02/26/14 4:00am

919 Fulton Street, Clinton Hill

At this new pizzeria helmed by husband-and-wife team Matthew and Emily Hyland, the eponymous pie sounds like a cross between a truffled white pizza and baklava. Turns out this is a perfect match. The chewy, charred crust is topped with creamy mozzarella; pungent, buttery taleggio; and aromatic truffle sottocenere, a cow’s milk cheese laced with slivers of black truffle. The sottocenere sets off a bomb of earthy flavor that you just can’t get from a slosh of run-of-the-mill truffle oil, and it perfectly balances the Mediterranean dessert combo of sticky-sweet honey and crunchy pistachios. A drizzle of honey also elevates the Colony, a pizza topped with jammy tomato sauce, stringy mozzarella, crisped and curled pepperoni, and spicy pickled chilis. Both flavor combinations were so unexpected and delicious that we couldn’t pick a favorite. We could live on this pizza.

When we stopped by for a weekend pizza brunch, the four tables beside us were pushed together to accommodate eight young parents and a slew of children quietly perched on laps, cuddled to shoulders, or squished together on the bench that lines the wall of this slender space. The ample staff didn’t seem flustered, delivered our pies quickly, and smiled knowingly as they deliberately brought out our own 3-year-old’s classic pizza first. The basic combo of sauce, mozzarella and basil hits all the right marks and is reminiscent of the fine traditional pies at Sottocasa on Atlantic Avenue, where Emily’s pizzaiolo met his pizza-making mentor, Luca Arrigoi. At dinnertime, the expanded menu caters to a more grown-up clientele, promising non-pizza extras like Brussels sprouts with apples, Worcestershire, and chilis; crispy pig ears with winter greens in a mustard vinaigrette; spaghetti with ‘nduja (spicy, smoky spreadable pork sausage), uni and pistachios; and cinnamon-sugared pizza churros with dulce de leche for dessert.

The short list of $10 cocktails includes a vodka-spiked lavender lemonade, and the booze-free version of the home-brewed lemonade is flawlessly tart and floral for a mere $3.50. Wines by the glass range from $7 to $9, tap beers cost $6, and the sweet, oaky Rodenbach Sour makes a fine pizza pairing at $7 per bottle. Once a month, the restaurant hosts pizza-making workshops. The next one, scheduled for March 4, involves a yoga class with Emily, who’s an instructor when she isn’t passing out pizzas. The pizza-yoga combo may sound a little too Brooklyn-precious, but we also once thought the same thing about putting honey on pizza.

02/12/14 4:00am

412 Court Street, South Brooklyn

It started with the acorn-sized gougères, their buttery pastry shells piped with Gruyere cream, and continued with an espresso cup of rich, earthy root-vegetable soup sprinkled with chili flakes and drizzled with olive oil. Next, a long, thin loaf of bread arrived, looking like a baby baguette but tasting more like chewy herbed foccacia, accompanied by a miniature bowl of ricotta—dusted with black pepper to cut through its creamy sweetness—and another little bowl of mellow white-bean puree brightened by briny green olive tapenade. When you dine at Dover, the roomy new space helmed by Battersby’s Joseph Ogrodnek and Walker Stern, these are the kinds of dishes you can expect to receive as gifts from the chefs. Amuse-bouches. Freebies. A few unexpected bites of food that turn a Monday night dinner into a special occasion, an impromptu celebration, a
happy memory.

As our actual orders arrived, things got even better. Fresh, sweet morsels of crabmeat were tangled into an ample appetizer-sized portion of inky tagliatelle, lightly touched with lemon and chili. Tender, flaky cod was paired with roasted potatoes, sweet and juicy cippolinis and tangy olives in brown butter, plus teeny tiny croutons (in culinary school, they call this miniscule 1/16-inch dice a “brunoise”) that added salt and crunch. Seared scallops met carrot curls, roasted almonds and juicy, jewel-like mandarin orange segments in a light, citrusy, buttery sauce. Half-sized portions of the fish were ample enough to share, and a dinner-sized portion of duck—seared on the outside and luxuriously pink within—was even more generously sized. (The only dish that we sent back unfinished was the cauliflower, browned and deep-fried florets mixed with white crisp-tender ones, plus plump raisins and wisps of bitter winter greens in what seemed to be a pool of lemon juice. The bright, tart, inventive vegetable may have worked better in a small tasting portion, but a wide bowl was too much.)

