Top 5 Brooklyn Eateries by Matt Diamond
So whether you’re a fourth generation Brooklynite, a transplant or here on vacation, here’s a quick guide to some of my favorite Brooklyn eateries. Yes, eateries, not restaurants, although arguably there’s a couple on this list that are clearly restaurants, but the point is that for the most part, you could just drop in any of these spots for lunch or dinner, without a reservation and get your grub on. The cuisine and locations are spread out, but so is Brooklyn…here goes:
1. DiFara Pizza – Midwood, Brooklyn: Whenever I have any guests staying from out of town, the first thing they want is pizza. Even if they’re not hungry, they want Pizza – it’s like a new born sea turtle just knowing to crawl from the beach to the water…when in Rome I guess. It’s just one of the iconic images that when people think of Brooklyn, they think Brooklyn Dodgers, Mars Blackmon, the Brooklyn Bridge and Pizza. The thing is, there’s just as many sup bar pizza spots as there are good ones, so to prevent your ‘know-it-all’ guest from saying “this is ain’t bad, but it doesn’t really hold up to Sal’s of Boise”, you gotta just go straight to the top…DiFara. I was first introduced to this magical shrine from an old roommate, who grew up not too far. The funny thing about DiFara’s is that it’s been around forever (1965 to be exact), and was the neighborhood’s best kept secret until they got this write-up in I think the Daily News – “‘Eats’ section” if I’m not mistaken, as one of the best New York City pizzerias. As a result, the place turned into a tourist attraction overnight.
If you plan to make the journey to this unassuming landmark, be prepared. Regardless of what time of day it is, it’s going to be a mob scene. I don’t care if you get there before good ol’ Dom DeMarco opens the gates, rest assured, there’ll be a crowd of people in there before you’re there, so be prepared to wait as long as an hour or more. There’s also not really a line, it’s more like a shitload of people standing around in one place looking both amazed and miserable at the same time. Also, if you try to be slick and call in an order and think you can just slide through and pick up a pie like all is dandelions and roses, then you might as well engrave a hash tag FAIL on your forehead. I’ve seen that happen all too many times and those suckers end up waiting with the rest of us. There’s also a quasi honor system (or lack thereof) amidst this mass of organized chaos, where if someone doesn’t speak up quick enough once their order is announced, it could quickly get got by someone else.
Now while you’re standing around watching Dom work his magic, you’ll notice a few things; first off, you’ll notice that this psychopath will reach into the 500 plus degree oven with his bear hands either rotate a pie or to pull out a scorching hot metal tray of Sicilian…it’s fucking bonkers. My theory is that Dom lacks a central nervous system. You’ll also notice that the way Dom prepares a pie is a little different then what you’re used to. After he lays down the dough and spreads the sauce, he’ll start grating fresh blocks of mozzarella directly onto the pie. After this, he’ll toss in some randomly sized clumps of buffalo mozzarella, which he has imported from Napoli. For good measure, he sprinkles on some Gran Padano cheese and tops it off by drizzling extra-virgin olive oil over the entire pie before it heads into the oven. Once he gets the pie out of the oven, he sprinkles on some more Gran Padano and will then take these huge orange handled sheers that you’re more accustomed seeing at a home depot then a pizzeria, and he’ll start snipping off oregano directly onto the pie. At this point you don’t give a fuck if he uses a chainsaw to cut the oregano because you’re about to faint as your blood sugar plunges from starvation.
When you do finally get your order, you feel like you’ve been called up to receive some sort of municipal award. But once you dig in to this slice of heaven, all of your prayers are immediately answered. My advice will be to order more than you think you’ll want cause your appetite grows to unparalleled heights as you wait.
From what I hear, DiFara’s is coming to Las Vegas for the Fall of 2011, which is basically now…viva Las Vegas!
Di Fara Pizza:
1424 Avenue J
Brooklyn NY 11230
(Corner of Ave. J & East 15th St.)
