Too often considered the refuge for Manhattanites in search of lower rent, Brooklyn is actually a wonderful community all its own. Devoted Brooklynites will tell you that, given all the money in the world, they would still rather live in this borough than the city proper. And I can see why. It's got a lot to recommend it, like many of the best restaurants and neighborhood hot-spots I got to enjoy on my recent visit, along with some of the friendliest people in New York.
I confess that one of the primary reasons I went to New York--other than to indulge in museum hopping, martini drinking, & book feasting in Manhattan--was to learn more about Brooklyn, especially since my brother and his wife call it home. I have heard so many stories about it but have never had the chance to truly immerse myself in this neighborhood on previous trips. It was a total treat to see this borough as a local would. Without any particular order or hierarchy, I present to you the best way (in my humble opinion) to get the best outta Brooklyn.
If you are taking a red-eye flight like I did, and getting into the city in the wee hours of the morning, then the only thing for you to do is to make your first stop Baked in Brooklyn, where you can fortify yourself with an excellent cup of coffee and delicious morning grub like luscious lox bagels and sinful cinnamon rolls. There was nothing like walking into this mainstay in the Sunset Park, in desperate need of a cup of coffee after a sleepless flight, to the smell of freshly baked bread and the sound of bachata on the radio! I felt right at home hearing the music I'd just left on the dance floor in Albuquerque and enjoying my restorative bagel while people watching--both the living and the spectral, as the bakery is across from Green-Wood Cemetery, the surprisingly lovely national historic landmark that brings softness to a neighborhood built on grit and concrete.
If the idea of strolling through a cemetery isn't your idea of a good time, try roaming Prospect Park, where it seems like everyone in Brooklyn goes on a sunny Sunday afternoon to escape the hustle and bustle of the workweek. Pick up some sustenance at Donut Plant on the way over. Trust me, your rose and strawberries 'n cream donuts will taste divine washed down with a glass of iced tea on the sprawling park lawn.
I decided to extend my Manhattan museum hopping to the Brooklyn Museum, home of the iconic Dinner Party by Judy Chicago. Artists get into some pretty heady debate about her authenticity since she designed the elaborate sculpture featuring a triangle dinner table where famous women all have their own setting but did not actually make any of it; she commissioned other artists and designers. Whatever your stance is, it's worth taking the time to view this canonical work--and enjoy the lively conversation it ignites! Although I appreciated seeing figures at the table like Mary Wollstonecraft (considered the mother of feminism and an 18th-century philosopher and writer I spent many years studying), Georgia O-Keefe (the east-coast artist who put Abuqui, New Mexico on the art-world map), my personal favorite was the frilly place setting for Emily Dickinson which was inspired by one her poems.
There were many other wonderful shows and collections to view at the museum, including Arts of the Americas featuring many wonderful native New Mexican artists. But perhaps the most interesting show (if it could be called that) was the open storage where items collected but not currently on display were placed in glass and steel for museum-goers to peruse informally. It was like peeking inside someone's closet!
Museum viewing is thirsty work so you should probably head to Mayfield restaurant for cocktails, oysters, and, for the culinary adventures, steak tartar, like we did once you've had your fill of art. Or you could swing by Sidecar for a drink of the same name and a plate of their (in)famous fried chicken. I'll be honest: fried chicken never really appealed to me all that much, but they've made me a convert. My brother and sister were at Sidecar the very first day they opened and became regulars. My sister would wax poetic about their kale sautéed with bacon, so much so that I tried to replicate it at home. I did okay, but the chicken, kale, and smashed root veggies of my dish were the perfect balance of comfort food and gourmet delight.
At the risk of turning this into a mostly-culinary tour of Brooklyn--aww, who am I kidding? Eating good food is one of the highlights of traveling! With that in mind, you should work in some time to visit Brooklyn's Chinatown, which, according to many, is WAY better than Manhattan's. While you're there go ahead and try some dim sum and what I only assume was the Chinese equivalent of a soap opera playing on strategically placed TVs at East Village Harbor Seafood Restaurant. Take a nice long stroll through the Brooklyn Bridge Park (gorgeous waterfront stroll through Brooklyn with an absolutely gorgeous view of Manhattan and the statue of liberty, not to mention the bridge this park was named after) when you're ready to walk off all that food and work up a healthy thirst to be quenched at one of the many micro-breweries like Threes.
The last place you should try to visit for an authentic Brooklyn experience might sound a little surprising--and could be elusive if you don't have friends in the neighborhood--but it is an essential part of this community: the stoop. You absolutely have to do some stoop sitting if you get the chance. What is that, you might ask? Simple: you kick back on the steps outside your (brother's) apartment and just be. I found it's their equivalent of sitting on my porch with a morning cup of coffee or an evening glass of wine, pausing to take in the world around me. So find a stoop. People watch. Nod to neighbors doing the same thing. Engage in some small talk. But most of all, enjoy the stoop. That is the heart of Brooklyn.
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