Brooklyn Heights Apt: Brownstone Is the New BlackBoerum Hill Apt: A Slow-motion Dream SequenceWilliamsburg Apt: Dwight Huffman’s PenStaples of Hipster DomesticityThe Fashion SceneThe Design BoomHungry In HipstervilleThe Map of Brooklyn’s FinestMore
Brooklyn has always had borough-defining restaurants. Just mention Junior’s or Lundy’s, and the dreamy-eyed natives will rhapsodize till the cows come home. And you can always spot a Brooklynite by the way he puffs out his chest while claiming world dominance in sweeping categories like pizza and hero sandwiches (no matter what detractors from Queens, the Bronx, and Staten Island might say). In recent decades, immigration has added a wealth of multicultural flavors to the mix, with a bustling Chinatown here, a mini-Mexico there, and a thoroughfare divided harmoniously between Pakistani, Israeli, and Turkish joints. That’s modern-day Brooklyn for you.
But so, culinary chroniclers say, is a type of newfangled Brooklyn establishment—one marked by its presence in recently or soon-to-be gentrified neighborhoods, and one connected to the Manhattan restaurant scene by pedigree and ambition. The New Brooklyn Cuisine (or NBC) restaurant is a subspecies of the New American restaurant, and probably originated in Boerum Hill or Park Slope, where aspiring restaurateurs went in search of cheaper rent, leafy streets, and moneyed clientele, spread to Williamsburg and Fort Greene, and is currently making inroads into Red Hook and Bushwick. Typically tiny, often mom-and-pop-run, built on a shoestring, and devoted (ostensibly) to local, organic, sustainably farmed ingredients, the NBC restaurant has become as much a part of the borough’s culinary identity as a Peter Luger porterhouse.
With few exceptions, these establishments have no publicist and no celebrity chef, and the do-it-yourself approach extends to everything from construction to checking coats. Stylishly makeshift and family-friendly, they’re selling a lifestyle as much as a meal. Movements like this don’t appear out of thin air, of course, and a lot of NBC ventures can trace their roots back to two Manhattan breeding grounds: The Greenmarket-obsessed Savoy, which begat fervent NBC chefs and owners like Franny’s Andrew Feinberg, the Grocery’s Charles Kiely and Sharon Pachter, plus Rose Water’s John Tucker; and Balthazar, where a handful of bartenders and managers studied at the McNally school for effortless cool and went on to open DuMont, Ici, Locanda Vini e Olii, and 360. With a chef from Savoy and McNally-pedigreed owners, Diner and its adjacent oyster bar, Marlow & Sons, have all the NBC bases covered.
But that’s just the tip of the Kings County iceberg. NBC restaurants are spreading faster in their home borough than illicit immersion circulators on Manhattan’s haute cuisine circuit. Here, then, are our top fifteen picks. To pinpoint their exact locations, turn to our handy map on page 96.
1 Franny’s is a New Brooklyn Cuisine restaurant masquerading as a pizzeria, which is to say it cures its own soppressata, tops its crostini with Sicilian-pistachio pesto and ramps, and makes a champagne cocktail with lovage syrup. All this and sublime, feather-light pies that arrive at the table authentically unsliced.
2 Frankies 457 Court Street Spuntino feels so entrenched in its Italian-American Carroll Gardens milieu, it’s hard to believe it’s barely two years old. Chef-owners Frank Castronovo and Frank Falcinelli did the glitzy Manhattan restaurant circuit (Bouley, Moomba) before deciding to think small—in terms of space, prices, and a snacky menu of zesty salads, roasted vegetables, and newfangled Italian sandwiches.
3If Fort Greene is Brooklyn’s French-expat epicenter, then Ici is its culinary heart. There’s a French grace to the setting, but the menu stays close to home, reveling in local foodstuffs like “Added Value” collard greens (from the Red Hook farm), Montauk squid, and Greenmarket pork. Arrive at the right season-bridging moment, and you’ll find “Sour Cream Poundcake with First of the Rhubarb and Last of the Blood Oranges Compote.”
4 Queen’s Hideaway is just that—an unassuming, low-key spot in Greenpoint where Liza Queen’s menu changes daily, follows the whims of the chef to the American South, Mexico, or a nearby Polish candy shop. But whether you dine on maple-crusted ham, a bitter-greens salad, or deep-August corn on the cob, odds are good that you’ll begin with a gratis bowl of boiled peanuts and end with a slice of pie.
