In the spirit of the Oscars, it’s time for our Fifth Annual Brooklyn Foodie Awards! This is where we honor excellence among 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.
Sunday in Brooklyn
The North side fared reliably fabulously this year (illustrious newcomers included Sunday in Brooklyn and 21 Greenpoint, both of which positioned themselves at the forefront of the low-waste movement), but there were restaurant triumphs scattered throughout the borough. As much as we admired Clinton Hill’s Tilda All Day, we were even more enamored of its replacement, Otway: a “gluttonous, 1970’s Paris”-inspired fantasia of uni crepes, pine-infused lardo, and bread rolled out on carts. And we’re not even being biased, as everyone was feeling the Brooklyn love this year, from Michelin, which immediately awarded Fredrik Berselius’ Aska reboot an unprecedented two stars, to James Beard, which just tapped Olmsted (with its consumable garden, fine dining finesse and approachable prices) as a “Best New Restaurant” semi-finalist.
*Claus Meyer (Norman, Meyer’s Bageri, Brownsville Project, Aska Investor)
Silvia Barban and Giulia Pelliccioni (LaRina Pastificio e Vino/AITA, AITA Trattoria, The Mayflower)
John Bush/David Massoni/Dale Talde (Atlantic Social, Talde, Massoni)
Syd Silver (21 Greenpoint, Roebling Tea Room)
Felipe Mendez (La Milagrosa, La Superior, Cerveceria Havemeyer)
Rob Newton/Kerry Diamond (Black Walnut, Wilma Jean. Nightingale 9, Yellow Magnolia Café)
Chris Scott/Eugenie Woo (Butterfunk Kitchen, Brooklyn Commune)
Catherine May (Maison May DeKalb, Maison May Vanderbilt)
It’s become increasingly infeasible to stay afloat with one restaurant, which is why Brooklyn’s savviest businesspeople have their fingers in multiple pots. But unlike Manhattan’s industry elite, who govern their fiefdoms in name only, the above mentioned owners are profoundly involved in their projects. In fact, Maison May (née iCi) is the physical embodiment of Catherine May’s personal, 13-years-in-the-making evolution, and Brooklyn Commune’s Scott and Woo embraced their role as true ambassadors of their neighborhood, with their destination-worthy Windsor Terrace expansion. Newton and Diamond similarly cemented their position as reigning king and queen of Smith Street, while Felipe Mendez placed Williamsburg in position to challenge Bushwick, as home to the best Mexican fare in town. Syd Silver’s come an awful long way from Roebling Tea Room’s riot grrl to seasoned hospitality savant (behind the masterful 21 Greenpoint), and The Three Kings Hospitality group smartly consolidated their power, transmuting elements of Pork Slope and Thistle Hill Tavern into one giant, Barclays’s crowd-wooing space. Silvia Barban and Giulia Pelliccioni topped our envy index, amassing a veritable dynasty of Italian establishments, before reaching 30 years old. And while the best is yet to come with Claus Meyer’s still-in-development Brownsville project, he’s more than proved his mettle in the just the past 12 months, bestowing Brooklyn with house-brand coffee and beyond-Danish pastries at Meyer’s Bageri, providing an all-day sustenance to aspiring artists at Norman, and—perhaps his shrewdest move—helping finance Fredrik Berselius’ brilliantly distinctive Aska.
