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. 

NYC: The Best Bars to Entertain Holiday Visitors

The holiday season means higher-than-usual tourist density in New York City, and naturally, that spike in traffic is due in no small part to your own eager friends and family, who descend on the city for an authentic, fairy-lighted experience of the Big Apple in winter. But after a day at Macy’s, an evening at Rockefeller Center, and a dinner somewhere “New York-y,” as per their request, where do you, their trusty tour guide by default, take them for a night on the town? Here are a few crowd-pleasers that will still earn you some street cred, whether that crowd involves your boyfriend’s distant Uncle Larry, Mom and Dad, long-lost friends who’ve emerged from the woodwork, hard-to-impress rubberneckers, or your old high school mates. A comprehensive list of the best yuletide boîtes to celebrate the new year – and the best of NYC.

Bars with Games Good For: Who doesn’t like to indulge in the nostalgia of old-school games, especially this time of year? Whether you’re with a raucous bunch of old friends, have a score to settle with your Mom over ping pong, or need to take the focus off a conversation with relatives you barely know, these bars offer distractions and can make for a festive time. Bar 675: Basement rec room goes for casual chic with Jenga, cards, and board games. Earn extra points from sceney friends, who will be thrilled to tell the folks back home that they hung out in the Meatpacking. The Diamond: Brooklyn bound? Beer makes shuffleboard so much more fun at this Greenpoint joint. SPiN: Table tennis for mom, and the fact that it’s owned by Susan Sarandon will appease cousin Name Drop as well. Barcade: Are your friends from the Midwest looking for “authentic Brooklyn?” Watch their wide-eyed wonder as they take in skinny-jean gangs playing thumb-cramping faves like Frogger and Tetris for an authentic 25¢ a pop. Ace Bar: Skee-Ball bar pleases the kiddies and anyone else who likes bare-bones décor sprinkled with bits of pop-trinket nostalgia from your childhood. V Bar: Siding with the gaming snobs of the world, this spot is best for your Princeton-alum brother (who happens to be a chess genius). Café and wine bar stocked with NYU grad students, chess and Scrabble battles, and a nice selection of beer and wine.

Next: Cozy Fireplaces

Cozy Fireplaces Good For: Catch up time with people who came to really enjoy holiday spirit in the city. Rose Bar: Have friends or family more interested in being around artists than actual art? For example: I once took someone here who fawned over what he thought was a Warhol (he read about it in a city guide) loud enough so that he was sure Neve Campbell, seated a table away, could hear. It was a Haring. Rubber-necking friends aside, the velvety banquettes and giant fireplace are a cozy departure from the winter weather courtesy of Ian Schrager and Julian Schnabel. The Lobby Bar at the Bowery Hotel: Wood paneling, stuffed animal trophies, and twin oils of hunting hounds give off an English-manor-library vibe. Can be a headache to get a good spot, which are usually reserved for “hotel guests,” monied travelers, and pretty hipsters. Try eating at Gemma first and brown nose your server for a spot by the fireplace. The Back Room: Semi-secret spot for those wishing it was still Prohibition. They’ll get a kick out of drinking their $11 cocktail from a mug. Employees Only: High-class weirdness, with a gypsy psychic at the door and stellar mixologists to determine your fate. The smell of the fireplace and the sight of all the handle bar mustaches will really transport your visitors. Highlands: Décor is pub-meets-hunter’s-lodge, with stuffed deer on brick walls and salvaged woods. Cozy, and it exacerbates that whole “New York Melting Pot” idea. Savoy: A townhouse in the middle of Soho with a fireplace as the festive cherry on top. Shoolbred’s: Scottish pub parlor warmed by actual fireplace. Ten brews on tap. Scotch, natch. It’s Highlands for the East Side set, with a low key (NYU students) crowd.

