Manhattanites, in their approach to Brooklyn, can be split into two main camps: those whose realize just how great it is and those who think about it not at all, almost as if it were some distant foreign land. (I now speak of this latter perspective with scorn – and guilt, because I didn’t visit the borough once in about seven years of living on East 79th Street.) The latter party will always make certain destinations an exception, including the Brooklyn Academy of Music for a little alternative entertainment and Peter Luger for a great steak. Add the River Cafe (1 Water St.; 718-522-5200) – a swank restaurant with gourmet American food and a stunning view of Manhattan (from its barge setting)—to the shortlist of exceptional destinations that should draw even the most reluctant Manhattanite to our proud borough.
Another of the recent openings on the suddenly hip Smith Street, Patois (255 Smith St.; 718-855-1535) is chef Alan Harding’s very own bistro project. This small, warmly lit restaurant does the Parisian thing with plenty of hearty meat dishes, not to mention large clouds of smoke surrounding almost every table. For a good, politically incorrect cigarette over a bottle of wine, I can think of no better destination – except, of course, Paris.
If you’re looking for a desk, four-poster bed, sofa, dining-room table and the like, the best place to find a good deal is on Atlantic Avenue between Hoyt and Nevins Streets. The highlights of “Antiquarian Alley,” as it’s been christened by marketing-minded store owners: In Days of Old, Town and Country Antiques, and Circa Antiques. Atlantic Avenue lets you live your fantasy life and real life all in one afternoon of shopping: When you’re done checking out the $10,000 treasures and imagining them in your studio, you can pick up a perfectly good $40 chair one shop over (and sometimes in the same shop) instead.
At first sight, the décor at Tripoli (156 Atlantic Ave.; 596-5800) seems a bit tripped out—picture a nautical theme pushed to the extreme. That said, Tripoli’s, uh, style does succeed in keeping the restaurant’s port of influence on your mind. The Middle Eastern dishes here – dependable and delicious hummus, falafel, baba ghannouj—make it a neighborhood favorite. Belly-dancing is an added attraction on Saturday nights.
While the majority of authentic Italian pastry, pasta, and cheese stores are on Court Street, if you walk over the BQE on Union Street you will find one of the hidden gems of the neighborhood. Latticini Barese (138 Union St.; 625-8694) is a cheese lovers’ mecca filled with some of the best-smelling pecorino, Parmesan, and mozzarella in town. The family-owned store (also worth a visit for its fresh-made pasta) is easily recognizable by the sign proudly displayed in the window – quality and honesty since 1927.
One of the pleasures of Brooklyn Heights and its surrounding parts is the way the area actually lives up to the purported “melting pot” status that many neighborhoods claim to have but in fact don’t. Brawta Caribbean Cafe (347 Atlantic Ave.; 855-5515) brings the island component into the Middle Eastern and Italian community. Spicy jerk chicken, rotis, and strong sorrel are among the most popular items on the menu here.
Brooklyn’s equivalent to Kate Spade? Suzanne Bagdade and her boyfriend, Andrew Raible, have set up shop on Smith Street and have garnered great press so far. Refinery’s (254 Smith St.; 643-7861) success is more than bandwagon “instantly hip” hype, though. They design and make ultrastylish bags and furniture that really do warrant all the attention. So buy sooner than later; we all know what Spade’s little numbers sell for nowadays.
D’Amico (309 Court St.; 875-5403) is a quintessentially Carroll Gardens type of neighborhood fixture: it’s family-owned (and the family comes in every day), it’s Italian (although the Italian spoken here is so Sicilian-influenced that if you speak Italian learned in the North there is no hope for comprehension), and it’s pretty no-nonsense (they are friendly enough, but don’t pull a high-maintenance attitude or you will be put in your place). Although D’Amico has deli sandwiches and speciality foods, its tour de force is coffee (java lovers will think this place smells like heaven). The secret weapon that gives D’Amico its edge: an on-site roaster – if you don’t know what one looks like, you’ll find out pretty fast (it dominates the room).
A couple I know in Brooklyn (who shall remain nameless) live in these parts only because they get more space for less money – but they continue to always go out almost exclusively in Manhattan (their loss). I do note with interest, though, where they deign to go out if they must go out in Brooklyn. La Bouillabaisse (145 Atlantic Ave., between Clinton and Henry Sts.; 522-8275) is one of their choices, and understandably so. The food is superb (particularly the seafood dishes) and relatively cheap ($8.95–$16.95). It’s chef Neal Ganic’s first restaurant and his pride and joy. You can tell.
Since there are no Tea & Sympathy equivalents in the Brooklyn Heights vicinity, the next best thing is to make afternoon tea for yourself (although the scones, clotted cream, and finger sandwiches might be a bit ambitious to whip up at home). At the well-stocked Two for the Pot (200 Clinton St.; 855-8173), you can surely get any tea you could possibly want, in addition to hearty blends of tried-and-true favorites like Earl Grey, English Breakfast, and Darjeeling. The shop also carries an extensive selection of coffee and a large variety of spices.