In the spirit of the Oscars, it’s time for our third annual Brooklyn Foodie Awards! This is where we honor excellence amongst restaurants and chefs that have debuted in the last year, with totally arbitrary, intangible “awards” that don’t actually mean anything to anyone, except maybe the people receiving them. So hurry up and draft out your teary acceptance speeches all of you (restaurant) industry folk. Because we like you. We really, really like you.
*Delaware and Hudson
Pacifico’s Fine Foods
Thanks to the recently opened Kao Soy, Red Hook residents no longer need to dart under the BQE, for top-notch Northern Thai food at Pok Pok. It joins the estimable roster of restaurants we’ve loved best in the last year, from Emily and it’s honey-slathered pies, to Buttermilk Channel’s classy little sib, French Louie, to Pacifico’s oh so fine, Brazilian-accented eats, to Semilla and it’s incredible veggie wizardry (minus a point for the waist-high window in the bathroom). But like Michelin, we’ve got to give a star to Patti Jackson’s fantastically affordable “Baltimore to Buffalo” prix fixes at Delaware and Hudson, which (to the delight of our Syracuse-born husband), pay delightful homage to salt potatoes, one of the cornerstones of Central New York cuisine.
Jamison Blankenship/David Koon/James Sato (Bar Chuko)
Michael Jacober (Morris Sandwich Shop)
*Rob Newton/Kerry Diamond (Wilma Jean)
Doug Crowell (French Louie)
Andy Ricker (Pok Pok Phat Thai)
It’s hard enough to keep one restaurant alive and kicking. Which is why we have utmost respect for anyone that pulls off a repeat (Buttermilk Channel’s Doug Crowell, who waited six whole years before moving forward with French Louie; the boys at Bar Chuko, who are also breaking ground in Bushwick; and Gladys’s Michael Jacober, who doubled down on his original sandwich concept this month). Not to mention three-peat (Andy Ricker, who’s essentially remade the Columbia Waterfront District in Pok Pok’s image), or, in the case of Rob Newton and Kerry Diamond, a three-peat and counting, bestowing fried bologna sandwiches on Brooklyn at their Southern-styled lunch counter, Wilma Jean, this year, with a bucolic cafe in the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens still to come.
Best Chef, Male
Polo Dobkin (Meadowsweet)
*Jose Ramirez-Ruiz (Semilla)
Gabe McMackin (The Finch)
Tom Kearney (Nine Chains, June Wine Bar)
Ben Pope (2 Duck Goose)
Polo Dobkin made a triumphant return to his East Williamsburg stomping grounds, Ben Pope created a compelling case for the rise of refined Chinese food, Farm on Adderley’s Tom Kearney swung for the fences with impeccable baked goods at Nine Chains AND inventive small plates at June Wine Bar, and Roberta’s alum Gabe McMackin proved his talents extend well beyond pizza at the Finch. But at his totally zen tasting room, Semilla, Jose Ramirez-Ruiz manipulated vegetables in ways we’ve never seen before (and considering he changes his menu almost constantly), will probably never see again. No matter, that celeriac tagliatelle and burdock root arancini will remain forever burned into our memory.
Best Chef, Female
*Shanna Pacifico (Pacifico’s Fine Foods)
Patti Jackson (Delaware and Hudson)
Pamela Yung (Semilla)
Kanlaya Supachana (Kao Soy)
Lien Lin (Bricolage)
That being said, a trip to Semilla is worth it for Pam Yung’s killer bread and mind-bending desserts alone (fig leaf ice cream on toasted buckwheat, say wha?) Lien Lin fled Charles Phan’s shadow at Slanted Door, to serve her own craveable Vietnamese fare at Bricolage, and Kanlaya Supachana went from front of the house to back, to cook dishes inspired by her hometown of Chiang Mai, that rival those of nearby Thai kingpin, Andy Ricker. Patti Jackson (formerly of Centovini and i Trulli) proved Pennsylvania has just as much to offer the culinary world as Italy, but when it comes down to it, we’d be totally cool with having Shanna Pacifico prepare our meals every day, three times a day, from crab and delicata squash on toast during brunch, to fried chicken and biscuits during lunch, and a full Brazilian spread (braised oxtail with “porky beans” and lemongrass-infused rice!) for dinner.
Best Adapted Concept
Butter and Scotch
Meat Hook Sandwich
Many of Brooklyn’s best restaurants actually begin life as tiny buds, sprung from the branches of better-established plants. Such was the case of Butter and Scotch (the sugary, boozy lovechild of Kumquat Cupcakery and First Prize Pies, two seriously popular Smorgasburg stands), as well as Berg’n; an expansive beer hall and all-weather assembly of other best-selling Smorgasburg stands; Meat Hook Sandwich, a between-the-bread offshoot of the beloved Williamsburg butcher shop; and Littleneck Outpost, which expanded upon the Gowanus eatery’s evening shellfish offerings, with breakfast-through-dinner, beyond-seafood bites. And while Chuko maintains laser-like focus on just one of the things we love to eat with beer and sake (oh, that ramen!) Bar Chuko makes use of a much larger kitchen, by dishing up ALL of the things we love to eat with beer and sake; namely, grilled and skewered meats, jiggly fresh tofu, and kewpie mayo-drizzled okonomiyaki.
Best Visual Effects
No rustic plating here; these restaurants are staunch believers that we eat with our eyes first. Although we feel pretty awful about dragging our forks through the edible canvases created by Okonomi, with it’s ascetic Ichiju Sansai set meals, The Gorbals, with it’s green-on-green treatise on peas and grinning pigs heads on silver platters, and most of all, Semilla, which delivers a progression of modern sculptures crafted entirely of vegetables, such as upended ribbons of quince, snowdrifts of powdered lovage, and fingerling potatoes entombed in salt.
Lifetime Achievement Award: Michael “Buzzy” O’Keeffe
Most of us don’t have what it takes to be regulars at River Café (the only invite we’ve ever wrangled was from the daughter of the guy who composed the NBC Nightly News theme). But if you’ve lived in Brooklyn for any amount of time, you take a certain amount of hometown pride in the borough’s one true white tablecloth restaurant; an orchid-scented, Savile Row-suited, Corton Grand Cru-serving love letter to old-money New York, encircled by the patented skyline and the graceful arms of the bridge. And it was almost gone in an instant, when its once-covetable waterside property made it a direct target during the wreckage wrought by Hurricane Sandy. Not that owner Buzzy O’Keeffe — who made sure the restaurant’s windows were open during the storm, so the structure would survive — had any intention of letting his legacy be lost to the waves, sparing no expense in effectively rebuilding the sawn red oak floors plank by plank, and the storied wine cellar Opus One by Opus One.
In Memoriam: The Restaurants We Lost This Past Year (Accompanied by Rising and Falling Applause)
Sel de Mer