The Truth About Brooklyn’s Overhyped, Undercooked Restaurant Scene

A food writer's dissent

hipsters eating1 The Truth About Brooklyns Overhyped, Undercooked Restaurant Scene

Dining al fresco at the recent Le Fooding festival in Brooklyn. (EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/GettyImages)

The food media, having little in the way of hard news to work with, traffics in trend stories, and these are never more appealing than during this season. Stories are bound to appear about this year’s genius chef plying his magic tweezers, or hyperbolic odes to the year’s “epic tasting menu.”

One thing you can expect every 2012 wrap-up to include, from now through New Year’s, is the annual tall tale about Brooklyn’s coming of age as a restaurant capital. It’s an irresistible story, bound to please Brooklynites and fool huckleberries in the hinterlands, and it has much-needed youthful sex appeal as well; food writers see Brooklyn as a gritty reboot of a story they long ago tired of telling about Manhattan. But here’s the thing: Brooklyn, taken as a restaurant city, sucks.

My bad attitude toward Brooklyn may be wrongheaded, and in the aftermath of Sandy, which hit some restaurants hard, it may seem uncharitable. But it is, at least, well-intended and hard-earned. For seven years, I lived, and ate, in Kings County. As a food writer, I ate in every neighborhood and at nearly every new restaurant of note. In the early years, I never failed to praise, as we all dutifully did, the borough’s perennial handful of legitimate restaurants—Al Di La, Saul, Noodle Pudding—and to pronounce them grossly underrated.

When a “New Brooklyn Cooking” began to emerge, in places like Zak Pelaccio’s now-defunct Chickenbone Café or Marlow & Sons, I embraced and championed them. After a few years, though (and much greater exposure to the Manhattan restaurant world, thanks to my job writing for Grub Street) I began to realize that the old guard wasn’t really that great, taken out of context, and that the new places, while wonderful, relied on prodigious exertions by their owners, of the kind that could only last so long.

Things haven’t changed that much, but as more mom-and-pop restaurants have opened, and more affluent types found themselves priced out of Manhattan, a brand of civic boosterism has developed that defends even Brooklyn’s very flaws with righteous rage. Robert Sietsema, keeping it real as ever, proclaimed two years ago that Brooklyn’s haters were “simply too lazy to find a subway and board it, their tongues so accustomed to the familiar and prosaic that they don’t want to taste anything else. Their wits so dimmed by self-esteem that they’re unwilling to admit that the culinary world as they know it—a world of French cuisine, heavy silverware, pinkies in the air, and $500 tabs—hardly exists anymore as far as most of us are concerned.” This ludicrous snobs-versus-slobs scenario seems to have been adopted uncritically by thousands.

Brooklyn’s restaurant scene, and the affirmational chorus it has created for itself, is a veritable case study of conformity, on par with the Stanford prison experiment and Stanley Milgram’s Obedience to Authority. Nor is this hype merely local. GQ declared Brooklyn “the coolest city in America” and claimed that in the food world, “it’s where everything is happening.” The borough, once universally understood as a backwater, set an all-time high for Zagat reviews, with 250 (up from 217). Adam Platt of New York, on the heels of some very good reviews, announced a “culinary power shift east” thanks to Brooklyn Fare and a small number of ambitious efforts (Blanca, Battersby, Gwynett Street, Colonie.)

Insofar as Brooklyn is gaining a toehold on culinary legitimacy, it’s only by running headlong from its own, very real, very problematic, food culture. Tellingly, almost all of the restaurants that Mr. Platt and others claim as heralding this shift are, unmistakably, Manhattan restaurants, created by Manhattan chefs and restaurateurs. Battersby is the creation of two Alain Ducasse veterans—the very apotheosis of raised-pinkie dining. Colonie proceeds from Mas (Farmhouse), Gwynett Street from wd~50 and Mugaritz—even Brooklyn Fare, the borough’s pride, is the creation of a chef whose mentor was David Bouley and who perfected his craft at Manhattan’s generally overlooked Bar Blanc. If Bar Blanc had been on Smith Street, it would have been proclaimed a glory of gastronomy; in the West Village, it was just another place. The same dynamic operated, conversely, at Brooklyn Fare’s predecessor as the crown jewel of Brooklyn restaurants, Park Slope’s Al Di La, which had been on automatic pilot for years, and which would have been buried in obscurity and indifference had it been situated west of the river.

But Al Di La was for many years an undeniably high-level Italian restaurant doing very traditional cooking, albeit in a laid-back atmosphere. 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).

After thinking about it for a long time, I’ve decided that there are three mutually reinforcing reasons for the Great Brooklyn Buy-In. One is psychological. 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. Thus, The Farm on Adderly, a perfectly acceptable haute barnyard outpost, seemed like another Gramercy Tavern, just by being better than the only other decent American restaurant in Ditmas Park, Picket Fence. Mediocre lardcore joint Buttermilk Channel, a southern restaurant incapable of serving decent fried chicken or biscuits, gets hailed as masterful, mostly, I suspect, because you can take squealing infants there and nobody will complain. Franny’s, whose utterly undistinguished pizza is notable only for the coercive sanctimony that comes with it, is actually hailed as being one of the city’s best, when in fact it tastes in every way like 15 other pizzas you aren’t forced to eat with a fork and knife.

Even more than the gratitude of the locals, it’s the sheer paucity of decent kitchens that keeps Brooklyn restaurants afloat and admired. Very few of them have to contend with any real market pressure. If a restaurant in the 212 falters even for a few months, it goes down for the count. Just ask Vandaag, or Kibo, or The New French. That pressure alone keeps Manhattan’s median quality level where it is. Put St. Anselm in Union Square, competing with Strip House and Gotham Bar and Grill and Kin Shop and Rosemary’s and Japonica and Craftbar and Gramercy Tavern. Then see how long the wait to get in is.

