A feast grows in Brooklyn

By Jill D’Amico

One of the driving forces behind Brooklyn’s rise as a hub of ingenuity and cool is its food and drink scene. With more than 1,000 restaurants across the borough and over 100 food and beverage manufacturers, it is one of the main ingredients in the Brooklyn economy. Drawing hungry masses from across the city to sample the new restaurants and bars that open every week, Brooklyn’s inventive chefs, bartenders and brewmasters produce some of the best experiences found on a plate or in a glass.

Irish influences have made their way onto the plate as well. Whether it is a traditional Irish pub and restaurant using locally sourced ingredients, or an Irish American pizziaolo making some of the borough’s best pies, local restaurants show a new appreciation for a hearty meal.

Once vilified, Irish cuisine translates in today’s local, sustainable food movement quite well — even the stereotypical “meat and potatoes” dish exudes wholesomeness and keeps with today’s trend in comfort food. And when chefs want to extend themselves in other cuisines, they have done so with a nod to the fundamentals of good food and good times.

Tradition Reigns

Brooklyn, with a large number of Irish Americans as well as a few Irish-American strongholds like Bay Ridge, Gerritsen Beach and Marine Park, is a goldmine for those looking for traditional fare and a cold pint.

Bay Ridge’s Third and Fifth avenues boast a number of Irish pubs. The Wicked Monk, built from parts of an old monastery in Ireland, hosts live music most nights, and Henry Grattan’s, Kitty Kiernan’s, and Peggy O’Neill’s in nearby Coney Island are perpetually packed.

The Bally Bunion offers traditional cuisine and their burger has a loyal following. They offer live Irish music and friendly service that is expected in the tightly knit neighborhood.

But it isn’t only in south Brooklyn where you will find a well-poured pint. Trendy neighborhoods that are popular with Manhattan expats, like Park Slope and Williamsburg, also have a wide variety of Irish outposts.

O’Connor’s cheap drinks prove popular with a younger crowd that mixes with the older clientele over a well-stocked jukebox.

Over on the other side of the park — Prospect Park, that is — is Farrell’s Bar & Grill, one of the city’s oldest. The “grill” hasn’t touched in years, but that’s just as well. Budweiser is served no-frills style, in Styrofoam cups, and a good proportion of Windsor Terrace’s Irish American community make up the regulars standing at the bar.

For those looking for a twist on the classic pub, there are plenty of options.

Park Slope’s Black Sheep Pub greets patrons early in the morning to catch rugby and Premiership games on satellite TV, yet they also offer an inventive bar menu with plenty of vegetarian options.

Spike Hill, a recently expanded bar right off of the Bedford Avenue L train stop, is an antidote to the surrounding neighborhood’s offbeat charms. Offering live music and a carefully curated selection of whiskey and scotch, they also have a menu that combines some Irish favorites (Guinness Stew, anyone?) with new American dishes.

Expect the Unexpected

While few can argue with the lure of traditional Irish pub grub, some enterprising chefs are stepping out of the box. Marc Elliot, a pioneer of Smith Street’s trendy restaurant scene when it was first picking up in the 1990s, recently took over the kitchen at Ceol, a popular Cobble Hill bar owned by Dubliner Loretta Heaney and Samantha Meehan, of Tipperary.

Elliot uses the bar’s kitchen as his testing grounds. After surveying the menus at nearby places, he’s passing on the Gaelic Steak and instead offers unexpected fare like artichoke hearts with a carrot ice cream, gourmet hot dogs and curried chicken salad wraps.

Straddling cuisines is nothing new for Irish-born chef Frank Coe, who has worked in kitchens around the world. He was brought into Clinton Hill’s Autour du Monde restaurant in 2008 to redo their eclectic French menu. Coe uses fresh, seasonal ingredients in dishes that include salt cod cakes and vegetarian stir-fry noodles.

Pastry goddess Melissa Murphy has been hard at work in the business of baking, having built a veritable empire, with outposts of the Sweet Melissa Patisserie in Cobble Hill and Park Slope, a recent cookbook, and Food Network appearances to her credit. She concentrates on cakes, pies and otherworldly sweets that have garnered her a loyal following across Brooklyn’s Brownstone Belt.

Taking on pizza in a borough that boasts numerous contenders for the best pizza in the city is brave. Taking it on in Carroll Gardens, a traditionally Italian neighborhood where salumerias still line the streets, is even more so. But Jim McGown, a real estate developer-turned pizzaiolo, is not easily swayed. Very quietly, he recently opened South Brooklyn Pizza out of a corner of P.J. Hanley’s, the bar he owns on a busy corner of Court Street. He serves up his signature pies out of a coal-burning brick oven with chocolate-chip cookies for dessert.

Pizza is among the foods — along with favorites like cupcakes and fried chicken — getting a makeover by Brooklyn chefs in a move to recreate classic comfort foods for today’s conscious eaters. Indeed, the days of gold-flecked cocktail and $60 Kobe beef burgers are over. Some say the economy’s nosedive has helped spur a new appreciation for cheap ingredients and wholesome meals.

Speaking of wholesome, those who haven’t been to Rocky Sullivan’s since its days on Lexington Avenue wouldn’t recognize its new Red Hook digs.

Good conversation and entertainment are still on the menu, but so is an impressive array of pizza, salads and brunch — yes, brunch! But perhaps most impressive is their Friday night “Think Global, Eat Local” menu, which features hyper-local selections, such as the daily catch from the Red Hook Lobster Pound, vegetables from the nearby Added Value urban farm, and beer from Six Points Craft Ales next door.

Brewing Up Business

Of course, no Irish tale of persistence and success would be complete without a refreshing quaff.

Brooklyn’s history with beer is a long and storied one — at one point there were 45 breweries in operation. But by 1976, they had all run dry, and it would not be until the late 1980s that two enterprising Brooklynites, former journalist Steve Hindy and former banker Tom Potter, would bring beer back to Brooklyn.

Today, their company, aptly called Brooklyn Brewery, is among the top 40 breweries in the U.S. and they are consistently lauded for their inventive, quality beers. Among Brooklyn’s biggest cheerleaders, Hindy works to foster a connection between his beer and the scrappy, hardworking borough that is its namesake.

The care and technique of the brewmasters at the helm of microbrews like Brooklyn rival that of the finest chef. Craft beers have been growing in popularity as people become more concerned with where their food and drink comes from, and Brooklyn’s new breed of beer is no exception.

Shane Welch, who founded Six Points Craft Ales, is similarly driven to create excellent handcrafted beers. Five years into his mission and growing every year, Welch credits his success to the supportive and enthusiastic community.

In keeping with that, Six Points teams up with local restaurants regularly to hold dinners that pair beer with the best of Brooklyn’s cuisine.

So remember, next time you’re in Brooklyn be sure to take in some of the local specialties. Chances are if it’s local, sustainable and tasty, it’s with a nod to the Irish.