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. 

4 Out of 5: Jamie Freed on New York

Jamie Freed is the personal shopping manager for Topshop and TOPMAN. She lives in Williamsburg and works in Soho. This is her take on four places she likes, and one place she doesn’t.

RECOMMENDED

Death & Co – "If I could only go to one bar for the rest of my life, this would be it. They’ve got a cool vibe without being pretentious. The swoon-worthy bartenders are charming and polite in addition to being extremely talented. Take time to read their clever menu (note the Dorothy Parker and Ernest Hemmingway witticisms sprinkled throughout). I usually get the Dick & Jane or any other champagne cocktail. If Thomas is there, ask him for a recommendation. His impeccable taste and discerning palate will steer you in the right direction. The best part about Death & Co is that it’s never too crowded. The windowless façade makes it hard for the masses to find, and the no-standing policy keeps the bros at bay. Oh, and if you only drink vodka + soda with a splash of cran, go elsewhere. They keep one bottle of vodka here and likely use it just to clean the bar."

Tiny’s and The Bar Upstairs – "I don’t know that words can describe how much I love Tiny’s! They’ve nailed all the details here. From the shabby chic interior and pressed tin ceiling to the mismatched plates and the very entertaining Ana, they’ve created a comfortable environment that always makes me feel like I’m at home. It’s a great date spot too, with a few joints around the corner for cocktails after dinner (try Weather Up or Silver Lining if you’re into jazz). Oh yeah, and get the burrata."

John Derian – "Decoupage is not a dirty word. Step inside this cozy little boutique and you’ll see what I mean. I’m obsessed with Derian’s decoupage paperweights and trays. My favorites are the ones covered with old typewritten letters and snarky sayings. This shop is my gifting go-to, especially when you’re buying for that person who has everything. In addition to the decoupage collection, John Derian also stocks 18th-century-inspired French pottery, vintage rugs, and loads of other curiosities from his travels. I feel like I’ve magically left the East Village and have been transported to the Marais whenever I’m here. I might just move in."

Saturdays Surf – "It’s a shop. It’s a café. Cute surfer dudes hang and work here. It’s also right behind Topshop. What’s not to love? Saturdays isn’t just for my AM caffeine fix, and it’s not just for surfers. They’ve got beachy prints and books as well as grooming products, candles, and a cool clothing line. Most of the stuff sold here is meant for guys, but it’s the kind of guy stuff girls want to borrow. They stock these amazing fish hook bracelets from Miansai, and I’m addicted to their Baxter candles."

NOT SO MUCH

Sephora – "I think Sephora is great for times when you know exactly what you want and are able to just grab it and go. But when I need a new product, having too many choices isn’t a good thing. Unless someone whom I know and trust (which is never the case at Sephora) is helping me, I’m not able to figure out what I need. I just get frustrated and leave empty-handed. Shopping for beauty products should also make you feel beautiful. That’s just impossible in a chaotic, super-saturated environment like Sephora. Go to Space NK Apothecary instead. They have an expertly curated collection of the best of the best in beauty housed in a posh, minimalist boutique."

Is Ken Friedman Blocking Weather Up From Ace Hotel?

It’s no secret that Spotted Pig honcho Ken Firedman is planning on opening The Breslin on the ground floor of the new Ace Hotel in Manhattan’s garment district. Lesser known is that Catherine Weatherup’s Fort Green cocktail palace Weather Up is also vying for spot on the hotel’s happening lobby area. But we recently got a tip from a source very close to the situation who claims that Friedman himself is the one who’s resisting the idea, because he feels that a classy cocktail joint might steal customers away from his latest project, which is doubling as a bar. Apparently hope is not lost, but it’s not looking great. What ever happened to the more the merrier?

Dutch Kills Will Open in April

Yesterday, Grub Street fretted over the opening of the much-anticipated Long Island City cocktail saloon Dutch Kills, which they — and everybody else — thought was supposed to be in business last month. So I went there myself to speak to part-owner Richard Boccato (the other owner is Sasha Petraske, both of Little Branch and Milk & Honey fame), to clarify the when-will-they-open cloudiness and to get a sneak peek at one of New York’s buzziest (and soon to be busiest) bars.

