Hello, Brooklyn! Some of you may remember me as this site’s mostly lapsed food writer. I say lapsed because three years ago I made that oh-so-typical Brooklyn transition from spending 100% of my time thinking about craft cocktails and pork belly to spending 200% of my time changing diapers and falling asleep dead-tired at 8pm. Parenting is wonderful, really. But you really, really don’t get to do 10-course tasting menus anymore. I still love discovering new local food spots more than almost anything else, but lately most of my edible adventures have revolved around daytime expeditions with my 3-year-old-son. I’m always on the lookout for new, off-the-beaten-path restaurants we will both enjoy. Of course, there are the standard spots every Brooklyn parent needs to know—those go-to kid-friendly eateries like Black Forest and Habana Outpost. The restaurants on this list are all a little more far-flung, but each is a place where I’ve had a great meal in a new neighborhood, while getting my kid to hang happily for a significant period of time—and sometimes even try bites of dishes that aren’t plain pasta or hot dogs. Maybe.
Masal Café and Lounge, Sheepshead Bay
Ever wish your parenting life was less forest school and baby-ccinos, more zoning out while your kid runs wild in the playroom of a giant suburban restaurant? Well the dream is alive in Sheepshead Bay. Set in the historic Lundy’s restaurant building along the waterfront, this gargantuan Turkish eatery comes complete with a huge second floor built around an indoor playground with a jungle gym, ball pit, slides, trampolines and more. It costs $10 for each child to enter the playground, but they’ll easily spend several hours there, and there’s an attendant on hand, which means you can take a step back and observe through the giant glass walls while sipping Turkish coffee or sahlep—a warming winter drink made from a tapioca-like starch with hot milk and cinnamon. The whole fam can devour cheesy Kashkaval toasts and savory shepherd’s salad topped by an absolute avalanche of shredded feta—or the most extravagant baked potato this side of Mekelburg’s. There’s a kids menu with chicken nuggets and the like, although you might be able to entice tots to try something more adventurous by promising that after a good lunch they can choose their own sugar rush from the decadent dessert case downstairs.
Masal is a parents’ savior on a rainy day, but if you get a nice one you’ll want to stroll out along the water after lunch, including running and/or scootering over the footbridge to check out the fishermen hanging just across the Bay in Manhattan Beach. Masal Café and Lounge; 1901 Emmons Avenue; 718.891.7090
Café Tibet, Ditmas Park
Ditmas Park is packed with kid-friendly places to dine, and this is probably the least expected one. But it has the only thing that gets my kid more excited than a ball pit: trains. This pint-sized place is built right up against the B/Q tracks, which means that in the front (partially open-air) part of the restaurant, kids can perch up against the gate and watch the subway go by from above. Just posting up on the street to do this is one of my go-to ways of occupying my kid for most of an afternoon, so getting to watch trains while munching on chicken momos and heartwarming lamb curry is hard to beat. If your kid’s a picky eater (ha, if) order the thali for an array of things they can try and/or turn their nose up at. Or you can’t go wrong with simple fried rice and a mango lassi. Café Tibet; 1510 Cortelyou Road; 718.941.2725
Oasis Diner, Marine Park
I’m not including this spot on the list to claim that it’s The. Best. Diner. Ever. or anything like that. It’s Just. A. Diner. But after spending so much time in tiny, overcrowded, overpriced New York restaurants, you gotta appreciate the joy of Just. A. Diner. A place where 1 and ½ people can slide into an extra-roomy booth and stay there as long as they like. Where you can tell your kid “they have burgers and grilled cheese and pancakes and eggs here” and his face lights up as he says “I like all of those things!” Where the service is cheery and they plop a plate of mini-muffins on the table before you even order. Are the muffins worth writing home about? Of course not. But in my book, anyone who gets carbs in my kid’s face within 30 seconds of seating us deserves a Michelin star.
This stretch of the Marine Park neighborhood is also super-fun for an afternoon of exploring. After lunch we popped into Puppy Paradise, where there are always teeny-tiny dogs that you can pet and play with (or rent for a party?!), then over to the little BluReef Aquarium shop for gazing at colorful tropical fish, before running around Power Playground and ending with Italian cookies at the awesomely old-world Alliotta Pastry Shop. (Yes, pretty much all of my daddy-and-me days revolve around sugar bribes. No, I’m not sorry.) Oasis Diner; 2132 Flatbush Avenue; 718.258.3461
Sahadi’s at Industry City
The venerable Sahadi’s market in Brooklyn Heights is one of my favorite places anywhere in New York, and at one point I’d convinced myself it would be a magical spot to spend some quality time with my little guy. He’d revel in the sights and smells, marvel at the bread-baking oven, develop a refined palate for Middle Eastern spices. There’s even a children’s book he loves—A Moon for Moe and Mo—set in Sahadi’s, so I was sure this one was gonna be a winner. What the heck was I thinking? I somehow overlooked that taking a toddler to Sahadi’s would involve feebly pushing a stroller through the packed, narrow aisles while spending the whole time desperately trying to stop his curious fingers from knocking $16 jars of cornichons onto the floor. Not fun.
The new Sahadi’s in Industry City—now that’s a different story. Not only are there extra-wide aisles for browsing imported groceries at your leisure, there’s a lunch counter with falafel, shwarma and the like, prepared quickly and customized with fun sauces (or of course, left completely plain—sigh).
After eating, Industry City is a marvelous place to explore with a curious kid. It’s packed with so many engaging spots both intentionally fun (the Frying Pan Game Room, where a $5 all-access charge gets you unlimited mini-golf, Ping-Pong, video games, SkeeBall, etc…no need for endless quarters); and less intentionally fun (honestly I think browsing bathroom tile at the Porcelanosa showroom was his favorite part. Papa, can we go see all those pieces of wall again?) There are always fun art exhibits around, plus many other options at the food hall, and delectable sculptures at the Li-Lac chocolate factory (practice saying don’t touch on repeat). You can easily spend a very full day entertaining both kids and adults at IC. Also, there’s booze. Sahadi’s Industry City; 34 35th Street; 718.788.7500