‘Made In Brooklyn’
Made in Brooklyn
In French, ‘Brooklyn’ means cool.
In French, ‘Brooklyn’ means cool.
These days, the high-wattage trendiness of the formerly humble borough known as Brooklyn is almost a punchline to an (admittedly bad) joke. Not only do New Yorkers (and bridge-and-tunnel types) flock to Brooklyn’s bars, clubs, cafes and restaurants, but the word “Brooklyn” is actually used as a synonym for “cool” in the French language, much as, in years past, Parisians used the term “Bronx” to describe a totally out-of-control situation. While the borough’s cool factor is evident in the numbers of tourists who flock here, in the skyrocketing rents of the historical brownstones, and in Brooklyn-designed-and-inspired fashion, nowhere is it more blazingly apparent than in the popular — and quality — restaurants bars and independent food businesses that have all but subsumed neighborhoods from Greenpoint to Prospect Heights and beyond. It sometimes seems as if all the new eateries written up in newspapers, magazines and blogs alike are located a stone’s throw from a G train stop.
Things weren’t always like this. As a kid growing up in sleepy Brooklyn Heights in the ‘90s, I distinctly remember that, besides the occasional standout pizza joint, the only decent restaurant within walking distance of my foodie parents’ brownstone was a now-shuttered Cajun-style place that served unimpeachable, rigorously authentic gumbo and fried seafood. Needless to say, we frequented it about twice a week, and, also needless to say, it was always packed because our friends and neighbors, too, were hungry for some good eats. A few years later, in the early aughts, my mom, dad, brother and I would pile into the car for the 10-minute drive to Williamsburg, which at the time was still an affordable artists’ enclave that had recently seen the opening of some interesting and affordable restaurants such as Oznot’s Dish (RIP) and Chickenbone Cafe, pre-star-chefdom Zakary Pellacio’s first venture (RIP).
Of course, the days of scouring Brooklyn for elevated, thoughtful cuisine are a distant memory: the ascent of the food scene here was like wildfire, fast-moving and impossible to curb. It’s this phenomenon that authors Susanne Konig and Melissa Schreiber Vaughan trace in their new book, “Made in Brooklyn: An Essential Guide to the Borough’s Artisanal Food & Drink Makers,” released late last month by the influential DUMBO bookstore and publisher powerHouse Books. In this handsome coffee table tome featuring appealing full-color photographs by Brooklyn-based photographer Heather Weston, Konig, powerHouse’s director and buyer, and Schreiber Vaughan, a food writer and recipe developer, provide a richly textured and eminently practical guide to 107 of Kings County’s passionate food makers and crafters both new-wave and old, from Red Hook’s Widow Jane Distillery (opened 2012) to Brownsville’s Fox’s U-Bet chocolate syrup factory (established 1900).
There’s not exactly a dire shortage of new books about Brooklyn; a cursory Amazon search turns up the 2016 edition of “The Food Enthusiast’s Complete Restaurant Guide to Brooklyn” as well as last year’s “Brooklyn Spirits: Craft Distilling and Cocktails from the World’s Hippest Borough.” But “Made in Brooklyn” sets itself apart with the depth and warmth of its reporting: each featured business gets a full two-page spread of photos, plus a meaty blurb detailing the company’s history and its signature products. In its hardcover version, the book isn’t exactly one you’re going to want to tote around on your subway explorations of Brooklyn, but it’s nonetheless a practical guide that you’ll certainly want to dogear (or Post-It note or iPhone photo-snap) before making a day out of eating your way through Greenpoint or Bay Ridge or Bed-Stuy.
Flipping through the book inspires two feelings: one, incredible hunger — the photos really are good — and two, wonder at the immense diversity of the business represented within. There’s Vinegar Hill’s Damascus Bakery, a third-generation, family-owned Syrian bakery that supplies downtown Brooklyn with superior pita, lavash, and date cookies; Red Hook’s La Newyorkina, Mexican native Fany Gerson’s paleta, or ice pop, company; Williamsburg’s uber-hipster Mast Brothers Chocolate, run by a pair of tall, handsome, bearded and bespectacled brothers whose mastery of their craft almost justifies their bars’ $9 price tag. Like their home borough itself, these makers are a varied lot, but they all have one thing in common: their passion for, and dedication to, their craft. I’m looking forward to many more years of eating and drinking Brooklyn’s bounty.