Brooklyn: Bite the Big Apple

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Move over Manhattan – New York’s finest flavours are now found in Brooklyn

If you want to experience one of New York's greatest culinary adventures, take the L train from Manhattan to Morgan Avenue. Here, the streets of the north Brooklyn neighbourhood of Bushwick retain an early Nineties, pre-Zero Tolerance air of desolate menace – I nearly walk straight past Roberta's, mistaking its graffiti-covered breezeblock exterior for a somewhat unsavoury biker bar.

Once inside the former garage, I find a warmly convivial space with shared wooden tables and fairy lights softening the whitewashed concrete. At the bar, I sip strong, Long Island-brewed Blue Point Rastafa Rye beer from a jam jar to a pumping electro soundtrack and watch the restaurant's signature pizzas appear from the bright red-painted, wood-fired oven.

As good as the thin crust "pies" are – the dough bubbling and charring in the intense heat – they're not the main reason Manhattan-based journalist and influential food blogger Kim Davis of pinkpignyc.com has agreed to meet me here for dinner.

Alongside a "Good Girl" pizza topped with taleggio cheese, pork sausage, kale, garlic and chilli, we feast on a series of extraordinary dishes that you'd never find in your local pizzeria. Thinly sliced coppa di testa (Italian-style pig's head terrine) with fennel pollen; raw sea urchin on polenta with white truffle; cuttlefish with pear, chilli and basil; beef tongue with beetroot, tarragon and fig.

Roberta's is a great example of the kind of restaurant that's too much of a risk even for downtown Manhattan these days. The cost of real estate means that new Manhattan restaurants tend to be either ventures by celebrity chefs and established chains, or tiny, cramped store-front start-ups.

"That's why all the action today is in Brooklyn," says Davis, who described Roberta's in his Eating the Apple New York dining guide as "a locavore paradise and an ambitious restaurant by stealth". The New York Times agreed, calling it "one of the more extraordinary restaurants in the United States".

But Roberta's is just one example of the many exciting food and drink enterprises in the borough. What is, for now, still affordable real estate combined with a fierce sense of pride and local identity has unleashed a culinary tidal wave here. In The New Brooklyn Cookbook, authors Melissa and Brendan Vaughan trace the origin of the "surge of culinary energy that coursed through Brooklyn" in the past decade to 1998 and, in part, the opening of Diner, in Williamsburg.

Local residents and veterans of the Manhattan restaurant scene Mark Firth and Andrew Tarlow decided to take the lease of a 1920s Kullman Diner car simply so they would have somewhere they liked to eat and hang out. The pioneering local, seasonal and sustainable restaurant is still going strong and the neighbourhood has gentrified around it.

Walking north from Diner on Broadway along tree-lined Bedford Street is a head-spinning experience. Sandwiched between the brownstones, laundromats and scaffolded building sites destined to become pricey condominiums are restaurants, bars and food shops of every stripe. Gourmet burgers are served in grilled brioche buns at wood-panelled restaurant DuMont; absinthe and oysters are paired at Maison Premiere, a hot spot styled on a Parisian salon; and American-style gastropub food is on offer at The Bedford.

I grab a late lunch at Tacos Morelos, one of several food trucks that park on North 7th and Bedford Avenue where $2.50 (£1.70) gets me a delicious and filling spicy pork taco with all the trimmings.

Successful Manhattan restaurateur Zak Pelaccio has chosen Williamsburg, specifically South 6th Street, as the location for Fatty Cue, the latest outpost of his growing empire. The dark, low-ceilinged bar is hip and cool, but that doesn't prevent the flat-cap-sporting barman Adam Shuman from giving me a warm welcome, a glass of Cologne-style Kölsch lager and a spin around the intriguing menu of South-east Asian influenced barbecue.

I get talking to my neighbour, who turns out to be a waitress from the West Village branch of the restaurant. Together we share steamed buns stuffed with beef, chilli jam and aioli; bacon and clams in a curry leaf and chilli broth and curried black-eyed peas with smoked brisket "burnt ends" and coriander.