Small, perfect bites are the specialty at Dover, and the best way to experience them is to get on board for the $95 seven-course tasting menu, but it’s possible to dine here on a smaller budget. For $94, two of us split two first-
courses, two half-sized fish dishes and one entrée; we left too full for dessert. In that respect, Dover is not only serving up some of the best meals in Brooklyn—it’s also one of the best deals in Brooklyn, considering the quality. It’s much bigger than Battersby, but we expect that the extra seats will soon be booked far in advance. Get a table while you still can.

01/29/14 4:00am

Photos by Austin Mcallister

The Roof
214 Third Street, Gowanus

Standard dieting advice says that food shopping on an empty stomach can leave you with a cart full of calorie-dense impulse buys. But dining before you shop at the Roof, the taproom and counter-service café on the second floor of Brooklyn’s new Whole Foods, poses different risks. You might easily blow your entire shopping budget on wholesome bar food before your aisle-wandering even begins. Or, after a few rounds upstairs, you may find yourself drunkenly loading your cart with Third & 3rd specialties like frozen Roberta’s pizzas, pints of Van Leeuwen’s vegan ice cream and Chocopologie Chestnut Cocoa Stout Chocolate Truffles, wiping out both your budget and your dietary resolutions. But we don’t think you’ll regret it.

The taproom is tucked into the corner of a larger seating area, where customers can bring trays from the food court and downstairs. If you’ve got a big appetite, it’s worth hitting the Yuji Ramen counter on your way up for a bowl of broth-less yet big-flavored noodles to eat as an appetizer; the Roof’s food service is on the slow side. Otherwise, we couldn’t complain. Even on a recent rainy Saturday afternoon, the second-floor space was filled with natural light. There were a few seats taken at every one of the many communal tables, and the majority of parties were helmed by a kid or two; despite all the highchairs, the scene was mellow enough to sip a Stillwater Stateside Saison—a citrusy, golden farmhouse ale—in peace. (The 16 beers on tap include a few that are brewed especially for the Third & 3rd Whole Foods Market, like Evil Twin’s Even More Denmark, a smoky and malty chocolate-chestnut stout that’s 10 percent alcohol.)

The Roof offers lots of meaty bar food, like burgers, maple-sriracha wings, beer-glazed ribs, juicy hot dogs, baby brats served on mini pretzel rolls, and chorizo cheese fries. But there are also plenty of vegetarian options. The Winter Grilled Cheese, on buttery stout bread, has just the right ratio of sweet pear-ginger preserves to sharp cheddar. In another savory sandwich, chestnuts, roasted red onions and honey complement a Cabmembert. The crisp-tender cauliflower steak, though on the bland side, was artfully presented in a ring of saffron aioli, toasted almonds and plump currants. The Brussels sprouts, which were larger than golf balls, were served whole. The central leaves seemed undercooked compared to the caramelized exteriors; a fig accompaniment sweetened the dish. A huge salad of crisp, refreshing bitter greens, tart blood orange rounds and crunchy toasted pistachios was big enough to share. Our bellies now full of cleansing leaves and citrus, we headed downstairs to fill our baskets with fancy candy bars, pizzas, ice cream and growlers of beer .

01/15/14 4:00am

Photos by Austin Mcallister

Dosa Royale
316 Court Street, South Brooklyn

This place could do for South Indian cuisine what Pok Pok did for Thai food—that is, make real-deal ethnic fare totally accessible to those residents of Carroll Gardens and Cobble Hill that are too lazy to leave Brooklyn. We’ve trekked to hole-in-the-wall dosa joints on Long Island and in Murray Hill, where the travel-worthy food was illuminated by unflattering fluorescent lights, but Dosa Royale—much like Pok Pok—provides a date-night setting: exposed brick, low lighting, and painted tin ceilings. Our server greeted us with a passionate description of dosas (savory crepes made from a batter of finely ground lentils and rice) and thalis (samplings of vegetables, curries, soup, lentils, chutneys, yogurt and sweets served in little steel bowls, alongside rice and rolled flatbread). And at the table beside us, a man from the kitchen with a small swipe of red powder on the center of his forehead presented one of those thalis, quietly announced the contents of its 10 tiny silver bowls in Indian-accented English, and dashed back into the kitchen. We ordered one for ourselves.

