Destination dining has always been a hallmark of the foodie. The extreme destination diner is the person who, say, plans a European vacation with the Michelin guide rather than a travel guide, who skips Venice entirely to spend two days in the Friuli back-country, in some town undistinguished by anything except its one-star restaurant famous for a stew of tender farm-raised rabbit.
Or, in the case of New Yorkers, an extreme destination diner is someone who travels to a different borough. New Yorkers are tribal. They are obsessed with status symbols, and Neighborhood rivals Job as the Number One measure of status. They hate to cross from a more desirable neighborhood to a less desirable neighborhood, for any reason. And they especially hate to cross the rivers. And why should they—even the foodies? In a city of over 30,000 restaurants, you’re hardly ever going to have to go really far to get excellent food. Maybe for very specific ethnic food—Indo-Caribbean—you might travel to some ethnic enclave in an outer-borough. But otherwise why risk the social opprobrium?
So New Yorkers destination dine for different reasons, reasons that, ironically, have little to do with the food. They’ll go out of their neighborhood’s way for a venue with buzz, of course. They’ll travel for a garden (rare in New York), or a view (even more rare). And if this garden or view is in an outer-borough, the Manhattanite will generally take car service to get there.
I am, in fact, writing this post to announce that I have discovered the Best New Brunch Dining With a View in New York. But it takes a strange trip to get there, and you’re going to have to cross rivers, even highways. And you can’t take car service.
I’m talking about the café at the new Fairway grocery store in Red Hook, Brooklyn, and you can’t take car service, because it’s just not acceptable when your brunch there will cost less than what you’d tip the driver. So you’re going to have to take public transportation, and as anyone knows who’s already been to Red Hook to check out its allegedly nascent dining scene, Red Hook is hugely out of the way.
First, you’ll have to take the F train to Carroll Street, and then walk over the deafening traffic of the BQE. As you head toward the water, the two-story row houses give way to pot-holed streets lined with concrete warehouse buildings housing bus depots and industrial glass companies. There aren’t many cars and even fewer people. As you skirt the dirty lawns of the huge Red Hook West housing projects, you’ll notice there are lots of churches for some reason--lots of big churches. There’s space out here. In the distance, just a few blocks away, the giant steel structures of the industrial waterfront loom as high as city buildings. It’s a disorienting mishmash of city genres. You feel like you’re far from New York, even though you catch expansive views of the Manhattan skyline which is only a fifteen-minute cab ride away, except that cabs don’t come to Red Hook. You soon hit Van Brunt Street, the main drag, where greasy bodegas alternate with blue-collar bars, a hipster diner, a patchy community garden, and rickety stand-alone houses. It’s scrappy and weird.
All this, you think, for a grocery store? When you finally get to Fairway, at the very end of Van Brunt, you cross the big parking lot, and wend your way through the aisles of the sprawling store to get to the café in the back. It feels like the suburbs. You order a perfectly normal cream cheese and lox on a toasted everything bagel, or maybe the $3.95 scrambled eggs and ham from the grill, or an immense blueberry muffin from the pastry cabinet. Maybe a container of fruit salad. There’s nothing special on the menu here.
But then you walk through the open doors of the café to the patio in back of the grocery store, you pick one of a dozen picnic tables, and you take in one of the most spectacular views of the East River and the Statue of Liberty you’ve ever seen. It turns out Red Hook is the only part of New York City that, on land, has a full frontal view of the Statue. It also turns out that view is magnificent. The patio is surrounded on two sides by water, and it’s breezy and breathtaking as you bask in the sun and squint at the sparkling water. You watch the sailboats skit across the river and listen to the honk of the tugs. It smells like the sea and it feels like summer. You feel like you’re on vacation.
You feel like this just might be the best everything bagel you’ve ever had.
DESTINATION DINING A stroll along industrial Van Brunt Street (above) ends with a spectacular view from the new Fairway Market at Red Hook (at top).