This was always going to be an indulgent foody holiday. I’d saved about 200 places to my Foursquare list and Google map and was determined to plough through as many as possible, waistline be damned. I think we did pretty well! I don’t know if it was the exchange rate or being in Brooklyn rather than Manhattan, but prices everywhere seemed really reasonable, and it was a delight to have so many places on our doorstep in Williamsburg.
Our first stop was Vanessa’s Dumpling House: plane-dazed and not oriented yet, it was just around the corner from our apartment. I couldn’t believe the prices – four generously sized veg dumplings were under $2 and tasted more than passable. It was filled with hipsters getting in on the post-bar munchies action too. Job done for a speedy dinner before the real exploring begins.
Next morning we definitely felt in need of brunch so headed to Pies and Thighs, just a street down from our apt on South 4th. I loved the classic diner decor and the mix of clientele: students, builders and us tourists all elbow to elbow for some ‘Mercian comfort food.
First time (yeah, we went twice) we went for biscuits, egg, home fries and grits; second time I had a classic grilled cheese and fries. Yes, for breakfast. I don’t know how they manage to get so much flavour into what could be bland and stodgy food, but someone in the kitchen knows what they’re doing. I wish we could go back and try some of the namesake pies – they also have huge donuts – but they seemed a step beyond for breakfast. Plus when we praised the hot sauce the server gave us loads of packets to bring home. Love.
For a lighter breakfast, head to Marlow and Sons, under the shadow of the bridge on Broadway, for fresh pastries, bagels and biscuits washed down with excellent Stumptown coffee. Grab an outside table to dog-watch and definitely pop to their sister grocery Marlow & Daughters just around the corner.
Black Brick on Bedford Ave is probably the best coffee in the area, and it has a super cool new garden area, dressed up with vintage Americana aplenty.
A visit to Momofuku Milk Bar was a must for me, and we happened to be in the Cobble Hill hood on a really hot day, so the cereal soft-serve and compost cookie break was much appreciated. It’s not often I finish a whole ice cream (low tolerance for sweet things) but this salty, malty lot disappeared very sharpish. I brought home some cereal mix to make my own, too.
We went to Clover Club after Momofuku, just a little further north on Smith St. (Ice cream and cookie followed by cocktails and brunch = HOLIDAY.) It has the charm of a lovely Victorian wood-panelled club, with particularly amazing cocktails and nice huevos for brunch, though lacking a bit of seasoning and punch compared to the real Mexican we’ve been eating.
I was excited about having really good Mexican food in NY, and we hit two quite different ones both in Williamsburg. First up, La Superior, a divey looking hipster joint. We had to wait an hour or so for a table on Friday night. In NY you can just put your name down, go for a drink and come back though so no hardship really. We went round the corner to Lucky Dog, a nice neighbourhood bar with a great beer garden full of pups, as the name suggests!
The food was amazing: I was still pretty full from brunch so went for black bean soup and potato quesadilla, both being the most flavourful examples I’ve ever tried. It makes such a difference having proper queso fresco and crema too: I’ve never seen either in London. Josh had gorditos – little pillows of thick corn dough filled with meat – and a well-loaded taco plate which defeated him.
The margaritas – tamarind or hibiscus – are strong and wonderful too.
The second Mexican we tried was Cariño on South 4th & Berry. This was after a night of beer drinking and we already tried to go to the very cool-looking Café de La Esquina to find it closed, so in need of swift carbs so I went for a classic burrito. Again it was one of the best burritos I’ve had: the vegetables charred and tasty and with a great avocado salsa on the side. This place is friendlier and more relaxed than La Superior and appeared to be run by legit Mexicans. Real nice.
We tried semi-legendary Greenpoint pizza place Paulie Gee’s on Saturday night, which was definitely an error as the wait was very long and it was packed. It also had really terrible very loud music playing the whole time which kind of ruined it for me. The combinations on the menu were kind of weird so I went for a plain margherita. Top marks for having a full vegan menu with cashew cheese option, though. The pizza was good but not the best ever. We took a few slices home as it was too big to finish.
Over in Manhattan we took coffee breaks at Grumpy and Everyman while fabric shopping in the Garment District, the latter of which also has a strong line in baked goods. Homemade berry pop tart, yes please.
We lunched at Butcher’s Daughter, an entirely vegetarian cafe in Nolita, lower Manhattan. The decor is airy and garden-like and damn, those were good sandwiches. I’m not usually a fan of veggie food masquerading as meat, but the BLT with crispy ‘bacon’ made from adzuki beans was pretty special. Josh had a Merguez sausage baguette made from white beans which was really good too.
Perhaps one of the most exciting meals was a late lunch at Mission Chinese on the Lower East Side. Looks like a standard neon takeout from the outside, but you’re led back through a warren-like corridor to this cosy den style dining room at the back.
The menu definitely isn’t your standard Chinese fare either: everything’s got an unexpected twist to it – and usually a hefty whack of chilli. It’s pretty heavy on offal but there are also a ton of veggie and vegan options. We massively over-ordered because it all sounded so tempting.
The standout dish for me was a special of smoky corn: somewhere between Mexican and Chinese flavours, it had a real depth. The Sichuan aubergine was perfectly soft and spicy, and a smashed cucumber sesame dish cooled everything down. Also I am a confirmed salt-lover but it was all VERY salty – as well as super-spicy – so you’ll need that pint of Six Point lager to wash it down.
Back in Brooklyn, a visit to Tørst was a must for Josh. Run by Evil Twin, brother of Copenhagen super-brewer Mikkeller, it’s for serious beer-gazing geeks. There’s a huge bottle list (with eye-popping prices starting at $14) and the 12-odd draughts are specially pressure- and temperature-controlled for the ultimate fancy wineglass quaff.
I found it a bit flat and vibeless, but that could have been because we visited on a Sunday night – and the night of the Breaking Bad finale – so it was pretty dead anyway. But I don’t think the cold marble and glass decor helps matters either: I would have preferred some of the charm of Mikkeller’s Copenhagen bar. A+ cheeseboard, though.
By contrast, a night at Barcade was super fun. Turns out beer goes pretty well with arcade games, who knew?
It’s got decent beers too, I had a nice IPA and a cider at happy hour $4-a-pint prices and spent many a quarter playing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Qbit and Timber.
After Barcade we popped to Spuyten Duyvil, which is a pretty cute little place with a great garden, but it felt pretty silly to be paying through the nose for Belgian and Euro beers that are cheaper at home.
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