05/15/17 9:15pm

Photo: Georgia Kral

We sat closely together at a round table, tucked into the corner of the restaurant on a blustery fall evening. I don’t recall what we talked about, but I know what we ate: burrata, all luscious, creamy and oozing out onto the accompanying pane carasau–Sardinian flatbread–basil and tomato; pappardelle intermingling with mushrooms, garlic and Parmigiano; thick-cut lasagna, its shape more rectangular than square.

I do remember when he pulled out a small box. It contained the ring we’d designed together some months earlier; my sapphire engagement ring, a symbol of our commitment, as delightful and unique as the plates we were devouring.

Yes, this is a story about love and pasta, and a romance oft rekindled at this special restaurant. It’s called River Deli.

Located on one of the most idyllic corners in New York City, the Sardinian restaurant isn’t a deli at all. It’s a trattoria styled for families and lovers, friends and acquaintances. The food is better than good and it’s extremely affordable. You won’t find anything like it in Brooklyn Heights or anywhere else in the city for that matter. (more…)

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04/10/17 10:24am
Elsens Photo: Georgia Kral

Melissa and Emily Elsen grew up in a family food business. Photo: Georgia Kral

In the restaurant industry, partners are essential. One person can’t go it alone for reasons financial, emotional, practical and logistical. But like in any business, having a partner you can trust–and see eye-to-eye with–is crucial to success and often difficult to find. So what happens when you start a business with someone who knows you better than pretty much anyone, who you probably got sent to your room for smacking at some point, and who remembers every moment of every awkward phase you’ve even gone through?

Food businesses owned by sibling partners have a particular style. They choose to run their projects with a family-first ethos where respect for each other, collective decision-making, brutal honesty and reasonable expectations are the guiding principles. In addition to great food, of course. (more…)

10/03/16 10:35am
fidanza saltie

Caroline Fidanza stands in front of Saltie, her seven-year-old sandwich shop on Metropolitan Avenue in Williamsburg. Photo: Georgia Kral

In a neighborhood like Williamsburg, which has arguably experienced more change than any other part of Brooklyn in the past 10 years, finding the familiar can feel like slipping into a snug sweater you thought would never fit again. On one corner, where there was once a modest building there is now an elaborate Whole Foods Market. Across the street, where lines used to form for bagels, people now wait for the latest iPhone, while tapping at their current iPhone.

But just four short blocks east on a busy stretch of Metropolitan Avenue sits a sandwich shop that looks and feels the same as it did when it opened seven years ago.

That place is Saltie, a compact “farm to table” eatery that makes sandwiches loaded with Mediterranean flavors with names like the Scuttlebutt and the Spanish Armada. It’s a neighborhood spot that, according to owner and chef Caroline Fidanza, has thrived in Williamsburg by not changing even as many things around it did.

“We have just tried to continue to be who we are and distinguish ourselves in that way,” she said, in a reflective conversation over unsweetened iced tea on a recent unseasonably warm September day. Fidanza is committed to her craft and business at a time where the restaurant industry, and customer tastes, are changing as much as Brooklyn itself.


“When we opened, it was all about sustainability. People would come in and ask ‘where did you get your eggs from?’ Because they cared, they wanted to know. Now, nobody ever, ever, ever asks anymore.”


We spoke at Saltie, which can seat maybe 10 people comfortably and has famously uncomfortable stools for just four diners. Over the course of 90 minutes, as we chatted about her desire for both change and stability, and about her views on current restaurant trends, more than half the customers chatted with Fidanza as if they’d known her for years, and indeed many of them likely had. (more…)

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02/01/16 11:50am
Hummus Market is a restaurant where vegetarians, vegans and omnivores can dine together in peace. Photo: Hummus Market

Hummus Market is a restaurant where vegetarians, vegans and omnivores can dine together in peace. Photo: Hummus Market

There are restaurants that open with great fanfare after months on most-anticipated lists, early previews for the food media elite and with the help of an army of publicists. Then there are the unassuming local joints that pop-up a few blocks from your apartment and quickly become your favorite place for Tuesday night dinner or an excellent lunch special. While it’s nice to have fancy eats within a stone’s throw of your front door, it’s really the smaller, humbler places that you want to eat at or order from on a weekly basis (and can actually afford) that make a neighborhood feel like home.

Hummus Market, which opened on Graham Avenue in Williamsburg last summer, is decidedly in the latter camp. Yes, the name has a real mall-falafel ring to it, but ignore that. This is veggie heavy, olive oil laden, parsley, lemon juice and harissa-spiked, pan-Middle Eastern fare. If you’ve ever bought a cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi this is the food you secretly wish you were making and eating at home all the time. (more…)

01/04/16 10:57am

Another year, another 12,567, 999 restaurants or so getting ready to open in Brooklyn. More hipster food halls? Check. Even more fried chicken sandwiches? Of course, check. So which newcomers are worth getting worked up over?  Well, here’s a serious start. From some very oversized openings to little mom-and-pops, expansions of popular outposts, and the revival of at least one shuttered favorite, here are the 10 upcoming Brooklyn restaurants we’re most excited to dive into, fork first, in 2016.