This is not to say that a few genuinely fine restaurants are not to be found among the dross: Seersucker, the crown jewel of lardcore, and its spinoff cafe Smith Canteen; Mile End, the Jewish Torrisi; Pok Pok, more than deserving of the hype; and, my favorite, Vinegar Hill House, whose lo-fi vibe coexists with an eagle-eyed focus on perfect food.

Now, I realize that much of this is subjective, but then it’s subjectivity that drives Brooklyn’s inflated status, as the hype drives itself to exponential heights in an echo chamber of customers with identical tastes. And that, even more than localist myopia, is the real reason for Brooklyn’s false claim on the world. The truth about Brooklyn food, and its secret sin, is that, far from being open-minded, experimental and freewheeling, it’s actually far more hidebound and conservative than anyone has, to my knowledge, remarked.

Like McSweeney’s Quarterly, which claimed to be a repository for rejected articles but quickly developed a house style so exquisitely toned that only eight people could write for it, Brooklyn food culture is bounded by the hardest of parameters: the comfort zone of callow youths and the insecure older writers who seek relevance to them. Contrary to the assertions of food mandarins across the river, most of the young Brooklynites I talk to aren’t, in fact, fed up with white tablecloth dining of the Le Cirque variety. They simply have never experienced it. As a result, they don’t really have a standard for what good restaurants are supposed to be like. The Mutton Hut is their working frame of reference; so the borough multiplies Mutton Huts one after another, each one mining the same vein of flavors in an endless feedback loop of bacon doughnuts and pro-am charcuterie.

Brooklyn tastemaking is an exercise in tautology. The Brooklyn foodies of the previous generation defined themselves around old-school ethnic dreadnoughts: Di Fara in Midwood, Tanoreen in Bay Ridge, Boston Jerk City on Utica Avenue in East Flatbush, World Tong Seafood in Bensonhurst, the M&I Market in Brighton Beach. The new foodies there are hipper, but they flock to places that are, for the most part, run by and for people exactly like themselves.

After all, they don’t move to Brooklyn for their health; they move here to be near each other. That’s why nearly all the buzzed-about places tend to be from the same cluster of gentrified neighborhoods: Carroll Gardens, Williamsburg, South Slope, Greenpoint. If Brooklyn-beat restaurants appear in other neighborhoods, it’s because there are white college graduates living there to support them. None of the immigrant residents who populate Ditmas Park go to The Farm on Adderley; most of them don’t eat at restaurants at all. They cook at home, shopping for kulfi, goat and gallon containers of milk at local Urdu-speaking bodegas.

Williamsburg, as one of Brooklyn’s most closed communities, is a perfect example. Technically Jews, Latinos and whites over 40 do exist there, but they are effectively invisible in the neighborhood’s restaurant culture. Yes, there’s a distinct style that is all Williamsburg. But what about the food? Over the last year, I made a point of visiting a few of the new(ish) Williamsburg restaurants.

I had already eaten at most of the best known neighborhood places of recent years, a few of which were excellent (DuMont and Dressler) and many more of which were either generic (Diner, Juliette), wildly uneven (Egg, Fatty ’Cue), or niche operations (Pies’ n’ Thighs, Marlow & Sons.) So I visited three highly popular Williamsburg restaurants of recent vintage: the steakhouse St. Anselm, which supposedly sates the discerning carnivore; Allswell, a neighborhood spot I was told had one of the best hamburgers in New York; and Isa, an avant-garde undertaking wilder than anything I would find in Manhattan. (The Pines, a brand-new, much-hyped restaurant in Gowanus, had just opened, and was too new to pass judgment on.)

St. Anselm was a complete letdown, which rewarded an hourlong wait with an underseasoned, underseared hanger steak that tasted like it had been sitting around in a bachelor’s refrigerator, which it probably had. Allswell’s burger was well-made but had no more juice in it than a baked potato; and Isa, which boasted primitivist cooking from a wood oven, produced some of the worst and weirdest food I can remember being served, including a fried sardine skeleton and a steak with potatoes covered with bits of burned hay. The wood oven that was its whole reason for being was, in fact, powered by a gas oven fueled by a blue jet as furious as an F-16’s afterburner.

How, I thought to myself, is it possible that so many good eaters, many of whom knew much more about food, and who had travelled so widely, would buy into this? The answer was not so much one of taste or psychology, but rather the kind of reflexive political instincts professionals in closed communities require to get ahead. A few veteran writers, such as the Post’s Steve Cuozzo, have called Brooklyn on its flaws and been roundly mocked for their cluelessness. And no one jeers harder than the arbiters of fame in the tiny world of food media. With a few, mostly older, exceptions, the Brooklyn food media is as homogeneous, insular, and narrow as the audience it echoes and valorizes.

The typical establishment New York pro food writer is a person in his or her 30s or early 40s, middle-to-upper-middle class, with a life partner of some kind, a mortgage hanging over his or her head, and a child either on its way into or out of a stroller. They are professionally invested in talking up new things, because that is what their editors, who are indifferent to food except as fashion, require of them. (Look at New York’s annual “Best of New York” list and count how many of its winners are more than a year old.) That’s why they pile on to young, unproven chefs who seem of the moment, and why they are inclined to wildly overvalue novelty and personal charisma. Fine dining, of the old and uncool kind, is a black hole whose gravity they must at all costs escape, no matter how objectively good it is. They are trying, far too hard, to be with it. They are the backpack dads in Animal Collective shirts, the ex-debutantes in torn hose.

I don’t claim that Brooklyn’s food scene is without appeal. It is heartfelt; it is independent. Even the most-mocked aspects of it—the bearded bartenders, the twee chutney companies, the $12 chocolate bars—have a certain aesthetic and even ideological purity that no man can call false. There is no denying that Brooklyn’s food culture it has its own proud, and in some ways admirable, character, even if you find it irritating, as I do.

