Now, without bandying around the term "staycation" more than is necessary (which is never), there's really something to be said for using your weekends to explore the city you live in. Brooklyn is a big place, and all that! It can be far, far too easy to get stuck in comfortable, neighborhood-centric weekend ruts ("Ugh, getting to Williamsburg from Bushwick? But it's so farrrrr"), which isn't necessarily bad, but given that the weather's finally nice and most of us now have summer Fridays to play around with, no time like to present to see a few new things.
And one of the best places to do that, we think, is Red Hook. Newly revitalized in the past few years but also in sore need of a boost to local businesses in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, the neighborhood is out-of-the-way enough for most people that it's worth coming early and making a day of it. Come hungry. Incredibly hungry. Or, like that song says, "Have a drink/Have a [city-sponsored boat ride]/Go out and see what you can find." Anyway, Red Hook!
In a move to help neighborhood businesses bounce back after Sandy, the city decided to expand free ferry service
that runs between Pier 11 in Manhattan to the pier at Ikea, adding in a stop near the Red Hook Fairway and more frequent trips (boats leave every 25 minutes) for the summer. Sure, it might be a little out of the way to get to lower Manhattan to board the ferry, but then, no one should underestimate how good it feels to arrive anywhere by boat.
Or, as Fort Defiance owner St. John Frizell told Gothamist when news broke about the ramped up ferry service, "If you've put off that trip to Red Hook all winter, now's the time—after one visit, you'll be hooked!” Perfect.
Truthfully, food is kind of the main event of this whole thing. There are actually so many good things to eat in the neighborhood, we had to split food into two categories, the first of which is full-on, sit-down meals (almost all of which are within the same stretch on Van Brunt St., which makes it pretty easy to window shop). For brunch the area go-to is Kevin's (the same people who run Little Eva's on Governor's Island), which has a reliably great seasonal, seafood-heavy menu. There's also Home/Made, which serves dinner and drinks as well, but is worth visiting early in the day for the incredible natural light (and bottomless Kitten coffee, and on-tap Brooklyn Kombucha).
For dinner, Good Fork is a hyper-local favorite—the wine, alcohol, and desserts are all produced in the neighborhood—whose summer menu includes something called an "octopus taco." Nothing about that is not intriguing.
And, of course, there's the Red Hook Lobster Pound, which has gotten a lot of well-deserved hype in the past few years. Get a lobster roll, get some chowder (chowdah!), bask in the weird-but-fun experience of picking out your own lobster from the in-house tank.
Kevin's, 277A Van Brunt St
Home/Made, 293 Van Brunt St.
Red Hook Lobster Pound, 284 Van Brunt St.
The Good Fork, 391 Van Brunt St.
We use the term "snack" loosely, given that there are a couple of giant sandwiches on this list, starting with the neighborhood classic, DeFonte's
, which has been serving up perfect, no-frills Italian-style subs in the neighborhood since 1922 (be warned, they close at 4pm and have a strict cash-only policy). There's also another old (like, century-old) standby, Ferdinando's Foccaceria, home of a little something called the Panelle Special
. Yes, purist commenters, we know
it's technically in the nearby Columbia Waterfront District. Fine. But look at that sandwich! Well worth a slight neighborhood deviation.
If browsing is more your thing, let's not forget about Fairway, newly renovated and re-opened post-Sandy. I don't know if everyone likes wandering the air conditioned aisles of grocery stores looking for new snack foods as much as I do, but if it is your thing, there's no better place to do it than Fairway. There are also the Red Hook Food Vendors (also known at the "Ballfield Vendors") to be considered, a collection of Latin-American food trucks that have been gathering at the Red Hook Ball Fields on the weekends every summer since 1974 (they stay open from 9am to 9pm).
After all this, we still sort of assume you'll still have room for pastries, yes? Good, because Baked is in the neighborhood and is full of things like whoopie pies, Rice Krispy bars, and homemade marshmallows. There's also Steve's Authentic Key Lime Pies, which is perfect, and exactly what it sounds like.
DeFonte's Sandwich Shop, 379 Columbia St.
Ferdinando's Focacceria, 151 Union St.
Fairway, 480-500 Van Brunt St.
Red Hook Food Vendors, 155 Bay St.
Baked, 359 Van Brunt St.
Steve's Authentic Key Lime Pies, 204 Van Dyke St.
Should you choose not to spend the entire
day eating (and drinking). Even if you don't have any urgent gardening needs, we'd recommend a stop at the Chelsea Garden Center, mainly because it's one of those nurseries that's just incredibly beautiful to walk through (though, admittedly, the greenhouse may be a bit hot this time of year to stay in for very long). The Kentler International Drawing Space is also a reliably beautiful place to visit, with a constant rotation of excellent work by local artists. The current exhibition, Inside Out, is on display through July 21st.
If there's any one must-see for newcomers to the neighborhood, though, it's the Waterfront Museum and Showboat Barge, located on the 1914 Lehigh Valley Barge, and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The exhibitions cover local history as well as accessible, kid-friendly genres like "nautical painting." And really, there aren't a lot of things that sound more viscerally fun than a "showboat barge."
Chelsea Garden Center, 444 Van Brunt St.
Kentler Gallery, 353 Van Brunt St.
Waterfront Museum, 290 Conover St.
Worth planning carefully (or, I suppose, limiting yourself to just one for the day), given that chasing a flight of red wine with a flight of whiskey could get a little rough. But, what can we say? Two of the very best local booze outfits in Brooklyn
happen to be in Red Hook (there are actually more, but these are the two that are open to the public), and attention must be paid. First up, there's the Red Hook Winery
, which took a serious battering during Sandy but is still hanging in, and regularly holds on-site tastings of their truly superlative wines. Then there's Cacao Prieto
, which among other things, is responsible for the instant-classic Widow Jane whiskey. They also
act as a chocolate factory. Do you really need to know more about any of this? Just go.
Cacao Prieto; 218 Conover Street
Red Hook Winery; Pier 41 / 325A 175-204 Van Dyke St
On the off-chance the tastings didn't knock you out. Or even if they did! Get one of those crazy little cheese sandwiches and hop back to it. Even with beloved local watering hole Sunny's still out of commission
after the storm, there are a lot good places to sit and have a drink after a fruitful day of
sight-seeing. For a tried and true dive full of locals, there's Red Hook Bait and Tackle, and if your tastes lean a little more pub-y, Brooklyn Ice House and Rocky Sullivan's are both more than solid options for sitting in a cool, dark room with a cool, dark beer.
If you're looking for something a little more interesting, though, let's not discount the aforementioned Fort Defiance. We waffled about including them in the food category—it's a great burger-and-beer joint, and the entire menu is quite good—but what they're really known for is a stellar, seasonal cocktails. Fancy-nouveau-speakeasy-level cocktail quality, without any of the suspender-laden nonsense. Everything here is exactly as it should be.
Red Hook Bait and Tackle, 320 Van Brunt St.
Rocky Sullivan's, 34 Van Dyke St.
Brooklyn Ice House, 318 Van Brunt St.
Fort Defiance, 365 Van Brunt St.
Follow Virginia K. Smith on Twitter @vksmith.