Despite Manhattan interlopers – and there are bound to be more to come – Williamsburg still feels self-contained. It brews its own beer at the famous Brooklyn Brewery (open for public tours at weekends) and makes its own chocolate at the beautiful Mast Brothers test kitchen and tasting room, where there are always samples of the high-quality artisan chocolate on offer. And in an 80-year-old building on North 8th Street that's been at various times a car dealership, funeral home and pickle factory, nine grape varieties, including pinot noir and merlot, are shipped from New York state and California and vinified right in the heart of the borough.

"There's such an amazing artisanal 'make-it-here' movement in Brooklyn that it was exciting for me to take the whole idea of wine and take it up one level," says Brooklyn Winery president and former Marvel comics employee John Stires, who co-founded the company in October 2010 with his friend Brian Leventhal. "You can come in for a glass of wine or immerse yourself in the whole process and craft your own barrel of wine."

With its stainless steel vats and oak barrels, the winery is already making international standard wines. I taste the New York Wine and Food Festival gold medal-winning F B Riesling in the atmospheric wine bar, clad in reclaimed New England wood and lit with old railway station fittings. It's light and crisp with a hint of apple and tropical fruits. Because of the winery's small batch production, right here is the only place it can be consumed, which somehow makes it even more enjoyable.

If you needed further proof of the neighbourhood's gentrification, look no further than the recent opening of the trendy Hotel Williamsburg and luxury condominiums. Its outdoor pool, rooftop bar with Manhattan skyline views and designer rooms complete with Brooklyn Lager-stocked minibars and record players are bound to appeal to the discerning visitor.

In the hotel's swanky Pillar and Plough restaurant, chef Andres Julian Grundy applies skills picked up working in the world-renowned kitchens of L'Arpège in Paris and Bouley in Manhattan to locally sourced produce, including some grown on the Eagle Street rooftop farm in the Brooklyn neighbourhood Green Point.

Open to the public on Sundays from April to November, the extraordinary venture cultivates organic produce including swiss chard, salad greens, corn, squash, herbs and flowers on a flat roof above a three-storey warehouse. In addition to a small farmers' market, the farm hosts talks on everything from bee-keeping to growing tomatoes. Located on the edge of the East River, it's worth visiting for the stunning Manhattan views alone.

The Manhattan skyline also provides a backdrop to the Sunday Brooklyn flea market. Located between 6th and 7th Streets, the market has plenty of antiques, vintage clothing and jewellery to be browsed, but it's also a great chance to try artisan food and drink from all over the borough. At Solber Pupusa, I sample pupusa, a traditional El Salvadorian dish of grilled corn patties stuffed with pork crackling and cheese, and a light textured dulce de leche and almond doughnut from Dough of Bedford-Stuyvesant that's one of the best I've ever tasted. Had I a bigger appetite, I would have sampled a grilled all-day breakfast sandwich with aged Wisconsin Gruyère, egg and caramelised onions from Milk Truck or a kimchi and seaweed-flake-topped hot dog from Asia Dog.

Brooklyn isn't without fine dining, either. At an upmarket grocery store, Brooklyn Fare, behind the Fulton Mall is the supremely unlikely location of the three Michelin starred Chef's Table restaurant. Reservations for the 18-seat counter can be reserved six weeks ahead and sell out within 45 minutes of the lines opening. "I was thinking how to make it unique," Brooklyn-born owner Moe Issa tells me. He opened Chef's Table in 2009, partly funded by his ownership of a Pepsi-Cola distribution concession. "I thought since I was going to pay the rent and prepare the food for the store I wanted to do something beyond what everyone else was doing. I never thought it would reach the level it has." For $185 (£123) a head, diners from as far afield as New Zealand and France enjoy a three-hour, seafood-heavy dinner of up to 26 courses that might include red mullet with Japanese rice, San Diego sea urchin and saffron-crab bouillabaisse or smoked sturgeon with beetroot, potato, caviar and smoke.

