In years to come, when I think back on Brooklyn restaurants in 2022, I hope I remember the places that festooned their facades with garlands of fake flowers. The current crop of faux flora is already starting to fade, but there will always be something bittersweet and lovely about the moment when mom-and-pop restaurateurs bravely opened their doors to a pandemic-crushed city, welcoming guests with plastic peonies and synthetic wisteria, smothering minimalist sensibilities with a ruthless gesture of hope—an onslaught of fake plastic flowers that would’ve seemed garish and bonkers just a few months before.
This month, I’d like to tip you off about one of these heavily decorated eateries that’s ideal for a celebratory group meal, share some stellar food and drink-related gifts, tell you about a local start-up designed to eliminate food waste (while providing you with piles of inexpensive snacks), and as always, I’ve got a list of newly opened Brooklyn restaurants and bars that I can’t wait to check out.
What to Order at Al Badawi
Here’s the situation: You’ve got to come up with a delicious holiday lunch or dinner spot for a group of 4 or more, but only half the gang is boozin’ and not everyone can spend a lot of cash. Al Badawi, an Atlantic Avenue Palestinian spot from the owners of Ayat in Bay Ridge, is the perfect solution, but you’re gonna need a game plan.
At first glance, the menu looks overly expensive. Why is the mezze platter priced at $27 bucks? Well, it’s basically a catering platter with enough hummus, baba ghanoush, muhammara, tabbouleh, salata tahuna, and labneh to serve a whole party (or at least a hungry group of 4) — and it’s delivered in a sectioned container that travels beautifully if you’re looking to host at home. If you hit Al Badawi with just a friend or two, skip the giant platter and split the $8 muhammarah, a luscious blend of roasted red pepper puree with toasted walnut chunks and tangy pomegranate molasses.
Next, you’ve got to order the Fattat Jaj, a layered chicken dish over a base of richly flavorful rice. Generous hunks of juicy roast chicken and plump chickpeas are drizzled with fresh mint yogurt and creamy garlic sauce, and then topped with crispy fried pita chips and crunchy slivered almonds. The whole affair brings a comforting deliciousness that’s greater than the sum of its parts. Priced at $28, it’s sized for 3-4 friends to share, or for 2 friends to split with ample leftovers for lunch the next day. Also worth noting: Al Badawi doesn’t serve alcohol and is BYOB, which always makes group dining less stressful for me.
Brooklyn Food and Drink Gifts
Where have all the Brooklyn cookbooks gone? Restaurant-based cookbooks seem to be another pandemic casualty (it must’ve been nearly impossible to write down recipes while trying to stay afloat during the last couple of years), but I was super excited to snag a copy of the Pig Beach Cookbook, which launched back in May. The book features everything you’ll find on the Gowanus barbecue joint’s short-but-tasty menu, plus a whole lot more. I’m looking forward to trying the simple-looking pecan-crusted bacon and the 6-ingredient smoked cheddar gougères, both of which you can make in the oven, but there’s also heaps of inspiration for anyone who likes to spend the winter months out on the patio with their barbecue or smoker.
While we’re on the topic of smoke and gifts, a side note: For anyone who likes to have a few generic gifts on hand, a pretty rose gold Zippo lighter and a pack of incense from Woods Grove costs about the same as a fancy candle but feels like a fresh and thoughtful gift, especially if you’ve been gifting fancy candles for years to everyone you know.
I love to give a beautiful bottle as a hostess gift, and the hand-batched Crimson Amaro from Pollinator Spirits is hard to beat. This woman-owned distillery in Long Eddy, NY uses wildflower honey from their own hives to make vodka, which is then infused with a secret blend of botanicals, including wormwood, juniper, and sage, to create an aromatic spirit—a Catskills version of traditional Italian amaro. The festive red bottle would brighten any countertop bar and it’s available at various Brooklyn wine shops, including wino(t) in Crown Heights.
Speaking of making things look pretty, if you have a loved one who prefers setting the table-scape to actually preparing the meal, NYC-based Botanical Brothers runs a local flower delivery subscription service. Ethically sourced, seasonal flower bouquets include floral arranging advice for $45 a pop, and they plant a tree for every flower box they deliver.
And, finally, if you know someone who could successfully rock this Hot & Delicious baseball cap from Baby Luc’s, then you ought to be the one to bestow that gift to the hottest and most delicious person on your list. For those who find it hard to be sexy in a hat, it comes in t-shirt form, too.
Too Good to Keep Secret
There are many reasons to support the anti-food waste warriors at Too Good To Go—according to their site, food waste is responsible for 10% of greenhouse gases, and more than 1/3 of the planet’s food gets tossed—but for me, the best reward for supporting their cause is cheap eats. Basically, their app keeps track of local restaurants and grocery shops with surplus food and offers users pick-up slots to come over and grab the excess goods.
To test it out, I signed up for a $4.99 surprise bag from Cafe Kitsune and came home with some pastry case leftovers around their closing time. The brownie, zucchini bread, and apple turnover pictured above were definitely still fresh enough to eat, though they might not have been worth their full value if they’d sat through the night to the following morning.
Too Good To Go works with pizzerias, Korean fried chicken joints, grocery shops, and more, and part of the fun is not knowing exactly what you’ll get. I scored a Nili slot on a particularly hot and sticky day, when they apparently hadn’t moved much in the way of bread or pastries. For only $4.99, I came home with enough carbs to feed my family for a week, as pictured below. In short, mitigating food waste never tasted so good.
Brooklyn Restaurant Openings
Morgan’s Barbecue has finally reopened at 267 Flatbush Ave. in Prospect Heights, after a devastating fire in January 2021. Now, they’re bringing back lots of fun ways to enjoy their signature smoked meats. Their Brisket “Cheeseteak,” pictured below, is a sight to behold, and my whole family has been craving their Frito chili pie, brisket nachos, candied bacon, mac and cheese, and molten brownie sundae.
Maya Congee Cafe of Bed-Stuy has opened a new sit-down location at 1013 Fulton St. in Clinton Hill, serving chicken, pork, and vegan congee bowls with traditional white rice or a brown rice and quinoa base. Add a preserved duck egg or some fresh avocado and feel the congee comfort fill your soul.
Electric Beets, a vegan deli, opened last week at 58 7th Ave in Park Slope, serving soup, scones, coconut yogurt parfaits, and take-and-bake lasagna, alongside vegan condiments like walnut Parmesan.
Baby Blues Luncheonette is now serving modern diner fare in a retro space at 97 Montrose in East Williamsburg. They don’t have a website or menu listing yet, but I’m very interested in the “homemade banana bread covered in cashew ricotta and a crunchy baklava crumble” mentioned in Brooklyn Magazine.
Honeycomb, a cozy little bar inspired by the listening bars of Japan (equipped with a record player and designed with acoustics in mind), has opened at 74 Fifth Ave. in Park Slope. I’m so curious about what they’re spinning and can’t wait to check it out.
Bar Francis, a new cocktail joint from the Hungry Ghost and Sweet Polly folks, has opened at 810 Fulton Street in Clinton Hill. They’ve got oysters and an herbaceous vodka soda on tap flavored with lemon, black peppercorn, lavender, and thyme.
Bar Americano, a new apertivo bar at 180 Franklin St. in Greenpoint, seems like a perfect date spot, serving classic cocktails and bites, ranging from snacks like fried Marcona almonds and burrata with lavender to dinner options and desserts like a dry-aged burger and chocolate mousse with hazelnuts and sea salt.