Next: The Oldest Bars in New York

The Oldest Bars in New York Good For: Skip these precious spots if you’re with a crew that couldn’t care less about anywhere that doesn’t have a VIP list. Otherwise, impress friends and family with the storied, often quirky backgrounds of some of New York’s oldest watering holes. Bridge Café: Opened in 1794, old but not musty. Looks like the site of a nautical murder mystery and is rumored to be haunted by ghosts of sailors and whores, like your parents’ bedroom. Ear Inn: Classic New York-on-the-waterfront feel, minus Marlon Brando, but with plenty of coulda-been contenders. I’ve seen a Soprano in here. McSorley’s: Born in 1854, and perhaps the most renown bar amongst the younger members of the Historical Society, this beer-chugging joint sees tanked fratboys, the cirrhosis crowd, and, after a court order, a few ladies (in other words: no women were allowed until 1970). Sawdusted floors, dust-encrusted wishbones, and loads of cats make this a very special place, indeed. Delmonico’s: Quenching your bloodthirst since ’37 -1837, that is – your parents will appreciate the air of refinement this joint still exudes, not to mention the supposed hauntings. Mahogany wood dining room with glowing chandeliers is the ideal noir-glam setting for steakhouse staples and a bustling bar separate from the dining room.

Next: Mixology Bars

Mixology Bars Good For: The mixology trend is widely known across all towns and townships, so let your slightly underage cousin Timmy learn firsthand just how delightful muddling, zesting, and spicing can be. Just about anyone who doesn’t limit themselves to wine coolers will appreciate the craftsmanship and ambiance. Apotheke: For those who want the back alley as much as they want the absinthe, welcome to Albert Trumer’s quirky school of cocktail science – this former opium den has been transformed into a medieval apothecary by the Austrian mixologist. Bonus: it’s in Chinatown. The interior is antique-sexy, with warm lighting and super-friendly bartenders. PDT: Oh, this is good. Through a hot dog joint you’ll go, and then through a phone booth, where you’ll have to say some secret something-or-other (though they’ve grown lenient in their older age) before you take your dumbfounded guests back to a room with a diagonal slat ceiling, de rigueur taxidermy, and a glowing bar. Note: Make a reservation earlier to get a good seat and smooth entry. Little Branch: By far the most talked-about speakeasy, this West Village spot boasts no signage unless you count the line out the door during peak hours. Retro cocktails served with cool swizzle sticks by tall drinks of water. Go on the early side of a Sunday night to chat up the mixologists and catch some jazz. Mayahuel: The cocktail connoisseurs at Death & Co. built an agave altar. Intimate confessionals, stained glass, and communal pews evoke a Mexican mission. All tequila, all the time, with all the bells and whistles to render previous tequila blow-outs null and void. Death & Co: Dark and polished, this cocktail den packs in a lively crowd. Bartenders in suspenders and vests serve up expert cocktails, and clearly love what they do (they don’t take of their vests when they get home). Great spot for just about anyone who can appreciate such a scene. Cienfuegos: Cuban rum bar from Mayahuel/Death & Co vet seduces with pink couches and sugarcane.

Next: Impressive Hotel Bars

Impressive Hotel Bars Good For: If your guests really “wanna see stuff,” like mine usually do, guiding them to impressively-designed hotel bars around NYC—usually the crown jewels of the hotels themselves—will go over well. Here are a few that leave a lasting impression. Bemelmans Bar: It’s classic New Yawk! Located inside the Carlyle, this timeless upscale New York City bar near Central Park draws bold-faced names, many of whom your out-of-towners could care less about. They will enjoy the classic cocktails and gilded ambiance. Hudson Bar at Hudson Hotel: If your guests approach things like rock music, sushi, and democrats with trepidation, this bar on acid may not be the place for them. Shrek-green lights illuminate the escalator, there’s a chandelier the size of a Volkswagen, the floors glow, the chairs seem to float—except for the tree stumps—and the whole thing makes you feel like you’re living in 2001: A Space Odyssey. It’s that cool. The Waldorf Astoria: Ah, the sprawling impressiveness of the Waldorf – the stuff salads are named after! Three bars, four restaurants, and Jazz Age overindulgence. A certain spirit abides, especially during the holidays. Jane Hotel and Ballroom: This place is for your visiting sorority sisters – leave the parents at home. Dual bar spaces decked out with Edwardian charm, as befits the hotel’s 1908 origins. Posh couches, leafy palms, tortoise shell ceilings, and an ancient disco bar all made better by the creatively-dressed PYTs. Plunge Rooftop Bar + Lounge at the Gansevoort Park: This hotel bar sort of looks like the New York in the Sex and the City movies. It’s slick and arty, with shinning angles and scrumptious views of the Empire State Building. Stoke your vertigo with windows in the terrace floors that look straight down on distant midtown traffic. Your guests will feel so very modern. The Standard Hotel: So this is the place with all the naked people? Depending who you’re with, I’d say a stroll around the grounds with a stop at the bar in the hotel’s Standard Grill will be enough. Unless you’ve got some young model/socialite family members, why waste family time on rubbernecking at Boom Boom? The Ace Hotel: It has a curious cheeky quality to it without being a tourist magnet. The Lobby Bar is reminiscent of an all-American library, with Ivy League reading-room tables, a bar serving up Old Fashioneds and the cult favorite Porkslap Pale Ale, a vintage-style photobooth, and a massive, tattered American flag on the wall. Bring people—not sheeple.

