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Williamsburg, A Love Story

July 9, 2012

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.

21 Comments leave one →
  1. Mr. Sunshine permalink
    July 9, 2012 10:28 am

    OK, 2 days in a row you write Eatily–but it’s Eataly. I love Brooklyn.

    • July 9, 2012 1:31 pm

      Grammar/Spelling Nazi blog commentator guy? You really want to be that guy? Really?

      Mr. Sunshine Grammar/Spelling police Extrordinaire!

      • July 9, 2012 2:18 pm

        For what its worth, I appreciate being kept on the straight and narrow.

      • July 9, 2012 3:00 pm

        I can’t reply to Fussyman’s comment so I will reply to myself. I am just messing with him. He had an ongoing annoyance at a misspelling over on my crappy blog.

    • July 9, 2012 4:25 pm

      Fixed. Both today’s post and yesterday’s. Thanks for the catch. Mr. Dave, if you want to mess with Mr. Sunshine for something he did on your blog, please keep it over on your side of the fence.

      You two disagree on things. I get it. You don’t like him. He doesn’t like you. I can’t make you two sit down over a beer and talk it out, because Mr. Dave doesn’t come out of the shadows. So we’re stuck with each other. But nobody, wants to hear the two of you bicker.

      Mr. Dave: If you don’t want people to comment on bad spelling on your blog, I suggest you get better at spelling, turn off your comments, are start publishing the RFSOUNY as a zine.

      Mr. Sunshine: If you want Mr. Dave to stop messing with you, a good place to start might be reevaluating the decision to leave pointed comments on his blog.

      I’m not taking sides. I like you both. I’d just wish that the two of you could be more civil to each other. And if you can’t, at least please try to be more civil HERE. K. Thanks.

      • July 9, 2012 5:19 pm

        Are we really taking ourselves this seriously? I apologize that you had to take the time to write that whole little thing… Fine. No more trolling Mr. Sunshine for the purpose of pointed reparte in the fussy comments.

  2. Jean Patiky permalink
    July 9, 2012 10:57 am

    That’s easy….it’s a BUSINESS trip…research!!

  3. July 9, 2012 11:00 am

    Going to bookmark this to re-read. My bff lives in Williamsburg, and we’re always looking for fun stuff to do down there. Next time you are down, check out The Richardson for amazing cocktails (ask for Cody). It’s on Graham Ave.

    Also, I know a lot of Manhattanites who leave the borough for other Brooklyn refuges, like Carroll Gardens, etc. But if we are generalizing… :)

  4. AddiesDad permalink
    July 9, 2012 12:21 pm

    Speaking of cheese shops smelling like cheese, have you made it to Putnam Market’s Cheese Room/Cave, yet? The scent is over-powering, and it reminds me a lot of the old school cheese shops we used to go to when we lived in Brooklyn.

  5. July 9, 2012 1:29 pm

    I love Josh Ozersky. Below is him reviewing the donuts from Dough (including the hibiscus one you mentioned, If I remember correctly.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/josh-ozersky/dough-donuts-the-tasting_b_856200.html

    • July 10, 2012 10:41 am

      I like Josh too but I disagree with his review of Dough. First off,he didn’t even know what the Hibiscus topping was (Hibiscus- duh) and then he called it savory, which it is not. At all. It’s tart.You know, because Hibiscus is tart.

      I’ve eaten a lot of the donuts at Dough and I didn’t love them all but the ones that stood out, to me, made their reputation make sense. The passionfruit curd filled donut was amazing with a clearly made from scratch curd that’s almost as good as mine. The lemon meringue, topped with lemon curd and actual torched meringue is a thing of beauty and the cheesecake donut, smeared with cheesecake as a frosting is fantastic.

  6. July 9, 2012 1:31 pm

    Bedford Cheese is considered by those in the biz to be among the best in the country. They carry beautiful, small productions cheeses that are not only local/regional but also from Europe. These cheeses are not often seen. They just opened a new store in Manhattan. I’ll carry some of these in my shop when we open.

  7. July 9, 2012 2:37 pm

    I love Brooklyn and the Flea. I want to buy all kinds of mirrors and dressers and eat all my meals there. I’m glad you enjoyed it!

