Brooklyn Essentials

Check out this New York City borough's restaurants, entertainment spots, grocery stores, activities and more for locals and tourists.

By: Bob Weinstein


Food and Drink Essentials: Best Places to...


Brooklyn has an abundance of indoor and outdoor markets where you can buy fresh groceries and produce. They range from weekend farmers markets set up in parks and popular public places to large supermarket chains offering a variety of merchandise. Here's a sampling:

480-500 Van Brunt St. 718-694-6868 
Fairway, a unique New York chain, boasts locations in Plain View, Harlem, Manhattan’s Upper West Side and Brooklyn. A major attraction of the store is its parking lot. Suburbanites take parking lots for granted, but when you consider the amount of time New Yorkers spend searching for parking spots, for city folks they're a gift from the gods. But the real magnet drawing Brooklynites to Fairway is the huge selection of top-quality fresh produce, dairy products, meats, fish, vegetables and breads and pies baked fresh on the premises, as well as groceries from all over the world. The prices are unbeatable too.

Trader Joe’s 
130 Court St. 718-246-8460 
It was just a matter of time before Trader Joe’s -- the upscale, moderately to bargain-priced grocery chain -- came to Brooklyn. Brooklynites enjoy exceptional eats, from breads and cheeses to exotic specialty foods from all over the world, and Trader Joe’s gives it to them. Where Fairway offers a larger selection of fresh produce, Trader Joe’s strength lies in its variety of unusual, high-quality merchandise at great prices. This national chain has only four New York locations: Manhattan, Rego Park, Queens and Cobble Hill, easily accessible to shoppers from Brooklyn Heights and Boerum Hill.

Brooklyn Terminal Market 
Forster Avenue between East 83rd and East 87th streets 
Opened in 1942, the market is practically a landmark. Serving the surrounding neighborhoods, dozens of vendors sell fresh fruit and vegetables, domestic and imported, plus an exotic and extensive assortment of West Indian and Caribbean products as well as dairy products, flowers and plants. Open 4 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, with extended hours til 8 p.m. during holidays.

Brooklyn Chinatown 
Eighth Avenue, from approximately 50th to 60th streets 
It’s hard to define precisely where Brooklyn’s Chinatown begins and ends, because it expands a little each year. It’s virtually a miniature of Manhattan’s sprawling Chinatown. It doesn’t have as many indoor-outdoor vegetable, produce and fish markets or restaurants, but it offers the same quality and practically identical prices -- which are significantly cheaper than anything you’ll find at either a small greengrocer or a supermarket. And it’s a lot fresher. The vegetables -- from daikon radishes and water chestnuts to bean curd and exotic Chinese vegetables -- are crisp and fresh. Try the outdoor stands, which offer traditional favorites like barbecued pork and duck, dumplings and tripe.

This half-mile span is always crowded with locals. Best time: weekdays, late morning to midafternoon. Worst time: weekends. It’s a virtual madhouse on sunny spring and fall days. You have to contend not only with locals but with shoppers from surrounding areas as well. Forget parking: if you drive, plan on parking about a half-mile from Eighth Avenue.


Peter Luger Steak House 
178 Broadway 718-387-7400 
This tourist trap and favorite of New Yorkers from all boroughs serves up some of the best steak on the planet. If you’re an incurable, insatiable, hopelessly addicted carnivore, you have to try this place once.

9519 Third Ave. 718-745-3700 
Embers is owned and run by two local Italian families. It’s a notch or two below Peter Luger but a pleasurable eating experience nonetheless. The waiters and waitresses are nice, service is excellent, prices moderate and portions huge.


Olympic Pita Brooklyn 
1419 Coney Island Ave. between avenues J and K 718-258-6222 
It’s got a huge menu that includes hearty, stick-to-your-ribs soups (try the Yemenite Soup), chicken rolls, kibbeh, falafel, Iraqi kebab, sweetbreads, fried schnitzel, shawarma and fantastic desserts (baklava with rosewater and orange blossom, Bavarian cream and chocolate mousse).


