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Roberta's and Brooklyn Grange:
New Food Darlings
In a pizza principality dominated by Famous Ray's, Ray's Original and Grimaldi's, who'd have guessed that the best pies (and some kick-ass bread) would come out of a small warehouse in Bushwick named Roberta's? Not only that, but the concrete-chic dough-masters have precipitated a wave of creative new pizza joints all over Brooklyn. And who'd have thought that when co-owners Chris Parachini and Brandon Hoy, and Roberta's farm manager Gwen Schantz started growing select pizza ingredients atop abandoned shipping containers in their graffiti-adorned garden that they were serious about urban farming? But two years after the Italian wood-fired oven at Roberta's roared to life in January 2008—and about one year after the Heritage Radio Network began broadcasting local music and natural food movement news from studios built inside the aforementioned backyard shipping containers—Roberta's Farm had overgrown its little plot of dirt and needed more cultivable land. They teamed up with Ben Flanner (the man behind New York City's first rooftop soil farm in Greenpoint) to create the new commercial organic farm Brooklyn Grange.
Actually located in Long Island City (37-18 Northern Boulevard to be exact, in case you want to stop by for some veggies or a volunteer shift), the sixth-story acre of high-tech engineered soil was only planted last spring and already generates enough produce to supply local restaurants, a veggie stand at Brooklyn Flea and another in Bushwick and, of course, toppings for delicious Roberta's pizzas. But that one acre is just the beginning. Their goal is to expand Brooklyn Grange to rooftops throughout the borough, providing more super-local organic produce for hungry masses of locavore foodies and restaurants while training a small army of professional urban farmers through volunteer and apprenticeship programs. As Brooklyn returns to its farmland roots, the hipster pizza wizards from Bushwick are leading the way.
The Diner Empire and Its Satellite States
If Roberta's/Brooklyn Grange is the current talk of the
town borough, they have the folks behind Brooklyn's first New American Food Empire, Mark Firth and Andrew Tarlow, to thank for, uh, setting the table. High-end comfort food/hipster mecca Diner was opened under the elbow of the Williamsburg Bridge way back in 1998, and quickly became shorthand for a "new" Brooklyn culinary sensibility that updated classic American simplicity with hyper-local ingredients and proto-skinny jeaned waitstaff. And boy did it work. Firth and Tarlow went on to open grocery/cafe/restaurant Marlow and Sons, and then butchery/grocery Marlow and Daughters, from whence sprang hipster butcher extraordinaire, Tom Mylan, who would go on to open The Meat Hook... You see? Everything is connected.
Inventor of Williamsburg: Zeb Stewart
A Northern California native and a sculptor at heart, Stewart moved to Brooklyn in the mid-90s. After working in construction building high-end restaurants and bars, he decided to do it himself, and the three places he opened in Williamsburg have gone on to very nearly epitomize (or introduce) their own subcategory of typically "Brooklyn" establishment: there's neighborhood stalwart Union Pool, the standard for fun, dive-y bars with live music and taco trucks out back; Hotel Delmano (which he opened with partner Michael Smart), the best of Brooklyn's takes on the Manhattan-born speakeasy trend; and the French bistro across the intersection, Cafe Colette. No other local restaurant and bar mini-mogul has been quite so successful or so versatile when reinvigorating overused signifiers of "Brooklyn-ness."
Hey, we ain't got nothing against Junior's cheesecake or steak from Peter Luger or any of the dozens of classic old-school Italian red sauce joints that dot Brooklyn... But when new-school spots are doing it just as well (or better), with local, organic ingredients, it's hard to justify paying more money for the museum experience.