Serious Eats Neighborhood Guides: Carey's Park Slope and Prospect Heights
Editor's note: We write about restaurants all over the city. But sometimes, you don't want to travel for food; you want the best eats right in your neighborhood. So we're having the Serious Eats staff share where they eat around their own 'hoods. Today? Serious Eats New York editor Carey Jones!
View Carey's Prospect Heights and Park Slope in a larger map
I moved to Prospect Heights because I couldn't stomach my West Village rent any longer, but I'm staying in Prospect Heights because it's become my favorite neighborhood in New York. And it's a solid food neighborhood, too. Some of that is the product of the last few years—a new restaurant or food shop seems to open on Flatbush or Vanderbilt every other week. But the neighborhood has its classics: early breakfasts at Tom's, oxtail at The Islands, morning snacks at Little Miss Muffin 'n Her Stuffin'. (Which is worth a mention for the name alone.)
My "neighborhood" (defined as "anywhere I'll walk for food even if I'm feeling lazy") spans north Park Slope and most of Prospect Heights, and I'm lucky that there are many excellent eateries within those boundaries. Here are some of my favorites.
Pizza: Franny's and Campo de' Fiori
I've never found a classic NY slice worth eating in the neighborhood (though I've yet to make it to the recently opened South Brooklyn Pizza on Fourth Avenue). But as far as neo-Neapolitan pies with great crust, good char, and always-excellent toppings, Franny's is a winner (the other stuff on their menu is at least as good as the pizza, too). And for Roman-style pies, I love Campo De Fiori (and its incredibly charming owner).
Campo De Fiori: 157 5th Avenue, Brooklyn NY 11217 (map); 347-763-0933
Bagel: Bergen Bagels
While my favorite bagel in New York is in Park Slope, Bagel Hole on Seventh and 12th, let's be real; who walks 20 blocks for a bagel? My neighborhood go-to is Bergen Bagel, a high-volume, no-nonsense operation with classically awful coffee and huge, crusty-edged bagels. They're bigger than my ideal bagel but the insides are soft and stretchy, the flavor is right on, and if you stay away from some of the more esoteric flavors, they're almost always fresh and warm. It's the sort of place out-of-towners imagine is on every New York corner. (The new Olde Brooklyn Bagel Shoppe on Vanderbilt is pretty solid, too.)
Olde Brooklyn Bagel Shoppe: 645 Vanderbilt Avenue, Brooklyn NY 11238 (map); 718-622-6227
Sugary Breakfast: Blue Sky Bakery and Little Miss Muffin
I don't know how many other neighborhoods are blessed with two great muffin shops. These two couldn't be more different. Blue Sky bakes fruit-stuffed, bran-heavy and consistently delicious muffins perfect for the food-conscious Brooklynite; Little Miss Muffin's are sweeter, greasier, and smell absolutely irresistible. Total guilty pleasure.
Little Miss Muffin is closed for renovations at the moment; I'm really hoping that these are actual renovations, not "our days are numbered" "renovations."
Blue Sky Bakery: 53 5th Ave #B, Brooklyn NY 11217 (map); 718-783-4123
Little Miss Muffin: 174 Park Place, Brooklyn NY 11238 (map); 718-857-4963
Totally Classic: Tom's
Open since 1936, Tom's Restaurant is a neighborhood landmark, an American diner with colorful signage and knick-knacks all over and charm to spare. If ever there were a piece of Americana, this would be it. Cops, after-church neighborhood families, skinny dudes in Fedoras share space inside.
The pancakes aren't the best in Brooklyn, but they're solid, better than they have to be; service is swift and friendly, coffee is constantly refilled. You don't go to Tom's for the food, exactly--you go for the fact that spicy omelets and chocolate chip pancakes and buttered toast just aren't as satisfying when you make them yourself.
Tom's: 782 Washington Avenue, New York NY 11238 (map); 718-636-9738
Coffee Shop Atmosphere: Joyce Bakeshop
When I imagined myself moving to New York, I pictured skyscrapers, hot dog carts, and a corner neighborhood cafe where there would always be an open seat and always at least three people I knew. (Yes, my teenaged self's idea of New York largely came from Friends; yes, when I moved to the West Village, I was a little disappointed by what an apartment on their corner cost.) My Central Perk is Joyce Bakeshop, where the air always smells like baking croissants and general manager Adriana seems to know every other customer's order. Okay, the cappuccino isn't quite as good as Gorilla's, and their croissants aren't quite as perfect as Almondine's—but for their combination of more-than-decent coffee, irresistible baked everything, and about the friendliest welcome you can imagine, Joyce is my favorite all-around cafe in Brooklyn.
For a beautifully-made cappuccino that'll shock me into wakefulness—seriously, this stuff should be a controlled substance—go to Gorilla Coffee on Park and 5th Avenue.
Sandwiches: Bierkraft, City Sub
Of course you go to Bierkraft for their beer selection, by the bottle or the six-pack or the growler, but you really go for the sandwiches. Frankly, every time I do, I wonder why I ever go anywhere else. Fresh crusty bread and inspired filling combinations (Serrano, Manchego, fig; an Italian with a sharp sprinkle of Parmesan...) that are always even better than you think they'll be. $10 isn't cheap, but they're enormous and come with either fruit or a bag of Zapps chips.
For simpler, cheaper, and awesome classic subs, City Sub on Bergen will do you right.
