Nevermind the Babies, Here’s Park Slope

Park Slope
Park Slope

We’ve heard all the jokes before: The sidewalks are so clogged with strollers that they’ve become impassible. Bars are about as hip as a windbreaker, are perpetually overrun by the under-5 contingent, and you’ll be shushed if you curse in public. There are no restaurants other than high-chair strewn pizza parlors, making it ludicrous for North Brooklynites to bother leaving their adult environs and subject themselves to the mercurial whims of the F train. We get it. Park Slope is family-friendly. My neighbors even chain up their double-wide stroller to the front gate, as if it were a bicycle (and the bicycles frequently have Euro-style baby seats attached). But the Slope is hardly one soccer mom away from turning into Montclair; after all, where in Essex County is your choice of coffee shop a political statement?

Park Slopers must weigh their allegiances before setting foot in either Gorilla Coffee (97 5th Avenue) or Café Regular (318 11th Street), both of whom have weathered soap-opera level controversy. The Slope has also been at the epicenter of the nationwide “babies in bars” brouhaha, though all that’s really been proven at this point is that residents, despite procreation and diaper duties, still like to have a good time. Wary North Brooklynites take note – there’s a lot more to Park Slope than Gerber Organic.

But speaking of soccer moms, after a morning cappuccino at (politically neutral) Café Grumpy (383 7th Avenue), they’re probably headed to Prospect Park with their brood, the 19th century Frederick Law Olmsted masterpiece that makes McCarren look like a play lot. And for lunch? Instead of Egg, they’re headed to Bark Hot Dogs (474 Bergen Street), where Berkshire pork meets house-made pickles for the most ethical wiener this side of the Gowanus. Yes, Bark also has a “Resources Menu” if you want to check the provenance of your grits before feeding them to your precious precocious five year old (or to yourself).

A table at Beer Table

Fans of Spuyten Duyvil are justifiably obeisant to their chosen bar, but for those looking to blow their Santa money on obscure brews down south, Beer Table (427 7th Avenue, pictured) has a heady selection of exotic draft, cask, and bottled beers both local and international. Their beer “menu” is organized by taste and rotates daily, as do the small plates, which feature local and seasonal meats and produce and are designed to complement the beer selections. Tables are communal, which is really hot right now, we promise.

Remember what Roberta’s was like two years ago, before the two hour waits for guanciale pizza? Perhaps you’ll recognize a similar vibe at Lot 2 (687 6th Avenue), the South Slope (or is it Greenwood Heights?) restaurant quietly collecting accolades for its low key, farm-to-table approach and three course, homestyle “Sunday Suppers” for $25 a person. Sure, the Voice wrote them up over a year ago, but as a peevish Yelper wrote recently, “don’t go unless you have a car, it’s a mile from the subway,” meaning it’s a pain to get to and will likely remain off the beaten track for a little while longer. By the way, it’s only a half mile from the D/N/R.

Lot 2 is locally famous for its burger with duck fat fries, but that’s not the only magnet burger in the Slope: North Brooklynites down for the day could do worse than check out newcomer Thistle Hill Tavern (441 7th Avenue), which has been holding its own with its grass-fed beef burger, as well as excellent cocktails peddled by former Niagara bartender John Bush. The Slope is a bit of a cocktail wasteland, but Thistle Hill now has a lockdown on Pimm’s cups, while the original burger-and-beer joint remains The Dram Shop (339 9th Street). Here, Dallas-style thin patty burgers are slathered with mayo, mustard, chopped onion, shredded lettuce, and tomato on a pillowy white bun (don’t even try to specify a cooking temperature). No less than Josh Ozersky (author of The Hamburger: A History, among other pursuits) is a fan. So is pretty much everyone else in the neighborhood who doesn’t patronize The V-Spot (156 5th Avenue).

