99 ESSENTIAL RESTAURANTS®
Photo by Bradley Hawks
4222 Eighth Avenue
Open daily, 7 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.
For more than a decade, petite Borough Park sandwich shop Ba Xuyên has cobbled together some of the city's finest bánh mì sandwiches. Walk past heated and refrigerated cases holding appetizers, such as spring rolls and cassava cakes made with silkworms, to the back counter. Unlike Manhattan's well-regarded Vietnamese sandwich shops, which conceal their work behind closed doors, the cooks here make each sandwich to order in full view of customers. The French-inspired concoction starts with a perfect baguette, chewy and soft with a sturdy crust. Toppings run the gamut — from sardines with chile sauce and butter to dried, shredded chicken to pig products of all stripes: thick slabs of ham, gamy pâté and head cheese, barbecued loin, spongy meatballs. But the key to this shop's success lies in its proportions; Ba Xuyen loads each sandwich with handfuls of pickled carrots and daikon radish, fresh cucumber spears, and cilantro. Bonus: Vietnamese iced coffee often succumbs to a deluge of condensed milk, but the crew at Ba Xuyên balances the creamy java with an even hand.
Photo by Dominic Perri
Like its name, the interior space of Bagel Hole in Brooklyn's nebulous South Slope neighborhood isn't immediately appealing. But the namesake product sure is. In fact, it's one of the best wheels of baked dough in all of Kings County. What makes these bagels so praiseworthy that even New York's mayor has weighed in? Why, it's the masterful contrast between crisp shell and chewy interior — the elusive characteristic that transforms pedestrian bread roll into regional delicacy. Getting there requires technical wizardry and uncompromising freshness. Bagel Hole may have opened in 1985, but bagels here are made the old-fashioned way: They're hand-rolled, they're boiled before baking, and they are never served more than an hour removed from their time in the oven. You walk in and smell the quality. You see it on the steamed windows. Ten standard varieties are all priced at a buck; raisin and egg bagels warrant a nickel more. Superior specimens demand an exceptional schmear, and Bagel Hole delivers with an assortment of homemade spreads. The lox and lox spread are worthy, but nothing beats the whitefish: gentle washes of brine and umami delivered with a smooth, melt-in-your-mouth texture. Just don't expect to be pampered. Plowing through a devout and hungry customer base requires unapologetic efficiency. Service can be curt, and you might have to yell out your order. You might note that the place possesses nary an appliance with which to toast your bagel. But as any New Yorker knows, bagels are meant to be enjoyed fresh from the oven.
Photo by Bradley Hawks
32 Withers Street
Sunday to Thursday noon to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday noon to 11 p.m.
Old-school red-sauce joints are a crucial part of Brooklyn's history and identity, even if most of those once-prevalent mobster hideouts have gone the way of, well, mob crime in New York City. But Bamonte's remains, and it offers a glimpse into this storied past. Opened by Italian immigrant Pasquale Bamonte on a residential street in Williamsburg, Bamonte's has been serving Italian classics since 1900. These days Pasquale's grandson Anthony runs the joint. He hasn't changed much: The décor — a long, wooden bar; carpeted floors; phone booths — feels like it dates to 1955. Bartenders and servers, all of whom seem to be named Henry or Anthony, wear tuxes, and they're on a first-name basis with many of the Italian families who fill the large tables. These families are decades-long regulars, even if some of them have moved out to Long Island and have to drive in for a meal. The food isn't groundbreaking, but it is comforting (much of it is pasta, after all), and even new neighborhood transplants with carefully honed palates will likely enjoy dishes like stuffed artichokes and the “Pork Chop Bamonte,” which is made with vinegar and hot peppers. As one regular said, “You don't go for the food. You go for Bamonte's.” Make sure to enjoy a postprandial espresso-and-sambuca — it's the original Brooklyn combo.
