I recently brought a friend who just moved to New York to one of my favorite Brooklyn restaurants, Franny’s. He was amused to find a list on the back of the menu of where the ingredients, and even the T-shirts, had come from (“Franny’s T-shirts are made by sweatshop-free, eco-friendly, and socially responsible American Apparel,” it said). When our server asked if we had any questions, he said, “Yes, I was just wondering, where were the sugar snap peas grown?” Her eyes widened with horror. “Oh God, I can’t remember that one,” she said. He told her he was only joking, and I over-laughed through the awkwardness.
While it may seem silly or pretentious to list the origin of the ingredients, it does make all the difference in how the food tastes. Most new moderately priced restaurants in New York don’t fall too strictly under one ethnic heading, and they’re not “fusion,” either. What they tend to have in common is a dedication to local, organic food. Even Mr. Authenticity himself, Mario Batali, tweaks time-honored Italian recipes at Babbo to use what’s in season and available here. But although this can seem like a deviation on the plate, the philosophy of cooking locally would probably please Italian sticklers better than the alternative—using ingredients that have traveled long distances, from different climates, and have been bred to sustain such voyages, like that rock-hard tomato (why is it white inside?) that keeps creeping into your kitchen.
Many New York chefs rely on the Farmer’s Market in Union Square for the best produce in season. Especially now that smaller menus that change daily, or almost daily, are in style, it’s the equivalent of going out to the farm for inspiration. But residents and restaurant owners of Brooklyn know you can keep it really local by shopping at neighborhood greenmarkets which are getting bigger and better rapidly.
Here are a few of our favorites, just in time for the tomatoes, corn, and peaches of August—three foods that should be picked ripe and eaten as fresh as possible.
Red Hook Farmer’s Market
Talk about local! This market was started in 2001 by Added Value, an organization that has developed land in Red Hook and in Far Rockaway, Queens, where organic produce is grown to be sold at this Farmer’s Market and to be donated to people in need. Added Value does a lot more than grow and sell food, though. They are deeply involved in the community through several initiatives, including a youth-development program, in which young adults work on the farm and at the market. It is also beloved of Brooklyn restaurants, like 360, which is in Red Hook, and changes its menu every day, and Ici, in Fort Greene. We sampled fantastic tomatoes, corn, and blueberries recently.
Open 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. every Saturday until Thanksgiving at Columbia and Beard Street.
On Wednesdays, a smaller incarnation is located at Wolcott and Dwight from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Grand Army Plaza
Located right at the northwest edge of Prospect Park, this market, open on Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. year-round, is convenient to Prospect Heights and Park Slope. Recent sightings and tastings include spring garlic (attached to a green stalk, this young version is sweet and tender and lacks the harshness of the garlic we usually encounter), pork and rich, fresh eggs from Flying Pigs Farm, heirloom tomatoes, fresh organic greens, and fish from Montauk Fish. Ici Restaurant will be doing a cooking demonstration there this Saturday (July 30) from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. with Julie E. Farias, the Texan BBQ queen.
Fort Greene Park
This is a smaller market (just about half a block long), but a lively neighborhood institution nonetheless, with some real highlights. Ronnybrook dairy products, Red Jacket Orchards, and the organic lettuce and homemade kimchee that people flock to buy at the Union Square market are some. But the best part may be the traditional apple-cider donuts. Open Saturdays, from 8AM to 5PM, year round. Located on the DeKalb entrance at Willoughby Street.