(Photo via andrew c mace, flickr)
Brooklyn is infamous right now for its hipsters, hippies, and OWS, but NYC’s most populous borough also boasts a burgeoning food scene. GQ restaurant critic Alan Richman proclaimed Brooklyn “the coolest city on the planet,” and Manhattanites seem to be flocking there in droves, whether it’s for pies paired with fried chicken or local artisan goods at Smorgasburg.
I hadn’t spent much time in Brooklyn, so I was excited to explore the borough’s food scene on a recent trip to NYC. Here are 3 of the most memorable spots:
I fell in love with Blue Bottle Coffee when I was in San Francisco last summer. Despite the notoriously long lines and sometimes snobby service, the coffee is certainly worth the hassle. Blue Bottle’s Williamsburg location is no different than its SF counterpart, and for that, I am extremely grateful. The minimalist logo on the door in lieu of a sign, the sleek pour-over coffee bar, the seemingly endless lines, the disdainful looks customers get when they ask for ground coffee beans or low-fat milk–it’s all part of the Blue Bottle experience that makes your coffee taste even more glorious in the end.
But the Williamsburg Blue Bottle did have something I hadn’t seen in San Francisco–a snickerdoodle. But of course, in typical Blue Bottle fashion, it’s not your ordinary snickerdoodle. Theirs is made with Spanish saffron and Tahitian vanilla, which impart a beguiling, subtle sweetness reminiscent of the original, but much more sophisticated in flavor. Blue Bottle‘s ability to elevate the old and familiar is what makes it special–that, and it’s just damn good coffee (excuse the language!).
After a glowing review in the NYT, in which restaurant critic Sam Sifton proclaimed it “one of the more extraordinary restaurants in the United States,” Roberta’s became even more of a sensation than it already was. Located on a somewhat sketchy block of warehouses in Bushwick, the restaurant is definitely hipster central, perhaps on the verge of gentrification with the influx of yuppies and foodies (like myself).
The owners have done a great job transforming the space into a casual, congenial scene: diners sit at long communal picnic tables, and a shabby chic tarp hangs over the outdoor bar. Definitely get comfortable at the bar and order an excellent dark and stormy, because chances are you will be waiting 2+ hours for a table, especially on weekends. I’ll admit I flipped my lid a little when the hostess informed me of the wait time.
While I’m not sure it’s worth waiting 3 hours for, the pizza at Roberta’s was quite good. The secret is in the crust–perfectly charred and chewy. I ordered the Purple Nurple ($15), which came topped with tomato, mozzarella, ricotta, eggplant, garlic and basil. My friend and I also split a squash salad ($12) and truffle agnoletti ($18), which were both excellent and demonstrated the kitchen’s skill and restraint. The real standout, however, was definitely the pizza.
Though I’m always skeptical of Asian fusion restaurant, Purple Yam manages to simultaneously retain its authenticity while adding distinctly modern twists to traditional dishes. The chefs and owners, Amy Besa and Romy Dorotan, opened Purple Yam in 2009 after running a successful Filipino-fusion restaurant in SoHo, and it remains a dining destination for Ditmas Park today.
My friends and I started with the fried beet dumplings ($6) and fresh lumpia ($7). I was afraid the beet dumplings would be a disaster, but was pleasantly surprised by the contrary. They were flavorful, chewy, and pleasantly sweet, offsetting the saltiness of the soy sauce. As for the fresh lumpia, I think I prefer its more traditional fried and sausage-centric counterpart, but it was a respectable effort nonetheless. The lumpia reminded me more of a Vietnamese steamed noodle roll with its sauteed Napa cabbage, leek and mushroom filling and peanut and tamarind sauce, which I suppose is what they were going for, though the name was a misnomer.
The chicken adobo ($12) was a revelation, incorporating integral elements of the original dish, but upgrading the flavors and quality of the ingredients. Braised in garlic, vinegar, soy sauce, and coconut milk, the chicken was tender on the inside, crispy and crackling on the outside.
Perhaps the most surprising dish was the bibimbap ($9), with brown rice, carrots, turnip, taro, edamame, and a fried egg. I have very high expectations for bibimbap, which is one of my favorite Korean dishes, and I’m happy to report that Purple Yam’s rendition exceeded my expectations. Each vegetable was meticulously cut and perfectly cooked, and the flavors all complemented each other well. It was a more refined adaptation of a classic, which seems to be Purple Yam’s greatest strength.
After brunch at Purple Yam, I got a VIP tour of Compost for Brooklyn‘s community garden, given by my friend and co-founder of Compost for Brooklyn, Louise Bruce. Located on E. 8th St. and Newkirk Ave., the former vacant lot is now green and gorgeous–filled with tons of trees, vegetables, and native plants.
In addition to the garden, Compost for Brooklyn runs a free community composting program and education program for kids and teenagers in the neighborhood. These programs have been positively received by children and adults in the community alike, who all greeted Louise with a smile as they passed by us. Seeing all of her efforts and passion for the environment come to fruition was very inspiring, and I wish the organization the best of luck in the future.
To learn more about Compost for Brooklyn, visit their website or email compostforbrooklyn [at] gmail [dot] com. (Fun fact for foodies: Miriam Garron, Bobby Flay’s sous chef on Throwdown, is Vice Chairman of the Board!)