Photo: Emily

Get ready for Detroit style, crispy squares at Emmy Squared. Photo: Emily

1. Emmy Squared Clinton Hill-ites tired of waiting for a table at wildly popular, pint-sized pizzeria Emily will have another option this spring. Emily’s husband-and-wife owners are debuting this new spot in a former Subway sandwich storefront nearby. Working with Paulie Gee’s vet Lou Tomczak, Emmy Squared will serve Detroit-style square pizza (crisp-edge slices cooked in a pan), plus an enticing lineup of serious sandwiches. 913 Fulton Street (near Clinton Avenue) (more…)

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09/14/15 10:50am
The maple creemee at Corner of Vermont has a higher milk fat content than your standard soft serve. Photo: Elaheh Nozari

The maple creemee at Corner of Vermont has a higher milk fat content than your standard soft serve. Photo: Elaheh Nozari

I discovered Corner of Vermont, a tiny lunch counter tucked into Park Slope’s 5th Avenue, in an unremarkable way: I read about it in the New York Times. Florence Fabricant mentioned its Vermont-style soft-serve ice cream in her weekly Front Burner column, and since I pride myself on an encyclopedic knowledge of the New York frozen dairy scene, I had to find out how the so-called creemees tasted immediately. So began a series of visits to this epicurean specialist of all things Green Mountain.

It’s hard to define Corner of Vermont, which will be celebrating its one-year anniversary in November, without seeing it for yourself. While Fabricant identified it first and foremost by its soft-serve, the restaurant’s Facebook page classifies itself as a hot dog joint, yet some might say it’s more of a soda fountain (the proof is in the egg cream, which is decidedly more 212 than 802). It also serves breakfast all day. Basically, anything that Vermont is known for (dairy, maple) has a spot on the menu, which, not including the breakfast offerings, can be split into three main categories: hot dogs (with made-in-Vermont franks from Black Watch Farm), grilled cheese (made with either Grafton or Cabot cheddar), and ice cream, whether that’s soft-serve or a milkshake.
(more…)

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08/31/15 11:29am

Apparently there are now too many restaurants in America and not enough chefs, with this whole fancy-eatery-on-every-corner thing spiraling a little out of control. Brooklynites will plead guilty as charged, but no, we’re not about to stop now. The fall season is the busiest time of year for new restaurant openings–here are our top 10 to look forward to around the borough.

10. Werkstatt 

Potato madness comes to Coney Island Ave. (Photo: Werkstatt)

Potato madness comes to Coney Island Ave. | Photo: Werkstatt

The chef who formerly owned Thomas Beisl in Fort Greene will bring Austrian cuisine and a biergarten atmosphere to a  stretch of Coney Island Avenue that could use a little restaurant love. The new Kensington spot will pour German (and Brooklyn) beers, draft wines and cocktails (including a Von Trapp Spritz which marries vodka, grapefruit liquor, bitters and sparkling wine), along with some snacks like celery root schnitzel, housemade bratwurst, and giant pretzels with Hungarian-style cheese. 509 Coney Island Avenue (at Turner Place); 718-284-5800; werkstattbrooklyn.com (more…)

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07/13/15 8:55am
All photos courtesy Batata Pita Bar.

Schnitzel and waffles offers an unexpected  brunch upgrade. All photos: Batata Pita Bar.

I really thought I was over the never ending fried chicken and waffles trend. And then I walked into Batata Pita Bar in Windsor Terrace and saw schnitzel and waffles on the menu. Now, before you cry “gimmick,” I’d like to point out that subbing in Israeli-style schnitzel–thin, crispy slabs of boneless breast meat–is actually a functional upgrade from your traditional fried bird brunch binge. With all deference to certain old-school eateries, it just doesn’t make much sense to serve a bone-in piece of meat over a waffle. You end up with a syrupy mess that you can’t pick up without getting your hands fully coated, but can’t eat effectively with a knife and fork, either. I for one, hope this boneless chicken and waffle thing catches on. At Batata, it also doesn’t hurt that their crispy chicken comes on homemade coconut-milk waffles lathered in honey chili butter and maple syrup. (more…)

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10/10/14 12:37pm
tyson backyard swine640

Tyson stads in the very industrial feeling backyard of Arrogant Swine, shortly before opening day. Photo: Chris Crowley

Earlier this week Tyson Ho broke New York’s Texas-style brisket spell, opening Arrogant Swine, the city’s first Carolina-style barbecue joint. While his colleagues in the barbecue world, like Dan Delaney of BrisketTown and John Avila of Morgan’s have nurtured beefy obsessions with brisket, Tyson will be serving Carolina whole hog (not pulled pork), focusing on “outside brown” pork shoulder–the caramelized outer layer of the pig produced by the slow burn of smoke. Daniel Vaughn, Texas Monthly’s barbecue evangelist, has called this layer of crackly skin and juicy meat “the fatty brisket of North Carolina.” It’s been Ho’s mission, he told me back in February, to become “a church of pork,” so you’ll find ham, too, alongside traditional sides like pone, a kind of cornbread.

From finding a location to diving into the largely untested territory of onsite, outdoor smokers in Brooklyn, Ho has been discovering the highs and lows of being a restauranteur. Romantic as it may sound, the experience of opening a restaurant without major backing in Brooklyn today is anything but. (more…)

04/07/14 9:50am

Rabbit cappelacci pasta with mole rojo and masa was a recent dinner menu item. Photo: Grindhaus

Rabbit cappelacci pasta with mole rojo and masa was a recent dinner menu item. Photo: Grindhaus

With the return of warm and sunny weather, day trips to Red Hook are back on your weekend menu, and there’s a new culinary destination worth the trip on the B61. Grindhaus quietly opened back in December, following a delay of more than a year thanks to Hurricane Sandy. Owner Erin Norris, a longtime Red Hook resident, used to sell sausages at the bygone Red Hook Mercado, which explains the restaurant’s sausage-centric name, although the long-in-the-making eatery has shifted focus away from wieners and toward a small, daily-changing menu that includes housemade pasta dishes, fresh-baked breads, interesting salads and creative local seafood options, like a surf clam crudo and striped bass head with coconut, mushroom and brown butter.

Grindhaus has attracted positive buzz based on the strength of some truly beautiful dinner dishes, and last week expanded with a weekend lunch menu.
(more…)

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