Visiting the Concrete Jungle, aka a trip to Brooklyn
A few weekends ago, Nick and I decided that we need a little weekend away but didn't have the money for a hotel or the time to take a Friday off so we searched out a place for a day trip close to home. After being cooped up inside for most of the winter, April usually has us itching to get out in the sunshine and explore. Thankfully my grandmother tipped us off to an article she read in the New York Times that talked about the revitalization of the Red Hook section of Brooklyn with plenty of recommendations for food. And if you know us, we'll go anywhere for good food! It was only a quick hour and a half up the NJ Turnpike and over a few bridges before we were bumping down the cobblestone streets of Red Hook. I love New York City and all its boroughs and spent many weekends exploring its many neighborhoods, restaurants, and museums. But more recently, tickets on the train and tolls have made getting in very expensive and I've concentrated most of my time on Philly. The great thing about this is that even though it's close, taking Nick there makes it seem like a true vacation...if only for a day.
The first stop on our Brooklyn adventure was Red Hook, as our whole trip was inspired by a NY Times feature. Red Hook is right on the bay side of things and a trip down to the water revealed stellar views of both the Statue of Liberty and the financial district in Manhattan including the new Freedom Tower. It was affected by Hurricane Sandy but seems to have recovered quite nicely. It has a real neighborhood feeling and was very quiet when we rolled up at 10:30 am. We headed for brunch immediately but unfortunately, Red Hook was experiencing some power outages and the place we had originally planned on going to for brunch was only serving orange juice and cereal. No worries as there were plenty of places we wanted to try and strolled down Van Brunt street to a place called The Good Fork.
The only way I feel I could adequately describe The Good Fork would be as an upscale, neighborhood diner. It has beautiful wood paneling that has been molded to make the room look rounded and the warm wood gives it a cozy feel. I was so happy when the waitress seated Nick and I in the tufted corner booth in the front window. There were all sorts of cozy touches like the little Charlie Chaplin lamp that sat in the corner of our booth and the twinkle lights above the mirrors on the wall. It might have just been brunch but it was so romantic. I got huevos rancheros and a cup of tea and I felt like I could have stayed there forever.
After a great brunch, we set out to explore the rest of Red Hook by simply walking around. The great thing about this neighborhood of Brooklyn is that it is just that: a neighborhood. Parents were out walking with kids, businesses were opening their doors and turning their handwritten "Open" signs, and there was a relaxing feeling in the air. Nick and I went down to some of the warehouses on the waterfront, one which holds the tiny counter and formidable kitchen of Steve's Authentic Key Lime Pies. This was one of the reasons I made visiting Red Hook a real priority; I would do anything for a slice of delicious key lime pie. Steve's is a counter located in a giant warehouse down at the waterfront and all they sell is key lime pies, which works just fine for me. We purchased a pie for later and let me just say that next time I'll probably pull out a fork in the parking lot.
After spending most of the morning in Red Hook, we packed it up and headed over to Williamsburg. We were supposed to go on the freeway that cuts through Brooklyn's neighborhoods but we missed a turn and had to go the long way. The long way turned out to be awesome since we wound our way through DUMBO, right under the Brooklyn Bridge and got a chance to check out the insane line of tourists waiting for a slice of Grimaldi's famous pies.
Williamsburg itself was hopping partly because of the beautiful weather but also because a "vintage/thrifting" walk and the weekly Artists & Fleas and Smorgasburg, a flea market and outdoor food fest respectively. There was so much to explore in Williamsburg with consignment shops, boutiques, antique stores and junk shops, and tons of different restaurants. Our main reason for taking the drive around to Williamsburg was to visit Brooklyn Brewery but we put that off for awhile in favor of seeing what we could find. Our first discovery was Momofuku Milk Bar, the famous NYC bakery that makes some of the most delicious goodies. I read about it somewhere and never forgot the way it was deliciously described. We got some cookies and a croissant swirl that hid chocolate chips in each curve. Yum!
The big to-do of the day was Artists and Fleas and Smorgasburg. Artists and Fleas is a conglomeration of the handmade and vintage sellers that is only open on Saturdays. While there were some great vendors there, it was a little crowded and I didn't find anything I really needed. Down the block, in a large park that dips down to the bay and provides a fantastic view of Manhattan, they were holding Smorgasburg. This big outdoor food festival had everything from shaved ice to lobster rolls to gourmet mustard. There was quite a crush of people and I just wanted to see check it out for a moment. That's when I saw Dough's stand and made Nick wait in line with me for a giant donut. Let me just say it was all worth it as I sank my teeth into the dough-iest donut I've ever had and it was dulce de leche at that. I'm salivating just thinking about!
Once we escaped the mad crush of people eating everything in sight, we experienced another crush of people at Brooklyn Brewery. I guess most 20 and 30 year olds had the same idea as us since the tasting room/bar of Brooklyn Brewery was mobbed. While the beer tokens are definitely adorable, it was a hassle and Nick and I ended up splitting up so he could wait in the long line to buy the tokens and I could wait in the equally long line for beer. We waited 15 minutes to get our four beers and then luckily found seats on a bench by the entrance. The beer was good, yes, but it was not worth all the hoopla we went through. But it was a prime location for watching the many types that make up the hip neighborhood as well as its visitors.
Next up was an early dinner at Pies 'n' Thighs, a few blocks away and just a block from the start of the Williamsburg Bridge. This tiny venue is Brooklyn's trendier answer to the southern classic of a meat and three. With it's porcelain-topped tables and old school chairs with the rack underneath for your books (remember those?!) it's got a lot of charm and I can vouch for the fact that the fried chicken is delicious. The grits weren't great but I haven't had great grits since my summer down in Georgia. We were so full we didn't get to sample the pie of Pies 'n' Thighs that evening but ordered two slices of Sour Cherry and Pear Crumble and Smoked Smores to be enjoyed later. Anyone sensing a theme for our trip?
Before heading back home, I begged Nick to take a walk over the Williamsburg Bridge in the pretty sunset. The Williamsburg Bridge spills right into the Lower East Side of Manhattan but we only went halfway over. The views were fabulous and I felt like I was having a real New York experience. I could imagine taking romantic strolls every evening across this bridge before retiring to my charming Brooklyn walk-up...which probably costs me an arm and a leg. Oh well, I'll stick to the suburbs and plan my next adventure.