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Dec 13, 1999 07:36 AM

Look Out 7th Ave, Smith St's Gonna Get Yo' Mama!

  • g

As a longtime resident of Smith St and environs--- which at one time was considered part of Red Hook, ooh!--- I have to express my disgust with the fantastically dreary restaurants which seem to open weekly these days. I mean, I speak French but who really needs or wants another $14-16 mini-menu of Culinary Institute "classics"?! It's more than a little redundant already. Does New Money always mean No Imagination?! There is yet Gowanus, Fort Greene, Atlantic Ave, and Sunset Park a short distance away, but can anyone out there claim that the jive of a say, Uncle Faux is 1/3rd the quality of say, New Pasteur? At three times the price it should be, no? Zaytoons is mediocre at best (and both the lamb and chicken are consistently dry), Sur is a bore, but hey, Halcyon is nearby, where we can all talk about it afterwards and pretend we're extras on a Laverne & Shirley rerun. At its current pace of redevelopment, save a few proud PR/Dominican holdouts, Smith Street from 3rd to Atlantic will be nearly as lame as Montague Street or 7th Avenue on Brooklyn's own Upper West Side. (I cut the second rate Italian joints on Court Street a break, because it was their community even before it was mine) I'll see you in Flatbush and Flatlands then, because, sorry, Bananarama is not my King's County.


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  1. Cambodian Cuisine in Fort Greene is mighty fine. Are you related to the famous "Mad Bomber" George Metesky?

    1. Boo hoo. I live in Flatbush and I would love to have the problem of too many upscale restaurants jamming my neighborhood.

      1. Yeah, I'm depressed that Smith Street is losing its character at an unbelievable rate. When I first moved to Brooklyn, I was so happy to find that street - it reminded me of San Francisco's Mission district.

        Walked into Halcyon the other day just to see what it was all about, and it just felt too strange being in a hipster place like that on Smith Street. My boyfriend's comment as we were leaving: "I feel like people from the old neighborhood should be throwing rotten tomatoes at us for going into this place. I wouldn't blame them."

        1. I drove down Smith Street a few weeks ago and my jaw dropped at the change. It reminds me of the East Village, which is now sooo different.

          I noticed, of course, the scads of new restaurants and felt horribly behind the times. Are none of them any good?

          I mean, I know most of the places AROUND there, but I mean the startups now lining Smith. There's gotta be something good to eat there.....?

          16 Replies
          1. re: Jim Leff

            I don't think they're _all_ terrible -- I haven't been to many restaurants on Smith, but recently I ate a quite good turkey sandwich at the restaurant (forget the name) that Asimov reviewed a couple of weeks ago, on Smith near Bergen. And the restaurant 2 doors south of it looked pretty good too.

            1. re: Jeremy Osner

              Yes Saul, is the best new opening so far. Wrote about it on this board a month or so ago a day or two b efore it was reviewed in the times. It is where we go for something special. A bit pricier, and only a bit, but worth it.

              Marquet is also a favorite. Must be having an affect on Sweet Mellissa's as they sell their croissants for far less; though both seem plenty busy.

              We were very unimpressed by grocery. Especially in compariston with Saul which has a similar focus and menu. compare the duck confit at both and you'll see what I mean.

              Sur's best dish is the Argentinian organic steak. It has the best flavor and the fries are well done. And if you like duce de lece as much as we do, their crepe is worth saving room for.

              The Brooklyn grill around the corner on Atlantic is a beautiful space but the cooking is only so so, and the empty restaurant testifies to that.

              Smith St. Restuarant, is a fish place. We rate it about the same as Mignon. Dependable, doesn't disappoint, but not a rush and get there.

              The new place on Warren between smith and Court was very disappointing.

              We like Zaytoons. We think they have the best hummus in the neighborhood and that saves a trek up to Atlantic ave. We just came back from 10 days in the mid-east and find that it corresponds will with the "real thing." Their kebabs can be, usually are, to be honest on the dry side. Their small pitzas are very tasty though. So a selection of mezze and pitza often leaves us happy.

              Uncle Pho is trendy and filled with trendy people in black, but the food is only all right. What makes us stop there is there isn't anything else around to compete. Why is asian food so neglected around here?! What we would do for a good Chinese restaurant.

              there are four or five more up the street but these are the most notable in our book. These aren't the hole in the wall finds, that Jim's book often leads us to. But the eating in the neighborhood has certainly improved. And for a formal nice dinner with spotty service, which is typical everywhere, smith gives a number of choices.

              1. re: R Bergen
                Esmond Edwards

                Saul may or may not be a 'cut above' the other not-so-mighty-whitey gruel trying to pass for moyen haute cuisine, but is it really 'worth the trip'? From where? Clinton Street perhaps, and I'm sure there are more folk coming over from there than say, Hoyt, just a single block area (but of a very different, uh, you know, complexion.) And a middle-eastern joint where the meat is ALWAYS dry (Zaytoons) is better than starvation, nothing else. Smith St. '99 = a) Learn to cook b) Get a car c) walk off those chowhound calories by hoofing it further.