Next: Editor’s Picks

Editor’s Picks Our editors are often tasked with selecting the perfect place for their cousin Sarah’s college roommate’s mother, who’s coming to the city for the first time. Here’s where they like to bring their special holiday guests this time of year. Chris Mohney: Pegu Club. Great place to take any out-of-towner who likes a good drink. Still some of the finest cocktails in the city, and now that it’s been around a while, almost always chill enough to easily find a spot without worrying about crowds. Ben Barna: Fatty Cue. It’s good for anyone, really. Except maybe vegetarians. It’s got the kind of vibe you can only find in Brooklyn, and the kind of unique cuisine you’ll only find in New York. Also, it’s a restaurant meant for sharing, so that’s fun. And the drinks are as good as the food. I’d like to just bring my bros, but it’s expensive, so I take my parents as well. Megan Conway: The Good Fork in Red Hook. I’d like to take my parents to visit this historic, less-trodden waterfront neighborhood. This cozy restaurant offers inspired grub in one of the more unique pockets of the city. Nadeska Alexis: The Dove. It’s a well rounded place that’s chill enough for friends, and I’ve been there with adults and have not been embarrassed. Fun cocktails too. Victor Ozols: Rudy’s. It’s a really lasting, authentic experience that stays with someone. Cayte Grieve: Oyster Bar at Grand Central. For New York newbies and friends and family who haven’t spent a lot of time in the city, the Oyster Bar is one of those bars-slash-attractions that sort of kills two birds with one stone. Grand Central? Check. Getting Grandma drunk? Check. All done with old-style glamour.

Next: Around Rockefeller

Around Rockefeller Good For: Sometimes you just gotta give the people what they want: A Disney-fied version of the most wonderfully commercial time of the year! While your skating, shopping, and taking photos around The Tree, you might as well ease your sensory-overloaded nerves with some family vodka time. Rock Center Café: Tourist magnet, priced accordingly, and you will wait accordingly—yes, even the early birds. Perhaps it’s best to skip the food and opt for a toast instead. Perfect before, during, or after a spin around the rink. Watching wipe-outs with the fam never felt so corporate. The Modern: Danny Meyer’s unabashed flamboyance for air-kissing culture whores. It’s at the MoMa, kids, so take only those who desire such a scene. If you’ve got yourself a crew outfitted in suits and ties longing for a culture cocktail, here’s your promised land. 21 Club: It’s so famous! Free parking if you show up before 6:30pm, if that tells you something about the demographic, but only the locals and culture snobs will take note. Skip the steaks and head for the scotch with the people who’ve read about the place or heard about it in hip-hop songs. Morrell Wine Bar & Cafe: Here’s a cozy place to get warm after running with the masses around Rockefeller. Please remember that other people longing for a night cap will also be directed to this wine bar, which boasts over fifty well-chosen wines by the glass and 2,000 bottle choices on the menu.

Where Celebs Go Out: Stanley Tucci, Tom Colicchio, Alessandro Nivola

Stanley Tucci at The Luxury Collection Destination Guide Launch with Assouline: I like to go to a lot of different places, but certainly Mario Batali’s restaurants. The beef cheek ravioli at Babbo is so delicious and so incredible. Just about anything he cooks is okay with me. I always stay at the St. Regis, here in New York. ● Rosie Perez: I love Gino’s in Bay Ridge. The arroz con gandule at Luz in Brooklyn is a favorite, and the roasted chicken is the best deal in town. Here in the city, Dok Suni’s for Korean barbeque, at First Avenue and 7th Street.

