NFT New York East Williamsburg

East Williamsburg

For anyone wondering where the old Lower East Side went, East Williamsburg might be part of the answer. Sure, new lofts dot the roads around the outlying L stops, but for the most part it's factories and bodegas, longstanding residences, and a few corners where it's best to keep your guard up. What the area lacks in Williamsburg-proper niceties, it makes up for with (relatively) cheaper rents and a genuine sense of diversity, possibility, and artistic community. All of which pales next to the real draw in this area: Awesome. Tacos.

East Williamsburg is still actively industrial. Though the hulking Pfizer Pharmaceutical Plant finally stopped running, the space has been reborn as a startup incubator. Surrounding blocks are filled with factories and warehouses that make everything from concrete to wontons (just follow the shifting scents in the air to find what's what). If it's history you're after, a walk south of Metropolitan will turn up plenty of shuttered giants still bearing signs of the area's past as a textile and food production hub. Along the way, check out the See more.

>Williamsburg Houses (1937)--one of the first NYC housing projects, the massive, early modern complex has been preserved as an architectural landmark.

All of that spare factory space has helped turn this part of Brooklyn into a booming artist colony; the geography is particularly inviting for those working with large-scale installation pieces and heavy materials. Collectives offer extensive rehearsal and workspaces for rent, fostering the development and exhibition of emerging painters, photographers, woodworkers, and even aerialists (no joke). Excellent galleries also abound on the ground. In between exhibits and openings, don't forget that the best way to see street art is out on the street. Keep your eyes open for amazing graffiti murals--especially near Boerum Street at Graham Avenue--and Banksy-style stencil works that pop up on abandoned walls and windows.

Empty industrial areas make for plentiful art spaces (House of Yes), and there's always an exhibition worth checking out before finding a barstool. Local fave duckduck is so cozy and low-key it's like drinking on your own porch. You'll get change for a five when ordering a beer at the super-dark King's County. Wait at Pine Box Rock Shop for your table at Roberta's. For a value-added dive bar experience, head to Don Pedro; after dark the tiny Ecuadorian restaurant deals in stiff cocktails and underground bands.

Great tacos are just few minutes away on the L train: Awesome specimens can be had at Antojitos Mexicanos. Grand Morelos dishes rice and beans 24/7. Wait hours for pizza at Roberta's and months for a table at Blanca. Carmine's is still a local Italian institution, but an influx of Latin American immigrants created a stronghold of Salvadoran, Ecuadorian, and Mexican delights: Bahia makes freshly-made pupusas, and if you have a date in tow, Mesa Coyoacan can't be beat for atmosphere.

For all-day shopping, the best bet is to head back toward the BQE, but there are some stops to make on the way: Dolly G's and Urban Jungle hold vintage treasures for anyone willing to put in the effort; local vendors line the Moore Street Market, recently saved from closure (yet again).


This Neighborhood Featured in...
The BQE: Not Just For Traffic

By Sarah Enelow
What's underneath the BQE, besides an entire society of filthy pigeons? North Brooklyn's tastiest risotto balls, modern art, karate, and a lot more. Come with NFT Editor Sarah Enelow as she finds East Williamsburg's choice attractions along the expressway.

On Our Radar:

Posted By:  Sara Kim
Photo:  Sara Kim

Grande Monuments
One day I was gnawing on some delicious prosciutto bread at my friends' apartment. When I asked them where they'd gotten it, they told me, "The place that sells tombstones downstairs, and it was only $1!" And it was all true! Grande Monuments is a family business run by neighborhood local Jerry, whose uncle started the business in the '50s. The Italian bread served here comes from Jerry's cousin's bakery, Il Fornaretto Bakery, on 17th Ave. in Brooklyn. On certain days when he needs to get rid of the bread before heading home you can hear him yelling, "Fresh baked bread! A dollar a loaf!" from under his awning on Graham Ave. Bon appetit!

Posted By:  Andrew Savage
Photo:  Andrew Savage

Hot pupusas served with fresh, zesty curtido. Crispy fried yucca and platanos maduros. What more could you ask for from this delicious and friendly Salvadoran eatery? Homemade Horchata? Yeah, they have that covered too. Since moving down the street from Bahia, I have become one of many regulars who come seeking fresh and affordable Central American cuisine in a relaxed environment. It sits on Grand Street, a cultural border of Italian Williamsburg and the Hispanic community occupying the southeast section of the nabe--so no surprise--there is an Italian section of the menu, including a full wine list. However, I tend to veer towards the "tastes of El Salvador" for best results. Bahia is what great Central American comfort food should be: inexpensive, flavorful, and fresh.