Daisy’s Diner 
452 Fifth Ave. between 9th and 10th streets 718-788-1438 
It’s a giant step above your prototypical greasy spoon. The place is always busy, which tells you everything. Prices are good, and service is excellent. The eclectic menu features Romanian, Irish, Mexican and Spanish dishes, along with expected diner standards like home fries, sausage, bacon and eggs of every conceivable style.


The River Cafe 
1 Water St. 718-522-5200 
If you’re looking for an idyllic romantic setting -- dark and candlelit -- and an incredible view of the Brooklyn waterfront and the Manhattan skyline, the River Cafe is the place. It’s right out of a Hollywood movie. The food, albeit expensive, is way above average. Warning: This is a popular tourist spot. Try to avoid it on weekends. Also, a reservation is a must for dinner, but if you just want to have a drink and eat somewhere else, you might be able to squeeze yourself and a companion in at the last minute.


Le Petit Cafe 
502 Court St. between 9th and Huntington streets 718-596-7060 
Located near the end of Court Street, a few blocks from Hamilton Avenue. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. If you’re looking for a special feel-good place with great vibes, creative energy and an unusual collage of shabby-chic, vintage, modern and found art, Le Petit Cafe is it. This evolving, work-in-progress restaurant and cafe is the creative brainchild of partners and former construction contractors Tommy Perez and Jose Segundo. Its dining room has a waterfall set in rock. Distressed-wood cabinets and exotic plants and trees, which spiral skyward, surround a room with high ceilings and skylights. The service is impeccable; the waiters and staff are gracious.

Perez says he and Segundo get their ideas from everywhere. “They kinda pop into our heads,” he says. “Once we have an idea or a vision, we figure out a way to make it happen.” Like the restaurant’s architecture, the lunch and dinner menus of affordable continental cuisine are also evolving and expanding. Perez and Segundo have taken over the store next to the restaurant in order to have more room for parties and for locals who want to stop in to enjoy a cappuccino or espresso, read the paper and doodle with their PCs.


Sweet Melissa Patisserie 
276 Court St. 718-855-3410 
Opened in 1998, this tiny shop has a reputation that has spread way beyond its Carroll Gardens location. Although it offers excellent lunch fare (quiches, stuffed baguettes and Cobb-salad wraps), it has built its rep on its extraordinary pastries, pies, cakes and tarts. Highly recommended: chocolate-bourbon pie, chocolate souffle cake and Key lime pie.


Turning out incredible meatballs is almost as difficult as making perfect pizza. The following family-owned haunts have been making extraordinary meatballs for decades. Don’t even try to ask the owners for their recipes.

Esposito’s Pork Store 
357 Court St. in Carroll Gardens 718-875-6863

Frankie’s Spuntino 
457 Court St. in Carroll Gardens 718-403-0033

Culture Essentials: Best Places to...


187 Atlantic Ave. between Clinton and Court streets 718-624-4550 
For more than half a century, this landmark family-run Lebanese grocery has featured the best in Middle Eastern specialties -- nuts, cheeses, coffee and prepared foods -- at great prices. Owner Charlie Sahadi understood the concept of customer service before it became corporate dogma (maybe it’s because he actually likes his customers). That’s why the store has been drawing customers from all boroughs and surrounding states for decades.


Trinidad Ali Roti Shop 
589 Flatbush Ave. 718-462-1730 
A favorite for the area’s large Caribbean population from Trinidad, Jamaica, Barbados and Grenada. It uses only traditional, fresh ingredients to prepare its specialties with exquisite care. And portions are huge. Warning: Get there early, or you’ll find a line waiting at dinnertime.

Blue Mountain Restaurant & Bakery 
9615 Flatlands Ave. 718-272-0039 
When it comes to traditional Jamaican fare, especially jerk chicken, the proverbial buck stops here: It doesn’t get any better than this. That’s why this place is numero uno for neighborhood Jamaicans.

Jamaican Pride Bakery 
731 Flatbush Ave. 718-462-9751 
Owner Desmond Patterson turns out the city’s best Jamaican patties, to the tune of 2,000 made from scratch every day. Patterson swears by his superior ingredients, which include Black Angus beef, fresh thyme and pimiento and a mess of secret ingredients. The patty is served wrapped in coco bread, which is reminiscent of an oversized hamburger bun (it doesn't contain coconut, but it’s split open like a coconut).

