May is the month to nourish yourself with fresh air, sunshine, friendship, and a decadent salad bowl with a cocktail on the side, chased by one of the best slices of pizza in Brooklyn. In this month’s food column, let’s explore the destination-worthy salads of Smith Street, while remembering that a salad need not be a final destination. It’s just your first course.
Since I was a kid, springtime has always lodged a song in my head called “The Lusty Month of May” from the 1960 musical Camelot. The cheeky Lady Guinevere, played by the young, clear-voiced Julie Andrews, sings about “that darling month when everyone throws self-control away.” It’s an ode to misbehaving and unwholesome fun, from a character on the brink of bringing a kingdom to ruin and being forced to join a convent. (Oops!)
So what if the kingdom is about to fall? Ask a new friend out for a bite. Sit on the sidewalk. Order the salad. And a drink. If the conversation is rolling, there’s a solid slice just around the corner.
Must-try bountiful bowls
Nili, the counter-service coffee shop from the Miss Ada folks, is Smith Street’s most sparkly hidden gem. Located in the old Milk Bar space at the 2nd place entrance to the Carroll Street F and G station, it doesn’t have a ton of curb appeal, but inside, there is always music pumping, and a friendly barista jamming behind the register. There’s a covered seating area outside, and you might feel like joining the dance party after biting into a fresh-baked, puffy pita, dipped in Nili’s smoky whipped babaganoush. Their rich sweet potato hummus, served with a sprinkle of toasted almonds, a dollop of creme fraiche, and a drizzle of paprika oil, tastes as luxurious as a dessert. You can’t go wrong with the pastries and sandwiches here, but I’m always coming for the veggie bowls, like the roasted cauliflower bowl (pictured above) or the butternut squash bowl, depending on what they’ve got. The ingredients seem to change with the seasons, but the bowl itself is generally smeared with hummus, and then artfully arranged with crisp salad greens, some pickled onions, roasted vegetables, and chewy, earthy whole grains. Nili serves canned beer and natural wine, as well as my favorite neighborhood coffee, so the hardest part is picking your pairing.
Grab a slice: Take your wholesome meal to the next level by walking over to Court Street for a slice at F+F Pizzeria. I’m always excited to spot the Partanna in the pizza window, a celebration of stringy mozzarella, hot Calabrian chili, sweet Sicilian honey, and red onion.
The little salad that could
Thank you, Bar Bête, for making a salad that rails against every dark dieting rule. There’s always some variation of a “Little Salad” on the menu here, and at the moment, it involves crunchy romaine lettuce, tender snippets of dill, aromatic and juicy mushrooms a la grecque, a zingy mustard vinaigrette, and a thick layer of sweet-salty-peppery fried shallots that you’ll want to scarf by the handful (pictured above). If you are strolling Smith Street on the early side, their side-street outdoor seating is available on a first-come, first-serve basis, and feels especially romantic after nightfall, when the windows of neighboring brownstones offer a soft glow. (There are no rain coverings here, so outdoor seating won’t work in a storm.) They open at 5:30, which is a good time to get a salad and a glass of pet-nat rosé. Side note: Did you hear the gossip that the Bar Bête folks are turning the old Jolie space into a new, kid-friendly, all-day spot named Ruthie’s? They’re hiring!
Grab a slice: If you’ve got the time and the budget, I highly recommend buckling in for a blissful, multi-course Bar Bête meal. However, if you’re on the move, stop at Brooklyn Pizza Market on your way to Bar Great Harry, or hit them the other way around. The Pizza Market is open late, and I’m partial to their Gang Green slice, piled with fresh mozzarella, pesto, garlic, spinach, mushrooms, and red pepper.
Best backyard for salads and margs
When I don’t want to eat out on the street, my favorite outdoor dining spot on Smith Street is HiHi Room‘s leafy backyard. Their affectionately named Fern Garden is an open-air space (not just a giant germ tent!) with retractable awnings, heaters, cute red tables, and tons of potted plants. As you’d expect from a restaurant brought to you by Court Street Grocers, the sandwiches are perfection, but I’m also a fan of their Pacific Coast Salad (pictured above), a big bowl of fresh mixed lettuces with creamy avocado, briny capers, peppery radish slices, crunchy puffed rice, and golden-yolked hard-boiled egg. It pairs well with their smooth house margarita, which is served in a fun cactus glass. If you’re looking for a cozy spot to day drink, they’re open for lunch every day except Tuesday and Wednesday.
Grab a slice: If you’re already boozing, might as well take a long-ish walk to Baby Luc’s, the Court Street slice shop from Lucali owner Mark Iacono. We’re into the slightly crisp crust of their square slices, especially if you can snag an umbrella table in their gravel courtyard and pair your pizza course with a potent bottled Negroni.
Brooklyn restaurant openings + tips
Coming Soon: I spotted the familiar Bar Bruno signage painted on the side of the old Enid’s space in Greenpoint (pictured above), and Greenpointers says this second location of the Carroll Gardens family-friendly Mexican bistro is slated to open soon. Meanwhile, Secret Pour, a new bar, is getting set to serve cocktails and waffle sandwiches in Bed-Stuy.
Now Open: Philadelphia’s highly acclaimed Laser Wolf opened an Israeli skewer shop on the rooftop of the Hoxton Hotel, and DoorDash opened a food hall in Downtown Brooklyn featuring outposts for DOMODOMO, Pies ‘N’ Thighs, moonbowls, and King’s County Imperial, with Little Caesars coming soon. (Huh?)
Bigger and Better: Park Slope’s ever-popular Pasta Louise, known for their fresh pasta, homemade ice cream, and family-friendliness has reopened in their new location at 1114 Eight Ave. (in the old Johnny Mack’s space).
Free Pizza in Williamsburg: Since National Pizza Party Day on May 20 and continuing until the end of June, Ainslie in Williamsburg will be serving complimentary wood-fired pizzas at the bar on Mondays through Fridays from 5 – 6pm for the early birds and again for the late-night folks 11:30pm – 12:30am. Worth noting: This very cute, wide-windowed, brick-exposed spot is not to be confused with the divey Alligator Lounge five minutes away, which somehow still manages to serve free pizza all the time.
Kugel Party: Edith’s Eatery and Grocery has opened for dinner service, offering re-imagined versions of traditional Jewish dishes. The menu includes Sephardic sweet potato curry, layered cabbage with Bubbe’s tomato sauce, and the fennel powder-dusted kugel, pictured below.