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Jan 10, 2006 10:39 PM

What is going on @ Smith Street

  • l

I guess the competition is finally kicking in. I heard that Mancora is for sale, Banania was recently sold, cholita is closed for good. I think there are way too many restaurants on Smith Street or I should say "Let the market speak for itself".

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  1. banania is sold?!? that sucks. i loved their tiger shrimp salad w/ avocado.

    14 Replies
    1. re: lotsanivanh

      The people behind Banania also own Cafe LULUc and the Cuban place (forget the name). Cholita was closed down by the board of health a while back and I don't think ever reopened. No idea about Mancora.

      Have you walked down Smith Street on a Tuesday night? It's a ghost town. How half of those restaurants stay in business surprises the heck out of me, as most are destination dining locations for Manhattanites "experiencing" Brooklyn.

      I have to admit a fondness for Banania, but I was never impressed by either of the Peruvian joints.

      1. re: Lambretta76

        it's interesting that smith street suffers during the week but 5th ave. in park slope really holds it's own most nights. i was at al di la on monday evening and it was packed.

        1. re: redgirl

          Al di la was probably the only place that was packed on a Monday night.Having said that, Park Slope is a larger more densely populated area than Cobble Hill/Carroll Gardens.
          As for Smith Street, the locals simply do not go out during the week, so the economic pressure is for restaurant owners to "dummy down" in terms of food quality, preparation, and price. It is the main reason that most places on Smith are simply forgettable, and the reason Alan Harding places are full.
          Banania was always honest and straightforward, let's hope the new owners keep it that way.
          You can add Village 247 to the "out of business" list.

          1. re: mick

            agree with your post completely...

            i always felt like smith had a real mediocre group of restaurants. no one has really fresh seafood, really great sushi...its all rather bland in my opinion...even the grocery has been ultra quiet since it received those accolades a few years ago.

            1. re: mick

              Wrong! Many places in the Slope were packed on Monday. At 8:45 pm every table and every bar seat was taken at Cafe Steinhof with about 10 people waiting(the $5 Goulash Mondays will do that to you), Therefore, I next went over to Beet where I had to wait 5 minutes for a table. I kept saying is it really Monday? so no Al Di La was not the only crowded Slope restaurant on Monday, I know of at least 2 others.

              1. re: mick

                i could count the places i like on smith on less that one hand - taku, saul, grocery come to mind, and bar tabac is good too for what it is, and maybe one more ... there's maybe a couple on court and a couple on atlantic. i've had some nice meals in park slope, but have not been to some of the recently opened places ... i do, however, think that smith street is still close enough to manhattan versus park slope, even if it is only a couple of stops, and park slope is more of a self contained "town" on its own, so smith suffers a little in that regard with competition from elsewhere.

                1. re: mondaybox

                  Also PArk Slope is more of a destination for South Brooklynites and Staten Islanders than is Smith.

                  1. re: doldrums

                    I don't understand where all of these generalizations are coming from -- i.e. "the slopers" do this and the "locals" don't do that -- how do you know? The one thing I can really tell for sure is that there is an astounding amount of brand new apartment buildings and luxury condos that have gone up and are going up all around DUMBO and (I wince as I type it) BOCOCA -- the influx of people keeps growing and they all gotta eat somewhere -- whether they're "all" staying in and ordering take out or "all" going out ... or maybe there's an en masse potluck everyone does once a month that I don't know about ;)

                2. re: mick

                  village 247 is definitely out of business too?!? smith street is full of restaurants and some i wouldn't be sad to see go, but banania and village 247 were both good restaurants. how sad.

                  1. re: lotsanivanh

                    Just goes to show. I had one of the worst meals of my life at Village 247. Even they admitted it and comped 4 of us to at least half the total bill. I was amazed at their lack of clue as to how to produce a good meal and also amazed at how good natured they were about it. What can I say?

                    On the other hand, Cibo e Gente has already changed their name and looks like it's on the way out as well. Several other places seem to be just hanging on. All in all, the only thing I can say is, even though people talk about how few places are really worth it & how many are closing, I get to eat good food in Bklyn (I'm totalling up all the close by neighborhoods) without having to go into Manhattan or repeat the same places too often. I couldnt say that 7 years ago.

                    1. re: Steve R.

                      it's been almost a year since i went to village 247 and i only have been there for brunch. their omelettes were great and i loved their mini muffins filled with chocolate sauce. sounds like they really went downhill.

                3. re: redgirl

                  I am amazed that it took this long. I have never been real impressed with any of the establishments on Smith.

                  Even when I lived off Warren I found myself traveling to the City and to park slope quite frequently. Smith Street to me was always below average food with above average prices.

