Where to eat in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, New York

Eating out
Where to eat in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, New York post image

New York, New York. The king of cities. Bustling, frenetic, funny, edgy, and with literally thousands of places to eat.

Here’s a quick round up of the places we ate on a recent short break in the New York, based in the much-recommended neighbourhood of Williamsburg, over in Brooklyn, about five minutes ride from Manhattan on the L train.

Where to eat in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, New York

First off, the grandfather of New York pizza is Di Fara’s in Brooklyn, but Brooklyn is a massive place, and after we realised it’d take the best part of an hour on the subway to get there, then having to face into an infamously slow and somewhat unpredictable service, we decided to give the relatively new Williamburg branch a go instead. Housed in a really good food market type place on N 3rd Street, this outpost is said to be the twin of it’s more famous brother, and it did not disappoint. I’d go as far as saying that this was the best pizza I’ve had outside of Italy. Light, and tasty dough, with a good zing of acidity through it, topped with perfect combinations of ingredients and excellent tomato sauce and slices of mozzarella. So good we ordered more.

Di Fara’s pizza, Williamsburg

For a very good brunch, Rabbithole on Bedford Avenue, a decent walk along from the Subway station, is a good bet, although brunch on a Saturday is somewhat ubiquitous. Good burgers with excellent fries, nice, light omelettes stuffed with smoked salmon and capers, and salads of roasted root vegetables, nuts and a sesame soy dressing. The salad in particular was excellent – fresh, vibrant with plenty of bite and substance. The restaurant itself is very beautiful and normally packed. The yard at the back is a lovely spot.

Rabbithole, Williamsburg

Barbecue in the States is very different to barbecue in the UK. Think low, slow, smoky as opposed to furiously grilled to the point of cremation on the outside and raw on the inside. Places aping the American incarnation of barbecue have been popping up all over the UK, with varying degrees of success, but here’s something much closer to the real deal in Mable’s Smokehouse and Banquet Hall, which despite the rather grand title is a laid back bar/pub with a very, very good resident grill team.

The menu will not surprise, and nor is it meant to. It’s big chunks or slabs of meat, often smoked, always cooked for a very long time, and frequently pulled apart. It’s glorious.

Mable’s Smokehouse & Banquet Hall

Where to eat in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, New York

Lastly, Diner. This is a restaurant housed inside an old 1920s railway car that somehow ended up parked on the corner of Broadway and Berry Street. I’ve no idea why this happened, but I’m glad it did.

Yes, it’s quirky, and yes, it’s a bit of a gimmick, but this is a railway carriage with some kitchen attached to it. Grilled corm, burgers cooked on the rare side of medium rare and perfectly seasoned, light and tender chicken served over tomatoes and sprouting broccoli, liverwurst, a rich and heavy pate. We couldn’t manage dessert.

Where to eat in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, New York

One quick honourable mention, this one not in Brooklyn, but just over the Williamsburg Bridge, a healthy walk away and well worth it for the views of Manhattan from the middle of the bridge, Katz’s Deli, equal part Lower East Side institution, tourist magnet and regular sandwich pit stop. Sandwiches are enormous, vast platters of pastrami wedged between thick slices of bread. Be warned – you do not need a whole sandwich. one between two is plenty.

You also might not get what you ask for. We ordered a cold beef sandwich but were told that we didn’t really want that, we wanted a hot brisket sandwich instead, which was a bit of a surprise, but the waiter guy turned out to be correct. We did want that hot brisket sandwich after all. Also, don’t lose the ticket they give you on the way in. I don’t know what the ticket is actually for, but it seems important and dire things are said to happen if you foolishly misplace it. Just do what they say and don’t question it, because the bloke on the door is really big.

Katz’s Deli

Where to eat in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, New York

Pasteis de Nata, or Portuguese custard tarts

Food & drink
Pasteis de Nata, or Portuguese custard tarts post image

These little custard tarts present something of a problem. They’re best cooked very quickly, at very high temperatures, so that the top and the edges scorch in an attractive way. That means that ordinary ovens probably aren’t going to cut it, but that pizza oven out in my back garden might just.

That thing is a beast. It hits 450c with ease, a flame rolling over the inside of the dome to cook a pizza through in about two minutes. It makes short work of a custard tart.

I experimented with a pack of ordinary, shop-bought puff pastry. It’s a wonderful product – consistent, dependable, quick, and it’s well worth having a pack or two stashed away in the freezer. Later attempts using homemade puff pastry, using this recipe, were better but far less convenient. There’s a great recipe for puff pastry here.

Scandinavian cinnamon and cardamom buns

Books, Food & drink
Scandinavian cinnamon and cardamom buns post image

A couple of weeks ago, I bought a book, a massive seven hundred and sixty-seven page hulk of a book about Nordic food, perhaps unimaginatively entitled The Nordic Cookbook.

My short review is that it’s well worth thirty quid of anybody’s money, and this is the first thing I’ve cooked from it and also one of the chief reasons I bought it.

Scandinavian baking is excellent. There’s an easy path between bread and cake that fits well into my way of cooking, and these cinnamon buns, rolled sweet pastry laced with cardamom and stuffed with butter and sugar are a superb example. They’re common across all of the Scandinavian countries in one form or another, and they’re fairly easy and forgiving to make.

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Chicken liver ragu

Food & drink
Chicken liver ragu

Chicken livers are extremely good for you.

They’re a rich source of protein, packed with iron and vitamins. They’re good for your brain, good for your fertility if you’re a woman, and great recovery food after a tough workout.

They should be top of the shopping list, but instead, they’re criminally underused, relegated to sad little packs in the supermarket fridge with all the other weird bits that nobody wants to buy.

This is a great tragedy, a travesty. Chicken livers are delicious, and worth so much more than a good blitzing to form a pate, although that’s a fine and noble thing to do with them.

I sometimes buy a pack of chicken livers, fry them off with nothing more than a little salt and pepper and eat them for lunch over the course of the next few days. Three or four lunches for about a quid? Thanks very much.

And yes, they’re ridiculously cheap, cheap out of sync with the massive flavour punch they deliver. More …

All the water, all the yeast, half the flour

Food politics
Bread dough pre fermentation

I’ve been making bread for a long time, mainly using a simple recipe that I know by heart.

It’s very straightforward – a kilo of flour, 600ml of water, 20g of salt and 10g of yeast.

It makes an unpretentious, dependable loaf, but has the flexibility to take on new forms. Substituting half the flour for wholemeal, or mixing it up with a hundred grammes of rye or a couple of handfuls of oats makes the finished loaf very different, but borne of the same simple recipe of a kilo of flour and 600ml of water.

I’ve strayed all over the place, of course. I’ve bought book after book about baking bread, and tried dozens of different methods. High hydration loaves (don’t bother), sourdough, milk loaves, baguettes, all of them. All have their place. All are good, but still the simple recipe remains a backstop in my kitchen.

A kilo of flour and 600ml of water.

Some things are best left as they are. Some things don’t need to be messed with, don’t need to be improved, and this is one of those things. It isn’t fancy, it isn’t artisanal, but it is good and honest.

I’ve done one thing, made one tiny change to this decades old routine, and it’s worked. It’s made things better.

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