Hidden Brooklyn

A vast borough teeming with hungry hipsters and a thriving food scene incorporating a dizzying number of cuisines, Brooklyn can be a daunting place in which to find the perfect meal. Even locals don’t always know where to go, other than a few choice places near their apartments—which are probably fantastic, by the way.

Places pop up seemingly overnight (and sometimes disappear just as quickly), and the cuisine du jour can shift weekly. Many of the best places are too new or too specific to have reached some sort of critical mass on sites like Yelp. So what’s a hungry visitor to do? Take a train to an unfamiliar neighborhood and follow the crowds? Or use this list of a few Brooklyn places definitely worth seeking out.

We hope to bring you more of these travel insights (including picks in other boroughs and other regions) in the future. Happy eating!

Saraghina
350 Lewis Avenue

Not so long ago, a wood-fired oven pizzeria opened (it seemed) weekly somewhere in Brooklyn. Saraghina, which began in 2012 in Stuyvesant Heights, quickly established itself as among the best, and is one of my favorite restaurants in all of NYC. Not surprisingly, the most popular dish on the menu, says Chef/Partner Austin Baker, is the Pizza Margherita, as perfect as it is simple, a blistered 12-inch round of sourdough crust made with natural fermentation and a just-right layer of sauce and mozzarella, the latter made in-house. (If you eat meat, definitely try the Capocollo iteration, which is quite spicy and wonderfully porky.) There is also wonderful focaccia with whipped ricotta, olives, and preserved Meyer lemons, plus grass-fed burgers and a colorful beet and citrus salad. The decor is an attractive blend of rustic/industrial/comfy, with a large backyard garden covered with winding, gnarled grapevines now nearly a decade old.

Find Saraghina’s recipe for Beet Salad here.

Gage & Tollner

372 Fulton Street
This newly restored, landmarked late-Italianate jewel in Downtown Brooklyn sits firmly in the hiding-in-plain-sight camp, with a wonderful, storied past. It originally opened in 1879, then closed after 125 years, only to be scheduled to re-open in March 2020 (oops) after a Wefunder campaign. (Three friends and restaurateurs raised the money: St. John Frizell, Sohui Kim, and Ben Schneider.) In between, it was a TGI Fridays, an Arby’s, and a discount-clothing shop. (The street on which it sits is a mishmash of sneaker places, mobile phone joints, and fast-food branches.) Its original 1919 revolving door finally began spinning again on April 15 of this year, with food inspired by the restaurant’s own archives: a decadent raw bar, old-school steaks and chops, roasted fish and chicken — plus decidedly caloric classics such as Soft Clam Belly Broil and legendary Chef Edna Lewis’s She-Crab Soup. Welcome back!

Black Flamingo
168 Borinquen Place

An appealing place in Williamsburg where locals hang out and enjoy a menu of vegan tacos (for which the place is justifiably well known) on homemade tortillas and other meatless Pan-Latin cuisine — plus some very yummy cocktails. It was originally opened in late summer 2016, by Ben Dawson and Bryce David. Back in the day (pre-COVID, that is), it was also a club, transforming at 10 p.m. into an upstairs lounge for cocktails and conversation, and downstairs a dark, thumping dance venue with a tropical Latin vibe. (Check the website for updates on that.) The menu changes with the seasons, and might include beer-battered, fried squash rings with agave and chipotle mayo; or a seared, marinated seitan taco with refried pinto beans, chunky pineapple and jicama salsa. The Jamaica Margarita is a mix of tequila blanco, hibiscus, lime, and agave, which is balanced and refreshing—just the thing for when the dancing starts up again.

Look by Plant Love House
622 Washington Avenue

One of those “in the know” places in Prospect Heights, serving some of the best Thai food in the borough, and somewhere foodies definitely travel to eat. Chef Banjaporn Chua came to the US speaking no English and went to school with her sister while her mother was working. They decided to open a restaurant (the original branch is in Queens) where they hired a lot of women and created a community of empowerment. There are now three branches, serving both the familiar and the challenging. (They originally had to tone down the spiciness because of negative Yelp reviews, but brought it back because their loyal customers missed it.) Next to the green papaya salad (excellent, by the way) you’ll find specialties such as Pig Blood Noodles, with pork broth fragrant with five-spice powder, to which is added, yes, pig’s blood, rice noodles, meatballs, bean sprouts and Chinese broccoli. Wash it down with a delectable Thai Iced Tea.
For Look by Plant Love House’s Thai Iced Tea recipe, click here.

Cozy Royale

434 Humboldt Street

This laid-back ode to Appalachia is tucked into a side street in Williamsburg, where comfort foods like pepperoni rolls (which started as a lunch West Virginia coal miners could stuff in their back pockets) and an antipasto of pickled bologna and seasonal vegetables are served. Co-owner Ben Turley and Chef Brent Young, co-owners and longtime friends who started the cult butcher shop the Meat Hook, wanted to create an antidote to the over-ambitiousness of New Yorkers. They serve, among other things, approachable offal and strong drinks, the latter the perfect foil for rich meats, including some knockout sticky sausages. (Watch out for the deceptively named Bijou cocktail, a potent blend of gin, sweet vermouth, green Chartreuse, and orange bitters.) In addition to the outdoor space and main dining room, there’s a back area built to be a party space with a turntable and stack of Blue Ridge folk albums.

Cozy Royale shares their recipe for Sticky Little Sausages.

Outerspace
99 Scott Avenue
A little hard to find but well worth the effort, Outerspace is a seasonal restaurant in a Bushwick events space. Co-founders Molly McIver and Wells Stellberger conceived it as a way to work with their friends in music, film, and design to create their first restaurant. The fun takes place in a tropical plant-filled garden out back with socially distanced private booths that can hold up to six diners each. It’s a relaxed but buzzing place to share plate after plate of delicious food while sipping something good. Check their site to see who’s cooking at the moment.

STORY BY STEPHEN TREFFINGER/PHOTOGRAPHY BY MICHAEL MARQUAND

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