But character comes at a cost; in this case, a toughened pelt that keeps out any hint of criticism, either by customers or critics. If I had wanted to stay in a closed system where everybody agrees about everything, I would don the black hat, move to Midwood, and subsist on kugel. But I don’t. I live in New York because I want to experience many different kinds of things, all of them trying to get better all the time, if only because the alternative is extinction. Brooklyn, at least right now, doesn’t answer that challenge; it’s content to be “a great little food city” like Columbus or Portland, Maine. Call me a know-nothing, an elitist, an ignoramus, but I’m telling the truth as I see it. Brooklyn needs to step up.

Comments

  1. Jason says:

    What this article proves is that Josh Ozersky is just as big a douche, if not bigger, than we had all already suspected. No one should ever compare Brooklyn to Manhattan especially when it comes to food. The fact that he obviously had nothing better to write about but continue to perpetuate the non-existent rivalry is vapid, lame and sophmoric. Why not just write the 3,000th article about why Chicago pizza is better than New York’s or vice versa. Manhattan is and will always be this country’s greatest food capital. That won’t change any time soon. Brooklyn is doing its own thing, not in competition with other boroughs. Ever calling something “overrated”, or even “underrated” for that matter, is as pretenious as it gets. You’re basically saying that you are right and everyone else is wrong.

  2. Danielle says:

    I am a proud Brooklynite who, at the beginning of your post, was put off. You softened your opinion and language further into the post, though, and I can see a few of your points. I’m surprised, though, that you chose to dine at 3 restaurants in Williamsburg instead of trying 3 restaurants in 3 different neighborhoods. Why?

    Having said that, in terms of Brooklyn neighborhoods where I’ve dined, I’ve more often left Williamsburg restaurants underwhelmed than anywhere else. It seems to be the neighborhood where the discrepancy between rave reviews and actual good meals is the greatest. I find that I always have a bit of skepticism when going to eat at the “latest-and-greatest” restaurant in Williamsburg.

    However, you lost credibility when you called Vinegar Hill House one of the best restaurants in Brooklyn. Granted, I went a few months after it opened (though, it was already getting raves) but the food was above-average, at best, and overpriced. I can honestly say that I’m not even intrigued enough by your review to return – at least not yet. (As an aside, and to speak to your point about conformity, I bet my Vinegar Hill House dining companion that I could more accurately guess the number of patrons wearing oversized, black-rimmed glasses. As we were placing our bets, a party of 4 walked in – 3 of whom were wearing oversized black-rimmed glasses. We guffawed.)

  3. Dan Cooper says:

    As for Dumont, on a recent visit I observed the following: the menu is perhaps 50% indecipherable and required extensive translation from the Williamlish by the beyond gorgeous waitperson, who wore a scarf wrapped entirely around her neck as though it was freezing in there. A Dumac turned out to be macaroni and cheese, and I ordered it. It looked a tasted like a toilet bowl full of elephant vomit. My female companion and I, both over 50, appeared to be visiting emissaries from The Land Of The Dead. This did not prevent the two young men sitting next to us from practically hanging over our table ogling my 56 year old woman companion. As I watched this, I recalled that my grandfather and his sons built their own brick building on S. 2nd St, and that one of the pathetic poseurs in the dump might well live there. I swore never to return to the neighborhood again.

  4. Caitlin says:

    I can’t believe I wasted my time reading that crap and worse, that you have a job period and even worse that you have a job as a food critic when clearly you don’t know what you are talking about. Your boss should fire you.

    1. JJ says:

      Wow, what a constructive comment, i wish we had more people like you to string together such complicated thoughts with such fluidity!

  5. Ben says:

    The reason the Brooklyn food scene has gotten so much attention in recent years is primarily because journalists (i.e. food “critics”) can only afford to live in Brooklyn, not Manhattan, thus they quite subjectively lavish praise on the establishments that surround them.

    There are some very good points in this article. I live in Brooklyn and honestly wouldn’t want to live in Manhattan, because frankly it’s too population dense. And the food in Brooklyn is better from an every-day, more affordable value standpoint (though that is starting to fade as Brooklyn establishments begin to take themselves too seriously.) But if I want a really special restaurant experience — something that will knock my socks off — I’m still heading to Gramercy Tavern or something of that ilk in Manhattan.

  6. JJ says:

    This is the equivalent of journalistic trolling. This clown wants the denizens of Brooklyn to get mad and tell him why they are happy to be living in the County of Kinds–that would make him feel like he’s accomplished something. Besides the ultimate goal of living in a Manhattan closet.

  7. Corey says:

    Obviously the point of the article is to get a rise out of people, so I’m not going to play into that. At the end of the day, to each his own….I don’t recall anyone ever saying that Brooklyn restaurants are BETTER than Manhattan restaurants, so essentially, Ozersky is making a stupid comparison. His general premise is the equivalent of comparing Restaurants on Park Avenue to Restaurants on the Lower East Side….it’s apples and oranges. I live in Williamsburg and I love my neighborhood and its restaurants. If I’m looking for a great meal with my family on a Friday night, I’m not going to the Lower East Side, or Nolita, Chinatow….instead, I’m going to hit one of the great restaurants in my own hood (like most New Yorkers do). At the same time, if I’m going to celebrate my anniversary or some other special occasion, I would leave my neighborhood and go to Gramercy Tavern, Jean Georges, etc. (again, as most New Yorkers would do). In other words, it’s nonsensical to compare the BEST of Manhattan, which are amongst the best restaurants in the world, to basic neighborhood restaurants in Brooklyn. Again, its apples and oranges.

