“I’m in this business for 40 years,” said Joe Chirico, standing in front of Marco Polo Ristorante, the restaurant he owns on Court Street in Carroll Gardens. “I started with Joe’s Luncheonette two doors away–after so many years of being in fast food, I decided I needed to open a good restaurant.”
Last week, Mr. Chirico was celebrating the 25th anniversary of his Italian restaurant with family and longtime friends and customers, including Borough President Marty Markowitz. When the restaurant opened, Mr. Chirico said of the neighborhood, “It was mostly Italian, but now it’s changed for the better. We’re getting more young people coming from everywhere, especially from Manhattan. This neighborhood is special, it became a very, very happening neighborhood for professional people; everybody likes to live in Carroll Gardens.”
And now a new generation of entrepreneurs are following in Mr. Chirico’s footsteps all over the borough, and that is especially true in Prospect Heights.
“Sure they are; they’re getting ready for the arena,” Mr. Markowitz said after pressing the palms of constituents gobbling up crabmeat cocktail, homemade spaghetti with chicory and grappa sauce, baked turbot in champagne dressing, and sweet-and-spicy duck. “You understand that’s a big part of why–they’re smart, they realize with all the new residents coming in, and when the arena opens, all the additional folks will be introduced to Prospect Heights.”
Whether or not the plans for a new arena for the Nets have anything to do with the restaurant boom is, of course, debatable. But what is clear is that the borough is in flux everyday, and the first sign of the changing tides is new eateries for new hungry residents.
As Vanderbilt Avenue has become the strip for Proho nightlife, Washington Avenue has become the restaurant row. New orange signs hang from lamp posts proclaiming “Washington Avenue, Eat, Drink, Shop.” Gen, a Japanese spot; Udom, excellent Thai; and now Rawstar, a Caribbean restaurant catering to the raw dairy-free lifestyle have all opened between St. Marks Avenue and Prospect Place. A new cafe began renovating a spot on Grand Avenue and Prospect Place, and my landlord told me of potential plans for yet another cafe–in my building.
Of course, great restaurants have been here for a while now. The famed Tom’s Diner has been around for 72 years drawing lines around the corner every weekend, and Chavella’s Mexican spot on Classon Avenue has been a staple in neighborhood dining for about a year now.
“You have to keep pace with the changing tastes,” Mr. Markowitz said. “I don’t know if you were in [Marco Polo] a moment ago, but the owner, Joe, indicated that his son is going to take over and they showed plans of a new Marco Polo and they recognize–he recognizes and his son recognizes–that you have to keep up with the tastes and the style and the ambiance of the future.”
That future is now. Rawstar, the Caribbean restaurant, is serving garlic-stuffed mushroom with Asian bok choy and something called a “tree salad.” Another vegetarian spot, Natural Blend, further up Washington Avenue, serves vegan soy and fake chicken patties. “I watch teenagers eat things I would never have dreamt of eating; in fact, things I’d never heard of as a kid,” Mr. Markowitz said.
Up the street from Chavella’s, on Classon Avenue and St. John’s Place, a new wine bar called Abigails–by the owners of Camaje in the West Village–has opened. Not only are these new spots convenient for locals sick of going into Manhattan or other parts of Brooklyn, they also tend to be cheaper.
“For the new restaurateurs, my advice to them is to have a good location,” Mr. Chirico said. “Make sure they work–they open the door every morning and close it every night. They can only stand by very fresh, good food. If it’s not, they will never come to succeed. That’s the advice that I give: start small and be there everyday.”