It’s been years since the inclusion of Brooklyn restaurants on New York media ‘Best Of’ lists raised any eyebrows. But now the borough’s finer eateries are breaking into the rankings of newspapers, magazines, and websites with readers nationwide, and it seems to have triggered some sort of wrinkle in the fabric of time.
Last week, Newsweek’s online alter ego The Daily Beast dropped the ‘World’s 101 Best Places To Eat,’ as chosen by fifty three of the planet’s finest chefs. Not surprisingly, the three Michelin-starred Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare made the cut, picked by Eric Ripert who calls it, “the Western version of omakase.” Slightly more surprisingly, although not really to anyone in-the-know about simple, seasonal, market-driven fare turned out by a couple of Per Se vets? Franny’s, a place with a decidedly neighborhood vibe that might slip under the big media radar if it weren’t name checked with such frequency by local chefs declaiming upon their favorite places to eat. Who picked it? Alain Ducasse.
Today, Bon Appetit, a paragon of old-school food media, published its list of ‘America’s Ten Best New Restaurants.’ Coming in at number two? Blanca, a seemingly sacred space recently spun off by Roberta’s for diners fortunate enough to secure one of the twelve seats available for chef Carlo Mirarchi’s twenty-eight course nightly tasting menu. Right on Blanca’s heels, at number three? Battersby, a tiny spot on Smith Street where chefs Joe Ogrodnek and Walker Stern, who served together in what was once the city’s slickest kitchen – Ducasse at Essex House – have been plating some of the borough’s most ambitious, accomplished food while pretty much pretending to be just another neighborhood joint.
And this is where things get interesting. See, the Bon Appetit list, compiled by Carroll Gardens local Andrew Knowlton over six months spent crisscrossing the country eating hundreds of meals, includes two Brooklyn restaurants, but none in Manhattan. Never one to pass up the opportunity to drum up some controversy, The New York Post pounced, reaching waaaay back to trot out the usual curmudgeonly suspects for what probably ought to be one final victory lap for the public flogging of the BK’s culinary culture by grumpy Manhattanites.
Here’s the setup:
“Though Knowlton is a longtime Brooklynite, he insists his list isn’t a case of home-borough favoritism. “It’s not like, ‘Oh, I’m not going to pick any Manhattan restaurants, and I’m going to pick two Brooklyn restaurants,’ ” he says. “These are real restaurants doing really wonderful things.”…
…It’s no secret that Brooklyn and its various creative scenes, from the culinary world to craft beers, have been press darlings in recent years — and that many members of the media call Brooklyn home.”
Then, it’s on to the ‘experts,’ as Julian Niccolini, co-owner of the Four Seasons (clearly an authority on Brooklyn), suggests that Knowlton unfairly favors the home team:
“It’s a little problematic,” he says. “I find that you can definitely push wherever you live.”
Niccolini later insists that with the exception of people who live in Brooklyn, no one would ever actually go there to eat:
“Of course it’s very bohemian, for people who live in Brooklyn it’s fine, but I’m sorry, I don’t think it’s a destination yet… This is only for Brooklyn people, end of story.”
Gael Greene says she won’t make the trip over the bridge because it takes too long to get there and nobody takes reservations. And the piece closes with Tim Zagat slam dunking the ‘debate’ with some ironclad stats – the number of Brooklyn restaurants with high enough rankings to be included in the annual Zagat Guide increased from 22 in 1992 to 217 in 2012. Impressed? Not so fast. Manhattan crushes its puny, overrated neighbor with 1,745! Can’t argue with the numbers, right?
Been there, done that, you might say, but this is all in good fun. What’s so strange about the Post’s reaction piece is that is smells so strongly of…yesterday’s news. Or yesteryear – like 2010 to be exact – when the Brooklyn backlash seemed to have reached its peak when critic Jeffrey Steingarten lambasted the New York Times for, in his opinion, displaying an alarming tendency towards ‘Brooklyn boosterism,’ and was joined by a chorus of Manhattan restauranteurs, columnists, and chefs catcalling the borough’s culinary ascendancy like a bunch of mean girls.
Sure, one stale, played-out story line in the Post could be dismissed as grasping at straws to fill the paper in the dog days of August. But things started feeling a little weird when we saw today’s USA Today’s front page feature titled, “Brooklyn Rebounds As The New Bohemia.” We could have sworn that happened like, three years ago.
Yup, the nation’s largest newspaper has apparently just discovered that Brooklyn is, “…more than back; it’s where it never was…”
“…Brooklyn at its best is Sesame Street: integrated playgrounds; small shops on tree-lined streets; artisanal pickles and home-made granola; bike lanes and occasional valet bike parking. Spike-haired, tattooed skateboarders zip past bearded Hassidic Jews in long black coats. Houseboats ply the once-fetid Gowanus Canal.”
They even talked to a hipster – a Bushwick art gallery owner with ‘blond hair swept long on one side and shaved close on the other,’ and a nose ring, tattooed arms and ‘cat-eye makeup’ to boot who says:
“It’s cool here; you can express yourself however you want” — open a gallery, start a community garden, paint a mural on an old factory wall. It’s a very hip, very self-contained world that one needn’t leave to find a meal or concert or gallery or anything, except an airport.”
There’s nothing wrong here. It’s a pretty good piece. It’s just bafflingly late. If you read this and had to guess the date on which it was published, you’d say something like 2009, right?
And a final weird twist to the day’s Brooklyn coverage? The New York Times‘ City Room blog actually reported on the USA Today cover story in a post titled ‘Read All About It: Brooklyn Is Hip‘…as if this were actually news, and as if the Times itself hadn’t been instrumental in raising the profile of the borough’s developing food scene to national attention years ago, to a degree that caused a host of haters like Steingarten to accuse them of overplaying it.
This all makes us wonder – are we in some sort of Groundhog’s Day territory? Have distant galaxies aligned in some mysterious way that’s caused just a little, tiny bend in space and time, opening an echo chamber that was officially sealed by the cosmic engineers years ago? The machinery of the universe keeps on turning, so chances are everything will have returned to normal by tomorrow, but if you see bicycle lanes disappearing, an alarming abundance of suspenders on the streets of Williamsburg again, or hear LCD Soundsystem’s ‘Drunk Girls’ suddenly blaring out of the past from more than three windows on your block in a single day, let us know – we may have a problem.