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 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;, which also flies from Manchester. Its partner airline, BA (0844 493 0787;, flies from Heathrow to JFK and Newark, as does Virgin (0844 874 7747; virgin-atlantic. com). Delta (0845 600 0950; flies Heathrow-JFK. Continental (0845 607 6760; flies from various UK airports to Newark.

Staying There

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

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

Eating and drinking there

Roberta's: 001 718 417 1118;

Diner: 001 718 486 3077;

DuMont: 001 718 486 7717;

Maison Premiere: 001 347 335 0446;

The Bedford: 001 718 302 1002;

Tacos Morelos: 001 612 243 9699

Fatty Cue: 001 718 599 3090;

Brooklyn Brewery: 001 718 486 7422;

Mast Brothers: 001 718 388 2625;

Brooklyn Winery: 001 347 763 1506;

Eagle Street Rooftop Farm: rooftop

Solber Pupusa:

Dough of Bedford-Stuyvesant: 001 347 533 7544

Milk Truck: 001 917 520 7415;

Asia Dog: 001 212 226 8861;

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

Prime Meats: 001 718 254 0327;

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
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
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Automotive Service Advisor - Franchised Main Dealer

    £18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This successful, family owned m...

    Recruitment Genius: Product Advisor - Automotive

    £17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to the consistent growth of...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Automotive

    £18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity exists for an ex...

    Recruitment Genius: Renewals Sales Executive - Automotive

    £20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity exists for an ou...

    Day In a Page

    Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

    Homeless Veterans campaign

    Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
    Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

    Lost without a trace

    But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
    Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

    Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

    Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
    International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

    Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

    Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
    Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

    Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

    Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
    Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

    Confessions of a planespotter

    With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
    Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

    Russia's gulag museum

    Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
    The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

    The big fresh food con

    Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
    Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

    Virginia Ironside was my landlady

    Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
    Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

    Paris Fashion Week 2015

    The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
    8 best workout DVDs

    8 best workout DVDs

    If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
    Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

    Paul Scholes column

    I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
    Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

    From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

    Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
    Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

    Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

    The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
    War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

    Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

    Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable