Seems like every bar these days is decked out to appear as though you stepped into a 19th century saloon. With their moustaches, suspenders and bespoke tweeds, even the bartenders get into the act. Drinks seem to take 20 minutes to make, given that the juices are freshly pressed and mint muddled to order. All ice cubes possess precise 90 degree angles. And this is no doubt fun. But sometimes, you just want beer, a simple bourbon or a vodka-soda-lime. And you want it fast and without pretense in a place that is fully comfortable in its skin. For those times, pretty much the only place that will do is the Brooklyn Inn.The Brooklyn Inn doesn’t need to masquerade as a saloon from the turn of the century… because it actually is! The only thing imported in this place is the gargantuan carved wooden bar, but that was brought over from Germany in the 1870’s. With it’s super-high tin ceilings, stained glass windows, creaky floors and mahogany wood carvings, having a pint at the Inn feels like quasi-religious experience. But I’m fairly certain you won’t find the kick-ass juke box and pool table at church the way you will at the Inn. We also love that the bartenders aren’t afraid to offer up a buy-back if you’re a few rounds in, so be sure to tip well and remember it’s cash only. Cash only, but bullshit free.
More often than not, we find that change can be the most profound at the local level. Whether New York City or Laredo, it’s typically the actions of a concerned few who live in and love their towns that define the collective future for that place. This is why we were excited to sit down with St. John Frizell last week. St. John makes a seriously mean cocktail, but he’s also the owner of Red Hook mainstay, Fort Defiance. Aptly named, Fort Defiance began life as a widely enjoyed café/bar/restaurant on Van Brunt Street, but in the devastation following Hurricane Sandy, it became something even bigger…a leader and champion of the Restore Red Hook movement. A fantastic storyteller with a great life story, St. John gets real with us about the restaurant business, why the Third Place matters, and the bright future of Red Hook.
Thanks to portrait photographer Craig LaCourt for the iconic photo of St John!
Before kids, before meaningful responsibilities and certainly before this forum of ours moved from infancy to toddlerdom, there was a cozy and rustic tavern tucked away in a nook at the crossroads of Little Italy and the Lower East Side. Many long afternoons were spent at the perfectly worn zinc bar with great friends and loves nibbling on Devils on Horseback and Smoked Trout, sipping on French 75’s. Sadly, that tavern was too long forgotten by this writer and unfairly so.Freemans at the end of Freeman Alley just off Rivington is back on the radar and it’s as great as it has ever been. No matter how many times you’ve been, Freemans always feels like a find…like you really have to know the underground byways and secret handshakes of this town. When you enter the blue door at the end of the graffiti adorned lane, you are greeted with what they describe as this “rugged clandestine Colonial American tavern” with walls loaded with peeling paint and vintage taxidermy. The menu follows the same mantra, “simple, rustic and inspired by early American traditions.”For brunch, the Piedmontese Cheeseburger is amazing and the Smoked Trout is second only to the ones I smoke at home…but, I digress. The Roast Pork Sandwich is one that also must be tried with its blanket of thinly sliced pickled zucchini and garlic mayonnaise piled between two slices of grilled peasant bread. Dinner brings other fantastic goodies. To start, go for the House Made Country Paté, the Hot Artichoke Dip or Steamed PEI Mussels. For the main, their Whole Grilled Brook Trout is always a winner as is whatever their Daily Market Fish happens to be. Or for something a little meatier, go for the Grilled Pork Loin or Colorado Lamb Stew.Whichever your culinary poison, wash it all down with one of their classic cocktails or traditional old-world wines. If you’ve never been to Freemans, go now. If it’s been a while, let this serve as your reminder. If you go all the time, call me an idiot and have a nice day.
I really love a good Bloody Mary! Rumored to have been invented as a hangover helper in 1921 at the famed Harry’s New York Bar (where Papa hung out), the Bloody Mary is a cocktail with robust personality. Everyone who makes them has their own spin. I do have my own involved recipe (shortlist: crudite and cornichon, Clamato and Old Bay rims) and I think it can take on most challengers. I scorn pre-made versions as hack imposters. It’s OK, you can call me what I am: a Bloody snob.So it was with tremendous surprise that I had one of the most incredible Bloody Marys last night (they aren’t just for brunch) and it happened to come… pre-made… in a jar. It’s created locally by the folks at McClure’s, who make some of the most crisp and delicious pickles ever, so I had a hunch it might be solid, but wow. They use their own spicy house pickle juice in the mix, along with fresh dill and cucumber juice and it is stone guaranteed to blow your mind. You can get it through FreshDirect, too, so I advise you do so immediately. My only complaint is that it doesn’t come in gallon jugs. Salut!
The folks at Maison Premiere in Williamsburg must have read somewhere that New York City was once the oyster capital of the world, because the second you step inside you’re teleported 150 years back in time when that was truly one of New York’s claims to fame.They’re actually paying a huge tribute to the oyster and absinthe houses of New York, New Orléans and Paris that were so prevalent during the latter half of the 19th century, and they’re doing a mighty fine job of it. We went for their oyster happy hour which runs from 4 to 7 Monday through Friday. The place was packed by 4:30. They have 17 or 18 varieties of incredibly fresh bivalves to choose from and each one, East Coast or West, is a buck. One dollar even. $1.00. That’s it.When you take a seat, the bartender hands you a slip of paper with their daily offerings and you write how many you want next to each and hand the paper back. These shuckers haul ass, because we had our first dozen and a half before the not-so-slow bartender was finished making our absinth-infused kook-inducing super-strong cocktails…which were amazing.The thing about dollar oysters is that you can actually afford to fill yourself up on them and that is one fantastic treat. If you’re not in to sitting at a bar for your meal, check out their super lush indoor garden in the back. It’s pretty cool.