Blackbird pies
Blackbird pies

Let it not be repeated that Park Slope is a culinary wasteland, that its inhabitants have the tastebuds of a three-toed sloth. Who do you think is buying the imported, $100+ per pound Spanish ham at GRAB (438 7th Avenue), or the artisanal stocking-stuffers at Bklyn Larder (228 Flatbush Avenue) – expats from Fort Greene? Date night restaurants applewood (501 11th Street) and 12th Street Bar and Grill (1123 8th Avenue) have been drawing foodie couples for years, not to mention the glitzy 5th Avenue restaurant strip of al di la (248 5th Avenue), Blue Ribbon (280 5th Ave), and AOC Bistro (259 5th Avenue), while superlative bakeries Trois Pommes (260 5th Avenue), Colson Patisserie (374 9th Street), Lady Bird Bakery (1112 8th Avenue), and Almondine (442 9th Street) turn out enough cakes, croissants, and cookies to sate the sweet tooths of every toddler in PS 321 (and their nannies). Speaking of sweets: Like Pies & Thighs? Third Avenue pioneer pie shop Four and Twenty Blackbirds (439 3rd Avenue) has drawn so much buzz over its toothsome baked goods (this season: Shoo Fly, Lemon Chess, and Bittersweet Chocolate among others) that the New York Times has now officially declared pie to be a “trend.” Better than another story on why potbellies are hip.

Franny’s (295 Flatbush Avenue) has lured Manhattanites over the bridge for years, but locals get their pizza elsewhere. Forget about the grilled “pizza” at Williamsburg-transplant Fornino (254 5th Avenue): For better-than-average delivery, beloved Peppino’s (469 5th Avenue), also of Bay Ridge, throws a perfect Pizza alla Vodka in its wood burning oven. The Italianopoly of Bar Toto (475 6th Avenue), Bar Tano (457 3rd Avenue), and Provini (1302 8th Avenue) serve South Slope singles in search of a solid Sunday supper; though none alone may be worth a subway ride, a bowl of carbonara sure soaks up excess alcohol after a night of carousing down 5th via no-frills bars Great Lakes (284 5th Avenue), Commonwealth (497 5th Avenue), and Buttermilk (577 5th Avenue).

Online messageboards were all aflutter last year when the Hanco’s/Henry’s (350 7th Avenue/433 7th Avenue) feud broke: two local banh mí shops allegedly sabotaging each other for a shot at owning the Vietnamese sandwich shop market. Then a third shop opened. Where else can you find such intrigue, aside from the Park Slope Food Coop (782 Union Street), generating Controversy and Community Gossip Since 1973? According to Fortune (via the Observer), the Coop, which is one of the largest and oldest in the country, was “more than three times as profitable as a Whole Foods in 2010.” Sorry, nonmembers can’t shop, but you can buy a “Suspended at the Coop” t-shirt from a local entrepreneur (no shifts required). If you really need an organic kabocha, the Saturday Greenmarket at Grand Army Plaza is fair game for the locavore set. Mind the strollers – here, they’re usually filled with produce.

Nostalgic Greenpointers: Remember when the South Slope was full of Central and Eastern European immigrants? Neither do we, really, but you can still attempt to recreate the past at Eagle Provisions (628 5th Avenue), a tentatively Polish butcher and grocer known for its superior collection of domestic and imported beer (more extensive even than Bierkraft [191 5th Avenue], further up on 5th Avenue). For a ‘wurst to go with your brew, a trip to neighborhood-staple Café Steinhof (422 7th Avenue) or Korzo (667 5th Avenue) will satisfy all your Austrian and Czech cravings, and possibly put you in a meat coma for the rest of the weekend.

Despite the familial atmosphere of the Slope, there are in fact single people there. You might find them on a crawl through the Slope’s many nightlife spots, notably Southpaw (CLOSED FEB/2012) (125 5th Avenue) or Union Hall (702 Union Street), ironically Park Slope’s answer to the venerable hook up joint Union Pool. Are you a regular at Metropolitan? Nearby are famous LGBT bars Ginger’s (363 5th Avenue) for the ladies, and Excelsior (390 5th Avenue) for the gentlemen.

For all the things that are different, just as much stays the same, and of course, some things can’t be improved upon. When that G train emerges from its dark tunnel and propels Northerners south above the Gowanus, there’s one thing that’s certain to be true: You’re not in Williamsburg anymore.

This post was updated Spring 2012.

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