FEATURE

My Brooklyn Is Better Than Yours

Manhattan? Fuhgeddaboudit. These days, the most interesting part of New York is across the East River.

Park Slope's Applewood (Morgan & Owens)

While residents of Brooklyn have been raving about their borough for years, visitors are finally hearing the call. Grace Bonney, the blogger behind Design*Sponge, shows us a few of her favorite spots.

My first real impression of Brooklyn was of a burning car seen through a broken window at an artist's loft. I was in town to visit a college boyfriend, and, while leaning out of the window, we watched a car nearly explode in an abandoned lot across the street. I'll never know why the car was engulfed in flames, but I'll always remember the thought that crossed my mind: Never, ever move to Brooklyn.

That was six years ago, and thankfully both my initial impression of the borough and the college boyfriend are ancient history. After graduating from William and Mary College in Virginia, I moved to Brooklyn to take an internship with a small record label based in Park Slope. While lugging boxes of CDs around the city and doing the bidding of some fairly nefarious recording artists, I tried to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. I had always been interested in art and design, but I didn't really have a clue about where exactly I fit within those industries.

So, like any new kid on the block, I set out to explore my neighborhood. Along the way I was lucky enough to meet a special someone who accompanied me on these outings. He noticed that my running commentary almost exclusively covered interior design, so over brunch at Union Picnic one day he suggested that I start a blog on the topic. One long story and several years later, the blog, Design*Sponge (designsponge.blogspot.com), is now my livelihood and a forum for people around the globe who enjoy design in its many forms.

Aside from being a fun way to spend the day, Design*Sponge has provided me with a platform to discuss Brooklyn artists and shops. And so I've become something of an amateur tour guide for design fans visiting the borough. While I love holding forth on chairs and tables, it's a thrill to be able to write about other aspects of Brooklyn besides the furniture. What follows is my guide to the best that Brooklyn has to offer. I hope it'll serve double duty: as both a practical guide to eating, shopping, and playing, and a heartfelt testament to the city I call home.

EAT
If there's one thing I enjoy as much as design, it's food. And what I love most about dining in Brooklyn is the sense of welcome each restaurant cultivates. As sophisticated as the food is, there's rarely the stodginess you tend to find in "fine dining" establishments across the river.

The single restaurant I'd recommend above all others is DuMont, in Williamsburg. A little hipstery? Sure. Crowded at times? Definitely. But if you're looking for a place that has delicious food and a warm yet uniquely Brooklyn vibe, this is it. The unfussy modern versions of classics like croque monsieur and roasted chicken are executed perfectly and with feeling. (Don't miss the Dumac & Cheese--it's a $12 dish of heaven, with pasta, cheddar, Gruyère, Parmesan, and bacon.)

Like DuMont, but over in Red Hook, Schnäck offers up comfort food with a spin, serving beer milkshakes next to onion rings and little burgers called Schnackies. It's certainly not for the faint of heart--or for those with cholesterol concerns--but if you've never tasted a beer milkshake you're in for a real treat.

Since we're on a comfort food kick here, head on down to Red Hook's restaurant row (Van Brunt Street) to Baked, for a malted-milk-ball cake or cupcakes topped with red hots. Baked's creations are as satisfying as your mom's old recipes but are sold in an über-hip café designed by Brooklyn locals Hivemindesign.

Unlike Baked and Schnäck, the next few restaurants won't require a postprandial trip to the gym. With an interior that's heavy on woodwork and light on frills, Red Hook's The Good Fork echoes the working-class shipyard neighborhood just outside its doors. But looks can be deceiving; this is the most polished food I have had in ages. The menu varies but always includes light pastas and dishes with an Asian flair, a nod to chef Sohui Kim's Korean heritage. The Good Fork also has an impressive drink selection.

Chestnut in Carroll Gardens makes some of the freshest seasonal fare in the borough, with homemade pastas, risottos, and fulfilling soups. Call for reservations and you'll be guaranteed an enjoyable, relaxed evening.

Brunch is probably my favorite meal, and Brooklyn has some of the best options in the city. Tumble out of bed on Sunday morning and head to Williamsburg's Fada for steaming bowls of hot chocolate. Whether you have pain au chocolat on the side is entirely up to you (but I strongly recommend it).


WALKING MAPS!
Use these handy maps to explore Brooklyn. Just print and go!
Carroll Gardens
Park Slope
Williamsburg

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