  8. Cay says:

    This comes off as yet another veiled opportunity to hipster-bash, which, quite frankly, is just getting old. I see that the twee-ness of a lot of Brooklyn’s food scene can get irritating, but I also think that you are overlooking the fact that yes, maybe they have ironic beards, but there is something to be said about young people who are making a serious effort to support local businesses and farms.

    Moreover, you’re right: this is a pretty awful time to criticize a borough that saw whole neighborhoods decimated by a storm less than a month ago. You should have ended your article right there, but instead you (unfortunately) decided to go on. Have you not seen the photos of the shuttered, flooded restaurants in Red Hook and DUMBO? Or the war zone-like destruction of all of our beach-front neighborhoods? This is the wrong time to be focusing on something like this, not to mention the fact that some of the businesses that you ripped apart here have been very involved in the relief network that has sprung up in the borough. This is not the time for an article about this.

  9. Sam says:

    “None of the immigrant residents who populate Ditmas Park go to The Farm on Adderley; most of them don’t eat at restaurants at all.”

    This is patently untrue. Spend a little more time in a neighborhood and it’s restaurants before you make generalizations.

    1. Josh Ozersky says:

      I guess I have that part covered, anyway. I lived on Newkirk and Westminster for six years.

  10. Coco says:

    Josh, you have to get out more! or at least meet more people.

    I grew up in Manhattan, lived on the Upper West Side for years, can afford to live almost anywhere, and choose to live in Ditmas Park, Brooklyn because I love it here. I never want to live in Manhattan again. When i lived on the UWS I had to merge with foot traffic just to get out of my front door. To me, Brooklyn is far more peaceful, and I breathe a sigh of f-ing relief whenever I come back home from ‘the city.

    As for the restaurants, they are fine. Some are good, some are very good–but more to the point, who cares?? Only a food critic would assume that people choose where to live based on the quality of the restaurants. That’s why we have Mass transit, yo! Use it.

    As a NY Native, I find most people who make the “Manhattan is superior” argument grew up elsewhere. Many of my friends who actually call Manhattan their birthplace now live elsewhere –if only across the river.
    We grew up in the belly of the beast and now we crave something different.

  11. Crawford says:

    Manhattan is the undisputed culinary capital of the world; to say that Brooklyn food is “overhyped” because it isn’t the same as Manhattan is nonsense.

    The fact that Brooklyn is different than Manhattan doesn’t make it worse. Stop already with the silly insecurities. It’s all the same city. Brooklyn has some great food, and high overall quality, even if the hype can be a bit much.

  12. Matt says:

    Perhaps the Farm on Adderley refused to comp Ozersky’s meal?

  13. PTR says:

    Josh,

    Interesting post, I want to say you are wrong and misguided, but I have to agree with many points. I believe the Brooklyn food scene restaurants can be very inconsistent. You said St Anslem was bad when you went, the NY strip steak I had there was one of the best steaks I have had out in long time, including some serious airballs in Manhattan which I expected to be much better. Saying that the average Brooklyn food fan is not educated to a Michelin quality restaurant I have to agree with as well, most “food” people I talk to in BK dont even know what that rating is, let alone have experienced it. At 30 years old I am lucky to say I have tried Michelin restaurants including 3 stars around the world. I would not compare a single BK restaurant to that experience though Chef Table and Blanca may change my mind. I agree with you on places like Al Di La that have been on cruise control for along time. I even agree that most Brooklyn restaurants benefit from being BK and not in city both in popularity, press and wait times.

    The one place I do not agree with you is that people inherently if they had the money would rather live in Manhattan. I have lived NYC since I was 19 and I have never wanted to to live in Manhattan, I go in and eat and drink but the city has as little appeal to be as its restaurants in time square.

    The food scene is very young and it is only starting to really form an identity beyond the Brooklyn VS Manhattan debate. The blogs following the trends and young chefs trying wild things. I will reverse my Brooklyn restaurants are better or worse than Manhattan until a further time, because these business and trends are fluid.

  14. eshin says:

    did you really mention JAPONICA as a standout spot in Union Square? maybe if you stopped hitting New American spots you would know better.

    1. Josh Ozersky says:

      I mention it as restaurant option in the area, one of many with bustling business.

      1. Marc says:

        McDonalds has “bustling business” too!!!

  15. jamesclarknyc says:

    ‘in fact, though, they live there because it is the best place they can afford’ — yes, ass-hat, it is. And I can afford to live anywhere in Manhattan but choose not to. You may actually have a point buried in your tired Manhattan-centric sociological stereotyping, but after announcing yourself such a d-bag I really couldn’t pay any further attention to find out

  16. Greg says:

    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 …”)

    Yes, you will hear people say that, because your assertion is clueless and couldn’t be more outdated and wrong. I’ve found Manhattan awful for the last five years at least. When my work day is over I get out of here as fast as possible. The whole borough has been Murray Hillified. I’m shocked this is even necessary to spell out at this point.

  17. Amos Humiston says:

    Go Josh! Way to land some punches for the all-powerful status quo of Manhattan, that played-out, overhyped, undercooked food court of chain restaurants, Michael White baubles, and Guy Fieri’s wonderful Flavortown.

    By the way: Brooklyn was cooler than Manhattan 20 years ago and still is. I don’t know anyone in Brooklyn who would rather live in Manhattan (and, yes, I’ve lived in both). And when was the last time a Manhattan immigrant sashayed in the Dutch? Oh, maybe they’re all at the Palm Court in the Plaza.

    And: Why does the Observer give a widely recognizable wannabe “food personality” who enjoys preferential relationships with every chef in New York, a soapbox as restaurant “critic.”

    Anyway, nice way to get some attention, if anyone cares to read yet another Brooklyn vs. Manhattan story. Seriously, who cares anymore? It’s all New York.

    1. Josh Ozersky says:

      You don’t know a single person that wants to live in Manhattan? Really? I find that hard to believe. More importantly, Manhattan is always the underdog in the media in any cross-river grudge match story. That’s why I wrote this essay.

