There’s never been a better time to eat in Brooklyn. Seriously. Once packed with steakhouses, kosher delis, appetizing shops, 24-hour diners and red sauce Italian joints, the borough and its dozens of distinct neighborhoods is now lush with restaurants dishing out plates from all over the world, all with their own Brooklyn flair.
Although it’s now known for being hip, young and maybe even America’s epicenter of cool, Brooklyn is still home to decades and even centuries-old mainstays serving up some of the best meals in New York. Take Peter Luger Steak House, for example. The upscale Williamsburg restaurant, dating back to 1887, still packs its dining room night after night.
A new generation of Brooklynites is working to reclaim and tastily commemorate the borough of generations past. Peter Shelsky saw a “void that needed to be filled” for traditional deli food in Brooklyn when people used to endure traffic and long lines to eat pricey pastrami sandwiches in Manhattan, because there was nowhere to get the classic smoked meats in his borough. Thus, in 2012, the former caterer opened Shelsky’s in Cobble Hill, the first deli and appetizing shop to open in Brooklyn in 60 years.
“People are craving authenticity in general,” Shelsky says of Brooklyn’s popularity with independent business owners in recent years. “People say they want to go back to small shops — getting fish from a fishmonger, cheese from a cheese shop — and there’s still a good amount of people living in Brooklyn who value the small business model. That sort of thing is big here, it’s why people move to these neighborhoods in the first place.”
One more reason Shelsky thinks 2018 will be a big year for indie restaurants and food entrepreneurs in Brooklyn: people crave the charm, the service, and the attention and value you intrinsically feel when visiting a neighborhood store, either for the first or 15th time. And as Shelsky puts it, “you can’t buy hand-sliced smoked salmon on Amazon.” Nor fresh bagels. Next up for Shelsky is a bagel shop, as he is, “disappointed with the state of affairs of bagels in New York City,” he says. “They’ve gotten too big and too soft and too closely resemble white bread.” Or in Brooklyn speak: sub-par bagels? Fuhgeddaboutit.
This mentality of taking the reins pours throughout the borough, from rainbow bagels in Williamsburg to wood-fired Caribbean fare in Crown Heights. Here’s where to eat the best of Brooklyn’s independent restaurant scene — a small sample of the borough’s more than 6,000 eateries.
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