Behind an unassuming glass storefront on Atlantic Avenue just off the corner of Henry is one fine eating and drinking establishment that we hope continues being so roundly superb for years to come. I was first introduced to Colonie for brunch by friends who live in the neighborhood. The staff is so unbelievably friendly even when you show up on a crowded morning with a couple of strollers. The room is so incredibly warm and inviting with casual furnishings, a healthy dose reclaimed wood and a wall of green fauna welcoming you to the back room with chef’s bar surrounding the bustling kitchen. On the several occasions I have been, each meal has been perfect. Start off with their basket of baked goods. Their shrimp and grits are to die for, the duck hash rocks and they make a seriously fine cheeseburger. Jesse and Courtney have been for dinner and Lesa and I finally followed suit last week. We started off with a dozen of Thomas Keller’s favorite oysters…Island Creeks from Massachusetts. Plump, briny, perfect. We washed them down with a couple of Cool Hand Cukes which makes for one super sweet earth and sea combination. Moving on, we had their freakishly good grilled octopus, Pate de Campagne and Ricotta Gnudi which are little balls of aged ricotta lightly boiled and served with ever-so-gently warmed sweet 100 tomatos…killer…like Colonie’s take on the caprese salad. By the time we got around to thinking about the main course, we were so full that we opted for a cheese and salame plate. My only regret is that we didn’t leave enough room for the pork chop which is brined for three hours and then lovingly pan seared and basted for what looked like a perfect crust over what I hear is the most tender inside you’ll find anywhere. I was weeping as I watched the chef cook and servers deliver each one to their lucky patrons. I’m ordering it for an appetizer next time I go.
Seems like the perfect day for some afternoon drinking and Phebe’s at the corner of 4th and Bowery is the downtown’s perfect choice. Tell bartender Gina that neighbor Greg sent you. Maybe she’ll make it a double!
They tout themselves as having the best friend chicken in Brooklyn and I’m inclined to agree, but goddamn if Jimmy’s Diner in Williamsburg doesn’t have some of the best comfort food anywhere.
The burger I ordered came out thick and juicy on a soft bun with good old American cheese. Those are buttermilk onion rings in the background that are delivered with Jimmy’s delicious homemade ranch. I love onion rings and eat a lot of them and these perfectly crispy monsters are absolutely NOT to be missed. Also try their ridiculously sinful homemade tater tots, any one of their hang-over helping breakfast bowls or anything fried or pork.
And to wash it all down, they make nice tall cocktails properly poured. If you’re not in a drinking mood or you’re 10, try one of their milkshakes. This one was the black and white and the whole family spent the better part of two and a half minutes devouring it. Jimmy’s is open everyday from 9:30 in the morning until 10 a night and they only take cash. Give it a shot. Jimmy’s rocks!
Roberta’s is the coolest restaurant in New York City. So cool, it needs it own ON THE REAL category to prove this bold, but accurate proclamation. On Moore Street just off the corner of Bogart in East Williamsburg sits her incredibly unassuming entrance to a former garage. The interior is adorned with a mishmash of found wood panelling, benches, tables and wall hanging chattel rounded out with a healthy dose of non-pretentious tattooed personality. The pizza they create in that big old oven in the front kitchen and the plates they churn out of the back is simply perfect.
I had the shrimp roll on a recent visit. Simple is the word of the day here, but simple can be perfect and my meal was. The shrimp was exquisitely cooked and lightly tossed in mayo with a little bit of chopped tarragon. The bite coupled with the perfectly cooked-that-morning-out-back-in-a-wood-fired-oven and buttered roll kinda made me want to cry. The addition of the freshly picked, roasted and salted fingerling potatoes on the side make the meal flawless. I washed it all down with a Dean’s Dream which is an up concoction of blanca tequila, lime, mole bitters and cracked black pepper. Amazing.
Lulu was desperately trying to get a peek at the Tiki Disco happening behind the plywood walls in Robert’s garden; a former junk yard. And that is part of what sets Roberta’s so far apart from the rest. The owners have willingly jumped into so many fires over the last couple of years. They run the Heritage Radio Network. They grow as much of the food they serve on premises and get whatever else they can from Brooklyn Grange..the massive rooftop farm in Long Island City. They throw everything from raging feasts with bonfires, to a garden dinner series, to neighborhood block parties, to beach parties at their place Ripper’s at Rockaway Beach. And, if you want to go seriously upscale, they have the $180 a head tasting menu at Blanca right next door. ON THE REAL is going to go in-depth on all things Robert’s over the coming months. Hope the shrimp roll and a shot of a longing three-year-old is enough to start.
It has been said that Brooklyn has the best food out there right now and Jamesin Prospect Heights resoundingly affirms that proclamation.
The way the melted and charred onions intermingled with the creamy goat cheese and perfectly cooked lamb was simply divine. The cocktails at James were serious winners as well and unlike most places in the neighborhood, James is open for lunch every day except Monday and brunch on weekends. This place just climbed to the top of our long list of favorite places for a meal.