Ferdinando’s Focacceria (151 Union St.; 718-855-1545), which has been around since 1904, looks like a product of its age right down to the dim lighting, brick wall, pressed-tin ceiling, and small wood tables. Ferdinando’s also has some kick-ass authentic Sicilian food (not all of it for the faint of stomach) including pasta with sardines, stuffed sun-dried tomatoes, and frutti di mare. The key to dining at Ferdinando’s: Arrive with a huge appetite – the portions are big enough for two.
Verandah Place is one of the prettiest of the mostly hidden, carriage-house-lined streets in Brooklyn Heights. The best thing about these homes? They don’t look all precious and gentrified – they have a well-worn (and well-loved) feel to them. (But that doesn’t mean they come cheap.)
Once upon a time, Bark and Breuklyn (351 Atlantic Ave.; 718-625-8997) was two different stores. Then their proprietors met, reveled in the realization that they shared a similar aesthetic, and decided to shack up together (their stores, that is). Together, Bark and Breuklyn amount to the perfect stop for gift shopping (although I always end up wanting to buy myself something – forget the friend). Breuklyn carries an eclectic assortment of housewares, and Bark – well, Bark is the dream of anyone who loves bath and bed stuff. It ain’t cheap to sleep on Bark’s most sumptuous linens, but there are bubble baths and soaps for every budget.
I am notoriously sentimental, it’s true, but I become particularly teary-eyed when it comes to the Brooklyn Bridge. Depending on the time of day, the weather, and where you’re standing, this magnificent structure is somehow perpetually new. I never get sick of walking on it. And don’t even get me started on the startling genius of the Roeblings – the father-mother-son team behind this modern-day wonder of the world.
The Transit Museum (Boerum Pl. and Schermerhorn St.; 718-243-3060) is an essential stop for that particular breed of New Yorker who is fascinated by every detail of infrastructure (or lack thereof) in the city (check out the maps of subway routes that might have been, such as the ill-fated Second Avenue line). On display: vintage subway cars, photographic memorabilia detailing the development of New York’s mass-transit system, and, of course, endless copies of those beloved (and hated) “Poetry in Motion” subway-car poems the MTA posts to inspire. (Sorry, but I don’t want to read “uplifting” poetry early in the morning.)
You say you want to learn to drive? And you also happen to need some tapes for the car stereo? Head over to Guzman Auto School and Record Store (174 Smith St.; 718-875-2878). If that combo isn’t enough of a lure, keep in mind that if you get hungry while shopping (or learning), Guzman also serves up sandwiches – though the name won’t tip you off, this joint is a deli, too.
Meander up and down Clinton, Henry, and Cranberry Streets and along the backside of the Promenade to see all of the lovely wood-framed buildings. The thoroughfares of Cobble Hill and Carroll Gardens instantly evoke the late nineteenth century, and more than half of the buildings in Brooklyn Heights predate the Civil War. To add to the historic flavor, some even have lit lanterns hung outside that look genuine rather than cutesy. And the sidewalks aren’t thronged (escape from Manhattan!) so you can really take the time to look at everything. On cold winter nights, it is especially comforting to look into the warm, well-lit parlor floors.
The allure of bargain hunting aside, sometimes sorting through the stuff being sold every weekend on various stoops and sidewalks (including one neighborhood gentleman’s entire collection of Playboys, starting in the sixties, which he has on perpetual display but can never seem to sell) can be exhausting and, in the end, wholly unrewarding. But at Astro-Turf (290 Smith St.; 718-522-6182), the owners have done the separating for you and have assembled the good, kitschy stuff in their funky storefront. Somehow the fifties and sixties housewares and furniture here manage to look more like design-museum-worthy objets d’art than “had it a long time – need to get rid of it now” stoop-sale items.
Unlike Park Slope, which has the 526 green acres of Olmstead and Vaux’s Prospect Park – the apple of every Brooklynite’s eye – Brooklyn Heights has no designer greenery. Our Cobble Hill Park is one of the only small public oases, and it’s basically just a plain little green rectangle. Still, it’s a lovely place to sit. Who’s to complain?
Two words: Literary hotbed. Truman Capote wrote Breakfast at Tiffany’s and In Cold Blood in the basement of 90 Willow Street. Arthur Miller owned 155 down the street. Norman Mailer still lives at 142 Clark Street. Henry Ward Beecher and his sister Harriet Beecher Stowe (Uncle Tom’s Cabin) set up a church on Orange Street and made it home. W. H. Auden composed much of his passionate verse at One Montague Place. And Walt Whitman wrote Leaves of Grass at his Cranberry Street pad (where he also oversaw the editing of the Brooklyn Eagle).