In the spirit of the Oscars, it’s time for our fourth 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.
Faro, Mekelburg’s, The Finch, Bar Bolinas, El AtoraderoIf Manhattan’s Superiority Burger—where “service” entails shoving veggie patties in paper bags, for consumption in nearby Tompkins Square Park—can get a James Beard nod for Best Restaurant, we’ll make no apologies for conferring our most coveted “Foodie” on the categorically casual Mekelburg’s. Situated at the back of a gourmet grocery store, trappings run to chalkboard menus and picnic tables, but you’ll find one of Brooklyn’s very best beer lists (Prairie Artisan Ales Ape Snake!) and many of its most ambrosial dishes (smoked black cod baked potatoes!) scrawled on those menus, which staff will happily ferret to said tables. That being said, it was a real horse race with the rest of the year’s estimable contenders, from the blessedly roomy, pitch-perfect pasta haven, Faro (yes, they’re affordable, but we implore Michelin to grant them an actual star, instead of a Bib Gourmand); to the similarly priced, Michelin-blessed The Finch, which made as compelling a case as any for us to regularly eat salads. El Atoradero wowed straight out of the gate, providing an indulgent platform for Denisse Lina Chavez’s straight-from-Puebla creations, and as we’ve stated before, Bar Bolinas boasts one of our very favorite all time burgers, a legitimate enough reason to top any list.
Chelsea Altman (Bar Bolinas), Josh Kaplan and Noah Arenstein (El Atoradero), John Seymour (Pearl’s), Phil Gilmour (Moku Moku), Henry Rich (Cassette)
Like a good restaurateur, you wouldn’t know that Chelsea Altman is the wizard behind the curtain at some of your favorite neighborhood-spanning establishments, such as this year’s Bar Bolinas (which formerly housed her Maggie Brown) and White Tiger (formerly Pequena), along with Allswell, Olea, and Old Stanley’s Bar. Phil Gilmour definitely has Bushwick on lock, with Moku Moku joining Momo Sushi Shack on Bogart, and his inspired sandwich shop, Hi Hello, laying down roots just a few blocks away, and John Seymour has similarly conquered Williamsburg—well, make that N. 8th Street at least—adding the Caribbean-styled Pearl’s to his American fast food mini dynasty of Pop’s and Sweet Chick. Dassara’s Josh Kaplan and Scharf and Zoyer’s Noah Arenstein did Brooklyn a solid, by shepherding El Atoradero all the way from the Bronx, but 2015 belongs squarely to Henry Moynihan Rich, who, with Boerum Hill’s stellar Rucola already under his belt, bookended the year with the luscious June wine bar—pairing quartinos of natural vino with cast iron crocks of cassoulet—and the Catalonian Cassette, a light-flooded, day-into-night bistro, fronted by his culinary consigliore, Joe Pasqualetto.
BEST CHEF, MALE: Kevin Adey (Faro),
Chris Cheung (East Wind Snack Shop), Gabe McMackin (The Finch), Joe Pasqualetto (Cassette), Erik Ramirez (Llama Inn)As referenced above, Joe Pasqualetto has been pulling admirable double duty at Rucola and Cassette (serving rustic, “European-sized” portions of brussels sprouts bravas, branzino crudo and duck confit), while Erik Ramirez emerged only three months ago, with his voluptuous tiraditos, meritorious boards of Peruvian roast chicken, and over-the-top take on lomo saltado. Gabe McMackin managed to woo Michelin, with his cheeky lambs tongue salads and locally-minded mains—try the Berkshire pork with Jacob’s cattle beans, or einkorn grains with mushrooms—while Chris Cheung demonstrated equal finesse with humble, $5 dumplings (for two extra bucks, you can have your handmade wrappers filled with 28 day dry aged beef). But after stepping down from Northeast Kingdom, Kevin Adey’s first, self-owned passion project became our dream come true too—a carb-celebrating fantasia focused on house-milled and New York State-sourced wheat, crafted into wood-fired breads, truffle-perfumed porridges and sturdy, starchy pastas, such as bucatini with pastured chicken confit, squid ink strozzapreti with skate wing, and tubular candele mounded with wild boar ragu.