Best Chef, Female
*Claire Welle (Otway)
Silvia Barban (LaRina)
Esther Choi (Mokbar)
Yael Peet (Karasu)
Carla Hall (Carla Hall’s Southern Kitchen)
While we think it’s ludicrous to split honorifics along gender lines, as long as the Oscars do it for actors, we’ll simply use it as opportunity to celebrate double the number of praiseworthy chefs. While Carla Hall could have easily used her celebrity status as currency, to open a tourist-baiting spot in the center of Manhattan, she selected Brooklyn’s most neighborhoody of neighborhoods for her love letter to Nashville instead, we’re talking the low-retail, public transit-deficient CWD. Esther Choi also turned to the borough for her first Mokbar brick-and-mortar, expanding on her celebrated Korean-inspired ramen bowls with a full-on menu of housemade kimchi, mung bean pancakes and jip bap. Yael Peet (and her righthand, Elena Yamamoto) carved a surprising Japanese speakeasy from the back of Fort Greene’s venerable Walter’s, diverging sharply from bar steaks and burgers with ocean trout donburi, octopus sunomono, and sake-steamed clams. Silvia Barban gave a shot in the arm to gluten, via a retail counter and tasting menu entirely devoted to pasta, while Claire Welle—who we’re dubbing the year’s MVP—was finally able to branch out beyond Tilda All Day’s egg and pastry offerings, with an ambitious evening repertoire of yogurt whey crackers, grilled duck hearts, pot au feu in onion broth and pork neck, wheat berries and sauerkraut, featuring elements exclusively made in house.
Best Chef, Male
*Fredrik Berselius (Aska)
Greg Baxtrom (Olmsted)
Sean Telo (21 Greenpoint)
Jaime Young (Sunday in Brooklyn)
Chris Scott (Butterfunk Kitchen)
The old-school Italian bistro and workaday American diner certainly have their place, but if you’re going to commit money dining out, why not put yourself in the hands of a chef with a singular point of view? That’s certainly the case at Butterfunk Kitchen, where Chris Scott spins memories of cooking soul food with his nana, into dishes equally influenced by his home state of Pennsylvania, and its acutely Dutch roots. Sean Telo and Jaime Young work magic with scraps at their respective restaurants—resulting in inventions as disparate as cheese rind chawanmushi and wood roasted ham and lamb tongue, and Greg Baxtrom operates entirely off-script at Olmsted, riffing off whatever emerges from his garden (creations include carrot crepes, gobi pakora cauliflower and rutabaga tagliatelle). Then there’s Aska, and its 19-some odd courses of birchwood ice cream and mushrooms, Finnish caviar and consommé and squid and kelp tart; each as unique to artist Fredrik Berselius as Monet’s water lilies, or Van Gogh’s starry night.
Best Visual Effects
Olmsted allows you to actively commune with your food, long before its assembled on the plate (the backyard is a riot of trailing herbs, tubs full of darting crayfish and pens of clucking quail), while the austerely-designed Aska saves the drama for its dishes, including blue mussels propped on seaweed, pancakes stained with blood and rose petals, and chamomile-smoked shrimp snipped with tableside shears. Ichiran is notable for its calculated lack of atmosphere—comprised of walled-in “flavor concentration booths” and personalize-your-ramen menus—yet Guadalupe Inn fires on all cylinders, chef Ivan Garcia assembles sharable platters of trompito al pastor, while the dining room doubles as a performance space, regaling mezcal-sipping patrons with jazz bands, salsa sets and burlesque shows.
Lifetime Achievement Award: Craig Samuel and Ben Grossman
From southern comfort to Brooklyn barbecue to Nashville hot chicken, this pair has laid the groundwork for numerous, enduringly pervasive food trends. After opening Smoke Joint in 2006 (a year before Fette Sau, and practically a decade prior to the borough’s current glut of pit stops), Samuel and Grossman set about establishing their beloved Peaches empire, slinging soulful staples like shrimp and grits, fiery poultry, and fried green tomato-crowned burgers from a duo of spots in Bed Stuy. Yet their impressive tenure hasn’t led them to rest on their laurels—having a bead on the needs of the neighborhood led them to recently transform Clinton Hill’s Marietta (commonly regarded as a special occasion place) into the free and easy Peaches Shrimp & Crab, itself at the starting line of an au courant, sustainably-sourced shellfish revolution.
IN MEMORIUM: The Restaurants We Lost This Past Year (Accompanied by Rising and Falling Applause)
Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare
Fritzl’s Lunch Box
Bark Hot Dogs
Ganso Yaki/Sushi Ganso
Thistle Hill Tavern/Pork Slope