No sleep…til BROOKLYN!!

Nod to the Beastie Boys notwithstanding, I reserve the right to lace this post with obscure (and not so obscure) hip hop and history references.  Since I was a freshman at Morehouse and met this guy from Bronx Sci. (the first actual New Yorker I’d ever met), Brooklyn has held kind of a special place in my heart. And although none of this post takes place in Red Hook or Bed Sty, I suppose some of my adult interest has been influenced by the not so subtle work of a man named Shelton Jackson Lee.

Two of the very tasty offerings at Brooklyn Brewery

With plenty of time to while away the day, we marshaled up some energy, headed down Park Avenue to Union Square and hopped on the “L” for a little exploration in Williamsburg – a section of Brooklyn.

Just to be clear, this is a post about Williamsburg, the only section I got to visit. I wanted to make it to other neighborhoods, but well, time was tight and there was fun to be had.  That said, our trip to Williamsburg had virtually everything I could want in a field trip: public transit that worked efficiently, shoes, craft beer, random interactions with people I don’t know, pizza, Italian imported craft beer, funky shops, bikes everywhere, craft…fairs (admit it, you thought I was gonna work craft beer in again, didn’t you), and a full-on, like we aren’t already married day-long date and adventure with Wife.  All rolled into a little community one stop across the river from the city.  And, to top it off, a freakin ridiculous tasting menu dinner and an old friend who is doing impressive work in cocktail consulting all over the globe–and is humble enough to laugh at himself in the process. Doc Littrell should be proud.  With that intro, let’s get off the “L” and get into the borough that gave us Mr. Carter.

Yep, even the ancient Egyptians were into craft beer

Our first reason for the trip started with this article about Garrett Oliver of Brooklyn Brewery brewing the White House Honey Ale a few months back. I spend a lot of time in and around the world of craft beer and, much like my profession, it is not a terribly racially diverse place. So it was cool to see this guy doing his thing and I was excited to give it a go.  We jostled through the crowd off the “L” went up the stairs and the first thing I see is this

What do we see as we emerge from the subway? Yup, feels like home. Only colder

Excellent! The people of Williamsburg love them some bikes. That’s a good start. Actually NYC has a great source for all things bike, here.  It’s almost as cool as our advocacy group BikeSD in San Diego.  Looking around, Wife got her bearings (I am directionally impaired, and thankfully know my limitations), and away we went towards the oasis on north 11th. We passed the stroller-pushing dads, the dog walking teens and tons of hipsters on our way to the entrance. And once we got inside, there was this

Obligatory tank shot. Not sure how big these systems are though

Okay, listen up NIMBYs, there is NOTHING wrong with having a brewery in the neighborhood.  I–and every self-respecting craft beer fan in mid-city San Diego–am thrilled that Hess is moving in to the old religious book store building on Grim St. Irony aside, they will help build character for our neighborhood in North Park. And people will do in North Park exactly what Wife and I did in Brooklyn, come and visit spend a bunch of money for the express purpose of sampling some quality, independently brewed craft beer.  Care in planning and protecting a neighborhood is, of course, important.  But knee-jerk reactions to craft brewers is neither warranted nor fair. *climbing down off soapbox*

In all honesty, most breweries (and their delicious tasting rooms) are basically the same. You have a few shiny tanks, a couple usually knowledgeable people pouring beer (much of which is only available at the brewery), the not-so-faint smell of bread in the air, and tables or something on which to consume your selections. This one had picnic tables.  But the real reasons to go for people like me anyway is the history behind the brewery and the actual taste of the beer they offer. I don’t go to get drunk. Those days are (mostly) past me. Okay, maybe ‘mostly’ is too strong, lets go with largely, that’s a more self-aware description. Anyway, we had very little beer during our visit but did pick up a cool shirt. I spent much of the time doing this

Educating myself about the history of Brooklyn Brewery

Yes, I shamelessly toted my Green Flash Brewing shirt across the country and spent every moment I could comfortably do so extolling the virtues of San Diego’s craft beer scene.  I don’t usually review the beer I taste in breweries, and this is no exception.  But I did have one beer that I highly recommend if you like chocolate, or stouts, or both.  It was this

I used one of my tokens to purchase this little bit of goodness. Please, San Diego bars, find a way to get this beer.

