As Brooklyn’s borough-wide gentrification sweeps farther and farther east, it’s crystal clear that Crown Heights is under the hazy glow of kale-and-yoga tinted spotlights. Long known for its abundance of West Indian specialties, in recent years the bustling neighborhood has experienced a surge in nouveau New American eateries, a Carob Spring if you will, that’s helped solidify its place among the desirable Brooklyn enclaves. Luckily, the old guard stands strong, thanks to still-gentle rents and supportive local clientele, and for now, it seems the community will support both endeavors — which means more great restaurants for everyone. Here are the 10 best restaurants in Crown Heights.
10. Syd’s Serious Sandwich Shop, (759 Nostrand Avenue, Brooklyn; 347-305-3086)
Born and raised in North Philadelphia, Syd Wayman now spends most of his days making sandwiches that harken back to that city’s hoagie’d past. Wayman realized his dreams in 2010 using winnings from a business plan competition. And although decor is spare and space is limited, he’s found favor with area residents for his loaded cheesesteaks (including a vegetarian variety) and cold cut sandwiches. In a nod to his surroundings, there’s also a satisfyingly allspice-y jerk chicken hoagie available. And if you thought the bacon, egg, and cheese was the king of breakfast sandwiches — wait until you meet (and eat) the steak, egg, and cheese.
9. Chop Chop Grub Shop, (638 Nostrand Avenue, Brooklyn; 718-493-1700)
This Nostrand Avenue takeout joint run by chef Malcolm Sanz replaced a fish and chips shop earlier this year. And while there’s no battered cod or haddock, sea-loving diners can indulge in madras-spiced salmon and a mayo-rich lobster roll. If you’re lucky enough to snag one of six counter seats, the narrow space provides a respite for spinach or lobster omelets — but since this is gentrifying Crown Heights and not Midtown, that scrambled egg pancake filled with the king of crustaceans only costs $12. Dinner prices are modest, too, maxing out at $24 for ribeye steak.
8. Pacifico’s Fine Foods, (798A Franklin Avenue, 917-966-2670)
After a seven year run working under greenmarket pioneer Peter Hoffman at Back Forty in the East Village and SoHo, chef Shanna Pacifico has decamped to Brooklyn to this airy Franklin Avenue space serving a menu of South American-inspired New American food. Her chicken chicharrones are shatter crisp, and they come with spicy slaw at dinner or a craggy biscuit at brunch. The chef also brings her formidable butchery skills to the neighborhood, pairing heritage pork chops with piri piri sauce.
7. Mayfield, (688 Franklin Avenue, Brooklyn; 347-318-3643)
Jacques Belanger and Lev Gewirtzman left their posts at popular Upper West Side bistro Ouest to open this restaurant — named for soul singer Curtis Mayfield — serving gussied-up New American food in an industrial chic setting. Much of the menu is rooted in down-home comfort, like lamb chili, pork chops with grit cakes, and buttermilk fried quail with spoon bread, but global influences also abound (think ricotta gnocchi and gazpacho with creme fraiche). Yes, Crown Heights is officially $10+ cocktail territory, but Mayfield’s wine list has some solid deals, with plenty of bottles in the high $20s and $30s.
6. Barboncino, (781 Franklin Avenue, Brooklyn; 718-483-8834)
Filmmaker Ron Brown and Paulie Gee’s alum Jon Greenberg opened this smartly-designed pizzeria in 2011, bringing Neapolitan pizza to the neighborhood with a tiled, wood-burning oven. The blistered pies bear greenmarket toppings that go beyond nouveau standards like arugula and wild mushrooms. While not as wild as the rounds at nearby PeteZaaz, which deserves a mention for the sheer audacity of serving fried chicken pizza covered in garlic béchamel, seasonal specials at Barboncino have included maple sausage with yams and goat cheese with dried cherries.
5. Catfish, (1433 Bedford Avenue, Brooklyn; 347-305-3233)
Three former bartenders from Dumbo’s infamous, defunct reBar opened this funky watering hole in early 2013. In tune with the faux-dive atmosphere are the kitchen’s playful Creole riffs, like crawfish mac and cheese, and an alligator burger on brioche. But Cajun standards are also top notch, like file-dusted gumbo made with a chestnut brown roux studded with andouille sausage, shredded crab meat, and shrimp. The cocktail menu reads classic New Orleans, so you can satiate your sazerac and ramos gin fizz cravings without the need to frequent a bar that caters to the fedora-wearing set.
4. The Islands, (803 Washington Avenue, Brooklyn; 718-398-3575)
On the border of Prospect Heights and Crown Heights just north of the Brooklyn Museum, this miniscule Caribbean restaurant serves bold food from a bi-level space the size of a bus stop. Cooking is done at ground level, while those lucky enough to squeeze into the four tables on the second floor can eat in-house. For most though, that means takeout — luckily, portions are generous and prices cheap. Curries and jerks are the specialty, but items like coconut-flavored calypso shrimp and specials like reggae mussels keep things interesting. We’re also fans of heavily browned brick-like slabs of macaroni and cheese.
3. Chavela’s, (736 Franklin Avenue, Brooklyn; 718-622-3100)
Homage is paid to revered songstress Chavela Martinez via this neo-gothic cantina, which has plied the neighborhood with soulful Mexican home cooking since 2007. There are plenty of tacos and quesadillas, but the menu also satisfies those looking for hard-to-find Mexican specialties like tlacoyos, griddled masa crepes stuffed with refried beans and topped with diced cactus. Chef Arturo Leonar incorporates the occasional contemporary touch, adding smoked trout and chipotle salsa to guacamole. Cocktails go well beyond standard margaritas — try anything with tepache, a fermented pineapple beverage.
2. Glenda’s Restaurant, (854 Saint John’s Place, Brooklyn; 718-778-1997)
With festive red and yellow signage out front and a wood-paneled interior that looks better suited to a municipal office, this St. Johns Place restaurant has delighted customers with West Indian staples for years. Best of all are the $6 rotis, which finds the soft, slightly chewy flatbread folded over heaping portions of beef, chicken, goat or shrimp. But lest you mistake the roti for a Caribbean burrito, beware that both chicken and goat come on the bone. Beyond ginger beer, Glenda’s also offers a variety of tropical beverages, from soursop and peanut punch to more obscure drinks like mauby and sea moss — a purported aphrodisiac.
1. Glady’s, (788 Franklin Avenue, Brooklyn; 718-622-0249)
Inspired by the neighborhood’s culinary history, Michael Jacober was compelled to switch gears, ditching the hodgepodge of New American food for straightforward Caribbean specialties. Like other fine-dining expats who’ve become immersed in cuisines that excited them, he applies his expert knowledge and focus into details like importing fresh green wood from Jamaica for a wood burning oven that’s used to slow cook jerk chicken, pork, and lobster. Peppered shrimp are as greasy and rich as the New Orleans barbecue variety, and prices are gentle. Sugarcane spirits are well represented, but we can’t get enough of Shannon Mustipher’s frozen cocktails, like a dark ‘n’ stormy slushy. Glady’s may be rare proof that gentrification isn’t always a four-letter word.