Posted By:  Molly Riordan
Photo:  Molly Riordan

Mesa Coyoacan
"Upscale Mexican" is an absurdly Gringo turn of phrase for which Williamsburgers long had no use. But the food-fashion has brought south-of-the-border to North Brooklyn, and with it Mesa Coyoacan. The large candlelit tables make families out of couples forced to sit together beneath papel picado flags and dozens of framed photographs. These "traditional" trappings complement the food which--as I've never eaten in Mexico--I'll skip deeming "authentic" and go simply with "awesome." Fresh margaritas made with chili-infused tequila, chunky guacamole, carne asada with cactus salad, and chicken enchiladas with mole sauce so good I nearly reached across the table to lick my friend's plate. From the chef's menu construction to the friendly Spanish-speaking staff, one gets the feeling that Mesa recognizes its audience yet aims to maintain some modicum of authenticity. In the end, it doesn't matter what you call it, 'cause with a mouthful of mole you don't need words.

Posted By:  Molly Riordan
Photo:  Molly Riordan

Sel de Mer
I do not understand people who "hate seafood." Mostly because I won't stick around such ignoramuses long enough to find out why. No such ninnies will be found at the butcher-paper clothed tables of Sel de Mer, a recent addition to the burgeoning Graham Avenue strip. The clam-shack sized restaurant announces its daily catch on the blackboard outside, a species-specific preview of perfect preparation to arrive at your table. Daily specials are highly recommended, as they should be at any good seafood restaurant, though even the fish and chips are impressively presented--especially if you're accustomed to London's late-night chippies like me. Oceanscapes and seamen adorn the walls, though no drunken sailors will be found in the midst (no liquor license--yet). Fabulous (sea)food and a great date spot so long as your date digs fish--and if they don't, dump 'em.

Posted By:  Sarah Enelow
Photo:  Sarah Enelow

Carmine's Pizzeria
Graham Avenue between Metropolitan and Conselyea is a fascinating one-block microcosm of capitalism. Two like-minded businesses open across the street from each other and duke it out with their best product, trying to attract more customers than the competitor. This is true for the two dueling ice cream stands, and it's true for pizza. "Brand X" across the street (Tony's) has ordinary slices, but Carmine's has a huge leg up with fresher ingredients (the toppings are probably ripped right from a garden), well-seasoned sauce, just the right amount of cheese, flawless thin crusts, excellent selection, and overall friendliness. Tony's doesn't suffer from bad service, but the pizza is just simply better at Carmine's. Plus,  Carmine's has been around forever enduring all the demographic changes and hipster turnover. Carmine's also has other Italian offerings, from pasta to salads and dessert. But with pizza this good there's no reason to even look at the rest of the menu.

Posted By:  Craig Nelson
Photo:  Craig Nelson

I used to live in this fine part of Brooklyn many years ago (way, way back in '05). It was fantastic. Old-school Italian joints lived side-by-side with hip new bars. But when I moved to Manhattan, I really didn't miss it all that much. But then Motorino opened a few months back on beloved Graham Avenue, and my loyalties toward the nabe started coming back. Motorino is the perfect neighborhood pizzeria just like they have in Napoli--marble tables, young couples conversing over cheap bottles of wine, and, most importantly, amazing wood oven-fired pizza. My favorite is the Sopressata Picante topped with succulent meat from local favorite Emily's Pork Store. The char on the crust is perfect, there's just the right amount of cheese, and the spicy salami adds a nice touch of heat. So why the photo of the roasted artichoke appetizer? I'm going to make you earn a glimpse of their fabulous pies. Go see it live and in person. 2009 is going to be a rough year for new restaurants. This is one I want to survive, if only to please my own pizza cravings.

