Is Brooklyn Food Actually Terrible?

  • Abominations!

In a post specifically designed to elicit fist-shaking and pearl-clutching around the internet, food writer Josh Ozersky has a (surprisingly long) new post over at the New York Observer leveling charges against the Brooklyn food scene for being “overhyped and undercooked.” Ozersky not only tells us that “Brooklyn, taken as a restaurant city, sucks,” but — and this is a truly sick burn — notes that our borough is “content to be a ‘great little food city’ like Columbus or Portland, Maine.” Ouch.

So is it true? Should you spit that godforsaken pork out of your mouth and move back across the river?

I guess the answer here is really just a decided “eh.” Ozersky isn’t the first critic to bring this up — Jeffrey Steingarten, for one, has also publicly decried “Brooklyn boosterism” — and, somewhat impressively, the piece is more of a long explanation of his growing frustration with a food scene he sees as a “case study of conformity,” than a Pete-Wells-tearing-into-Guy-Fieri-style screed. It does have its moments, though:

“The quintessential modern Brooklyn restaurant, as we all know, has little in common with its Manhattan cousins. Instead, it’s more likely to have a name like Testicle or Mutton Hut and specialize in off-cuts three days old, executed unevenly by dedicated but unsupervised young line cooks, and served with habitual insolence by ex-Suicide Girls in the flinching light of small-batch Edison bulbs. The prices generally are fair for what you are getting, but you’re not getting that much. Sometimes the food is genuinely good, like the bacon doughnuts at Traif; at other times it’s merely weird, like foie gras with maple syrup (served at the same restaurant).”

“I believe that Brooklynites grossly overestimate their restaurants as a defense mechanism against the anguish of exile. The great unspoken fact of Brooklyn life is that nobody, at least nobody I have ever met, moved there because they liked it better than Manhattan. (“It’s not true!” I can hear them saying. “I have no interest in living in Manhattan …”) In fact, though, they live there because it’s the best place they can afford. Restaurants nearby become wildly attractive via a gastronomic form of beer goggles because their neighbors are so happy not to be eating falafel.”

And sure, it’s hard to argue that the kind of Brooklyn restaurants that tend to get a lot of press aren’t weirdly similar —as an noncommittal vegetarian and generally broke person, most places tend to have prohibitively limited menus at prohibitively high prices for me, and more variety would be nice — but the rest of the argument here doesn’t make a ton of sense.

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  1. Lord have mercy, this Joel guy is a schmuck! If eating in Brooklyn means I don’t have to sit next to overinflated yahoos like this, then yeah, stay your rude ass in the city and give me BK anyday of the week. Oh, and while you’re at it Joel, why don’t you take all those other Manhattanites with you. You know the ones I mean; they all get off the L train in Bushwick to eat at Robertas and Blanca, then act like they’re all intrepid and shit. Uh huh…

  2. I thought this one of the smartest responses to my essay I’ve seen. I may or may not be a pompous douche, etc., but that’s beside the point. My argument is more nuanced than it’s been made out to be and I appreciate it being read honestly, as Virginia Smith has done.