BEST CHEF, FEMALE:
Missy Robbins (Lilia), Kanlaya Supachana (Chiang Mai), Denisse Lina Chavez (El Atoradero), Catherine Allswang (Le Garage), Sohui Kim (Insa)Like Shanna Pacifico last year, Missy Robbins is 2015’s most notable Manhattan defection; and while it’s still a bit early to lay down the gavel on her light-minded Italian spot, Lilia, we’re predicting plenty of upward momentum in the months to come. Chiang Mai may have officially closed—having operated as a semi-permanent pop-up, in the wake of previous nominee, Kanlaya Supachana’s acrimonious split with Kao Soy—but she still deserves props for months of regionally rooted, unabashedly spicy good eats (we’ve got our fingers crossed for the return of tum kanoon, a curried paste of pork cracklings and stir-fried jackfruit). We’re not quite sold on the skimpy barbecue platters at Insa (which, on Sohui Kim’s part, only involves slicing and plating anyway), but perhaps it’s a ruse to steer you towards her composed, Korean dishes instead, such as tteokbokki—a toss of both rice and fish cakes, sauced with a soft boiled egg—and vermillion kimchi stew, lapped around knobs of lean pork. While new to Brooklyn, Parisian grande dame Catherine Allswang (of La Laiterie Sainte Clotilde, Chez Graff and Le Café de Mars), brings serious firepower to bear at Bushwick’s Le Garage—not to mention extraordinary confit charlotte potatoes, stuffed with hazelnuts and snails—although with her house-nixtamalized tortillas, multi-day moles and destination-worthy tacos, Denisse Lina Chavez might be our most exciting transplant; no matter that she merely commuted from the Bronx.
BEST VISUAL EFFECTS:Llama Inn,
Insa, Le FanfareThe 4,600-square foot Insa is less of a restaurant than it is an experience, with its reverberant dining room—appointed with communal tables set with sterno grills—circled by a blood red opium den of a bar and a series of disco-themed karaoke rooms, where sake bottles can be summoned with a push of a button. Le Fanfare, too, is all about atmosphere, although instead of opulent Asia, it evokes a sultry gypsy jazz cabaret circa 1930s Italy, with gorgeous servers swinging their hips to the thrum of an upright bass, as they slink by with sage daiquiris, and beet-stained ravioli. But when it comes to overall design, no one demonstrated a discerning eye for detail (down to the Aesop soap dispensers in the bathroom) quite like Llama Inn this year, whose dream team of artistes worked in tandem, to transform a standalone gas station hunkered under the L train into a pulsating, bi-level Peruvian hacienda, complete with Paracas textiles, hand-thrown ceramic plates, endless windows, a circular bar and a tiled open kitchen, which allows eight lucky diners up-close-and-personal access to all the beef heart-skewering, chicken-roasting and duck sausage-stuffing action.
LIFETIME ACHEIVEMENT AWARD: Josh Cohen and Blair Papagni
Andrew Tarlow may get largely credited with remaking the local dining scene in his image, but Josh Cohen (a third generation Brooklynite) and wife Blair Papagni have been equally prolific—not to mention every bit as borough-devoted—over the years. They’ve proven remarkably adept at finding and fostering talent, from Battersby’s Joe Ogrodnek at Anella, to Fritzl’s Dan Ross-Leutwyler at the since-defunct Bellwether, and most recently, Shanna Pacifico, who’s helped helm projects like Cozinha Latina and a revamp of Extra Fancy; and their restaurant resume is uncommonly diverse, running the gamut from Jimmy’s Diner (serving all-day eggs and buttermilk fried chicken) to Missy Robbins’ Italian juggernaut, Lilia, and the heavy metal bar, Saint Vitus. Not only that, but they’ve remained especially active in community, serving as board members for the Open Space Alliance of North Brooklyn, helping at-risk teens throughout the city find jobs after graduation, and feeding the homeless and impoverished every week at a Greenpoint Church.
IN MEMORIUM: The Restaurants We Lost This Past Year (Accompanied by Rising and Falling Applause)
Do or Dine
Whiskey Soda Lounge
Pacifico’s Fine Foods
Char No. 4