Bajan Cafe 
456 Schenectady Ave. 718-221-2070 
This tiny cafe serves extraordinary and authentic food from Barbados. Specialties include flying fish and cou-couaan (okra-laced cornmeal porridge), jerk pork, salt-cod stew, fried kingfish and brown stew chicken.


2568 86th St. 718-714-4525 
Dumplings cognoscenti will be thrilled with this off-the-beaten-track eatery. It features Russian, Ukrainian and Uzbekistani specialties: dumplings of every size, from delicate little Siberian pelmeni to bulbous, thick-skinned Uzbekistani manti.

The Three Fat Men 
63 West End Ave., at the crossroads of Manhattan Beach and Brighton Beach 718-743-0333 
Its name is derived from a famous Russian fairy tale. Everything works -- food, music, great service and overall good vibes. Come hungry: Portions are huge.


Locanda Vini & Olii 
129 Gates Ave. at Cambridge 718-622-9202 
Upscale Tuscan cuisine can be enjoyed in this elegant little restaurant that was once a Clinton Hill pharmacy, built 130 years ago. The best part is that the food is the real deal, created by two chefs who earned their cooking stripes in Tuscany.

Two Fifteen Cucina Napoletan 
215 Columbia St. 718-858-3960 
A best-kept secret and popular neighborhood restaurant. Excellent Neapolitan fare; ample portions and seasonal specialties. You must try the zuppa di pesce -- clams, shrimp, calamari, mussels and filet braised in a tomato-and-white-wine broth and served over linguini. It’s a gustatory treat. Owner Mike Denaro is there practically every night to see that customers are well taken care of. On Saturdays, there’s usually live doo-wop music, a Brooklyn favorite. It’s worth getting there a little later just to hear the music: classic Brooklyn nostalgia delivered by a former street-corner a capella professional. It’s best to call ahead to find out whether there’s music.

Caputo’s Fine Foods 
460 Court St. 718-855-8852 
One of the best places for homemade mozzarella (plain and smoked), cannelloni and ravioli. Locals have been frequenting this extraordinary Italian specialty shop, a family-owned favorite, for decades.



    Mrs. Stahl’s Knishes 
    1001 Brighton Beach Ave. 718-648-0210 
    Most delicatessens sell your basic assembly-line potato and occasional kasha knishes, typically worth neither the money nor the calories. But the hourlong train ride to this place is worth it for the outstanding authentic knishes in several varieties.

    Baby-boomer Brooklynites will practically kill for an authentic egg cream. You don’t know what an egg cream is? Yagottabekiddin! If ya not a Nooyorka, how could you possibly know? (See history and a recipe for Egg Cream in Local Life and Lore in Brooklyn.)

    Tom’s Restaurant 
    782 Washington Ave. between Sterling Place and St. John's Place 718-636-9738 
    Approaches the classic egg cream. It costs a pricey $2.50, but you get to watch the counterman make one -- so watch closely. This little neighborhood favorite that’s close to the Botanical Gardens and Brooklyn Museum also serves fantastic milkshakes, banana-walnut pancakes and fat, juicy burgers.

    Peter Pan Bakery 
    727 Manhattan Ave. 718-389-3676 
    More than a doughnut shop, this popular Polish luncheonette serves first-rate breakfasts and lunches and makes a darn good egg cream for a reasonable $1.75.


    386 Flatbush Ave. Extension 718-852-5257 
    This downtown Brooklyn institution -- across the street from the legendary Brooklyn Paramount theater, where rock n' roll legend Alan Freed hosted historic shows in the 1950s -- serves the best cheesecake in the city. Some Manhattanites would dispute that, but cheesecake-adoring Brooklynites are ready to stake their lives on it -- or close to it.