      1. Corey says:

        The fact is that people of my vintage (I’m in my 40′s) and income level (upper six figures) live in Brooklyn because they DO NOT WANT to live in Manhattan, not because they CANNOT live in Manhattan. For people like myself, we see Manhattan as a congested concrete jungle overrun by transient renters, finance industry d-bags and foreigners (international money launderers?) who occasionally visit their second (or third, or fourth) homes in Manhattan. In a nutshell, Manhattan is basically a terrible place to raise children. I’m an attorney, and a partner in a major law firm in the city with a wife and two kids. For myself and my law partners, living in Manhattan is not an option, not by financial necessity, but by choice. Of the 50 partners in our NYC office, 2 live in Manhattan, 7 live in Brooklyn and the rest in various suburbs. I have never once heard a journalist imply that people living in Greenwich or Chappaqua do so because that are priced out of Manhattan. So why would one assume that a person living in a mulitimillion dollar home in Brooklyn Heights or Cobble Hill, or Williamsburg or Park Slope are “priced out of Manhattan”? At the end of the day, it’s a quality of life decision based upon how you want to raise your family.

      2. Jacques says:

        I’m quite sure you wrote this article because you knew it would be more inflammatory than a bowel disease, therefor bolstering your already waning presence in the NYC food media.

  18. Dave says:

    I agree with a lot of what you said in your article. Steak at St. Anslem was mediocre, Al Di La on cruise control, Frannys, etc… blah blah blah.
    What I don’t understand is how you get off pretending to know the difference between good and bad. My experience at Vinegar Hill House was bad. Under seasoned and over cooked food that had little to no character. Battersby!?! What a crap show that was.
    You herald Dumont!?! Dressler!?! Have you ever actually chewed your food? Tasted it? Or do you just molest your meatball sub and escape before your succumb to your next gout attack?
    How do you account for places in Manhattan like Gotham Bar and Grill that have been on cruise control for the past decade? The last time I ate there my meal was so mediocre I didn’t finish it. There are dozens of examples of fine dining in Manhattan that have been on life support by name only. You are simply too chicken shit to go after them.
    The funny thing about the Brooklyn food scene, the GREAT thing about the Brooklyn food scene is that it doesn’t try to outshine Manhattan. It tries to be itself with all those foibles, mistakes and sometimes brilliant moments that come with being an adolescent.
    It funny that you should end your tirade with words like “character” and “truth”. You wouldn’t recognize those values if they were on your pizza.

  19. Martha says:

    This man needs a sazerac thrown in his face.

  20. Layla says:

    Thank you! It’s about time somebody called a spade a spade. As native NYer, born and raised in Queens, I spent many years on the UWS and Harlem, before moving to the culinary dead zone known as Fort Greene, where the food is mediocre and one dimensional. The lack of diversity makes my neighborhood a den of overpriced gastropubs hailing nose-to-tail dining yet offering nothing other than the same old boring BK-bacon based, pickle infused items. They have saturated the neighborhood and just when you think they can’t possibly open another restaurant in the same vein, they open one across the street displacing the only authentically ethnic mom-and-pop restaurant in the neighborhood. Every time I read a review from Adam Platt or the NYT in BK (Lulu & Po, Roman, etc) I am sorely disappointed. Not to say there isn’t good food in BK, I’ve found a few gems that I hold on tight to but they tend not to be in establishments with indiffernt, bearded, flannel wearing men, paying $10 for a PBR and a pickle back. That is not the NYC I know and love.

  21. Briano says:

    People, this a dissent against the over-hyping of Brooklyn that’s gone on in the food world over the past couple years, NOT a direct attack on Brooklyn itself.

    1. JJ says:

      I might be prone to agree with your statement if it were not for the author’s belief that Brooklynites suffer from the “anguish of exile” and that nobody in their right mind would choose to live there instead of Manhattan.

  22. Scott says:

    “But here’s the thing: Brooklyn, taken as a restaurant city, sucks.” and then you go on to name at least half a dozen places you concede are pretty good, “ambitious” joints like Blanca et al, then the dozens of places you miss (e.g. Applewood, Prime Meats, Lucali for Pizza, last I checked Peter Lugar was the top ranked steakhouse in the city). Think that would be pretty good for most cities as a start.

  23. paul sagawa says:

    A few years back, I was visiting San Francisco and happened upon the local Zagat guide. The opening sentence of the introductory essay, written by a local food writer was “San Francisco, arguably the best restaurant city in the country, and perhaps, the world!”. In post internet bubble San Francisco, the statement was ridiculous, but the idea of bay area supremacy was so well ingrained that this hubris passed muster with the editors as well as my sf friends. Brooklyn today is a bit like that and the truth is to taxing on the civic self esteem to even consider rationally

  24. Dan says:

    I don’t think most Brooklynites will defend the claim that they have better restaurants than Manhattan. Your article should have instead been an Open Letter intended for your fellow food critics & bloggers who have been highlighting the Brooklyn food scene and its coming of age. The biggest difference between Manhattan & Brooklyn dining scene is its attitude, which is less formal & more personable in Brooklyn as demonstrated by their oft-times no reservations policy, which encourages local customers instead of the Foodies across the River who want to go to the next “It” place and have about as much loyalty as the Egyptians in the Middle East conflict. Brooklyn chefs are not interested in chasing reviews but making food that they themselves are interested in eating and using ingredients that are locally sourced and as fresh as possible. I think your fellow critics are tired of reporting on the continued expansion of celebrity chefs/restaurateurs and their food empires who spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to collect reviews & press as trophies. Maybe you should take a cue from them and visit restaurants that actually make you pay for a meal.