                  I do not know how 8 Thai restaurants could not survive within a 4 block radius. Who do they think they are?? STARBUCKS

                  1. re: redgirl

                    I have been noticing that the service at many smith street restaurants has been declining for quite some time and honestly, it is a big reason I have taken places like Pacifico and Caserta Vecchia out of my rotation. Rude hosts, clueless waiters, cash only policies...not cool.

                4. re: lotsanivanh

                  Does it live on as Banania or complete overhaul?

                5. I think what is going on Smith St ( and Court for that matter ) is simply the dynamics of change. Places come and go, especially when the restaurant number is so saturated.

                  Taku - newcomer....fabulous. Few mentions here on CH
                  Cholita- yeah, closed
                  Bar Tabac- still packed, still great
                  Gravy- few mentions here on CH. Great, inexpensive, unpretentious
                  Apartment 138- ? I never see people in there and no reviews after over a year?
                  Cebo e Gente- is that the name? Why did it take them almost 6 months to put a name up in their window?
                  Robin des Bois- still great
                  Rosemary Room ( across from Patois ) - closed already. I saw like 6 people in there in 6 months
                  Chance- I love it; many don't. Their dim sum kicks ass.

                  Someone above said no good sushi? Well, if Osaka is not to your liking, try Cube 63. I think they knock them off the map. Is it Blue Ribbon? No, its also 1/2 the price of Blue Ribbon.

                  For the person that mentioned that even The Grocery seems dead, I'd disagree. I come home and walk by that place every weeknight at 6-6:30. The place is already full, every single night.

                  All that is going on here is change. If there were only 6 restaurants in a 20 block radius, there woiuld be fewer closings. Instead, there are 60.

                  20 Replies
                  1. re: Marty Berber

                    Agree with the above - but add Paninoteca to the list of places that are still great, BTW.

                    Chestnut - fantastic as always, keeps getting better in fact.

                    Apartment 138 - I thought this has one of the best burgers in recent memory and a small but well selected beer list, including Harpoon on tap.

                    Cholita has a Coco Roco sign on its awning now so maybe it's turning into that?

                    So it's not quite a desert, and I don't notice places to be empty during the week either.

                    1. re: Jason W.

                      Not fancy, but Zaytoons is still fantastic.

                      1. re: eeee

                        And let's not forget Tuk Tuk for the only reliably good Thai food in the neighborhood.

                        Apt 138 does have great burgers and equally good chocolate or espresso martinis. Service just can be hit or miss.

                        Caserta Vecchia has never disappointed me. And Savoia still always gets solid reviews too.

                        Agree on the other notes for the most part.

                        1. re: Nehna

                          I'm sort of freaked out that Gravy can get the "great" label. That place is awful. Plus, I was once positive that a "vegetarian" sausage I was served was meat, and asked every single person who worked there. They all said, "yes, vegetarian." The next time I came back, they were like, "we don't have a vegetarian sausage, just sausage." As I suspected. I eat meat sometimes, so it wasn't that big of a deal to me. But what if I didn't? And what if I were kosher? Most important, why didn't the cook know he was cooking meat?

                          But forget all that. The food just sucks.

                          1. re: Kate A.

                            Yeah, I've never been to gravy, have avoided it since all the posts on this board have been pretty negative. And the menu doesn't sound very appealing to me.

                            1. re: Nehna

                              when i said no great sushi, i meant on smith itself...not court. and i havent been to taku yet.

                              the grocery is still popular but it doesnt get the attention of other restaurants in my opinion...

                              1. re: sam

                                Park Slope, esp 5th ave has really hurt Smith St. Especially when you take into account that many slopers were eating on Smith before 5th took off, now they stay closer to home. Outer Brooklynites find it more convenient to eat at Park slope than smith. Also the Media has stopped hyping Smith St ,and have turned their attention to 5th, See Bruni's review of Al Di La in today's Times. I think that all of these factors have contributed to the shakeout on Smith, as well, as the glut of restaurants there.

                                1. re: rollingmoon

                                  No doubt. 5th av has hurt Smith st for exactly the reasons you describe. This makes the fourth time in less than a year that Bruni has given a review to a 5th av spot. Only one to a Smith street restaurant in that same period. 5th av is closer to the population and money of Park Slope, while the money of Brooklyn Heights goes into Manhattan.
                                  Despite this, 5th av has its problems with weekday dining as well. We know several owners of restaurants in the slope who say that business is "all weekend". Claims of restaurants being packed on a Monday night to the contrary, a thread from last year titled "5th many restaurants can it support?" said it all.

                                  1. re: mick

                                    keep in mind that 5th ave's development has only been over the last 2 years or so. fast forward a year or two, and I'm sure we'll all see a similar posting regarding the inevitable slowing down of 5th ave.

