Graham Avenue isn’t what it used to be. Once filled with the rich sounds of Southern Italy, in the past decade businesses owned by Brazilians, Mexicans and upstate transplants have sprouted along this strip of north Brooklyn.
“You’ll definitely find someone who will say it was better before,” says Joe Rinaldi, “but to me, the new people, it’s good.”
Rinaldi and sister-in-law Sarah De Vita opened Caffe Capri in 1974 to fill a brewing need: in the neighborhood of Italians, cappuccino cravings required a trek to Little Italy. Capri for years served as a de facto social club, open until 11pm in the summers with a jukebox that alternated American and Italian tunes.
Capri (Frost and Withers) continues to draw the increasing numbers of young people in the neighborhood who come in for the famous iced coffee (secret: coffee ice cubes) and a taste of old Brooklyn.
New Brooklyn can be sipped at Variety (Conselyea and Skillman), which serves the Oregon-born and now Red Hook-roasted Stumptown Coffee or Beaner Bar, a tiny café run by four Mexicans with a sense of humor.
Beaner Bar serves the Chicago favorite Intelligentsia coffee as espresso drinks and dripped-to-order, a rare find in New York. Weekends are Tamale Time, and you can top off your chicken and elote plate with a Chicano—a rich, dark hot chocolate with a touch of white chocolate. “Like us!” said co-owner Veronia Treviño.
The clientele is as colorful as the décor. Michael Virtuoso who owns Graham Avenue Meats and Deli next door stops in for a mocha. “What kind of milk?” asks barista Ben, who moonlights in the Upright Citizens Brigade. “Regular,” replied Virtuoso, skeptical—is there any other way?
Virtuoso and his son hand-make sausages, roast beef and turkey, and compile towering meatball sandwiches, one of their myriad specialties. Locals stop in say hello to “the boys” at the store that’s served the neighborhood for nearly a century.
A block down, Emma Bracy sips coffee with shop-owner Yra Lacriox of Orange Marmalade (Withers and Frost), a sweet, white-walled shop with a well-curated selection of vintage clothing and accessories. This spring, Lacriox will add a line of her own designs to her racks. “On a street full of nice people, she’s the nicest,” said Bracy with a smile.
At Dolly G’s (Ainslie and Devoe) just down the way, Giselle Carrera hand picks and alters her inventory. Gloves, clutches and lace-up boots are lovingly displayed under the shop’s low ceiling.
The shopping, like the neighborhood, mixes vintage charm with au-courant eco-consciousness. King Kog, a woman-owned operation, offers a freewheeling mix of bike parts, frames, and accessories from tiny saddle bags by Chloe Swantner to colorful bike bags from El Divino, a Chilean line.
Lazy late-afternoon hours are well spent with a slice of Americana at The Blue Stove (Withers and Jackson), the year-old pie shop where Rachael McBride nestles crème pies, fruit pies, and savory pies in a flaky piecrust, a recipe passed down from her grandmother. The blue stove that grants the place its name came from her great-grandmother, and now holds a place of honor in the shop in addition to assorted coffee condiments.
In the evenings, you have your pick of restaurants along Graham Avenue. You could opt for oysters and fish sliders at Sel de Mer, which recently made New York Magazine’s Where to Eat 2010, or spice it up with Mexican at Mesa Coyoacan, where the jalapeño margaritas are worth the wait.
For a mellow night out, pull back a seat at the counter of Oak Wine Bar, where owner Paula Maia can tell you the provenance of each wine on the list, which favors unusual old-world picks including white Tempranillo and a round Portuguese red from Dão. In addition to brunch and dinner daily, Oak has twice-monthly Tuesday wine dinners, where $35 buys you a three-course meal and wine pairings.
After dinner you can elbow your way into Daddy’s, where Margavezas, beer and margaritas fuel summertime mayhem, and music spins year around. The Richardson provides mellower alternative, with smartly dressed bartenders who mix excellent cocktails with a jigger less attitude than is served in similarly good-looking bars around the city.
Along Graham Avenue, like much of Brooklyn, the old guard is making way for the new. But if the long time faceoff between local pizza joints Tony’s on the west side of the block and Carmine’s on the east is any indication, this avenue can take a little friendly competition.
Text and photos by Lisa Riordan Seville, sent by Annaliese.
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