Three BK Food Trends Worth the Hype

With a new food trend popping up almost every day, it’s hard to know which ones are worth checking out, which ones are worth dropping everything for, and which ones are totally overrated. Here are three Brooklyn food trends that deserve the hype.

Pok Pok NY

When news that Portland favorite Pok Pok was opening in Brooklyn, a flurry of food-lovers could barelycontain their excitement. Chef Andy Ricker must know a thing or two about New Yorkers: he reigned in our chronically fleeting attention by opening Pok Pok Wing this March, and ramped up our curiosity by only offering Wings and Papaya Salad. When we were just about over the wait and ready to move on, Pok Pok NY’s doors opened on April 18. Instantly lines never seen in the Columbia Waterfront District were forming — two, three, four hours long — for Northern Thai Food worth every bit of the anticipation.

The food at Pok Pok is complex but tastes simple. Each spice and ingredient is listed under each dish on themenu, from Burmese curry powder to pickled garlic to Naam Phrik Num (spicy green chili dip). Somehow, despite the wonderful complexity and number of components, no dish tastes overwhelming or over-the-top, and nothing is over-seasoned, too sweet or too oily. The laid-back vibe — plastic tablecloths, cups and plates; a tent-covered interior and umbrella-shaded exterior — compliments the casual cuisine. But casual is not to be confused with ordinary, because Pok Pok NY is anything but.

Although I would have liked to order everything on the menu, I resisted and will happily return to try what I missed. The long lines aren’t so bad with an Umesho Cooler (Japanese Ume Plum wine and soda). If the Papaya Pok Pok with a side of Sticky Rice, Ike’s Vietnamese Fish Sauce Wings (the same served at Pok Pok Wing), the Muu Kham Waan (Niman Ranch Pork Neck) and the Cha Cha “La Vong” (Vietnamese Catfish) are any indication, every single dish at Pok Pok is a masterpiece worth waiting for.

Rockaway Taco

I really didn’t want to believe the hype on Rockaway Taco. Hipsters invading Rockaway? I wasn’t interested. Last year the New York Times couldn’t get enough of it, so, in protest (read: for no good reason), I stayed away. This year, I can’t get enough. Rockaway Taco is in every way worth the subway ride (or Rockabus!) down to the beach.

If you get one taco, get the fish taco. If you get two tacos, get the fish taco again. In my opinion, it’s the best. Add guacamole, obviously. And don’t miss out on the fresh pineapple juice, served with crushed ice and mint.

Dough

And since I like to end everything with something sweet, the last Brooklyn food trend that definitely lives up to its reputation is Dough: the amazing doughnut shop in Clinton Hill. Is it wrong that the first thing I consumed in 2012 was a Dulce de Leche doughnut from Dough? After which I consumed Hibiscus doughnut? I guess in addition to ending everything with something sweet, I like to start with something sweet too. And what better way to start the day, or the year, than with a doughnut, the ultimate dessert-for-breakfast?

If you can’t make it to home base in Clinton Hill — Lafayette Ave. and Franklin Ave. — don’t worry. Dough’s decadent delights are popping up all over the city, from Bittersweet coffee shop just a few blocks away in Fort Greene, to Culture Espresso in midtown, to Veggie Island in Rockaway. Wherever you find them, be sure to try a few of the exotic flavors, like Earl Grey, Blood Orange or Lemon Poppy Seed. Doughnuts will never taste the same.

The Best Thing I Ate Last Week: Caramel Sticky Bun from Roberta’s

The best thing I ate last week was a burnt caramel sticky bun from Roberta’s Bread. Every Saturday and Sunday, Fort Greene residents are blessed with a special delivery from the one and only Roberta’s to the one and only Greene Grape.

Around 8:30 a.m., neighbors start furtively dashing into the Greene Grape, where an almost nervous crowd starts to hover around the counter in anticipation. These sticky, buttery, chewy, salty caramel buns are one of the neighborhood’s best-kept secrets; neighbors are addicted, and now so am I. “They’re like crack,” I’ve been told on two, separate occasions by cashiers at the Greene Grape.

And they know best – they see the same Fort Greene residents weekend morning after weekend morning, coming in to get their fix. We all have our vices. Add to my list these to-die-for sticky buns.

