By Annie Fitzsimmons
Photography by Ball & Albanese
I fell in love with Brooklyn on a barge. At The River Café, a fabled floating restaurant under the Brooklyn Bridge, the setting is deeply romantic, complete with twinkly lights and live piano music. I pictured the nineteenth-century steam ferries crossing the East River before the bridge was finished, and the old industrial warehouses nearby (storing coffee, tobacco, sugar, and more).
Today, I live close by in Brooklyn Heights, and there is still nothing better than brunch at The River Café on a wind-whipped, freezing winter’s day. I love to walk in Brooklyn Bridge Park, a former industrial wasteland turned gleaming urban park-planning success story. In the summer, the waterfront plays host to movies in the park, kayaking, and food markets.
Brooklyn’s stereotypes – a reclaimed wood and exposed-brick aesthetic, a much-hyped “hipster culture” – take nothing away from its status as a hotbed of creativity, innovation, and fun, with a rich, multicultural history – especially its restaurants. In my spare time, I lead food and city tours as a licensed New York City tour guide. Brooklyn is more popular than ever for travelers, and it now feels like no New York trip is complete without a visit to Brooklyn.
“Brooklyn has an eclectic mix of people and cuisine, with a fascinating immigrant history,” says New York City-based travel advisor and Brooklyn native Franca Di Spigna. “It’s artistic and very laid-back. I think travelers are finding that laid-back is the new luxury. Brooklyn is more than a borough; it is a state of mind.”
Walking from Manhattan over the Brooklyn Bridge, a small sign welcomes you: “Brooklyn – How Sweet It Is!” Consider the following your guide to great eating in Brooklyn. These restaurants are local favorites that truly reflect the neighborhoods they inhabit.
Located just over the Brooklyn Bridge, this landmarked historic district has regal brownstones, flickering gas lamps, and the best views of lower Manhattan from the Brooklyn Heights Promenade. Although the neighborhood is not known as a magnet for food innovation, many Brooklyn Heights restaurants have been proud local mainstays for decades.
Jack the Horse Tavern
: Just a block away from the promenade, Jack the Horse is a picture-perfect neighborhood gathering point. Friends visit weekly for the cozy vibe and elevated tavern food, such as the signature burger. “I love the delicious seasonal menu,” says Di Spigna. “After a long day of sightseeing, especially in the autumn or winter, it is wonderful to unwind here with hearty food and a warm local atmosphere.” 66 Hicks Street.
For a reward after walking across the Brooklyn Bridge from Manhattan, head to Juliana’s under the bridge, owned by legendary pizza star Patsy Grimaldi and named for his mother. Order the classic Margherita pie, with a perfectly chewy, charred crust turned in a coal-fired oven, topped with fragrant tomato sauce and handmade mozzarella. Brooklyn has dozens of fantastic pizza places, but Juliana’s setting makes it extra special. 19 Old Fulton Street.
Says Di Spigna, “I grew up in an Italian family, so I am extremely picky when it comes to eating Italian. Though the name is odd, Noodle Pudding is an institution in the area, and serves authentic southern Italian dishes. The chef is from the island of Ischia, off the coast of Naples.” 38 Henry Street.
Cobble Hill/Carroll Gardens/Boerum Hill
A brownstoned trifecta of beauty, these residential neighborhoods have a growing restaurant scene bursting with flavor and creativity on and near the main shopping streets, Court and Smith.
After dining at this tiny, warmly lit space with just a few tables and a buzzy bar, I decided I liked tasting menus again – or at least this one. Unlike many overpriced, ego-driven menus, Battersby’s offers a great value for unfussy yet imaginative dishes. The chefs and co-owners worked at high-profile Manhattan restaurants, and have created chic, relaxed destination dining on Smith Street. Reservations accepted only if you order the five- or seven-course tasting. 255 Smith Street.
Black Mountain Wine House:
You’ll want to settle in, or more like snuggle
in, for a long evening at this warm, convivial wine bar. On a winter’s night, the Adirondack chairs on the deck might be covered in snow, making the inside even more inviting. The rotating wines by the glass pair beautifully with their menu of small bites, such as crostini or a variety of cheeses. 415 Union Street.
Bright and lively all day long, Café Luluc is particularly charming at brunch, and serves one of the city’s best pancakes – slightly crunchy and sugary on the outside, soft and yielding on the inside. Even if you prefer eggs and toast, order a pancake to split for the table. 214 Smith Street.
: Perfect for pre- or post-dinner toasts, this bubbly spot makes drinks feel like a celebratory occasion. The cocktail menu is divided into nine fun categories that change seasonally, along with a nice selection of beer and wine. 210 Smith Street.
Mile End Delicatessen:
“For a Jewish kid who grew up on pastrami from Katz’s, this place is the bomb,” says Eric Gordon, whose tour company, Beyond Times Square, works with travel advisors to craft out-of-the-ordinary explorations of New York. Located on a quiet side street in Boerum Hill, Mile End has pioneered New York-meets-Montreal deli comfort food, thanks to husband-and-wife Noah and Rae Bernamoff, who hail from Montreal and New York, respectively. In the winter, don’t miss the latkes and the matzo ball soup. 97A Hoyt Street.