                Q: Be honest Leff fans, wd you have him to all the way from Jackson Heights for any of that crap? Case closed.


                1. re: Esmond Edwards

                  What's your point? Why the sly references to race?

                  1. re: efdee

                    the race reference was, I think, just a crude way of referring to the heavy heavy gentrification going on on Smith Street. It's really a startling thing...much faster and much more pronounced than even on Avenue A and B in the Village.

                    1. re: Jim Leff
                      Esmond Edwards

                      The race referece was to note the fact that there are two rather large housing projects, predominately the homes of persons of color, a very short distance away: Gowanus Houses between Hoyt and Bond and Wyckoff Houses between Nevins and 3rd Ave. It's an interesting and all too infrequently recognized reality that while new $$$ which would have previously been spent on the UWS, or W. Village/Tribeca if slumming, are now being insouciantly thrown about Smith St and P. Slope as if there's not a care in the world--- la di da la di da!! --- except that damn, I sure wish there was good new boulangerie around here (as if the wonderful College Bakery on Court isn't blessing enough). If Uncle Faux isn't ethnic food for people afraid to dine w/ethnic people (more time and &&& than taste as well), then I'm Ruth Reichl. I offer no solution to the gaping culture gaps which now mark Smith St, just the small hope that a greater cultural/economic awareness will make yuppie food and its accoutrements just a little less boring. Final pointed Q: How many threads have their been on Smith St.'s spanish food offerings: Cibao vs. Nuevo Portal vs. etc. etc.??


                      1. re: Esmond Edwards

                        ARe any of these place worth eating at. I've tried a couple, but kept no record of their names because there wouldn't have been anything to report except indigestion. But if you think any are our long sought jewels in the rough, we ought to start going. They are going to need all the traffic they can get with the new rent situation there.

                        1. re: Esmond Edwards

                          "Final pointed Q: How many threads have their been on Smith St.'s spanish food offerings: Cibao vs. Nuevo Portal vs. etc. etc.??"

                          Wow! In three years, that's the first time anyone's EVER accused this site of shunning authentic ethnic cuisine in favor of "boring yuppie food"!

                          FWIW, I personally have never found any really good Latino (certainly no Spanish) offerings in that immediate nabe. I hit West Park Slope, Williamsburgh, and Sunset Park for that kind of cooking

                          And nearly all the posters have been complaining about the BYC (boring yuppie chow) you yourself decry. But you can't blame people for trying. When a chowhound sees a street full of chow, he/she gears up to find SOMETHING worth eating, even against great odds. That's what these threads are about. There are myriad threads elsewhere on the boards about great latin places, soul food places, holes-in-walls of every stripe, written about with great love and admiration. Find us some great Dominican cooking in that nabe (Lord knows I've tried) and I bet you'll be getting worshipful praise from site regulars within 24 hours!

                          With a few exceptions, there are very few people hanging out here who have any interest in anything but real, serious, delicious eating and culture in general. In fact, chowhounds are a very important force for bridging those gaping culture gaps you refered to.

                          But, you know, there's nothing wrong with reverse-slumming into yuppie haunts if they have something good to offer. I think we've gotten some good tips on how/where to do just that in these Smith Street threads.

                          Your feelings and ironic tone are understandable....but misplaced here. We're the GOOD guys.


                          1. re: Jim Leff
                            esmond edwards

                            Your points are well taken, J. (J. Johnson of Jackson Heights?) re: Puerto Rican/Domincan (not Iberian) chow and preaching to the predominantly converted. My experiences w/said cuisine on Smith have been mixed: some great tripe soup, some lousy sausage over rice, monfongo up-n-down, etc. etc. But better to gamble $5 on the folk who kept the neighborhood together all those years than $15 on someone who got priced out of Soho. (Dig the "fabulous" women's clothier called "Stacia, New York" as opposed to "Stacia, Brooklyn!")

                            belle ciao.


                          2. re: Esmond Edwards

                            As destitute student but nevertheless unquestionable participant in gentrification of Carroll Gardens, I've found this entire exchange to be fascinating; it's my opinion that discussions of food are _always_ about race and class, but that's a whole other subject. I want to send anyone curious about it over to Nuevo Portal, where an excellent and substantive meal of black beans, white rice and plantains can be had for $5. I'd steer clear of the coffee, which I've found to be bad, and I have to admit I've never had anything else on the menu, but am REALLY curious who orders the $23.99 lobster stuffed with shrimps, but again, I wander from my main topic. Let me reiterate: order beans, rice and plantains at Nuevo Portal, especially if you find yourself in the neighborhood around brunch time. The wait staff is friendly and there is a flashy juke box and an inexplicable Japanese print as well as some rubber plants. What more can you ask for?

                      2. re: Esmond Edwards

                        "Be honest Leff fans, wd you have him to all the way from Jackson Heights for any of that crap? Case closed."