The Sweet Side of the Subcontinent

Dessert might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think about South Asian food, but sweets are an integral part of South Asian cuisine and culture. Often overlooked, forgotten or even unknown outside of South Asia, sweets seem to have gotten lost in translation on many of the Westernized menus that we find in the United States. Where thousands of stand-alone shops sell nothing but sweets in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, in the United States shops that offer any kind South Asian sweet, let alone ones singularly dedicated to sweets, are few and far between.

From deep-fried pancakes soaked in sugary syrup, to fudge-like squares garnished with edible, silver foil, South Asian sweets come in all shapes, sizes and flavors. With such great and delicious variety, it’s too bad these confections seem to have such a low profile outside of South Asia.

Having not been exposed to the wonderful world of South Asian sweets before I studied in India, I was relieved and excited to discover that my sweet tooth would not be neglected during my stay. I quickly fell for mithai: a broad category of milk-based sweets. Burfi, one of the most popular types of mithai, became one of my favorites. Burfi itself can come in many flavors — like kaaju burfi, made with cashews; pista burfi, made with pistachios; or badam burfi, made with almonds. Gulab jamuns — deep-fried dough made of milk-solids, soaked in sweet syrup — became a decadent vice for me, and I couldn’t escape jalebi — a circular or pretzel-shaped, deep-fried, orange treat, sold on so many street corners. Justifying my indulgent exploration into the world of South Asian sweets were the encouraging words of nearly everyone I shared a meal with. A little milk- and sugar-based dessert was good for my digestion, I was told, and would help settle the acidity of a spicy meal. I was in heaven.

Not only are sweets an important part of a complete, South Asian meal, but they are also an essential part of daily culture. Upon my arrival in India, I learned that giving and receiving sweets is a habitual way both to show hospitality and to thank someone for hosting you. Even as clueless as I was when I first arrived at my new home, I knew that I shouldn’t decline the rasgulla — a cottage-cheese-like dumpling, boiled in sugar syrup — I was offered. If you are visiting someone’s home, you should never show up empty-handed, even, as my Bangladeshi friend Shanaz Chowdhury says, if you’re a frequent visitor. While the tradition sometimes strays in the United States to bringing beer, wine or alcohol, it is still very common, Shanaz explains, to bring a mixed box of sweets when you go to someone’s house.

Exchanging sweets is also a central part of festivals like Diwali, one of the most important festivals for Hindus, and personal celebrations, like weddings, having a baby or getting a new job. If a new baby is born into your family, you buy sweets for your friends — not the other way around. Likewise, if you get hired, you share your accomplishment by offering treats, not by accepting them. My nephew was born when I was living in a small town outside the city of Jaipur, and following the advice of a friend, I bought ladoos and burfi to deliver my good news properly. I love this tradition of giving, instead of receiving, when you have good news to share.

Unfortunately, finding good sweets outside of the South Asian subcontinent proves to be quite the task. Despite the abundance of Indian restaurants and food stores in New York City, for example, you will be hard pressed to find many specialty sweet shops. In Manhattan, Spice Corner in Curry Hill offers the best and largest selection you can find. If you want to find alternatives to this Curry Hill market in the city, you’ll have to sit down at a restaurant. But even at restaurants, dessert, if offered, is often an afterthought.The Masala Wala in the Lower East Side makes an excellent gulab jamun, but this seems to be the exception, not the rule.

In New York, the sweets really worth eating, and in shops of their own, are in Jackson Heights, Queens. AtRajbhog, you can find up to 10 kinds of burfi, up to five varieties of ladoos and outstanding gulab jamuns. A block away, Maharaja Sweets offers an excellent array of almond and cashew rolls decorated with with Varakh — a thin layer of silver foil — alongside more burfi, rasgulla and jalebi.

With so many varieties, there really is a mithai for everyone. The trick may be finding them, but once you do, you’ll definitely be going back for more!

Bob’s Grinding Service

Bob’s Grinding Service truck can be found in Fort Greene. (If you can’t tell from the tiny pic, Bob sharpens knives). I’m not sure where else the truck drives, or when it stops where, but I’m always happy to see it on my street.

The Best Thing I Ate Last Week: Warm Pizza Dough With House Made Ricotta and Pesto

The best thing I ate last week was really a corn soup I ate over a long weekend at home, but a longer blog post about this weekend of home-cooked, summer meals is on the way, so this post goes to something equally as delicious that I ate last week: Warm Pizza Dough With House Made Ricotta and Pesto from Fort Greene’s new restaurant, Lulu and Po.

