99 ESSENTIAL RESTAURANTS®

IN BROOKLYN

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L&B Spumoni Gardens

Photo by Dominic Perri

2725 86th Street

718-449-1230

Winter hours: Sunday to Thursday noon to 9:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday noon to 11 p.m.; pizzeria open to midnight most nights. Call ahead during bad weather. Summer hours: Sunday to Thursday noon to midnight., Friday and Saturday noon to 1 a.m.; pizzeria open to 1 a.m. most nights.

spumonigardens.com

Sprawled out over multiple buildings and fenced-in areas, Brooklyn's most famous Italian-American dining complex is part ice cream parlor, part pizzeria, with a broader Italian restaurant thrown in for good measure. Founded in 1939, L&B Spumoni Gardens remains in the care of the Barbati family, whose patriarch immigrated from Italy and set up shop in Gravesend to peddle his frozen treats. The trailblazing pizza operation came a decade later, and chief among its offerings are enormous trays of square Sicilian pies, sold in whole sheets or by the slice. They're wholly unique among the New York pizzas, the dough left chewy and dense, the cheese melted directly onto the bread and smothered in sweet tomato sauce. "Spumoni" refers to a frozen dessert that's less ice cream than sherbet, a mix of candied fruit-studded vanilla, chocolate, and nut-filled pistachio with an almost grainy quality. While the two casual operations are L&B's real draw — the place gets packed and boisterous whenever the weather's halfway decent — don't miss out on the sit-down restaurant, which expands on its neighbors’ streamlined menus with a roster of Southern Italian classics.

La Vara

Photo by Dominic Perri

268 Clinton Street

718-422-0065

Monday to Thursday 5 to 10 p.m., Friday 5 to 11 p.m., Saturday 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and 5 to 11 p.m., Sunday 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and 5 to 10 p.m.

lavarany.com

Alex Raij and her husband, Eder Montero, built an empire of tapas and pintxos restaurants in Manhattan, but when they picked up a Brooklyn space in 2012, settling on a leafy, brownstone-lined Cobble Hill street, they decided to do something different. At La Vara they focus on the Moorish and Sephardic influences on the culture of northern Spain, made current with contemporary Middle Eastern touches that showcase dishes that Muslims and Jews brought to the Iberian Peninsula centuries ago. No one’s going to beat you about the head with the careful meditation and experimentation that has formed the list here, but you'll notice immediately that the tapas don’t look familiar. There's no tortilla Española, no bacalao, no pan con tomate (well, sort of — there’s pan amb tomaca, which adds nori and mojama, a salt-cured tuna, to tomato-rubbed bread). There are albóndigas, but these meatballs are made of lamb. And then there are fried chickpeas, deviled eggs with green tahini and smoked paprika, crisp artichokes with anchovy aioli, Gibraltar-style chicken hearts, and a Murcian pasta with goat butter, ground goat, and sumac. Don't miss the fideuà, a noodle paella that blends skinny strands of pan-fried pasta with seafood and aioli. Consider finishing with torta Santiago, a Galician almond Passover cake, or a little olive-oil ice cream. Intellectualism aside, La Vara is warm and inviting, dressed brightly with Moorish cutouts decorating an exposed-brick wall, and it offers a slew of easy-drinking and well-priced wines (Spanish, of course), along with a handful of sherries. It's an ideal place for a date or a friendly rendezvous, which is probably, more than anything, why it's so beloved by the people who live nearby.

Littleneck

Photo by Dominic Perri

288 Third Avenue

718-522-1921

Monday and Wednesday 5 to 10 p.m., Thursday and Friday 5 to 11 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m. to 11 p.m., Sunday 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Closed Tuesday.

littleneckbrooklyn.com

Life's a beach even in the dead of winter at perpetually sunny clam shack Littleneck, where you can have chile-studded steamers, a fat lobster roll, and mussels bathed in basil-infused curry delivered to your booth with a craft beer (or, who are we kidding, a can of Narragansett). Its mellow vibe may owe to the fact that Aaron Lefkove and Andy Curtin conceived of this restaurant in Curtin's girlfriend's backyard. The former bandmates were barbecuing clams when they began floating the idea of a restaurant inspired by the sorts of roadside stands they used to pass while traveling. It took about eighteen months for the plans to come to fruition. The guys settled on a Gowanus address that was, “by dumb luck,” says Lefkove, near where each of them lived. They were drawn in by the artistic community and the space itself, and they've played an eager part in the burgeoning restaurant scene that's rooting in the neighborhood's old warehouses. In 2014 Lefkove and Curtin found themselves getting a bit restless with one location, so they expanded into a second in Greenpoint; Littleneck Outpost offers dishes that don't fit on the concise menu at the flagship. Many of the dishes up north began as specials from Gowanus chef Nick Williams, though, and you should inspect his list of daily offerings if you want to supplement your New English fare with more creative bites. Be sure to end with the golf-ball-size doughnuts rolled in cinnamon sugar and served with Jameson whipped cream.

