Summer comes, and summer goes. Almost as soon as one becomes settled into a wardrobe of airy fabrics, a sense of freedom, and a haze of sweaty commutes, Labor Day arrives with a gentle reminder that the seasonal gallivanting can’t last forever. The fleeting nature of summer is part of what makes it summer. Sure, every season is fleeting. But there is something especially bittersweet about summer’s passing. For a few months we are all reminded of the days when summer meant no responsibilities, just endless possibilities. The days grow longer, warmer, lighter and all that there is to do is to make the most of every free summer moment to be had. We are instantly transported back to childhood, when the season stretched out in front of us – seemingly endless.
And so we take advantage of every spare moment and head to parks, beaches, lakes, gardens, fields, concerts, cookouts, restaurants & bars (and sit outside, if possible) – or to anywhere! – to revel in mini, everyday vacations. I enjoy having little things and casual events to look forward to, making each week special in its own right. Summer’s collective carefree air makes that easy to do. It is a lovely mentality and a way of life that should be sustained throughout the seasons.
This summer I hoped to make the most of each evening, to get outside as often as possible, and to explore my surrounding neighborhoods. As I sit here with the summer drawing to a close, I feel satisfied with what I’ve done with the warm weather months. Of course, there is always more that could have been done, but I’ve enjoyed each moment to the fullest. Quite a number of my outings and jaunts began with, surrounded, or concluded at meals shared with others and with the season’s glory. Here are just a few of my noteworthy summer dining experiences.
- Barboncino – I knew when this restaurant opened, not long after I moved into the neighborhood, that it would quickly become my favorite local establishment. Every day I walked by and inspected the progress it was making, anxiously awaiting a grand opening. And a year later I do not have enough good things to say about this wood-fired (Neapolitan) pizza place. The space is casually cool: casual enough to frequent, cool enough for a special date night. You can enjoy beer on tap, wine, or one of their cocktails as you wait for out-of-this-world-good pizza. The crust is thin and chewy, the toppings well chosen and paired with delicious fresh fior di latte (mozzarella) cheese. My favorites include the Neapolitan meatballs pie, the eggplant and zucchini pie, and the special potato and rosemary pie. The atmosphere is relaxed yet vibrant, and their newly opened backyard patio is perfect for the summertime nights. The waiter would be remiss if I didn’t advise you to try the house made tiramisu.
- Chavela’s – It took us nearly six months after moving here to actually get to Chavela’s, but since then we’ve hit it hard. Three dollar tacos, six dollar margaritas (two and five during happy hour, respectively), tortas, guac – this place has really gotten us into our Mexican. Chavela’s has become one of our go-tos, and judging by the constant line out the door, it has become the same for our neighbors. Fifteen check-ins left for that free pitcher of margaritas…
- Black Tree Sandwich Shop at the Crown Inn – This is a relatively new local bar [read: newer than I], which is a great addition to the block. Not only does it provide a perfect place to sit and get a drink while waiting for a table at Chavela’s, but also a super nearby hangout. There is a backyard patio with wooden tables and strings of lights; inside, the best place to sit is at the table right by the front windows that open to Franklin Avenue. The Crown Inn added to their libation offerings when they started serving food from the Black Tree Sandwich Shop. Michael and I ate here the night before we left for Maine and I had the “Pig”sandwich: white wine braised pork belly with brown butter applesauce. Need I say more? It was the perfect dinner for a chilly, rainy eve in late May.
- James – Michael and I shared our anniversary dinner here back in June. In the fashion of many a small Brooklyn restaurant, James does not take reservations, so we meandered our way over there on the early side to make sure we were seated. The early bird special crowd was wrapping up, and before our food arrived, Mike alerted me to the fact that at that very moment, immediately to my right, Michael Showalter had just sat down. Everyone I’ve told this story to since it happened has not been nearly as excited as the two of us were, which clearly means no one watched Stella as much as I did. But lest you think that Michael, who I gathered was there celebrating his birthday and talking about his cats (see his Twitter feed for supplemental reading on the latter) commanded all of our attention, I must mention the food. The black kale and red quinoa salad topped with a poached egg, ricotta salata and almonds was light and hearty all at once, and the pressed chicken with green garlic puree was crispy yet moist. Perfection. The fruits de mer, a garlic shrimp and polenta appetizer and an entree of seared sea scallops with horseradish potatoes, were to die for. Topped off with a blueberry rhubarb slump and some good ol’ eavesdropping on a celebrity, it was quite a lovely Prospect Heights dinner.
- Forgtmenot – We were tipped off to this eclectic little hole in the wall shortly after its opening by Mike’s friend Adam, who is friends with the owners. Forgtmenot served up a mix of simple, good comfort food – feta fries; orzo salad; mixed grill of chicken, shrimp, and halloumi; a sirloin burger on English muffin; skirt steak sandwich with edam and garlic shallot mayo. We three ate more than our fill, and well, in the tiny space that has been decorated with the owners’ personal knick knacks and belongings (really, their apartment is now mostly bare). It was an awesome experience to eat there, subsequently speak to the owner/chef and owner/bartender, and feel the passion and dedication they put into the place. LES. Check it out.
- Bar Corvo – Chickpeas. Oh, the chickpeas! This kitchen, serving northern Italian comfort food, knew exactly the right way to swoon me. As if their grilled calamari salad with orange zest and almonds; the squid ink pasta with hot pepper, lemon, and pieces of grilled octopus; the gnocchi with smoky oxtail ragu and cheese… As if all of that wasn’t delicious enough, out come the spicy crispy chickpeas. Eat these and you will never want another snack food again. Crunchy, hearty, satisfying, they were covered in a combination of paprika and cayenne. Baked to perfection and served hot to your table to dirty your fingertips à la cheese doodles – only better. The portion was so great that we even got to bring some home with us, which we used in an egg scramble the next morning. Molto bene!
- Prospect Park Food Truck Rally – For the second year in a row, from April through October on the third Sunday of every month, food trucks have gathered near the Grand Army Plaza arch for a day of eatin’ and hangin’, a real Brooklyn gathering. This year I attended in April and in August. Somehow, both times, I managed to keep myself from making the usual beeline for Wafels & Dinges (not for lack of wanting a waffle), and instead opted for savories. The Milk Truck has made a name for itself as having some of the best grilled cheeses on the streets of NYC. Way back in April, I had a grilled three cheese and caramelized apple on rosemary pullman. It was fantastic. No wonder this truck always has one of the longest lines. Then, just two weekends ago, I had the most authentic cheesesteak this side of the Delaware, from Phil’s Steaks. Known to Philadelphians as just “steaks,” these must be ordered in true Philly fashion: “whiz wit.” Translated, that means “one cheesesteak, made with cheese whiz, with sautéed onions.” Boom. That’s my jawn.
- Ample Hills – And last, but certainly not least, ice cream. What is summer without ice cream? I shudder to think. Ample Hills makes all of their ice cream on premises and offers a long list of both unique flavors and perfected classics. On my first visit, I tried their nanatella (banana + nutella). Yes, it is as good as it sounds. But what I liked even more was a double scoop cone of vanilla bean and Mexican hot chocolate. Vanilla with Madagascar bourbon vanilla, chocolate laced with cinnamon and chili flakes… the spiced chocolate was an unusual delight and the vanilla a comforting familiar taste. Lucky for me, ice cream still tastes good in the fall, winter, and spring, so my trips over to the corner of St. Marks and Vanderbilt will not be ending soon.
While the summer hours fade into night a little earlier each day, relish the cool nights and think back on all that the season has meant, all that you have done, and all the possibilities that the future holds – not only in next summer.