Eat @ Joe's By Ralph Raffio
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Before Hipsters, There Was a Real Brooklyn
May 28, 2015 -- Brooklyn, New York City's most populous and ethnically diverse borough, is now so damnably trendy and universally branded that The New York Times has called it the great cliché. Of course, one reason Brooklyn has become a "great cliché" is because The Times compares "everyplace from Berlin to Beijing" to Brooklyn. It's gotten so ridiculous that The Times has begged its writers and editors to stop the Brooklyn madness.
I will not talk about "hipster Brooklyn." I despise hipster Brooklyn, as any right-thinking, born-in-the-borough, here-before-you-arrived Brooklynite does. If you're looking for recommendations on the hottest food spots in "New Brooklyn," you've come to the wrong place.
Five of the best remnants of the "Old Brooklyn" follow. The Brooklyn that predates the cliché, the branding and the ironic silliness of a "pickle district" or "tea ateliers" or artisan beef jerky.
This, my friends, is real Brooklyn food crafted and, um, curated by real Brooklyn merchants for real Brooklynites, even those of us who now live hundreds or thousands of miles away.
D'AMICO COFFEE ROASTERS
I've been buying my coffee exclusively from Frank D'Amico for more than 25 years. Every couple of months I jump on the D'Amico Web site and put in an order for 17 pounds of Brooklyn-roasted coffee. They mix it just the way I like, the way I tell them: 14 pounds of the House Dark (espresso) with three pounds of the House Light. The hopelessly ramshackle, seriously disorganized shop has been around since 1948. But Frank and his wife Joan recently renovated the space "to attract new people in the neighborhood." Oh boy! I haven't been since this happened and I can't tell you how hipsterized the place has become. But I just got a new delivery of coffee and it hasn't changed a bit.
I'm gonna let you decide whether to make a stop at this place after you've picked up some coffee at D'Amico's across the street. Sam's is not the best old-school Italian-American restaurant you'll ever slurp red sauce in, but it has its moments and the pizzas can be quite good. You go to Sam's for the atmosphere; at least I do. We're talking about a dying breed, folks. The place is below sidewalk grade and looks like a (rundown) social club where my grandfather might have played pinochle. And the owner, well, you either get him or you don't. If you do get him, you'll thank me for leading you back in time. If you don't, well, fuhgeddaboudit!
D. COLUCCIO & SONS
This is my go-to place for the most crucial staples in my kitchen: Italian cheeses, pasta flours, tomatoes, olive oils, figs, salted fish, cured meats, dried beans, anchovies and a lot of other things. Virtually everything here comes from Italy. Coluccio isn't just a food store; in fact, it's largely an importer and a wholesaler. This is no "New Brooklyn" yuppie hangout, friends. It's the real deal. Old school. English is a second language here. I'm not kidding. Listen to the shoppers walking the narrow aisles, waiting at the cheese counter, sampling the soppressata or maybe being treated to an espresso from out back. Most of them parlano Italiano. I love this place! You will, too. Trust me.
FRANK AND SAL
Frank & Sal is proof that you really can be everything to everybody. There's an indoor/outdoor produce section, an excellent butcher shop, a prepared foods counter, a couple rows of pastas, you name it. Speaking of pasta, this is the only place I can find my favorite dried variety: Granoro brand spaghetti alla chitarra No. 85. It's in the last aisle, down past the olive oils, so make sure to grab a few pounds while you're here. It can get a little tight in the shop, what with people waiting on line for their prepared foods and their cheeses and their foccacia. So practice your Italian beforehand: Mi scusi signora should be enough to get you by.
File this under the category, "Hurry Before It's Too Late." Eagle Provisions (fka White Eagle Market) has posted its closing notice. The 75-year-old Polish grocery store is the kind of place that makes you smile. As soon as you walk in you can smell the kielbasa, hams and bacon coming from the meat counter in the back. They've got wonderful pierogi and sauerkraut and all kinds of different breads. The beer selection is, if not the best, certainly one of the best in New York. It's just amazing how much life-sustaining and affirming stuff they can cram into this old place. Go. Please. Quickly. You won't be disappointed--until after it's gone, that is.
This column is Copyright © 2015 by Ralph Raffio. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright © 2015 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved. All of the opinions and material in this column are the sole property and responsibility of Ralph Raffio. This material may not be reproduced in any form without his express written permission.