Lunch: (Wed-Sat) 12-4
Dinner: (Wed-Sat) 7-9pm
2. Embers – Bay Ridge, Brooklyn: I first got the nod about Embers as a date spot recommendation. Just a stones throw from the Verrazano Bridge, Embers is located between 95 and 96 streets on Third Avenue in Bay Ridge. I’ve seen the neighborhood listed as Fort Hamilton, but I call bullshit. If at anytime I can see a Ray Catena (subliminal Wu-Tang reference) billboard on the Brooklyn side of the Verrazano, then you’re in Bay Ridge…GTFOH. Embers includes most of the amenities that you would expect to find in a steakhouse…dark woods, dimly lit lights, etc. I remember ordering a steak dinner for two, which was both scrumdiddlyumptious and affordably priced. Although the reputation for Embers has waned a bit over the years from what my research tells me, I still found it to be a good dining experience. Now fast forward a couple years and I was reintroduced to Embers while I was back in Fort Hamilton Bay Ridge for an appointment with my orthopedist for my fucked up shoulder. The waiting room was filled with a bunch of geriatrics that all looked like they were in need of a hip-hop replacement, so I knew I wasn’t going anywhere for a while. On top of all this I was starving, so I made an Irish exit and paraded up Third Ave to grab a bite. Low and behold, I stumbled upon Embers which was just a couple blocks away. They happen to serve a lunch menu, so I took a seat in the back. Aside from a few random tables of senior citizens, I was the only one there. One thing I’ve noticed about the elderly is that they’re always at a specialist during peak daytime hours, keeping waiting rooms at critical mass; they’re also suckers for lunch specials, especially if they take coupons. Now I don’t know if Embers takes coupons, but their lunch menu was pretty cot dam reasonable. For about 13 bucks plus tip I ate like a king. I ordered the French dip, which was a filet mignon sandwiched between French bread, loaded with carmelized onions with a side of au jus sauce and a plate of fries, with all the fixins. To boot, I was eating dolo, in the way back of a steak house, during broad fucking day light – that’s fucking gangster. I felt like the head of a crime family, it was amazing. I washed it down with some blueberry pie with a dollop of schlag (whip cream) and broke out just in time for my MRI.
9519 3rd Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11209
(Between 95 St. & 96 St.)
3. Sea – Williamsburg, Brooklyn: Now by no means is Sea a mystery, nor does it really qualify as an ‘Eatery’, it’s a restaurant, but a dam good one at that. After holding it down for nearly a decade on North 6th St. in downtown Billy-Burg, the famed Thai bistro is certainly worthy of my top five list. For starters, it’s in Williamsburg, which has enough of a pulse of it’s own to make a night out of it after you dine. If you can get past the neighborhood’s hipster stigma, it’s actually not that bad. Besides, Bushwick is the new hipster capital of Brooklyn, making the Burg seem more like Pleasantville, USA by comparison. If you’re still a bit skeptical, a cab ride to Manhattan is only gonna cost you seven bucks if all the flannel shirts and handle bar moustaches begin to creep you out.
From the moment that you walk in, you feel like you’ve teleported to the set of a scene from Zoolander, but in a good way. The décor, coupled with the overall amount of square footage, Zen shrine, pond, high ceilings, bar and DJ booth creates for an ambiance that makes it seem that Mugatu could walk in at any moment. Although it’s visually peaceful, it does take a lot of effort to talk over the music. Sometimes this works to your advantage if you’re on a date and don’t feel like competing with DJ. For example, just ask your date to tell her about herself, this one question might buy you twenty minutes before you have to ask another question. This technique actually works quite well in various settings, just remember to look up at your date every now and again and smile, nod and make an occasional generic comment and you’re good. That being said, let’s get to the food. First off, meals are reasonably priced and the food is very good – not outstanding but nothing that would warrant any disappointment. The place does pack in, especially on the weekends and they only take reservations for parties of either eight or more, so worst case scenario you step to the bar for a lychee martini until your pager goes off…which is probably around the same time that your due to ask your date another question.
114 North 6th St.
Brooklyn NY 11211
(Between Wythe Ave. & Berry St.)