In any good thali, the flavors of each little cup are huge. Ours included meltingly smoky-sweet bites of eggplant, bracingly spicy pickled vegetables with a hint of metallic tang, exceptionally creamy yogurt, a soupy tamarind-tomato rasam with just a touch of heat, and rice pudding laced with coconut and cardamom. Of the 10 dosas available—some stuffed with spinach and paneer, another as big as the table and meant to serve four—we opted for the rava masala dosa, a crispy semolina crepe filled with soft, fragrant curried potatoes. We added an egg to the filling to make it richer and wished we’d gone for the spice add-on, too. Ours didn’t pack any heat, but every dosa can get a shot of gunpowder, mysore or chopped green chilis for varying intensities. Dosa Royale also offers fish, lamb, vegetable and chicken curries, as well as an array of street food-inspired appetizers like ulunthu vada, fried lentils that are shaped like mini-donuts and served with a creamy-spicy coconut chutney that makes you want to lick the dipping bowl.

As far as drinks, there are Kingfishers, Sixpoints and cocktails with a South Indian spin. The Raja is a margarita with kalamansi juice instead of the traditional lime, and the Madurai Sour combines bourbon and lemon with tamarind and rose water. On the non-alcoholic side, the interesting black sesame fizz tastes like seltzer and lime with a swirl of tahini, but the creamy, cooling and sweet mango lassi, sprinkled with crushed pistachios, is
hard to beat.

01/01/14 4:00am

Photos by Austin McAllister

Pickle Shack
256 Fourth Avenue, Gowanus

It’s worth making a trip just to try a bowl of fried pickles. Pickle Shack is a collaboration between Brooklyn Brine and Dogfish Head Craft Brewed Ales, and its fried Hop Pickles, brined in Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA with a touch of habañero, make a fitting signature dish. The hoppy, tangy, slightly spicy pickle chips are battered in a crisp cornmeal batter, which sticks to the pickles—this isn’t your typical fried pickle spear that slides out of its encasement after you take your first bite—while the lemony aioli dip is tart and rich. You might wash them down with one of the Dogfish Head selections from the well-curated list, or go with one of the more esoteric options like the Crooked Stave Vielle, a sour, funky and yeasty saison. Priced at $15 for 375mL, it’s not cheap, but the beer connoisseur at our table thought it was a fair mark-up for a limited-edition brew. On the lower end, you can get a bottled Bitburger Pilsner for four bucks.

You might expect an elaborate menu of brats to pair with all these fancy beers, but Pickle Shack is no sausage party. In fact, as you read through the menu of snacks, salads and sandwiches, you’ll notice there’s not a morsel of meat on there. The house burger is a thick, hefty, earthy patty of beets and mushrooms, topped with bread and butter pickles, creamy aioli and housemade ketchup; crispy, salty, skin-on fries come on the side. The banh mi is even better: a generous pile of fresh-yet-funky house-fermented kimchee, bright cilantro leaves, crunchy pickled carrots, creamy avocado and garlicy aioli complement the deep flavors of smoked tofu. The hearty rustic loaf that served as its vessel made it a little hard to eat—a lighter, crispier baguette might have improved the experience—but we’ve tried a lot of vegetarian banh mi and none have been nearly as good. A warm farro salad with a crescent of sweet, roasted winter squash, some slightly bitter grilled kale, walnuts, apples and whole-grain mustard made a pleasantly wintery vegetable side. For dessert, they offered a quince hand-pie with chai-spiced caramel and a choice between bourbon-vanilla ice cream and a non-dairy vanilla scoop, but our resident beer nerd just wanted more beer.

At a glance, a restaurant for beer-obsessed vegetarians would seem to target too limited a demographic, but when you think about it, Pickle Shack’s niche marketing may be a boon. After all, craft beer and heirloom vegetables—many a Brooklynite will proudly admit to loving at least one. Here, you get the best of both. Just taste those fried pickles!

12/18/13 4:00am

Photo via

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Morgan’s Brooklyn Barbecue
267 Flatbush Avenue, Prospect Heights

With so many new barbecue joints popping up around the borough, it’s hard to pick a favorite, but we love the feel-good vibes here. Start with a Frito pie and follow it with some caramelized, dry-rubbed, slow-smoked brisket; a few hefty, charred-to-perfection pork ribs; and some creamy mac n’ cheese. It’s impossible to have a bad meal!

