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Serious Eats Neighborhood Guides: James Tracey's Carroll Gardens
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James Tracey doesn't look like the type of guy who'd admit a weakness for self-serve fro-yo, but the basketball player-sized executive chef of Craft and Colicchio & Sons doesn't discriminate. He'll serve barnacles to his customers, mussels to his young daughters, and will try just about anything himself. The native Texan, who first met Colicchio while working under him at Gramercy Tavern, splits his days between the two restaurants but still manages to make time to shop locally in his Brooklyn neighborhood. Read on for James' favorite spots in Carroll Gardens.
Pizza: The best pizza in the city is Lucali. They only serve pizza and calzone, and it's BYO. I love watching Mark Lacono make pizza because he goes at his own pace—if he wants to do take out, he does sometimes and if he doesn't, whatever. There's always a line out the door and people are on the verge of killing each other for the next seat, yet he is still going at that peaceful pace. I love that.
Coffee: Every morning, I drop my daughter at the bus by our apartment and get a cup of coffee at the Milk Bar in the basement of our building. The girls that work there are incredibly nice.
Italian: Caputo's has the best mozzarella I have ever had, and they make it fresh during the day. They also make great fresh pasta and incredible sandwiches on bread from the bakery down the street. This is a great, family-run Italian store.
Sandwich: HBH Gourmet Sandwiches is a new place down the street that has good sandwiches. My favorites are the pork kimchi and BLT. They also make tasty snacks like fried pork balls and arancini. This is a new place, so it feels like they are trying to get their footing, but I want them to do well because it's simple, done well and a two-minute walk from my house.
Ice cream/frozen yogurt: I know 16 Handles is not the most boutique place, but I love the concept of the store and the flavors are great. The other day I mixed chocolate and pomegranate together and then added the toppings. I think frozen yogurt is actually not that bad for you until you get the toppings on, and then it's all over.
Brunch: Buttermilk Channel serves a nice variety of savory and sweet dishes for brunch, and they have great Bloodies. I love the mussels with green chilies—my daughter Hannah discovered that she also loves mussels after eating them here. Plus the staff is extremely nice.
Bar food: The bar I like to hang out the most is at Frankie's Spuntino. They make great drinks and the bartender, Eric, is always fun to hang with. They also have a octopus salad there that goes down nicely.
Cocktail bar: For a fancy cocktail done well, I go over to Brooklyn Social. It's a cool space and they have a pool table. I usually roll with a basic gin and tonic in the summer.
Tacos: Calexico is the place to get tacos and burritos in the neighborhood. I like the chipotle pork burrito and they serve Anson Mills grits, which we also serve at Craft.
Date night: I like Battersby for date night, but make sure to go early or late because it gets tight. The menu changes frequently, but they do solid food and it seems like it's a group of guys that just like to cook. Last time I was there I had a first course of morel and asparagus that was delicious, and a poached halibut that was done well.
Can't-miss neighborhood spot: The Sunday farmers market by Carroll Park is small, but they have great farms represented there. There's a guy that brings seafood from Long Island. Be sure to get there early so you don't miss out on his great offerings like oysters, clams, mussels and crabs. He sometimes has random things like stackers, which are these barnacles that I tried to serve to dinner guests one night. They didn't like them, but they were also lame. He also has whole fish; the other day I was over there with my kids and the fluke were still alive, so we took one home and let it swim in the sink. At the end of the day, we cooked it for dinner and it was delicious.