    Everything changes over time, but not Junior’s cheesecake -- it’s a phenomenon. But don’t go just for the cheesecake. Skip breakfast and get there for an early lunch. Highly recommended: Junior’s hot pastrami or corned-beef sandwiches on rye (Brooklynites don't do white bread). Be prepared: the overstuffed, piping-hot and fresh sandwiches are enough for two, or one very large humanoid. Top that with a piece of cheesecake, and you can forget about dinner (and probably breakfast the next day as well).


    575 Henry St. 718-858-4086 
    At 6 p.m. every day, you’ll see a line forming in front of this place, waiting for it to open. It’s the brainchild of Mark Iacono, a former granite and marble mason who decided he wanted to make the perfect pizza. He did just that, studying with a pizza-making legend. He built the wood-fired oven and renovated the restaurant, which is just a big room -- lean, simple and candlelit for homey elegance. If you want to know what perfect pizza and calzone tastes like -- crisp crust with a creamy melding of mozzarella and Iacono’s special sauce -- it’s worth waiting 45 minutes for a table. The best time to go is weekdays. Worst days are Friday and Saturday, unless you’re willing to camp outside for close to two hours.

    Roberta’s Trattoria 
    261 Moore St. between Bogart and White streets 718-417-1118 
    Owned by musician Chris Parachini, who moved from Manhattan’s Lower East Side to Williamsburg and again to Bushwick in order to find cheap digs and a true Brooklyn neighborhood that’s still evolving. The restaurant’s wood-burning furnace turns out an unusual variety of pies. Are you ready for Hawaiian pizza topped with paper-thin sheets of ripe pineapple, shreds of ham, sliced jalapenos and dabs of ricotta cheese? The guanciale-and-egg pizza features a mozzarella-strewn pie with crisp-cooked pieces of homemade guanciale (hog-jowl bacon) topped with a slightly cooked egg running over the crisp surface. Sounds weird, but you’d be making a mistake by not trying it. And the calzones, another Brooklyn gustatory tour de force, are off the charts.

Activity Essentials: Best Places to...

This is just a sampling of the many things to do in Brooklyn. To find out what's new, follow the Brooklyn blogs, read The Brooklyn Paper and local community weeklies and watch Brooklyn's TV station, BCAT 1.


Brooklyn Museum 
200 Eastern Pkwy. 718-638-5000 
Opened in 1897, the Brooklyn Museum ranks among the oldest and largest art museums in the country. Its permanent collections include ancient Egyptian masterpieces and contemporary art from many cultures. The museum is well known for its collections of 17th-, 18th- and 19th-century paintings. When visiting the museum, put aside a good portion of the day so you can also visit nearby Prospect Park, the Brooklyn Botanical Garden and the Prospect Park Zoo.

Restored Weeksville 
1698 Bergen St., between Rochester and Buffalo avenues 718-756-5250 
Established in 1838 in what is now the Crown Heights section, Weeksville is the borough’s oldest African-American community. In 2003, Weeksville was restored as a museum and educational and cultural center. Four homes were fully restored and furnished. Roaming through these historic landmarks is like stepping back in time.

Transit Authority Museum 
130 Livingston St. 718-694-3451 
If you’re a train buff, you’ll love the Transit Authority Museum, housed in a 1936 IND subway station in Brooklyn Heights. There you’ll discover how New York’s vast, complex, sprawling subway system was engineered and maintained. The museum’s galleries feature exhibits that recount the building of the city’s 100-year-old subway and trolley system.


506 5th Ave. 718-840-0089 
If you like to dance, drink and have a great time, Royale is the place to go. On weekends, it’s hopping. Its huge speakers knock out gut-wrenching rhythms that literally make the walls vibrate. The bar goes full tilt until closing time, and the DJs -- some of Brooklyn’s best -- have a knack for keeping the dance floor full. Stop by for a quick drink, and you’ll see why it’s a local favorite for parties.


Waterfront Ale House 
155 Atlantic Ave. 718-522-3794 
There is no shortage of places for a cold draft and plentiful varieties of beer. Whether you’re a solitary drinker or you prefer to drink with friends or a special person, it’s all about ambiance. This popular little pub is on a cobblestone street in DUMBO (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass). It boasts a sturdy long oak bar and an excellent beer selection. The food is classic bar grub, but the place is usually pretty quiet, so it's an excellent place to decompress after a long day’s work.


