We all know Greenpoint used to, and to an extent still does, provide a lot of space and tranquility within its warehouse-laden boundaries. The neighborhood — once home to farmland, rope factories, and lumber yards — has been keeping its rising restaurant stars mostly to itself, and it’s time we respectfully broke the silence.
The enclave best known as “Little Poland” — for its roots, current residents, and the scores of Polish restaurants lining Manhattan Avenue — has all kinds of ethnic offerings that go beyond pierogis and goulash (though see my pick for those below). I went out to explore them while keeping a handle on my wallet.
Sushi: Sapporo Haru: 622 Manhattan Avenue at Driggs Ave.
The sparse and cheap-looking décor at Sapporo Haru is common amongst many smaller sushi restaurants, and particularly in Greenpoint. However, the fact that this is no Sushi Samba doesn’t detract from the appeal of the deal that Sapporo Haru offers. Free unlimited hot sake with “dinner,” which apparently just means you have to order $10 worth of food. (Wasabi, another sushi place down the block, offers unlimited sake for orders of $15 and above.)
Options include the standard: rolls of sushi ($3-$5, $5+ for special rolls), edamame ($3), and sashimi (12 pieces of fish for $10) and specialty plates that make deviating from fish worthwhile. Their beef negimaki rolls ($7) are flavorful, tender and devoid of gristle (a huge peeve). The Brooklyn roll, a specialty roll constructed of deep fried mint leaf crab and spicy tuna topped with avocado, is $9.95, while for a dollar more you can get the filling and piping hot Sunshine roll, made with crab, caviar, avocado, cucumber, mayonnaise, and roll backed scallop (a SH modification). A cheap and tasty alternative to fish is the Shiitake mushroom roll for $3.50.
The service is straightforward and perfunctory, nothing fancy– but most importantly, the staff is always a few steps ahead when you realize you want your sake refilled. They also have discounted lunch specials until 5pm (two maki for $7.50, three for $10).
Mexican: Vamos al Tequila: 162 Franklin Street at Kent St.
Greenpoint’s Mexican food fans like to debate the relative merits of Vamos and Papacito’s, but my vote goes to the former.
This isn’t the cheapest Mexican joint in Greenpoint — tacos are two for $6, tamales are two for $7, and other entrees run from $12 and up. But the portions are huge and delicious and the staff (many of them related to the owner) attentive and helpful. This relatively new joint offers a free soda, juice, or horchata with whatever the specialty platter is that day, and every order comes with free chips and homemade salsa, which is biting and fresh (and free!).
I want their enchiladas verdes just thinking about them right now: the grilled, chopped chicken in a warm spinach tortilla, drizzled with cheese and a light sour cream sauce, surrounded by rice, frijoles, and punctuated by traditionally-made guacamole. Also rave-worthy are the Mexican pizza and just about any of their seafood offerings.
The kitschy banner hanging below the kitchen’s serving table and the lovingly painted emblems of Mexico on the walls assure you that this family restaurant is expecting you to feel just that — like family. Joaquina, the owner, even plays the grandmother, asking why your plate isn’t empty — for me, this just adds to the down-home charm.
Polish: Karczma: 136 Greenpoint Avenue at Manhattan Ave.
Brokelyn-ites looking to fill up their growling stomachs on a dime in Greenpoint shouldn’t miss out on the cuisine for which it is best known.
In Karczma’s farmhouse-like space, traditionally dressed waitresses in brightly colored country skirts, vests, and blouses, will make you feel like you just spent all day working on the farm and have come home to a well-deserved feast. This food is all about refueling, so come prepared, and possibly in clothing sans waistband.
Karczma doesn’t offer anything that different from most Polish restaurants, but its accessibility to English-speakers, ambiance, proximity to the subway, prices, and quality of food and service make my choice for a traditional Greenpoint chow-down.
Among the many meal options are: Hunter’s Stew ($7 served with mashed potatoes or bread), old-fashioned white borscht in bread ($3.50), a plateful of mushroom pierogies ($6), and numerous types of meat, if a new take on chicken, blood sausage, salmon, or beef goulash is your thing. And of course, the requisite kielbasa is also available many ways. Try it grilled with onions, fries, mustard, and sautéed cabbage for $7. The chicken kebab with onions and peppers, served with fries and garlic dipping sauce ($9) will satisfy your cravings for carbs, protein, vegetables, and of course, the human need for dipping sauce. During happy hour (conveniently around dinner time on Thursdays from 5-9 pm), 16 oz. of Polish beer is $3.50.
French: Le Gamin: 108 Franklin Street at Noble St.
This is a date-worthy splurge, but it’s worth a few extra bucks if you want a good steak frites ($18 for a literal platter of steak with herb butter and large sides of fries and well-dressed salad) or crepe ($9 for 3 fillings, including meat). Other good choices include the croustillantes de chevre, which are goat cheese, fig, and honey wrap-ups ($8.50), quiche Lorraine — yes, quiche, really — ($9.50), and escargot (only $6).
They have a specials menu that can steal your attention away but tends to feature more pricey entrees. The inviting ambiance — created by a brisk but friendly accented waitress, European décor and rickety wooden chairs, and the smell of pommes frites — makes you feel French and sexy, which is always a good thing. If it’s warm out, head out the cramped hallway to the back garden. It’s simple brick and stocked with wooden picnic tables, but the hanging lights add a romantic feel.
So here’s a toast to Greenpoint food: the real reason to wait for that godforsaken G train.