Mon-Thu & Sun: 11:30am-11:30pm
Fri-Sat: 11:30am – 1:30am
4. Habana Outpost – Fort Greene, Brooklyn: As far as I’m concerned, any top five list needs a Jamaican spot to be credible. I know, I know, the outpost isn’t a Jamaican spot, but if you notice my strikethrough on the Feeding Tree, you’ll see that I at least made the effort. I remember hitting up this Crown Heights jewel a few years back and I come to find that they’ve closed their doors. According to a review made on their Yelp page, the city shut it down for unsanitary conditions – ironic that such a place would be on my top five list, but dead ass, the food is was bangin.
So moving onto the outpost. This is hardly a place that needs my vote, nor is it a secret. The Outpost is to Fort Greene as the O.K. Corral is to Tombstone, Arizona. Yah, the cat’s been completely out of the bag for the dopeness that is the Habana Outpost – the indoor/outdoor Mexican/Cuban eco-friendly hotspot. On any given day (or night) where there’s decent weather, a satellite image of the corner of Fulton & South Portland could pick-up the swarm of foodies and party-goers that congregate at the outpost. The energy is always alive and if you’re a single dude, the place is crawling with eye candy. It’s always one of those spots where you can make an early night out of it and not feel like your missing out on anything else. The food, which you order inside, is prepared and picked-up in a bright red food truck stationed outside. I usually fux with the catfish burrito and the corn….oh my, that glorious corn. It’s like a cob of christened goodness on a stick – I don’t how they do it, or who sold their soul for that recipe, but next to sliced bread and the iPod (RIP Steve Jobbs), it’s one of the most important contributions to humanity. The outpost extends their Mexican/Cuban influence to the inside bar, by offering frozen Mojitos and Margaritas that are served to delicious perfection.
757 Fulton Street
(Corner of Fulton & South Portland)
5. Brooklyn Fish Camp – Park Slope, Brooklyn: It’s only right for me to include a spot in my own beloved neighborhood of Park Slope, home of the upper west side transplant with their St. Bernards and baby strollers. Brooklyn Fish Camp is located towards the Flatbush Side of 5th Ave., between Douglass and Degraw St. Over the past decade, 5th Avenue has gone through a major overhaul of new restaurants and shops. Up through about 6th Street, 5th Avenue will remind you of 2nd Avenue from south of 14th Street in Manhattan. Although 7th Avenue is the neighborhoods Park Avenue, do not be fooled, 5th Avenue takes top billing when it comes to restaurants.
The Brooklyn Fish Camp is aesthetically simple; a lot of wooden accoutrements and white walls to inspire a sea side vibe. The dining area, which is modest in size, is equipped with an exposed kitchen, which helps add some excitement to the otherwise sterile surroundings. There’s also and an outdoor seating area, which would be my recommendation, weather permitting. Now let’s cut through the bullshit, I don’t know anybody that thinks fish when making a restaurant recommendation. Sure it’s healthy, but it barely qualifies as vegetarian, so you’re losing out on that market. There’s one reason and one reason why people come to the BFC, the mother fuckin lobster rolls. They are a divine creation spawned from Poseidon’s merciful soul. Sure, that was a bit extra, but wait till you have one of these fuckers and you’ll be singing to the same tune. These diced up crustaceans are prepared in a mayonnaise-based sauce and served in a gourmet hot dog roll with a side of piled high shoe-string fries. Now before you get your hopes up and waltz through the doors making a B line for a table, please note that the menu reads “limited supply”, so you could very well be assed out – my advice would be to call first: 718.783.3263. Also, if you’re trying to be budget conscious, the fish camp will not appeal to your wallet and these lobster rolls are pricey. The menu doesn’t list the price, but if my memory serves me correct, the price tag hovers around 30 bucks.
Brooklyn Fish Camp
162 5th Avenue #2
Brooklyn, NY 11217-3294
(Between Douglass and Degraw St.)
Lunch: (Mon-Sat) 12-3pm
Dinner: (Mon-Sat) 5-10pm