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Restaurant World

3. The Real-Estate Market May Be Punishing, But It Is Also Liberating

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Illustration by Jean Jullien  

3e. There’s Always Another Neighborhood
By Hugh Merwin

Ridgewood
Houdini Kitchen Laboratory
Massimiliano Bartoli first hatched plans in 2011 for this Neapolitanesque pizzeria in an old brick brewery turned artist’s studios, and was grappling with Buildings Department rules for years before anyone heralded Ridgewood as Williamsburg 3.0. “We all know each other, we all support each other. You’re absolutely not going to have that in the East Village.”

Bedford-Stuyvesant
Eugene & Co.

Tara Oxley, former design director for B.R. Guest Hospitality, moved to Brooklyn five years ago. “I felt like there was no place to get fresh salad, something that changes daily,” says Oxley, who’s hired a Le Bernardin and Mary’s Fish Camp vet to serve meatloaf sandwiches and plenty of Greenmarket produce.

Seaside
Uma’s

Conrad Karl, who co-owns the restaurant with his wife, Umida, its chef and namesake, opened the unlikely Queens spot for surfers who’ve converged on Rockaway over the last decade. “Of course we got a great deal on rent,” he says. “But we never had any designs to open in any other neighborhood.” Uma’s menu includes Central Asian pickles and lagman noodles with beef, Russian borscht, and authentic Uzbeki plov, reflecting his wife’s heritage. With year-round operations and greens from nearby Edgemere Farm, Karl depicts the restaurant as inexorably Rockaway-ian. “You couldn’t take us out of the neighborhood and stick us in somewhere else,” he says.

Jersey City
Talde

“There are a lot of great places to eat in Jersey City already, but we like being part of a place that’s not totally saturated,” says chef Dale Talde, who is soon to open an osteria and a branch of his namesake Park Slope restaurant in a converted telco switching station. Proximity helps, too. “It takes me longer to get to midtown from Brooklyn than it does for me to get to Jersey City.”

Sunset Park
Cafe Zona Sur

Maria Medina and her husband, Luis Hernandez, longtime industry veterans who met working at Morandi, serve La Colombe lattes and piadina with prosciutto to locals and workers at Industry City, the burgeoning incubator for fashion and food companies across the Gowanus Expressway.

Prospect-Lefferts Gardens
Erv’s

Erv’s shifts its identity several times throughout the day, serving Joe coffee mornings and Dub Pies at dusk, with a two-wheeled tamale cart rolling up outside three times a week to provide late-night snacks to pair with a menu of $9 Fernet-based cocktails that would go for $14 anywhere else. Steve Fishman, principal investor in the 300-square-foot spot (and also a New York contributing editor) first looked in Prospect Heights but was discouraged by high rents and an influx of Manhattan chefs debuting showcase restaurants. “I was looking for someplace where I’d have the chance to be a little funkier and maybe even a little less professional,” he says.

Forest Hills
End of the Century Bar

Ian Present, Sofia Present, and Valentin Gonzalez learned their trade at Long Island City’s Dutch Kills and the late PKNY before transforming a Forest Hills sports bar into a craft-cocktail haven, with $10 tiki drinks, metal straws, and fancy garnishes. They plan to eventually offer food beyond pretzels and a snack called Viking Waffles, but for now they’re most interested in meeting their neighbors and figuring out what they want to drink. “This really appealed to us,” says Ian Present. “Not just being the 150th bar on St. Marks.”


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