Where to go for a taste of old Brooklyn, the inquisitor on the NY Times’ “Hey, Mr. Critic” blog wants to know. Sam Sifton (Mr. Critic) offers up some good ones, including Randazzo’s in Sheepshead Bay, the venerable Totonno’s in Coney Island and Defonte’s in Red Hook. While such names prompt loving thoughts of roast beef and mozzarella heros—at the latter—the list also got me thinking about what other old tastes of Brooklyn should be added to the bunch.
Number one: Ferdinando’s (151 Union St.), a tin-ceilinged beaut that opened a few blocks from the waterfront in 1904, and hasn’t changed much since.
The food rules, too, with Sicilian offerings distinct from standard Italian fare—tripe with peas, a spleen sandwich, deep fried rice balls, pasta with sardines and pine nuts. My go-to at Ferdinando’s is the panelle special, a sandwich of fried chickpea fritters and fresh ricotta on a semolina bun. It’s that rare vegetarian sandwich that can fairly be termed a gut bomb, and rings in under $5.
Until around a dozen years ago this block was home to another piece of old Brooklyn—Latticini Barese, once the purveyors of staggeringly great mozzarella for, if memory serves, $4.25 a pound. It’s tragically gone, and I pay silent homage when I pass by, but Caputo’s (460 Court St.) carries on with mozzarella nearly as good, and no shortage of old-world charm. I like the dried cacciatorini sausages here, which are a decent deal at $12 a pound.
Court Street has two other old Brooklyn spots worth a mention. One is D’Amico Foods (309 Court St.), where they’ve been roasting coffee since 1939. Java is the main draw at this place, which is family-run by a fairly cranky bunch, but it’s the inexpensive Italian heros (proscuitto and fresh mozzarella for around $6) that put it on the Brokavore’s miserly map. Up the street is the long-running red-sauce joint Sam’s (238 Court St.), noted for both its pizza and time-warp touches like wood paneling and an unselfconsciously retro cocktail menu that bears no mention of the word “infusion.” (Not to mention the menu slogan: “If your wife can’t cook, don’t divorce her, keep her and eat at Sam’s—you will both be happy.”)
And if you’re talking old-school, Brooklyn restaurants don’t get any more so than Peter Luger, the 123-year-old porterhouse emporium at the foot of the Williamsburg Bridge (178 Broadway). If you’re wondering what that could mean to the Brokavore, given the stratospheric cost of the signature steaks, then you’re overlooking one of the borough’s great bargains: the Luger burger. Offered at lunch only, this beefy beauty runs a mere $8—$10 with fries—and digging into one amid the masculine splendor of Luger’s beer-hall-like dining rooms is an unbeatable midday indulgence.
While it can’t match Luger’s distinction, a few miles south in Bay Ridge is another spot offering a superior burger in pedigreed surroundings. Skinflints (7902 Fifth Ave.) is a venerable saloon with a well-preserved interior of dark wood, stained glass and tiled floors, and a burger, served on an oversized English muffin, that wouldn’t be out of place on anyone’s list of the borough’s best. (Did I mention it’s a deal? Seven bucks—with fries.)
Up the avenue is the last stop: Hinsch’s (8518 Fifth Ave.), a preserved-in-amber luncheonette with an awesome neon sign and an original soda fountain, where ice cream is made on the premises. I’ve only gawked at Hinch’s, and never actually eaten anything there, so I can’t vouch for it, quality-wise. They offer an egg cream, though—and it doesn’t get any more old Brooklyn than that.