I thought my hometown of Oakland, CA (home to the Eat Real Festival and famous urban farmers like Novella Carpenter) was pretty food obsessed. Then I went to Brooklyn.
It seems you can’t walk down a street in Brooklyn without stumbling over an artisan food purveyor or a fresh new take on the farm-to-table restaurant concept.
On a recent whirlwind trip to New York’s hippest borough, I kept getting whiplash trying to take in all the interesting foodie storefronts. The chilly air whipped around all the good smells and it made me hungry. I know I’m always thinking about food, but it seems, in Brooklyn, everyone else is too. The best thing about the food scene in Brooklyn is the way old school and new school blend together into a non-hierarchical whole. Deliciousness is deliciousness after all.
Here’s a random (not meant to be comprehensive) rundown of some of my favorite discoveries and some of my Brooklyn contacts’ not-so-secret faves:
Sahadi’s, specializing in Middle Eastern foods and bulk goods has been around since 1948. Still family-owned and still one of Brooklyn’s oldest and still best specialty food stores.
At the Brooklyn Kitchen you can buy cookbooks, housewares, brewing equipment and really good meat and housemade charcuterie from The Meat Hook, the store’s butcher shop. You can also learn skills like sourdough bread baking, beer brewing, fermenting, and culturing.
Urban Rustic, a grocery store and café dedicated to sustainable local foods, was founded by Aaron Woolf, co-director of the excellent food movement documentary, King Corn. With those ownership credentials, it’s not surprising that the store was built from hand-harvested and milled local wood, is powered by wind, and eschews the use of disposables. A model for the future!
Stinky Bklyn specializes in the stinkiest and best cheeses from all over the world, artisanal meats from hidden corners of the U.S. and beyond, as well as local pickles and other goodies.
I visited the Sunday market at Smith and Carroll, where I was treated to the best pasteurized milk I’ve ever tasted from Milk Thistle Farm and enjoyed the “never-in-California” experience of buying carrots so cold they were frozen.
Locals also like The Borough Hall market and the Grand Army Plaza Market near Prospect Park.
Though I didn’t make it to many restaurants, I’m glad I hit up Henry Public a modern take on a casual supperclub with delicious cocktails and juicy “hamburger sandwiches” with homemade buns, sustainable meat, and crispy fries.
Sorry I missed Henry Public’s sister restaurant, Brooklyn Social, modeled after the area’s old time private Italian social clubs.
Coexisting with the modern Supperclub trend, are the twin trends of lighter, healthier, soul food at Peaches and New York style barbecue at The Smoke Joint. Also sister restaurants.
Roberta’s features a tasty, schizophrenic menu of interesting pizzas (mozzarella, pancetta, pecorino, and Brussels sprouts (!)) alongside entrees like sea urchin with carrot granita, vanilla oil, and mizuna, and venison with persimmon, farro, and chestnut.
Bakeries and Coffee:
One bleary morning I walked out of my host’s house depending on my inner good coffee compass to find the best coffee around. With nothing to go on, I had to pat myself on the back when I managed to wander right to Café Pedlar, which features Stumptown Coffee roasted right there in Brooklyn.
I didn’t make it to the famous Gorilla Coffee outpost but wish I had.
Word on the street is that Marquet Patisserie has the best French pastries outside France. I didn’t get the opportunity to find out.
Likewise, I ran out of time before I could visit Baked New York, which seems to be the hands-down favorite of a number of my sources.
Miscellaneous Foodie Fun:
Next time I visit Brooklyn, I’d like to time it to hit up the Unfancy Food Show, which was started as a response to the excess of the Fancy Food Show and features uber-local goodies from small-scale producers. It started in a bar and has grown up quite a bit. 2011 will mark year five of the extravaganza.
I wish I’d known about Nona Brooklyn before I returned home. It’s a one-stop web-based clearinghouse for deliciousness that lets users find their favorite bakers, butchers, cheesemakers, picklers, and brewers at local farmers’ markets, street corners, and other alternative venues.
This is the latest installment in Vanessa Barrington’s weekly column, The Green Plate, on the environmental, social, and political issues related to what and how we eat.
Image: BL Photography