Williamsburg, A Love Story
Hipster is an awful word. For one, it’s too broadly applied across too many subcultures. It’s too easy to dismiss whole groups of people based on the clothes they wear, how they look, or how they smell.
That said, there are just some people who shouldn’t be wearing skinny jeans. Especially in the heat of summer.
If we are going to generalize, I like how Pink Floyd put it many years ago with a lyric from The Wall, “The bleeding-hearts and the artists”. But regardless of how you characterize the wave of residents that transformed Williamsburg into a place that is now drawing Manhattanites over the bridge, they have done a great job. I don’t know how they did it, nor can I figure out why in Albany we can’t have a cute creperie that sells delicious French dinners for $10-15.
My adventure there was brief, but it was long enough to fall in love. Next time I might skip Manhattan entirely, and spend all my time in Brooklyn.
First, I need to thank my little sister for being such a great tour guide. I felt like I had a sense of the place after spending fewer than 24 hours there. Still, we were able to squeeze in a hefty amount of eating and other food tourism.
That French place I mentioned was called Pates et Traditions, and my organic buckwheat crepe was filled with merguez sausage, sautéed peppers, tomatoes, Swiss cheese and an egg. There was a small salad that came on the side, and the whole plate, which was more than enough for a meal, was only $12.
As it turned out there was a street festival that night. And we were able to enjoy a bag of Dee Best zeppole. For those who’ve never had them, they are fried dough balls that are dusted in powdered sugar. These were warm. Crispy on the outside and moist and tender within. I had to ask my sister to take the bag away, because despite not being hungry for dessert in the restaurant, I wolfed down an unreasonable quantity of these. They were fantastic.
The next morning I needed coffee so we first went to a place called Gimme! Coffee. It looked like a serious place, but just to be on the safe side, I asked for a double-short cappuccino. I was told that’s how they normally do it, which was great to hear. And it was a delicious way to start out the morning. At the coffee shop, they also sold donuts from a local place called Dough. I liked that they had unusual flavors like hibiscus. But the interior texture of the donut was more breadlike than I prefer. My bar is awfully high for donuts.
One of the few things I wanted to do in this trip down to the city was to get some lard bread. The only time I had it in the past was when Raf picked up a few loaves from Mazzola Bakery in Brooklyn. As it turns out that was in Carroll Gardens, but Williamsburg had a place that made it too that looked promising. Yelpers loved it, so we went to Napoli Bakery.
The best thing we got there turned out not to be the lard bread at all, but rather a loaf stuffed with broccoli rabe and mozzarella. The lard bread was made with roast pork and not the more flavorful salami that I fell in love with in Mazzola’s. I have no idea which version is more traditional, I can only say which one I thought was worth the fat and calories. But surely there are other wonderful breads at the bakery that are indeed worthwhile.
On the walk to our next espresso, we passed by the Momofuku Milk Bar and a intriguing place called Salties right next door. We didn’t stop to eat at either of them because we were off to the Brooklyn Flea to explore the food scene from the street vendors. But a shot of espresso from Oslo Coffee helped to fuel our journey. I may still have been full from the zeppole the night before. This was a mighty fine espresso, certainly better than the one at Eataly.
On this last leg before lunch we passed a Polish bakery that had some tasty looking babka and a fancy Italian restaurant (Betto) that had a cocktail menu posted. I had to stop and look at it, given some recent conversations on the blog, and wasn’t surprised to find something truly delightful. They call it Buongiorno and it contains Aperol, Cocchi Americano, grapefruit, lime and prosecco. Now that’s a cocktail befitting a fine Italian restaurant.
The Flea was hot as hell, and there was precious little shade. So, working as a team, my sister and I split up. My job was to find something delicious to eat. Hers was to find something refreshing to wash it down with. The first thing that caught my eye was an operation called Landhaus that advertised their wares as “Farm to Sandwich” and they had a BLT. It’s hard to argue with that on a hot summer day. Sister came back with a hibiscus cooler, and once we diluted it with some water it was quite refreshing.
Round Two at The Flea I braved the sun to pick up an eponymous sandwich from a place knows simply as Porchetta. And there on the table they had a gorgeous porchetta that they were carving and stuffing into small rustic rolls. They took great pains to make sure each sandwich had pieces from every part of the roast. That meant plenty of crispy, crunchy, crackling skin. Oh damn. That was so good. That was the best thing I ate all day. And it was paired with the lemon hand-shaved ice from People’s Pops, which was mighty refreshing, and lasted a surprisingly long time in the scorching heat.
You know what’s good for the digestion? Coffee. And the Brooklyn outpost of Blue Bottle Coffee wasn’t far away. There I had to have my West-Coast go-to drink, the Gibraltar, just to see if these New York baristas could hack it. It was pretty darn good, but since I got three separate drinks at three separate cafes, I can’t exactly compare them. What was clearly apparent, however, is that there is a lot of very very good coffee in Williamsburg. Because it was a hot day, we also picked up a Kyoto iced coffee for the walk home.
We were compelled to check out Bedford Cheese, which was an amazing shop. When you walk in, the whole place smells gloriously of cheese. It’s the way I hope The Cheese Traveler will smell when it opens, and my great frustration with the cheese counter at Honest Weight Co-op (which literally smells of nothing).
Then there was a slew of interesting and delicious looking things that we passed. A very cute and excruciatingly reasonable Italian restaurant named Fiore, Shanghaiese food, banh mi, arepa sandwiches, an Asian produce market (with $2 pineapples), and a Mexican grocery/restaurant called Mexico 2000. At this last stop, I couldn’t help but order a carnitas taco, which was jam packed with luscious, juicy pork for only $2.50.
One day I’ll make it to the Lower East Side, but I’m still craving that lard bread from Mazzola’s and nearby there is Brooklyn Farmacy, which has an egg cream I’m dying to try. But I know there is even more that awaits in Williamsburg, because my sister told me about the bar with the absinthe fountain, which I never even got to see.
And I’m totally tolerant of almost all peoples. Even those folks with thick legs who wear skinny pants in the summer time. Plus I can put up with a lot for such convenient access to really good coffee. Now the trick is finding more opportunities to make the trek.