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Sweet Chick
164 Bedford Avenue, Williamsburg

Communal picnic tables and blaring Southern rock bring house-party vibes to this fried chicken joint. A touch of rosemary in the batter gives their juicy, crispy-skinned chicken its signature flavor, and the junk food-lovin’ herbivores among us went nuts for their softball-sized hunks of vegetarian fried “chicken.”

Photo via

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15 Main Street, DUMBO

Go for the house-made, applewood-smoked potato bread—a round, crusty, chewy loaf redolent of campfires and chimney smoke—and stay for the quinoa tagliatelle in a creamy, lemon-kissed cauliflower sauce or the hearty Mediterranean entrees like juicy chicken breasts and meltingly tender eggplant in a delicately spiced yogurt sauce.

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Runner & Stone
285 Third Avenue, Gowanus

Its $1 palmiers—unbelievably light puff-pastry elephant ear cookies—may be the best way to spend a buck in Brooklyn; plus, the baguettes with house-made butter taste like Paris. And when the bakery turns into a restaurant at night, they serve—in a rich, savory mushroom broth—some of the borough’s best roast chicken.

12/04/13 4:00am

Photos by Austin McAllister

267 Flatbush Avenue, Prospect Heights

This Prospect Heights barbecue joint imported its pit master, John Avila, from Austin’s Franklin Barbecue, and he brought with him some Texas affability. When we asked about the Frito pie, our waiter threw his head back and shouted, “Oh my God, it’s so good! You want one or two?” His enthusiasm for every menu item we mentioned convinced us to try some of almost everything, and once our table was covered end-to-end with meat and sides, he asked with a big smile, “Is there anything else I can do for you guys—besides pull up a chair and help finish this off?” For a minute, I thought he might high-five us, but we pounced on the food before he got the chance.

11/20/13 4:00am

Photo by Austin McAllister

The Rookery
425 Troutman Street, Bushwick
4 L’s

Exiting the L train onto a deserted Wyckoff Avenue, I heard a young woman in a puffy coat tell her two friends that this is the most dangerous subway stop in Brooklyn. They unanimously decided to take a selfie in front of the sign for Jefferson Street station and then burst into laughter when one of the friends shouted, “We all totally duckfaced! All three of us!” Oof. I hoped these kids were wrong about the dangerousness of the area, but as I strolled past the dark chain-link fences, graffitied steel garage-doors, and single-story, windowless brick buildings that line Troutman Street, I felt like I should call the location scout for Law & Order: SVU. And then I noticed some horizontal slats of new fencing, discreetly branded with the Rookery’s logo—a crow perched in the second “o”—and I made a beeline for the pub’s door.

Inside, the geometric design of floor tiles, white-washed exposed brick, and a mix of floral-patterned wallpaper make the Rookery feel as welcoming and safe as your grandmum’s house. Near the door, a forest green wood-burning stove warms the surrounding tables, and in back, a handful of roomy booths line the wall beside an inviting horseshoe-shaped bar, mostly populated by bearded men chasing brown liquor with pints of beer or $5 cans of Dale’s Pale Ale—and none of them seemed to be taking selfies. It’s the perfect setting for sipping a dark and smooth Bellhaven Black Stout, but the bartenders, gussied up in vests or ties with shirtsleeves rolled to their elbows, look dressed to pour specialty cocktails. The Highland Boy blends Cragglemore single-malt Scotch, Stone’s ginger wine, and bitter Ramazzoti liqueur with Cherry Heering and OJ for a touch of sweetness; it’s an easy-drinking boozy treat.

