Monday, May 20, 2013

Travels to Brooklyn, New York

I have been to New York many times as Keith is from Long Island,  I have family upstate, and we have friends who live in Manhattan.  Depending on traffic, it is about a 4 to 5 hour drive from DC.  You can also take the Amtrak train from Union Station straight to Penn Station.  We recently went up to New York but stayed "across the bridge" in Brooklyn.  It was my first visit to the borough and so here is an overview of my travels there to summarize not only all the good eats, but also some of the fun activities to do and sights to see.

Brooklyn is connected to Manhattan by three bridges, the Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Williamsburg bridges.  With gentrification, many of Brooklyn's neighborhoods are becoming increasingly mixed, due to an influx of yuppies and hipsters into the already immigrant-filled neighborhoods. What started as a trend may now be the permanent equilibrium.  Brooklyn contains dozens of distinct neighborhoods, representing many of the major ethnic groups found within the New York City area.

Brooklyn's major professional sports team is the NBA's Brooklyn Nets. The Nets moved into the borough in 2012 and play their home games at the brand new Barclays Center in Prospect Heights. The NHL's New York Islanders, currently based in Nassau County on Long Island, are planning to play in the Barclays Center (while retaining their current name) in 2015, which will make it Brooklyn's second major professional sports franchise.  Other events such as concerts, plays, and awards ceremonies are also held at the Barclays Center.

Brooklyn is about 23% Jewish. 
Many Brooklyn neighborhoods are ethnic enclaves where particular groups and cultures predominate. The borough is home to a large African-American community.  Brooklyn is also home to many Russians and Ukrainians, who are mainly concentrated in the areas of Brighton Beach and Sheepshead Bay. Bushwick is the largest hub of Brooklyn's Hispanic-American community. Italian-Americans are mainly concentrated in the neighborhoods of Bensonhurst, Dyker Heights and Bay Ridge. Orthodox Jews and Hasidic Jews have become concentrated in Borough Park Kensington, Midwood, Williamsburg, Flatbush, Canarsie, Sea Gate and Crown Heights.

Once home to industrial warehouses, Williamsburg has evolved over the years and has become quite the destination for new restaurants and bars.  We enjoyed a modern Italian meal at Aurora, had lunch at Vinnie's Pizzeria, and indulged in beautiful cakes from Fortunato Brothers.

On Sunday, we checked out the Brooklyn Flea Market.  Hopping around a couple locations, we visited the one at the East River State Park in Williamsburg. Founded in April 2008, Brooklyn Flea has grown into one of New York City's top attractions, operating outdoor flea markets every weekend of the year that feature hundreds of top vendors of antique and repurposed furniture, vintage clothing, collectibles and antiques, as well as a tightly curated selection of jewelry, art, and crafts by local artisans and designers, plus delicious fresh food.

View of Manhattan from the Brooklyn Flea Market in Williamsburg.
While in the Williamsburg area, we visited the Brooklyn Brewery. Since its founding in 1988, Brooklyn Brewery has "brewed flavorful beers that enrich the life, tradition and culture of the communities it serves."  Brooklyn beers are currently distributed in 25 states and 20 countries and exports more beer than any other American craft brewery.  The Brewery is open to the public Monday-Thursday from 5-7pm for reservation-only small batch tours, Friday evening for Happy Hour, and Saturdays and Sundays for tours and tastings.  We came on a Sunday and were able to catch the free tour.

Left: bottling machine,  Right: various antique bottles they've collected

Left: Summer Ale,  Right: 25th Anniversary

Keith also sampled the Brooklyn Weisse, Pilsner, Radius, and Sorachi Ace

The Brewery encourages patrons to bring in their own food to enjoy with the beer.  Picnic table seating is available.

After the brewery tour, we walked around the neighborhoods and I just love seeing the old brownstones and large building facades with fire escapes. This architecture is so typical of East Coast and New York, especially.

For kicks, I had to take a snapshot of this sign.  Can you spot the anomaly?

Brooklyn's West Indian/Caribbean community is concentrated in the Crown Heights, Flatbush, East Flatbush, Kensington, and Canarsie neighborhoods.  Brooklyn's Greek-Americans live throughout the borough, but their businesses today are concentrated in Downtown Brooklyn near Atlantic Avenue. Chinese-Americans live throughout the southern parts of Brooklyn, in Sunset Park, Bensonhurst, Gravesend, and Homecrest. Irish-Americans can be found throughout Brooklyn, in low to moderate concentrations in the neighborhoods of Bay Ridge, Marine Park, Gerritsen Beach, and Vinegar Hill. Arab-Americans and Pakistanis along with other Muslim communities have moved into the southwest portion of Brooklyn, particularly to Bay Ridge.

Row houses in Greenpoint.
Brooklyn's Polish are largely concentrated in Greenpoint.  Keith's parents and grandparents used to live in Greenpoint for many years before moving to Long Island and Queens, respectively. This cute neighborhood still has many great restaurants.  Looking for a sweet treat? Check out Peter Pan Donuts & Pastry Shop. We also grabbed a Polish breakfast at Christina's Restaurant.

Manhattan Avenue in Greenpoint is the heart of what residents call "Little Poland." There are Polish meat stores with strings of kielbasa, bakeries with Polish bread and babkas, supermarkets with Polish pickles, jams, dried soups and sauerkraut.  On our last day, we stopped in Greenpoint to pick up Polish goodies.

The Park Slope area of Brooklyn is considered the upper class neighborhood and features historic buildings, top-rated restaurants, bars, and shops, as well as proximity to Prospect Park, the Brooklyn Academy of Music, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, the Brooklyn Museum, the Brooklyn Conservatory of Music, and the Central Library.  We ventured out there for dinner on our last night and had a great time at a Top Chef's restaurant called TALDE.

The borough has played a major role in various aspects of American culture including literature, cinema and theater.  The Brooklyn accent is often portrayed as "typical New York" in American television and film.   I enjoyed my quick weekend trip there and look forward to returning more often.  Have you visited Brooklyn before? What are some of your favorites things to do and places to eat? Please share in the comments below!

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