                                    1. re: jimmyjazz
                                      Ellis Aponte Jr.

                                      Maybe 5th Ave. has approached the saturation point in the last two years, but it's been building up for a longer time. Here are some notable openings:

                                      Convivium Osteria: 2000
                                      Los Pollitos: 2000
                                      Nana: 2002
                                      Kiku: 2001
                                      Long Tan: 2001
                                      Beso: 1999
                                      Al di La: 1998 (hard to believe, I know)
                                      Bonnie's Grill: 2000
                                      Blue Ribbon: 2001
                                      Cocotte: 2002
                                      Chip Shop: 2001

                                      not to mention the nearby Rose Water: 2000

                            2. re: Kate A.

                              I agree. I had one of the worst breakfasts of my life at Gravy. And one of the worst lunches. Would never go back. Food is not only bad, but really weird.

                              1. re: dixieday

                                We went to Gravy for dinner and their turkey meat-loaf wasn't so hot either. I'd give the place another shot, but def. not something I'm dying to go back to.

                                If everything I’m reading about Smith Street (and 5th Avenue) is true then it's only a matter of time until one of those insipid and gaudy Dunkin Donuts/Baskin Robbins chains with the nauseating florescent lights finds its way into the neighborhood. IMHO that will signal the beginning of the end.

                                1. re: MShapiro

                                  Isn't one going in @ Bergen St, across from the Domino's?

                                  1. re: EJC

                                    I think so. And there's a sign for a DD Coming Soon on what was formerly Leonardo's on Court and 1st Place. Sigh.

                                    1. re: David B

                                      i heard the owners of leonardo's are renting the space for close to $16k a month. pure greed. i for one will never step foot into a dunkin donuts

                                  2. re: MShapiro

                                    So, given that the DD is already a fait acompli, do you think the nabe is already on the way down? Does DD prevent good restaurants from opening? I think the two are unrelated except in the minds of those petrified of chains.

                                    Personally, part of the reason I think these Smith St./Court St. places are tanking is price - they're more expensive, on average, than 5th (according to my unscientific study). I like the afore-mentioned Frankie's and Bar Tabac, despite the price. I'm surprised nobody has mentioned El Nuevo Cibao, or the Banh Mi place that's going in. Ceol's a great place for a fry-up or a sandwich. Gravy isn't that bad, either, just inconsistent. If you're up for a longer walk, try Bedouin Tent on Atlantic at Bond - maybe the best place in the area.


                                  3. re: dixieday

                                    Dixie, exactly! Gravy is just WEIRD. And how can a faux diner be so bad? It's not the most complicated of cuisines.

                                2. re: Nehna

                                  well, i finally checked out "apt 138" they say it was really an apartment when they took it over? made it there for brunch & dinner, here goes: brunch for $10-cocktail, entree & coffee is a good deal-and food was kinda what i expected-good, although a bit slow when it came to service. dinner seemed to step up a bit from the brunch experience. I thought all the food we ordered was fresh and tatsy-and the prices were reasonable-all and all I think they are trying hard,it feels friendly, comfortable,Ill go again.....

                            3. re: Marty Berber

                              Basically, I'll have to go with Marty on this one. It's the dynamics of change. No one should have thought that Smith St. (and surrounding streets) could sustain every new place that opened up. Some will make it and others not. New ones will open up. Of course, increased competition (ie; Park Slope's 5th Ave) will put more pressure on as well.

                              I just have one addition. I think that the restaurant business, more than almost any other, attracts people with "stars in their eyes" and not much else. A much higher percentage of new owners go into it without a real business plan and wonder why they fail. The data is staggering. Under capitalized, good chefs with no leadership skills, long hard hours, non-savvy about real estate & long term leases.... It may be another factor since Smith St in particular was a very attractive new place to open (and still is). I wouldnt be surprised to see PS's 5th Ave shake out a little next year or so as well. Just look at other PS closings over the past several years.

                              1. re: Marty Berber

                                regarding apt 138, went to weekends in a row(on sat night) and both times they were packed, there was a half hour wait-so tried them for brunch this sunday(jan 29th)-staff told me 45min wait(it was packed again)anyway, ill try'em during the week & see how it goes-people tell me its great?

                              2. I have to agree with the post that said the food on Smith just isn't great. There are lots of average places but I find that more and more I would rather cook then eat mediocre food in the 'hood. That being said, there are a few good places - Zaytoons, Bouillabaisse, Waterfalls, Paninoteca, Tuk Tuk but there is little else that makes me look forward to it. For a nice meal, we usually head over to 5th Ave in the Slope. I really wish this wasn't the case though! Side thought - All this cooking makes me really wish there was a good grocery place like Union Market in the area.

