The nation’s culinary journalists have just discovered that New York has more than one borough (actually, they already knew about Queens, because Anthony Bourdain told them). GQ magazine recently ran a feature declaring Brooklyn “the coolest city on the planet,” and critic Alan Richman called Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare the best restaurant in New York.
Most of the commotion is probably due to Chef’s Table earning a third Michelin star in the 2012 Guide, but that’s far from the end of the story. The other Michelin-starred restaurants are either old, old favorites (River Café and Peter Luger) or chef-driven, trendy restaurants (Dressler and Saul). Eater.com waxes poetic about Roberta’s, Mile End Delicatessan, Vanderbilt, Hibino and Totonno—and, of course, Fatty ‘Cue. When you’re talking ethnic food in Brooklyn, they don’t mean Thai; there’s Buka (Nigerian), Bab al Yemen (Yemeni) and Yee Kee H.K. Style (Hong Kong cuisine).
All of this is a mind-boggling situation for someone who grew up in an age when Brooklyn was simply a place people wanted to escape from (Alan Richman and I are of the same generation, so I can empathize with his disorientation). While it’s true that most Brooklynites had fond memories about the borough in retrospect, those warm and fuzzy feelings usually didn’t surface until they were safely across the river in Manhattan. During the last few decades, however, prosperity skyrocketed across the metro New York area, and the search for affordable housing caused developers to transform neighborhoods that were previously close to uninhabitable. When I was a kid, no sane person would dream of setting foot in Williamsburg; now, you can dine on Oxtail Ragout and Pan-Roasted Quail at Dressler.
One thing remains constant: now, as then, Brooklyn remains a bastion of real life, and this is reflected in their restaurant scene. It’s a dining arena where earthiness trumps pretension, where you won’t find what one critic called “a world of French cuisine, heavy silverware, pinkies in the air, and $500 tabs.” Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare is the only three-star Mihcelin BYOB, since they don’t even have a liquor license. Fatty ‘Cue is not about to put Le Bernadin out of business anytime soon, but they’re certainly providing a dose of authenticity and fresh air.