Sunday, November 23, 2014

Hipster Brooklyn

For my last full day in New York, I decided to visit Brooklyn, a borough I've never been before.  My uncle decided to come with me, so we met on the platform for the L train and rode to the Bedford Avenue station.  I had done some research on the Williamsburg neighborhood before we left, so I headed right to the Cafe El Beit on Bedford Avenue, which, I was told, is appropriately hipster.  We ordered our coffees and sat and talked for a while as the neighborhood woke up.

As we started our tour we passed "Sweet Chick," which I had read about during my research on hipster Brooklyn.  The place was packed for Sunday brunch and for its combination of chicken and waffles.   Here's its sign on the side of its building.

As you might expect, the neighborhood is full of funky little stores and cafes.  My uncle couldn't believe how many cafes we passed in such as short space.  The neighborhood apparently runs on coffee.

We stuck our head in a few places, like an overly garlicky bagel place, but I had my heart set on cheese and chocolate.  For the first, we went to the Bedford Cheese Shop.  There, all the cheeses in the case weren't merely labeled with the name and price of the cheese; each came with a small story about how the cheese tastes and what it would best be paired with.

One cheese, the Serpa, had an intriguing description, but we both decided that the "naughty Portuguese shepherd" was too noticeable.

Instead we got the Tomme de la Chataignerai, a cheese neither of us had ever heard of before.

We also got a baguette to go with it and we munched on both along the way.  They were fantastic.

Our next stop was Mast Brothers Chocolate.  These guys roast their cocoa beans and process them all in house.  Their chocolates are all a minimum of 75% cocoa.  [By comparison, milk chocolate is usually 35%, semi-sweet chocolate is 55%, and bittersweet is usually about 65%].

I decided to try the almond truffle, which was bitter, buttery, and intensely chocolate.  One was more than sufficient. 

As we continued along the way, we passed Ludlow Blunt, an old-style barber shop.  This is a bit of hipster pretentiousness, but I couldn't help but notice how closely it resembles my grandfather's beauty salon in Berlin in the 1930s (whose photos I've seen).

Along the way, we met this adorable two-year old bulldog:

By this point we were pretty close to the East River, so we walked down to see the view of the Williamsburg Bridge:

And the midtown Manhattan skyline:

On our way back we stopped in at Artists & Fleas, a combination collection of artisan and flea shops.  I'd read about this place online and it was characteristically and pretentiously hipster.  For example, they had a DJ spinning Brazilian jazz records.

I ended up buying a t-shirt for roughly what I would have paid for a button-down shirt at Macy's, but this came with its own version of hipster preening.  As the owner explained, they print them in their car as they travel around the country.  Each shirt, therefore, has a hand-written note on its tag indicating in which city it was printed.  Mine says "Syracuse, NY," as if one could sense its "terroir."

Having seen a good chunk of hipster Williamsburg, we headed back to Manhattan in order to visit an area of Brooklyn called "DUMBO," short for "Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass."  The best way to see this neighborhood is to get to it by walking across the Brooklyn Bridge.

While the weather today was the nicest since I arrived in Manhattan, it meant that everyone came out to walk across the bridge, and one had to be somewhat aggressive in defending one's personal space against not only encroachment but outright assault.

This is the DUMBO neighborhood:

My hope was to get some traditional Italian pizza, but the line for Grimaldi's, the most famous, was very long.

I thought Juliana's next door would be just as good, but my uncle pointed out the line for Grimaldi's was moving fast and we were seated in about 15 minutes.  Our pizza took much longer to arrive, and my uncle decided it was not up to snuff.  The crust was soggy, not crispy, and the sauce was merely "eh."  We still ate it all (or almost all, I left over one of my pieces).

Part of the problem, my uncle felt, is that the coal-fired oven was just too small to accommodate all the patrons efficiently.

From there we walked down to the Brooklyn Promenade through a neighborhood, Brooklyn Heights, that reminded me a lot of my old neighborhood in D.C.

From the promenade we had a spectacular view of lower Manhattan.

The promenade itself was also quite lovely.

Eventually, though, we had to head back, and I did see this great shot of the Empire State Building through the Manhattan Bridge.

We said goodbye on the train and then I headed back to the Pickle Guy on Essex Street to buy some pickles for the road.

I bought two sets of pickles, which I will bring to Thanksgiving (if they survive the flight):  a traditional sour pickle and a very untraditional pineapple pickle.  While the latter sounds really strange, I assure you that all of us who tried it last week said it was the best thing we ate on the food tour of the Lower East Side.

They also let me try the mango pickle, which was similar in its flavor profile to the pineapple pickle, and the okra pickle, which I really didn't care for.

I explained that I intended to take the pickles home in my suitcase, so they not only sealed them in plastic containers, they then wrapped each plastic container in many layers of plastic wrapping, and then put them inside plastic bags.  To be extra, extra safe, I bought gallon sized ziploc baggies tonight and placed each one inside one and then sealed it again.  Hopefully, this will be enough to protect both the pickles and my clothing should they leak.

For dinner, I decided to try Eataly, a combination Italian restaurant and food supply store.  It's sort of set up like the food court at KaDeWe, where you have areas devoted to certain Italian foods, and you can sit and order those foods to eat.  Thus, if you are in the vegetable section, you can only order dishes that are vegetable based; if you want a pasta dish you need to go to the pasta section.  I went to the pasta section and ordered the agnolotti. 

For dessert, though, I had to go to a different section of the store.  I had a slice of the Toro, which is made with chocolate and hazelnuts.

That was it for the night.  All that's left for me to do now is pack.

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