Photo by Dominic Perri
474 Bergen Street
Monday to Thursday noon to 11 p.m., Friday noon to midnight, Saturday 11 a.m. to midnight, Sunday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Enterprising Brooklyn chefs have applied their fine-dining training to all sorts of casual concepts, but not many would deign to take on the lowly hot dog. Joshua Sharkey made upgrading the frank — and by extension American fast food — his mission, opening Bark Hot Dogs in Park Slope in 2009. Sharkey sources his ingredients from local farmers, and his pork-and-beef dogs come from a craft sausage maker upstate. Each link is basted in lard butter, and you can have yours topped with Nueske's bacon and Grafton cheddar from Vermont, or Angus beef chili, and then dress the thing with everything from Heinz ketchup to habanero hot sauce to locally made sauerkraut and relishes built from scratch. Bark also offers burgers, fries, salads, sides, and chicken wings (organic, of course), plus shakes made with local ice cream and dairy. Can't do pork? Bark offers all-beef dogs, hold the lard butter. Vegetarian? Get your veggie dog roasted in olive oil, and wash it down with a Sixpoint, which is the only brew that pours on draft. This is junk food for a new generation, one that frets over its carbon footprint and sucks down green juice.
Photo by Dominic Perri
Expect your meal at Battersby to begin with warm flatbread and whipped ricotta, presented quietly and without elaboration by a server. You will break into the crackling crust, brushed with a little good oil and salt, so that steam rises from a warm, pillowy center. It's a disarming gesture, a welcoming simple pleasure that makes you feel as though you're in good hands. You are. When fine-dining vets Joseph Ogrodnek and Walker Stern opened this restaurant in Carroll Gardens in 2011, neither expected it to become a destination. "Battersby was originally supposed to be a small restaurant where Walker and I could get started and get our names out there," says Ogrodnek. "We didn't have high expectations of the food menu because the place was so small and our means were so limited. We opened that restaurant on a shoestring; we had a budget that any sane restaurateur would laugh at. But after we started working there, we kept trying these ambitious menu items, because that's really what we know, what we trained doing, and probably what we do best.” They do it so well, in fact, that queues often form before the restaurant opens, as diners fight for one of the few walk-in seats from which you can order à la carte from a rotating roster of dishes. (You can reserve a table only if you commit to the tasting menu.) More than four years into its run on Smith Street, one of the most impressive things about this place remains its attention to detail. Servers present dishes and confidently list ingredients. The drinks list is thoughtful and intelligent, whether you're considering a subtle twist on an old-fashioned (made here with maple syrup) or a glass of wine. Amuses hint at later courses, as they would in a four-star temple of fine dining. And all this from a restaurant not much bigger than a telephone booth, where the kitchen staff is forced to plate dishes on what looks like an Ikea island wedged between the galley and the bar. Walker now oversees daily operations, and Ogrodnek and Walker have also turned their attention to Dover, their new venture nearby, where they have more room to flex their creative muscles. Back at Battersby, the team continues to strive for luxury, simplicity, and honest cooking, and it deftly achieves all three.
Photo by Dominic Perri
Bread isn't what it used to be. Over the past century and a half, bakers dispensed with freshly milled flour and introduced commercial yeasts, significantly altering the loaves coming out of the oven. Now, though, some bakers are returning to traditional processes, and their bread is better for it. See, for example, Bien Cuit. When chef Zachary Golper opened his Smith Street storefront with his wife, Kate Wheatcroft, in 2011, he was unimpressed with the flour he was sourcing from far away, and quickly found a farm upstate that could provide him with whole grains. While those first locavore loaves were baking, the aroma hit him. The scent of the bread was so breathtaking, it solidified his belief in the superiority of well-milled wheat paired with local yeast. He now uses a slow fermentation process with painstakingly sourced grains, resulting in finished products with less starch and deeper, more nuanced flavors. We, happily, get to eat the results of his experiments. You can't go wrong with anything coming from this Cobble Hill counter, from the breakfast pastries (arrive early for the almond croissants) to the seasonally changing desserts (like tres leches bûche de Noël). But don't walk away without the bread, which is some of the best in all of the city. Try the miche, which uses a blend of three rye and three wheat flours and is slowly aged for 68 hours. Or have a sandwich, built with ingredients as carefully sourced as the flour.