Lulu and Po is a tiny, new small plates spot on Cartlon Avenue just below Myrtle. The kitchen is proportional to the dining area — tiny too — but the flavors in and caliber of each plate are anything but. The Warm Pizza Dough, cut into triangles for dipping into pesto and creamy but light-as-air ricotta, was savory, crusty, and fluffy all in one. I would go back to Lulu and Po for the tender, Iron-Pressed Upstate New York Firehouse Chicken with Celery & Eggplant; the house made Fettuccini with Corn, Mushrooms & Sage; and the ambiance – a beautiful L-shaped bar and only a handful of vanity tables, lit by funky, stand-alone lightbulbs and chandeliers made up of a cluster of lightbulbs, hanging like upside-down bouquets from the ceiling. The Warm Pizza Dough, however, was the standout plate of the night. I’m wary of it becoming an addiction. Lulu and Po is a great spot for small groups – not only because of its size, but also because of its menu of small plates (see Pete Wells’ gripe with small plates and the Twitter talk that followed). I’m excited to see this family restaurant become a staple in the neighborhood.

The Best Thing I Ate Last Week: Arugula Pizza from Graziella’s (and OBAMA FOR THE WIN!)

The best thing I ate last week came from one of my favorite and certainly one of the most underrated restaurants in Fort Greene: Graziella’s. A casual Italian spot on Vanderbelt just above Dekalb Avenue, Graziella’s is a family restaurant where groups, large and small, and of all ages, can relax over a brick-oven pizza and big bowl of pasta – no frills, just reliably, great food. With a dessert counter in front and a foyer with a bar just as you enter, Graziella’s, as a friend pointed out, has a slightly suburban feel. Noticeably different than so many of the other restaurants just around the corner, it has a classic, timeless feel. It’s casual Italian American at its best.

With a big, rooftop terrace, tucked away from the bustle of Dekalb and offering views of Manahattan and Queens, the summer is my favorite time to eat at Graziella’s. But the brick oven downstairs and the friendly vibe make it a great winter spot too.

The arugula pizza with shaved Parmesan is my favorite, and it was the best thing I ate last week. With a thin crust, just enough sauce and gooey mozzarella cheese topped with a heaping pile fresh arugula and thin slices of Paremesan cheese, it’s my go-to whenever I eat at or order in from Graziella’s. Last week, the pizza was particularly good and really hit the spot after a week cooped up in our apartment (and no complaints there- I’m thankful that we had electricity and heat all week, unlike so many New Yorkers. Fort Greene, for the most part, was relatively unscathed after Sandy, and we are all very lucky.). I love this pizza and I love this restaurant, and I hope, despite all the changes that our neighborhood has seen and will continue to see, that Graziella’s and its arugula pizza never change.

Walter’s

Every day it seems like some Manhattan-based restaurant opens an outpost in Williamsburg. Just recently, a restaurant from Williamsburg opened an outpost in Fort Greene. Walter’s, of Williamsburg’s Walter Foods, opened a few months ago on prime real estate, on the corner of Cumberland and Dekalb, facing the park.
A welcome addition to the neighborhood, Walter’s is open late, unlike most of Fort Greene’s dining establishments. The food lives up to high neighborhood standards. The Deviled Eggs are perfectly spicy and the Crab Cakes with Sherry and Cayenne Aioli are lightly battered for a crispy outside and moist inside. A Roasted Half Chicken with Garlic Mashed Potatoes, Market Vegetables and Tarragon Gremolata is tender, juicy, and excellent.

An extensive and wondrously nostalgic cocktail list offers standbys like the Singapore Sling (Gin, Cointreau, Cherry Liqueur and Pineapple), a Sazerac and a Mint Julep. Unique, masterful takes on other old favorites include the Bramble (Gin, Lemonade and Blackberry) and the Fig Sidecar (Aged Rum, Fig Syrup, and Fresh Lemonade).

A large, oval mirror on the wall behind the bar illuminates the long, gorgeous interior, as well as the beautiful, bohemian Brooklynites clustering in lively pockets from the bar to the back booths. I’m thrilled that Walter’s is only a block away. The bottom of the menu reads: “If you love us, tell Danny. If you don’t, please tell Dylan.” Well, Danny, I love you guys.