  8. July 9, 2012 3:37 pm

    I need to get my butt down there, one of these days. (And you could get a fine French meal at Cafe Le Perche in Hudson, of course!)

  9. Raf permalink
    July 9, 2012 5:00 pm

    sounds like the mission

  10. July 10, 2012 10:43 am

    Brooklyn > Manhattan in many ways. We have (I will always say we because my heart will always be a part of Brooklyn) have some of the best shops and restaurants in NY. Skip Manhattan, Brooklyn is 100 times more charming and you will never go hungry there.

  11. Jafe C. permalink
    July 10, 2012 6:24 pm

    Amusingly, this Manhattanite read your post while drinking at Spritzenhaus located across from McCarren Park. Spritzenhaus, a Brooklyn-based beer hall serving traditional German food (brats, and also offering vegan) who’s menu was created by a top Mexican chef. Only in New York, kids – http://www.yelp.com/biz/spritzenhaus-brooklyn (avoid on Saturday night). It’s the only place I know of which carries nitro milk stout (made by female-owned Left Hand brewery in CO – http://www.lefthandbrewing.com/beers/milk-stout-nitro); think Guinness only creamier

    I’ll defer to the local Brooklynites, but here’s some other places in Williamsburg you might like:

    — Egg on N5 for breakfast/brunch – http://www.yelp.com/biz/egg-brooklyn
    — El Beit coffee on Bedford – http://www.yelp.com/biz/el-beit-brooklyn
    — Hotel Delmano for the absinthe fountain — they used to have miniature, metal absinthe “derricks” that rested on top of the glass and dripped water onto the sugar, but they were all stolen – http://www.yelp.com/biz/hotel-delmano-brooklyn

    Another good place for absinthe with a fountain is the William Barnacle bar, a former speakeasy on St Mark’s place in Manhattan (next to the Pearl Theater) – http://www.yelp.com/biz/william-barnacle-tavern-manhattan – The owner/bartender is very knowledgeable about absinthe and it’s history (and is a great story teller – ask him about his Irish harps or the gangster history of the place), although the absinthe is overpriced compared to Hotel Delmano.

    — Nita Nita on Wythe Ave has a chorizo sweet potato mash and Sapporo on tap http://www.yelp.com/biz/nita-nita-brooklyn
    — Walter Foods on Grand St – http://www.yelp.com/biz/walter-foods-brooklyn – because they have Singapore Slings which no one makes (because no one carries cherry brandy) plus the food is solid

    In Manhattan

    — The Doughnut Plant – http://www.yelp.com/biz/doughnut-plant-new-york – where they make them fresh on site, but mainly because it’s next to the one-and-only classic, Kossar’s
    — Kossar’s Bialy’s http://www.yelp.com/biz/kossars-bialys-new-york
    — There’s also Led Zeppole on E 14; not sure how their zeppoles compare, but it might be worth a visit — http://www.yelp.com/biz/led-zeppole-new-york

    • Sista hipsta permalink
      July 10, 2012 11:41 pm

      Yep, you guessed it. Hotel Delmano was the destination on the list for Absinthe Fountain. Not sure about you profussor, but I haven’t eaten much since! Thanks for taking ME around my own neighborhood, and come back soon!

    • Jafe C. permalink
      July 13, 2012 4:22 pm

      I was cleaning out some Time Out New York magazines this week and came across this article in Issue 845 (1/26/12): “New Williamsburg Taverns”(http://www.timeout.com/newyork/restaurants/restaurant-review-new-williamsburg-taverns); unremarkable, except the sidebar (only available in the print edition) which called out to be shared:

      Locals only: Williamsburg
      “Unfussy taverns are popping up all over the ‘hood. Here are three additional new spots to explore. [mentions Masten Lake (now closed), Betto, and Gwynnett St.]”

      Perhaps these “unfussy taverns” need a visit/review by the Profussor on his next visit.

  12. Eli Guzman permalink
    January 9, 2013 5:19 pm

    Well, I guess great coffee shops are more important that the great numbers of folks of color displaced & made homeless by this “transformation.” Frankly, I’d give up the cheese any day for my pre-hipster neighbors – folks who actually cared about themselves & those around them. A real community where people were more important than a $72 tin of horseradish & the latest bar in which to get drunk on Bedford Avenue.

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