Alessandro Nivola: Sunny’s, a bar in Red Hook, which has bluegrass bands on some nights. It’s where they filmed On the Waterfront. And a restaurant called The Good Fork in the same neighborhood. The Red Hook Bait and Tackle is a bar that’s seedier than Sunny’s. In Boerum Hill, there’s a great place called Mile End, a hip, Jewish deli. They smoke their own meats and have this incredible beef brisket. ● Estelle: Avenue and SL, I love ’em both. ● Krysten Ritter: I love Brooklyn Bowl. Kenmare is a fun place to go. Aurora in Williamsburg on Grand Street has a wonderful, little beet salad with hazelnuts. ● Timo Weiland: I love to go to Norwood and Gramercy Park Hotel. Sugarland in Brooklyn, so much fun. It’s off-the-beaten path, but a wild dance party. ● Daniel Boulud at the James Beard Awards: Right now, DBGB these days, because it’s one that keeps me the most busy. I like Marea, Le Bernardin, Di Fara Pizza in Brooklyn. ● Tom Colicchio: I live in the West Village, so I, often, go to Barbuto or Spotted Pig, ’cause they’re in walking distance. The food’s all good. I try different things all the time, so I don’t go back and try the same thing over and over. ● Wylie Dufresne: We like to go to PDT for a cocktail late at night or some tater tots. 15 East is a favorite. We just came from the new Terroir in Tribeca that was great. DBGB just opened up in our neighborhood. The hundred-layer lasagne at Del Posto was pretty special. ● David Burke: Corton was great. From the Garden is a favorite dish there. ● Michael Oher at Big Brothers Big Sisters Sidewalks of New York gala: I live in Baltimore. I love seafood, so anything on the Inner Harbor. The Cheesecake Factory is there. At PF Changs, I get the shrimp-and-chicken fried rice. ● Sebastian Copeland at Pepcom for the Tribeca Film Festival premiere of Into the Cold: My favorite sushi is in the Valley at Nozawa, which is a place that Spielberg goes to and tried to have Mr. Nozawa open a restaurant in New York. He serves you the food, so you can’t ask for what you want. He kicked out Cherlize Theron one time. He’s known as the “Sushi Nazi.” ● Miranda Cosgrove at Sony Music luncheon celebrating the release of her debut album, Sparks Fly: I go to Mozza in L.A. It’s like a pizza place. They have squash blossoms and really, good margherita pizza. Hungry Cat, on Sunset, has the best dessert. It’s like a chocolate souflee. ● Phil Ramone at opening night of Million Dollar Quartet on Broadway: Bravo Gianni’s on the east side. Sardi’s because I want to feel the history, and they have a good wine list.

New York: Top 10 Brooklyn Restaurants Worth the Wait

Flatbush Farm (Prospect Heights) – Everything you’d expect from a restaurant with “Farm” in the name: local, organic, sustainable. Decor is more modern than country, save for the bangin’ backyard overflowing with green. ● Vinegar Hill House (Dumbo) – Cast iron dishes, straight from the wood fire oven, are killer tasty and surprisingly affordable. Mismatched knickknacks and vintage furniture make the space a real charmer. ● Rose Water (Park Slope) – It’s not surprising that a seasonal menu helps the coop crowd get off. Park Slope’s favorite date spot comes with flickering candles and chocolate pot de crème.

Buttermilk Channel (Carroll Gardens) – Brooklyn’s M.V.P. in the fancy-fried-chicken craze serves their birds with cheddar waffles. A clean interior — large windows, industrial lighting, dark wood floors — is the epitome of Brooklyn chic. ● James (Prospect Heights) – Hidden in the first floor of a brownstone, the restaurant draws a neighborhood crowd, but the food — New American with local ingredients — is worth a commute. ● Al di Là (Park Slope) – Park Slope’s favorite Italian job comes with the longest wait. Rustic fare (pork loin scallopine, tagliatelle al ragu, roasted duck) is served in a purposefully deteriorating dining room. ● Franny’s (Prospect Heights) – Ultra-thin pizza fancied up with super fresh — and yes, you guessed it, sustainable — toppings like clams and mussels. Husband and wife owners don’t skimp on the salads or apps, either. ● Acqua Santa (Williamsburg)- The romantic, go-to spot for the more committed hipster types. Italian favorites, like spaghetti puttanesca and fettucine amatriciana, are easily paired with a bottle of vino. ● Applewood (Park Slope)- Mom and pop joint serves up responsible food in a cozy, ski-lodge setting; think fireplace, wooden tables, and flowers. The meal won’t weigh as heavily on your conscience as it will your wallet. ● The Good Fork (Red Hook)- A reason to go to Red Hook other than IKEA. This eclectic restaurant serves global bites like Korean style steak and eggs, as well as neighborhood favorites like Steve’s Key lime pie.