “Infatuation-approved personalities,” videos, an iPhone app, and a 65-page New York Summer Guide full of recommendations, round-ups, – and lots of pictures. 

Between our first forkful of vegetable curry, to our last bite of whole fish, Steinthal and Stang shared over dinner their first business ideas, the similarities between music and food, and why they never, ever could live together. 

You both met at a CMJ convention 11 years ago. When did you realize you could work together on something?
Steinthal: We were college music directors at our radio stations in our respective schools, and we hit it off really well. We both were super passionate about music, made sure to stay in touch, and when we moved to New York, were keen on doing something together. Did we know back then we would ever do food? Hell no. Eleven years ago, I didn’t eat anything compared to what I eat now. I was such a picky eater. But as you grow up and you’re in NYC, it all kind of comes together, and I started really liking restaurants and food. Four or five years ago, we got really sick of going to bars and started going to restaurants all the time.

And when did Immaculate Infatuation come into the picture? Was that your first business idea?
At one point we were like, “let’s do a t-shirt company,” cause we knew we wanted to do something and we were creative and driven. But in going out to dinner with our friends, we realized this is an opportunity for us to provide a service for people that don’t go to The New York Times to find restaurant recommendations. Our buddies weren’t the kind of guys perusing the dining section to find out where to take their date on Saturday night; they’d call us for recommendations. That’s when it occurred to us that this is where we can focus our energy into.
Steinthal: They don’t care if the guy from Eataly is behind the counter. Most people out there don’t know anything about these restaurant people. They just want a good restaurant. 

Which neighborhood has some of the best food?
Overall, Nolita and the West Village.
Steinthal: But at the moment, Williamsburg. I’d rather eat in Williamsburg right now for new restaurants than any other place. There are so many good restaurants there right now, it’s not even funny.

What’s your favorite?
There’s this place called Allswell.
(Both gasp.)
Steinthal: Just so good.
Stang: Really, really good.
(The food arrives.)
Stang: It’s really dark in here. This isn’t really conducive to taking photos.
Steinthal: Just do it.

When did you guys first realize, "Wow, our site has some power?"
Steinthal: When we reviewed Post Office, this little whiskey bar in South Williamsburg.
Stang: We spent our whole night there drinking and eating. It was one of the best meals we had in a long, long time. The kitchen is the size of a postage stamp.
Steinthal: We reviewed it on a Monday or Tuesday, and then that weekend, there were 10-15 tweets saying “at Post Office, thanks Immaculate Infatuation, this place is amazing.” That’s when we were like, “whoa, this is happening. We are driving people into that restaurant.”
Stang: And it’s cool because that place wasn’t going to get written up in New York Magazine any time soon. They were doing something cool and interesting and we could help.
Steinthal: Those are the places we love to find. Not the ones everyone is talking about, but yet they’re doing something really cool.

What restaurant just doesn’t get enough attention?
Steinthal: This place in the East Village called Prima. Big focus on fish. They’re not getting written about since there’s nothing really remarkable about the menu – the food is just really simple and good – but they deserve to be known.
Stang: They have this one dessert that’s a classic French puff pastry, it’s really good, but it doesn’t register on the foodie scale, for whatever reason.
Steinthal: L’Artusi also falls into that. It doesn’t really get written about.
Stang: It’s never in the conversation about must-visit restaurants in New York City. That might be my personal favorite restaurant in the city.
Steinthal: This sounds cliched, but mine is Momofuku Ssäm Bar.
Stang: That mackerel sandwich they do? Bananas.
Steinthal: I get so excited every time I eat there.
Stang: The Chinese sausage and rice cakes.
Steinthal: Yeah.

What’s the one dining experience you’ve both disagreed on?
Stang: The biggest beef we have with each other is that I think Ippudo pork buns are better than Momofuku’s porn buns. Ippudo is a Japanese chain of ramen restaurants. It’s so crazy now, there’s like a two-hour wait even at lunch.
Steinthal: I’m obsessed with pork buns. Momofuku’s are way better.
Stang: That is what we disagree on. There is nothing as divisive as the pork bun. That’ll be what ends this website one day. Like on Behind the Music, “where did it start?”

You’ve been working in the music industry for years. How does your work in that field compare with your work in the food world?
Steinthal: At our jobs, we sometimes break bands, and we nurture and develop artists. So, with this website we’re doing the same thing. We’re pulling out every stop, connecting with every person on Twitter, every person we meet, trying to make a connection with everyone.
Stang: We try to make a personal connection with the people who read our site because we’ve seen what a difference it makes when a recording artist has a personal connection with their fans.

So you two work in the music industry – in the same building – and work together in your off-hours. Have you ever lived together?
Steinthal: Oh God no.
Stang: One of us wouldn’t be alive.
Steinthal: You can only get so much.
Steinthal & Stang: Yeah.