In Defense of Brooklyn — As If It Needed Defending


Brooklyn has – and has always had – a treasure trove of undeniable culinary delights, ever since the first Canarsie Indian sat cracking oyster shells on the lip of Jamaica Bay. It’s where Italian-American cuisine was invented, with its glorious meatballs, Sunday gravy, and hero sandwiches, and where German-American Jews perfected the art of curing and smoking corned beef and pastrami. Where a bucolic Chinatown with tree-shaded streets outstrips Manhattan’s in the excellence of its restaurants and small cafes. The best dim sum in the city? In Brooklyn.

Where Norwegians and Trinidadians and Syrians and even Australians have left their culinary mark, where the tacos are more voluptuously stuffed than in the streets of Puebla, and the mound of starch in Yemen aseed towers higher than in its own native land. Where Ecuadorian ceviches sparkle in their citrus freshness, and Nigerian mashes are accompanied by huge bowls of meat and fish drowning in lakes of vivid orange palm oil. Where even the bowling alleys have food far superior to that of any lanes in Manhattan.

Brooklyn is where the modern supper-club was invented, where mixology was perfected, where small shops turn out sea-salt caramels as good as anything in Brittany or Normandy. Since the mid-19th Century, it’s where great beer has been brewed, and who dares say that about Manhattan? As chefs have streamed into Brooklyn from other parts of the city and, indeed, from all over the world, the borough has been a crucible for gastronomic invention and perfection. It has produced the city’s finest charcuterie at the Vanderbilt, finest pizza at Totonno’s and Di Fara, the undisputable best steaks in the world at Peter Luger, and best cheesecake at Junior’s. The best wine bars and wine shops are there, too.

Now several effete food writers (among them a self-hating former Brooklynite and an Italian-American, too, shame on you!) have decided that, like characters in Saturday Night Fever, Brooklyn was never good enough for them — just as every script writer, rock band, and bon vivant in the country has rushed to establish a beachhead there. I suspect Brooklyn’s detractors are simply too lazy to find a subway and board it, their tongues so accustomed to the familiar and prosaic that they don’t want to taste anything else. Their wits so dimmed by self-esteem that they’re unwilling to admit that the culinary world as they know it – a world of French cuisine, heavy silverware, pinkies in the air, and $500 tabs – hardly exists anymore as far as most of us are concerned.

I’m talking to you, Jeffrey Steingarten (“I find it a very dangerous thing to be a Brooklyn booster”), Steve Cuozzo (“Williamsburg. Please. Its restaurants wouldn’t receive one-sixteenth the attention they get if so many food writers and bloggers didn’t live there or nearby”), and Mimi Sheraton (“I would go to Brooklyn if it were exceptional.”)! Brooklyn doesn’t need your approbation. He who tires of Brooklyn tires of life.


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