Photo by Dominic Perri
3432 Nostrand Avenue
Sunday to Thursday 11 a.m. to 12:30 a.m., Friday and Saturday 11 a.m. to 1:30 a.m.
There's no greater measure of success than crowds and longevity. Brennan & Carr, Gravesend's perennial king of dipped sandwiches, boasts both. The low-slung brick building that has served the borough's hungriest carnivores for more than 75 years looks stuck in time, a better fit amid the farmland that used to surround it than the paved roads that flank it now. A small wooden sign advertises “hot beef sandwiches,” which arrive at your table saturated in a murky jus shimmering with liquid fat. Soggy and leaking, it's not the prettiest sandwich, but the flavor payoff of concentrated bovine musk more than compensates. Though you'll inevitably be confronted by a barely held-together kaiser roll, resist the urge to use a knife and fork. Making a mess is part of the plan, as essential to the experience as slurping is to ramen. Eddie Sullivan, whose grandmother was a waitress here in the 1940s, runs the show now. He took over from his father, a retired cop whose fellow boys in blue still stop in for a dose of nostalgia. Most regulars simply sit down and wait for their orders to appear, occasionally placing last-minute requests for cheese fries or cups of Manhattan clam chowder. Look around and you'll also likely see a Gargiulo burger or two. Credit for this delicacy goes to the Russo brothers of classic Coney Island Italian restaurant Gargiulo's, who first plunked a helping of roast beef onto their cheeseburgers before dipping them in jus. It was a secret order for nearly 30 years, until Mr. Sullivan decided to share this dastardly mash-up with the public.
Photo by Dominic Perri
513 Henry Street
Sunday to Thursday 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday 10 a.m. to 11 p.m.
The Platonic ideal of its 1950s kind, Brooklyn Farmacy & Soda Fountain has been mixing up egg creams in a restored apothecary on Henry Street since 2010. “My brother lived in the building,” says co-owner Gia Giasullo. “And he became fascinated with the long-abandoned space. It was so beautiful, with tin ceilings and penny tiles. The place presented the idea — because soda fountains originated in pharmacies — and it became our dream.” Perched on barstools or gathered around antique tables lined with apothecary drawers (with vintage pill packets still inside), customers young and old listen to the jitterbug and dig into sundaes so over the top and gorgeous it's almost a shame to eat them. There's the “Cookie Monster,” bedecked with blue sprinkles and chocolate chip cookies, or the “Mr. Potato Head,” made with peanut butter, caramel sauce, and crushed North Fork potato chips. “We made it as a Father's Day special, but it's never been taken off the menu,” Giasullo says of the latter. “My favorite is the ‘Sundae of Broken Dreams,’” she adds. “We created it to use up crushed pretzel logs. They're such a proud thing, you can't serve them broken, but the sundae turns them into a celebration.” Sodas are made in-house with small-batch seasonal fruit syrups, mixed to order into nostalgic classics like the “Cherry Lime Rickey.” And egg creams — made with Fox’s U-Bet chocolate syrup, of course, says Giasullo — are a popular choice. “We wanted them to be back in the culinary conversation,” says the owner. “Now we have nine-year-olds ordering them at the counter!”
Photo courtesy of Brucie
234 Court Street
Tuesday to Thursday 5:30 to 10:30 p.m., Friday 5:30 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 5:30 to 10:30 p.m. Closed Monday.
