|A dish at Dear Bushwick|
And though that gem became the poster boy for the neighborhood’s ascent, it’s just the tip of the skinny-jean-clad iceberg. “A lot of people look at Bushwick as just being an extension for L train commuters going to the city,” says Nick Subic, chef at neighborhood speakeasy The Narrows, “But, over the past year or two, I think it's become more apparent that is not the case.”
Even before Roberta’s opened in the area, there were a few pioneers bringing quality food and classy cafes to the area, including Life Café, which closed last year, and the still-going-strong Northeast Kingdom, which opened in 2004. Owner Paris Smeraldo really was first to Bushwick with the local, seasonal, sustainable fare that Brooklyn has become synonymous with.
Of course, when Smeraldo arrived almost 10 years ago, the neighborhood wasn’t as nice as it is now. “People would stop and ask why we were opening a restaurant, even people who lived there,” he says, adding that on any given night prostitutes loitered on corners and stray dogs roamed the area in packs.
Even so, Smeraldo, who had been living in Williamsburg and watched as it quickly got gentrified, says he decided to open in Bushwick because he thought eventually the people being pushed out of the hip area would have to move East. Also, he adds, “We wanted to create our own space and atmosphere, and evolve as the neighborhood developed.”
And grow it did. Now, you can find craft cocktails at Tandem and Dear Bushwick, gourmet coffee at Wyckoff Star, dive-bar antics at Pearl’s Social and Billy Club, French bistro fare at Mominette, sushi at Momo Sushi Shack and one of the most talked about tasting menus in New York City at Blanca, Parachini’s newest joint.
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“Though there seem to be restaurants and bars opening just about every week, the ones that have a real foothold with the locals are doing things that I couldn't imagine would work in Williamsburg, or anywhere else in Brooklyn,” says Subic. “I love Bushwick, but right now it's really impossible to imagine what it will look like in six months or a year.”
Despite the many restaurant changes, parts of Bushwick still hold on to the old. Before pizzas laced with prosciutto and plates of delicate wild mushrooms ruled the culinary scene, you could get cheap and good tacos from the numerous taquerias, purchase a just-killed chicken from Kikiriki to cook at home or get the freshest tortillas you have ever had at Tortilleria Mexicana Los Hermanos. These, and many of the other old-school places are still here, and residents new and old frequent them.
In the end, it’s the neighborhood’s sense of community that may help it retain its charm through the gentrification process. “I had been active in the local art and event scene and wanted to build a business that would benefit the neighborhood and enable me to work in Bushwick,” says Anna D’Agrosa, who has lived in the area for seven years and opened Cafe Ghia in 2011. “One of our favorite things about the restaurant and bar community here is that so many Bushwick residents are investing their efforts here,” she explains, “We're very tight knit and supportive of each other and it has a great community vibe.”
11 Places to Try:
1. Roberta's: 261 N. Moore St.; 718-417-1118
2. The Narrows: 1037 Flushing Ave.
3. Northeast Kingdom: 18 Wyckoff Ave.; 718-386-3864
4. Tandem: 236 Troutman St.; 718-386-2369
5. Dear Bushwick: 41 Wilson Ave.; 929-234-2344
6. Wyckoff Star: 30 Wyckoff Ave.; 718-484-9766
7. Pearl's Social and Billy Club: 40 St. Nichols Ave.; 347-627-9985
8. Momo Sushi Shack: 43 Bogart St.; 718-418-6666
9. Blanca: 261 Moore St.; 246-703-2715
10.Tortilleria Mexicana Los Hermanos: 271 Starr St.; 718-456-3422
11. Cafe Ghia: 24 Irving Ave.; 718-821-8806