Coney Island Beach and Boardwalk 
Corbin Place to West 37th Street 
Once an opulent playground for the rich and famous, Coney Island can trace its history back to the mid-1800s. It reached its peak in the early 20th century, and then its popularity began to slowly decline following World War II. Although the amusement park is only a shard of what it once was, its boardwalk, which stretches into Brighton Beach, is still strewn with great rides, including the 150-foot Ferris wheel, the Wonder Wheel (built in 1920) and the Cyclone (1927), which still ranks among the world’s scariest roller coasters. It was in Coney Island that Charles Feltman reportedly invented the hot dog in 1867, which had a lot to do with Nathan Handwerker opening the legendary Nathan’s Hot Dogs at 1310 Surf Ave. in 1916. The original Nathan’s still stands and is worth a pilgrimage to sample its incredible hot dogs, which haven’t changed in more than three-quarters of a century. And Nathan’s fries rank among the best on the planet.

New York Aquarium 
Surf Ave. and West 8th St. 718-265-FISH 
Situated on Coney Island’s boardwalk, it’s New York’s only aquarium and part of the largest network of metropolitan wildlife parks in the country. It boasts 8,000 animals and special exhibits worth checking out. Hours: 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Underhill Playground 
Underhill Avenue at Prospect Place, Prospect Heights 
If Prospect Park is mobbed, walk a few blocks to the Underhill Playground. Kids will have plenty to keep them busy for hours. It offers a balance beam, a variety of slides, ladders, tire swing and a handball court. There’s plenty of grass and trees, making it ideal for a picnic. The park has enough to keep the whole family busy.


Brooklyn has been called the “Borough of Churches” because of its fascinating cross section of churches of different architectural styles. Many of the oldest churches are located in Greenpoint. Some to visit:

Episcopal Church of the Ascension, on Kent Street, the oldest church in Greenpoint, built in 1853 
Saint Anthony of Padua Roman Catholic Church (1875), on Manhattan Avenue
Saint Stanislaus Kostka Roman Catholic Church (1896), on Humboldt Street
Russian Orthodox Cathedral of the Transfiguration of Our Lord, on North 12th Street
St. Cecilia’s Roman Catholic Church (1871), on Monitor Street between Richardson and Herbert streets


Horseman Antiques 
351 Atlantic Ave. between Hoyt St. and Bond St. 718-596-1048 
Be prepared to spend some time here -- the place is a trip. You never know what you’re going to find because there's always new merchandise coming in. You’ll find a potpourri of stuff: antiques, turn-of-the-century Victorian stained-glass windows, benches, weathered and distressed furniture and armoires, brass beds and vintage movie posters. If you’re an incurable browser with a taste for the unusual, you’ll love this place.

109 Smith St. between Atlantic Avenue and Pacific Street 718-624-0175 
This odd, unique store sells an eclectic array of merchandise that includes old and used furniture and plants. But it’s well known for its T-shirts, jackets and hoodies, many of which have a distinctly Brooklyn theme. They come in a variety of unusual colors, and they’re built to last. Their “Brooklyn Pride” prints are also worth looking at.


Walk Across the Brooklyn Bridge 
Thousands of Brooklynites walk, bike and skate across this historic 1.14-mile landmark every day. Even locals are awed by the breathtaking views, especially the sunsets seen from the center section of the bridge.

Brooklyn Heights Promenade 
Remsen Street to Orange Street along the East River 
This one-third-mile stretch perched above the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway offers postcard views of the Manhattan skyline. New York City has plenty of incredible views, but the view of Manhattan from here on a crystal-clear day is breathtaking. It’s a perfect place to plop down on one of the wooden benches that line the walkway, have some lunch and enjoy the view. There’s even a small pocket park to keep the kids busy.


Prospect Park 
95 Prospect Park West 718-965-8951 
A marvelous outing for the entire family, including Fido, and a great place to picnic. The sprawling park, encompassing 585 acres, is a popular weekend haunt for Brooklyn families and features a 60-acre lake, Brooklyn’s only forest, an Audubon center and the Prospect Park Zoo.

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