City Sub: 450 Bergen Street, Brooklyn NY 11217 (map); 718-398-2592
No-Nonsense Brunch: Miriam
I love Mediterranean food for brunch because it's satisfying enough to count for two meals, but not so heavy it sends you right back to bed. At Miriam, the hummus is excellent, the pita warm and fluffy, and the brunch specials reasonably priced and reliably delicious: shakshuka, labne with Israeli salad and eggs, "Mediterranean Crispy Dough" (something like a huge flattened croissant, with two poached eggs on top). Okay, that last one isn't all that light.
Bonus points: brunch entrées come with coffee, and they're aggressive about refills. Cash only for brunch.
Where To Take Everyone: The Vanderbilt
An old friend wants to meet up over a glass of wine and a few small bites? Parents-in-law in town? Want a good cocktail without the cocktail bar? Head to The Vanderbilt. Fantastic for everything from a light dinner of small plates to an incredibly tasty weekend brunch. Not the only upscale restaurant in the neighborhood, but for all-around utility and atmosphere plus awesome food, the Vanderbilt's it.
Bar For Conversation: Flatbush Farm Bar(n)
I love both the dark, wooden barroom and the huge back garden at the "Bar(n)" attached to Flatbush Farm for a casual hangout. It's never too crowded, there's always a good selection of beers on tap and wines by the glass, and before 7pm everything's $2 off.
Beer and Good Cheer: Pacific Standard
The guys behind Pacific Standard share two of my passions: good beer and the Bay Area. I absolutely love this place. I'm sure my hometown pride comes into play here, but it's my favorite bar on the Fourth Avenue strip (where you'll find a ton, most of them great). It's spacious and open, consistently friendly, has fantastic beers that rarely top $6, and you can buy It's-It's, king among ice cream sandwiches, at the bar. (The likelihood that I'll grab one increases with every pint.) Sounds like home to me.
Four-Dollar Dinner: El Castillo de Jagua
Adam Kuban, who used to live in the neighborhood, called this place the "pork blower," since they always manage to pump their roast pork exhaust straight onto Flatbush. Said pork is stuffed in a fresh, slim roll for a simple, satisfyingly porky sandwich that I can usually stretch to two meals.
El Castillo de Jagua: 345 Flatbush Ave, Brooklyn NY 11238 (map); 718-622-8700
Fast-ish Food: Bark
It's a gourmet hot dog shop, but I usually find myself ordering from elsewhere on the menu: their killer crispy pork sandwich, breakfast biscuit sandwiches, and milkshakes. When my boyfriend has a few beers, it's almost inevitable that he'll end the night with a plate of their chili cheese fries. Or two.
One of a Kind: The Islands
The ground floor of this BYOB Jamaican restaurant is so tiny that two customers can't stand inside at once. But upstairs is a low-ceilinged attic with a few tables, and if you don't get claustrophobic, there's no better meal in the winter than a feast of oxtail and Jamaican shepherd's pie, walked up the ladder to your table. $25 could stuff three or four people to bursting. Bring plenty of Red Stripe.
The Islands: 345 Flatbush Ave, Brooklyn NY 11238 (map); 718-622-8700
Food and Delicious Stuff Shopping: Bklyn Larder
Some people want a raise so that they can upgrade their wardrobe, or apartment, or car; I just want to shop at Bklyn Larder every day. Their storefront is small but packs in a mind-boggling variety of local and imported products with a huge cheese counter (along with locally made soft cheeses), beers and ciders of all sorts, oils and vinegars and candies, their own incomparable gelato, and prepared foods and sandwiches that I can't get enough of.
(The day before Hurricane Irene, when others were buying up batteries and flashlights, I was stocking up at Bklyn Larder.)
Fruits and Veggies and More: Grand Army Plaza Greenmarket
The Saturdays-only Greenmarket at Grand Army Plaza is pretty much my ideal farmers' market: lively with neighborhood folk, big enough for tons of variety, small enough to reasonably walk through. Spring through early fall is the most fun, but props to the hardy farmers who stick it out through February and March.
Dessert I'll Walk For: Culture
Good frozen yogurt is one of my very favorite foods, the kind that's tart and rich in the way of good yogurt, not the over-sugared Pinkberry sort. And Culture's is pretty remarkable, with the sweetness of fresh dairy and the tang of good yogurt and a soft, silky texture that others can't match.
Culture: An American Yogurt Company 331 5th Ave, Brooklyn NY 11215 (map); 718-499-0207
Delivery: Born Thai
Granted, I live right down the street, but I still don't understand how I can call Born Thai at 8:00pm on a Saturday night and be eating green curry twelve minutes later. This isn't food worth traveling for, but it's cheap, reliable, and an awful lot better than most neighborhood Thai joints.
I don't get ice cream that often but I love that there are two spots in the 'hood, Blue Marble and Ample Hills Creamery, that I think are up there with the best in New York. When I'm not at Joyce in the mornings I'm at Milk Bar for coffee and "full eggs" (ham and gruyere on toast with poached eggs). James is the sort of tranquil, classy place I love having as a neighborhood restaurant; Cornelius is great for drinks and $1 oysters. And I'm incredibly impressed by newcomer Kulushkat Gourmet Falafel, who won't unseat my favorite falafel in New York (Taïm) but is definitely better than some of our NYC Top Eight.
New But Promising...
There's been a lot to open in the neighborhood in the last few months. Some places that seem promising but I haven't gone to enough to totally vouch for: Purbird, grilling incredibly tasty, lemon-and-garlic-brushed chicken and nothing else; The Sunburnt Calf, with a gorgeous back patio, charming Aussies, Coopers on tap, and a killer Massaman curry; and Chuko, a ramen place from two Morimoto guys that I've heard a million good things about but haven't tried yet.