                        I've gotta make something really clear: these boards don't exist to guide me personally to good eats! I'm not (despite some recent press) "The Chowhound". I am "*A* chowhound"! We're all here to inform each other as a community; this is NOT all directed at me!

                        And there are plenty of people here who are not "Leff fans" at all...we wouldn't be chowhounds if we respected authority and if we didn't all have our own strong, individual opinions (lots of 'em different from mine).

                        Ok, back to the Smith Stree wars (interesting discussion, by the way)!

                        1. re: Esmond Edwards

                          clinton vs. hoyt is an interesting point. but the fact is, looking at the crowds on smith over a weekend, is that the divide isn't racial, but economic. There are a good number of professional black and asian and white "gruel-eaters" prowling the street. The question is whether everyone nearby can afford or wishes to spend $20 to $30 for a meal vs. $12 at Tony's where you have enough food seved for one to feed four, and still feel taken because the cooking is so poorly done. There is no question that there is an enormous economic chasm in the neighborhood, and that it has been growing wildly out of control the past four years. I certainly could never afford to move here now.

                          But the professional class that is moving into the neighborhood is multicultural and multiracial. Which is why we no longer only have southern Ital eateries of no distinction whatever to choose from these days.

                          Some of us can't afford the time or expense of traveling to astoria for a meal, so we're happy to find something that we can walk to in our own neighborhood. Does it make smith st. a mecca? no. but one does with what one has.

                          If you want to point out some non "mighty/whitey/gruel/moyen/haute cuisine" places that are worth our time and money; and in a winter's walking distance in our neighb. I wish you'd start posting. I've been looking for them for years.

                          In the spring I'll be glad to walk to the soccer fields in red hook on sat. afternoons and eat the best guatamalan and ecudorian food around. But now i have to settle for a buddy's burrito; which is a cruel joke except the ingredients are fresher than many, and they do have some good barbecued pork pieces that is my only excuse.

                          So we'll grant you the change in economic climate and that no one is Michlin rated here, but start listing what our alternatives are in the area. I'm hungry and I'll go!

                    2. re: Jim Leff

                      As skeptical as I was about the new-fangled Smith Street (and as much as I disliked Patois), I'm happy to report that there's good eating to be had.

                      Boerum Hill Food Company is good for informal eat-in and tasty take-out. The menu changes fairly often. When I was there a couple weeks ago I had a fine chicken sausage crepe kind of thing. Nice shallot-vinegar side salad and the home-made bread is always good.

                      The Grocery was the most gratifying surprise. Relaxed atmosphere, very pleasant, yet professional service and no-excuse (well, it's good for Brooklyn) fine grub. We were there a few days after they first opened and I recall being dazzled by a lamb appetizer and trout entree. Owners are the chef and the pastry chef who are friendly and make themselves available for compliments and questions.

                      Smith Street Kitchen was also very good, although not as thoroughly delightful as The Grocery. Seafood's a specialty and worth a second trip.

                      Sur is so-so, probably not worth your trip. Halcyon is a little piece of Seattle in Brooklyn (but a nice piece).

                      Marquet Patisserie (sp?) is back (they were ahead of their time, shut down and now back to reclaim their spot as trendsetters).

                      So far a pretty good batting average. I look forward to exploring further.

                      1. re: Jim Leff

                        My favorite on Smith is Restaurant Saul - I've eaten at all the new places so far except for Banania and in my opinion this place is a cut above the rest. The food is excellent - fresh and impeccably prepared. Menu is small, but what they do, they do well. Service is pretty casual but servers seem to be well-informed about the food and the wine. They have a nice little wine list plus decent wines by the glass - a rarity! The only problem is getting a table - unless you call ahead, you may have to wait a while if you go during prime time.

                        1. re: annekz

                          Agreed. Saul is worth a trip.

                          1. re: annekz

                            Saul is good, but I would never go back. It's just kind of boring, you know? Very well executed, but the same stuff you can get at any decent restaurant. The only reason it's even remotely special is because it's in Brooklyn. I thought Patois was much more memorable. I had a tasty vegetable risotto there, and my friend had a nice, fragrant cassoulet. We also shared a very good sardine appetizer that had a nice sauce on the side made of roasted peppers, olives and something I can't remember at this point.

                        2. For those of us who like to eat out and have a choice of places nearby, the changes on Smith st. have been welcome.

                          It isn't as though they have displaced any restaurants that were there before. Most have opened in long shuttered buildings that closed down, because of the unrelieved drug trafficking on smith steet which lasted until the road was re-done.

                          The Spanish and Puerto Rican restaurants are stilll operating above Douglas St. The southern italian like Red Rose, and another eat in take out are still there and probably doing better with the increased traffic.

                          So it is hard to feel too sad that the older ambience of shuttered buildings with drug traffickers standing outside their gates, and shaking done the shop owners up and down the street has changed.

                          The increase in rents may give some problems to the hispanic take out places in the near future, but for now they are all holding their ground.