Brooklyn is no longer in the shadows of its posh older sister, Manhattan. Once primarily known as a hotbed of hipsters and creatives, the New York City neighborhood has matured — for better or for worse, depending on who you talk to.
One thing is for sure though: Brooklyn’s culinary scene has transformed immensely within the past five years, showcasing talented chefs and innovative concepts. And now, Brooklyn is known to be one of the hottest emerging restaurant scenes in the country. Taking a nod from its hipster manifesto, the neighborhood is not littered with chains or celebrity chefs, but rather celebrates small operations. Kicking out some of the most creative and unique dishes, people are no longer asking, “Where Brooklyn at?”
It’s already arrived.
Rent has been a huge issue for restaurant owners in expensive cities like New York, especially in Manhattan. In fact, from 2013 to 2014, restaurants closings in Manhattan nearly doubled as rent increased. With the real estate market becoming more competitive, landlords are quick to drive restaurants out and replace them with more profitable fixtures, like banks and apartment buildings. The latter was cause for the demise of Wylie Dufresne’s ingenious WD~50 restaurant, which shuttered in 2014. Even long-standing Union Square Cafe, a Danny Meyer concept, was forced to rethink its space after 30 years.
In a July 2014 New York Times op-ed piece, Meyer writes, “It is sad that the more ‘successful’ a neighborhood becomes, the more it gradually takes on a recognizable, common look, as the same banks, drugstore chains and national brands move in. Be honest: Would you rather have one more bank branch in your neighborhood, or another independent restaurant?”
From lower rent costs (at least, for now) to a close proximity to the city, Brooklyn has a sexy appeal — especially for artists like chefs. As one Brooklyn Millennial says in the video above, “Brooklyn’s attracted creative, artistic types for quite a while, everyone can relate to food, and because all of the creative types have migrated to Williamsburg in particular in Brooklyn, it makes perfect sense that that creativity would translate to food.”
Meet Some of Brooklyn’s Top Chefs
Nate Smith, chef and owner at Allswell, admits that proximity to Manhattan definitely played a part in choosing the restaurant’s Williamsburg location. However, his selection mainly stemmed from the fact that Brooklyn is filled with tons of small, self-sufficient neighborhoods, and Williamsburg has a lot of palpable energy. “I just felt like it was a great opportunity to do something that we could reach locals here in Brooklyn, as well as still be accessible to other people from the city,” says Smith.
Allswell (124 Bedford Ave.), a seasonally-driven, pub-inspired, American restaurant, features house-made sausages and breads. The restaurant’s summer sausage dish, shown in the video above, is a prime example of how Allswell is bringing seasonal inspiration to the plate. The dish is made of a slightly fermented, smoked beef-and-pork sausage, balanced with a light pesto sauce, fresh radishes, and sautéed fiddlehead ferns.
According to Eric Francou, executive chef at Radegast Hall & Biergarten (113 N. 3rd St.), Brooklyn is the small culinary capitol of New York. Chef Eric brings a combination of different international backgrounds — the Italian has trained in France, London, and Belgium — to his culinary creations. As seen in the video above, the chef takes us into the kitchen to show us his spin on a casserole: a barley base with duck confit, porkbelly, and kielbasa, topped with an assortment of vegetables.
And for Shalom Japan (310 S. 4th St.), married co-owners and chefs Sawako Okochi and Aaron Israel say the initial appeal of Brooklyn for them was the space and location. An interesting marriage between dishes, Shalom Japan serves up a mix of — you guessed it — Jewish and Japanese food. Some menu items are more Jewish, some lean more on the Japanese side, and some are neither. Seen in the video above, Chef Aaron takes us into the kitchen to make a Schnitzel dish, covered in flour, egg and panko breadcrumbs. Once cooked, it’s topped with a bit of Tonkatsu sauce (Worcestershire and soy sauce mixed with pork juice).
From a diverse selection of independent restaurants to emerging chefs that pride themselves more on the art of cooking than the art of celebrity, Williamsburg and Brooklyn are digging in. And if the vibe is any indication, it will be a long time (hopefully) before these chefs are forced to put their knives down.