Not so long ago, food-obsessed Brooklynites traveled across the river in search of a first-rate meal. But more and more, in this era of dissipated expense accounts and scruffy-chic backyard cooking, it’s the other way around. “Where have all these people come from?” asked my sleepy suburban friend as we elbowed our way through the antic crowd of visiting Manhattanites and bohemians in the their porkpie hats at Vinegar Hill House, a couple blocks from the Navy Yard. The menu at this accomplished little establishment includes rigorously seasonal treats like wood-fired tarts filled with ricotta and kale, and soft little ravioli stuffed with sweet corn in summertime and cauliflower in the fall. But the specialty of the house is the Red Wattle country pork chop, which the kitchen chars to perfection in its wood-burning oven; serves on a butcher board with a cooling mash of potato salad; and slices lengthwise in fat, pinkish strips, just like a fancy, prime-grade rib chop. The best faux-Neapolitan pizza joint in this pizza-mad borough is at Mathieu Palombino’s original Motorino, in Williamsburg, and the best meatloaf sandwich in New York, and possibly the entire world, is the $14 pork-belly-ground-pork-duck-ground-beef-ground-veal-and-short-rib-larded monster served up by former Dressler chef Cal Elliott at the fine new Williamsburg speakeasy Rye. When I want a fix of reasonably priced prime-cut beef, I hop the train to Prime Meats , in Carroll Gardens, where members of the Brooklyn gentry gather in the evenings, at the cozy farm-style tables, to chaw on a variety of old-world nose-to-tail specialties, like sürkrüt garnie piled with slow-cooked pork belly, and slabs of twelve-ounce New York strip from Creekstone Farms, in Kansas, which, at $23 with frites, just might be the best steak bargain in town. With its stark, wood-covered walls and long polished bars, Saul Bolton’s new venture, The Vanderbilt, in Prospect Heights, looks like it’s been beamed in from one of the more stylish precincts of lower Manhattan. So does the food on the eclectic small-plates menu, which includes pickled eggs dressed with Indian chutney, lamb ribs slathered with a sweet red-pepper glaze, and deliciously fried Brussels sprouts spritzed with Sriracha and honey.
Asian barbecue, in all its sticky, lip-smacking glory, is the theme of Zak Pelaccio and Robbie Richter’s long-awaited Williamsburg dining destination, Fatty ’Cue. Until that spot is up and running, my favorite place for a taste of elegant smokehouse cooking remains Char No. 4, on Smith Street, where the assembled bourbon addicts at the bar like to swap tall tales while enjoying platters of spicy hot beef links dusted with shallots, and the famous house BLT, made with braised pork belly instead of bacon. For the ultimate in off-the-beaten-path Brooklyn dining, however, you won’t do better than Roberta’s, set among the loading docks of Bushwick. The ramshackle establishment began life as a pizza joint but has lately morphed into a kind of gastronomic commune, complete with a radio station and rooftop vegetable garden. On a recent windswept afternoon, pilgrims from various boroughs were hunched at tables crafted from old doors, dining on roasted marrow bones for $12 and little crostini piled with pickled green tomatoes, and shreds of lamb’s tongue, which you can supplement, if you’re still hungry from your journey, with the grandiose, football-size calzone stuffed with pools of fresh melted mozzarella and shreds of salty, chewy guanciale.