Within this frenzied expansion, of course, lies an irony of Prospect Park–size proportions. The Brooklyn lifestyle that everyone wants a piece of is, on the surface at least, the opposite of large scale. It’s local, not international; boutique, not mass; more nostalgic than forward looking.
And yet, by some unavoidable rule of New York enterprise, the Brooklyn aura has proved irresistible to consumers far and wide. And so small-batch goodies like McClure’s pickles and Mast Brothers chocolate are now available on cultured avenues worlds away from BK. Lucali, an unassuming Carroll Gardens pizza joint, has a new branch in Miami. There’s a Brooklyn Brewery in Stockholm, a Brooklyn Bowl in London. You get the picture.
Still, originals are what this borough does best, and that’s almost exclusively what you’ll find on the following pages. We spill a lot of ink on the food scene, which is unparalleled. Sure, the exposed-brick and pressed-tin aesthetic is pretty familiar by now, and all those no-reservations policies may have lost their charm. But will quality ingredients and local sourcing ever get old? We doubt it.
The Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare requires men to wear a jacket; dinner there, an unabashedly sophisticated smorgasbord of French and Japanese, will set you back about $300 a person. At Bamonte’s, a hundred-year-old Italian joint in Williamsburg, tuxedoed waiters serve red-sauce Italian on white linen tablecloths. Both places are worth visiting for completely different reasons. They’re also both remarkable in that they are total outliers in today’s talked-about Brooklyn restaurant lineup.
Why is that? Both stand on a ceremony that is largely (and, for the most part, refreshingly) foreign to the new Brooklyn. This is true in the realm of food, clothes—whatever. Polished patinas here are as rare as fingerbowls. Anything artificial tends to be tucked out of sight. Brooklyn is a land of jeans and plaids, T-shirts and work boots. (Again, the exceptions—like Craig Robinson’s bespoke tailor shop in Williamsburg—only prove the rule.) The Brooklyn aesthetic is unfinished, or otherwise half decomposed; reclaimed wood is everywhere, furniture is being made from old machine parts, and restaurants brandish their informality like a badge of honor. Note the servers at Diner, who chat about and scrawl the day’s offerings onto your tablecloth rather than resort to anything as alienating as a menu.
Nowadays, the A-word in Brooklyn is authenticity. We'd posit that the signature clothing fabric here is, if not denim, wool. You find it in the Navajo blankets at WP Lavori (the Italian heritage-menswear purveyors whose first American flagship is, tellingly, in Brooklyn) and the forties Mackinaw coats at Wooden Sleepers. This top-notch vintage shop is in Red Hook, a water- front quarter poorly served by public transport and, as a result, overflowing with neighborly vibes.
Red Hook is a bohemian village in the everybody-knows-your- name mold of the old ethnic enclaves, which can seem farther and farther away as Brooklyn gentrification advances. Old-school flavor is alive and well at classics like L&B Spumoni, where public school kids scream for ice cream, and Di Fara, where off-duty cops join international pizza pilgrims in a line that is nearly always spilling out the door.
At these unselfconscious establishments in particular, quality and good vibes win out over what we might term “style.” Of course, rarely is it such a clear-cut victory. But even in fashionable Brook- lyn, an air of unpretentiousness trumps overt displays of exclusivity. The result is a cozy sort of well-being for which there is no word in English, but certain Northern European cultures have given it a name. The Dutch call it gezelligheid, this warm sense of contented- ness one gets from communal good living. It goes with natural-fiber clothes (like wool) that keep the elements at bay, and a suspension of our usual caloric anxieties. It’s an outlook, in other words, that welcomes the foie gras poutine at Mile End, an ingenious mix of high and low, Old World and New; the lovingly smoked Southern barbecue at Hometown; and the nostalgia-inducing egg creams at Brooklyn Farmacy & Soda Fountain.