99 ESSENTIAL RESTAURANTS®
Photo by Bradley Hawks
788 Franklin Avenue
Monday to Friday 5:30 to 11 p.m., Saturday noon to 3 p.m. and 5:30 to 11 p.m., Sunday noon to 3 p.m. and 5:30 to 10:30 p.m.
Although he made a name for himself with his roving Morris Grilled Cheese truck and its highbrow sandwiches, Michael Jacober wanted to do something special for a brick-and-mortar restaurant. Pivoting from the original New American sandwich-heavy menu he started with, the Per Se vet rebooted, ditching the things-between-bread formula that had worked so well in the past. Inspired by his historically Caribbean neighborhood, he now serves West Indian food in a cheerful, aquamarine dining room. The area is gentrifying, and the remade Glady's along with it, but Jacober and his team have taken pains to represent the cuisine in earnest, and the community has responded with zeal. The kitchen imports fresh green wood from Jamaica to slow-cook sumptuous jerk pork and smoky chicken, both priced under $10 and fit for sharing. Lobster's a worthy splurge thanks to the hearth it's cooked in. Pepper shrimp come bathed in piquant oil, and smoked sausage eats almost as voluptuously as rich goat curry. Sides clock in at $3 for plates like lacquered sweet plantains, rice and peas, and oblong cornbread fritters called festivals. Drinks maven Shannon Mustipher has assembled a rum selection that's one of the best in the borough, if not the city. Even with available reserve pours like Samaroli Caribbean rum, the frozen drinks steal the show. They come in flavors like "Dark 'N' Stormy" or the seasonal "Mauby Toddy," a chilly take on a winter warmer with allspice-infused bourbon and mauby bark, a bitter Caribbean root. In offering elevated comfort food to Caribbean expats at affordable prices, Jacober and Glady's honor the neighborhood. They deserve no less from us.
Photo by Dominic Perri
391 Van Brunt Street
Tuesday to Friday 5:30 to 10:30 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5:30 to 10:30 p.m., Sunday 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5:30 to 10 p.m. Closed Monday.
Created in Red Hook in 2005 by husband-and-wife team Ben Schneider and Sohui Kim, The Good Fork has always been a passion project: He carved the warm wooden ceiling and she put her mom's kimchi on the menu (in fact, the kimchi is occasionally made by her mother, if she's in town for a visit). Kim, who eschewed law school for cooking, worked at Blue Hill and Annisa before branching out on her own. Her food draws both from her polished fine-dining experience and her Korean roots, so there are always dumplings and Korean-style steak and eggs. The latter is a highlight: “We marinate the skirt steak in bulgogi, and it's served with kimchi fried rice,” Schneider says. Additional fixtures on an otherwise ever-changing menu include braised boar shank with apricots, a solid burger, and roasted chicken with a black-bean butter sauce. “We have people who come in all the time just for the chicken,” says Schneider. “Thankfully, they're obsessed!” It was the neighbors' obsession that helped the Good Fork to reopen within a few months of Hurricane Sandy, which flooded the restaurant knee-high in muck. The string lights were up again in time for summer, welcoming people to the patio to relax with a beer — local, of course. The couple's Red Hook roots run deep: “We lived here before we opened the restaurant,” Schneider says. “We love our neighborhood.” So look out for wares from neighborhood artisans — Red Hook wines, Steve's Key Lime Pie, Widow Jane Bourbon, and Uncouth Vermouth.
Photo by Dominic Perri
5 Front Street
Monday to Thursday 5:30 to 10:30 p.m., Friday 5:30 to 11:30 p.m., Saturday 11 a.m. to 11:30 p.m., Sunday 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.
"For too long, Mexican food meant cheap and cheerful, but also low in quality," says Gran Eléctrica principal Tamer Hamawi. And for Hamawi and partners Elise Rosenberg and Emelie Kihlstrom, who'd already found success with Brooklyn Heights eatery Colonie, a seasonal American restaurant built on carefully curated ingredients, that left a gap for a street-style Mexican place that didn't sacrifice good sourcing. The team put together plans for Gran Eléctrica, a lively labyrinth that introduced itself to DUMBO in the spring of 2012. The neighborhood was fast filling with young professionals, families, and tech firms, all of whom flocked to this place for fancy margaritas, especially when they could nab a seat in the expansive outdoor garden. During the warm months, there are few places in the city better than said patio, which is hung with glittering lights, made intimate by lush plant life, and in possession of a view of the Brooklyn Bridge. Take a seat and order yourself some fish tacos, a massive chile relleno, some carne asada, and, for dessert, an order of churros, and get busy drinking your way through the mezcal list, where you'll find a number of selections from unusual, small-batch mezcaleros. Come to think of it, those drinks will warm you during the cold months, too, when you're tucked away in a cozy corner of this dining room, letting chile-infused dishes from executive chef Rob Stauning's menu burn your belly and toast you from within.
Photo by Jonathan Schwartz
288 Smith Street
Tuesday to Thursday 5:30 to 10 p.m., Friday 5:30 to 11 p.m., Saturday 5 to 11 p.m. Closed Sunday and Monday.
When Sharon Pachter and Charles Kiely first became a couple, they talked about opening a restaurant that focused on simple, straightforward food rather than a chef's name "in flashing lights," as Kiely puts it. "We would wander around on a Sunday looking for a place with really good roast chicken, where they knew how to make rice, where they could make a well-balanced salad dressing," says Pachter. "That's what we wanted to do." They searched for a corner spot but wound up with a mid-block Carroll Gardens address, which they stripped bare of décor to give it a soothing vibe. They opened The Grocery in 1999, installing a menu that celebrated well-sourced ingredients long before that theme became Brooklyn's calling card. Their philosophy then, as it is now, was "to buy really good products, cook them simply, and make them delicious," says Pachter. And so the menu changes frequently, although you'll always find ravioli filled with creamy beet and goat cheese, as well as tender duck breast in some incarnation. Your best bet is to opt for the tasting menu and let Kiely take care of you, leading you through multiple courses of his momentary favorites and delivering many of the plates himself. He'll likely dig up an interesting bottle of wine to go with your meal, about which he'll be able to relate a personal anecdote or background story. Sixteen years into the restaurant’s run, Kiely wryly notes that the once frequent media coverage has long since petered out. "We've been around so long, nobody cares about us," he says. But dinner here is no less charming than it ever was, and it operates with self-assuredness, which makes the Grocery feel like a noble sage among buzzier neighbors.
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