But dining in Brooklyn is perhaps better represented by the more affordable, convivial experience on offer at Prime Meats. Local chefs Frank Castronovo and Frank Falcinelli's Austrian/German diner is located two doors down from their highly acclaimed Frankies Spuntino in the middle-class Carrol Gardens neighbourhood, south of Downtown. At a table in the rammed, dimly lit and wood-panelled bar where diners wait 45 minutes for a spot in the main dining room, I feast on a huge homemade pretzel with mustard, an "Alpine tasting board" of house-cured bacon, landjäger sausage and pastrami calf's tongue; a dozen oysters and roast bone marrow.

In a four-night stay I've spent hours walking the streets searching out the best of Brooklyn's food, yet I feel I've hardly scratched the surface. Entire neighbourhoods including Vinegar Hill have gone untouched. Littleneck, the hot new seafood restaurant in Gowanus, has gone untried as has the smoked salmon pâté served in an ashtray at Do or Dine. In Brooklyn, the delicious temptations never end.

Travel Essentials

Getting There

Andy Lynes flew Heathrow to JFK with American Airlines (0844 499 7300; aa.com), which also flies from Manchester. Its partner airline, BA (0844 493 0787; ba.com), flies from Heathrow to JFK and Newark, as does Virgin (0844 874 7747; virgin-atlantic. com). Delta (0845 600 0950; delta.com) flies Heathrow-JFK. Continental (0845 607 6760; continental.com) flies from various UK airports to Newark.

Staying There

Aloft Brooklyn (00800 325 25638; alofthotels.com/newyorkbrooklyn). Doubles start at $119 (£79) room only.

Hotel Williamsburg (001 718 218 7500; hwbrooklyn.com). Doubles start at $209 (£139) room only.

Eating and drinking there

Roberta's: 001 718 417 1118; robertaspizza.com

Diner: 001 718 486 3077; dinernyc.com

DuMont: 001 718 486 7717; dumontrestaurant.com

Maison Premiere: 001 347 335 0446; maisonpremiere.com

The Bedford: 001 718 302 1002; thebedfordonbedford.com

Tacos Morelos: 001 612 243 9699

Fatty Cue: 001 718 599 3090; fattycue.com

Brooklyn Brewery: 001 718 486 7422; brooklynbrewery.com

Mast Brothers: 001 718 388 2625; mastbrothers.com

Brooklyn Winery: 001 347 763 1506; bkwinery.com

Eagle Street Rooftop Farm: rooftop farms.org

Solber Pupusa: solberpupusas.com

Dough of Bedford-Stuyvesant: 001 347 533 7544

Milk Truck: 001 917 520 7415; milktruckgrilledcheese.com

Asia Dog: 001 212 226 8861; asiadognyc.com

Chef's Table at Brooklyn Fare: 001 718 243 0050; brooklynfare.com

Prime Meats: 001 718 254 0327; frankspm.com

News
peoplePair enliven the Emirates bore-draw
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark episode 8, review
News
Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Ed Miliband (R) and Boris Johnson, mayor of London, talk on the Andrew Marr show in London April 26
General electionAndrew Marr forced to intervene as Boris and Miliband clash on TV
News
news
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Guru Careers: MI Developer

    £35 - 45k: Guru Careers: An MI Developer is needed to join the leading provide...

    Recruitment Genius: Fitness Manager

    £20000 - £22500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leisure organisation manag...

    Recruitment Genius: Visitor Experience Manager

    £25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Delivering an inspiring, engagi...

    Recruitment Genius: Learning Team Administrator

    £17500 - £20500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are looking for a great te...

    Day In a Page

    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
    Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

    Confessions of a former PR man

    The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

    Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

    Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
    London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

    The mother of all goodbyes

    Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
    Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

    Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

    The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
    Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions