by Josh Ozersky - 149 Reviews - 48 List
It's been called the New Brooklyn Cuisine and hailed as a gastronomic revolution. But are these diamonds in the rough, or just preening, quasi-professional dilettantes more interested in sporting thick beards than making great food? We separate the wheat from the chaff in the borough known as Brooklyn.
(Photo: Char No. 4)
Updated: April 30, 2009
Franny's has built up an enormous amount of critical and community goodwill in its short life. Frank Bruni gave it two stars; it's a bastion of slow food agitprop; and its little wood-fired pizzas are in constant demand among its Park Slope neighbors. That said, the place has enemies as well. Enemies who find it overpriced, bossy, smug and an epicenter for stroller-mom sanctimony where the pizzas are floppy, with major tip-sag issues. Of course, you have to use a knife and fork anyway, since Franny's refuses to slice their pizza like everybody else in the world.
Carroll Gardens' Lucali doesn't bother with slow food credentials, images of the owners' children and other like-minded fetishes. As befits its old-school Italian neighborhood, the emphasis is on the pizza--which is about the best in New York, save only Midwood's Di Fara. The comparison isn't random: Lucali owner Marc Iacono's wildly loved pies were conceived as a tribute to the Saint of Avenue J (aka, Di Fara), and feature the latter's trademark combination of low-moisture mozzarella, mozzarella di bufala and Grana Padano.
In a lot of ways, this is the prototype of the new mom-and-pop Brooklyn operation--informal, dedicated to comfort food that's well-prepared and served in a no-frills atmosphere (albeit, in this case, one with actual tablecloths). Buttermilk Channel's theme is American vernacular cookery, a la duck meat loaf, fried chicken, and the inevitable, and inevitably underwhelming, grass-fed beefsteak. Points for the clean, calmingly off-yellow walls and brisk service.
The most high-concept of the new Brooklyn eateries, this is primarily a bourbon bar, consecrated to brown liquors, but with a small, very refined barbecue menu to go with them. Chef Matt Greco has limited smoking resources, but uses them to great effect with smoky, plump beef links, crispy confited pork nuggets, a pork belly ?BLT? pork-belly sandwich and other urbane takes on southern meatways.
The most refined and accomplished of the group in many ways, Vinegar Hill House doesn't have the same craft-y vibe of its rivals, despite an antiquarian setting (weathered walls, colonial cabinetry, ancient wood floors). What sets it apart, though, is the equally old-timey but very functional wood-fired oven, which chef Jean Adamson uses to great effect. A gorgeous Amish chicken for two comes to the table in a cast-iron pan, and braised lamb shoulder or pork spareribs have mile-deep flavor. Take that together with Adamson's masterful hand with seasonal vegetables, and this restaurant is saved from terminal tweeness.
The Good Fork is the best and only surviving remnant of the short-lived Red Hook Renaissance, and as such was occasionally overpraised. The vibe is pure hipster Brooklyn: You can barely move through the hand-built, ship-shaped room without being brushed with handlebar mustaches and mountain man beards. But all is forgiven thanks to Sohui Kim's casual but precise cooking, which delivers everything from house-cured kimchi to one of the city's best hamburgers.
This Ditmas Park resto is the baby of Gary and Alison Jonas, two ludicrously handsome and genial young people who preside over the usual homey room, seasonal/rustic cooking and exposed brick walls. Here, however, the food bumps up against Brooklyn's glass ceiling of fair-to-good Manhattan middlebrow cooking. There's a fine burger, and you can hardly get a better piece of French toast, but this food, while cause for celebration in Ditmas Park, wouldn't turn any heads across the Brooklyn Bridge.
If there is an epicenter to Kings County Culinary, it surely resides on this block in Carroll Gardens, where bushy-bearded Manhattan exiles Frank Falcinelli and Frank Castronovo created their meatball-powered spuntino empire, Frankies Spuntino. Prime Meats, which just opened next door, is an abbondanza of tendentious localism: local meats, local beers from Sixpoint Craft Ales in Red Hook, coffee from cultish Stumptown Roasters, and even an official "product procurement agent" with loads of contacts at small area farms. Is the room filled with old-timey wood fixtures, and a mood of aesthetic complacency? You bet it is. But the food, and the cocktails, are more than worth it.