Locanda Vini e Olii

Photo by Dominic Perri

129 Gates Avenue

718-622-9202

Monday to Thursday 5:30 to 10:15 p.m., Friday and Saturday 5:30 to 11 p.m., Sunday 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5:30 to 9:45 p.m.

locandany.com

The ambiance at Locanda Vini e Olii is low-key and convivial. The wine lists (one for reds, one for whites) are glued to upcycled empties, like labels. The décor retains much of the old-timey charm of the location’s prior incarnation — a pharmacy that served its Clinton Hill neighborhood for more than a century. But don’t get these folks wrong: Co-owners Michael Schall (general manager), Michele Baldacci (executive chef), and Rocco Spagnardi (sommelier) and their staff are utterly serious about traditional Tuscan cooking — and they’re damned good at it. (Husband and wife François Louy and Catherine de Zagon Louy opened Locanda in 2001 and turned it over to the current trio in 2010.) You know you’re in for something out of the ordinary when your server brings the bread, made in house from a recipe devoid of salt (note what that does to crust and crumb!) and served with olive oil. Baldacci’s menu is painstakingly designed to show off the distinctive foods and rustic preparations of his native Florence. Our strategy: Bring friends. Start with a cocktail — likely mixed with homemade bitters and liqueurs — and some marinated anchovies or sardines. Marvel at the charcuterie del mare, which includes a soppressata made with octopus, and a tuna salami. Don’t shy from dishes made with offal — a risotto topped with pan-seared chicken livers, or tripe stewed with tomatoes. Pay special attention to the pasta course; all of the noodles are made in house. And if you can’t narrow down to a single dish from the grill — duck breast or Piedmontese beef “tagliata”? — get them both. Groups on a budget can avail themselves of a four-course, $48 tasting menu; the restaurant also stages seasonal five-course wine dinners, with each dish paired to a wine from a particular region or producer.

Lucali

Photo by Dominic Perri

575 Henry Street

718-858-4086

Open daily, 6 to 11 p.m.

lucali.com

Here is how you approach a meal at Lucali: Put your name on the list and then wander down the street to pick out a bottle of wine — you're going to need to kill some time before you get a table, and the restaurant is BYOB. Consider pairing your pizza with something special — these pies deserve it. Former marble fabricator and longtime Carroll Gardens resident Mark Iacono opened Lucali on a residential street in 2006, teaching himself to make pizza in order to save a candy shop he'd loved throughout his youth. He built everything in the space, including the wood-burning oven. Today, as it did nearly ten years ago, the restaurant makes and serves only three items: pizza, calzones, and meatballs. No antipasti. No salads. Not even white pizza. The pies here are Neapolitan, with a heavier focus on traditional New York style, and they come out of the oven slightly charred and smoky, with a super-crisp crust and a tangy marinara made from Iacono's grandmother's recipe. Calzones, filled with sweet ricotta, are a sleeper item — do not forgo them when you visit. Toppings are basic: pepperoni, hot peppers, grilled artichoke hearts, et cetera. Nothing at Lucali is overcomplicated, but everything is dialed in and delicious. Accept your spot in line and concentrate on choosing a good bottle.

Luksus

Photo by Dominic Perri

615 Manhattan Avenue

718-389-6034

Seating Tuesday through Sunday 6:30 p.m. Closed Monday.

luksusnyc.com

In 2014 Luksus became the world’s first beer-exclusive eatery to earn a coveted Michelin star — a feat that’s all the more impressive considering chef Daniel Burns's restaurant had been open barely a year. His philosophy is as simple as it is ambitious: "We wanted to bring the idea of pairing beer with food in a fine-dining environment to people's consciousness," he says. In that vein, Burns offers an innovative $95 tasting menu built around seasonal ingredients enhanced by superb suds that straddle a spectrum of flavors and regionality. The menu is in constant flux, but certain staples remain (beef tartare with pickled jalapeños on a black-pepper cracker, and lobster relish with hazelnut mayonnaise on a seaweed biscuit are mainstays of the half-dozen snacks preambling four larger courses to follow). The fare features more vegetables and less protein, and Burns strives to bring bright, clean flavors to the plate (along with ample quantities of smoked fish with dill, a reflection of his time spent in Denmark). Tender pork neck served beside a dish of creamy cornmeal polenta infused with ground pork and house-made ricotta — of such creations memories are made. The beer is equally impressive, and it receives equal billing: To enter the intimate, modern dining room, one must first navigate through Tørst, an adjoining beer bar run by Evil Twin Brewing's Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø. And if $45 for a supplemental beer pairing puts a hurt on your wallet, choose among the extensive à la carte options (including several $5 craft cans). Luksus won't be the last place to earn kudos for partnering haute cuisine with gourmet beer. But like many great things, it’s an idea that came out of Brooklyn.