The time has come to reflect on 2016. Luckily, I write about food and not politics–this has been a great year for food in Brooklyn. We’ve been graced with openings from renowned chefs, quiet sleeper hits and pizza, pizza, pizza.
I started thinking about this in terms of a “best of” list and quickly realized I wouldn’t get anywhere just thinking about what was “best.” That is both a limiting and tired way of looking at any subject. So here I’ve broken it down into some of my own personal favorite categories (including pizza, burgers and wine) to highlight the real standouts from the past 12 months.
Best vibes: Olmsted
Olmsted has been getting so much love from the city’s foodies, critics and well, everyone, that it’s almost like, what do I have to add?
The food is refreshingly clever and yet still accessible. The dishes are pretty to look at and delicious to taste. (Nobody likes carrots that much and yet the carrot crepe is one of the best items on the menu.)
But what Olmsted is really owning is its reputation as a homey, down-to-earth Prospect Heights restaurant. Its well-known and loved edible backyard is now a winter sanctuary complete with heat lamps and Pendleton blankets. To turn the crown jewel of the restaurant into a year-round destination is pretty genius. Who can think of a better way to spend the early days of Trump, which will coincide with the deep days of winter, than in a joy-filled Brooklyn garden, mugs of booze in hand?
Best ambiance: SUNDAY in Brooklyn
Located in the former Isa space on Wythe in South Williamsburg, SUNDAY in Brooklyn just opened in November and has been turning heads with its unique spin on wood-fired dishes and things of beauty like an edible flower created with ribbons of kohlrabi. It was gorgeous and delicious (as was the chicken it came with) but the “WOW” factor at SUNDAY for me was the actual restaurant and its interior design. The first floor is cozy and warm, but the white-washed walls and exposed beams and the potted tropical plants in the middle of the second floor dining room made me feel like I was dining in a dreamland.
348 Wythe Ave., Williamsburg
Best wine program: Freek’s Mill
Having strong opinions about wine is becoming increasingly cool in certain circles and at Freek’s Mill in Gowanus that’s definitely the case. The beverage program here focuses acutely on just a tiny portion of the world of wine. Every wine on the whites portion of their list is a Chenin Blanc from the Loire Valley and all the reds are from Beaujolais with a particular emphasis on Gamay (there are also some sparkling wines and few other options in the mix). This highly concentrated offering was showcased by The New York Times in addition to other publications for its bold vision and intense confidence in the wines on the list. All, it turns out, pair well with food. On my two visits, every glass I sampled made the food–which is fabulous–sing.
285 Nevins St., Gowanus
Best weird experience: Ichiran
When the Japanese transplant Ichiran opened in Bushwick you may have heard more about how you eat there than what you eat there. Both, it turns out, are worth discussing. The ramen is unctuous and thick with flavor, yes, but eating it all alone, in a private ramen booth, without speaking to any server or even seeing a face is what makes this bowl of ramen unlike any you’ve had before. Your sense of taste and touch are elevated. Your tongue is coated in pork broth. Your face is nearly dripping with condensation it’s so close to the bowl. You leave refreshed.
374 Johnson Ave., Bushwick
Best fried chicken: Hail Mary
I waxed poetic on the Sasso hot fried chicken at Hail Mary at length back in October. The spice is imparted in part from the Szechuan Peppercorns… so yeah. Read all about it. (Link!!)
68 Greenpoint Ave., Greenpoint
Best pizza: Emmy Squared
Pizza is always one of the best foods and no pizza made a bigger a splash in Brooklyn this year than the square, pan-baked Detroit-style pies at Emmy Squared. The offshoot location of Clinton Hill’s Emily, Emmy Squared proved that a pizzaiolo can make two completely different styles of pizza well.
Matt Hyland said the Detroit-style utilized at Emmy Squared was “sort of an accident.” He was originally testing grandma pies with his wife Emily Hyland and pizza-master Adam Kuban and after lots of pizza they realized they wanted to do “square in a pan, sauce on top, cheesy crust” pies. “We should just make detroit pizza,” Hyland remembered.
And lucky for us that’s what happened! Don’t miss The Emmy, with mozzarella, banana peppers, onions, ranch and side of sauce.
364 Grand St., Williamsburg
Best burger: Mister Dips
Eating a burger at Mister Dips is an experience. Prepared and served out of an Airstream trailer on a sort of green roof at a completely bourgeois and honestly, neighborhood vibe-killing hotel (the William Vale), it’s an experience in polar opposites. The burger is perfect but the location will harsh your buzz.
But oh, the burger! Available as both a single or a double, the smashed patties have just the right amount of fat and funk and both are served with an aged cheddar cheese and secret sauce–a tangy variation on Russian dressing. Chef Andrew Carmellini, better known for his haute farm-to-table restaurants across the river, does all the food at the William Vale including the restaurant Leuca. But he told me Mister Dips is his “dream restaurant.” That must be why the burger is so damn good.
Unfortunately, Mister Dips is just a seasonal burger joint and is now closed until spring. Sorry!
111 N. 12th St., Williamsburg
Best overall: Lilia
Chef Missy Robbins opened a wood-burning restaurant in a cavernous space in Williamsburg , which was surely once a garage or some other industrial space, in the heady days of spring 2016. Things are very different now than they were then, but we think Lilia will continue to draw crowds because the food is unfussy and comforting. It’s refined food without pretense. Even a dish like sheep’s milk cheese agnolotti with saffron, tomato and honey (pictured), which sounds fancy as shit, is actually just an elevated take on the soft, mouth-watering ravioli of your youth. A place to revel in food and forget other troubles for an evening.
567 Union Ave., Williamsburg