Posted By:  Molly Riordan
Photo:  Molly Riordan

On a windy wintery night two bicyclists rode to a remote industrial street in East Williamsburg with one mission: Roberta's pizza. The front of the lodge-like room is dominated by the brick oven, open to the eyes of salivating patrons, a performance space for some of the most amazing braising and baking I've ever tasted. Diners get cozy at picnic tables and on country-kitchen chairs over mason jars of wine and beer and take stock of the oven's offerings. We warmed up with spicy olives and (roasted) Brussels sprouts--crispy outside, juicy inside; half-spheres of vegetable perfection. There are several main entrees which I promise to someday sample, but really it's all about the pizza. With inventive combinations of fresh ingredients, including Roberta's house-cured salami, choosing is delightfully difficult as everything is guaranteed delicious. Our lovely waitress Sarah told us one young patron asked whether the pizzas come down the ventilation chute and fall into the oven. For all I can tell they come from heaven. Crispy, fresh, and dare I say truly authentic, Roberta's makes me wish I lived in borderline Bushwick.

Posted By:  Molly Riordan
Photo:  Molly Riordan

Mighty Diamond
I love what the sum of Mighty Diamond's parts should equate: Caribbean! Vegan! Variety! Cheap! Every time I do the math on my hunger-march home, the equation is delectably winning. But every time I attempt it, I'm left scratching my head. I WANT the Mighty Diamond problem to turn out right, but I always get a different, slightly-off answer. Tempeh "fish" with mango salsa, curry seitan "goat," and jerk tofu should be a festival of Caribbean flavor. Fake meats have the remarkable/freaky processed ability to taste like anything, but carnophilic anti-vegites could use MD as evidence that vegan food is by-and-large textureless, bland lumps of beige. Even my friend's iced hibiscus tea was weak and tasteless. The menu changes frequently allowing for surprises (the yams last winter were stellar), and I would happily drown in the coconut-peanut sauce accompanying their green beans. Every once in a while, Mighty Diamond gets it right, but every once in a while isn't going to pass the math class.

Posted By:  Molly Riordan
Photo:  Molly Riordan

Ralph's Famous Italian Ices
The signs are everywhere: yellowing leaves, tiny dogs in tiny sweaters, flannel for function rather than fashion. Autumn is here. Thankfully, the kind people at Ralph's understand that wintery weather can't keep neighbors-in-the-know from his delicious ices. Throughout the summer the corner of Graham Avenue and Conselyea Street was a bustling cross-section of the local demographic, every imaginable type gathering to partake in ices and ice creams of even wider variety. Fruit and cream ices are a big draw, and I've heard it proclaimed by more than one self-styled connoisseur that Ralph's ice cream rivals even the purest boutique creams in the borough (oh, and BTW it's cheap! Two to three bucks, people!). But be warned! Despite perennial devotion, Ralph will close up in the winter months, so haul out your coat, excavate the pocketed crumpled bills and revel in the summer's last bliss before the city slips into a seasonal ice cream headache.

Posted By:  Dana Gentile
Photo:  Courtesy of Pocket Utopia

Pocket Utopia is pleased to present 6 brave photographers who courageously make a space within a raw and demolished storefront. Where some gallery’s present shows in recently renovated yet not quite finished interiors, Pocket Utopia is simply sweeping aside the debris and putting up work. Eric Hairabedian theatrical color photographs are carefully posed, and Dana Gentile’s site-specific collages, personable and composed, creatively and delicately cover the raw space. Terry Girard’s Polaroids explore aspects of undefined and uncomfortable places. Kristopher Graves’ disarmingly descriptive images of solitary adventures reference nature but are not about the natural environment, and Jersey Walz’s black and white photographs glisten with sausages and other beautiful arrangements in light and space. Working in color, Tricia Zigmund hangs images created during the shooting of a film, along with other provocations and transgressions. What's inherent in all the work presented in this demolished space is that the show becomes a sculpture. Photographic imagery, portrait or collage, expands from the actual picture and floats off into the space, just for a moment, before renovation and change occur and the next image is captured.

Posted By:  Craig Nelson
Photo:  Craig Nelson

You’ve probably heard of the Essex Street Market by now. On its last legs only a few years ago, it’s been revitalized thanks to the tenacity of the long time tenants, the creativity of the new ones, and the overwhelming force of the LES real estate market. The City of New York also never gave up on it (although I’m sure it was very tempting at times in the ‘80s). Well, there’s another great little public market out in another gentrifying ‘hood—Williamsburg. The Moore Street Market has been around sine the 1930s, and it has become a neighborhood institution for the Puerto Rican and Latino community. But now the city wants to move the tenants out of the original building into a new location. This move would completely destroy the fabric of the market community. Mayor LaGuardia would be rolling in his grave no doubt. With a little effort by the city they could probably rent the vacant stalls and renergize the market. Let's hope the city changes its mind and gives Moore Street another chance.

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