I grew up going to Brooklyn. Every few months, we would pile into the station wagon and make the drive from Maryland—craning our necks on the Verrazano Bridge to try and see the Statue of Liberty and hoping we didn't lose a tire on the pothole-pitted Belt Parkway—to visit my four grandparents. One set was in Sheepshead Bay, another in Canarsie—both living in the same apartments where my parents grew up. We would get black-and-white cookies at Leon's, bialys at Coney Island Bialys and Bagels, and pizza and Italian ice at a little joint on the corner.
That was the Brooklyn I knew—old and Jewish. But another Brooklyn now beckons—one a little closer to my age bracket, teeming with boutiques, restaurants, and modern marvels.
So, my husband and I decided to spend a grown-up weekend there doing two things we love the most: eating and shopping. We dumped the kids, pulled out the GPS, and headed north.
The drive to Brooklyn on a late Friday morning is surprisingly quick and easy. We leave after rush hour and make it to Red Hook in a little over four hours. Red Hook—in the western tip of Brooklyn—reminds us instantly of Baltimore. Once a little rough around the edges, it now houses a bustling mix of the arts and industrial businesses, along with a dock for the Queen Mary 2.
We head straight to Steve's Authentic Key Lime Pies (204 Van Dyke St., 718-858-5333, stevesauthentic.com). Tucked off the main road through Red Hook, this tiny shop is no more than a cash register and a quiet woman who takes our money. (In fact, my husband gets in trouble for snooping around the random items in the back of the store.) We order a small, fresh-squeezed Key lime pie, grab two plastic forks, and head to the car. My husband—a Floridian—dubs it Key West-worthy.
Time to shop. On our drive to Van Brunt Street, we find Saipua (147 Van Dyke St., 718-624-2929, saipua.com). A teeny storefront, this family-owned shop is known for its beautiful flower arrangements and fragrant soaps that are sold all over the country. We then make our way to the main drag and swing into Foxy & Winston (392 Van Brunt St., 718-928-4855,foxyandwinston.com) for hand-printed goods—including adorable tees—and to next-door neighbor Tiburon (392a Van Brunt St., 718-913-4484, tiburonbrooklyn.com) for great cards and jewelry.
To refuel, we go first to Fort Defiance (365 Van Brunt St., 347-453-6672, fortdefiancebrooklyn.com) for a light lunch and eavesdropping/people watching. The crowd is a mix of young hipsters and older artsy types catching up and conducting long business lunches. The first thing we order? A $2 bottle of seltzer—fizzed in-house. We also find comfort in a half of a grilled-cheese sandwich and tomato soup combo and a niçoise tuna sandwich with radishes, capers, and lettuce on a crunchy baguette.
For dessert, we walk to popular spot Baked (359 Van Brunt St., 718-222-0345, bakednyc.com) with its brown awning and orange door. There are cakes, cookies, pies, tarts, cupcakes, brownies, homemade granola, and marshmallows, but the pillowy banana whoopie pie is what I'll dream about until my next visit.
We finally make our way to the New York Marriott at the Brooklyn Bridge (333 Adams St., 718-246-7000, marriott.com; rooms, $229-$579 a night, but look for special summer rates and packages)—a nice central location—before changing and going to dinner at the popular Buttermilk Channel (524 Court St., 718-852-8490, buttermilkchannelnyc.com) in Carroll Gardens. The wait is long, but worth it. We grab a seat at the bar and have a few drinks—sitting and doing nothing is very appealing when you have small kids—before nestling into a cozy table in the bustling restaurant. Service is stellar, and the buttermilk-fried chicken with cheddar waffles and cabbage slaw is perfection (as are most of the dishes we try). We're so taken with the neighborhood that we vow to see it in the daylight.
Bright and early, we stroll over to the Park Slope neighborhood. I'm instantly smitten with the tree-lined streets, adorable brownstones, and, in all honesty, the Gorilla Coffee (97 Fifth Ave., 718-230-3244, gorillacoffee.com). Packed with regulars, the tables are filled with moms working on their second or third cup of coffee, their kids eating fat muffins, and diligent wireless workers—a smattering of tattoos peaking out from T-shirts. I went three times in two days! The staff makes a mean latte.
We spend a few hours shopping along Fifth Avenue, including Flirt (93 Fifth Ave., 718-783-0364, flirt-brooklyn.com) for custom skirts and accessories; LuLu's Cuts & Toys (48 Fifth Ave., 718-832-3732, luluscuts.com), which has a great toy store tucked into a kids hair salon; Odd Twin Trading Company (164 Fifth Ave., 718-ODD-TWIN)—as bizarre as it sounds—for vintage clothes, and Cog & Pearl (190 Fifth Ave., 718-623-8200, cogandpearl.com) for all sorts of artist-made goods.
We renew our energy at Bark Hot Dogs (474 Bergen St., 718-789-1939, barkhotdogs.com) with a Pickle Dog loaded with house-made pickles, mustard, and mayo, plus some salt-and-pepper fries, washed down with Bark Red Ale, a brew from Brooklyn's Sixpoint Craft Ales. We soon seek out the Cobble Hill/Boerum Hill/Carroll Gardens area we were so charmed by the night before.
We walk along Smith Street, spending a lot of time at my husband's favorite shop—Smith + Butler (225 Smith St., 718-855-4295, smithbutler.com), a modern men's store with duds and vintage motorcycles—before going to Court Street and Papel (225 Court St., 718-422-0255), a beautiful paperie with boutique cards and gifts. In between, we stop at the prettiest bakery—One Girl Cookies (68 Dean St., 212-675-4996, onegirlcookies.com)—for some sweet treats.
The night ends at the itty bitty Iron Chef House—suggested to us by locals—in Brooklyn Heights (92 Clark St., 718-858-8517, ironchefhouseny.net). We order as much sushi and sashimi as we can fit on our small table. We polish off the food and order more.
We spend our last morning in the trendy Williamsburg area of Brooklyn. We have breakfast at egg (135 N. Fifth St., 718-302-5151, pigandegg.com), a popular spot, where the line gets long early. We eat fresh biscuits, stone-ground grits from South Carolina, and broiled tomatoes with our egg dishes. Much of the produce comes from the restaurant's six-acre farm near the Catskill Mountains.
Sated, we pop into Sweet William (112 N. Sixth St., 718-218-6946, sweetwilliamltd.com), a charming baby shop full of independent designers, high-end pieces, and a very chatty owner; Catbird (219 Bedford Ave., 718-599-3457) for its awesome jewelry (much of it locally made); and the old-school Bedford Cheese Shop (229 Bedford Ave., 888-484-3243,bedfordcheeseshop.com), where the knowledgeable staff is happy to offer tastes and suggestions. We gratefully accept both.
There's so much more to do in this fun NYC borough, but it's time to go home. Before leaving, though, we detour through Park Slope for two dozen bialys—and one more Gorilla coffee.