On a cold winter night, the front windows at Brucie steam with the warm energy that radiates within. Diners gather around the communal table, elbow up to the bar, or cram themselves into two- and four-tops along the wall. They talk loudly, not worrying about whether their neighbors are listening (they aren't); order too much food and wine; and stay longer than they'd intended. The place takes on the rhythm and good will of a dinner party, which is just what chef-owner Zahra Tangorra wanted when she opened back in 2010. This part of Brooklyn is heavy on Italian restaurants, many of which are beloved old mainstays, but despite having no professional training, Tangorra put together a menu that's traditional enough to lure people in for comforting dishes and improvised enough to set her apart from the competition. The menu changes seasonally, but you'll often find some form of arancini on the list, and you can always find spaghetti and meatballs, the half-chicken, and big hunks of meat for two. You might also find squid-ink tagliatelle with chickpeas and raisins, or osso buco, or a pasta inspired by a turkey reuben. Hit the Italian wine list for a pairing; many of the selections are biodynamic or organic. Like any good neighborhood restaurant, Brucie is just as popular at brunch, when it trots out scrambled eggs and french toast in lieu of all those noodles. In 2010 Tangorra did Cobble Hill another solid with an unusual offering: Drop off a pan, and she'll fill it with lasagna by the next day. Take it home and bake it, and you have the basis for your very own dinner party. Then again, why have people over when you could just come here?
Photo by Dominic Perri
1084 Flushing Avenue
Monday to Friday noon to 11 p.m., Saturday and Sunday 11 a.m to 11 p.m.
It has been four years since chef Kedija Srage first served her meatless wots and tibs as part of a series of interactive pop-up dining experiences around the city and became a fixture at Kings County's weekend food orgy Smorgasburg. Eventually she and her team settled in this roomy Bushwick space, in a squat building next to a vacant lot. Here at Bunna Cafe, Srage delivers a colorful array of vegan stews and salads, served alone or as part of combination platters arranged on top of injera. (Bunna's recipe for the porous sourdough flatbread is fluffier and less sour than its peers'.) Ethiopian beers and honey wine are available, and cocktails — like the “Ethiopian Ice Road Trucker,” a mix of stout beer, bourbon, sunflower milk, and Coke that's halfway between a boilermaker and a milkshake — are particularly inspired. Coffee beans are roasted throughout the day and served espresso-style. Srage and café owners Sam Saverance and Liyuw Ayalew have also carved out time four nights a week to perform a traditional coffee ceremony, allowing an audience to observe the roasting process and drink the results. This is still Brooklyn, of course, and Bunna gets packed during brunch, when everyone seems to be sipping on gorgeous “espris” juices: artsy drinks layered like a pousse-café, with levels of mango, papaya, and avocado purée.
Photo by Dominic Perri
524 Court Street
Monday to Wednesday 5 to 10 p.m., Thursday 5 to 11 p.m., Friday 5 to midnight, Saturday 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. to midnight, Sunday 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.
When Doug Crowell began plotting a restaurant in the farthest reaches of Carroll Gardens in 2008, he wanted an institution. "I look at restaurants that have been around for 30 years or more, and that's the place I want to have," he says. "It's not so much about being a hot topic in the media at any one moment as it is longevity." That meant a bistro, something that was then decidedly lacking in the close-knit neighborhood. And so Crowell drew up plans for Buttermilk Channel, envisioning a place where locals could sit alone at the bar for a meal or celebrate a birthday, a place that would become part of their lives. He built a cozy space so crammed with tables it's almost impossible not to socialize with the patron next to you, and he installed a menu that deals in American versions of bistro fare. There are griddled waffles supporting crackling buttermilk fried chicken, juicy duck meat loaf, and a warm lamb salad crowned with a soft-boiled egg. Executive chef Ryan Angulo and his chef de cuisine Jon Check entice vegetarians with a separate meat-free menu, a nod to frequent requests from diners; the restaurant welcomes cash-strapped eaters with a $30 Monday-night three-course prix fixe that showcases some of the Channel's greatest hits. The wine list includes several French wines by the glass and American wines by the bottle, and prices are generous, so diners can afford to start their meal with a civilized cocktail from a concise drinks menu. Crowell's is not a complicated formula, and it has managed to foment a following so loyal that regulars often meet regulars and become friends — or lovers. "Brooklyn is a small town," Crowell observes. "It's rewarding to connect through the restaurant."
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