Which you can read more about here.  The Black Chocolate Stout doesn’t make its way to California yet, but it should.  It’s one of the more delicious beers I’ve had since first tasting Societe Brewing’s (San Diego) Butcher and Bruery’s (Orange County) Autumn Maple a few months back.  If you go to Brooklyn Brewery, go on a Sunday.  There were no lines and it was a nice, leisurely way to enjoy good beer for its own sake.  We went at about 12:30, right after they opened.  There is some limited pre-packaged food, so grab something before you arrive.  Not sure if they’ve started working with food trucks yet, so better safe than sorry and eat first.  Though, MIHO Gastrotruck would fit right in parked out in front. Just sayin.  Speaking of food, on our way to a very cool community craft fair and flea market that we learned about in a shoe store, Wife navigated us to a place recommended by this guy (scroll all the way down to “World’s Best Pizzerias” then thank me later).  And we were off to enjoy the art and science of good pizza.  No, seriously, look

There’s a science to this? Yum. I’ll take it

I struggle for the words to properly describe the eating experience at Fornino.  I know, that’s a strong way to start a review.  It wasn’t like they tossed the dough while standing at our table, juggling blocks of cheese and singing That’s Amore or anything, but the pizza was something to behold. As some of you know, we’ve gnoshed through some very good pizza.  But this chef really put something nice together.  We like to standardize our pizza recs, so if our stomachs and recent exercise routines oblige, we include a classic margherita pizza as a gauge.  So that’s what we did here.

The classic Margherita pizza made in the traditional way

What comes through most impressively is the flavor of the crust.  Fresh toppings that aren’t genetically modified can only get so good, right?  I mean, perhaps there’s something in the amount of time in the oven or the soil/growing conditions, but generally speaking the differentiating quality of a basic pizza that uses fresh tomato, mozzarella and basil is the crust.  Fornino was the rare pizza that lived up to the hype bestowed upon it by our new favorite reviewer, Mr. Varasano.  Not to be outdone, we ordered up this little gem.  No red sauce, but plenty of fresh, fennel-laced sausage.

Shaved Brussels Sprouts, taleggio cheese, spiced honey and housemade fennel sausage white pizza.

This was a pizza with shaved brussels sprouts and spiced honey.  It was not sweet, though, just very, very good.  Having found success with the classic, Fornino doubled down on flavor profile by combining textures, spices and that bit of spiced honey to create something worth eating.  This Williamsburg shop was a pretty no-frills joint, several steps above Sal’s (warning: adult language and heated racial exchange in clip), but a comfortable lunch spot.  One last tip about Fornino was a delight, one I’d recommend if taking a day trip to Williamsburg.  Before I move on, I have to say how great it was to finally sample an Italian beer with flavor.  No offense to Peroni, but this little gem from Apecchio, Italy is something you really ought to get your hands on.  It was a tasty honey ale called Ama Bionda that, according to the bottle, arrived here courtesy of, you guessed it, Brooklyn Brewery.  Craft brewers are improving trade and local economies in a variety of important ways.  Nice job guys.

After the brewery and our lunch, I picked up some very interesting kicks from a store called DNA, we took the short walk up a surprisingly charming street to the Renegade Craft Fair and the Brooklyn Flea Market.  Both markets were like any you might find in hundreds of cities across the country – probably the same as any around the world.  I took this photo of people just enjoying a lazy Sunday.

A funky monthly flea market situated next to the Renegade Craft Fair

I’d like to say something profound about this market, or flea markets in general, but I’ve got nothing.  It’s a beautiful example of the free market working as it should, which is a useful thing in and of itself, but there wasn’t something fascinatingly ‘New York’ about this one.  On the one hand, you could view this as a let down that the market doesn’t have some sort of unique signature.  On the other hand, you can feel comfortable that if you like the experience of drifting through stalls and interacting with people trying to make a living in the open air, that experience is duplicated faithfully in this Williamsburg market.  One cool thing I found right next to the market was this little history lesson

Map and history of the community of Williamsburg

There were several little stumps with maps and historical tidbits about the community of Williamsburg.  If you want to get lost in local history, check this site.  This was a nice little side benefit of the trip.  In any case, the one thing I will say about the market experience is that if you haven’t invested in Square, do it now.  Seriously.  I’ve been to flea market type places in five cities over the past three weeks, from the San Diego Brewer’s Guild Festival on the west coast to this little market in Brooklyn, and virtually every vendor used Square to accept credit and debit card payments.  Who knows if Visa or American Express will get on this, but they may be too late to stop significant inroads into their market share.  I wonder if PayPal is watching.  Anyway, I’d hoped to wrap up this post with a review of our tasting menu experience at Gwynnett St later that night, but the post has gotten a little long and I’ll pick that up in the next installment.  If you’d like to, you can read my posts about Greenwich Village/The Highline or Long Island, or even go back and see what it was like to live off $4.90/day for a week to promote hunger awareness.  Thanks for dropping by, feel free to leave a comment.

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