By Bree Sposato
Just in time for what's shaping up to be a hot summer, we're rolling out a series of walking tours in some of Brooklyn's best neighborhoods, where the sidewalks are less crowded, the restaurants set global food trends, and the nightlife often spills into blissfully shaded gardens. Our first installment focuses on Ft. Greene and Prospect Heights, two neighborhoods accessible by a 15-minute trip over the Manhattan Bridge.
Take the C to Lafayette Avenue or the 2,3,4,5,B,D,Q to Atlantic Avenue. Check HopStop.com for weekend schedule changes.
Food: Just a few blocks from the subway, Ft. Greene's Dekalb Avenue is lined with excellent restaurants. Northern Italian fare is the focus at the 70-seat Dino, which serves rigatoni in a slow-cooked ragu, skirt steak with spinach, and cocktails created by a Pegu Club consultant in an indoor/outdoor space done in the rustic-chic tradition of white and wood. A few doors down, the candlelit General Greene does small, shared plates well with standouts like bourbon baby back ribs, sautéed red kale, and three-cheese macaroni. Madiba plates traditional South African meals like Mozambique-style prawns and ostrich carpaccio; ask for a table on the sidewalk terrace, which swarms with beautiful people.
Sights: A destination in its own right, the Brooklyn Academy of Music stages world-class theater and dance productions, screens classic and a small collection of modern films, and taps into local talent with live music shows on the weekends at its lively café. On Saturday mornings, wander the modest Farmers Market, which, depending on the season, sells just-harvested asparagus, strawberries, and apples, at the entrance to Ft. Greene Park. Bring a picnic, play a round of tennis, or explore its trails by bike.
Inside Tip: Nearby Bespoke Bicycles offers rentals and tune-ups.
Sweets & Snacks: This is a diverse 'hood, but everyone agrees on the absolute addictiveness of the oversize slices of red velvet cake whipped up at Cake Man Raven; eat yours on-the-spot as the fridge tends to ruin its springiness. For healthier snacks, head to Provisions, which draws a morning rush for coffee, and again after work, for its organic selection of vegetables, well-stocked cheese counter, and, in the summer, the throwback ice cream takeout window. Its parent shop, the Greene Grape has a robust wine selection, plus a well-organized collection of bottles under the $10 mark—perfect for sneaking to the park.
Shops: There's no question that Brooklyn is a bookish borough, and Greenlight Bookstore is one of its best. It stocks all of the latest hardcovers, with reading notes from the staff, as well as hundreds of quirky paperbacks and a kid's section (check for readings). On the weekends, dozens of local artists strut their stuff at the Brooklyn Flea; you'll find all of the typewriter key cufflinks, 1920s dresses, and hand-thrown coffee mugs you never knew you needed. Floral silk dresses, grosgrain tanks, and loose-stitched sweaters hang on the racks at the upscale women's boutique Thistle & Clover. A more whimsical collection can be found at the pint-sized Feliz, which offers Brooklyn-made soaps, among other whimsical items like colorfully striped espadrilles and straw hats.
Sips: More than 40 types of wine are poured by the glass at the cherry wood bar at the subdued Stonehome Wine Bar which has 200 bottles and its own backyard; locals drawn here include Keri Russell. For a different vibe, head to Habana Outpost where beautiful people mingle in the courtyard against a backdrop of loud music, and wait in for Mexican corn on the cob. At the end of the day, sometimes all you want is a run-of-the-mill bar, and Mullane's Bar and Grill does it right, with flat-screen TVs and pub fare like burgers with bacon and mushrooms.
Take the B,Q to 7th Avenue or the 2,3 to Grand Army Plaza.
Food: Brooklyn's beloved Franny's serves a mean tomato, basil, and buffalo mozzarella pizza, but the market-fresh vegetable apps like fried-green tomatoes with anchovy mayonnaise are equally satisfying. Later this year, the restaurant will reopen in a larger space down the street, hopefully alleviating their legendary lines. Another new opening is 606 R&D from two City Bakery alums; expect excellent fare like soft-shell crab with spring greens in a grapefruit vinaigrette (plus, hand-made doughnuts). Set in a brownstone with a vibe to match, James (605 Carlton Ave., 718/942-4255) grows its own herbs on the roof and uses them in recipes like asparagus risotto with lemon, dill, and goat cheese. Other standouts include the tiny BYOB spot Kaz an Nou, the dimly lit and lively Flatbush Farm, and the family-owned corner diner Tom's Restaurant, where the host serves orange slices to people waiting in line for Belgian waffles and old-fashioned lime Rickeys.
Sights: With 52 flower-filled acres, strolling the Brooklyn Botanic Garden is a peaceful way to pass an afternoon; stop by the Japanese and rose gardens, and sip a cup of tea on the roof of the brand-new Weiss/Manfredi-designed visitor's center. Nearby, the grand entrance of the Brooklyn Museum leads to 560,000-square-feet of gallery space filled with 1.5 million works. The Brooklyn Public Library abuts the Grand Army Plaza entrance to Prospect Park, which is also the site of the farmers market, open on Saturdays year-round, and the Soldiers' and Sailor's Arch, which is dedicated to Union soldiers and has a public observation deck.
Sweets & Snacks: Got a sweet tooth? Hit up Joyce Bakeshop for whoopie pies, lemon tarts, and French macarons, or Bklyn Larder, which stocks lots of savories (meats, cheeses, and pasta) and treats like hand-made gelato, chocolates from around the world, and sugar-crusted fruit jellies.
Sips: Cocktails like the Whiskey Skiffer (rye whiskey, Cynar, sweet vermouth, Ballast and Keel bitters) are on the chalkboard menu at the dimly lit convivial bar of the Vanderbilt. Farther up the street, Soda Bar—once a 1930s ice cream parlor—channels more of a dive vibe, with 15 draft beers and indoor/outdoor seating. Equally cozy, Washington Commons has a small indoor space and a large concrete patio in the back. Also on Washington Avenue, the airy Bearded Lady mixes tasty cocktails (try the Over Under, made with London gin, dry vermouth, Cherry Heering, and Peychaud's bitters) in a prime corner location with wide windows made for people watching.
Photo Credits: Brownstones: by Steve WintonAttribution License; Madiba: Courtesy of Madiba Restaurant; Fort Greene Park: Ft. Greene Park by James McDowellAttribution-NoDerivs License; The Greene Grape: Courtesy of Greene Grape; Colored Glass: colored glass at brooklyn flea by Kristen TaylorAttribution License; No. 7: Courtesy of No. 7; Soldiers' and Sailors' Arch: Brooklyn - NYC by Smart Destinations Attribution-ShareAlike License; Kaz an Nou: Courtesy of Kaz an Nou; Brooklyn Museum: Brooklyn Museum via Shutterstock.com; Joyce Bakeshop: Courtesy of Joyce Bakeshop; The Vanderbilt: Courtesy of The Vanderbilt