Making Fun of New York Magazine’s “Best of” Selections for My Neighborhood

I don’t regularly read New York magazine, but I did find its 2011 “Best of New York” publicity piece article, particularly the entries for my neighborhood of Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, via a few blog links. Actually, it lumps all of its entries under the insidious title “Red Hook and BoCoCa.” “BoCoCa” is real estate shorthand for Boerum Hill, Cobble Hill, and Carroll Gardens, and to use this term in any way other than to ridicule it is to invite a well-deserved punch in the stomach. Now, there are plenty of old timers who still call the greater area “South Brooklyn” and laugh at names like Cobble Hill or Carroll Gardens, but at least those still sound like names of places, and not some other-worldly utterance from a Star Wars alien. So, the selections are already off on the wrong foot, but let’s take a look.

The selections obviously drive the categories in a humorous way. For instance, the Best Paperie award (seriously) was taken by Paper Source (102 Smith Street). What, no competition from Hallmark? As a red blooded male, I don’t actively search out paper stores or use terms like “paperie,” so I will take New York‘s word for it. However, I long ago placed a pox on 102 Smith Street – former home of a great, short-lived American diner named Gravy. I never understood what exactly happened with Gravy, which served an amazing cheeseburger and some pretty terrific omelets. It was replaced by successively lesser eateries until it morphed into a paper store. The place is dead to me. But congrats. to Paper Source. Moving on…

Best Weekend Treat: Farmacy (513 Henry Street), the recently-opened old-timey pharmacy revival serving a delicacy known as the egg cream, which contains neither egg nor cream. I haven’t tried the egg creams, or anything else for that matter, at Farmacy, so I’ll abstain judgment on the food. I did walk in and out on a Sunday afternoon on which the joint was packed with parents and children. I guess in theory I’m all for old-school pharmacies (the venue used to be the Vermont Pharmacy) and soda jerks, but I don’t need the point hammered home by kitschy 20s music, or the constant iteration of the term “farm,” or something – anything- called a “fiddle jam.” It’s probably a good place if you have children, but I try to avoid joints frequented by the strollerati, so I’ll leave it at that.

On that same note, the restaurant Seersucker (329 Smith Street) was rated Best Toddler-Friendly New Restaurant. (Were toddlers polled?) Again, I will take their word for it.

For a category called Best General Store – is this the 2011 edition or 1911? – Court Street Grocers (485 Court Street) gets the nod. This tiny store, which opened recently (noticing a trend here?) serves up fresh sandwiches and sells items such as “bourbon-barrel-aged soy sauce from Kentucky and Sicilian salt-packed anchovies, upstate polenta and California olive oil.” In other words, all the everyday things on your grocery list. I walked into this store and looked around, and would not describe it as a general store but an eclectic foodie shop with kitschy throwback items at postmodern prices (another trend). I’ve nothing against this kind of store, but when I need to pick up some sugar and milk, I’ll probably still swing by the Met or the local deli.

Best Men’s Vintage: Olaf’s Men’s Vintage, 453 Court Street. I go to a vintage store about as often as I go to a paperie. I’ll keep this in mind come Halloween time.

A newly-opened haircutter with the bizarre moniker Persons of Interest is winner for Best Hairstylist. “Steve Marks’s reboot of Sal’s barbershop kept the kitschy décor while ramping up the scissor-wielding talent,” notes New York. I don’t think the late Giorgio “Sal” Zocco, longtime barber at this address, meant for the Italian beach mural to be “kitschy,” nor did he charge $40 for a haircut, as Persons of Interest now does (which includes a free beer). I love beer, but not necessarily at the barber, so I’ll have to try the combination. (One hopes the barbers do not imbibe.) For gentlemen who prefer a more affordable haircut, Damian’s (434 Court Street) is my go-to joint. Like Sal was, Damian is another of the old-school, unpretentious Italian barbers in Carroll Gardens; he probably doesn’t even know that some people consider the wood paneling in his shop “kitschy.” Or maybe he does. Hell, I don’t know.

The other two award winners were Shen Beauty (for Best Beauty Products) and Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare (Best Tasting Menu); the former I have no experience in, the latter isn’t really in my neighborhood.

I’m sure awards like these are difficult to choose, but the list (and those from the past ten years) do little justice to the neighborhood. Essentially they tout new shops and eateries while ignoring the mainstays that have made the neighborhood what it is today. Past awards for Carroll Gardens in the magazine clearly bear this out. In 2009, Best Bargain Kid Food went to the Ikea in Red Hook (which also won Best Coffee Table in 2010 – whatever that even means). Not everything that’s new is bad – Prime Meats restaurant and the wine store Smith & Vine are well-deserved past recipients of recent vintage, in my opinion. And New York has included some longtime institutions such as Mazzone Hardware and Cobble Hill Cinema in its past awards issues.

But a great example of the seeming triumph of Ye Olde as New is its 2007 selection of Lucali (575 Henry Street) for Best Neighborhood Pizzeria. Lucali is charmingly rustic and serves pretty good pizza, I will grant it that. But at $24 a pie – twenty-four dollars! – methinks it a tad overpriced. That’s before you even add toppings at $3 a piece (artichoke hearts are $8). Thus one pie with pepperoni and onions will cost you $30 before you’ve even taken a sip of wine or Coke. If you want a true neighborhood pizzeria, try Sam’s (238 Court Street), or TJ’s (nee Caserta Vecchia, 221 Smith Street).

Now, free of charge, are a few of Little Earthquake’s selections for Best of Carroll Gardens 2011:

Best Bakery

Caputo’s (329 Court Street) wins this hands down. Try the rustic baguette and the ciabatta. Their cakes used to be delicious but have been slipping a little lately (cheaper ingredients)? But Caputo’s still offers better quality than the cute little cupcake shop that just opened on your corner. They also have a “Fine Foods” store at 460 Court, where you can buy fresh pasta, fresh mozzarella, fresh olives, hell, fresh everything.

Best Prosciutto Balls

That’s easy. That would be Joe’s Superette, 349 Smith Street. Never had a prosciutto ball? Neither had I til I went there.

Best Wine Store

One that New York got right a few years ago – Smith & Vine (268 Smith Street). They have friendly, unpretentious staff, and a $12 and under table featuring wines that would easily run you $16-25 at other stores. The owners also run the wine/cocktail/cheese/meat restaurant The Jake Walk (282 Smith) and the cheese store Stinky (261 Smith) – making it a holy trinity of fine food and drink.

Best Sushi

I try not to get into outer-borough vs. Manhattan debates, because usually Manhattan wins. But I can definitely state that Ki Sushi (122 Smith Street) is without doubt the best sushi I have had in New York City, and possibly anywhere. (Including Tokyo.) Okay, that’s hyperbole, but a lot of people tell me the same. The service is also terrific, and here’s the kicker: It’s affordable. Try the lunch special – you’ll see what I mean.

Best Bar

This is kind of a stupid category because bars come in all types, for all occasions. So let’s just say that if I were to mention one good watering hole to you, and only one, it would be B61 (187 Columbia Street). Here’s why: The bartenders are cool, the tap beer is cheap ($4 for a Six Points), free billiards, free chips and salsa by request (from Alma upstairs), and a great view of lower Manhattan through the huge windows behind the bar (though currently obstructed by construction). In a day and place where bars are always striving to “be” something, dive or cocktail or lounge or club or sports, B61 is just a bar – and at that it excels.

That’s it for now. These lists are hard. I need a beer. And a haircut, I guess.

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