99 ESSENTIAL RESTAURANTS®
Photo by David Penner
605 Carlton Avenue
Monday to 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 p.m.
Most of us are caught up in the proverbial rat race of New York City, and that extends to the restaurants where we eat — if we're going to spend our hard-earned money, we want it to be on the newest, hottest place in town, where we can see and be seen and stay abreast of our rung-climbing celebrity chefs and their ever-escalating dishes. It's nice to play hooky from that life once in a while, though, and that's when we head to our reliable neighborhood restaurant, where we know we're going to be well treated and well fed, where we're going to drop only a reasonable amount of money on a bottle of wine, and where we're going to feel good going when we have no place to go at all. In Prospect Heights, that restaurant is James, owned by neighborhood residents Bryan Calvert and Deborah Williamson. When James opened in 2008, it was a pioneer, and it drew diners pursuing the restaurant rat race from all over the city. They loved its snug, charming dining room and its unpretentious yet ambitious menu of seasonal American fare. As the restaurant aged, it settled into a neighborhood rhythm and its menu scaled back and it became more charming. Regulars come for its farm-to-table cooking, its burgers and kale salads, and, of course, its brunch. They drink biodynamic spirits in their cocktails and somewhat obscure French wines at night, and bloody marys and urns full of Gimme coffee on weekend mornings (and afternoons). James is where you tell your friends to meet you when you can't be bothered to think of a plan — and it's better than what your plan likely would have been, anyway.
Photo by Dominic Perri
19 Old Fulton Street
Open daily, 11:30 a.m. to 10:30 or 11 p.m. Closed Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Patsy Grimaldi made pizza for more than 60 years, first at Patsy's Pizza in Harlem under his uncle, then at some other NYC coal-fired pizzerias, and finally at Grimaldi's, the restaurant he opened with his wife, Carol, on Old Fulton Street in DUMBO in 1990. After building an international following for that parlor, the owner was ready to retire, and in 1999 he sold the business, brand, and name. A few years later, though, Grimaldi became distressed by the legacy of his coal-fired pizzeria, and so he began to toy with the idea of getting back into the business. When Grimaldi's was evicted from its original home, Grimaldi partnered with Matthew Grogan, a longtime fan and former Wall Street warrior, and came out of retirement to reclaim the address — and the original coal-fired oven. After the space went through a major renovation — everything had to be replaced, refurbished, or rebuilt — they opened Juliana's in December 2012. They've added classic pasta dishes, soups, salads, desserts, and egg creams to the menu, and they've upgraded the wine list and added draft beer to account for the neighborhood’s changing tastes. But the team hasn't broken from the original vision at Grimaldi's: They're obsessively focused on preserving a slice of New York pizza history. "We are trying to redefine what authentic New York–style pizza is," says Grogan. "We're not trying to be Neapolitan, Roman, Sicilian — it's New York–style pizza, the way it was introduced in the early twentieth century." The coal-fired oven turns out pies built on crisp and airy crusts with the yeasty complexity of fresh-baked bread. For the margherita, which remains the signature pizza here, the mozzarella is soft and creamy, the sauce vibrant and piercing, the basil fresh and verdant. All flavors come into focus with a last-minute hit of salt, applied after the pie comes out of the oven and rests, bubbling, on the pass.
Photo by Dominic Perri
386 Flatbush Avenue Extension
Sunday to Thursday 6:30 a.m. to midnight, Friday and Saturday 6:30 a.m. to 1 a.m.
Junior's interior has been updated in its more than six-decade history, but it has retained its old-school feel. Vintage marquee signs hang over the entrance. A pressed-aluminum-lined bar with stationary stools sits just inside. Partitioned booths fill the large space. A lounge lies to the side. “We're not just a restaurant, we're an institution. I take that responsibility quite seriously," says Alan Rosen, the third-generation owner of this family business. The restaurant won fame for its cheesecake, which Rosen's grandfather Harry developed with baker Eigel Peterson back in 1950. Rosen insists the recipe is the same today as it was then, though flavor options have changed. Look for fancier renditions like chocolate mousse and pumpkin spice, and simple treats like original New York plain or fruit. Junior's was once a mostly kosher restaurant — “We also served crab, so go figure,” says Rosen — but today it serves a solid compilation of classic diner fare. The deli sandwiches, like the corned beef and pastrami, are prime. And the “Something Different,” a self-proclaimed sensational sandwich of brisket served between two perfectly seasoned potato pancakes with jus (or mushroom gravy), sour cream, and applesauce on the side, is spectacular. Junior's has seen its Brooklyn neighborhood “come full circle,” Rosen says, from days when people would catch a concert at Paramount and then stop in for a bite, to the present, when he'll spy families pushing strollers down the street. As testament to its longevity, the staff can point to regulars who've been coming here all their lives.
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