  25. rodneybedsole says:

    When it really comes down to quality of life, Manhattan has some things to offer people, and Brooklyn has other things to offer. It’s a matter of how a person wants to live their life and what is important and what is not so important. To use restaurants as the one criteria for choosing a place to live is short-sighted, to say the least. Thank goodness that we live in a diverse world where everyone does not want to live in the same spot.

  26. Michael Wills says:

    Why all the Josh O. bashing? You insult him and bash him for his opinion and the way he sees the food scene in Brooklyn? Guess what? Most everyone outside of Brooklyn thinks the same way as Josh.

    Very few people live in Brooklyn over Manhattan because they want to. Finances usually dictate between Brooklyn and Manhattan. The unofficial ambassador of Brooklyn, Jay Z swears by it. Does he love it more Manhattan? When did Tribeca become part of Brooklyn?

    There are some great places in Brooklyn but my takeaway from the article was that if some of these places were in Manhattan rather than Brooklyn, they wouldn’t get nearly the same exposure and hype that currently exists in Brooklyn.

  27. James says:

    Clever girl! You realized that the food and life over in Brooklyn is much better, and have decided to unleash a series of stories where you talk extreme nonsense in an attempt to drive down housing prices and waiting times. Well done Sir, it is a good plan but I fear the cat is out of the bag.

  28. me says:

    People want to live in Brooklyn over Manhattan for more than just economic and culinary reasons. The architecture in South Brooklyn is much more aesthetically pleasing than Manhattan’s glass facade highrises. The brownstones and buildings of character have mostly been torn down to fit more a-holes, who I can’t stand to sit beside in restaurants.

  29. msav364 says:

    I’ve lived in Brooklyn for twenty years now and I love it and would never consider living in Manhattan. The ‘anguished exile’ comment was a cheap shot that demeaned the rest your argument.

    I am, however, sick to death of the twee Brooklyn hype that only caters to white college graduates (although I am one). I do agree that most of the restaurants here are over-priced and mediocre, although even ten years ago that wasn’t the case – I remember some wonderful gems from the 90s/00s and was full of booster pride. Nowadays notsomuch.

  30. David Edelstein says:

    I’m an admirer of your work–and I’ll leave the restaurants out of this, although I love many of them–but I never dreamed of raising kids in Manhattan. I know people do it, I know many of the kids turn out well, but for me it was Brooklyn or the ‘burbs. And being someone who loves SF and Berkeley more than anywhere else, I was drawn to the Slope (however different). Parts of Brooklyn are gorgeous and rich in history and good people. Manhattan is crazy, crowded, generally hostile, and a nice place to visit… It just doesn’t occur to you that “breeders” might have a different set of values. What you wrote is offensive on so many levels.

  31. Jimmy Huff says:

    Awww…..Joshy….couldn’t get a comp meal at Battersby?

  32. CG says:

    Amen, Ozersky! The truth hurts as evidenced by every snarky and hipper-than-thou response… All proving your point(s). As you stated, drop almost any one of these restaurants in Union Square and they’d be shuttered in a month. Keep drinking the Kool-Aid, Brooklyn, if nothing else you’re good for a laugh.

  33. tablogloid says:

    There is nothing worse than a pretentious, priggish, bourgeois, food critic.

  34. Nathalie B. says:

    I recently moved to Brooklyn from Manhattan after 15 years. I didn’t do it for financial reasons. I did it because Manhattan has become an outdoor mall; culturally vapid; a global tourist pitstop; a petri dish for moral decay; an NYU student center; a magnet for fame whores; and woefully predictable. Brooklyn for now retains a sense of community that you can’t put a price on. It is decidedly connected to reality. As for the restaurant scene comparison; it seems irrelevant. You’re comparing Manhattan, which 15 yrs ago was in an ascending golden age of restaurant dining, to Brooklyn which didn’t really exist for the audience you’ve identified. Both dining scenes and the restaurants within them exist for different audiences. As you mentioned this is all subjectivity, so for me at least, in Brooklyn there is a conversation happening in restaurants that makes sense, that speaks to me, that speaks to the moment. Manhattan restaurants in general are a motley lot of confected, opportunistic, empire-building, egotistical attempts at extricating wealth from those who occupy them. “If a restaurant in the 212 falters even for a few months, it goes down for the count.” That is about as false a statement that can ever be made. You think it’s high standards and creativity that are keeping David Burke in business? Rosa Mexicano, Atlantic Grill, Orsay, Houston’s, La Mediterranée, Bowery Diner, ‘ino, Annisa, The Smith, Jane, NOHO Star, are you saying all these places are in business for as long as they are because they are doing such stellar job with the food, service and decor? How can you stand by such an patently false statement. There are more middling, sub-standard mediocre restaurants thriving in Manhattan than there are restaurants in all of Brooklyn. It’s the density of wealth and population that gives you all of those feckless places for all of those years. Restaurants go under for a number of reasons, to distill it down to thinking you’ve got to be better on some level in order to keep the doors open is ignorant of the complex set of factors that are at work keeping bad ones open (esp. in Manhattan). Like most tourist traps around the world Manhattan continues to become peppered with soulless, dispassionate, hackneyed restaurants and restaurant districts (meat packing, east village, les).

  35. Jay says:

    Hey Josh. Maybe you should run the bridge a few times to work up an appetite, then you might want to eat in Brooklyn. Or if not perhaps you can go shopping for some smaller pants.

  36. Mandy says:

    I love this article! My one criticism is that as the daughter of an immigrant family in Ditmas Park, we as well as our neighbors, were really so excited about the Farm’s opening and most everyone I know who grew up in the area feels the same. Please don’t use such black and white terms for us natives…. we are actually cultured individuals who care about food as much if not more than the transplants that have ruined our neighborhoods. But besides this, I really think you hit the nail on the head…. food in Brooklyn isn’t all that great with a few exceptions. I feel that most places serve variations of the same dishes and hide behind gimmicks such as locally sourced produce and “lardcore” (a term and trend I find disgusting, btw) to mask the fact that there is nothing particularly astounding about their food.