                                10 Replies
                                1. re: Anne_NYC

                                  I am really surprised to see so much negativity about Smith St. I have lived in several major cities, and never have I lived near so many high quality, reasonably priced restaurants. I rarely if ever feel bored.

                                  Good solid restaurants on Smith St.:

                                  Tuk Tuk
                                  Banania (it's not gone yet!)
                                  Cubana (if you have tried the jicama salad you know what I'm talking about)

                                  And then there's Court Street, with some good sushi and Frankies!

                                  1. re: LJ

                                    Amazing, isnt it?! Although my list and yours isnt exactly the same, my guess is that many 'hounds have a list of over 20 places they like to eat in P.Slope, Ft.Greene, Bklyn Hts, Red Hook, Atlantic Ave, Boerum Hill, Prospect Heights, Clinton Hill, DUMBO... And that was not true 10 years ago, when you either went to the 3-4 worthwhile places or you ate outside of the area. I dont understand all the angst ridden posts about some places closing. Change happens. I'm okay with places opening and closing. I hope the ones I love stay in business and I'm busily trying to make sure they do.

                                    1. re: Steve R.

                                      I totally agree with you guys. And I will add to Anne's list, although not all right on Smith Street, certainly very accessable:

                                      Downtown Atlantic
                                      Waterfront Ale House
                                      Five Front

                                      That's a mess of good eats.

                                      1. re: David B

                                        Sorry LJ, I meant LJ's list.....

                                        1. re: David B

                                          And as a side note, we ate at both Saul and Patois on a recent Tuesday and Thursday evening, respectively. Both were packed.

                                    2. re: LJ

                                      don't forget Quercy, a great, under-the-radar bistro on Court.

                                      1. re: jimmyjazz

                                        Let me second the praise for Quercy. It is a little expensive, but the food and service are always high quality and truly classic french fare is delicious.

                                      2. re: LJ

                                        Is TUK TUK really an excellent quality restaurant?

                                        We had dinner there last week. The service was slow and careless, the place looks and feels like a luncheonette, and the food was good but not outstanding. It was more expensive than JOYA

                                        We find that for price/quality/service JOYA is better.

                                        My feeling is that many restaurants on Smith Street are getting carried away with themselves and are slack on service and higher in price than should be.

                                        1. re: Fleur

                                          Sorry but Tuk Tuk is a million times better than Joya.

                                          We eat out constantly in our neighborhood and have only bothered to go to Joya once. Way too loud for our taste, can't hear your companion over the din. The food is 'okay'...boring, bland thai. Cheap is all it has going for it really.

                                          Tuk Tuk is a stand by of ours, esp for take out. Honestly, I don't go to a good thai place for an elegant dining room, I go for the food :) And Tuk Tuk, while not the best thai I've ever had, is by far the best in the cobble hill area.

                                          1. re: Fleur

                                            Well, I'd just guess that based on your post, you
                                            1) don't really care for Thai food
                                            2) don't really crae for modern decor.

                                            Joya's food is definitely inferior to TukTuk's, and personally I find TukTuk's decor perfect for a restaurant of its style. It does NOT look like a luncheonette at all, or maybe I have not been to sufficiently stylish luncheonettes.

                                            I am rather surprised you dismiss the decor so readily after waxing rhapsodic about Henry's End, which, food aside, is dark, cramped and uncomfortable, with no decor to speak of. I find TukTuk far more welcoming and tasteful.

                                      3. Just wondered if there was an update on Smith St - this is the most recent post that I found. Looking for decent food in a quiet, non-trendy setting.......any suggestions?

                                        3 Replies
                                        1. re: Scribbler

                                          Panino'teca is still lovely and quiet in the garden.

                                          1. re: Wanda_Gorgonzola

                                            Chestnut is always great—terrifically welcoming owner and staff, outstanding food (even if its menu is slow to evolve). Their Tues/Wed prix fixe recently went up to $30, but its still a deal.

                                            1. re: ScienceMike

                                              Chestnut - We decided to have our rehearsal dinner there - looking forward to it. Hopefully we'll have in the garden out back if it doesn't rain. They've been very reasonable and helpful.

                                        2. As with most areas that become hot, innovators are inevitably followed by mediocrity trying to cash in. It's not just restaurants and it's not just Smith Street. I agree that the character is changing ... becoming more commercialized, but there are still a lot of good places holding their own including a few recent additions. Create the market by supporting the establishments that get it right. As far as the neighborhood debate goes ... they're all Brooklyn and as we all know, it is the center of the universe. So, fa-get-about-it!