99 ESSENTIAL RESTAURANTS®
Photo by Dominic Perri
248 Fifth Avenue
Monday to Thursday noon to 3 p.m. and 6 to 10:30 p.m., Friday noon to 3 p.m. and 6 to 11 p.m., Saturday 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and 5:30 to 11 p.m., Sunday 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and 5 to 10 p.m.
As Americanized as Italian food has become over the past hundred years, we tend to fixate on our own versions of Southern Italian favorites: pasta, red sauce, even redder wine, and probably something like...garlic bread? But al di la Trattoria, the sixteen-year-old stalwart of Park Slope's Fifth Avenue, challenges diners to look beyond the standard notion of what constitutes Italian by focusing exclusively on the motherland's northern regions. When it opened in 1998, it was even more specific than that: “We were originally focusing primarily on Venetian,” says chef Anna Klinger, who owns the restaurant with her husband, Emiliano Coppa. “But we've veered off slightly.” The menu features a number of often-overlooked Northern Italian staples — tripe stew, polenta and cuttlefish (with a rich and briny squid ink), calf’s liver, and braised rabbit. The pastas are predictably solid (beet and ricotta ravioli is a standout), and the wine list welcomingly hovers in the $40-per-bottle range. Park Slope has changed immensely since this cozy space opened, but Klinger and Coppa steadfastly maintain their vision of a neighborhood restaurant. “We're not doing anything groundbreaking,” says the chef. “We're just trying to keep it honest.”
Photo by Bradley Hawks
Before husband-and-wife team Brian Smith and Jackie Cuscina opened their Prospect Heights ice cream parlor Ample Hills Creamery, Smith spent months touring ice cream shops around the city and then New Jersey and Long Island, seeking a gap in the market that he could fill. He soon realized that no shop was making ice cream in-house from beginning to end, and that the idea of parlor-as-gathering-place had gone missing from the landscape. He and Cuscina had thrown ice cream socials with homemade ice cream for years, so they were certain they could deliver on that first identified niche. They ramped up to a pushcart and then a storefront and garnered a cult following of frozen-treat lovers from all over the city, who flock to the shop for wacky flavors like Salted Crack Caramel — a gooey blend of salted butter caramel ice cream and nubs of cookie made with saltines — and Gather 'Round the Campfire, a smoky take on a s'more. That the lines persist even in winter is testament to Smith and Cuscina's fulfillment of the second part of their goal; they've constructed a collective home away from home for their neighbors, who assemble for birthday parties or just after-dinner treats. Ample Hills Creamery has been so successful in its original location that the couple opened a second, much larger establishment in Gowanus in 2014, from which they supply a small fleet of carts and package ice cream in pints for a few local shops.
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