  37. Biff Putz says:

    I think this author probably has anal sex with himself on a routine basis, and I live in the Bronx.

    1. Josh Ozersky says:

      Leave my personal habits out of this! What I do at home is totally consensual, albeit strenuous. Thank God for yoga.

  38. DJct says:

    Wow, I am honestly glad I just stuck to reading the comments. Just as worthy as this longwinded hack. Go Internet!

  39. Elaine says:

    As a law firm partner making north of $2 million/year, I was fascinated to learn from Mr. Ozerky that the 9 years I’ve spent in Brooklyn (after living everywhere in Manhattan from EVill to UWS) were down to financial exile. If I ever need a loan, I’ll be sure to ask a food blogger. I can’t even comment on the fallacious distinction between “manhattan” restaurants, which are apparently include those that are in Brooklyn but run by people who used to work in Manhattan, and (Mr. Ozersky of course fails to complete the thought so we must do so for him) and TRUE Brooklyn restaurants, where everyone (I guess) has only worked in Brooklyn. This insane bifurcation shows that Ozerky is a stranger to the fluidity and re-invention that make this city, at least those pockets not entirely chainified, a delight to live in. Next time I dine out I’ll be sure to get the chef’s biography, so I know whether I’m eating in a Manhattan restaurant, a Brooklyn restaurant, a Midwestern restaurant or maybe even (judging by the line staff) a Mexican restaurant. Nice work for a New Jersey food blogger like Cutlets – although it would be more interesting to hear what a real Manhattanite (by his standards) has to say.

  40. itisisoyyo says:

    I think a preferable piece to read would be, The Sad Truth About Wannabe, Overhyped, Uninformed and Unimaginative, Food Critics, Who Take Themselves Far Far Too Seriously.

  41. David says:

    1. Criticizing restaurants by name without giving them the benefit of a real review is a total misuse of your pulpit. Your comments have the ability to directly affect the financial success of these establishments, so to make sweeping judgements based on a single burger or steak experience violates basic journalistic integrity. Have more respect for what you do.

    2. “Ethnic” cusine counts. The ability to get the best polish in greenpoint, trinidadi in ditmas, mexican in bushwick really adds to the quality of the food scene.

    3. The hype is creating a positive feedback look. Chefs from around the country and the world want to open their New York outposts in brooklyn, because of its reputation. The fact that it is easier to stand out in brooklyn, and cheaper to start up, makes it all the more appealing. Your list of exceptions in the borough ( the ones actually doing great cooking) are all transplants from abroad. They are a Next Wave, not an anomoly.

    4. Brooklyn has had a huge impact on manhattan cooking trends over the past years. In their current foodie incarnations, Pizza elitism, bbq, fried chicken, food truck gourmet, farm-to-table locovorism, beer hall bistro all were lab-tested in brooklyn to perfection before hitting the road to manhattan and the world. You have restaurants reverse commuting to manhattan ( motorino, forcello, mile end, aurora) and you have copycats as influential as daniel bouland (dbgb) and mario batali (Biergatan, and really, the whole Eataly project) “doing” brooklyn.

  42. JZ says:

    Im so glad i don’t live in BKLN!!!

  43. Vera says:

    The expression “Tres Brooklyn” has entered the French lexicon, by the way, so it’s not just us Brooklynites who think we have it going on (forgive the hubris)

  44. jenniferdujat says:

    As a borough rat, I have a lot of love for the BK food scene. Yet, I would agree with the author that some of the best restaurants in BK would not be as highly regarded in Manhattan because of the competition. The one thing that really irkes me about this article is that he keeps talking about an elitist genetrified BK….what does he think Manhattan has become? I’ve worked in some top Manhattan restaurants, trust me, there is no diversity in them either. They very much cater to a certain crowd..BTW…Pies and Thighs is killer..ha

  45. Tony says:

    Funny how so many of the comments here angrily take Josh to task for stereotyping the people and places of Brooklyn, and then immediately follow up with their own similarly stereotyped insult of Manhattan. Calling Manhattan a “mall-i-fied” hellhole, or referring to its all glass high rises is just as misguided as any generalization of Brooklyn. I don’t remember seeing any mall-like places on the tree and townhouse filled streets of the West Village. And Chinatown, Nolita and most of downtown certainly aren’t dominated by generic steel and glass office towers.

    No, what most of the angry comments above reflect is a defensiveness entirely in line with the well thought out and valid criticism Josh laid out, and it makes sense that it angers those who live there. But that doesn’t make it wrong. I think it should be required that each comment include the borough of the poster, to shed a little light on the motivations.

    Josh, thanks for the well thought out and totally accurate discussion of the Emperor’s New Food. Certainly there are many great restaurants in Brooklyn, and many of those are mentioned. Nothing can or should be taken away from them. But it’s time to end the free ride enjoyed by all the average ones that have succeeded for the very reasons described.

  46. Tony says:

    NB: When Josh mentions that most denizens of Brooklyn moved there because they can’t afford to live in Manhattan, it’s puerile to argue against it by stating that you can afford to live anywhere. Obviously, the argument is not an absolute, but a recognition of the fact that you can’t get the SAME living benefits in Manhattan for the same cost. So while many could afford small apartments in Manhattan, they choose to live in Brooklyn because they couldn’t afford the same large two-bedroom places they enjoy in Brooklyn…or the back yards…or the other things that can be had easily in Manhattan, but only at outrageous cost. So the assertion that most of those people can’t afford to live in Manhattan is true, as long as you’re comparing apples to apples, and not trying to defend or rationalize your living choice.

    1. PeteinBK says:

      But also, this proves the point that people live in Brooklyn by choice, not because they can’t afford Manhattan.