Bordering Prospect Park, Brooklyn’s equivalent of Central Park (the parks were designed by the same landscape architects, but they considered Prospect Park to be their masterpiece), Park Slope has a stroller-ville reputation. Young families have embraced its charms, but so has everyone else, including celebrities such as Patrick Stewart. Neighborhood and nearby attractions include the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM), and Barclays Center.
Al Di La Trattoria:
One of the first high-profile restaurants to draw diners to Brooklyn, Al Di La, a spirited northern Italian trattoria, continues to enchant with standout pastas and a date-night atmosphere. Try its wine bar around the corner while you wait. 248 Fifth Avenue.
Bogota Latin Bistro:
A perfect spot for a big family or group dinner, Bogota is festive and boisterous. The owners’ home countries of Colombia and Costa Rica inspired the indulgent, addictive Central and South American dishes. Be sure to share the empanada sampler and arepas
(Colombian cornmeal cakes) with chorizo. 141 Fifth Avenue.
A beloved weekend tradition: off-leash time in Prospect Park with my dog before 9 AM, followed by a cappuccino from Martin. It’s tiny and the seating (former church pews) is not that comfortable, but it’s all about the coffee, better than the best cups I’ve had in Italy. Martin, a wry Irishman, knows my order now. If you return twice, he might know your order too. Cash only. 355 Fifth Avenue.
Williamsburg is the center of the Brooklyn explosion (and accompanying hipster jokes), with a long and fluctuating list of bars and restaurants defining the scene, and a glut of new luxe apartment buildings.
Lilia tops the hard-to-get-a-reservation list right now. Chef-owner Missy Robbins’ devoted following – which includes President Obama – dates back to her long stints at Spiaggia in Chicago and A Voce in New York. When Lilia opened this year, the New York Times
proclaimed, “Missy Robbins is cooking pasta again.” My favorite: long, ruffled malfadine
tossed with butter, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and pink peppercorns. The space, a former auto-body shop, is airy and gorgeous, with oversize windows and an open kitchen that lets you peek at the orchestrated chaos. 567 Union Avenue.
Peter Luger (open since 1887 in Williamsburg) might be the rightful king of Brooklyn steak houses, but St. Anselm is one of the princes: The simply grilled meats and seafood here are fantastic, as is the lively, rustic atmosphere. 355 Metropolitan Avenue.
Urban Wine Trail
Explore wine and spirits at these Brooklyn tasting rooms.
The Red Hook Winery
focuses on New York state winemakers; tasting room open daily. 175-204 Van Dyke Street.
makes their own wine on-site, and features a wine bar and tours. 213 N. Eighth Street.
Kings County Distillery
makes moonshine, bourbon, and other types of whiskey in its location at the Brooklyn Navy Yard; tasting room open daily. 299 Sands Street.
Van Brunt Stillhouse
sources wheat, rye, and corn from New York farmers and makes its spirits on-site in Red Hook. 6 Bay Street.
Founded in 2014, Other Half Brewing Company
in Carroll Gardens makes craft beer in limited batches; visit the tap room Tuesday through Sunday. 195 Centre Street.
LAY OF THE LAND
The borough of Brooklyn is big: With a population of 2.6 million, it would be the fourth-largest city in the U.S. if it weren’t part of New York City. It is spread over 71 square miles, but the neighborhoods that attract the most visitors are easily reached from Manhattan, just across the East River. Williamsburg is one stop from Manhattan on the L train, and many subway lines convene at the Atlantic Avenue/Barclays Center station to access Park Slope and Cobble Hill. Still, plan on downloading Lyft or Uber – the areas in this article are just 15 or 20 minutes by car from Manhattan.
“The draw to Brooklyn is that anything-is-possible kind of vibe,” says Eric Gordon of Beyond Times Square. Explore Brooklyn on two wheels with their bike tour: Starting in Williamsburg, it cruises through several neighborhoods, including Greenpoint, Brooklyn Heights, and DUMBO. You’ll stop for pizza, coffee, a tour of a rooftop farm, and many great views.
The Gansevoort Park Avenue
makes a strong statement: gorgeous pops of fuchsia and cobalt blue in the rooms, a striking lobby fireplace, and a top restaurant, Asellina. You can enjoy the indoor/outdoor rooftop pool and its view of the Empire State Building even when it’s snowing, thanks to the retractable roof. The property promotes a healthy, fun lifestyle with barre, yoga, and cardio classes at the Exhale Spa, a just-opened Flywheel cycling studio, and Juice Press.
One of the city’s great hideaways, The Greenwich Hotel
is a haven in Tribeca, and just a short trip to Brooklyn. Among the many draws: an intimate spa and pool, and food service from Andrew Carmellini’s highly regarded Locanda Verde in the courtyard and firelit den.
At The Ritz-Carlton, Battery Park
, there are panoramic views of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island from the main restaurant, 2West, and many of the rooms. And more great views from the recently renovated 14th-floor fitness center provide workout motivation.
Originally appeared in the November 2016 issue of