50 Ways to Love . . . Brooklyn Heights and Vicinity (1-10)

Forced in late ’96 by the Manhattan Patsy’s Pizza to change its name from Patsy’s, Patsy Grimaldi’s (19 Old Fulton St., between Front and Water Streets; 718-858-4300) rechristening had only had two effects on the establishment – it gave this age-old pizza joint even more publicity and it highlighted the fact that no matter what Patsy’s does in Manhattan, the Brooklyn version has the winning slice. With a 25 (on a scale of 0 to 30) food rating in Zagat’s and accolades in just about every article about New York pizza, there is no doubt that their pie has very little real competition anywhere in the Big Apple. And Patsy Grimaldi’s collection of Ol’ Blue Eyes photographs that cover almost every wall will warm the hearts of Frank fans. To build up an appetite and to get in the mood for a slice of Brooklyn history try walking over the Brooklyn Bridge from the Manhattan side beforehand.

Every neighborhood needs a drinking hole with certain key elements – a solid wood bar, a phenomenal jukebox, a backroom pool table, and a good selection of beer on tap (Brooklyn Lager, Guinness, and Bass Ale among others). Enjoy pints on rainy afternoons or on weekday nights in the low-key setting of the Brooklyn Inn (148 Hoyt St., at Bergen St.; no phone) but leave the weekends to the yuppified crowd. (Being there on a Saturday night makes it seem a wholly different venue – as though a crowd of Upper West Siders decided to hijack the F to Bergen Street.)

Although all of the cooing courting couples can be a little hard to take, the view from the old-fashioned wooden benches along the Promenade, of course, provides the definitive postcard-perfect skyline view of Manhattan – a vista that her inhabitants are usually privy to only when crossing a bridge from out of town. The sight makes you remember why you wanted to move to (or decided to stay in) a city with so many skyscrapers in the first place.

Despite the almost dictatorial regime of Roberto of Roberto’s Cappuccino (no cell phones, toasting 25 cents extra, no table service during busy times unless you order at least $4 per half hour, and posted opinions on various social issues), his Italian café (221 Court St. at Warren St.; 858-7693) makes precisely the kind of au lait that starts the day on a perfect note. Roberto’s freshly baked croissants and irresistible Italian delicacies allow me to overlook his largely gruff demeanor (I think he is really quite warm-hearted under that façade). The Giuliani-like rules I can live with. Roberto’s hearty mozzarella sandwiches on ciabatta bread I can’t live without.

Nothing at all like the mostly generic-neon Haagen-Dasz’s or Sedutto’s that dot the city, Pete’s (185 Atlantic Ave. between Court and Clinton Sts.; 852-3835) is the local landmark ice-cream parlor. Filled with cheery sugar-stained tots, their patient parents, and twentysomething Brooklynites, Pete’s wins hearts with extravagant daily specials – molasses ginger snap, chocolate decadence, cappuccino brownie, cardamom, mint oreo, pecan pie a la mode, and banana pudding with vanilla wafers … .

I love the geezer contingent (I use that term with true affection) that owns the streets of Carroll Gardens, and the OTB on Court Street (320 Court St. at Sackett St.) has the highest concentration of older neighborhood men around. All day long they spill out onto the sidewalk for a quick cigarette or cigar when they take a break from the horses. Their presence, of course, is a welcome reminder that my neighborhood has room for Brooklynites of all ages (unlike, say, much of the rest of America, which tends to warehouse its elderly in suburban nursing homes), and that it’s possible to grow old here with grace and dignity – and ready companionship. The OTB, of course, has a bit of a men’s club mentality – I’ve only seen one woman emerge in the past eight months – but trust me, that’s not going to stop me from heading over there to place my Triple Crown bets.

Even the owner’s constant lecturing about how Duane Reade and its ilk are the equivalents of Blockbuster and Starbucks in the pharmaceutical world – and how they’re hell-bent on driving independent purveyors out of business– is not quite enough to diminish the pleasure of poking around this old pharmacy whose quirky little measuring devices (vintage scales, beakers, etc.) lie willy-nilly on its shelves. The Vermont Pharmacy’s (513 Court Street, 858-5297) more current supplies includes one of the largest and most varied selection of holistic remedies, vitamins, and herbs to be had in these parts.

The prospect of one’s own mortality cannot be forgotten in my neighborhood. With seven funeral homes on Court Street alone, the mantra “Enjoy yourself, it’s later than you think” (thank you, Woody Allen) seems to imbue residents with more of a sense of joie de vivre than a feeling of depression. One parlor helpfully displays a sign reading FUNERALS – FOREIGN BURIALS – SHIPPING. Who would have guessed? But I’m a little confused as to why there are so many satellite dishes on top of the parlors. Everyone has their theories but no one asks.

It’s entirely natural to think that perhaps Queen (84 Court St., between Livingston and Schermerhorn Sts.; 596-5955) was at least part of the inspiration for Stanley Tucci’s tightly run (fictional) restaurant in Big Night. In terms of ambience and cuisine, this downtown Brooklyn gem owned by the Vitiello brothers calls to mind Big Night’s worshipful regard for good food, prepared and eaten with gusto. With mozzarella made twice a day and a daily-specials menu that is the equivalent of a week’s worth at other places, this restaurant is an absolute must-stop for Italian-food lovers.

Poncho, the 20-year-old gray parrot above the bar, the two old biddies invariably perched on their corner stools, the old photographs of the Brooklyn docks, and the proudly displayed miniature ship engine that actually works all add to the sense that Montero’s Bar and Grill (73 Atlantic Ave.; 624-9799) is in a time warp – a time when longshoremen still owned the sidewalks of Atlantic Avenue. The perfect place to take your world-weary Manhattanite friends – a beer here is as unpretentious as it gets.

50 Ways to Love . . . Brooklyn Heights and Vi […]