5It got crazy at The Grocery after Zagat awarded it a 28 for food, but the mom-and-pop chef-owners still patrol the dining room nightly, personally delivering creative American dishes, like cornmeal-crusted chicken livers in a curry vinaigrette with wilted greens and a poached egg, in the best small-town tradition.
6 360 made the prospect of trekking to Red Hook much more palatable with a $25 prix fixe and a hands-on owner who takes almost as much pleasure in explicating the mostly biodynamic wine list as he does in enforcing the house ban on cell phones. The French-inflected menu changes nightly, but you can count on oysters, Cloonshee Farm chicken, and house-made pâtés.
7 Following in 360’s footsteps, the brand-new Good Fork adds to Red Hook’s unexpectedly compelling culinary appeal, thanks to a chef who cooked at Annisa and her handyman husband, who built the joint—curved wood ceiling, cozy corner quarter-booths, and all. Of the few Asian interlopers on a menu of elevated American comfort food, don’t miss the juicy pork dumplings or Korean-style steak and eggs.
8 Carlo and Michelle Pulixi opened Convivium Osteria after a stint at Il Buco, and the rustic Mediterranean influence is readily apparent. But they’ve made their own mark on Park Slope’s northern fringes, with a cozy candlelit room and a tricultural Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese menu. Not to mention waiters who can be trusted to make smart wine recommendations for your mint-braised artichoke, salt-cod casserole, and duck-stuffed pasta.
9 Al di Là might be Park Slope’s preeminent success story: a young couple, he Italian, she American, plying old-world charm, authentic Italian pastas like poppy-seed-strewn casunziei, and some of the city’s best homemade gelato in a space that fills up faster than the bar at Babbo.
10 DuMont might not have singlehandedly made the Lorimer L stop such a hot destination, but it had a lot to do with it. The cozily weathered feel, the chalkboard comfort-food menu (we’re partial to the “yardbird” roast chicken), and the chefs’ seasonal nightly specials keep the repurposed pizzeria seats full and the mood buoyant.
11 It took guts for the owners of Locanda Vini e Olii to open their Clinton Hill restaurant in a culinary near vacuum of landmarked brownstone Brooklyn. And it took imagination to build it in a Ulysses S. Grant–era pharmacy complete with wooden apothecary drawers, a kitchen where the prescription counter used to be, and rolling ladders right out of Henry Higgins’s library. The service is smart, the wine list uncommon, and the Tuscan menu refreshingly unfamiliar: Where else, after all, can you find octopus “soppressata,” chestnut lasagnette, and bison-tongue salmistrato in Brooklyn?
12Like his predecessor, Savoy vet David Wurth, Chestnut’s new chef Daniel Eardley (late of Washington Park) betrays his maniacal allegiance to the NBC school with creative dishes like a delicious take on pasta primavera—lightly sauced penne beneath a mound of green garlic, thumbelina carrots, and raw mustard greens. The utilitarian room isn’t much to look at, but the kitchen compensates for any dearth of personality with excellent house-baked bread and a Tuesday and Wednesday $25 prix fixe that should be packing them in.
13 Even after the departure of the first chef, a Savoy veteran, Rose Water continues to purvey a distinctly seasonal, Mediterranean-inspired brand of New Brooklyn Cuisine: charmoula-drizzled black-eyed-pea soup, a charismatic meze plate, and roast chicken with fiddlehead ferns, sugar snap peas, and chickpea fries.
14 The artfully rehabbed Diner has its fans, and rightfully so, but we like the mellow vibe and back-room romance of Marlow & Sons, the grocery–cum–oyster bar that Diner’s owners opened next door. Chalkboard menus announce food that’s more assembled than cooked—ripe farmstead cheeses, Spanish olives, panini made with buffalo mozzarella and bagna cauda, a terrific tortilla española. The place invites lingering, whether for a glass of rosé at the bar or brunch at a sidewalk table on a glorious weekend, when it’s fun to peruse the shelves of what might be New York’s best pint-size gourmet shop.
15 Northeast Kingdom has brought deer antlers (an allusion to its mom-and-pop owners’ Vermont roots) and sunflower-sprout salads to a bleak Bushwick intersection. Comfort food like lamb stew and chicken potpie isn’t groundbreaking, but it is satisfying, as is the friendly, rough-hewn place itself. Next: A Map of Brooklyn’s Finest Things