The Chef's Table: Prospect
In Brooklyn, there is a glut of destination restaurants—the type that makes people plan what they’re going to order days in advance, the type that everyone is talking about all the time (until they’re not), the type that allows you the opportunity to spend a week’s paycheck on one meal. And then, there are the places where people actually eat—the type where the food is reliably delicious, where you never need to look at a menu, where you know that you can get a filling and flavorful meal in a casual but vibrant setting. Our favorite example of this kind of neighborhood spot is the Islands in Crown Heights. This tiny two-story, Jamaican restaurant emits the mouth-watering aroma of jerk spices and buttery stewed vegetables all up and down Washington Avenue, drawing people from around the neighborhood to its bustling storefront. You can fill yourself on rice and peas, curry vegetables, and oxtail stew for just about $10 and easily feel as sated as if you had eaten at the trendiest restaurant in Williamsburg. There is nothing wrong with the highest of the high-end restaurants that Brooklyn has to offer, but those destinations won’t ever be more than an occasional place to visit. A spot like the Islands quickly becomes a second kitchen, serving up the kind of food that reminds you of childhood, even if your mother never cooked quite this well.
The Islands, 803 Washington Avenue
The Neighborhood Spot: The Islands
When creating a list of iconic Brooklyn restaurants, a classic pizzeria automatically springs to mind. But instead of the decades-old, slice joints that dot the borough, it’s relative newcomer Franny’s that has come to represent what a Brooklyn pizzeria really is. First opened in 2004 by Francine Stephens and Andrew Steinberg, Franny’s quickly became a staple on Flatbush Avenue, attracting endless crowds of people with its excellent salumi, ever-shifting roster of perfect pastas, and transcendent pizzas—from the classic Margherita to the renowned clam pie, each one is better than the last. And after having spent nine years in the same 32-seat spot in Prospect Heights, Franny’s made the move across Flatbush Avenue this spring, to a space with room for three times as many diners, two wood-burning pizza ovens, and a bigger bar—the perfect place to sample and savor something from Franny’s impressive wine list. So while Franny’s might not fit into some vague notion of a Brooklyn pizzeria with a white-aproned man spinning and flipping dough in his hands, the acrid smell of garlic burning your nostrils, it is representative of what the Brooklyn pizzeria has become. Franny’s is a new classic, and when you watch chef John Adler slide a bubbling, blistered pizza from the oven and onto a plate, any questions about what a Brooklyn pizzeria should be are answered—it’s definitely Franny’s.
Franny's, 348 Flatbush Avenue
New-Brooklyn Classic: Franny's
None of these concerns enter into play at all when it comes to the Red Hook Ball Fields, where, in 1974, Latin American vendors began congregating to sell food to the people who were out watching soccer. Every weekend between spring and fall, the vendors still line up, attracting diverse crowds coming out in search of the affordable, authentic, and high-quality South American fare for which you'd otherwise have to search far and wide.
Red Hook Ballfields, 155 Bay Street
Food Trucks: Red Hook Ballfields
Since 1904, they've been serving up traditional Sicilian specialties like Vestedda (a sandwich consisting of spleen, ricotta, and grated cheese on a fresh baked roll) and Pasta con Sarde (pasta served with sardines, wild fennel, pine nuts and raisins), as well as the best and biggest rice balls, or Arancina, you'll find anywhere in New York. Filled with spicy chopped meat, peas and just a touch of sauce, it'll set you back a mere $3.50, or $6.50 if you opt for the far more decadent Arancina Special, which is smothered in cheese and tomato sauce.
As soon as you walk through the door, you feel like you're having an important experience, stealing a glimpse of the Old Brooklyn it's becoming increasingly difficult to find and, in some circles, increasingly frowned upon to seek out: for the most cynical and self-loathing among us, the quest for this this type of authenticity can smack of cultural tourism. For the rest of us, it's an invaluable history lesson and one of the best meals our borough has to offer.
Ferdinando's Focacceria, 151 Union Street
Old School Brooklyn: Ferdinando's Focacceria