The Red Hook Diet

Map by Jason Lee

It might take a while for the hotly contested Fairway to materialize on a ramshackle Red Hook pier, but that doesn’t mean the neighborhood is lacking in good food and drink. In fact, in its singularly off-the-beaten-track way, Red Hook, with its antebellum warehouses, its pioneering population of artists and craftsmen in search of space and cheap rent, and its scandalously underutilized waterfront, has become something of a quirky culinary destination. Besides a handful of new restaurants, there’s a microbrewery, a cult Key-lime-pie bakery, a lovably esoteric liquor shop, and an old-time Italian hero joint that handily survived the neighborhood’s changing demographics. On summer and early-fall weekends, the ball fields at Red Hook Park are ringed with stands hawking some of the best Latin-American street food in town. There’s even a farm—one that’s manned, in the manner of Alice Waters’s revolutionary Edible Schoolyard project, by neighborhood high-school students who till the transported soil and work a pair of community farmers’ markets, selling mustard greens and mint to restaurants like 360 and iCi. On October 15, the farm and its nonprofit parent, Added Value, host a harvest festival with pumpkin carving and compost demonstrations—a perfect excuse to make your meandering, subway-to-bus way out to explore a neighborhood that’s gentrifying in incrementally delectable ways.

(1.) LeNell’s
416 Van Brunt St., nr. Van Dyke St.; 718-360-0838.
This self-styled “wine and spirit boutique” is part museum, part mixologist’s mecca, and part funkily furnished parlor of your eccentric southern aunt. Owner Tonya “LeNell” Smothers is passionate about bourbon, bitters, and cocktail culture, and her idiosyncratically stocked store proves it.

Photo: Jeremy Liebman

(2.) Steve’s Authentic Key Lime Pies
Pier 41, 204 Van Dyke St.; 718-858-5333.
Follow the signs and the irresistible smell to this pie plant, part of a repurposed pier inhabited by glass- and woodworkers, and overgrown with lush foliage and potted pepper and tomato plants. Buy a mini-pie or a Swingle (a chocolate-coated frozen tart on a stick), and savor it on a bench overlooking the harbor.

(3.) Hope & Anchor
347 Van Brunt St., at Wolcott St.; 718-237-0276.
This friendly neighborhood diner brought tofu scrambles, Rhode Island Vidal Blanc, and drag karaoke nights to Van Brunt Street—for better or worse.

(4.) Pioneer Bar-B-Q
318 Van Brunt St., nr. Pioneer St.; 718-624-0700.
Briefly operated by Brooklyn booster Alan Harding as the Old Pioneer Bar and Beer Garden, this quirky space has been refashioned as a BBQ joint, with $1 masa-crusted chicken wings, Frito-crusted salmon, and “mixed Red Hook lettuces.”

(5.) 360
360 Van Brunt St., nr. Wolcott St.; 718-246-0360.
A polished, personable bistro with a $25 three-course prix fixe that could easily fetch twice as much in Manhattan, delicious biodynamic and organic wines, and a passionate Alsatian-expat owner who frowns heavily upon cell-phone usage.

Photo courtesy of Baked

(6.) Baked
359 Van Brunt St., nr. Dikeman St.; 718-222-0345.
When the cupcakes show up, you know your once hopelessly ungentrified neighborhood has arrived. This high-design bake shop covers all the sweet-tooth bases, and even makes its own chocolate marshmallows.

(7.) El Huipil
116A Sullivan St., nr. Van Brunt St.; 718-855-4548.
A plainspoken cantina off the main drag known for its posole, a Saturday chicken-and-hominy special enlivened by Mexican herbs custom-grown by Red Hook’s own Added Value farm.

Red Hook's student-run farmers' market runs through Thanksgiving.Photo: Jeremy Liebman

(8.) Red Hook Community Farm
Columbia and Beard Sts.
Where there was once a dilapidated playground, there are now rows of lettuces, eggplant, peppers, and all manner of herbs grown by neighborhood teens for some of the borough’s best restaurants.

(9.) Defonte’s
379 Columbia St., at Luquer St.; 718-625-8052.
Whatever you do, don’t ask for a panino. The substantial specimens at this old-school sandwich shop are known as heros, and they’re served longshoreman-style, in outsize, time-tested combos like potato-and-egg, meatball, and roast-beef-mozzarella-and-fried-eggplant.

(10.) Sunny’s
253 Conover St., nr. Beard St.; 718-625-8211.
Bridging Red Hook’s past and present, this onetime longshoreman’s tavern hosts readings, bluegrass bands, and impromptu debates about the waterfront’s uncertain future.

(11.) Sixpoint Craft Ales
40 Van Dyke St., nr. Dwight St.
Unlike that other Brooklyn brewery, all the sudsy stuff is handcrafted on premises by a couple of college buddies decked out in Carhartt overalls and rubber boots.

Photo: Jeremy Liebman

(12.) Liberty Heights Tap Room
34 Van Dyke St., at Dwight St.; 718-246-8050.
The owner is also Sixpoint’s landlord, so, presumably, some of the brewery’s rent is paid off in beer, several varieties of which are available here on tap.

The Red Hook Diet