When I first walked into Dutch Kills (the ancestral name of the neighborhood, and now a nearby cross street), there were two woodworkers building what will eventually be the booths in the front and the banquette in the back. Boccato said once these are done, and his plumbing, refrigeration, and some custom-made sinks are installed, the bar will be ready for the masses. “We just got our refrigeration in this week, so we’re back to a construction site for just a couple more weeks. We’ll be opening in April.” I showed him a printed copy of the Grub Street item, which he was eager to read. “It’s all pretty accurate,” he said. “Our sinks, our plumbing, and the refrigeration are things we take very seriously. We’re juicing fresh to order behind the bar, so all of that has to be meticulously planned, and we can’t just slap that together and expect the same level of quality that we have at the other bars. We’ll also be introducing a hand-cut, made-to-order ice station behind the bar, so when you order a drink, someone will actually cut the ice right in front of you. ” He told me they already held two private parties for investors — one on New Year’s and the other near Valentine’s Day — and that everyone had a great time. And despite catching the bar with its “pants down” (as Boccato put it), the fin-de-siècle charm of the place bled through.

Housed in a former warehouse with 18-foot ceilings, Dutch Kills exudes antique old-worldliness. It’s narrow and shelled in dark, mahogany-stained wainscoting. In the back there’s a sawdust-covered stage area with a piano Boccato got from his mother’s Brooklyn home. He’ll have a band (the same from Little Branch) playing jazz and ragtime from Thursday to Saturday. Even the cash register is old — a stunning relic from 1913 that Boccato found online.

Upon entering, you’re in the “tavern,” as Boccato likes to call it. This has five booths that seat six, and then three more that seat two. The tavern leads into the bar area, which unlike Little Branch, will have stools (seven to be exact). In the back of the bar by the stage, there’s a banquette and room for a large handful of drinkers, bringing the place to a capacity of about 75. “We pride ourselves on the fact that we don’t pack the bar. We keep the ambiance at a level that’s comfortable for people to have their drinks. If there has to be a wait outside, there has to be a wait outside.” And about the bar’s nonconformist Queens locale, he had this to say:

Sasha came up to me a couple of years ago, I guess he must have known I was a longtime resident of this neighborhood. Growing up, my best friend lived here, and I lived here for a while in my twenties. Sasha knew that Brooklyn had been developed and saturated with bars — and we’ve got some great bars like the Weather Up — but Long Island City had this burgeoning presence insofar as art and commerce, but not so much in the way of cocktail places. So this was an opportunity to come into the neighborhood when it’s developing at the rate that it is. If you look around, there are buildings popping up everywhere, and the Jackson Avenue beautification project is happening right in front of us. We have the luxury of being in this space that was a warehouse, and we don’t have a residential presence, so I’m not going to be disturbing my neighbors by selling cocktails until 2 in the morning.

For those Manhattanites who would rather stay in than dare leave their precious island, Dutch Kills is located close enough to at least six subway lines and two cab centers that coming and going should be hassle-free. There’s even has a conveniently spare website telling you exactly how to get there. And in breaking with the stealth of the other bars, Kills will have a neon “Bar” sign out front, in case the line doesn’t give it away.

New York: Top 5 Places for OCD Cocktails

imageThe mixed drinks renaissance is on.

1. Weather Up (Prospect Heights) – Weather the heavy early crowds for Sasha-style involved cocktails. 2. Huckleberry Bar (Williamsburg) – The ‘Burg all growed up, in sleek oak, glass, and iron digs. 3. Clover Club (Brooklyn South) – Ms. Reiner goes to Smith, bringing the classic ’tails of Flatiron and Pegu.

4. PDT (East Village) – Somebody told, but still a nice sophisto surprise behind the grunge of Crif. 5. The Lobby Bar @ Bowery Hotel (East Village) – Low-key poshness with nice stiff pours that’ll have you foxtrotting in no time.