99 ESSENTIAL RESTAURANTS®
Photo by David Penner
1108 Cortelyou Road
Monday to Thursday 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5:30 to 11 p.m., Friday to 11:30 p.m., Saturday 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and 4:30 to 11:30 p.m., Sunday 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
A glinting beacon of Central Brooklyn fine dining, The Farm on Adderley hit the ground running when it opened in 2006 on a slowly (and still) developing stretch of Cortelyou Road in Ditmas Park. Owners Gary Jonas and Allison McDowell ditched corporate careers for gigs as first-time restaurateurs; nearly a decade later they and chef Tom Kearney have bloomed with the community, delivering locally sourced, rustic New American cuisine to a slew of hungry diners. Those diners fill the restaurant's 120 seats (40 of which populate a funky, fenced-in garden with large-scale brick wall murals), supping on market-friendly plates of fried and stuffed zucchini blossoms and delicate skate wing over earthy gigante beans brightened with salsa verde. Families take note: The grilled cheese here is served on Texas toast, and it comes as part of a kids' menu that includes organic beef hot dogs and buttered noodles with broccoli and Parmesan (all priced under $10). The kitchen blossoms during brunch with inspired dishes like smoked pollock cakes with harissa mayonnaise, and red flannel hash, the corned beef chopped together with beets and topped with a sunny-side-up egg and bracing beet mustard.
Photo by Dominic Perri
151 Union Street
Monday to Thursday 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday to 10 p.m. Closed Sunday.
Inhale the same scent of warm bread and sweet garlic that locals have been enjoying inside Ferdinando's Focacceria for more than 110 years. “Nothing's changed,” says Francesco (“call me Frank, everyone does”) Buffa. “You make the food. People like the food. Why would you change?” The restaurant is seriously old-school, with brown walls covered in black-and-white photos, Sinatra on loop, and red sauce. It's determinedly not fancy. Buffa has been in charge for almost half a century. “My father-in-law taught me the recipes," he says. "Everything comes under my nose.” Hearty sandwiches made with freshly baked bread entice a lunchtime crowd, while at dinner those in the know order melt-in-the-mouth meatballs, arancina blanketed in sweet tomato sauce, and a range of exceptional Sicilian specialties. Don't miss the panelle, a fried chickpea pastry served with fresh ricotta, or the freshly made burrata, the perfect partner to smoky grilled eggplant. Pasta con sarde is a house favorite made with sardines, wild fennel, pine nuts, raisins, and a saffron sauce. Wine is “red or white. Imported. What do you like? I'll get you a glass,” says Buffa. Save room if you can for a house-made cannoli — among the best in the city. This is a meal almost outside time, generous and warm, served the way it always has been, with passion and pride.
Photo by Dominic Perri
365 Van Brunt Street
Monday through Friday 10 a.m. to midnight (Tuesdays to 3 p.m.), Saturday and Sunday 9 a.m. to midnight
If you haven't spent time in the dockside community of Red Hook, Fort Defiance is an excellent place to begin your acquaintance with the neighborhood. Here locals gather for coffee and breakfast sandwiches in the morning, and cocktails and burgers at night. It's like an old café or diner where you'd see the same faces day after day — only made current with thoughtful dishes, careful sourcing, and excellent drinks. The staff and crowd give a nice overview of what this neighborhood is like: close-knit, friendly, and more laid-back than the rest of New York. Writer and bartender St. John Frizell opened Fort Defiance in 2009, rolling out an eatery that was part bar, part café, and open all day, every day. He brought in eggs and produce from Pennsylvania, and he picked up his meat and bread from a local butcher and baker. Dishes are straightforward, especially at breakfast and lunch, when you can choose from classics like huevos rancheros, a turkey club, and a cult-favorite muffuletta, a tribute to the time Frizell spent in New Orleans. At night you're likely to find a skirt steak, a whole roasted fish, and, scattered through salads and appetizers, seasonal vegetables — unless you come on Thursday's “Tiki Night,” or on Monday, which is burger night. (The former features specially priced Polynesian food and drinks while the latter flaunts a fat, ground-chuck patty topped with grilled onions and Gruyère if you'd like, or bacon and eggs.) Any time after 3 p.m., follow the crowd's lead and begin with some oysters and at least one of Frizell's cocktails. He makes an excellent martini (and breakfast martini, if you like to booze before noon), a perfect Irish coffee, and a number of original creations well worth sipping. In 2012 Fort Defiance was nearly wiped off the map by Hurricane Sandy. Faced with feet of water in its dining room, a lesser establishment would have folded. But Frizell was so determined to return to feeding the neighborhood that, with help from the community, he rebuilt in a month. Fort Defiance is nothing if not a labor of love.