11/06/13 4:00am

Photo by Austin McAllister

442 9th Street, Park Slope
3 L’s

At this friendly lunch counter and gourmet shop, cheese is king. Jersey-based Valley Shepherd Creamery, known for its old-fashioned sheep-farming practices and artisanal cheeses, runs Meltkraft, where the house specialty is grilled cheese. A creamy-salty-mild cheese blend mellowed the pungent punch of the Brie in the Brielle, which includes a scattering of tart cranberries, sweet caramelized onions, and crunchy pine nuts, making each bite a little different from the last. The Melter Skelter pairs a slightly tangy Raclette-style cheese with scant pinches of tasty (but slightly soggy) barbecue potato chips, pickled green tomatoes, spicy jalapeños and a couple of sprigs of wilted watercress. While some eaters might enjoy the different and delicious flavors in each bite, I think this inventive grilled cheese probably would’ve been even better if all the layers of flavor came together at once. As for the Sasquash, I loved the sweet bites of roasted butternut squash, tender bits of pork loin and crumbles of blue cheese; plus, finding a toasted walnut in there felt like a lucky surprise—like discovering the baby in a Mardi Gras king cake. My favorite of the bunch, the Valley Thunder, packed mac n’ cheese into a sandwich with hearty brisket and bold cheddar, and it felt like less of a treasure hunt than the others.

Meltkraft is just a counter-service spot, but vintage glass milk bottles fashioned into light fixtures and steel cheese graters hanging from exposed brick walls give the dining area some character. There’re a handful of indoor tables, bar stools lined up along 10 well-curated beer taps (ready for pint glasses or growlers), additional seating on the sidewalk and in the sliver of a backyard, and high chairs for the little guys. It’s the sort of cheap-and-easy spot that could become a neighborhood staple, and it already seems to be
aging well.

On our first visit, the sandwiches were double-filled with cheese, which oozed onto their serving vessels, rustic wood slabs lined with parchment paper, to form buttery lakes. On our second visit, cheese cutbacks kept the gooey-goodness inside the sandwiches,
making them much easier to eat. The kid-sized Lil’ Shepherd (cheddar on brioche) was consistently burned on one side, though, and our two-year-old taster opted instead for a Bakery of New York mini-pretzel croissant and a housemade chocolate chip cookie. Don’t be fooled by their deep-brown, misshapen appearances—these cookies are unspeakably delicious. With Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream in the freezer, Cowgirl Creamery cheeses in the fridge, Founders Breakfast Stout on tap, and strong La Colombe Coffee on the burner, everything about Meltkraft is
in good taste.

10/23/13 4:00am

Photo by Austin McAllister

The Elm
160 N. 12th Street, Williamsburg
4 L’s

In a dish called Flavors of Bouillabaisse, a tiny mélange of seafood—a succulent razor clam, a morsel of lobster, a plump block of halibut fillet—sat in the small round hollow of a wide white plate. Doused with a frothy, perfumey orange-fennel broth and garnished with a delicate fennel blossom, this dish tasted as though a wizard had concentrated the essence of a big, steamy bowl of the traditional Provençal fish stew into a few divine bites. At the latest restaurant from Paul Liebrandt, the celebrated chef formerly of Tribeca’s Corton, each dish we sampled was more exquisite than the last. Violet mustard, at once subtle, spicy and floral, brought depth to a traditional steak tartare (topped with shaved radish and microherbs). In another dramatic china bowl, a creamy, citrusy coconut-lime tom yum broth swirled around tiny, cloudlike gnudi and a perfectly seared scallop. A darker ceramic dish brought out the artistic dabs of white horseradish crème served with tiny bricks of slow-roasted duck, its texture like butter once you cracked through the toasty, honey-glazed skin.

The boldly flavored dishes, plated with tweezer-precision, might make you wonder whether you’ve inadvertently left Brooklyn for Manhattan. Though the space feels wide and slightly cavernous, the tables are tucked tightly together and lighted by giant overhead bulbs jutting from angled wire stems—the sort of lighting that might provoke a flashback if you’ve ever been abducted by aliens.

And the high-end fare didn’t really match up with our server’s house-party friendliness. At one point, he casually leaned over two tables to ask, “Anybody need another round?” When the young woman to my right asked for another bourbon-peach cocktail, the waiter pointed at me and said, “Sorry, she got the last one.” I turned to apologize to this stranger, her face just inches from my own on our crowded banquette, when she shot me a look of horror and whispered, “Could the drinks be premixed?” Seriously, what is this? TGI Friday’s? I warned her against the hand-soap-flavored lavender-tequila cocktail, and she stuck to the wine list. Cocktails aside, it’s a pretty good house party that ends with the great and powerful Liebrandt’s tidy take on Eton mess, in which pristine puffs of meringue join juicy strawberries and a dollop of sweet, floral foam to form a heavenly dessert.