  47. beth says:

    I love this article. Keep it coming! Then less d-bags like you and all of the d-bags from Manhattan (and New Jersey and Long Island) just stays where they are and leaves seats available at Battersby for me. You can have your chain store strip mall a.k.a. Union Square, I’ll keep Smith Street.

    1. jjazznola says:

      Smith Street is nothing special and in a few years will be a “chain store strip mall a.k.a. Union Square”. As for d-bags, they are everywhere including Brooklyn!

  48. Max Jacobson says:

    Jules Verne’s “Journey to the Center of the Earth” said the same thing, in fewer words. Who the hell cares! New Yorkers should get to London, Hong Kong or Sao Paulo for really interesting stuff.

  49. Robo says:

    Lest we forget, a huge chunk of the population that frequent the best of Manhattan are tourists. Those weary travelers who buy the hype about NYC’s establishments who wouldn’t know a * from a ***** and are willing to pay the freight for that privilege. Without them, Manhattan would be shuttering their restaurants a lot faster than they already do.

  50. Robo says:

    P.S. The “can’t afford to live in Manhattan” comment is rather snarky and totally out of context when reviewing the merits of Brooklyn’s restaurants!

  51. Josh Ozersky says:

    Thanks for all the comments, even the critical ones.

  52. JJJ1 says:

    I think angry fat people who write about food are funny.

  53. Susie Cuse says:

    I was a Manhattan resident for 13 years and have been a Brooklyn resident for the last three, and a key point I notice missing from this discourse is this: most of the Manhattanites trashing Brooklyn have NEVER LIVED HERE. And have probably barely visited. Whereas many Brooklynites have lived in Manhattan. So the latter are actually speaking from a place of experience and knowledge, rather than simply jumping on a bandwagon of middle school-style polemics. For whatever reason, when you live in Manhattan, Brooklyn seems threatening…I felt it myself when I was a Manhattan resident. Perhaps it’s a fear of the unknown or the worry that somewhere, something cooler is happening without your complicity or perhaps it’s the suspicion that in Manhattan, you are paying way too much for an abundance of overcrowded, mostly mediocre restaurants and a shoebox-sized apartment that is still a subway fare away from Gramercy Tavern and all the other hot dining spots that have been mentioned in this thread. I will never move back to Manhattan — period. And most people who move to Brooklyn won’t either. I think that should be all that matters. We shouldn’t have to defend Brooklyn at every turn from unsolicited, childish attacks.

  54. It’s always fun to read these Brooklyn vs. Manhattan p*ssing contests, but it’s a little bit odd to see people get so darned upset when somebody insults their borough’s food.

    Look, New York is arguably the world’s very best culinary city, in terms of the quality and variety of food that’s available. You can eat meals from more than 100 different countries, you can get all of the cheap greasebombs you want, or you can blow your wad on haute cuisine if that’s your thing. You can get absolutely anything you want in this city.

    So why are you all brawling with each other? I don’t get it. Go eat some food and cheer up.

  55. Sean says:

    Being a critic of anything as a career is absolutely
    ridiculous to me. People get paid for this shit?
    What a world we live in.

  56. Caleb says:

    Simple thought here guys, but the best food city in the world is Tokyo. By a mile. NY has some interesting places, some imagination, and obviously some world beating restaurants, but overall the quality of ingredients, the standards of service, and the professional expertise of the people who do the cooking are not as high as they should be. Try getting out of the US.

    1. Denver100 says:

      I have lived in NYC and Tokyo, and I think that NYC is much more of a global culinary capital.

      Tokyo has fantastic presentation and service, easily top in the world, but doesn’t have the same culinary depth or breadth as more heterogenous cities. It’s an entirely monocultural society and the cuisine reflects this reality.

      On the whole, I don’t even think it’s a contender for global culinary capital. Places like London, Sydney, Paris and San Francisco are far more well-rounded than Tokyo, and NYC is tops globally, IMO.

      I also think Rome is a bit overrated, though not as much as Tokyo.

  57. PeteinBK says:

    I think you have a point. But I don’t think you even realize what it is – it’s far to obvious. The Brooklyn restaurant scene is becoming like Manhattan. What made the Brooklyn food scene great at one point was its independence and ingenuity but also its accessibility in terms of price, location and ease of getting a table. To find a good NEIGHBORHOOD restaurant you had to go to Brooklyn. The good neighborhood joints in Manhattan have been priced out and replaced by chains and overstuffed theme restaurants. Now Brooklyn is starting to get plagued by a similar sameness. Post-modernism has run amok. Brooklyn’s self-reference is nauseating and like one giant caricature of itself. If we Brooklynites don’t be careful, the borough will get renamed to “The Brooklyn Borough Company.”

  58. Manhattan vs. Brooklyn, Knicks vs. Nets, who cares. The Flatbush places that are fun, like Oxcart on Newkirk which has great “Ox” and “Oxless” burgers and a friendly vibe, or The Farm on Adderly, which has a nice brunch and laid-back service, are few and far between, and are written about ad nauseum (ahem) so unless you get there for the early bird menu it can be tough to get a table. Brooklyn Fare downtown got awesome recognition, but who is going to go there other than Manhattanites on a Mission or Wandering Physicians from the North Shore of Long Island. Similarly, Di Faras is a joke, and a fairly messy one at that, although Dom is sincere in his Old World efforts at craft, but in reality it has become a point of destination where you can get a pricey slice and ogle Jewish Brooklyn up close before catching the train out. There is one totally unpretentious pizza place, a few blocks north, that knocks DiFara’s for a loop, hands down. Similarly, the many other great places of all ethnic stripes, where you can get a substantial, well prepared meal, with friendly (maybe old school) service that Brooklynites know about from personal experience and not from a review in the Observer or New York Magazine or the Voice. And that’s how we like it…Provocative article anyhoo…