Photo by Nicole Franzen
439 Third Avenue, Brooklyn
Monday to Friday 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., Saturday 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., Sunday 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Sisters Emily and Melissa Elsen opened Four & Twenty Blackbirds five years ago (at the height of the cupcake era, you might recall) with one clear goal: to fill the gap in this city's pie offerings. Their aim was to create delicious handmade pastries with fresh, seasonal fruit, just like Grandma used to make. Specifically, their grandma: The sisters were born into a restaurant family, and growing up they'd watch their grandmother roll out crusts. In 2010 the Elsens made their debut in the nascent arts community in Gowanus, giving the neighborhood a place to meet, work, or relax over a slice of pie and a cup of locally roasted coffee. As for that pie, the sisters don't strive to reinvent the wheel, preferring to concentrate on combining classic flavors that complement one another. The menu changes according to what's around, save for some mainstays offered all the time: salted caramel apple, salty honey, and black bottom oat, a poor man's pecan variation with oats and a dark-chocolate ganache. The Blackbirds formula drew a legion of fans, and the operation has grown substantially — the sisters now run a full-service café and coffee shop, Pie at the Library, inside the Brooklyn Public Library.
Photo by Dominic Perri
457 Court Street
Sunday to Thursday 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., Friday and Saturday 11 a.m. to midnight
In the decade since opening borough mainstay Frankies 457 Spuntino, the two Franks (Falcinelli and Castronovo) who run this place have gone on to launch three more restaurants and an olive oil company, and to venture out of their kitchens to host a travel show for Vice. All this from a single renovated Carroll Gardens smithy serving hefty sandwiches, straight-shooting pastas, and high-quality Italian small plates (like briny braised octopus with dandelion greens and Castelvetrano olive vinaigrette). Castronovo and Falcinelli oversaw the renovations themselves, using reclaimed materials before that was considered commonplace. Pioneers of the crostini fever that has spread throughout the city in recent years, the Franks keep things fresh with inspired topping combinations (think pillowy ricotta with speck and kale, mixed with harissa aioli). If Italian food speaks to simplicity and showcasing the best ingredients, Spuntino puts its best foot forward — even during dessert, when old-school favorites like tiramisu and red-wine-soaked prunes reign supreme. Locals flock to the idyllic courtyard when weather permits, their tables littered with carafes and bottles selected from the all-Italian wine list (many of which fetch a reasonable $40 or less). Spuntino stands tall as one of the most archetypal restaurants of “new Brooklyn.”
Photo by Dominic Perri
348 Flatbush Avenue
Monday to Thursday noon to 2:30 p.m and 5:30 to 11 p.m, Friday noon to 2:30 p.m. and 5:30 to 11:30 p.m., Saturday noon to 11:30 p.m., Sunday noon to 10 p.m.
Francine Stephens and Andrew Feinberg, the couple who opened Franny's more than a decade ago, met at Savoy, Peter Hoffman's now closed Soho temple of greenmarket cooking. There they discovered a mutual love for Italian food and dovetailing perspectives on sustainable agriculture. And so they knew that when they eventually opened a restaurant together, it would showcase those interests. At the suggestion of a family member, they settled on pizza — despite the fact that “I'd never cooked pizza before," says Feinberg. No matter. Soon the kitchen was turning out blistered pies painted with tangy marinara and topped with fresh mozzarella that easily competed with the best pizzas in the city, and people were coming in droves, clogging the entryway of their small shop with hours-long waits. (Though Franny's has since expanded into bigger digs down the street, the wait has followed.) Beyond turning out good pizza, Feinberg and Stephens were early adopters of the farm-to-table mantra that has become ubiquitous in our restaurant industry: They vowed from the beginning to be transparent about where all of their ingredients and supplies come from, and they led by example in developing relationships with Greenmarket purveyors. Above all, they are strong believers in restaurants being an integral part of their community, and they continue to push Franny's to be what makes it so charming: the ultimate neighborhood restaurant.
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